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February 8, 2009

Satan's Playground

2005, Dir. by Dante Tomaselli

Ever since American horror films had their boom in the Reagan era (and there's got to be a correlation there), a lot of people have earned the status of "icons of horror". The thing is, they're not all Robert Englund or Bruce Campbell. Thus is the case with Satan's Playground - a Texas Chainsaw Massacre wannabe that fails to even meet Wrong Turn's standards - which boasts not one but THREE "icons". They include Felissa Rose of Sleepaway Camp fame; Ellen Sandweiss who was Campbell's lady friend in The Evil Dead; and Edwin Neal - the deranged hitchiker from the original TCM.

There are a couple things one needs to remember when names like these get thrown around as carrying a modern flick. Firstly, there's a reason you haven't seen them headlining horrors in the last 2 decades - they're not entirely good actors. Secondly - and more crucially - they're usually desperate. This means any role, any time, as long as their name gets on the promo materials.

Despite these factors, I went ahead and watched Satan's Playground anyway. Is it because I'm too faithful, or because I'm stupid? Are they one and the same? You decide.

The Plot
Donna (Rose) and her gangly-Michael Phelps-looking autistic son Sean, along with her sister Paula (Sandweiss) are traveling along the Jersey roadways when their car breaks down. Looking for help, they come across the home of 96 year-old Mrs. Leeds, a creepy old lady living with two of her deranged kids, who has claims here 13th child was actually a bat-faced devil. Killings and bloodlettings ensue.

If this sounds kind of familiar, it's because it's based on the real-life urban legend of the Jersey Devil, which the hockey team was named after (and which was also the topic of a far superior episode of the X-Files). It's supposedly a hooved biped with wings and the aforementioned bat-face that roams the countryside of Pine Barrens, NJ - but it's never shown on screen here, so we wouldn't know.

The Good
Well, most of the film is in frame. Other than that, I don't have much.

I suppose I could give slight credit in regard to the Leeds family, as they are definitely creepy looking. Rose does as good a job as she can in the lead, and can still scream, but she's not really built to carry a film like she has to here.

The Bad
Pretty much everything. For starters, the movie is dull. There's little character development, and people choose their actions for the sake of the plot, which is entirely paint-by-numbers. Tomaselli tries to compensate by adding an overbearing musical score and ridiculous sound effects. So basically you get 80 minutes of running around and being chased and screaming, wihtout any levity. The movie wants to be a non-stop nightmare, but it's not engaging enough to be intimidating. It's a snarling teddy bear of a film.

The final act is especially frustrating, with a great example of the unmistakable horror tradition called "I've brought a lone cop who doesn't believe in backup or radios for contacting others, clearly everything will be OK, right? Oh crap!" This leads to the Evil Dead ripoff ending, mercifully ending the film before I had to sit in its stench any longer.

Random Moments
  • There's nothing notable or memorable in this movie. Even Rose, who I've grown a sick crush on through horror documentaries and interviews I've seen her in, is slightly disappointing. I blame the movie though, not her.
  • OK, there's one funny moment when the son gets sucked into a suckhole in the ground, which made me think of many ironic "Michael Phelps lookalike is drowning!" jokes.
The Verdict
I spent most of the runtime of this movie trying to think of the word to describe how much it sucked. I'm gonna go with festered. This movie sat on my TV screen festering for 82 minutes, reminding me of how bad being a fan of cult cinema can get. Sorry to the "icons" involved, but they already got their paychecks.

Felissa, if you're out there reading this (and you should be), your movie sucked, and you should have known better. You're still awesome. Love and kisses, The Mike.

The Mike's Rating: RUN AWAY!

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