CS Interview: Writer Grady Hendrix Talks Satanic Panic
RLJE Films provided ComingSoon.net with the chance to speak with screenwriter and novelist Grady Hendrix (My Best Friend’s Exorcism, We Sold Our Souls, Paperbacks From Hell) about the new horror comedy Satanic Panic, which opens in theaters and on Digital HD today! Click here to watch Satanic Panic on Digital HD!
Sam’s first day as a pizza delivery driver is not going according to plan. At the end of a long day and not enough tips, her last delivery turns out to be for a group of Satanists looking for someone to sacrifice. Now in a fight for her life, Sam must fend off witches, evil spells and demonic creatures, all while trying to keep her body – and soul – intact. Starring Hayley Griffith (The Loudest Voice), Ruby Modine (Happy Death Day franchise), Jerry O’Connell (Billions), Arden Myrin (Insatiable) and Rebecca Romijn (X-Men franchise), Satanic Panic is “an absolutely entertaining horror film that will satisfy any viewer’s need for monsters, mayhem and…jokes” (Robert Saucedo, Birth.Movies.Death).
ComingSoon.net: This project was originally announced by Dark Sky years ago to be Ted Geoghegan’s next film after “We Are Still Here.” Can you talk about the journey the script went on?
Grady Hendrix: What had originally happened is Ted was looking for his next project after “We’re Still Here”. And Dark Sky sort of had a list of things they wanted in the movie, but they didn’t really have a story and he was trying to find something that would line up with his interests and what they would be willing to greenlight. I realized that I had a script I’d been working on. It was essentially “Satanic Panic”, but the main character was a dude. And I told him, “Hey, if we just switched the gender here from a man to a woman, this script would be in the ballpark of what you’re looking for.” So we did that, and he came up with the idea for the title “Satanic Panic” and we worked on it together for a bit, and Dark Sky was really excited. And we announced it in the trades. And then, through the vagaries of film financing, they had a crew ready to go to do a period piece that Ted had wanted to pitch called “Mohawk”. And I think at that point “Mohawk” was really just a three-paragraph pitch. On January 24 of that year, they were like, “Okay, well, let’s do ‘Mohawk’ and it’ll roll in May.” And so Ted was like,”Well, do you know anything about the War of 1812?” Which was good because I happen to be a big War of 1812 boss. So, we wrote “Mohawk” and it was fast, man. And then they went off to shoot it and I think “Mohawk” took us six weeks. We were just in my little office every day, he and I. Two people barely fit in there. When he got done with “Mohawk” he was pretty zonked and wanted to do something besides “Satanic Panic” at that point. But I still thought the script was good, and Adam Goldworm, who’s one of the producers, who’s also my manager, thought it was still good. So the Fangoria guys got involved. And that’s how it went from there.
CS: Right. And what influence do you think having Fangoria on board brought to the film?
Hendrix: Well, I don’t know if actual influence from the magazine came to the film, but they were not very hesitant about embracing the real horror genre elements. Other producers and distributors had been nervous about things like the practical makeup and some of the weirder effects, wanted to do CGI and things like that. The Fango guys really wanted to embrace the cultier, weirder special effects and they wanted to keep everything practical, with little CGI embellishments here and there. I think it being a Fango project really let it embrace its horror heart a little more than it would have somewhere else.
CS: Having Chelsea on board to direct seemed like a good call because she has a great horror background. Because the story is so female-centric, how do you think it was different than if a male director had done it as originally planned?
Hendrix: You know, I don’t know, to be honest. I really feel like it all has a lot more to do with the individual director. But I do think that given the amount of pain and suffering the two female leads go through, and the fact that almost all the leads are female, I do think it helped the actors to have a female director. I think they felt that Chelsea really empathized with them and was really watching out for them and taking care of them. Chelsea and I worked really intensely on the script to get it ready for production right up until a couple of days before the camera rolled. We did a table read with the cast and kept tweaking. I think that was huge.The further the writer can be involved, the better because every problem you could solve in preproduction, everything you can anticipate, everything you can get into the script just to make it easy while cameras are rolling pays off 10 times.
CS: I think the movie passes the Bechdel test like eight times or something like that.
Hendrix: Yeah. You know, I’ve never actually sat and applied the Bechdel test to something I’ve done. I actually get pretty frustrated because from time to time I really want to write something about dudes, but I always seem to wind up not being able to pull it off and writing about women instead. I don’t know why that feels like a more natural fit for me.
CS: Speaking of that, do you think it’s a coincidence that both this film and your book “We Sold Our Souls” both have female musician protagonists?
Hendrix: No, not at all. I mean, as I finished rewrites on “Satanic Panic” I was writing “We Sold Our Souls”. So no, not at all. I was in the heavy metal headspace. And in fact, really the fact that there’s an earlier draft of the script where Sam’s love of heavy metal is a much bigger part of her character, that definitely came from doing “We Sold Our Souls” at the same time. So Sam’s a younger, less cynical version of Kris Pulaski in “We Sold Our Souls”.
CS: Just because you were in that same headspace, so there was cross pollination.
Hendrix: Oh yeah, definitely. And Kris is much smarter than Sam. But at the same time, Kris is smarter, but in some ways, a lot more kind of a prisoner from her own point of view. She’s a lot more cynical than Sam. Sam’s not very bright, but she’s an eternal optimist and really believes that there’s always a way.
CS: You actually live in New York, but had to work on the film in LA. How do you sort of deal with the distance?
