FILM REVIEW – SATANIC PANIC. With Rebecca Romijn, Jerry O’Connell, Jordan Ladd, Ruby Modine, and Arden Myrin. Written by Ted Geoghegan and Grady Hendrix. Directed by Chelsea Stardust. No MPAA rating (but loaded with all the sordid things that make a movie appealing to anyone under 18). 85 minutes.
Some of horrordom’s most auspicious offerings have one foot planted firmly and stealthily in political commentary. The original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956) confronted head-on Cold War paranoia with its haunting pod people parable. At the conclusion of the Civil Rights Movement, George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) tackled race relations without tiptoeing. Joe Dante’s wickedly clever werewolf tale “The Howling” (1981) took on cults in the wake of the mass murder-suicides at Rev. Jim Jones’s compound in Guyana in 1978. In a similar punctured vein, the comedy-infused shockfest SATANIC PANIC aims for the fences, but, to quote a certain memorable ad campaign of days past, “Sorry, Charlie – only the best-tasting tuna gets to be Star-Kist.”
Sam (Hayley Griffith) sees her new job delivering pizza in the Dallas suburbs as her way out of poverty, but has a rude awakening when she is clotheslined by a humiliating hierarchy and customers who tip with expired Applebee’s coupons and sweaters formerly worn by the recently deceased. She thinks her streak is about to end when she brings a large order to an exclusive subdivision. The reality is basically the orgy scene out of “Eyes Wide Shut,” with Sam unwillingly serving as a virgin sacrifice to the demon Baphomet (the horned goat figure worshipped by Satanists). Hijinks ensue.
Just because it’s not great doesn’t mean it’s not fun. A hyperkinetic cross between Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby,” Brian Yuzna’s “Society,” and Jason Reitman’s “Juno,” this clever and creatively bloody cry to eat the rich builds to a manic pitch and doesn’t stop drilling until its satisfying end. It feels like it could have been conceived in the afterglow of a viewing of “Get Out,” substituting class division for racial divide.
The performances certainly elevate the material. TV actor Griffith is strong, rising to the verbal and physical rigors of the script by Ted Geoghegan (“We Are Still Here”) and Grady Hendrix (“Mohawk”). Her richie counterpart, Judi (Ruby Modine of “Shameless” and daughter of Matthew) is solid as her foil-turned-friend. “MAD TV” veteran and “Insatiable” star Arden Myrin plays a power-mad suburban mom with a side of whiny relish. But it is Rebecca Romjin (who passed her “X-Men” role of Mystique on to Jennifer Lawrence) makes the movie work, taking the role of ruthless coven leader Danica Ross to villainous heights. (Husband Jerry O’Connell has a considerably smaller yet hilarious role as her literally kept husband). She revels in Danica’s wickedness, taking what could have been a jokey vamp role and turning into one of memorable menace.
“Satanic Panic” surely makes a political statement, and while it is not one that is super timely, and while the movie may not show up on many annual “must-see” lists, it has a bloody good time playing it out, and with a sharp sense of what horror fans of a certain breed want to experience for their 90 minutes in the dark.•••
Robert Newton is a veteran film critic, novelty recording artist, and Creative Director of the Cape Ann Community Cinema.