Drawing on the burgeoning class resentment that has driven a recent strain of horror films — “US,” “Ready or Not,” and the shelved remake of “The Most Dangerous Game”—“Satanic Panic” returns to the notion that, in America, the game is rigged in favor of the rich, and, in fact, the wealthy prosper at the expense of the country's less privileged majority. But this film asks if the force stirring up all this class resentment could be … Satan?
For director Chelsea Stardust, the resounding answer is “yes.” She delivers her message through a darkly comic combination of camp and gore, but the film has difficulty balancing its gore-ific medium and satiric message.
On her first day delivering pizzas, millennial Sam (Hayley Griffith) has been propositioned by every male who crosses her path and stiffed by every customer. Demoralized and broke, she desperately accepts a final delivery to a location outside her delivery area—a mansion in exclusive Mill Basin. But when the tony residents of the house write in a $0 tip on the $100 order and slam the front door in her face, Sam barges in to demand justice.
When Sam enters a sumptuous room filled with well-heeled Gen-Xers, viewers wouldn't be blamed for concluding that she's stumbled upon a corporate motivational seminar. Front and center, sporting a blood red gown and matching lip gloss, Danica Ross (Rebecca Romijn) fires up the room with business references to “unprecedented growth,” “team unity,” and “a major paradigm shift.” Like a distaff Tony Robbins, she asks the crowd, “Are you ready to be a winner?”
The paradigm shift turns out to hinge on bringing back to Earth the demon Baphomet, and the coven is missing the ritual's critical ingredient: a virgin. Unfortunately, Sam fits the bill, and most of the remainder of the film is an extended chase as she evades Danica's clueless yet horny husband Samuel (Jerry O'Connell) and teams up with the original sacrifice, Danica's recently deflowered daughter, Judi (Ruby Modine).
Stardust spent much of the last decade as assistant to cinematic horror impresario Jason Blum, and the film is chock-full of nods to its inspirations: a first-person Steadicam prologue is reminiscent of “Halloween,” and the practical gross-out special effects (no CGI here) bring to mind the 80's body horror of Sam Raimi, Stuart Gordon and Frank Hennenlotter.
Still, “Satanic Panic” delivers less than it invokes. There's plenty of on-screen gore, from piles of intestines to regurgitated worms, but Stardust rarely pushes the envelope. One exception is the appearance of a “drildo” a conical, strap-on, rotating, serrated phallus, which makes a brief appearance (and might inadvertently serve as a litmus test of sorts for potential viewers).
If a film is not going to outrage, then it needs to sting thematically. Yet, despite the class schism established in its setup, the script by “Mohawk” co-writers Ted Geoghegan and Grady Hendrix rarely rises beyond superficial name-calling such as “Martha Stewart wannabes, who drink white wine and smoke medicinal marijuana” and references to “Wal-Mart sweats” and government cheese.
Add to this Stardust's reliance on wide shots and a static camera, and what should have been a gonzo tour de force or a scathing social critique winds up more like a direct-to-video feature.