Chelsea Stardust’s directorial debut, Satanic Panic is a wild, gory, over-the-top horror film. Though it’s qualities aren’t meaningful character arcs or perfect plot progression, it will be fun for those who like gore (JRL: 3/5)
Review by FF2 Media Intern Julia Lasker
Sam (Hayley Griffith) has a new job as a pizza delivery girl. On her first day, the others poke at her for her inexperience, chuckling when she enthusiastically accepts a delivery in a far-away neighborhood full of mansions. They laugh because what she doesn’t know is that, despite their riches, these people do not tip.
Sam learns this the hard way when Steve (Jeff Daniel Phillips), the owner of the house, slams the door in her face after tipping her absolutely zilch. Frustrated by the lack of money earned on her first day and in need of gas money to make it home, Sam boldly barges into the house to demand her tip. She walks into the meeting of some kind of satanic cult, led by the beautiful but terrifying Danica Ross (Rebecca Romijin). The group is gearing up to summon the demon Baphomet to invoke Satan’s power. To do that, they need a virgin whom Baphomet will impregnate. Danica’s daughter, who had previously been designated to the task, has unfortunately recently rendered herself unfit for the job. However, it turns out that Sam is a virgin, and has just walked right into Danica’s trap.
Completely unversed in the powers of satanic cults, Sam must figure out how to escape the grasp of Danica and her whole following before she is impregnated by Baphomet, which would destroy both the safety of the entire town and her uterus.
In the world of Satanic Panic, it is women running the show: Danica leads the cult as Gypsey (Arden Myrin) fights to overtake the leadership position. Their husbands serve as mere tools in the pursuit of invoking Satan, which is an oddly refreshing perspective on the ambitions and priorities of women. Romijin and Myrin both take on their roles with conviction. Romijin is confident, powerful and sexy, even in her most shockingly gory moments. Myrin is hilarious as her antecedent, grappling desperately for satanic power but making charmingly human slip-ups along the way. The dynamic between Romijin and Myrin is, in my opinion, both the most compelling and the funniest part of the film.
Director Chelsea Stardust clearly has some sort of passion for blood and guts. The gory moments of the film are quite creative, which caused me to cringe at the thought of bodily sensations I had never even considered. Danica, for example, in one of the stand-out horrific moments of the film, pushes her whole hand through a bullet hole in her husband’s neck to rip his heart out of his chest. I don’t have a taste for gore whatsoever and therefore don’t have much basis for comparison, but from what I could tell, the special effects seemed pretty believable. The shocking (but somehow entertaining because of it) gore of the film is it’s defining characteristic: this is a movie for people who enjoy movies like that and, basically, no one else.
The reason why Satanic Panic’s only real draw is its campy gore is because it doesn’t really attempt to go deeper than that in terms of its plot and characters. Sam is your classic horror-movie heroine, wide-eyed and innocent but just resourceful enough to survive, but she’s nothing more. The plot points are centered around each consecutive moment of violence and terror, rather than aiding in a greater significance. It doesn’t feel like the film has a larger purpose than to provide campy entertainment. Then again, does every movie have to?
Satanic Panic is, as previously discussed, a film for a niche audience—one which I certainly don’t identify with. However, it’s funny and it features fun, strong female leads, so if you are part of this certain audience, I think you’d very much enjoy it.
Q: Does Satanic Panic pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?
A: Yes! Because the film is so woman-centered, there are a few conversations between female teams about their female enemies.
Commentary by Review Coach Giorgi Plys-Garzotto
Every Scorpio worth their salt is getting excited for Halloween’s approach, and I am no exception. Even if you’re not a Scorpio, if you’re looking forward to the spooky season you’re definitely going to love this movie. Satanic Panic is a gloriously campy horror film featuring gore so imaginative and unflinching that even my jaw dropped watching certain scenes! I walked out of this movie almost stunned at one particular scene where a man’s intestines are pulled out through his mouth (couldn’t they have just cut him open? Why did Satan need them to get the intestines out that way?!).
I agree with Julia’s assessment that the narrative isn’t particularly rich, but since horror films tend to be more about tropes than character-driven drama that was something I could live with. I also thought that while the main character is quite under-developed (and clunkily exposited), the other characters had more substance to them. It’s the classic issue of the protagonist being the most boring person in the story—they need to be a blank screen for the everyperson to project themselves onto, while the side characters have more freedom to be interesting.
The side characters certainly take advantage of their freedom to be interesting, and if we’d gotten a film that was only about the politics of these soccer moms and their Satanic cult I would have been happy with it! The unexpected villain that comes out at the end is especially freaky. Finally, as a witch nerd I just wanted to say that the spells these characters do are fascinating; they reveal a level of thought that shows director Chelsea Stardust to be just as here for the occult as I am. Even if you just want a more interesting group of witches than the ones on American Horror Story, give Satanic Panic a try!