The pizza delivery guy is a trope in porn films, but in mainstream movies, TV, and music videos, he or she gets little respect. But how can you not love the peeps who bring a delicious, hot, tasty pizza right to your door? And the few that have names or lines seem to fall into tough luck to further the movie plot, which is where Chelsea Stardust’s ‘Satanic Panic’ kicks off.
Sam Craft (an excellent Hayley Griffith) is a leather jacket-wearing millennial on her first night working for Home Run Pizza. She gets hit on by her sleazy moustachioed co-worker, Duncan (AJ Bowen, ‘The Guest’). She makes a series of weird deliveries around town, including one to an old lady who gives her “a sweater that smells like racism” and another to a fratboy, also named Sam, who convinces her to help carry his heavy couch by invoking “The Code of the Sams”. Basically, her first night on the job sucks.
Eventually, Sam is called to take a delivery to a huge mansion in fancy Mill Basin. Not only are the residents of this wealthy suburb keen on sex orgies, but there is also the potential for big tips for pizza deliveries. “You go to Mill Basin a delivery boy, but you come back a delivery man,” she’s informed by Karim (Mike E. Winfield). When Sam’s appallingly rich customer (Michael Polish, ‘Twin Falls Idaho’) fails to tip on a delivery of five pizzas and her Vespa scooter won’t start, the financially desperate young woman storms into his mansion, only to interrupt a satanic ritual already in progress.
The high priestess, Danica Ross (Rebecca Romijn, the ‘X-Men’ series), is leading the proceedings to summon the “triple-faced fuck-monster of remorseless intent and illuminator of poisonous knowledge” Baphomet. She rests her eyes on Sam for a ritualistic sacrifice, since Baphomet has to be born into our world via the womb of a virgin.
Sam is drugged and imprisoned in the same room as Danica’s husband, Samuel (Jerry O’Connell in sleazy ‘Piranha’-mode). Samuel and Danica’s daughter Judi was originally intended to be the cult’s virgin sacrifice until Danica walked in on the girl having sex. Samuel offers to help Sam by removing her virginity, but she fights him off and escapes.
Sam then finds herself in a neighbouring mansion with another young woman, who is naked, hogtied and about to be drilled with a “killdo” (a strap-on dildo drill). Sam rescues her and we meet the foul-mouthed Judi (Ruby Modine, ‘Happy Death Day’), Danica’s daughter. “You’re a blue-collar badass that just won’t quit, and I’m a spoiled brat with a gun,” Judi announces as she teams up with Sam to escape the clutches of the cul-de-sac of devil worshippers, who are bumblers of the ‘Extra Ordinary’ variety. Meanwhile, Danica has to contend with an ambitious second-in-command, Gypsy (Arden Myrin), jockeying for leadership.
‘Satanic Panic’ is produced by Fangoria, the iconic blood-splattered magazine which returned to print in 2018. It’s a B-movie horror-comedy (see my review of ‘Here Comes Hell’ for the pros and cons of the genre), designed for midnight-madness screenings and featuring plenty of garish costumes, impressive practical special effects and amusingly gross visuals.
Not since Brian Yuzna’s ‘Society’ envisioned the Beverly Hills elite as a clandestine sex cult of murderous mutants has a mainstream horror release been as openly contemptuous of wealthy orgy-goers.
Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Parasite’ and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s ‘Ready or Not’ recently reintroduced the idea of righteous revenge taken on the moneyed by the impoverished. ‘Satanic Panic’ also involves the upper crust preying on the lower-class to fulfil a devilish pact and maintain the status quo. Stardust, working from a script by novelist Grady Hendrix and a story co-written by Ted Geoghehan (‘We Are Still Here’), includes plenty of commentary on wealthy one-percenters amongst the rapid-fire one-liners. Not since Brian Yuzna’s ‘Society’ envisioned the Beverly Hills elite as a clandestine sex cult of murderous mutants has a mainstream horror release been as openly contemptuous of wealthy orgy-goers. But director Stardust dilutes the film’s social commentary by mixing in plenty of broad comedy – ‘Satanic Panic’ is light on true horror and scares, heavy on Grand Guignol humour.
The men in ‘Satanic Panic’ are a bunch of horny buffoons compared to the abundance of strong female characters. Griffith is the standout – she makes an impression as a sweet-natured but resourceful “final girl” battling for survival (and a 15% tip, minimum) in a world gone mad. Satanic cults have provided staple horror-movie nemeses since at least 1934’s 'The Black Cat', featuring Boris Karloff as a crazed occultist bent on human sacrifice. Every cult needs a leader, and Romijn elevates much of the silliness of the devil worshiping storyline with a charismatic performance, assisted by an amusing Myrin as a follower with her eye on the high priestess position.
‘Satanic Panic’ is more than just a fast-paced, 88-minute horror-comedy with a cute title. Along with the likes of Emma Tammi’s ‘The Wind’, Mitzi Peirone’s ‘Braid’, and Danishka Esterhazy’s ‘Level 16’, first-time director Chelsea Stardust demonstrates that some of the most subversive and effective work in the horror field is being done by female directors right now.