The upcoming Satanic Panic is a good-natured sendup of all things bad. Since Penny Lane’s documentary Hail Satan?, it seems devil worshippers are putting their best hooves forward in an effort to mainstream. Not the ones who do it right, of course, the elite few who go the extra mile to truly plum the darkness and depravity of demonic surrender. The ones who get rich off it, and aren’t afraid to sacrifice a virgin or two along the way: The diabolical one-percenters who don’t pay taxes and certainly don’t tip pizza delivery drivers.
These one-percenters are people like Danica Ross, though she isn’t exactly a person. Played by Rebecca Romijn, she and her followers live by an unforgiving code as dictated by the “triple-faced fuck monster of remorseless intent and illuminator of poisonous knowledge,” the demon Baphomet. And no, it’s not the same code engraved at the center of the Hail Satan? documentary which caused Chilling Adventures of Sabrina so much trouble. Hayley Griffith (The Loudest Voice) plays Sam, the virgin who delivers herself up on her own Vespa. The film also stars Ruby Modine (Happy Death Day) and Jerry O’Connell (Billions) as disposable twigs on the family tree. Produced by Fangoria and Aperture Entertainment, Satanic Panic is B-movie fun, best seen at midnight.
Satanic Panic was directed by Chelsea Stardust, based on a screenplay by novelist Grady Hendrix, who came up with the story along with Ted Geoghegan (Mohawk, We Are Still Here). Stardust is probably best known for her 2017 film All That We Destroy, which ran on Hulu’s Into the Dark anthology series. She came up through Blumhouse Productions, working on such film as Jem and the Holograms, The Lords of Salem, and The Purge and Paranormal Activity franchises. Stardust spoke with Den of Geek about keeping devils at bay, actors in character, and her future in horror.
DEN OF GEEK: Satanic Panic was a lot of fun. Do you think you’re going to burn in hell for it?
CHELSEA STARDUST: Definitely not. I don’t believe in that anyways, so.
Have you ever witnessed a supernatural event?
Not in life, though on set we did have some real satanic artifacts. The only person that knew about that was me and my production designer. I wanted a couple sort of real satanic things on set, but I didn’t really want anyone to know about it or get freaked out about it. However, I think one of our cast members, a couple of the cast members got word about it and they were putting crystals in their clothes and things like that to protect themselves. So that was a kind of fun little thing people were doing.
Do you remember what the artifacts were?
There were a couple of things, but one of the one that I think you’ll notice the most is when Danica is cutting up the cocaine. That’s actually on a Lilith Mirror. That was sort of a fun thing we had on set and I was like, “We have it, let’s use it.” Yeah, so there were a couple of things on set, but that’s one I’ll mention.
What’s great about working for Jason Blum was not only was I on set and got to watch masters like James Wan work, but I was hands-on in the production. Also, working for Jason, I got to witness a lot of the business side of things, which a lot of people don’t always get to see. So in terms of deals and contracts and things like that, it was really educational for me. Also how distribution works and things like that. You don’t always learn that stuff, especially in film school, which I went to. So I get to learn from all these incredible directors but then also a great producer as well. So that’s all, I felt like a sponge. I was trying to learn as much as possible when I was at Blumhouse to just help know how it all works.
How long did Satanic Panic take to shoot?
It was 18 days.
How was Fangoria to work for as opposed to Hulu?
For Satanic Panic, they already had the script and I came aboard to direct that and they were wonderful to work with. I’d been a big fan and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do the project. I’m such a huge fan of Fangoria. All That We Destroy was a script that I brought to Blumhouse, who I primarily worked with. I did work with Hulu a little bit. They would give notes on the edit but were fairly hands-off in the process. Both companies were very respectful for my vision and my freedom as a filmmaker, which I really appreciated.
What can you get away with as an independent filmmaker that you couldn’t at a more demanding studio?
Working in a low-budget space is challenging in the sense that you don’t have as many takes. We maybe got to do four takes of something. So you’re really leaning on your crew and your actors to help make your job easy. But you do have a lot more freedom, so you’re not dealing with studio notes necessarily. However, I would be more than happy to work for a studio on something. I do love independent film making, but I also love seeing big studio movies. So yeah, I think there’s just a little more flexibility and freedom you have with independent films. And I’ve loved my experiences so far.
What did the actors bring as far as improv?
A lot of the actors I worked with had experience in comedy and that was great because it just makes my job easier. Basically, we do a couple takes off of the script. Then, if we had time, I wanted some of the actors to improv. Like at the beginning of the movie, the speech that Mike Winfield gives to Hayley, when she’s getting on the Vespa about to go to Mill Basin, and he talks about his experience at Mill Basin. That entire piece was an improv monologue that Mike did. It ended up in the movie because we loved it so much. We were like, “We can’t not use this.” But I wanted to take advantage of those actors that had done comedy in any place we could that time allotted. So that was really fun.
Samantha is pretty casual about sidestepping casual sexual harassment. Can you tell me a little bit about the underlying commentary?
