A Look At ‘Satanic Panic’ With Screenwriter Grady Hendrix

Throughout the 80s and the early part of the 90s, there was a growing fear among suburban households, spurred on by the senseless rise of serial killings a decade prior. The fear was that evil was among us, hiding in plain sight. Evangelical Christians, supported by sensationalized television news shows, blamed Satanists and occult worship for this strange new violence in the world. They fanned the flames of fear by claiming that Satanic cults were operating, in secret, out of suburban America.

This growing fear and the wild accusations that arose from those claims were given the moniker of “Satanic Panic”. It was a phenomenon that was eventually proven to be completely unfounded… but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who grew up during that time period that didn’t hear stories of dark rituals conducted at midnight and animal sacrifices happening just down the street.

I imagine that director Chelsea Stardust (Hulu’s INTO THE DARK – “All That We Destroy”) and screenwriter Grady Hendrix (MOHAWK) heard those stories too as their new feature film, aptly titled SATANIC PANIC, explores the idea of suburban Satanists with surprisingly fun results.

SATANIC PANIC stars Hayley Griffith (THE MYSTERIES OF LAURA) as Sam. Sam is starting a new job delivering pizzas and she has been tasked with delivering a large order to an affluent neighborhood on the outskirts of town. Unbeknownst to her, the families residing there are all part of a demonic cult that are planning to bring a demon to earth that very night… they just need a suitable sacrifice and it looks like Sam fits the bill.

The film then finds Sam trying to avoid the cultists, led by a very game Rebecca Romijn (X-MEN) and Arden Myrin (MADtv), and survive the night. The concept at the core of SATANIC PANIC seems like it could be easily mined for all sorts of tense or unsettling moments, but SATANIC PANIC goes for a more satirical approach. While the stakes of the film are established quickly with some wonderfully gory practical effects, the cultists themselves are portrayed as surprisingly mundane, like a PTA group that is concerned with demonic rituals instead of bake sale fundraisers. The juxtaposition of bickering socialites dealing with the arcane and macabre is fun and unexpectedly keeps the film feeling light even when it turns gruesome in spots. SATANIC PANIC is delightfully more “spook house ride” than “chainsaw massacre”.

Considering that the film is the latest release from iconic horror publication Fangoria, the fact that a love of monsters, gooey effects, and tropes of the horror genre are on full display is no surprise. Stardust’s direction keeps the film lively and Hendrix’s script is chocked full of interesting details that make the film feel lived it and are sure to get any horror fan’s imagination racing with possibilities.

SATANIC PANIC’s solid performances, energetic direction, and well thought out script all add up to make it an easy recommendation for horror fans looking for a new title to check out ahead of the Halloween season.



I recently had a chance to talk with screenwriter, and 2017 Bram Stoker literary award winner, Grady Hendrix about SATANIC PANIC. We get into some mild spoiler territory in our discussion of the film. So keep that in mind as you read on. Enjoy!




What inspired you to write SATANIC PANIC?

Well, I love ’70s era Satanism, and I really thought it would be fun to update that. It really plays into the idea of … the 1% or the deep state or whatever. The idea that a small elite controls the world has been a pretty popular one. You know, there’s this conspiracy theory all the way back, and whether it’s the elites or Satanists or communists or, in the 19th century it was Catholics. It’s sort of an evergreen conspiracy theory. Also, I really wanted to do something about pizza delivery people, because I think they have crazy lives. They actually come to your house and it’s a very weird experience for them. They sort of see these little snippets of different lives all day long.

Also, I really wanted to do something about tipping. I feel like a lot of people work in the service industry, and if you work in a restaurant … most of your salary is in tips, and so you’re kind of dependent on the goodwill of your customers.  So, if your customers are Satanists, well, that sucks.  They don’t have any goodwill. It all just sort of started coming together that way. I was about to write a book that was a heavy metal horror novel and I really wanted a character who was a metalhead. In an earlier version of the script, Sam was a real metalhead and that played a lot more into the movie. So that stuff all sort of came together and congealed into this sort of slice of “horror cheesy pizza” that you wind up with.


One thing that really struck me about the film was the mundaneness of how the villains interacted. They are organized like an everyday social club and use a lot of corporate buzz words. Tell me about the decision to go that route with the cultists?

