Satan's Little Helper
Blu-ray A - America - Synapse Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (31st October 2022).
The Film

Ever since his sister Jenna (Vikings' Katheryn Winnick) went to the mainland for college, young Douglas Whooly (Alexander Brickel) has been in a world of his own with his only constant companion being the video game his otherwise busy father Dean (The Wrestler's Wass Stevens) and mother Merrill (The Fisher King's Amanda Plummer) bought him called "Satan's Little Helper" in which the player gets points for helping Satan maim, mutilate, and kill human beings ("Ooh, look: a pregnant woman!"). This Halloween, his sister has come back to Bell's Island to go trick or treating with him and he is determined that the pair of them find Satan so he can play the game in real life.

Dougie is disappointed when Jenna shows up with drama class boyfriend Alex (Stephen Graham) who also comes from the island but would rather spend the holiday with Jenna's family rather than his own abusive father (Adventures in Babysitting's Dan Ziskie). Dougie is upset and runs off only to find Satan himself (or someone in a devil mask) on a neighbor's porch setting the man's mutilated corpse outside like a Halloween decoration. Satan agrees to take him on as his helper and Dougie asks that the next soul he sends to hell be his sister's boyfriend; unbeknownst to them, Alex has come up with the idea to make friends with Dougie by dressing up as Satan and taking him trick or treating. Alex goes out to Dougie to get a costume but Dougie returns with Satan who his sister and mother believe is Alex taking his role quite seriously. Even though Satan has promised not to hurt Dougie's mother and sister, Dougie starts to get both a little jealous and apprehensive about Satan's responses to Jenna's saucy maiden costume and act. When Satan shows his true colors, Jenna and Merrill believe that they are up against a maniac while Dougie still believes that it's the devil himself… and he may be right.

Written and directed by Jeff Lieberman – the man behind such genre classics as Squirm, Just Before Dawn, and Blue Sunshine before going mainstream with the R-rated sci-fi comedy Remote ControlSatan's Little Helper is a far cry from those earlier efforts, playing more like a mean-spirited Halloween TV kids special that nevertheless pulls its punches with regard to the darker aspects including the joyous maiming of the old and infirm, suffocation and mutilation murders, Halloween candy mixed with prescription drugs, and party punch spiked with drain cleaner. In spite of an immobile rubber mask, the killer manages to convey some sense of menace through body language, but the tone of the film – combined with some bright and colorful photography – is such that we see the menace to the characters without actually feeling it.

The film is more successful in its more blackly comic moments like Satan and Dougie turning a grocery store parking lot into a video game by plowing into innocents with a shopping cart or a duct tape-bound and suffocating Merrill being dragged around a Halloween party by Satan while the guests try to interpret the concept of their costume pairing. A third act twist in which a repentant Dougie's prayers are seemingly literally answered is amusing but the stalk-and-slash finale feels rote and the final twist falls flat. It is hard to tell just to whom the film is marketed; it's too violent for kids but too juvenile for teenagers and adult (especially post-Scream). It's main point of interest is its place in Lieberman's filmography with six years since Remote Control.


Shot in HDCAM, Satan's Little Helper was picked up by Screen Media and distributed on DVD by Universal. There's little that Synapse could do with the digital master for their 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen Blu-ray given the video source. It never convinces as film-like, but the transfer in native HD does boast bold but noise-free colors and better blacks which could look flat on DVD in the deepest shadows (it appears that some of these scenes were shot low-lit rather than flat and darkened in post). The film really impresses in close-ups in which one can almost sense the "humanity" behind the Satan mask.


The sole audio option is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo mix, and it gets the job done in terms of dialogue and directional effects but a new 5.1 remix seems like a stretch for this film while a simple rechanneling would have just given spread to the atmosphere and crowd noises of some of the riot and party scenes. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided.


Extras start off with the audio commentary by writer/director Jeff Lieberman ported from the DVD edition in which he discusses the story points, shooting the film in July (including painting the lawns and decorating a stretch of town in Halloween decorations), working with the unpredictable Plummer, child actors, as well as callbacks to his own slasher film while regretting homages to others. Also ported over is a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette (4:58) in which Lieberman comments on the staging of some sequences including gore shots and stuntwork.

Some of the commentary information overlaps with the new documentary "The Devil and the Details: Making Satan's Little Helper" (32:38) in which Lieberman discusses the origins of the project in a pair of anecdotes, notes that his most profitable period was between Remote Control and Satan's Little Helper with a pair of scripts for an aborted Dustin Hoffman project and The Neverending Story III along with some successful TV documentary projects. He is also more frank in his assessment of some of the budget-constrained aspects like the video game footage as "this or nothing." Cinematographer Dejan Georgevich (Mirrors) discusses the use of the Sony HD cameras developed for George Lucas – not just the model but the actual cameras – and the limitations of the format at the time, with Lieberman chiming in that they should have shot on film instead. Mask designer Jonathan Fuller recalls not having the mask or the original mould when Lieberman requested it for the film and getting his hands on one to create a new mould while make-up effects artist Anthony Pepe (Malevolence) recalls augmenting the mask cosmetically while being frustrated with the way his effects for a disemboweling were handled on the set. Brickel is also on hand to recall working with Satan actor Joshua Annex with whom he felt that his character established a rapport through body language. Lieberman and Satan himself also appear in "Mister Satan's Neighborhood" (22:37), a new tour of the filming locations as they are today. A promotional trailer (1:35) is also included.


The disc is presented in a black keepcase with a single-sided cover, but viewers who order directly from Synapse Films can get the disc with an exclusive limited slipcover.


It is difficult to tell just to whom Satan's Little Helper is marketed in the post-Scream market of the early 2000s.


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