Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Satanic Panic

Virgin Terror-tory

Satanic Panic
USA 2019 Directed by Chelsea Stardust
Arrow Films  Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Very slight spoilers on gory details.

I didn’t bother getting tickets for Satanic Panic at last year’s Fright Fest. I’d heard some bad stuff about it but, since then, I’ve also heard loads of good stuff. A scroll down the armchair critic reviews on the IMDB finds a really mixed bag of verdicts ranging from the truly terrible to the utterly brilliant... and not much really in between. Definitely a bit of a Marmite movie for sure... so I thought I should probably give it a go after all. Especially since it’s branded under the Fangoria label. I don’t think I ever owned an issue of Fangoria but it was a very popular cultural backdrop magazine when I was a child (the kids in school used to pour over it) and it’s nice that now, after some bad times during the last decade, they’re back and fairly popular. It’s nice that they’re branching into movie making too.

So, anyway, this armchair critic’s opinion is, frankly, that the movie is one of the more successful ‘horror comedies’ produced in recent years and I wish now I’d gone to see it on a big screen. It’s actually quite a special movie with a lot of tongue-in-cheek (if not through cheek), healthy irreverence to the sub-genre of horror movie it is close cousins with. Yeah, the plot you’ve seen before in loads of movies and books and it’s the old ‘find a virgin to get penetrated and impregnated by the demon summoned by witchcraft’ plot. In the case of this film, the demon is known as Baphomet

Baphomet of course has been in gazillions of books and movies with this kind of setting, perhaps most notably in Dennis Wheatley’s The Devil Rides Out and the Hammer movie adaptation. He’s even a character in the Dungeons And Dragons rule book, it turns out.

The virgin sacrifice in this movie is Sam (short for Samantha and played beautifully by Hayley Griffith) who is working the first day of her new job as a pizza delivery woman. In a really rubbish pizza place run by a guy who makes the workers pay him a deposit for the kit to put the pizzas in on the back of the bike (leaving her with no money to buy petrol... and thus allowing her to get stuck in a very weird neighbourhood a little later in the film). This is a shop where the pizza delivery skills have been “passed down orally and anally” over the generations and where one of the employees, who helped her get the job, fancies himself and just wants to get into bed with her (or frankly anyone’s bed). He keeps saying stuff like ‘you can’t handle my authenticity’ and he’s hilarious... like much of the film actually.

Starting off with a great pan around the rich mansion-like house and the neighbourhood before going inside and treating us to an implied point-of-view double murder, we cut to a truly gaudy and almost psychedelic title card which really gets in your face before settling on Sam, the film’s main protagonist and ‘sacrifice to be’, singing a terrible song with, in the words of Simon & Garfunkel, lyrics that ‘strain and tear to rhyme’.

I instantly liked this character and when, after a montage of her first day trying to get some tips from her new job, she takes a delivery to an out of the way place (the mansion like structure from the pre-credits which even has its own miniature hedge maze in homage to The Shining out front)... I totally sympathised when she actively entered the house to try and obtain a tip... blundering into a coven of witches in need of a virgin fast, overseen by, in a deliriously villanous, campy kind of role I’ve not seen her do before, Rebecca Romijn.

Another actress she runs into at some point is Ruby Modine from the Happy Death Day movies and, she’s pretty cool in this too. She plays Rebecca Romijn’s daughter who, with Sam, is on the run from this crazy coven of witches who want nothing but bad, painfully mortal things to happen to them and who are quite capable of conjuring supernatural shenanigans to get exactly what they want.

There are some great set ups... the ‘code of Sams’ which a guy on Sam’s pizza delivery round uses to get her to help him into his house with a sofa is something which comes up in a very surprising way right near the end of the movie and when you get, in dribs and drabs, the full back story of why Sam is still a virgin and just what it means for her to get a job (I won’t spoil this moment for you but the background for the character is beautifully written)... well, you just root for her even more. Heck, there’s even a nice ‘punchline’ moment right at the end of the movie which follows up on her rhyming the word ‘paraphernalia’ with Australia in her song back when we first meet her.

And, well maybe it’s just me but I found the constant humour in this to be absolutely brilliant. I loved the fact that whenever anyone tried to kill Sam they accidentally get killed instead (Rebecca Romijn’s real life and fictional husband turns up in one scene and his accidental and dumb way of dying had me grinning for a while) and, as you would expect from a production company who are an off-shoot of Fangoria magazine, the film is quite graphic in the gory details but there’s a lot of the ‘so gory and over the top it’s funny’ sort of stuff in here. Like the way a man is forced to eject his own intestines through his mouth so Romijn can read his entrails or the fetishistic... oh, I’m just going to quote one of the characters here and say... ‘H. R. Giger lovestick’. It’s all good fun and I really connected with this one.

And then, as the end credits rolled... I found out why.

Turns out the film is co-written by Grady Hendrix. Hendrix, of course, wrote the wonderful, fictional ‘horror novel disguised as an IKEA catalogue’ HorrorStör (read my review here) as well as the delightfully fun and informative Paperbacks From Hell (which I reviewed here) so it’s no surprise, I guess, as to why I liked the writing on this one so much. And it helps when the performers can get just the right blend of ‘self awareness of the stupidity of their plight’ into their roles too. So, yeah, I guess if I’d twigged it was written by him when it played FrightFest, I would have actively sought out a ticket.

That’s me done on this one though. I absolutely loved Satanic Panic and will instantly recommend it to all my horror loving friends. It’s nicely respectful of the genre it flamboyantly pokes fun of and cineastes who embrace the irony and sense of fun should have a thoroughly entertaining time with it. Unlike a few other horror comedies of recent years, this one doesn’t shoot blanks when it comes to the laughs. Give it a go.

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