End of Days (1999)

Every year I watch an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie on my birthday as a gift to myself.  It’s a small, often private ritual that I hold sacred, and it’s one I plan months in advance.  Which version of Arnold am I going to celebrate with – the one who gets in gunfights with alligators?, the one who gives birth to a baby with his own adult face?, or maybe a double-trouble combo of Arnie clones?  The possibilities are endless.  This year, the decision was easy.  I happened to find a used DVD copy of the nü-metal Schwarzenegger relic End of Days on a thrift store shelf a few months before my birthday, making my selection obvious.  Then, just a couple days before this year’s Big Event, a tabloid new story came out about Schwarzenegger’s abhorrent behavior on the set of End of Days.  Specifically, he was accused of deliberately farting in the face of his co-star Miriam Margoles during their fight scene.  And did he apologize for this workplace transgression?  No, dear reader, he laughed.  Beyond confirming yet again that all millionaires are assholes, it was kind of a nothing news item, worthy only of a chuckle while scrolling though headlines on the old Twitter feed.  It was the easily most press End of Days has gotten in this century, though, and its timing meant that this year I was celebrating my birthday with The Fart Movie.

Anyway, the Nü-Metal Arnöld movie holds up fairly well.  There was once a time in my life where any vaguely gothy movie with a prominent KoRn single on its tie-in soundtrack was an instant 5-star classic in my eyes, so I can’t say I enjoyed it as much now as I did when it was a Blockbuster rental, but it’s still a hoot.  End of Days is a product that only could have been made in that exact spiked-collars-and-wallet-chains era, marketing itself specifically as Y2k horror.  Set “three nights before every computer fails,” the film dreads the approach of the year 2000 with the same dread Christian doomsayers approach the birth of antichrist.  In fact, it directly links the two strands of paranoia.  You see, the Mark of the Beast has been misinterpreted in modern translations of the Bible.  That “666” has been flipped by mistake, making 1999 the Year of the Beast, when Satan would return to Earth to choose his bride and the mother of his world-destroying son.  The oncoming worldwide computer crashes of Y2k appear to be coincidental, but they’re frequently cited by radio DJs in the background as a parallel end-of-the-world scenario.  In case you don’t remember, Y2k never happened the way its biggest doomsayers promised, but Gabriel Byrne sure does arrive on Earth as a father-to-be Satan in this film, and there’s only one Austrian-accented supercop in all of NYC who can stop him before it’s too late: Jericho Cane.

End of Days takes the genre mashup “action horror” about as literally as it possibly can.  Satan’s quest to become a father before the Times Square ball drops on Y2k positions the film as the 90s blockbuster version of Rosemary’s Baby, but it’s the 90s version of Rosemary’s Baby that would’ve been produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.  Sure, there are spooky Catholic ceremonies behind every locked door in every NYC church, as the city’s priests wage a secret Good vs Evil battle with the Prince of Darkness.  And there are plenty of CG demons, back-alley crucifixions, and Satanic orgies to keep the teenage edgelord KoRn fans in the audience drooling on their JNCOs.  None of it is supposed to be especially scary, though.  It’s all just badass, gothy set dressing for a standard-issue Arnie action flick, complete with helicopter chases and storefront explosions.  Schwarzenegger plays such a cliché version of an action-hero cop that he borders on parody, especially in an early scene when he’s introduced pouring coffee, pizza, Pepto, and Chinese leftovers into a blender as a makeshift hangover cure – like a noir goblin.  Luckily, that approach means he still gets to land some of his standard action hero one-liners despite the oppressive gloominess of the setting, like in a scene where he tells Satan, “I want you to go to Hell,” and Satan shoots back, “You see, the problem is sometimes Hell goes to you.”  That’s some beautiful late-90s cheese, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

End of Days has a lot of problems.  Its 2-hour runtime is super bloated for a movie with so few ideas.  Its female lead, Robin Tunney, doesn’t have much to do besides wait around as a damsel in Satanic distress (and to vaguely resemble Brittany Murphy).  Worst yet, Kevin Pollak was brought in as sarcastic comic relief, as if the producers weren’t convinced Arnie wasn’t funny enough on his own (despite being, hands down, the funniest action lead of all time) and somehow thought Kevin Frickin Pollak was the solution to that non-problem.  Still, it feels like an essential artifact in both nü-metal & Y2k genre cinema, bridging the gap between two really dumb things I cared way too much about when I was 12 years old, with my all-time favorite action star at the helm (and sometimes on the cross).  It has an interesting production history too.  Both Sam Raimi & Guillermo del Toro turned down the chance to direct before it fell in the lap of anonymous workman Peter Hyams.  It was also written with Tom Cruise in mind to star, which would’ve changed the entire tone & meaning of the project.  It’s the kind of what-could’ve-been scenario that really fires up your imagination . . . until the conversation is dominated by the fact that Schwarzenegger is a bully who farted in the face of Miriam Margoles.  Oh well, at least he didn’t fart into an open flame, since flames & explosives were such a prominent aspect of its Satanic set decoration.  A lot more people could’ve been hurt.