You know, one of the things that people say a lot is that I write “horror comedy”. I don’t think I do. I don’t try to. But one place I find a lot of juice is I really like to apply the reality principle to horror, right?



Like, who would be a Satanist these days? Well, they’d probably be rich people. Well, what are rich people like? Well, they probably have organic, gluten-free black masses. That’s what rich people like. They like that kind of stuff. They have fire features in their yard, they have pools, they have pool houses. If they have a black mass, they’re probably going to get their robes dry-cleaned to get the dead baby bits off of them, and they’ll probably use an eco-friendly dry-cleaner. That’s where I think people find a lot of the humor, because I don’t ever know if anything’s funny or not, or scary or not, until people see it. So, I really just like applying reality to it. If you do it too far, it breaks, right? It just becomes ridiculous.

I always like to try to find that sweet spot of what would this be like in real life? Well, you’re in a cult or or a coven, you’re going to want somewhere to have your black masses. Probably, it’s going to be good to have a nice big backyard, and your neighbors should probably be in the coven, too, so they don’t call the police. Then you’re all living together in sort of a community, and you’re going to be up in your neighbor’s business, you know? You’re going to know what everyone is like. You’re going to have petty grievances and all that stuff, an opinion about how they raise their children, and everything that comes with groups.

I think giving it that bit of realism really grounds it and makes it feel fresh. Because there have been so many cultist films throughout the years, especially in the ’70s and early ’80s. I really enjoyed the different perspective.

Oh, thanks. I appreciate it.


One of the other things that really stood out to me is the way magic is represented in the film. It feels like there are clear rules for everything. How much thought went into the magic and the rituals in the film?

A lot. I’m a huge fan of Asian movies especially Hong Kong movies, Chinese films, Korea …


Me too. 

There’s a whole strain of horror movies from Asia that are “black magic” movies like BOXER’S OMEN and HEX and WITCHCRAFT VS CURSE, RED SPELLS SPELLS RED. They were usually set up where a Hong Kong person who was positive and very civilized would encounter some kind of primitive magic. The films would always have these super goofy spells involving worm barfing and eating rotten meat and grinding up fetuses, and all these crazy really, really cool sort of folklore magic systems. No one’s ever done a movie like that in the States, and so I’ve always wanted to apply that sort of “Gong Tau” black magic Hong Kong film tradition to an American movie, and I thought this would be a great opportunity.

There’s actually a huge … probably way too much that reveals what a giant nerd I am … backstory. There is like a five page document, a backstory on the coven. Danica’s (Rebecca Romjin’s character) great-great-grandfather, had a magic duel with a Chinese magician in San Francisco in the early 19th century and wound up sort of taking on his magic system and integrating it into their sort of Salem-based witchcraft. As you can tell, there’s way too much backstory. It’s getting to really embarrassing levels of nerddom on my part.


As a guy who also loves Hong Kong film and is really into that kind of stuff, it sounds fascinating to me…

Oh, good! {laughs]

It adds to the film. It makes the world of it feel alive.

I always feel like I have way too much background when I do a book or a movie. I just have so much background research and information about the characters and their birthdays and all this stuff. And I really hope that that gives them a sort of thickness and weight. Even though the audience doesn’t know all that information, the fact that it exists for me when I create it, I feel like informs it somehow. So, it’s nice to see that it works.


Speaking of details, I have to ask about the “Killdo.” Where does that come from? In a movie full of left field things, that’s really out of left field. 

That was just one of those moments when you’re working on something and you’re like, “Oh wait, a “Killdo.”” And actually, I wasn’t even calling it a “Killdo.” I was like, “Oh, it’s like a chainsaw dildo,” and I think Ted was the one that was like, “Oh, man, I don’t know if anyone’s going to buy this script with a “Killdo” in it. A “Killdo.” That’s perfect. So that’s Ted’s. Ted coined the word. That’s one of those things that when this script was going around, a lot of production companies wanted that taken out. We actually shopped around a version of the script without that in it, because it just seemed like too much. And Fangoria, when it went to them, they were like, “Nope, that is great… why would we take that out? That is one of the things we love about this movie.” And so, yes, that was literally just this flash of perversity, and then Ted crowned it with the name.


