A Satanic, Virgin-Sacrificing Sex Cult For the 1 Percent—With Plenty of Laughs
The new horror-comedy “Satanic Panic” follows a pizza-delivery girl who ends up at the wrong house: one filled with rich people who serve up virgins to the devil.
It’s perfectly normal for a young man or woman to value their virginity, and to refrain from having sex until they’ve found the right partner. But according to Satanic Panic, there is a downside to saving oneself for that special someone—namely, that it makes you the perfect candidate for a Satanic ritual designed to beget a nightmarish demon.
A tongue-in-cheek saga about one working-class girl’s odyssey through a ritzy community populated by devil worshipers, Satanic Panic (in theaters Sept. 6) is the sort of amusing B-movie made for midnight-madness screenings. Written by Grady Hendrix (author of the novels Horrorstör and My Best Friend’s Exorcism) and directed by Chelsea Stardust, this psychosexual romp imagines the rich as so cutthroat that they’re, well, literally cutting throats, all in an effort to maintain their affluent lifestyles. To these cretins, spilling the blood of their own relatives is a small price to pay for eternal wealth and power. Consequently, getting the chance to dispatch a member of the hoi polloi in service of their grand cause isn’t just acceptable—it’s downright ideal.
The struggling-to-subsist individual who falls prey to these hellish one-percenters is Sam (Hayley Griffith), whose first day delivering pizzas is marked by a dearth of tips and constant advances from colleague Duncan (AJ Bowen), the type of mustached douchebag who brags about how he only watches documentaries and listens to audiobooks at the gym. Stiffed by a series of customers—one of whom gives her “a sweater that smells like racism,” and another who convinces her to help him move a couch because they share the same name, and therefore are bound by “The Code of Sam”—Griffith’s charming heroine is millennial frustration personified, and just about ready to pack it in when opportunity, or so she thinks, comes knocking.
Though it’s outside their typical delivery zone, Sam jumps at the chance to drive some pizzas (including one topped with, eww, corn) out to the swanky enclave of Mill Basin in the hope that the affluent will be generous with their wallets. Such optimism is dashed when the weirdo (Michael Polish) who answers the door at a gated mansion glares at her with contempt as she struggles to remove pies from her thermabag, and then leaves her a big fat zero on the credit card receipt’s tip line. Out of gas and fed up with this mistreatment, Sam sneaks around to a side door and slips inside the guy’s abode, where red-dressed Danica Ross (Rebecca Romijn) is speaking to an excited audience in the parlor. No matter that she was uninvited to this shindig, Sam announces that she wants the money she’s earned—an instance of self-absorption that prevents her from hearing Danica’s prior question to the crowd, “Are you ready to fully commit yourselves to Satan?”
Danica is the high priestess of a coven dedicated to summoning the demon Baphomet, whom she later describes—in goofily ornate and profane language typical of Hendrix’s script—as “the triple-faced fuck monster of remorseless intent and illuminator of poisonous knowledge.” The thing is, Baphomet has to be born into our world via the womb of a virgin, and the coven’s predetermined subject is no longer satisfactory. Fortunately for them, Sam fits that bill, what with her being an innocent young woman whose only boyfriend was a fellow cancer patient that she callously ditched, and about whom she now sings corny folk songs, much to her friends’ unkind amusement.
Director Stardust energizes this earlygoing with plenty of wink-wink comedy, thereby turning the film’s social commentary—i.e. the rich are the worst!—into a good-natured gag. There’s very little horror but plenty of gory humor to be found in Satanic Panic, which soon thrusts the captive Sam into the company of Danica’s husband Samuel (Romijn’s real-life spouse, Jerry O’Connell), who’s also set to be ritually sacrificed. Thinking he’s being compassionate, Samuel tries to save Sam by raping her (in order to steal her virginity). However, as things often go in this lunatic story, that survival tactic only leads to more bloodshed. Before long, Sam’s on the run, and teaming up with Judi (Ruby Modine), the foul-mouthed, no-nonsense daughter of Danica, who Sam rescues from a blonde woman wearing, I kid you not, a giant chrome drill around her waist that Judi refers to as a “killdo” (and, later, an “H.R. Giger love stick”).
Sexualized mayhem is par for the course in Satanic Panic, which infuses every other scene with phallic, penetration and/or ejaculatory imagery. Hendrix and Stardust love to tweak their grotesque genre’s well-worn dynamics, the better to highlight their ridiculousness while simultaneously reveling in the thrills they provide. There’s nothing particularly deep about this portrait of affluent unholiness, but there are considerable laughs to be had at the posh creeps’ expense, especially once Danica winds up in a rivalry of sorts with her ambitious second-in-command, Gypsy (Arden Myrin). Theirs is a world in which happy family vacation photos sit side-by-side with children’s drawings of murder, and the filmmakers have a mischievous time poking fun at these wealthy folks’ villainy—which includes, for example, Danica ripping the soul out of a victim (it looks like a nasty organ) and cooking it in a soufflé pot that, once hot, must of course be placed on trivets.
Carrying herself with entitled imperiousness, Romijn elevates much of this ludicrous material through sheer force of personality. Decked out in a skimpy red robe, she flashes a collection of regal grins laced with serpentine menace as she preaches to her flock about the coming dawn of a new, more prosperous Satanic age. She’s strikingly sinister as a high-society cultist, and furthermore, she gets the inherent joke and relishes hamming it up, albeit not to an extent that might tip the proceedings into dreary self-consciousness. Like the film itself, she’s silly without being outright cartoonish.
By the time it reaches its conclusion, Satanic Panic has indulged in violation, mutilation, and ceremonies scored to heavy metal and carried out by masked, nude practitioners eager to become one with Baphomet. In the process, it successfully swings a sledgehammer at the moneyed elite—satiric service it delivers with a devilish smile.