-Brandon Ledet

Lagniappe Podcast: The Great Satan (2018)

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, BoomerBrandon, and Alli discuss The Great Satan (2018), Everything is Terrible!’s retelling of the story of the fallen angel Lucifer, conveyed in a hyperactive mixtape of obscure VHS clips. 

00:00 Welcome

01:40 The Black Cat (1934)
02:52 The Lure (2017)
05:10 StageFright: Aquarius (1987)
08:30 Landscape Suicide (1987)
10:25 Into the Inferno (2016)
14:45 The End of Evangelion (1997)
22:35 Dune (2021)
32:00 Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988)
33:13 Nightmares on Elm Street
37:40 Jennifer’s Body (2009)
39:18 Return of the Living Dead (1985)
44:35 The French Dispatch (2021)

47:25 The Great Satan (2018)

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherTuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

– The Lagniappe Podcast Crew

Hail Satan? (2019)

“It’s a great day to be a Satanist! It’s a great day to be a human being.”

The longer I reflect on the movie in retrospect, the more I appreciate the question mark in Hail Satan?’s title. This is a film that constantly challenges your assumptions about what it means to be a Satanist in the modern world until you start to question whether you’re a Satanist yourself, and how you can strive to be a better one. If I were still a shithead contrarian mall-goth teen with a chip on my shoulder about having been raised Catholic, I might have preferred that titular punctuation to be an explanation point. Fuck yeah, Hail Satan! And down with homework too! The surprise of this half-documentary, half propaganda piece is how it makes you wonder whether that same youthful contrarianism could be weaponized into a genuinely productive tool for political activism. I went into the film expecting to roll my eyes at close-minded Richard Dawkins types who immaturely latch onto atheism as if it’s a belief system rather than an absence of one. I left politically Fired Up and questioning my own core beliefs. Am I a Satanist? Is it moral to be anything else?

As the documentary explains, “Satanist” used to be a pejorative term that political & religious deviants were labeled with by others, not something that was chosen as a prideful belief system. That changed with Anton LaVey’s publicity carnival The Church of Satan, which openly mocked Christian piousness & ritual in a celebration of the self & selfish pleasures. The main subject of this documentary, The Satanic Temple, reconfigures LaVey’s mission into something more purposeful & coherent. The group still values the worship of the self and the fixation on Earthly existence over preparation for an unlikely afterlife that LaVey “preached,” but they take an active, overtly political role in making that Earthly world a better place to live. The entire foundation of the Temple was designed to directly, purposefully oppose the escalation of the Christian Right’s unconstitutional involvement in American politics. They’re just as drawn to troll-job media stunts as The Church of Satan, but in this case the mockery is targeting the way Christian political groups defy the Constitutional separation of Church & State by officially endorsing candidates, erecting Ten Commandments tablets at state capitals, and promoting prayer in public schools. They’re taking a clear stand against the increasingly prevalent lie that “This is a Christian nation,” by countering, “Actually, that’s factually inaccurate and to disagree would be just as un-Christian as it is un-American.”

Of course, there is a certain level of contrarian trolling afoot in this us vs. them dynamic, and that’s partly what makes the documentary such a fun watch. Members of The Satanic Temple are mostly just wholesome, politically conscious nerds who’ve dressed themselves up in Sprit Halloween Store costumes to play the part of wicked Satanists. That’s what makes it so funny when Catholics & Evangelicals take their roles as harbingers of Evil at face value, visibly terrified of the threat they pose to humanity’s collective soul. They deserve the pushback too, as all the Temple is really doing is appropriating Christian Right political tactics to expose them as hateful hypocrisy & unconstitutional bullying, merely by applying them in another religious context. The Temple only wants to install a statue of Baphomet on state capital grounds in cases where the commandments are already represented – unconstitutionally. Their satirical publicity stunts are mostly aimed to draw attention to how often Christian political pundits overstep their bounds because they represent the “dominant religion” in a secular nation. If anyone else pulled this shit, they’d be immediately shut down with an indignant fury, yet we rarely challenge the intrusion because the Christian opposition seems so insurmountable, especially in the American South. Watching their own infuriating political tactics turned back on them like the barrels of Elmer Fudd’s gun is immensely satisfying.

