SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER **** USA 2004 Dir: Jeff Lieberman. 100 mins
His first feature since offbeat, prophetic satire REMOTE CONTROL, this inventive riff on slasher conventions was a breath of fresh air at the time – and right at home in an eclectic career that has veered from unique eco horror SQUIRM to subversive satire BLUE SUNSHINE and JUST BEFORE DAWN, one of the standout slasher-era DELIVERANCE riffs.
There’s a deliciously anarchic attitude and plentiful dark humour at work in this tale of an meek-looking kid (Alexander Brickel) who befriends a Satanically-costumed madman and goads him into shoplifting, mowing down a pregnant woman, a blind man and a baby carriage (a major highlight) amongst other atrocities. The disarmingly light tone of the first hour masks a seriously twisted edge to the unfolding story: this is a movie in which a prominent character has his guts ripped out in front of his family while a cynical, 1970s-style conclusion offers no conventional resolution.
It’s Halloween and precocious gamer Brickel becomes obsessed with the idea of meeting Satan himself after playing the hilariously lo-tech videogame “Satan’s Little Helper”. His mom is cider-quaffing stoner Amanda Plummer and he is possessive of his gorgeous sister (an early role for Katheryn Winnick), who has returned home from college for Halloween with her boyfriend (Stephen Graham…but not That Stephen Graham) – borrowing Plummer’s fetching “Renaissance Slut” costume for the occasion. After seeing the aforementioned demonically-attired character displaying realistic corpses in his front garden, the kid instructs him to kill his sister’s boyfriend – not realising this faux-“Satan” is a bonafide serial killer happy to pursue a rampage encouraged by the over-imaginative sprog.
At the core of the story is a marvellously twisted new horror villain: silent but prone to lively gesturing, “Satan” is playfully nasty and his appearance (fixed evil grin, fake horns, bright red eyes, shock of white hair) perfectly pitched between goofy Halloween costume and genuine malevolence. It’s huge fun watching his mischief turn ever more sour: sniffing Winnick’s panties, posing for goofy photos with his victims for unwitting passers-by, going on a shopping spree for knives and sticky tape (“Is all that stuff to kill people, tape them up and spill their guts out?!”).
The clever script has a witty subtext about how all kids are much more compelled by “evil” stuff than wishy-washy nonsense, with a great revelatory line from Winnick after she discovers the killer has dressed as Jesus in one of his many ploys: “Jesus is Satan?!” As the town descends into panic, Lieberman never loses sight of the black humour, while offering unusually thoughtful attention to character and detail: note how the heroine’s nail-biting habit becomes pivotal during the climactic costume party. Appealingly acted by the young leads (it’s easy to see how Winnick became a star) and with a creepy / hilarious antagonist, this is something of an underrated gem.
Review by Steven West
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