Of all the holidays celebrated worldwide, no single day is loved by the Substream staff more than Halloween. With October’s arrival, the time has finally come to begin rolling out a slew of special features we have prepared in celebration of our favorite day.
31 Days Of Halloween is a recurring column that will run throughout the month of October. The goal of this series is to supply every Substream reader with a daily horror (or Halloween-themed) movie recommendation that is guaranteed to amplify your All Hallows’ Eve festivities. We’ll be watching every film the day it’s featured, and we hope you will follow along at home. Reader, beware, you’re in for a… spooky good time!
Day 21: Satan’s Little Helper (2004)
It all started with a typo. Back in my teenage years, I was at school Googling the Simpsons’ family dog, presumably for some assignment or another, though I honestly can’t remember. However, I managed to accidentally transpose some letters and ending up searching the phrase “Satan’s Little Helper.” I came across a promotional website for an as-yet-unreleased horror film, which I promptly showed all my friends. We watched the film’s trailer, and we were instantly hooked by its comic tone and novel concept of a serial killer hiding amongst trick-or-treaters. Luckily for us, one of us worked at the local video rental store (which should give you an idea of how long ago this was) and convinced his boss that our rentals of the film alone would justify the expense of a copy. So we got to see the film, and it has stuck with us ever since as a classic of our childhoods.
Satan’s Little Helper is the story of a nine-year-old kid named Doug who is obsessed with a violent video game that shares the title of the film. His obsession likely comes from his parents’ inattentiveness, as his mother can’t seem to focus on him for more than a few seconds and his father is largely absent. When his sister comes home from college with a new boyfriend, he storms off in a jealous huff, wandering the streets of his town. He comes across a man dressed in a devilish disguise, setting up a human body on a lawn as an ornament. Thinking that the masked figure is Satan and that the body is fake Doug greets the stranger and asks if he can accompany him in murdering the local townspeople, asking only that they start with his sister’s boyfriend. The eerily silent figure agrees, and the two join forces to cause mayhem and destruction.
Setting aside the obviously topical nature of a child exposed to violent video games losing his grip on what is reality and what is fiction, Satan’s Little Helper is a surprisingly well-developed film considering its obviously low budget and its obscure direct-to-video release. It occupies a weird, uncanny valley between comedy and horror, because what we see on screen is often horrifying and disturbing, yet our perspective is largely through Doug’s childishly joyful lens. There are moments of genuine dread that encourage laughter just based on their strangely cathartic feeling from Doug’s perspective, and that carries over even when Doug isn’t present in a scene. There comes a point where everyone assumes that the sister’s boyfriend is occupying the Satan costume, when Satan has actually beaten him up and left him for dead. This creates a tension between what the characters know and what the audience knows, so while scenes of violence and mayhem bring us a perverse joy as Doug lives out his fantasies, there’s a strong undercurrent of inevitability as it slowly dawns on the family that something isn’t quite right.
The film’s third act capitalizes on this with a killer act break that completely upends the fantasy and brings the reality of Satan’s brutality into full focus. The film doesn’t completely abandon its comedy, but it definitely shifts into the background as the killer demonstrates his true power and intentions. It’s a good thing that the film never takes itself too seriously, though, because much of what happens in the film’s final 30 minutes is patently, objectively ridiculous. This killer has the power to murder cops without so much as an injury, which is wisely left off-screen to encourage the use of our imaginations, but it does stretch the limits of credulity. Similarly, there is an extended sequence where he ties up a woman in tape, brings her to a party, and everyone assumes it to be part of her costume. It’s absurd, but the film is in on its own jokes enough that the absurdity and the terror can exist side by side without much friction.
Satan’s Little Helper is far from a perfect movie. The performances tend to come across as inconsistent from scene to scene, and the static camerawork feels borrowed from a television set, but Teenage Me didn’t care about that. What I cared about was seeing this brazenly silly film that I discovered on accident live up to my expectations, and it still holds up remarkably well to my jaded adult self. It may not be a classic in terms of objective horror or comedy, but it’s a classic in my book that I am more than happy to tell the world about.