Chelsea Stardust directs Grady Hendrix’s gruesomely funny take on devil-worshiping suburbanites.
Food service is a thankless job, and food delivery is even worse than that. A vastly underappreciated convenience (what are you going to do, walk your stupid General Tso’s chicken home yourself?), it’s a job that relies almost entirely on tips to make any sort of real profit. Sometimes your tip will be a handful of pennies, or a receipt with “get a real job” written on it, or nothing at all. Or, if you’re the heroine of Chelsea Stardust’s Satanic Panic, you’re kidnapped by a cult and offered as a virgin sacrifice.
It’s Sam’s (Hayley Griffith) first day as a pizza delivery driver, and though she has youth and spirit on her side, it’s clear right away that she’s not cut out for this line of work. Most of her customers, even though she’s bringing them food, treat her with derision, and try to push old clothes and expired Applebee’s coupons on her in lieu of a tip. Desperate for money (because being an aspiring folk singer doesn’t pay very well), Sam volunteers for an undesirable route, delivering five pizzas to Mill Basin, the wealthiest neighborhood in town.
Though she’s warned by a co-worker of the strange things that go on at the delivery address (“You go to Mill Basin a delivery boy, but you come back a delivery man”), Sam presses forward. When she delivers the pizzas, however, she’s thanked with a door slammed in her face, and $0 written on the receipt’s tip line. Not standing for that, Sam walks into the house, owned by the glamorous Danica Ross (Rebecca Romijn), who comes off initially like a motivational speaker. It’s quickly apparent, however, that Danica is the head of a Satanic cult. Because her daughter, Judy (Ruby Modine), disqualified herself for the position, the cult needs a virgin to bear the unholy spawn of Baphomet, the “triple-faced fuck monster of remorseless intent.”
The most effectively creepy part is near the end, however, when Sam discovers that, even in the world of demonic worship, “there’s always someone bigger, and meaner.”
Despite her sweet, naive nature, Sam is tougher than she looks, and she escapes capture, teaming up with Judy to push back against the malevolent forces that keep them trapped in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, there’s discord in the cult itself, with second-in-command Gypsy (Arden Myrin) eager to usurp control from Danica. She eventually stages a mutiny, although separated from Danica they’re not a terribly competent Satanic cult. They soon discover that they’ve underestimated Danica’s power, but not nearly as much as Danica herself has underestimated Sam.
Even before the current political climate, portraying rich white people as minions of the Devil wasn’t new. Somewhat to its detriment, Satanic Panic doesn’t allow its audience to figure out the allegory themselves, with numerous characters reminding Sam that she’s poor and powerless, and they’re not. Other than that, and occasional issues with tone (a concededly difficult thing to balance in a horror comedy), it’s a fun movie that makes excellent use of its ninety minute run time, keeping things moving at an engaging clip.
What particularly sets Satanic Panic apart is a likable female lead who’s refreshingly unembarrassed about being a virgin (we learn why in a bittersweet moment with Judy), and Romijn’s performance, one part Joan Collins in Dynasty and one part Barbara Steele in Black Sunday. It makes excellent use of its modest budget, with a surprisingly effective attack by what can only be described as a sheet demon, and a gnarly scene where Romijn slowly pulls out a character’s intestines through his mouth. The most effectively creepy part is near the end, however, when Sam discovers that, even in the world of demonic worship, “there’s always someone bigger, and meaner.”
Funny, and rich in weird visuals and genuinely creepy moments, Satanic Panic would make an excellent addition to the midnight movie circuit. It’s the perfect film to put on when you have some friends over, and someone just ordered a couple of pizzas.
But don’t forget to tip your delivery person, for god’s sake.
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