In addition to the usual reviews and comments you would find on a horror movie blog, this is also a document of the wonderfully vast horror movie section of the video store I worked at in my youth.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Satanic Panic!

After snagging a copy while in Montreal, I finally finished reading Spectacular Optical's second release, Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s, an exhaustive compilation of essays that further reinforces just what a whacked-out decade the eighties truly were.

I was raised in a neutral environment when it came to religion. Well, truth be told, it may have leaned toward disdain on my father's part based on his constant mockery of said establishments. I know our address was eventually blacklisted by the Jehovah's Witnesses that used to come door-to-door. The point is that I never gave Satanism any less legitimacy than any other religion out there. Even as a kid, I knew that the extremes offered up in the horror movies I watched were just that; extremes.

Not all of us were as liberal, as I cannot understate what an accurate term “panic” truly is. The deeper I got into the book, the more fantastical it became. Several decades removed, some of the fear mongering that was going on was downright comical. The chapter by Joshua Benjamin Graham on fundamentalist readings of the occult in Saturday Morning cartoons in laughable. At worst, they were a disingenuous way to sell toys and merchandise to millions of children, but a conduit of evil? Let's get real, people.

He-Man: The Great Corrupter...

As highly visible figures like Geraldo Rivera – whose infamous 1988 “Devil Worship” special is broken down by Alison Lang – continued to fan the fire, hysteria began to take hold. 

A phenomenon called Satanic Ritual Abuse arose and several high profile criminal cases popped up around the world, the most publicized being the McMartin Pre-school Trial. As written about by Adrian Mack, due to a lack of evidence, no one was ever convicted and the media fervor over the alleged Satanic activity seemed to overshadow the real tragedy of grievous child trauma.

The book balances out these horrific chapters with some lighter fare, including the chapter by W.M. Conley on Christian evangelical VHS and Paul Corupe's piece on Jack T. Chick. I learned of Chick and his religious tracts just a few years ago around the release of Dark Dungeons.

I find this trailer highly amusing, yet I'm still not completely sure this is supposed to be satire. What is no laughing matter is the genuine alarm Dungeons & Dragons brought about in the early eighties, profiled here by Gavin Baddely. I was introduced to the world of D&D very early on through my older brother and was acutely aware when the media started portraying it in a negative light. How anything that fostered imagination and creativity (I was designing dungeons by the time I was nine) not to mention reading and math skills, could be rallied against as evil was beyond me. Alas, I distinctly remember being told by a friend that he wasn't allowed to play at my house anymore because I engaged in such activities. Such prejudices are hard for a young kid to absorb.

Still got my set. Still got my soul.

Naturally, my favourite chapters of the book were the ones about film, of which they were a few as horror has often danced with the Devil. Kevin L. Ferguson explores the integration of technology and Satanism through the eighties films Evilspeak & 976-Evil, Samm Deighan runs down the fairly robust history of “Heavy Metal Horror” & Kurt Halfyard quite astutely heralds Joe Dante's The 'Burbs as the death knell of the Satanic Panic, even if America's inherent xenophobia still lives on to this day.

When it comes down to it, the establishment is always going to look for a tangible element to pin the woes of the world on. Before heavy metal music and its “Satanic” disciples, it was comic books and now, many years later, violent video games are allegedly corrupting our youth. Sadly, the Satanic Panic happened due to a religious right having just enough clout to sway even the most supposedly objective of peers. It was a time of widespread insanity and, even putting aside the prevalent threat of nuclear annihilation, it is kind of a miracle that we all made it through to the other side and into the nineties.

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