My issue with them tends to revolve around just how believable that gimmick is and gets explored over the course of the film. Freddy Krueger works because its foundation is not only solid but creative as well as the fact that the screen cast is put through a series of bloody misadventures consistent with the projected reality. The same thing could be said for Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers (in varying degrees), while intellectual properties like the Saw franchise and the Cube universe occasionally stray too far into developments and circumstances requiring a bit too expansive a suspension of disbelief. This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them – I do – but it does mean that I’ll likely draw the line and make them only a single-time-viewing as opposed to anything I might discover anew years later.
Furthermore, this highlights why I do tend to struggle with motion pictures centered on the more conventional slashers. The ‘fresh kills’ of these flicks do tend to find themselves rather easily in situations wherein they’re another notch in the killer’s belt, and even audiences over time have come to identify these ‘players’ too stupid to turn on the lights and foil the darkness required for the deed to be done. They’ll go out – alone, unarmed, maybe half-naked, practically inviting their own bloody destruction – when hunkering down is the best (and seemingly obvious) course of action. Either their ignorance or the disinterest of the screenwriter creating them is too big a flaw for me to overlook.
That’s why I had a rough time with Satan’s Little Helper (2004). Honestly, the film had a bit of the good with the bad, somehow managing to straddle that fine line a bit too closely for me. Though I loved its structure – that of a killer conducting his own hunts on Halloween with a bit of uncharacteristic assistance from a dubious fresh-faced Trick’or’Treater – it bit off more than it could chew from its confectionary center when a bit more dripping red stuff was really all that was needed.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“Nine-year-old Douglas Whooly is obsessed with the handheld video game ‘Satan’s Little Helper,’ and annoyed that the attention of his big sister Jenna is being distracted by her new boyfriend Alex. These two concerns collide on Halloween, when Douglas witnesses a serial killer in a devil mask posing his victims like outdoor All Hallow’s Eve displays. Not comprehending how real the carnage is, Douglas becomes this Satan’s little helper – and that’s very bad news for Alex, for Douglas and Jenna’s mom Merril, and ultimate for their entire town.”
One of Horror’s greatest challenges is to know when enough is enough, and Satan’s Little Helper is a prime example of why restraint should be more greatly exercised. While it’s largely a conventional slasher picture with a twist – i.e. disguising our evildoer as a rogue, mask-wearing cretin joining the kiddies out for their most important night on the town – writer/director Jeff Lieberman’s tale rather quickly chucks logic out the window in favor of presenting the unstoppable serial marauder who can be practically anywhere at once … or whenever the script requires.
In short, Satan Man – as he’s been dubbed by viewers – merely goes about knifing the innocent with wild abandon. In the build-up to his storied screen adventure, he’s shown situating the dead on their front lawns in displays more macabre than the last; and at this point I started wondering whether or not some of the passersby might take a bit more interest in what’s so obviously not decoration. Really? Are these folks – young and old alike – really that stupid? Or is this just the way the ball bounces? Before you know it, he’s been from one side of town to the other, killed a growing number of citizens, essentially disabled an entire police force, terrorized an adults-only shindig, taken a bullet through the hand (that’s cleared up entirely only a few scenes later), swapped out to another costume, and … what? He's just getting started?
Why, Jason Voorhees is blushing!
To a degree, viewers might be able to accept young Doug’s naivety. After all, he’s a kid. He’s only nine. He’s likely lived a somewhat sheltered life … but soon we’re expected to believe that all of these folks taking knives to the chest and stomach … why, they’re just playing along with Satan’s holiday pranks? Really? The whole town? Once Satan and Doug begin running down folks in the street via a ride in a wayward shopping cart it becomes clear that Doug’s got far more emotional problems than just an unhealthy addiction to video games: he’s completely bereft of reality! What serial killer wouldn’t be smitten with the little urchin? It’s a match made … in Hell!
Setting aside the narrative quibbles, Helper does benefit from some curious performances.
Curiously, Helper ends with the suggestion for a return visit to the wide, wide world of Satan Man shenanigans, but – to my knowledge – none ever developed. Thinking of this outing as an origins picture isn’t a bad way to endure it; and I suspect a follow-up might’ve been smarter as the business of clarifying the villain’s desires in this cinematic universe was well out of the way. As a one-off adventure? Meh. It’s all just a bit too formulaic in spots – especially those defying logic – so perhaps you can think of it as a ‘trick’ instead of a real ‘treat.’
Satan’s Little Helper (2004) was produced by Satan’s Little Company LLC and Intrinsic Value Films. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the fine folks at Synapse Films. As for the technical specifications? Though I’m no trained video expert, I will say that I found the sights and sounds to be quite good; there were a few sequences with some grain and a loss of focus, so much so that I wondered if perhaps these were once excised footage re-inserted into more of a director’s cut … but there’s no indication on the packaging of that. As for the special features? The disc boasts an audio commentary from writer/director Lieberman; some vintage behind-the-scenes content; a 30-minute making-of documentary; and a few other nice bits. It’s a solid collection for fans who like the extras. Well done.
While Satan’s Little Helper is, at times, mildly interesting and occasionally clever – mainly because it has a good Horror/Comedy structure – I didn’t feel it rose anywhere near the level of a repeat performance. For me, it falls into that category of “a good first attempt, but it’ll likely be better in the remake.” Mostly, I chalk it up like that because there were too many moments where the characters’ collective stupidity was just too high for me to accept as authentic. (FYI: if you’re really that dumb, then maybe you deserve to be the next victim!) Still, some good performances do save it from being an entirely insipid affair.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Synapse Films provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray DVD of Satan’s Little Helper (2004) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.