Yeah, so she’s sort of surrounded by it. She’s dealing with that both at her job, and then when she goes to Mill Basin. Women basically run this movie and men take a back seat. Actually most of the men in the movie are kind of scumbags in a way, including her interaction with Samuel, Jerry O’Connell’s character, which is a pretty hard character to play. I thought Jerry did such a great job with it, and he’s representing this toxic masculinity she’s faced with. She’s literally at her job and then going to this mansion, delivering these pizzas, she’s dealing with it as well, showing that it’s kind of everywhere. But I think Jerry handled that character really well and yeah, they actually had lot of fun filming that scene.
What was it like to work with Rebecca Romijn?
It was great. I’ve been a fan of hers for a while, for a long time, and getting to work with her is pretty surreal and really fun. And she’s just fierce, and I hope we get some Danica Ross cosplay in the future. But yeah, she was a lot of fun to work with. And I know Hayley and Ruby had a lot of fun working with her. And then working with her and Jerry together, they have one scene together that was really fun and Rebecca didn’t really have any experience in the horror space or working with gore and practical effects. So it was really awesome getting to direct her and Jerry in that part.
How do you direct someone when they’re pulling needles out of their head, what do you tell them?
Oh, Rebecca with the spike going through her head? It’s funny, when I was talking with her about that part when we were getting ready to shoot it I said “This is what’s going to happen.” Her character is really truly supernatural, where the rest of the cultists are people, humans. Danica is actually other and so even though she gets a spike through the skull, it sort of just temporarily puts her out. But it’s sort of like dealing with a migraine when she takes the spike out. But I told her it’s sort of knocking her unconscious, not necessarily killing her. So of course she comes back to life and pulls it out of her head and has to refuel by eating these hearts and there’s a whole ritual to it. Which Rebecca I think had a lot of fun with.
What do they actually taste like? What do you actually use and what do they taste like?
Oh, for the heart? I think it was, if I remember correctly, a gelatin of some sort, sort of like jell. I think that’s what it was. I’m trying to remember, something that was edible that she could put in her mouth. But I think it was just like with red food coloring, something kind of weird like that.
“Death to the weak. Wealth to the strong.” How’s that working out for you?
I don’t know. I guess we’ll see. I’m still a starving artist, so we’ll see what happens.
Do you have any favorite satanic horror films?
There are a bunch that inspired Satanic Panic, which include House of the Devil and Race with the Devil and Deathgasm. And there’s a little bit of Jennifer’s Body. So those are some of my personal favorites. I also loved the documentary Hail Satan? and I think everyone should check that out. Those are a couple that come to mind.
I know that Grady worked at the American Society for Psychical Research, but I was wondering if there were any satanic consultants on set.
Not on set, but I know Grady did a lot of research. So everything kind of came with the script because he did a lot of that heavy lifting when he was writing. A lot of that’s just from his research and coming from his brain too.
Is there any difference as far as fun in making a campy or a comedy film than making a serious horror film?
I mean I had fun. My first movie [All That We Destroy] is not a comedy in any way, shape or form. It’s a science fiction thriller. But I think making movies is fun. I think it’s one of the best jobs in the world that we get to create something that never existed before. It’s one of the greatest forms of expressions. So, no, I think it’s all fun. I think how you’re approaching it too, but Satanic Panic specifically, I wanted to make something that I would have fun with as a teenager or a horror lover watching it. So I made sure to sort of implement that on set and every movie is a miracle. So it’s a tough shoot, but I wanted to make sure we had some fun making the movie too.
How was it to work with Grady Hendrix? He said that he worked right up until about a few days before shooting.
Yeah, he was wonderful. I’m a huge fan of Grady. When I saw that his name was on the script, I thought, “How do I make this movie mine?” But I love My Best Friend’s Exorcism and Horrorstor and I was a little nervous at first to work with him and give my notes because I didn’t know him so I wasn’t sure how he would respond. But he was so open and we had such great brainstorming sessions together and he was an absolute delight to work with and I hope I get to work with him again.
You said you didn’t know if you’re going to get to work with him. Did you perform any rituals to work with him?
I did burn some sage and say a couple of words to the universe to help me get that job, so …
Have you ever attended or seen anything like a ritual, an occult ritual or anything of that nature?
In person myself? No, but I’ve seen, obviously a lot of documentaries and things like that, to outside research, but also as someone who’s just fascinated with that. But no, not in person that I can think of at this moment, unless I was brainwashed.
Will there be people that will be afraid of the satanic panic of Satanic Panic? Are you actually looking to convert us all?
I’m a huge fan of the Satanic Temple myself, so I don’t know. Again, everyone should go see Hail Satan?.
Where do you want to go in horror moving forward?
Because I’m such a fan of horror, I would love to just keep exploring other subgenres. I’d love to do a slasher movie. I’d love to do something that’s body horror. I’d love to do something more serial killer focused. I wouldn’t mind doing man versus creature, man versus animal sort of movies. I’m a huge fan of the genre and would love to just keep exploring all the sort of little subgenres of horror.
Satanic Panic will be released in limited theaters and VOD platforms on Sept. 6.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.