The rich get richer and the poor get poorer has been the undeniable reality of the past 30-plus years of American life. But how did we get to this point of lopsided inequity? Was it merely political machinations that drove a wedge between the classes or perhaps it was something much more nefarious? In the new horror-comedy from director Chelsea Stardust, Satanic Panic, the Devil is in the details. Satanic Panic delves into matters of class with a brazenly absurd sensibility, delivering ample gore and twisted humor as a pizza delivery driver finds herself having the day from hell…literally.
Sam (Hayley Griffith) is starting her new job delivering pizzas, and she’s just been given the territory known for its non-existent tippers. Delivering pizzas has Sam approached for any number of odd tasks from helping a random dude move a couch to possibly aiding a prostitute in her trade for very low wages. In a brief montage, anyone who has worked in the service industry will find themselves quickly identifying with Sam’s low wage plight. None of these deliveries, no matter how much indignity is heaped upon her, is met with a tip. Finally, Sam takes five pizzas outside the shop’s delivery zone in the hopes that this will be the job that puts a little cash in her pocket. She arrives at the gorgeous mansion where a creepy man silently signs for the pizzas. He leaves her no tip. Finding her scooter out of gas, Sam returns to the house in the hopes of swaying one of the guests to provide her with a tip. However, she didn’t sneak into a random dinner party. She snuck into a satanic ritual headed by Danica Ross (Rebecca Romjin).
The ritual underway on this particular evening will summon Baphomet, and to summon the demon of lore the sacrifice of a virgin is required. Unfortunately for Sam, she just happens to be a virgin. Danica’s husband Samuel (Jerry O’Connell), himself destined to be killed by his wife, offers to sleep with the young woman so to make her unable to be sacrificed, though things quickly take a turn for the worse. Sam is able to flee the home but quickly finds herself a few doors down, stumbling into the reality that this entire affluent neighborhood is in on the distributing rituals. Sam will unexpectedly team up with Danica’s daughter Judi (Ruby Modine), who was supposed to be the virgin sacrificed before she had her own first sexual encounter. Angry at her mother for wanting to sacrifice her, Judi helps Sam battle the satanic forces in the middle of the night in the hopes that they can prevent the summoning of Hell on Earth.
Satanic Panic makes no effort to hide its political leanings, and that’s part of what makes it such devilish fun. Much like this year’s Ready or Not, the basic premise is that the wealthy have made a deal with the Devil to boost their power and influence. Now that they’ve gotten what they wanted they must feed the beast with the blood of an innocent. This comes through in comedic ways, such as when Judi knows Sam isn’t part of her mother’s satanic cult because of her cheap bra from K-Mart. Therein lies so much of what makes Satanic Panic an absurdly good mashup of horror and comedy — it’s not just good vs. evil; it’s rich vs. poor and the lines of morality are clearly drawn.
Another wrinkle in the twisted class warfare of Satanic Panic is the factional in-fighting occurring within Danica’s demented cult. Danica’s chief opposition comes from Gypsy (Arden Myrin), the second in command who attempts to undermine the cult’s leader in order to seize control for herself. There’s all sorts of sniping, backstabbing and second guessing going on within the leadership of these greedy Satanists, and reinforces the warped class dynamic that is the springboard for the screenplay by Grady Hendrix (who shares a story credit with Ted Geoghegan).
Making her feature length directorial debut, Chelsea Stardust’s film relishes in the over-the-top gore with some rather gruesome effects to make the audience squirm as well as laugh in demented disgust. Stardust establishes and sticks to the absurd tone right from the start, and its insanity slowly escalates over the film’s efficient running time. It’s the very confident directorial debut of a filmmaker who knew exactly what kind of tone to set and more importantly how to sustain it for 90 minutes. Chelsea Stardust really does make the most out of her cast of emerging newcomers, veteran actors, and array of character actors. Overall there are few weak spots about Satanic Panic, making this a consistently fun, absolutely wild directorial debut.
A wildly absurd, very assured directorial debut from Chelsea Stardust, Satanic Panic blends horror and comedy in a politically tinged package about Satanic cults and class inequality.