Just weeks after the arrival of the sleeper horror hit Ready or Not comes another horror film with a healthy dose of humor about a young woman fighting off a Satanic cult in a large mansion while needing to escape at sunrise. Called Satanic Panic, it’s a mostly entertaining effort that finds a decent balance between gory horror and laughs, even if it does succumb a bit to cliche in its final act.
Directed by the wonderfully named Chelsea Stardust (who is credited as Jason Blum’s assistant on a long list of Blumhouse releases from the last few years, although this is not a Blumhouse movie) and written by horror novelist Grady Hendrix, Satanic Panic was produced by the film arm of the venerable horror movie magazine Fangoria. An old-fashioned horror story about an innocent virgin squaring off against a devil-worshiping cult — though it doesn’t exactly come up with any kind of central allegorical metaphor — it’s also worth noting that Satanic Panic blasts right in and out, with a running time of just 80 minutes prior to the credits.
The phrase “Satanic Panic” normally refers to the moral panic in the 1980s when the media regularly fear-mongered about supposed “Satanic ritual abuse” that was almost certainly entirely imaginary. This will be a phenomenon familiar to movie fans from the Paradise Lost series of documentaries about the West Memphis Three case. The Satanic Panic movie, however, takes the position that Satanism is very much real.
Meanwhile, Penny Lane’s outstanding documentary from earlier this year, Hail Satan?, depicts the members of one contemporary organization, the Satanic Temple, as witty, trolling pranksters with way more interest in exposing religious hypocrisy than in doing anything dangerous or violent. The doc even showed one member being kicked out of the organization after she threatened the president of the United States. But here comes Satanic Panic to once again depict Satanists in the traditional style as vicious, evil murderers.
Hayley Griffith, mostly unknown aside from some TV credits, stars as Samantha, a pizza delivery driver struggling on her first day due to a lack of tips (as this is a movie in which the most strident political stand taken is in damning people who tip poorly). Later in the day, Samantha is given a chance to deliver some pies to a mysterious suburban neighborhood laden with McMansions, and naturally it turns out that the wealthy inhabitants are a Satanic cult, out for virgin blood.
That cult is led by Rebecca Romijn, who first gained fame as a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model and then played Mystique in the original cycle of X-Men movies in the early 2000s. Here she returns to the screen after a long absence, and brings along her husband, Jerry O’Connell, in a brief role. Things get really creepy relatively quickly, with competent-if-unremarkable CGI used to depict blood, snake-like parasites, and other body horror grossness. One scene, involving a drill-like sexual appendage, is done especially creatively.
Another scene? Less so. A lot of movies and TV shows in recent years have staged Satanic orgies, and for some reason they always look exactly the same — similarly shot, similarly staged, with a combination of animal heads, chanting and distorted imagery. It would really be great if filmmakers could come up with a new and creative way of filming such a scene, but at least Satanic Panic‘s Satanic cult is mostly distinguished, with all-red outfits to go along with near-endless bickering and infighting that’s never less than hilarious.
Griffith successfully carries the film, even if she’s playing the sort of part normally filled by a teenager (while she appears to be in her mid-20s). Romijn’s return is welcome, and also making a strong impression is Happy Death Day veteran Ruby Modine — daughter of Matthew — as a relative of a cult member who befriends Samantha. Arden Myrin is another highlight, as a rival who spends much of the film bickering with Romjin’s character.
Satanic Panic isn’t ever going to be the defining horror movie about Satanic cults, but it’s still a mostly successful, entertaining effort.