By Michael Williamson
Ohio University School of Film alumni Chelsea Peters, known professionally in the directing world as Chelsea Stardust, has a new film out and it is devilishly fun.
Satanic Panic tells the story of Sam (Hayley Griffith), a pizza delivery driver who, on her first night out, encounters a dangerous cult of high society Satan worshippers looking to conjure a demon. The cult, led by Danica Ross (Rebecca Romijn), is in need of a virgin vessel through which their Lord of the Underworld can be born. Sam, who is called to the house to deliver pizzas to the party, decides to confront her customers for not tipping and stumbles right into the center of the chaos. As it turns out, Sam is just the virgin they are looking for and finds herself in a fight for survival.
The film is a blood-soaked throwback to horror films of the 1970s and 80s with camera moves inspired by John Carpenter’s Halloween and a climax that would feel right at home in a Ken Russell film.
Horror publishing icon Fangoria is the producing force behind the film and under their eye, Stardust was able to implement old school practical effects straight out of SFX legends, Rick Baker or KNB’s prosthetics workshop. The film is stuffed with old-school gore effects and physical gags featuring plenty of vomit and viscera.
Although horror is Stardust’s passion and integrates into the story at hand, the film is first and foremost a comedy. This is especially evident from the supporting characters around Sam, such as the hyper-confident fellow pizza delivery guy (AJ Bowen) or Danica’s goofy husband, Samuel (Romijn’s real-life husband, Jerry O’Connell). With a screenplay by horror writer Grady Hendrix, the film is packed with one-liners and Diablo Cody-esque banter that keeps the story moving forward throughout the quick 85-minute runtime. At times, the tonal shifts can be a little at odds with one another but even during the dramatic sequences, the film never loses its fun.
Despite the comedy, Stardust does not skimp on the horror genre aspects. Much detail is put into not only the effects and the production design, but also into the cast. Jeff Daniel Phillips, who has appeared in a number of Rob Zombie’s films, and Jordan Ladd, who starred in Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, help populate the satanic cult.
This is Stardust’s second feature film after All That We Destroy, a film that will run as part of Hulu’s Into the Dark series. Stardust graduated from OU in 2007 as an undergraduate film student in the Honors Tutorial College. After her undergraduate studies, she moved to Los Angeles and worked as an assistant for comedy titans Ivan Reitman and Judd Apatow before moving to the world of horror to work for producer Jason Blum, the titular mastermind behind horror factory, Blumhouse Productions (Get Out, Us, The Purge). She then transitioned again, setting her sights back on directing.
Plans are set to have Satanic Panic available on blu-ray in the month of October, sometime before Halloween.
Cutline: Chelsa Stardusts, director of Satatnic Panic, leads an audience in the flashing of devil horns during a screening of the film at the Athena Cinema on Sept. 17.