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Dustin Putman

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Satan's Little Helper  (2005)
3 Stars
Directed by Jeff Lieberman.
Cast: Alexander Brickel, Katheryn Winnick, Amanda Plummer, Stephen Graham, Dan Ziskie, Melisa McGregor, Wass Stevens, Anthony Ardolino, Joyce R. Korbin, Joshua Annex.
2005 – 100 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for violence/gore, some sexual content and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 2008.

Jenna Whooly:
Oh my God, Jesus is Satan!

"Satan's Little Helper" is an unsung horror gem, a film that premiered to positive notices at the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival, but ultimately bypassed theaters and was sent direct-to-DVD. This typically signals that a movie was deemed not to be theatrical material, but don't let that fool you this time. Smoothly marrying politically-incorrect comedy with horror without losing an ounce of laughs or creepiness in the process, "Satan's Little Helper" deservedly should garner a wider audience and a high regard among Halloween-set thrillers.

Nine-year-old Douglas "Dougie" Whooly (Alexander Brickel) is obsessed with a violent video game he has recently received called "Satan's Little Helper," so much so that he has dressed up as the title character, a pint-sized cohort of the Devil himself, for Halloween. When he and mom Merrill (Amanda Plummer) eagerly go to the ferry station of their small New England town of Bell Island to pick up his college-aged sister, Jenna (Katheryn Winnick), Dougie is angered to find that she has brought along new boyfriend Alex (Stephen Graham). Bummed about the turn of events, Dougie runs off. While walking through a nearby neighborhood, he watches as a figure dressed in a Satan costume drags a dead woman with a slit throat out of her house and props her up on the porch next to a scarecrow decoration. Satan then moves on to the next house, stabbing a man and laying him out in his front yard next to a mock burial plot. Of course, the passersby in the community don't even bat an eyelash, noting the October 31 date. Dougie, however, is enamored by what he sees. Thinking that this is the Dark Lord from his video game, he approaches the killer and asks to be his helper. The Satan Man silently obliges.

"Satan's Little Helper" was written and directed by Jeff Lieberman, a talented cult horror director who once helmed 1976's "Squirm," 1978's "Blue Sunshine," and 1981's "Just Before Dawn." His sense of humor is blackened to a crisp, and his intuition at filming set-pieces that throw the viewer off-balance while building tension is on the money. This is an applause-worthy example of originality and delicious morbidity that follows the viewpoint of a child not yet able to decipher fiction from real violence that is being committed before him. When Dougie suggests that Satan kill Alex so that he can once again have his sister to himself, he makes the potentially grievous decision of guiding him to his home and allowing him to hide out in the basement. When Satan does away with Alex while he and Dougie are out hunting for a costume, Satan returns home with the child. Jenna and Merrill naturally think the person in front of them is simply Alex in the guise of his Halloween get-up, unaware of the imminent danger before them.

Dougie is twisted in many ways, but he isn't without his naive innocence. He thinks it is all just a game, for example, when Satan pushes him in a shopping cart, running over a pregnant lady, a baby carriage and a blind man in the parking lot of a grocery store. As Dougie cheers at the carnage laid before them, the natural comedy of the situation is so wrong and yet undeniably funny. Satan, smartly never revealed as either a homicidal maniac in a costume or genuinely Satan, isn't absent of a playful, mischievous side. When he rings the doorbell of an elderly lady with a walker, he motions with his hands that he is asleep and then checks his watch after it takes her too long to reach the door. He subsequently wastes no time in hanging her with a rope off the side of her home as trick-or-treaters pass by in the night.

Alexander Brickel (2004's "Palindromes") is adorable as young Dougie, likable even when he is portrayed as overly gullible, and later touchingly genuine when he realizes the murders are no joke and his family members are next on Satan's target list. As sister Jenna, Katheryn Winnick (2004's "50 First Dates") is a winning presence who has trouble convincing her mother that it's not just a prank when she tells her Alex isn't behind the Satan garb. The always quirky Amanda Plummer (1994's "Pulp Fiction") essays one of her more down-to-earth roles as mother Merrill, but still plays the part with an endearing dippiness. And as Satan Man, Joshua Annex is unnerving and downright brilliant in his body language without once taking off his mask or uttering a syllable. He does change his costume, however, and when he shows up at the door dressed as Jesus Christ immediately after Dougie has prayed to God for help, the results are beyond chilling.

The low budget of "Satan's Little Helper" is apparent in spots, and it's a shame that the ingenious idea Jeff Lieberman had for the final scene (he discusses it on the DVD's commentary track) was never shot. Still, with a solid cast lined up and a strong script, the film exhibits how much can be achieved with limited resources. The autumnal atmosphere of Halloween in New England is effectively established, especially considering that the movie was shot in the summer, and the tone never oversteps its boundaries between what is meant to get laughs and what is meant to disturb the viewer. "Satan's Little Helper" is an uncompromisingly wicked, subjectively brave chiller practically crying out to be discovered.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman