Satan’s Little Helper (2005)

Starring Amanda Plummer, Alexander Brickel, Katheryn Winnick, Joshua Annex

Directed by Jeff Lieberman

Obsessed with a popular videogame called Satan’s Little Helper, 9-year-old Douglas Whooly decides to dress up as the game’s title character for this year’s Halloween. Walking down the street in his devil costume, he passes by a tall man with an impressive grinning mask and a long black coat, who’s busy burying a body in a garden. Convinced that it is all part of a game, the naïve kid asks the stranger if he is Satan, and begs the presumed devil to let him help him on his murdering mission. The mysterious killer agrees and Douglas, unaware of the danger, takes him home to his mother and sister.

Almost thirty years after his genre successes Blue Sunshine and Squirm and more than ten years after his last directorial effort, Jeff Lieberman is back and in great shape. Wonderfully subversive, Satan’s Little Helper can be described as a satiric commentary on the influence of videogames and fiction, the distinction between fantasy and reality for a child, and the danger and power of Halloween – all in a movie filled with blood, guts and black humour.

Many scenes of the film are genuinely disturbing. The story is firmly rooted in reality and everyday life; there is no superhero to save the day and protect the weak, and the situation in question – not knowing who’s hiding under a mask, letting a costume affect one’s behaviour – is something we have all experienced. The fact that it deals with the spontaneous confidence an innocent child gives to a complete stranger makes it even more chilling.

From the look of the movie, the clothes of the protagonists or their costumes, it would be difficult to make out where or when the story takes place – at least as long as it’s a place where Halloween is celebrated. The cinematography is beautiful, with deep colours and saturated tones of red that intensify the dateless look of Lieberman’s film.
Another quality that sets Satan’s Little Helper apart is its ability to be scary and amusing without the use of music, as many scenes achieve their goal without any musical background, a very refreshing and original characteristic in a time when most genre movies are drenched in loud soundtracks.

The movie’s success also relies on the Satan Man himself. Helped by an amazing mask that emphasizes both the comical and scary aspects of the character, Joshua Annex strikes a perfect balance between these two elements without ever looking cheesy or losing his ominous appearance as he plays with Douglas, or flirts with the kid’s pretty sister Jenna, played by Katherine Winnick.

As the confused child, Alexander Brickel gives a convincing performance and manages to retain the audience’s sympathy even when he’s so obviously enjoying his evil deeds. Amanda Plummer’s interpretation of the mother – a very unusual part for her – is also worth a mention, and her incredible Halloween costume is one of the film’s highlights.

The only downside of this little gem is its ending. In its last fifteen minutes the story takes a more conventional turn, and even if Lieberman keeps toying with the audience’s expectations in a few occasions, the general tone is more familiar to the audience than the rest of the movie, and we could have hoped for a more surprising and twisted conclusion.

Irreverent, subversive and deliciously caustic, Satan’s Little Helper is a unique and daring achievement, the type only independent films can deliver. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait another twenty years to see Jeff Lieberman’s next piece of work…

4 1/2 out of 5

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Jon Condit