J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Satanic Panic: Sacrifice in Suburbia


It is a term often used to dismissively to discredit the 1980s and its preoccupation with supposedly apocryphal satanic crimes. However, the victims of Chicago’s “Ripper Crew,” Richard Ramirez, the Matamoros cult-cartel might argue there were legitimate reasons to panic, if they could. Of course, horror movies exploited those fears, because that is what horror movies are supposed to do. Frankly, it is enjoyably nostalgic to return to the mills of satanic horror, even when it has an unsubtle layer of class warfare smothered on top of it. Baphomet is coming, so look busy when Chelsea Stardust’s Satanic Panic opens today in theaters.

Samantha Craft has had a hard time of life, but things are about to get worse. On her first day of work delivering pizzas, Craft makes a run to the tony, McMansion side of town, where the creepy guy at the door stiffs her on the tip. Needing gas money for her return trip, she ventures inside to plead her cause, but finds herself in the middle of a coven preparing a sinister ritual. They immediately peg her as a virgin, which puts her in a world of hurt.

As the cult-leader Danica Ross’s cynical husband explains, they are both slated for sacrificial roles, but hers will be far worse, due to her status. She is not inclined to give much credence to the vaping Samuel, but she is still sufficiently motivated to make an escape attempt. Inconveniently, the entire well-heeled neighborhood is part of the cult, but at least she saves the snarky Ross daughter from a gruesome death. Judi Ross had been groomed to serve as the virgin sacrifice, but when she discovered her mother’s true intentions, she took preventative measures, so to speak.

So, there is a reason the rich get richer and Church Lady knew it all along. The class envy would really get tired quickly were it not for the ultra-ironic attitude, very much in the Scream tradition. Without question, Ruby Modine is the film’s MVP scoring the biggest laughs and super-charging the energy level as Judi Ross. Honestly, she is so good, she completely upstages Hayley Griffith as the shy and neurotic Craft, somewhat unbalancing the film.

Rebecca Romijn whole-heartedly chews the scenery as Danica Ross, but Modine still outshines her. Arden Myrin also gets impressively unhinged as Gypsy Neumieir, Ross’s bitter rival within the cult, whereas Jerry O’Connell shrewdly dials it down as the profoundly jaundiced Samuel Ross.

So, there is not a lot of subtlety here, but the more ruckus and caustic the humor gets, the better it works. Screenwriter Grady Hendrix (whom we know from NYAFF), who co-wrote the story with Ted Geoghegan (whom everybody knows and likes, as the director of We are Still Here and the publicity guru for Fantasia) set out to be provocative and class-conscious, but they really do a good job satirizing the self-help movement’s nutty self-actualizing double-talk. Recommended for horror fans in the mood for some profane humor, Satanic Panic opens today (9/6) in New York, at the IFC Center.

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