Color, 2004, 100 mins. 1 sec.
Directed by Jeff Lieberman
Starring Alexander Brickel, Amanda Plummer, Katheryn Winnick, Stephen Graham, Wass Stevens
Treasured Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Synapse Films (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Screen Media (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
A kid-centric horror film of a very nasty kind, this Halloween offering is the fifth and final feature film to date from cult director Jeff Lieberman whose streak included Squirm, Blue Sunshine, Just Before Dawn, and Remote Control. Now appreciable as a clear forerunner to Terrifier's Art the Clown, Satan here is a masked serial killer (who may or may not be supernatural) prowling the streets of a small town. The off-kilter atmosphere here is difficult to pin down for much of the running time, with bloody slasher moments rubbing shoulders with oddball comedy and deliberately dim-witting characters. Here Lieberman embraces shooting on HD video instead of 35mm like his earlier work, and the shift in style works fine once you get used to the major shift in aesthetic; for many viewers, this will work like a charm slotted into your regular Halloween viewing schedule.
Obsessed with a Satan-themed video game and wearing a devil costume for trick or treating all day long, little Dougie (Alexander Brickel) approaches a demon-masked stranger and asks if he can be his helper -- which quickly involves homicides the child thinks are a form of play. Things get personal when the killer comes home with Dougie and plays mind games with his sister Jenna (Katheryn Winnick) and mother (Amanda Plummer), who think he's simply Jenna's boyfriend, Alex (Graham), in a mask. Soon the body count is building up around town, and Dougie's status as an unwitting accomplice becomes a major issue with his family's safety.
Crammed with seasonal atmosphere, Satan's Little Helper didn't get a ton of exposure at the time when it essentially went straight to video from Screen Media through Universal; however, its eye-catching villain and endearing personality make it worth a look and a potential cult item still in waiting. The 2022 Blu-ray and DVD reissue from Synapse Films marked a great upgrade for the film with its punchy color looking very striking here, and the DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track has plenty of presence throughout (and optional English SDH subs included). A Lieberman commentary from the DVD is carried over here and features him chatting without a pause all the way through about the creation of the film from location scouting to post-production color changes to mask designs. You also get a vintage 4m58s making-of featurette showing Liberman and the crew at work, while "The Devil and the Details" (32m38s) is a new featurette with Lieberman looking back at the film and some other projects he made for TV around the same time (as well as his involvement in the third NeverEnding Story film). "Mister Satan's Neighborhood" (22m37s) features Lieberman and a very familiar mask trotting around the upstate New York locations from the film, complete with some drone photography. A promo trailer is also included.
In 2023, the U.K. got its first Blu-ray of the film courtesy of Treasured Films taken from the same excellent HD master and featuring a strong LPCM 2.0 English stereo track with English subs. The limited edition packaging is quite impressive including a slipcase with art by Mariano Mattos, an illustrated booklet with new essays by Jon Towlson and The Hysteria Continues' Justin Kerswell, and if you buy it direct from the company webstore, a double-sided fold-out poster and three double-sided art cards. The Lieberman commentary is ported over here along with the 5-minute archival making-of featurette and the trailer; after that this one parts company with a different slate of extras. Speaking of The Hysteria Continues, the gang from the slasher podcast without equal is back here (well, three of 'em anyway with Justin, Joseph, and Nathan-- Eric sits this one out) for another entertaining track looking at the film's status among '00's slasher films, Lieberman's less than positive attitude about being put in that subgenre, the relationship between humor and horror, the attitude running through the director's entire body of work, and the various genre tropes getting tweaked here. In "Behind the Mask" (14m40s), critic and author Jon Towlson explores the film as a return to horror for the director after meandering through Hollywood for a bit and the mystique the filmmaker had during his first initial '70s classics which caused a splash in the U.K. A new Lieberman interview, "Home Invasion" (48m3s), is an expanded take on his earlier chats here in conversation with Towlson via web conferencing about the decision to shoot digitally during the big transition away from film, the genesis of the idea for the film, his favorite moments from the film, and the work experience he brought to dealing with the actors here including getting Plummer through a tough scene. A gallery is also included with lots of international video art.
Reviewed on July 23, 2023