Hendrix: Actually, this was shot in Dallas, Texas. And yeah, and for the table reads and stuff, I just flew down for a few days. But yeah, no, LA is not bad. It’s a five or six-hour flight and I go out there a few times a year to pimp screenplays and look for work and things like that. A lot of people come through New York and I think a lot of folks are happy to have punch with someone in New York when they’re here. I’ve got some friends who are in production who are going to be out here in September, and I’ve seen a bunch of them, so it goes back and forth, really. I mean, if I was in LA, I’d probably be richer and more successful, but I have a hard time living anywhere that’s not New York. I like having four seasons.
CS: Same. And I have to know, because I’m a big fan of site gags: Was “Holland Oats” actually in your script or was that just a clever prop person?
Hendrix: Wait, the what?
CS: When Ruby Modine pulls a gun out of container of oats, and the oats says “Holland,” like the country Holland, and then “Oats.” [Hall & Oats]
Hendrix: Yeah. Oh no, in the script it’s definitely oatmeal, but the prop person did the branding.
CS: Okay, so props to the prop person there. That was a hilarious site gag.
Hendrix: Yeah, exactly.
CS: The title is “Satanic Panic” and of course there really was a satanic panic in America around the late 80s, early 90s, where certain folk were saying that there were cults in suburban areas and that there were Satanists performing rituals, etc. I know you’re a big research freak. How much of that did you pull from sort of that era?
Hendrix: The thing with the satanic panic, which is that when I was a kid and it was happening, I remember being terrified more because it seemed like the charges that were being leveled at people were so patently ridiculous, and yet so many people were taking it seriously. This is less pulled directly from the satanic panic, but with the movie it’s more, okay, well, let’s take it literally. Here is a satanic cult that’s using virgin sacrifices to summon demons and control the world. What would that actually look like? At the end of the day, it doesn’t look too far off from the world we live in. There’s always been this fear of a small bunch of privileged elites who have weird rituals, whether it be iowaska and neti potting and going on yoga retreats or it’s virgin sacrifices and baby cannibalism. I really like literalizing stuff, because I think that’s where you find a lot of humor in it. I’m not really looking to make it funny. I’m looking to make it more real. When you start making things real, they do get a little ridiculous, because you look at something like a satanic cult movie from the 70’s, like “Devil’s Rain” or “Race with the Devil” or something, or even like “Werewolves on Wheels”, which has the cult in it. You think, “What do these guys do on the weekends? They can’t spend all their time in robes chanting. Do they like movies? What bands do they like? They’re going to age out of this. Do they have a training/recruitment program?” As soon as you start to literalize this stuff, it gets realer, but it also at a certain point starts getting sillier. So my job is to stop before it gets too silly.
CS: Obviously, conspiracies always make for great movie fodder. Even if you don’t believe in conspiracies, they’re great engines for scripts.
Hendrix: Yeah, absolutely. Movies are so structured. They really are like conspiracies. They almost mirror that structure. You see two actors on screen having a coffee and you don’t see the secret network of technicians surrounding them to make sure it “looks real”.
CS: It was announced a little while ago that “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” was being adapted by Chris Landon, who just announced that he’s doing a different film with Vince Vaughn. What’s the status of that right now?
Hendrix: I don’t know. I’m the writer, so I’m the last person that anyone tells anything. If everyone met in the room, I’d be the guy they asked to get coffee. I know they still have the script, and I know that it’s still in motion. I know people keep juggling job titles from director to producer or to writer. I’m not really sure what’s happening. All I know is it’s still in motion, but I know they’re looking around and people are swapping hats and things. So you’ll probably hear it before I will.
CS: When I first heard that it was Chris Landon attached, I was like, “Oh, well that’s a good match with Grady’s sensibilities.”
Hendrix: Oh sure. Yeah, absolutely. One of the things for me is ultimately, what I do is I write books. I mean, I do screenplays, too, but I do books. And so, I really keep my head down. If you follow that stuff too closely, it’s like demolition derby, you get attached to this director and then it’s that one and then the other one. I’m just sort of like, “Let me know at the end.” I just wrapped up a book. I’ve got a book coming out next spring that I just wrapped up last week and I’m doing revisions on the book that’s going to be after that one right now. So I’m just trying to keep my head down and write as many books as possible before someone catches onto what I’m doing and the fact that I don’t have a real job and makes me stop.
CS: I hope this one was less of a chore than “We Sold Our Souls,” on which I understand you went through like four or five different versions.
Hendrix: Yeah, no. This one’s called “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires”. It was tough because it’s really hard for me to write parents. I don’t have kids myself, and I find parents really difficult to write, and it’s a book entirely about parents. So, that was really, really hard, but no, it was not the bleak descent into a personal hell that was “We Sold Our Souls”.
CS: “Paperbacks from Hell” was a huge phenomenon within the horror community. It seemed to revive interest in those old paperbacks. And then, you actually started a line of reprints with Valancourt Books Is that still going strong as an ongoing thing?
Hendrix: Yeah. So we just published the fifth of the first wave of the “Paperbacks from Hell” reissues for Valancourt, and we actually are about to announce the next five. We’ve got four of them pretty much nailed down and one of them we’re trying to line up before we make the announcement. But they’re really good. We’re really psyched. There’s a couple of books we couldn’t get because the author’s just, I don’t know, they were just like, “Ah, it’s not worth our time.” But we’ve got four and hopefully fingers crossed, this fifth one, that are going to be amazing. One of them’s a really well known title that’s been out of print for a really long time that we were kind of surprised was available. So yeah, no, Jay’s been out there from Valancourt, sending out demons into the world to do his dark bidding and secure some stuff. I mean, one of the books we’re doing has never been published in the States. One is well known and has been sort of in limbo for a long time, so we’re super psyched.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)