DIRECTED BY: James Felix McKenney
PLOT: In this re-imagining of the “Christ-sploitation” films shown in churches and
probably a few Southern gynecologists’ offices of the 60s and 70s, we follow a young man and woman who make all the wrong choices in a haze of drugs, alcohol, and rock music while unknowingly under the influence of two demonic imps.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Satan Hates You, while initially very jarring in its lack of self-explanation, is a satisfying experience in terms of its Troma-esque shock horror and its acute satirical edge. But its freaky imagery leans too often on a bland naturalistic style that mars its individuality and chokes the weirdness out of the movie.
COMMENTS: Satan Hates You is a very hard film to place. Being a satire, a dark comedy, and a horror film is no ordinary pedigree, and Satan Hates You maniacally shifts from one of these genres to the next every few minutes. It is a wicked send-up of those fear-mongering Christian PSA films that pop into existence every generation about the dangers of doing ungodly things like having abortions and doing drugs. But it honestly doesn’t hit you that way when you watch it if you don’t do your research. The first time watching it, I felt this to just be a dark, meandering horror-comedy about two idiots who make a lot of bad choices. Director James Felix McKenney doesn’t really go out of his way to make this idea pop out at the audience with staples of the “Christ-sploitation” genre, like cheesy acting, an oversimplification of right and wrong, and loads of self-righteous condemnation. We are instead tossed quite objectively into these people’s lives, full of sex, murder, and self-sabotage, and don’t get dropped many hints that we’re supposed to be in on a joke.
Once one understands the idea, everything falls into place a little more, and it does indeed become a more cohesive movie, and a weird one to be sure. There are a lot of hideously violent moments that heighten the weirdness factor quite a bit, including an abortion performed with what looks to be a wet vac in a basement and a gruesome, surreal gay-bashing scene. And sprinkled amongst the film are strange scenes of televangelists preaching the word of God, played by various horror film alumni, such as Angus Scrimm of Phantasm fame, and the prolific John Levene! And they’re not the only horror icons here, either. Reggie Bannister (also from Phantasm) fame plays a seedy bartender, and Michael Berryman of The Hills Have Eyes plays a hotel owner! That in itself is a little weird, but what’s arguably stranger is that holding this movie together are long stretches of normalcy and banal minutia. Sure, there are violent murders, but to get to those, we have to hear some righteously boring conversations about characters and places we’ll never see, events we’ll never care about, and sit through moments of moral quandary that really just add up to actors spacing out on camera. It can be a sour juxtaposition, and it might even make me a bad person for saying this, but there is a very large part of me that wanted people to get hurt just to break up the monotony in the middle of this little indie horror.
Satan Hates You can’t be faulted too much, though. It’s funny at times, the horror can be genuinely cringe-inducing, and I found myself satisfied with the in-your-face approach to the style. It is a pleasurable feature from a low-profile director whose talent brings forth an assortment of surprising innovations. The acting is fair, the cinematography is wild and youthful, and the violence is simply spectacular. Satan Hates You is a decent feature overall, but it just doesn’t feel weird enough to recommend. The spark of imagination is there, and it feels like something truly bizarre could have been hacked out of it in the editing room, but as it stands it’s a case of “close, but no dice.”
366weirdmovies adds: I think one of the key points Eric brings out is this: if you’re not familiar with the obscure genre of Christian scare films, you’ll probably be nonplussed by Satan Hates You (although I would have expected that missing info to make it a weirder experience). When I watched this I was in on the joke from the get-go, so I experienced the movie differently, and ended up liking it better (I’d give it at least a half star higher rating, though I agree it’s not weird enough for Listing according to our exceedingly high standards).
Even more than a parody of Christian scare films, I see it as an attempt to adapt a Chick tract quite literally, right down to the final comic-book looking cameo from Christ at Calvary. (The pair of scheming imps are also a motif that frequently shows up in these tracts). I mean, how many movies feature drug dealers who play Dungeons and Dragons while their Wiccan womenfolk stay in the back, brewing up abortifacients? That’s a paranoid Pentecostal worldview made flesh, and I admire the objective approach and the way McKenney (for the most part) resisted the easy temptation to mock his fundamentalist characters, instead letting them hang themselves with their own doctrinal ropes. Even so, I found Scrimm’s final speech unexpectedly sincere and moving. His character added needed balance and a recognition that, however peculiar their worldview and ridiculous their scare tactics, there’s a significant kernel of genuine compassion motivating the proselytizers.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“There are so many wild ideas going on in SATAN HATES YOU that I had trouble wrapping my mind around its first half, but once I grasped the experimental approach I was completely immersed by its second half, when the various threads came together seamlessly.”–Greg Lamberson, Fear Zone (screener)