Satanic Panic [Fantasia International Film Festival Review]

Satanic Panic is a horror comedy that isn't afraid to put the pedal to the floor. The film, which screened at the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival, is undeniably extreme. At the same time, it's so far from being mere exploitation that the outrageousness is appealing rather than off-putting. There's a brain in its head to match the mischievous spirit in its soul. Director Chelsea Stardust finds the right satiric tone from the start, then takes you on a wild ride that you may want to get right back on once it's over.

Hayley Griffith plays Samantha “Sam” Craft. In desperate need of money, she has taken a job delivering pizzas. On her very first day, she's assigned to make a delivery to Mill Basin. To call the area affluent would be an understatement. When the man who answers the door declines to leave her a tip, she finds her way inside the luxurious mansion to ask for one. She stumbles into a gathering of Satan worshipers, led by the home's owner, the glamorously evil Danica Ross (Rebecca Romijn).

Long story short, they need a virgin, Sam is one, and all hell breaks loose (pun intended). Ruby Modine (Happy Death Day) plays Danica's daughter Judi, who is also a target of the group's activity. Together, they try to escape.

Movies about Satan or Satan worshipers inherently set many people on edge. They deal with ideas that are uncomfortable, specifically unleashing some blasphemous, godless form of evil. Satanic Panic has a little fun feeding into that idea. At one point, Judi warns Sam that, if the cult gets her, she's going to have a “double-pronged demon dong walking out of your coot-chute like it's a revolving door of ground beef.”

That line represents so much of what works about the movie. For starters, it's sharply written by Grady Hendrix, from a story he crafted with We Are Still Here filmmaker Ted Geoghegan. A dark comic streak runs throughout, so if you have a twisted sense of humor, there are plenty of big laughs. While the act Judi describes may or may not happen (no spoilers), Satanic Panic contains a couple deliriously grotesque scenes of gore. Not the “We want to make you sick” gore of, say, the Saw franchise, but “fun” gore. The kind that elicits a giggle of pleasure because what you're seeing is so demented.

The performances are quite good. Griffith makes Sam a sympathetic character, and Arden Myrin does hilarious supporting work as Gypsy, a cult member who really wants to overthrow Danica. Speaking of Danica, Rebecca Romijn is a revelation here, gleefully chewing the scenery. She displays some wicked comic timing, making the woman she portrays someone we love to hate.

Satanic Panic isn't all laughs and blood, though. Underneath the plot is a very clear satire of economic disparity in America. Most of the story takes place in million-dollar mansions. The villains are wealthy, entitled folks who force the working-class Sam to bend to their will. Sam just wants a tip, a small amount of money to help her live comfortably. Instead, she's berated, abused, and treated as disposable. Stinging commentary like this helps give the movie an extra edge.

A taste for off-the-wall horror is necessary to fully appreciate Satanic Panic, which wants to catch you off-guard with dialogue and bursts of violence. Instead of playing by traditional rules, it makes its own rules. How can you not respect that? The movie is (pun intended again) a hell of a lot of fun.

Satanic Panic is unrated, but contains gory violence, adult language, nudity/sexual themes. The running time is 1 hour and 27 minutes.