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Satan Hates You
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by Jay Seaver

"There's grindhouse horror, and then there's hellhouse horror."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL: I must admit - I've completely lost the ability to tell genuine evangelical Christianity from satire of the same. I say this not to disparage the people who find comfort and strength in their faith, just to point out that as with any group with strongly held convictions, you sometimes need to look very close to figure out whether something is being said with the force of true belief or comic exaggeration. For the life of me, I can't figure out which one :Satan Hates You" is, which may make it sort of brilliant.

We are all sinners, as they say, but Marc and Wendy may have a leg up on the rest of us. Both hang out at the same bar; Marc (Don Wood) is an unemployed alcoholic who is quick to anger when somebody gets the impression that he likes other men, while Wendy (Christine Spencer) is a party girl who is not terribly particular about what she puts in any of her orifices. They are being watched by unseen demons Glumac (Larry Fessenden) and Scadlock (Bradford Scobie), who are not allowed to interfere directly but can certainly whisper encouragement. Still, evil influences aren't the only ones in their lives; the folks at the storefront church next to Mickey's bar make overtures to Marc, and Wendy finds herself drawn to the televised sermons of Dr. Michael Gabriel (Angus Scrimm).

"Christian" doesn't often word-associate well with "bloody horror", but they are not always mutually exclusive. There are both long and recent traditions of apocalyptic art, and Halloween "Hell Houses" are often surprisingly graphic to those who don't realize that God-fearing people often have extremely specific and detailed ideas about sin and the punishments sinners will receive at the hands of Satan, and are dead serious about scaring you away from them. So when the characters of Satan Hates You are involved in nasty, sinful things (on either side), writer/director James Felix McKenney presents it with plentiful blood and gore, often imaginatively so. That back-alley abortion clinic, in particular, is impressively grotesque. The production values are sometimes a bit crude, as befits something made with more fervor than resources or technique.

And yet... The folks involved certainly aren't particularly well-known for making Hell House movies. Producer and co-star Larry Fessenden has a long list of independent movies he's worked on, horror and otherwise, and the horror movies tend to be motivated more often by environmental than religious concerns (although, despite how American politics frequently align, they are far from mutually exclusive). Also, one of Fessenden's productions is McKenney's last feature as a writer/director, 2006's Automatons (which also starred Christine Spencer and horror mainstay Angus Scrimm), which also features deliberately lo-fi production values and a certain type of handmade style. Here, he plays coy enough with his style that it's all but impossible to tell just what his goal is - is it a sincere Christian scare movie, a pastiche by someone who likes the style and enthusiasm but doesn't always agree with the details (being gay seems less damning than being homophobic at times), or a parody? The cartoonish cackling glee of the demons and evil of the abortion nurse could honestly go either way.

It's well-presented, in any case. Don Wood does a good down-on-his-luck working class guy, and also has a good handle on Marc's closeting: Not effete, but with little tells that change depending on whether he is interacting with men or women, and crude-but-real anger when his heterosexuality is questioned. Christine Spencer is less nuanced as Wendy; she's the basically nice girl who has fallen in with a bad crowd, pleasant enough, but sometimes a little too wide-eyed for a girl supposed to be on a bad path. Fessenden and Scobie play the demons as almost comic relief, all big-toothed grins and cackling over just how eee-vil they are. Angus Scrimm, on the other hand, has a fatherly warmth that might catch fans of his horror work by surprise.

Scrimm's sincerity is a large part of why, for all that "Satan Hates You" often seems over-the-top and played for laughs, the audience may find themselves taking it somewhat seriously. As much as the movie has a laugh at some of the paranoia and intolerance spewed in the name of God, McKenney doesn't seem to be joking where the underlying message is concerned.

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originally posted: 04/21/11 23:40:59
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Boston Underground Film Festival For more in the 2011 Boston Underground Film Festival series, click here.

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