Satanic Panic: The House of the Devil

31 October 2009 at 22:07 (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

Halloween greetings to all! Before I begin, I want to acknowledge the fantastic work of Kristen, who wrote the guest post about Dead Man’s Bones. I’m glad to finally host another opinionator on the blog besides myself, and I welcome other contributions from interested writers.

Now, on to the good stuff: yesterday, I noticed an especially tantalizing review in the New York Times about The House of the Devil, a well-reviewed horror film released just in time for Halloween. The film set in the 1980’s follows a young woman hard-up for cash who takes a babysitting gig out of desperation. From the looks of the trailer, the high-paying offer devolves into a satanic blood bath:

Beyond the standard review, the Times offered up a slide show illustrating the film’s period mise-en-scene along with audio of director Ti West describing the motivation for the film’s setting and aesthetic. Mainly, West explains the selection of the eighties as motivated by the satanic panic of the era.

Among many other backlashes of that decade, it became somewhat of a trend for prominent evangelicals to suggest that satanic ritual abuse was not only occurring in society but wide-spread. Worse yet, a PBS Frontline episode from 1995 suggests that prominent psychiatrists promoted and exploited the conspiracy theory for professional gain. I recommend digging up a copy of the episode as it presents the frightening possibility that through suggestion during hypnosis, a slew of crazy memories can be implanted into patients seeking treatment for depression.

A related moral panic of the eighties is captured in the disturbing documentary Capturing the Friedmans. The film documents the deterioration of a middle-class Long Island family whose patriarch is accused of child molestation. The film’s presentation of the facts reveals a troubling picture of the kind of witch hunt that can happen when people build a case on a tissue of lies. The trailer below gives hints at what occurred:

All the more reason to check out The House of the Devil. I’m interested to see how the film uses satanic panic and whether or not the film undermines or reinforces the ideas that motivated it. Either way, the film looks like one hell of a scare.


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