One of the trickiest film genres to do correctly is the horror-comedy. One can approach it from a broad slapstick angle. If gouts of blood are funny, then movie math dictates that gallons of the red stuff should be hilarious. Get some nudity in there. Make a fart joke or two. When all is said and done, you’ve got a dandy tax write-off, ready to be plastered across any one of dozens of ad-supported streaming channels. Finding a well-done horror-comedy is like finding a bar of gold at the bottom of a full latrine.
If that’s the case, and my simile is accurate, then my hands must have shit all over them because Satanic Panic, an official selection of Fantasia 2019, is the best horror-comedy I’ve seen since Shaun of the Dead.
That’s a big statement, bordering on hyperbolic, and a hell of a thing to say two paragraphs into a review. I don’t want to sound like a film reviewer who spouts blurb-ready lines like, “Big laffs for the whole family!” or “The most fun you’ll have in a theater all year!” Let’s say this. Satanic Panic worked for me, big time, for a few reasons.
Even when played for laughs, the characters are thought out and well crafted. Hayley Griffith is wide-eyed and believable as Sam Craft, the pizza delivery person who has the worst first night on the job imaginable when she stumbles across a Satanic coven. These high-brow Satanists are as enthusiastic about worshipping their Dark Lord as MLM sales reps are about kale wraps and thick eyebrows. High Priestess Danica Ross (Rebecca Romijn) rallies her troops with motivational speeches, painting virgin sacrifice as “an investment in your future.” These people are cutthroat realtors in red cloaks, smarmy and manipulative. They also know black magic, but that arcane practice only makes them more obnoxious.
Arden Myrin walks away with Satanic Panic with her screeching performance as Gypsy Neumeier, the crafty underling locked in a power struggle with Ross. She is funny as hell (pun probably intended), but listening to her recite the Charm of Making is terrifying. Genre stalwarts AJ Bowen, Jordan Ladd, and Jeff Daniel Phillips are here, too, and they are welcome faces for any horror fans. All three of them are wonderful in their small parts, but it is Bowen who gets to turn on the smarm and leave, if not an impression, at least a smear.
There are scenes in Satanic Panic that elicit chills. Physical effects are plentiful, and imaginative gore flies around the screen. But there is a fine balance in the movie. Laughter is the natural reaction to being afraid or startled, so there are plenty of reasons to laugh during Satanic Panic. It’s not a simple farce, though. The dialogue is amusing, to be sure, but it does not overshadow the situational horror and awful goings-on.
Those versed in occult studies will find much to appreciate in the script of Satanic Panic. Instead of mumbo jumbo, there has been some obvious research done here. Old legends are explained well. Ancient incantations are pronounced correctly. The coven seems to be Crowleyan in nature, with an emphasis on both Baphomet and sex magick. There’s still a lot of Hollywood witchcraft in the story, but that’s necessary to an extent for a movie. A bunch of people holding hands and mumbling in a circle isn’t always visually interesting. The effort to include all the details that serve the story gives the story authenticity and grounding. It’s enough to forgive the necessary hooey that rises up.
Directed with a whimsical hand by Chelsea Stardust (Into the Dark: All That We Destroy) from a story by Grady Hendrix and Ted Geoghegan, Satanic Panic is a fast-paced jaunt through the hell of subdivisions, with a smidge of class warfare and snobbery thrown in for fun. Viciously skewering the upper crust through intelligent humor, great characters, and the right amount of shocking grotesqueries, Satanic Panic is more than just a run of the mill horror-comedy. It’s a damned good movie (pun definitely intended).
The Fantasia International Film Festival runs through August 1, 2019, Learn more about Fantasia 2019 at their official website.