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Review Round-Up: “Satanic Panic” And “Strange But True”

With such a busy week now behind us, it’s time to catch up on a few reviews, so you all know what that means…the review round-up is back! Yes, today we’ve got a pair of films to discuss that I wanted to make sure didn’t get ignored. One is the horror comedy Satanic Panic, while the other is the psychological drama Strange But True. Both movies are interesting little independent offerings likely to be swallowed up by the big new release this weekend, but are they better? Well, read on below to see my thoughts on both flicks, at least one of which is a really fun alternative to the larger genre offering in multiplexes now. Read on to find out more…

Satanic Panic

There’s a small stroke of genius to be found within Satanic Panic, which finds an amusing way to skewer the rich upper crust while still being a gory horror tale about escaping a Satan worshipping cult. Mixed in with a healthy dose of comedy, this is a fairly fun little flick. During a weekend when It: Chapter Two is opening and about to be another of the biggest horror box office hauls of all time, this will only be a drop in the bucket, and that’s a shame. Almost across the board, this is a better, and much more fun, product, despite a fraction of the tools at its disposal.

The film is a horror comedy centered on a very bad day for a pizza delivery girl. Samantha Craft (Hayley Griffith) or Sam as she likes to be called, has just started this job and already hates it, getting stiffed left and right by customers. When she’s sent out to the rich Mill Basin section of town, there’s again no tip for her. Frustrated, Sam goes into the house searching for someone to at least give her gas money. Instead, what she finds is a satanic cult, led by Danica Ross (Rebecca Romijn), and one in a bit of a bind, too. Danica and Gypsy Neumieir (Arden Myrin) were planning on using Danica’s daughter Judi (Ruby Modine) as a virgin sacrifice tonight, but she’s…well, no longer in that state of being. However, Sam happens to be, so they lock her up. Sam manages to escape, which puts her on the run, with the cult members after her, bickering all the way. Chelsea Stardust directs a script by Ted Geoghegan and Grady Hendrix, while Mark Evans handles the cinematography. The score comes via Wolfmen of Mars. Supporting players include AJ Bowen, Jerry O’Connell, Jordan Ladd, Whitney Moore, Jeff Daniel Phillips, and more.

What makes this movie worthwhile is how much fun it’s having while being gory and weird. Hayley Griffith perfectly embodies both a scream queen as well as someone just smart enough to know how strange the whole situation is. The comedy often works better than the horror, though the mixture works well, especially as it satirizes the rich. Up and coming genre filmmaker Ted Geoghegan had a hand in the screenplay, so that certainly is a boon here. Then, there’s Rebecca Romijn, who embraces her villainous role fully, having the time of her life as a one percent-er hoping to bring forth Baphomet. Griffith is best in show and could be a star in the making, but Romijn is a delight.

Satanic Panic doesn’t reinvent the horror comedy wheel, but it does things in just unique enough a way to stand out from the pack. Interestingly, it would make a great double feature with the recently released Ready or Not, even if that’s the far superior work. Regardless, Satanic Panic is a fun genre mashup that is well worth seeking out. Odds are, you’ll have a blast with it.

Strange But True

How far can a loaded cast take you? A host of strong performances surround a mediocre story in Strange But True, making for a bit of a frustrating experience. A ton of talented actors and actresses, performing in an underwhelming mystery? It’s nothing new, but it’s still a shame to see. Whatever talents are on display in front of the camera are torpedoed by a less than stellar focus behind it. The ambitions for a prestige style psychological drama are noble here. It’s simply the execution that’s decidedly lacking.

The movie is a melodrama with a mystery/thriller element. When Melissa (Margaret Qualley) arrives at the door of Charlene (Amy Ryan), it’s not a happy reunion. Her son Phillip (Nick Robinson) is happy to see Melissa, but Charlene isn’t, considering she’s the former girlfriend of her dead son Ronnie (Connor Jessup). Ronnie’s death destroyed the family, leading to divorce from Richard (Greg Kinnear). Now, five years after the death of her boyfriend in a horrible tragedy, she’s back to tell his family she is somehow pregnant with his child. Though initially dismissive of her, the family soon goes from skeptical to curious, ultimately finding themselves trying to prove her right or wrong. Of course, what they discover is way more terrifying than a simple yes or no answer. Rowan Athale directs a script by Eric Garcia. Neil Athale composed the score, while the cinematography here is by Stuart Bentley. In addition to the aforementioned case, Blythe Danner and Brian Cox have important supporting roles.

The cast does their best to make the flick work, but it’s all in vein. Frankly, any project that has Brian Cox, Blythe Danner, Greg Kinnear, Margaret Qualley, Nick Robinson, and Amy Ryan in it should be better than this is. They all do their parts, but their roles are thinly written and in service of a poor story. There are moments in the second act that are intriguing, but before long, it gets ridiculous and never is able to recover. Eric Garcia’s writing and Rowan Athale’s direction never give their cast the tools needed to make this an essential viewing experience.

Strange But True probably worked better as a novel. The gloomy mood would play better on the page than it does here. Cinematically, it’s just far too cold and clinical to succeed. Especially towards the end, things become so far off of the deep end that it’s impossible to take seriously. It’s a shame too, as the cast in place was pretty spectacular. If you’re a fan of someone here, you might consider it a curiosity, but as a quality motion picture? No, it falls short of that mark…

Both films are in theaters now!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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