Described by director Chelsea Stardust as a love letter to films like Drag Me to Hell, Jennifer’s Body and Deathgasm, Satanic Panic is the horror comedy that stole the show at Frightfest 2019.
Sam (Hayley Griffith) is stuck in a dead-end job delivering pizzas for a company that don’t even pay enough to cover the cost of petrol. When a call comes in from the affluent suburbs, Sam smells a big tip in the offing, taking the order even though it’s outside of their usual delivery zone. Riled up when the customer fails to tip the normally timid Sam refuses to take it lying down. She finds a way into his mansion to confront him, only to find herself in the midst of a satanic ritual being held by cult leader Danica (Rebecca Romjin).
Cue 90 minutes of blood, gore and jokes as Sam (a virgin and therefore ideal sacrifice material) navigates a maze of mansions populated by wealthy Satanists. The claret flies thick and fast, although it must be said that it lands with a bit more of a splash than some of the jokes.
As you might expect for a film produced by Fangoria, Satanic Panic features some pretty great physical special effects, most of them gratifyingly grungy. Vomiting worms and giant drills are the order of the day, and Stardust has nailed the difficult balance of the tongue-in-cheek with the stomach-in-mouth.
Hayley Griffith lays it on a little thick as the doe-eyed innocent in the film’s early scenes, but finds her feet as the blood starts flying and Sam starts to become confident and self-sufficient. Meanwhile Rebecca Romjin’s high priestess is effortlessly sinister and seductive.
It’s clear from the outset that Satanic Panic is intended as a throwback to the grotty B-Movies of the 80s and 90s. The script, co-written by Grady Hendrix of My Best Friend’s Exorcism fame, is replete with witty diatribes and memorable one-liners. Most of these are delivered by Ruby Modine (Happy Death Day) who seems to be having a whale of a time as the hard-bitten Judi, Sam’s only ally. It must be said, though, that a few too many of the central ideas are past their sell-by-date, and there’s not much of an attempt to freshen them up.
Satanic Panic is imbued with a riotous and chaotic energy, but the film doesn’t quite hang together in a satisfying way. Despite a plethora of ideas squeezed into a modest running time, the pace is baggy rather than breakneck. It falls short of committing the cardinal horror comedy sin (being neither funny nor scary enough to truly earn the name) thanks to a couple of standout sequences and killer one-liners. However, these aren’t quite enough to earn it the instant cult credibility of the films it homages.
That said, it’s an auspicious and ambitious start for first-time director Chelsea Stardust, and we feel confident that her career will be one to watch in the future.
Satanic Panic is available on digital download October 21st, and on Blu-ray™ and DVD October 28th.