As a documentary, Hail Satan? has very little interest in historical context or unbiased presentation of current events. It dials the clock back to the Christian doubling-down in American politics of the Cold War 1950s and the Satanic Panic 1980s, but only to clarify that the idea that United States is “a Christian Nation” is a relatively recent lie that defies the intent of the Constitution as it was written. Mostly, this is a work of pure propaganda, promoting a single organization’s effort to fight for free speech & political secularism in the US. Some artistic representations of Satan from pop culture touchstones like Häxan, Legend, and The Devil’s Rain illustrate the political platform presented here, but the strongest case the film makes for its allegiance to The Devil is to point out that Satan Himself was a political activist in Christian lore. He dared to challenge God, which sometimes feels just as daunting as challenging the political bullying of the well-funded, over-propagandized Christian Right. It turns out that teenage mall-metal shitheads who hail Satan to annoy their parents are accidentally stumbling into a legitimate, worthwhile political stance that could only benefit modern Western society if it were taken more seriously. So yeah, it’s the kind of propaganda piece that promotes its subject rather than questioning it, unless you count questions like “How could anyone in good conscience be anything but a Satanist?” and “How could I better serve & emulate Satan in my daily life?”

-Brandon Ledet

Satanic Panic (2019)

I closed out my experience at the Overlook Film Festival this year the exact way I started it: with a comedy that wasn’t at all funny. Just like with my opening night selection, Porno, I sat through much of Satanic Panic in the festival’s closing hours not laughing at any of the film’s proper Jokes but being amused by the absurdist excess of the sex & violence onscreen anyway. Humor is entirely subjective, as I learned a day prior when a total stranger scolded me for laughing during Peter Strickland’s killer-dress giallo pastiche In Fabric because it is “not a comedy” (hard disagree), so I’m sure this splatter comedy has a core demographic of genre nerds out there who are going to slurp up its cutesy occultist humor like so much blood & viscera. For the rest of us, the film is at least committed to exploiting the full absurdist potential of its sex & violence, perhaps the two most reliable sources of entertainment in the history of commercial art.

This film picks up where Rosemary’s Baby leaves off. Upwardly mobile suburbanite aristocrats gather in a beige McMansion to worship Satan as their Dark Lord. Their ritual du jour involves summoning the demon Baphomet to impregnate a sacrificial virgin, providing a physical form for an Evil deity. Our POV character is the virgin sacrifice in peril – a pizza delivery driver who dares speak up when the cult stiffs her on her tip, only for them to single her out for their depraved ceremony of untold horrors. Most of the film details her fight for survival over the course of a single night as she must first accept that witchcraft is real, then adapt to overthrow the black magic Satanists who want to destroy her with it. Luckily, her blue-collar pedigree has better prepared for the fight than the pampered suburbanites that surround her, whether or not they have all the forces of Hell to summon for backup.

In its least convincing moments Satanic Panic attempts a weirdly earnest emotional throughline about personal courage & survivor’s guilt. Its Society-esque thematic territory in which the Rich are an evil force that are actively trying to kill us is much more successful, but still a little hollow. Mostly, the plot is a thin excuse to juxtapose a wholesome cutie who loves fuzzy bunnies with the blood-soaked horrors of Satanic worship. It’s a relatively harmless source of humor (excusing a rape joke or two, re: preemptively losing her virginity), but also not a particularly novel or clever one. For me, the film worked best when the humanity of its characters was forgotten entirely in pursuit of sexual, gory mayhem: strap-on “killdo” drills, poisoned children, fisted neck wounds, Cronenberigan anus monsters, blood-soaked occultist orgies, etc. It may not be the pinnacle of joke writing or emotional drama, but Satanic Panic at least knows how to deliver the goods when it comes to over-the-top ultraviolence & softcore sexual mania.

From a production level standpoint, this should’ve been able to accomplish much more than what Porno pulled off. While that film was a more amateur affair populated by unfamiliar faces and limited to just a few locations, this is a Fangoria-supported debut feature for Horror Industry notable Chelsea Stardust and features supporting performances from Rebecca Romjin, Jerry O’Connell, and Arden Myrin among its suburbanite Satanists. It’s far from a major studio production, but the fact that it amounts to the same general effect of something as cheap as Porno can’t be a good sign. Because both of those titles were able to earn their place on the schedule for the same generally well-curated horror festival, and both screenings were met with uproarious laughter from plenty of genre nerds besides me, I assume there are many people out there who will find Satanic Panic hi-larious, whether or not they would enjoy it more than Porno. Admittedly, I did eventually have fun with its commitment to bloodlust & excess myself, but I also walked away a lot more cautious about making time for these unvetted splatter comedies the next time I’m prioritizing what to see at a genre film festival. I now know that they’re a type, and not necessarily my type.

-Brandon Ledet

Episode #68 of The Swampflix Podcast: The Devil vs. Keanu & The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

Welcome to Episode #68 of The Swampflix Podcast. For our sixty-eighth episode, we wrap up the Halloween season with The Devil himselves. James & Brandon are joined by Krewe Divine co-founder Virginia Ruth to discuss three movies in which Keanu Reeves goes head to head with Satan. Also, Brandon makes James watch The Witches of Eastwick (1987) for the first time. Enjoy!

-Brandon Ledet & James Cohn