I still remember the first time that I saw a copy of Satan’s Little Helper. At first glance, it didn’t look like anything special. I was just a kid, browsing the local VHS rental store in search of something to watch over the weekend. As per usual, I made a beeline straight to the horror section and began to peruse. I scanned over all of the usual stuff – Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween – but I was in the mood for something new. For something completely different.
And that’s when I saw it. Innocuously sitting alongside other obscure B-movie titles like Jack Frost, The Gingerdead Man, and Uncle Sam. I examined it for a quick moment, weighing it out as an option, before finally deciding to pick it up. I assumed that it would be just another silly schlock movie – something good to take home and have a laugh at. As it would turn out, I was only half right.
Little did I know that Satan’s Little Helper would actually end up being a decent little film. With a heavy helping of black comedy sprinkled in among the horror element, it is surprisingly effective in multiple ways. In a world full of lousy low-budget pictures, it is one shining example of how money isn’t always everything when it comes to the art of filmmaking.
The Devil is in the Details
Satan’s Little Helper was released in 2004 and is director Jeff Lieberman‘s first feature film since 1988. That’s a whopping gap of sixteen years – for those of you who aren’t great with math. While he may have been a little rusty from this extended break, it seemingly didn’t affect the overall quality of his work. This is definitely one of his better films. The cast includes Alexander Brickel, Katheryn Winnick, Amanda Plummer, and Stephen Graham in its leading roles.
Lieberman is no stranger to making low-budget horror, and it shows in this late return to the genre. With titles like Squirm, Blue Sunshine, and Just Before Dawn on his resume, it was only a matter of time before he got back into the game. And, personally speaking, I’m glad that he did.
Speak of the Devil
The plot of Satan’s Little Helper is actually quite clever. Douglas Whooly is a nine-year-old boy, and like many other kids his age, he is obsessed with a video game. After receiving ‘Satan’s Little Helper’ as a gift from his father, Dougie becomes enamored with it and wants nothing more than to be Satan’s little helper in real life. He even chooses to dress up as the title character from the game for Halloween.
With Halloween night and trick or treating only hours away, Dougie and his mother Merrill are on their way to pick up his sister, Jenna. She is returning home from college for the holiday and is looking forward to spending some quality time with her family. Dougie is equally excited to see her and has been anxiously anticipating her arrival. What he doesn’t know, is that Jenna isn’t arriving alone. Alex, her new boyfriend, is tagging along with her – much to Dougie’s shock and dismay.
A Match Made in Hell
Meanwhile, a deranged killer is stalking their small island community. Disguised in a full devil costume, he wanders the area and murders its residents at random. After throwing a temper tantrum, Dougie storms out of the house and mopes around the neighborhood. While he is out, he catches the mysterious Satan Man moving the body of his latest victim. Dougie naively believes that the man is, in fact, the real Satan and asks if he can assist him on his rampage. The stranger agrees to the boy’s request and the two head out an epic crime spree.
The rest of the film follows the duo’s increasingly devious antics. A case of mistaken identity leads to several more, as the picturesque little town soon devolves into full-blown chaos. After realizing the true nature of his new friend, it is up to Dougie, Jenna, and Alex to put a stop to Satan Man’s horrific reign of terror before it is too late.
Giving the Devil his Due
Admittedly, I initially wasn’t expecting very much out of Satan’s Little Helper going in. It had all of the trademark signs and symptoms that one would normally come to associate with an extremely forgettable, low-quality cheese-fest. The production value is dismal, at best, and the film was obviously shot on a minimal budget. The cast is comprised mostly of unknowns, with the only semi-recognizable faces in it being those of Amanda Plummer and Katheryn Winnick. Alexander Brickel’s character is more than slightly grating at times, which does add a few painful, cringe-worthy moments to the movie. The effects are downright comedic in how bad they are, and the whole thing has a very distinct made-for-TV feel to it. In summary: the outlook was poor, to say the least.
I was almost certain that this was going to be yet another feature destined for the trash bin. As it turns out, looks can be deceiving. Despite these glaring aforementioned problems, I still came out of watching the film thoroughly impressed. Don’t let the low-budget aesthetic fool you – it is a shockingly good watch. Aside from it being packed with devilishly caustic and mean-spirited humor, Satan’s Little Helper is also extremely tense and creepy at times. While it is true that some of the jokes haven’t aged well, it still manages to have several funny moments. Notably, the way in which the movie ends is fantastic. I’d even say that it has one of the better endings that I’ve ever seen in a slasher movie, period. It is easily one of the best aspects of the entire film as a whole.
The Final Judgement
At the end of the day, there are films out there with sins far worse than those of Satan’s Little Helper. If one can manage to look past the cheap visuals, it’s actually a very entertaining picture to watch. I give it 4 out of 5 Cthulhus.(4 / 5)
For more Reviews in Retrospect, please check out HauntedMTL’s Horror on the Screen category, here.