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“Satanic Panic” Serves Up Satanism and Social Commentary

Wednesday, October 9, 2019 | Interviews


If you’re having a bad day at work, don’t worry—it could be a lot worse. In horror-comedy Satanic Panic, broke millennial heroine Sam is on the first day of her job delivering pizzas when she winds up stumbling into a wealthy neighbourhood’s upscale Satanic coven on the night they plan to bring about the birth of the god Baphomet—and they’re looking for an unwilling sacrifice. We sat down with writer Grady Hendrix and director Chelsea Stardust to talk about devil-worship, social disparity and dry cleaning…

The movie is very current—the story of the pizza delivery girl literally being exploited as a human sacrifice draws together themes of income inequality, the realities of poverty, and the abuse of power. How did that all come together?

Grady Hendrix: Class warfare is evergreen; it never goes out of style. And as soon as you start talk about what someone does for a living, you create a character that people can really relate to. We spend most of our lives at our jobs. Everyone knows the frustrations, the heartbreak, the tiny victories you have, and you just can’t help but get into class warfare if you’re talking about jobs. Someone’s always got a better job, someone’s always making more money than you are. And Satanism is such a diehard conspiracy theory. It’s been around since the middle ages: that there’s an elite cabal of one per cent of the population that controls everything else for everyone else.

What were your biggest influences on the film?

GH: The thing that influenced it the most was straight-up Satanism movies from the 70s like Race with the Devil, Brotherhood of Satan, Werewolves on Wheels… I love the imagery from 1970s Satanism, the robes, the medallions, naked people on an altar—there’s something so swinging 70s about it. And the comedy comes from literalizing the concept. What would it mean to have a satanic cult nowadays? What would they be? Where would they live? What would their Black Masses be like? They’d probably be pretty nice; they’d probably be organic and gluten-free. They have to get the robes dry cleaned, why wouldn’t you? They’d get nasty.

Chelsea Stardust: Some of the biggest influences were Jennifer’s Body, also Deathgasm, Drag Me to Hell, Evil Dead, and there’s an homage at the end to Society. And obviously there were serious movies too… Satanic Panic feels like a different side of the same coin as House of the Devil, Ti West’s movie. The Wizard of Oz was also a big influence. When I read the script, I noticed it sort of follows a similar path to The Wizard of Oz. This girl goes into this other world, which is Mill Basin [the wealthy, Satanic neighbourhood] and she meets the Wicked Witch of the West, which is Danica, Rebecca Romijn’s character [leader of the coven of Satanists]. And all through this adventure, all she wants to do is go home.

That translated into the production design as well, right? There’s a really stark contrast between the bleached, faded look of the pizza shop and the rich jewel tones of Mill Basin…

CS: We very much wanted to have the feeling where Sam’s in her black and white world, and then she goes to Mill Basin and it’s a whole new world for her. And we had a very specific aesthetic we wanted: what would Martha Stewart do if she were a Satanist; how would she throw a sacrifice party? Every single thing, I said, for the costumes, needs to feel upper class. We just wanted to really lean into the classism. Sam has to deliver pizza: she never got to go to college; she’s in a ton of debt because of the healthcare system, whereas these people will never ever have to deal with that. 

One of the most powerful elements of the movie is the focus on the realities of life for all of the characters—rich and poor. It’s definitely played for humour at some points—such as when Rebecca Romijn covers her carpet and sofa with plastic before engaging in a little home disembowelment—but at other times, we get glimpses of the other side of that, that all of this wealth isn’t making any of them happy.

GH: I really think that some things that play as jokes also have a really tragic side. Judi [Danica’s daughter, played by Ruby Modine] is played as a spoiled little brat. But think about the fact that the kids are put in a bubble and isolated from the world and given everything they wanted and at the same time kept on a short leash, even though it’s a bedazzled leash made of really expensive leather. To realize that that you’re never going to turn 21, is a really sad thing. We talked out a lot of that stuff, Chelsea and I: you don’t want that stuff to weigh down the movie too much. But I think it’s definitely there.

Satanic Panic is out now.

Mariam RM