Satanic Panic (2019) at Fantasia 2019
22-year-old Sam (Hayley Griffith) is on her first day working for Home Run Pizza. She is a virgin adept at fending off unwanted male advances (like from her hilariously odious colleague Duncan, played by AJ Bowen), a part-time busker specialising in self-penned folk songs of dubious quality, and sufficiently cash-strapped that if she fails to get any tips for today’s home deliveries, she will not be able to put enough fuel in her Vespa’s tank to get home. And unfortunately for her, in Chelsea Stardust’s Satanic Panic, she is about to take a trip outside the normal delivery zone to the exclusive suburb of Mill Basin where the houses are vast, the lawns manicured, the gratuities stingy – and where the upmarket residents engage in some very odd local rituals. For here, devil worship keeps the neighbourhood united, wealthy and strong – and Sam happens to have arrived on the night when there is a high demand for a virginal woman simultaneously to become bride, mother and bloody sacrifice to “triple-faced god of hell” Baphomet.
“Welcome to the world behind the world,” Judi Ross (Ruby Modine) tells Sam, as both are pursued by Judi’s wicked mother Danica (Rebecca Romijn) and her well-heeled squabbling coven. For dark satanic Mill Basin is a crucible not just for witchcraft, but for America’s economic divide, with Sam playing “blue-collar badass” against an entitled élite that regards her proletarian cadre as little more than a disposable instrument for its own desires. Sam’s desperate race to survive an onslaught of angry residents and black magic is also the class struggle writ large and translated into the language of genre.
With its occult underpinnings, its devilish humour, its outrageous gore and its gleeful use of a dildo (or ‘kill-do’) as a weapon, Satanic Panic evokes Jason Lei Howden’s DEATHGASM (2015), even if it unfolds in a different country and a different social milieu. Its strange brew of supernatural surrealism and bourgeois banality is very funny, skewering America’s moneyed classes as the self-serving, power-hungry, soul-sucking evil that they are. “Do you know why the rich stay rich, and you stay screwed?” Danica’s hen-pecked husband Samuel (Jerry O’Connell) asks his near namesake Sam. Well it turns out it is less through their own talent, hard work or merit than through the sacrifice of others. The great irony is that these suburban socialites, in their exploitative attacks on socialism, will be undone by the selfsame hierarchies in hell that they insist be observed on earth.
© Anton Bitel