Directed by Dante Tomaselli, 2006. Starring Felissa Rose, Ellen Sandweiss, Edwin Neal, Irma St. Paule, Danny Lopes, Christie Sanford, Ron Millkie. 81 minutes.
A family of six runs afoul of a clan of psychos in rural Noo Joisey. Think of it as The Pine Barrens Chain Saw Massacre, except without the chainsaw…and including a Satanic cult, an (apparently) invisible monster, and a ninja policeman and his magical squad car.
Let’s be blunt. Satan’s Playground is a near-unwatchable piece of crap. I could sit here all night and nitpick everything this film does wrong: bad acting; offensive characterization…
Okay, yeah, here’s where I get to put my rant in. This movie was made in, for Christ’s sake, 2006. Two thousand and fucking six. Shouldn’t we have gotten past encouraging the audience to laugh at mentally retarded characters simply because they are capital-R Retards? Didn’t that shit go out of fashion in the ’80s or even in the ’70s, except for so-called comedies starring Dane Cook? (Okay, to be fair, the character is stated to be autistic, but mostly he comes off as a staggering idiot who drools almost all the time. His theme, which is comic cheesy ’80s synthesizer music, doesn’t help.) Look, I’m all for a pronounced lack of political correctness in popular culture in general, and in horror movies in particular. But this is not the way to go about it.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, offensive characterization. Also shitty continuity (let’s take the case of the policeman—who is such a ninja that a person sitting ten feet away from him doesn’t notice him until well after he dies rather dramatically—and his teleporting squad car, which seems to exist only when the script wants it to be there? Or the slightly dimly lit hallway that everybody feels their way down as if it were pitch black…oh crap, I’m ranting again, aren’t I?), terrible acting, awful effects (look, I got no problem with bad special effects—remember, I’m a fan of the old Doctor Who—but Jeez Louise, the effects here are executed in such a way that calls attention to their badness), blah blah blah.
But I think the real thing that sticks in my craw about this (other than the presence of Sean the Amazing Drooling Comic Relief Retard) is that it seems that nobody involved with Satan’s Playground—not the actors, not the crew, not screenwriter/director Dante Tomaselli, and definitely not the fucking effects people—are putting in more than the bare minimum of effort required to make a feature-length motion picture. I mean, seriously, how hard is it to make a decent movie for half a million dollars (which is what IMDB tells me Satan’s Playground’s budget was)? How much effort would it have taken to produce a script whose three main plotlines (the psycho family, the monster, and the cult…and I haven’t mentioned all the other shit that comes out of nowhere never to be referred to again, such as the gang of campers, or the quicksand) actually seemed to be tied together in some way? Considering that the actors in this film seem to be, well, professional actors, how difficult would it have been for them to actually practice their craft? Is it really that hard? Is it arrogant of me to think, “Christ! Give me half a mil and I could make a better movie!” Do I expect too much?
Satan’s Playground has amassed a fair share of fans and apologists defenders, and the main argument of the defense is that it’s intended as an homage to low-budget, rough-around-the-edges horror classics from the ’70s (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) and ’80s (The Evil Dead). And, yeah, there are definite similarities…with one definite exception: Tobe Hooper and Sam Raimi, and their respective casts and crews, definitely seemed to be putting in some actual work.
So maybe this film is deliberately bad? Is it okay for a film to lampshade its failings by calling itself “self-aware” or “post-modern” or “an homage”? Tomaselli liberally seasons the closing credits with quotes from legendary directors Federico Fellini and David Lean, as well as French actress Isabelle Huppert, which means he’s at least educated to some degree about filmmaking as an art. I dunno, maybe he read a book about it once. (Of course, it’s possible to twist anything so that it looks like a deliberate artistic statement…every so often I find myself taking the Criterion Collection seriously, and I have to remind myself they’ve released deluxe DVD editions of not just one, but two Michael Bay movies.)
And perhaps the best question of all: why would anyone want to? If you’ve got the potential and the resources to make a good movie, or even a decent movie, why not put the extra oomph in? Why settle? I mean, I guess if I were a filmmaker I’d be willing to direct a bad movie if it had some potential to be a great commercial success and I had the chance to score millions of dollars off of it, but Playground never had a chance of raking in blockbuster bucks.
I guess it’s just going to be one of those eternal questions I’m just never going to get a satisfying answer for.
Moment of Zen
The quotations in the closing titles.