Satanic

Satanic Panic

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Sam is strapped for cash, so she takes a job delivering pizzas. After a terrible first day, she makes one last delivery to a rich part of town. After the customer stiffs her on the tip, she finds her way into the house and in the middle of a Satanic cult. Now they want her for their virgin sacrifice.

One of the most anticipated films of this year’s Portland Horror Film Festival is Satanic Panic. The film is directed by Chelsea Stardust (All That We Destroy, Seeing Green), who has been making quite a splash in the horror industry this year. The story came from both Ted Geoghegan (Mohawk, We Are Still Here) and Grady Hendrix (Mohawk), with Hendrix helming the script. I went into the film blind to the plot and actors, but it was impossible to escape all the buzz around this film. I had heard so many great things, and luckily the film did not disappoint.

Satanic Panic takes on a classic 80’s feel. The idea of “satanic panic” was prevalent in the 80’s, plus the film is equal parts gore and laughs. It plays perfectly into the idea that people are rich got that way by making a deal with the devil. The plot follows Sam, who is the sweetest, kindest, most innocent young woman without being annoying. The audience watches as her first day as a pizza delivery girl goes from bad, to worse, to deadly. The resulting chaos is a perfect mix of gore and humor as Sam tries to avoid becoming a virgin sacrifice. Despite her innocent nature, Sam has a knack for getting herself into trouble and then accidentally getting out of trouble in unexpected ways. Her interactions with the cult members are hilarious and the dynamics within the cult are even more hilarious. Watching as Sam tries to stay alive is highly entertaining and takes the audience down some unexpected paths.

I mentioned before that I went into this film blind, so I was shocked at the star power behind Satanic Panic. The film stars relative newcomer Hayley Griffith (Drew, All My Children) as Sam. She is probably the most sweet and innocent character I have ever seen in a horror film. Yet Griffith does a great job of showing Sam’s inner demons and her surprising ability to get out of dangerous situations. One of the most surprising appearances and performances in the film is from Rebecca Romijn (X-Men, Femme Fatale) as the cult leader, Danica. It’s great to see a female leading the cult, and Romijn is both fierce and hilarious in her role. In a smaller role as Danica’s husband, Jerry O’Connell (Piranha 3D, Stand By Me) makes an appearance as Samuel. His role may be smaller, but O’Connell’s performance is still memorable and brings the laughs. Finally, there is Ruby Modine (Shameless, Happy Death Day) as Danica and Samuel’s daughter, Judy. Judy probably has some of the best lines, and Modine’s deadpan delivery of her outrageous dialogue is sure to make her a crowd favorite. All of the strong female leads give the film a welcomed feminist edge. The entire cast from top to bottom is truly hysterical and had many opportunities to go over the top with their performances, but they straddled the line perfectly.

The film utilizes some fantastic visual effects that also feel reminiscent of the 80’s. Satanic Panic delivers quite a bit of carnage as the cult hunts down their virgin. It’s all very well done, although I wouldn’t necessarily say the guts and gore are realistic. Instead the filmmakers opted to stay with the 80’s feel and make the gore a bit more campy and bright red, which only adds to the humor of the film. There is even a running theme with the use of vibrant red between the gore and the outfits worn by the cult. It is a simple identifier to show the audience who is evil that packs a visual punch. On top of that the film has some gorgeous set design and even a bit of creepy creature design, making the film as stunning as it is funny.

Satanic Panic is a delightful gore-fest that delivers side-splitting laughs horror fans will absolutely adore. It further proves 2019 is becoming the year of Chelsea Stardust. The characters, the humor, the blood and guts, and the various twists and turns are perfectly balanced in this crowd-pleasing film. It is also the kind of film that is best seen on the big screen where you can laugh out loud along with the audience. You can still catch it on the big screen while Satanic Panic is still on it’s festival run, then it will be released in theaters and VOD on September 6th.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10

The Devil’s Candy

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Jesse is a struggling painter. His life focuses on his art, his family, and metal music. When he and his wife find their dream home at a too-good-to-be-true price (due to the fact that the previous owners died in the home) they quickly purchase it. Everything starts out great as Jesse works away in his barn studio, but something dark resides in the house. When the son of the previous owners shows up out of the blue, things quickly begin to spiral out of Jesse’s control, putting his family at risk.

