• Gabe Powers

Satan’s Little Helper Blu-ray Review


Synapse Films

Blu-ray Release: October 25, 2022

Video: 1.78:1/1080p/Color

Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

Subtitles: English SDH

Run Time: 100:01

Directors: Jeff Lieberman


Nine-year-old Douglas Whooly (Alexander Brickel) is obsessed with the handheld video game Satan's Little Helper and annoyed that the attention of his big sister, Jenna (Katheryn Winnick), is being distracted by her new boyfriend, Alex (Stephen Graham). These two concerns collide on Halloween when Douglas witnesses a serial killer in a devil mask (Joshua Annex) 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, Jenna's mom, Merrill (Amanda Plummer), and ultimately, for their entire town. (From Synapse Films’ official synopsis)



Few motion picture directors made as large of an impact on the cult film industry on as small of a scale than Jeff Lieberman. Beginning with the gritty, low-budget killer worm movie Squirm (1976), he produced a total of four movies, each belonging to a different genre and each offering a completely unique take on that genre. Following Squirm, he made his version of a zombie movie with Blue Sunshine (1978) and skewered the Me Generation alongside similarly-themed, but far less strange movies from George A. Romero (Dawn of the Dead [also 1978]) and Philip Kaufman (Invasion of the Body Snatchers [also 1978]). He released camping slasher Just Before Dawn in 1981, only one year after Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980) initially defined the camping slasher, and subverted newly-established clichés. Then, in 1988, he was handed a decent budget to make a high-concept, sci-fi teen romcom, Remote Control.


When Remote Control wasn’t a hit with audiences or critics, Lieberman made money as a screenwriter and documentarian for hire. He returned to narrative feature direction 17 years later for his film (for now, he’s still alive as of this writing), Satan’s Little Helper (2004). Satan’s Little Helper doesn’t have the reputation of his earlier work, but it fits his vintage modus operandi of approaching established genres with an eye for social satire. Like Just Before Dawn, it acknowledges and subverts genre expectations; like Blue Sunshine, it teases cultural establishments, and, like Remote Control, it examines the ‘danger’ of media (video games instead of television). It’s not as successful as a horror film – especially not compared to something as viscerally disturbing as Just Before Dawn – but Satan’s Little Helper isn’t a horror movie with comedic elements: it's a black comedy laced with horror sequences that sometimes don’t quite fit.



Unfortunately, the comedy isn’t particularly laugh-worthy and the narrative grows really listless after the initial set-up, but the concept of a serial killer plying his trade during Halloween with a child sidekick to boot is good, and Lieberman always writes good characters that skirt the line between regular people and complete weirdos. There’s a charming sense of eccentric, but genuine familial love between the main characters, backed by good performances from little Alexander Brickel as main boy Dougie and future Vikings (2013–2020) and Wu Assassins (2019) lead Katheryn Winnick, though the whole thing is held together by Joshua Annex as the silent serial killer ‘Satan Man’ (some shots were apparently the AD) and A-lister Amanda Plummer as Dougie’s mother. Plummer is particularly outstanding, since she seems to be improvising most of her performance, yet manages to be completely believable as your best friend’s kooky mom.



Video

This Blu-ray was originally announced as far back as 2011, but was held back for rights or conditional reasons, I assume. The advertising describes it as the film’s HD debut, but there’s evidence of a 2015 Blu-ray from Screen Media. That disc (if it indeed exists) is OOP, though, so this 1080p, 1.78:1 release is the only current purchase option for fans. The film was shot using 1080p digital HD cameras when digital HD cinematography was still in its infancy. As a result, it does have that overly clean, made-for-TV vibe. Director of photography Dejan Georgevich does his best to play with focus, color, and lighting in order to give everything the most cinematic look possible given the medium’s limitations. The image is neat sometimes to the point of artificiality, but the edges aren’t overly-sharpened, thanks to shallow focus and soft lines. Details are tighter in well-lit settings than dimmer ones and digital grain follows suit, though the absolute darkest shots exhibit solid contrast and deep blacks without crushing out subtle gradations. The biggest issues (ghosting and random, artificial zooms created in post-production) are inherent in the original material.


Audio

Satan’s Little Helper is presented in its original 2.0 stereo and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. Like the video quality, the audio quality is somewhat hampered by the film’s budget and the state of digital filmmaking at the time. It was still a little difficult for small movies to compete with their blockbuster counterparts in terms of fidelity, clarity, and surround sound capabilities. As a result, this track is uneven, but gets the job done with simple effects and straight-forward vocal performances. Composer David Horowitz’ synth score offers some much needed depth and bass to an otherwise thin, dialogue-heavy track.



Extras

  • Commentary with writer/director Jeff Lieberman – This track was originally recorded for the 2005 Screen Media DVD and has appeared on almost every digital disc since. Lieberman takes the job seriously and hunkers down to discuss the making of the film, scene-by-scene. He only gets lost in describing on screen action a handful of times.

  • 2004 behind-the-scenes EPK (4:58, SD)

  • The Devil and the Details: Making Satan's Little Helper 2022 (32:38, HD) – This Synapse-exclusive mini-doc features new interviews with Lieberman, mask creator Jonathan Fuller, make-up effects artist Anthony Pepe, cinematographer Dejan Georgevich, and actors Alexander Brickel. Subject matter includes Lieberman’s post-Remote Control career, casting, production, various technical challenges, and release struggles.

  • Mister Satan's Neighborhood (22:37) – A newly filmed tour of the original filming locations hosted by Lieberman.

  • Promotional trailer



The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.


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