James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
James Clay // Film Critic
SATANIC PANIC is what happens when great concepts go wayward. The Fangoria produced, Texas-based horror-comedy (directed by Chelsea Stardust) finds itself caught between an entry-level horror concept of a night gone wrong and a story about adults getting swept up in high society social jockeying. The movie has a consistently snarky tone and effervescent performances by its cast that should make a movie like this pop way more than it does. There are just too many ingredients in this cauldron to create a potent horror-comedy mixture.
The story – by indie horror veteran Ted Geoghegan (WE ARE STILL HERE) and written by Grady Hendrix (MOHAWK) – just can’t find the right path to get us to a satisfying destination. But there’s admittedly a killer set up.
We begin following a local pizza delivery driver, Sam (Haley Griffith), who’s been hustling up lousy tips that barely even pay for her gas. She deals with a boss (Fangoria favorite Skeeta Jenkins) who legit doesn’t care about her and an aging hipster coworker (played by the always welcome AJ Bowen). Sam essentially has a life where she’s constantly dealing with colossal jerks, and now she finally she takes control of her situation.
After sneaking into the house of a wealthy customer (who refuses to tip), she stumbles upon a coven of Satanists, led by Danica Ross (Rebecca Romijn). Danica is looking to claim a virginal sacrifice, which just so happens to be – you guessed it – Sam. This is where the premise starts to splinter. The film’s first act has Griffith commanding the screen with a brash and kind of badass demeanor.
We’re introduced to the concept of Sam being helpless, which is an unnecessary swerve to the story as she teams up with with the disgruntled daughter of coven leader, Judi (Ruby Modine). Both actors display loads of talent as Stardust bucks the trend of having her film possessing a “final girl.” The issue is there just wasn’t a compelling direction to take their newfound friendship.
Amid all this peril that’s unfolding, Danica is facing issues managing a power struggle within her coven. The frequent cross-cutting amongst Danica, Sam, and Judi causes the film to lose any momentum as the second act trudges forward. And, at times, the comedy deflates the sense of menace put forth by the evil lurking around.
Stardust’s film doesn’t skimp on the gore, but the directional choices don’t really know how to capitalize on the film’s crazy directions. From summoning a demon named Baphomet, to a weird sheet monster, and a creature Danica pulls from the body of a victim (a cameo role by Romijn’s husband Jerry O’ Connell), there are so many baffling directions that we are led down without any bother to explain. However, Stardust does create a wealth of gnarly shot compositions that are pretty disgusting.
The reemergence of Fangoria in the horror culture has been exciting, to say the least. The publication continues to influence fans and creators all over the world. While their latest, SATANIC PANIC, doesn’t fully reckon with its own potential, it’s filled with love for the genre and an aesthetic that feels like a self-assured post modern take on horror. It’s unfortunate that a title this good wasn’t able to cast a stronger spell.
SATANIC PANIC is available today on VOD.