I think it actually helps gives the movie stakes. I’m glad you guys kept it in…

Well, it is a horrible way to die.


It really would be. Yeah.

It’s goofy on one hand … [but] it’s harsh.


How do you go about formulating a strong female protagonist, like Sam, as a male author? 

Weirdly enough, I keep trying to write movies or books about dudes and they always wind up being about women. Sam was actually, in the first draft of the script, a guy. I was talking to Ted Geoghegan (director of WE ARE STILL HERE), who I did the story on this with, … He really wanted it to be a movie about a woman. I was like, “Well, it’s cool. I’ll just gender flip this and no problem.” But it doesn’t really work that way.


No, it doesn’t…

When you gender flip a character, a lot changes. So, stuff that was funny when it was a dude, like, “Oh, you’re a 24-year-old virgin,” with a guy, that’s kind of a cheap punchline for an audience. But when it’s a girl, a lot of assumptions start getting made on behalf of an audience. Like, “Well, why? Is she frigid? What’s wrong with her?” So, the main character really wanting to get a tip and not being super bright, but really sort of a genuinely good person, but who really just gets to the end of their rope wanting their tip, that was in the male character, as well. But being a virgin really took on extra weight when it became Sam the girl, because what’s wrong with a girl who’s a virgin at 24? I think that’s an unfair assumption a lot of people make in the audience. And so, I needed a good backstory for it.

When the chemotherapy angle hit me, I was like, “Oh, great.” It works really well, and it also kind of explains why she’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. She spent the years most of us spend in high school, learning how to navigate social situations, on a cocktail of chemotherapy drugs hooked up to a drip in a juvenile oncology ward. She was out of the mainstream. She missed a lot of that stuff. And it’s one of the reasons she’s so genuinely good. She’s a genuinely good person because she’s been through really bad stuff, and she believes that people are good and nice.

She was around some of the best of the best. I mean, some of the best people in the world are cancer doctors and nurses, or nurses because they know there’s no cure, but they’re there, and they believe that the fight is worthwhile. So she, at a formative age, was around some of the most optimistic, best people out there, and it rubbed off on her.


As we begin to wrap up, besides being a noted author, you are also known as a genre film enthusiast, film festival organizer, and a former critic. So, if you were going to recommend cultist films, what movies would you recommend and why?

Well, the two big ones that come to mind are RACE WITH THE DEVIL, with Peter Fonda and Warren Oates, from the late ’70s. I mean, it’s got all the iconography you want from a ’70s era Satanist movie. It’s got the red robes, and it’s also got some insane dirt bike scenes in it that are just … There’s something so ’70s and fabulous and macho and swinging about that movie. I really just can’t get enough of it. But then there’s a movie, from the early 2000s, a Taiwanese movie called DOUBLE VISION. It’s Tony Leung Ka-fai and David Morse. It’s a movie about a cult. It’s basically about these cops solving a series of weird, baffling serial murders, and there’s a cult that’s sort of involved in it.

It plays as a well-done knock-off of SEVEN. In the middle of the movie, the cops, this squad of like 20 police officers, go to serve a search warrant on the cult. The cult’s headquarters are in a big shiny corporate office building, and they go in and they serve the warrants. The cult members say, “Oh, great,” and then they lock the doors and murder everyone. It’s just such a turn on a dime moment. The whole cult is acting in unison without communicating or coordinating each other, and it’s just one of the most chilling five minutes of film I’ve ever seen. It elevates that movie so much. I mean, I hate to spoil it, but it’s unlikely anyone’s going to watch it. It’s hard to get a hold of.

I’m definitely going to track it down. Okay, one final question. A big thing in SATANIC PANIC is “The Rule of Sams”. If there was a “Rule of Gradys”, what would it be?

Oh, “The Rule of Gradys” would be Gradys undermining and hobbling Gradys wherever they find them. I imagine they’d all be like me and they’d be really competitive and mean-spirited, so they’d just be out to back stab each other. It’s horrible. I’m glad I don’t know any other Gradys, except the one in THE SHINING.


[Laughs] Well, that’s a good place to wrap up. Thanks so much for writing a really fun movie and taking time to talk to me today. I greatly appreciate it.

No, I’m glad you liked it, so thank you.


SATANIC PANIC is in Theaters, On Demand and Digital now from RLJE Films.