It’s time for #TrashOrTerrorTuesday
…when I examine a film that’s been languishing in my personal library to determine if it is #Trash or #Terror
– or more importantly, if it deserves to stay in my collection.
And so, out from the dusty shelves of #VHS tapes & DVDs comes…
Satan’s Playground (2006) by #DanteTomaselli
A family gets lost in the Pine Barrens and becomes the prey of the Jersey Devil. Not to mention some crazy backwoods family with a creepy door knocker…
“Enter If You Dare”
Satan’s Playground (2006) is one of those curious movies that I could remember watching some years back – and I could remember a fair bit of detail about it – but I simply never felt like watching again. So why had a kept it in my collection? I must have, at the time, felt like I would want to watch it again in the future. But even since starting this #TrashOrTerrorTuesday thing, I keep looking at it and thinking “not this week.”
So, I guess that’s reason enough to put it to the #TrashOrTerrorTuesday test.
The first thing that a person might notice about Satan’s Playground is that it’s got an interesting cast. It stars Felissa Rose, who rose to fame as Angela in Sleepaway Camp (1983). She only appeared in a handful of things over the next 20 years, but starting in 2003 she’s amassed almost 150 credits in ultra low budget horror films.
Ellen Sandweiss plays Felissa’s sister in Satan’s Playground. Her name is not as well known, but she played Cheryl in The Evil Dead (1981). Satan’s Playground was apparently her first movie appearance after that.
Edwin Neal, who plays a member of a crazy backwoods family in Satan’s Playground, is best known for playing a member of a crazy backwoods family in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). He’s also in another one of my favourites, Future-Kill (1985) – not to mention over 70 other movies, TV shows, and video games.
It becomes clear when watching Satan’s Playground, that writer/director Dante Tomaselli is hugely influenced by both The Evil Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There are stylistic flourishes that seem to evoke Sam Raimi, like a POV camera racing through the woods and a loud, rhythmic banging sound as the characters approach a decrepit looking house in the woods.
The crazy backwoods family terrorizing (and killing) people seems like a definite nod to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but like I said in one of my recent #TrashOrTerrorTuesday posts, there are so many ripoffs of that movie out there that it’s almost pointless to mention it. In this case, however, the casting of Edwin Neal seems to make it particularly obvious.
Perhaps the weirdest thing about Satan’s Playground is that if feels like two different ideas fused together. On the one hand, it’s a monster movie about The Jersey Devil attacking people in the woods. This is actually the more underdeveloped side, as we don’t spend a lot of time on it – but it is introduced first. The second idea is, of course, the victims running afoul of the crazy backwoods family in the woods. There is also some nonsense about Satan worshipping cult members in robes, but we only get a few glimpses of them. It may be that they are worshipping The Jersey Devil, in fact.
So what’s the verdict?
Satan’s Playground is Trash – with a dash of mild Terror on the side. It does actually feature some good cinematography and some creepy atmosphere. There are a few decent moments of horror and gore. However, like many other movies, the problem is the script. Characters make bone-headed decisions, and very little that happens in the movie makes sense. For example…
A family’s car gets stuck on a deserted country road. The father says that he will go and get help. He wanders off into the woods (rather than following the road) in broad daylight. The rest of his family waits in the car until it is pitch dark. I’m guessing that it must be hours later, and the father has not returned. So, his wife decides to go looking for him (or for help), and she wanders into the same woods. Next we see the father arrive at the decrepit house in the woods. Minutes later, the wife arrives at the same house. Huh? How did she manage to catch up with him? Or, how did it take him so long to get there?
This could have been fixed in editing by showing the father arrive at the house first, then cutting to the car hours later. We would just assume that much time has passed. By showing him arrive at the house, and then immediately showing the wife arriving at the house, we are convinced that very little time has passed (although the filmmakers might want us to think otherwise, I’m not sure).
There are many other WTF moments in Satan’s Playground. And even though it does have some decent qualities, I don’t think I need to watch it more than twice in this lifetime. Much like other movies I’ve put to the #TrashOrTerrorTuesday test, I’d rather watch the films that influenced it, than this one.
Satan's Playground (2006) by #DanteTomaselli
A family gets lost in the Pine Barrens and becomes the prey of the Jersey Devil & a crazy family with a creepy door knocker.
— Angus Kohm (@AngusKohm) January 5, 2022