There are two things that stand out about the plot of this film: the way it integrates music throughout the story, and how it provides a more subtle look into satanic forces. Heavy metal music is a clear driving force throughout the film. Not only does this come through when Jesse and his daughter, Zooey, are bonding over their favorite musical genre, but the music is also directly connected with the demonic forces. When the audience hears what is likely the “voice” of the Devil it sounds very much like music. Also, the son of the previous home-owners, Ray, attempts to drive the voice from his head by loudly shredding his axe (playing his electric guitar, for those not well versed in metal-speak). The music goes along hand-in-hand with the demonic nature of the film and the often dark, grimy look of many scenes.

When a horror fan thinks of a film that focuses on satanic forces, typically what comes to mind is possession or demons wreaking havoc. The Devil’s Candy takes a much more subtle approach. We hear a satanic “voice” in the form of eerie music. Ray hears this voice and can only keep it out by playing music even louder than the Devil. Unfortunately, the satanic forces are too strong for him, and they drive him to commit unspeakable acts. The approach makes the film even more haunting and even a bit more realistic. Instead of a demon controlling a person’s body it is simply a voice in the back of the mind, like a constant buzzing, driving someone to do harm. What makes this more realistic is that from the outside it simply looks like a lunatic serial killer. Only those who can hear the Devil’s music know the truth. Writer/director Sean Byrne (The Loved Ones) even includes little hints such as Jesse trying to sell his art at a gallery called “Belial,” another term for the Devil, and the draw to become a respected artist continually tries to pull Jesse away from his family.

The Devil’s Candy is very much about music and satanic forces, but it is also a film about the bonds of family. Jesse and Zooey have a very close bond. Much of their bond is rooted in their mutual love of metal. As the satanic forces attempt to pull him further away from his family, it is Jesse’s love of his wife and daughter that continues to pull him out of the Devil’s hold. It is an interesting juxtaposition to see how Jesse is able to keep evil out of his mind because of his family, while Ray is unable to keep the voice out of his head no matter how hard he tries.

This film is filled with stellar performances. Ethan Embry (Empire Records, Sweet Home Alabama) absolutely shines as Jesse. This may be Embry’s most powerful performance as he shows audiences his struggle between his family and his desire to be a famous artist. It is almost as if the role was made for Embry, and I find it difficult to imagine anyone else in the role. Pruitt Taylor Vince (Identity, Constantine) also gives a disturbing performance as Ray. Vince has made quite a name for himself playing a series of unsettling characters, and his performance in The Devil’s Candy is no different. What makes his performance especially compelling is the way he is able to make audiences feel both sympathy and revulsion towards his character. Then there is relative newcomer Kiara Glasco (Bitten, Maps to the Stars) as Jesse’s daughter, Zooey. The way Glasco conveys the fear her character feels will give you chills. Together this cast is a force of nature driving the plot to its hellish climax.

The Devil’s Candy is a haunting film that perfectly melds disturbing events, satanic forces, dark imagery, and metal. The plot alone is interesting enough, but when it is combined with the music it becomes even more powerful. The Devil’s Candy also features amazing performances including a powerhouse portrayal by Embry. This is only Byrne’s second feature length film, and already he is making quite a name for himself in the horror industry. The Devil’s Candy is sure to be on many top ten lists for 2017.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

The Wailing

A strange Japanese man arrives at a small village in South Korea. Soon after, people begin to go mad and kill their families. A local cop is assigned to these strange cases. His own daughter eventually starts to exhibit the same symptoms as the others who went mad. With the help of his friends, a priest and a shaman, the cop does whatever he can to stop the Japanese stranger from harming his daughter, or anyone else in town.

The Wailing is the second great Korean horror film I have seen this year. Similarly to Train to Busan, the focus of this film is the relationship between a father and his young daughter. Once the daughter is thrown into peril we see the father grow as a person and try to rescue her. The father adds a comedic aspect to the beginning of the film up until the point when his daughter gets sick. From there the film takes a more serious turn. It also does an interesting job of blending different types of mythology. There are satanic rituals, shamanism, ghosts and spirits, a zombie-like illness, and possession. The filmmakers expertly weave all of these aspects together into a chilling, and often times humorous, story. The only issue I had with the plot is that the ending felt a bit convoluted. It seems like the filmmakers are trying to insert too many twists and turns to the point where the audience is left with one too many questions.

This film has multiple amazing performances that lure the audience into the story. One standout is Do-wan Kwak (The Berlin File) as the cop and father, Jong-Goo. The fact that his portrayal of Jong-Goo shows him as a rather dopey and fearful cop who finds his strength when his daughter is in danger feels natural and compelling. Do-wan Kwak manages to make me laugh and make me feel compassion for Jong-Goo and his family. I also love Jun Kunimura (Kill Bill: Vo. 1 and 2) as the stranger. He doesn’t have many speaking scenes until later in the film, but it is hard not to feel his presence. With just a stare, Kunimura is able to send chills down my spine and add to the unsettling ambience of the film.

The effects of this film are subtle, which works well with the story. The infected people first get strange rashes. These rashes eventually cover the whole body, and the eyes of the infected turn white before they become violent. The rashes are grotesque and very well done. One scene involves an infected person having a convulsive fit that results in a bone protruding from the skin. It is disgusting, but also beautiful in how they are able to achieve it with the practical effects. There is another scene at the climax of the film that involves a different kind of transformation. This one I can’t get into too much detail for, but it is one of the most unnerving scenes in the entire film.

While The Wailing isn’t my favorite Korean horror film I have seen this year, it is definitely a memorable one. It has a unique and intricate plot that will keep you hooked through to the end, which is impressive considering it is over two and a half hours long. While the climax does get a bit tangled and confused, it still makes for a riveting mystery. This is another film to add to the rather long list of great foreign films that have come out in the past year. It will appeal to a multitude of horror fans and non-horror fans alike.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

The Witch

A religious family decides to leave the plantation town they call home because it does not meet their religious ideals. They venture out into the wilderness in order to create their own homestead and farm the land. Not long after the family settles into their new land the baby of the family gets taken, either by a wolf or something more sinister, and a blight takes over the crops. From that moment on the family falls into a downward spiral. Their lives become surrounded by the occult, and it will slowly tear them apart.

There were so many aspects of this film I loved it is hard to figure out where I should begin. I’ve always been fascinated by witchcraft in films. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find a quality horror film on the subject. The Witch not only brought an incredible amount of intensity and tension, but it also felt like you were watching something that could actually have happened. There were times while watching the film that I felt almost uncomfortable watching the events unfold. It felt very intimate to watch this family behind closed doors as they all unravel into hysteria. This intimacy made it feel almost as if you were intruding on their private life. You feel like you shouldn’t be watching, but you can’t look away. The story is definitely more of a slow burn rather than a scare-fest.

From the moment the film began and the music started to play there is instantly a feeling of unease. This tension builds throughout the film until the climax, thanks to the musical work by Mark Korven. What made the music so captivating is that it made a shot of a simple forest landscape seem dreadful and terrifying. Music can really make or break a film, and I can’t imagine this film would have been as haunting to me if it had any other score. The music, combined with the gorgeous cinematography, created such beautiful and ominous imagery.

This is probably one of the most well acted horror films I have seen in a while. Every single person, right down to the little twins, had a phenomenal performance. While everyone did a great job, there was one performance that stood out to me. Harvey Scrimshaw (Oranges and Sunshine) gave a powerful performance as the eldest son in the family, Caleb. During the scene where he is suffering from the effects of witchcraft, Scrimshaw was so haunting and intense that I was completely blown away. I was especially impressed when I learned this is only the second film he has ever been in. Anya Taylor-Joy (Viking Quest) also had a stand-out performance as the lead, Thomasin. Like Scrimshaw, this was only the second film Taylor-Joy had ever been in, and her first starring role. As the story unfolds and you can feel Thomasin being blamed for more and more troubles in the family, it is hard not to feel sympathetic towards her.

What I love about films like The Witch are the deeper meanings and metaphors that lurk within. As I watched this film, I saw it as showing the way young women in that deeply religious time could so easily be accused of being a witch. When things start to go bad in any size community, even a single family unit, everyone wants to put the blame on a single person. For Puritans that blame naturally fell on the young women, who were thought of as sinners simply because they were female. Thomasin gets blamed for everything from a cup that goes missing to the blight that overcomes their corn crop. She automatically gets accused because she is the eldest daughter and the only one that has gone through puberty, making her the only potential object of sexual desire. Just for that, she is a sinner and potentially even a witch.

I really can’t say enough how great this film really is. It is the kind of film that will appeal to many audiences because, while it has the overall occult theme, it is much more suspenseful than anything else. The Witch has amazing acting, haunting music, beautiful cinematography, and a compelling story. The only thing that bothered me a bit was there were times I had a hard time understanding what some of the characters were saying. This could be something that was a personal issue, but the combination of the accents and the old English dialogue made me lose some of what was said. I noticed this the most when the father (Ralph Ineson) spoke because he has such a deep, resonant voice. Other than that, it is difficult to find any fault. It is already a top contender for my favorite horror film of 2016. The Witch is a bone-chilling film of paranoia and dread that shows the wilderness is not the only thing to fear.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10