Release Date(s)1974 (August 30, 2022)
Studio(s)American Genre Film Archive/Something Weird Video
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A
Satan’s Children is an independent exploitation film that received very limited theatrical exposure when released in 1974. Shot in Florida on a minuscule budget, it’s a journey into the nightmarish world of teenager Bobby Douglas (Stephen White).
Bobby’s father (Eldon Meecham) constantly puts Bobby down and his step-sister Janis (Joyce Molloy) sexually taunts him at every opportunity, even entering his room when Bobby has on only his underwear and ridiculing the size of his privates. Having had enough, Bobby runs away from home. A middle-aged pervert in a bar hits on him and is chased away by a younger man (Bob Barbour). Bobby befriends his rescuer only to get raped by him at knifepoint. Next, this criminal calls his buddies over for a gang rape party and afterwards they leave Bobby unconscious in a field.
A group of hippie Satanists find him and take him back to their compound. Now Bobby must now cope with a collection of weird, twisted types who make his home life look like a stroll in paradise.
The film’s shortcomings jump out at the viewer—awful script, terrible acting, sluggish editing, cheap sets, and laughable special effects. It just might fall into the category of “so bad it’s good.” The film revels in sexual titillation, is unabashedly homophobic, and has characters beyond over the top.
The only halfway believable actor is Stephen White. Most of his early scenes consist of close-up reaction shots to the abuse, both emotional and psychological, that he endures in the family from hell. The middle of the film finds him in bed, injured from a beating by his rapists, with little to do as the focus shifts to other characters. And a major part of the picture’s third act involves White being chased through the woods in his underwear by Satanist security thugs. Playing the only good guy in the film and its nominal hero, his acting seems better than it is because everyone else’s is so dreadful. Good-looking but often with a blank expression, he never quite conveys the level of danger to which Bobby is exposed.
Director Joe Wiezycki manages to draw us in by the mere outrageousness of his screenplay. It’s like watching a multi-car collision—impressive in its intensity, yet lacking humanity. The characters are the dregs of mankind and seem to be the norm rather than the exception. Line readings are amateurish, with awkward pauses, strange emphases, and unconvincing body language. There is a liberal amount of female nudity, suggestions of torture, dismemberment, burying a person alive, and the strong implication of incest. Gay people are depicted as rapists or social outcasts and are shunned and hated even by the Satanists.
How Bobby is affected by his horrific experiences is revealed in the film’s third act, when he has become completely unhinged and psychopathic. This is unsettling, as it occurs abruptly without proper build-up.
Pacing is problematic. Because the filmmakers were striving to make the film long enough to qualify as a feature, scenes run longer than necessary, pauses between conversations are uncomfortably drawn out, and there’s even a full three minutes of a freeze frame after the final credits roll. Instead of a driving narrative, we have a choppy series of scenes that resemble the work of amateurs.
Satan’s Children is the kind of film that used to be the preferred fare for teenage boys to rent on weekends at the local video store. With not an iota of subtlety, it’s a tawdry excursion into pure cinematic exploitation.
Satan’s Children was shot by director of photography John “Mak” Makinen with an Arriflex IIC camera on 35 mm film, finished photochemically on Eastmancolor stock, and presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The new Blu-ray release from AGFA and Something Weird Video offers a 2K preservation scan of the only known 35 mm print of the film in existence. Picture quality varies from sharp and well-detailed in some scenes to terribly dark in others. There’s considerable surface damage, particularly scratches, most prevalent in the opening credits but intermittent throughout. There are also reel change cue marks in the upper right hand corner of the frame and some dirt specks. Day-for-night scenes are deep blue and lack proper detail, with faces pools of darkness. Skin tones are, for the most part, natural, though Janis’ skin is shiny from an over-application of tanning oil.
The soundtrack is English mono DTS-HD Master Audio. Optional English SDH subtitles are available. Dialogue is clear and distinct throughout and seems to have been enhanced. The synthesizer score by Ray Fletcher is unusual, and enhances the action for a while until the screenplay defeats all efforts to improve the end product.
Bonus materials include the following:
- Audio Commentary by Liz Purcell and Bret Berg
- Cast and Crew Reunion (27:34)
- The World of Weird (47:03)
- Satan in Church (8:37)
- Boys Beware (14:10)
- Torrid Trailers from Lucifer’s Vaults (8:33)
Queer film historian Liz Purcell and AGFA’s Bret Berg discuss the film’s Florida genesis and production in that state, as well as actual cults that existed in the state at the time. The music is performed by Leadfeather on a synthesizer called an orchestron, which was unusual at the time. The film crew came from the TV station where director Joe Wiezycki worked. Actor Stephen White was attacked and beaten by thugs in real life and based his performance on that incident. His dramatics professor warned him not to take the role. Influences on Satan’s Children include the film Rosemary’s Baby, the Manson family murders, and the counterculture. The film received poor distribution from a company that had only two others films in release. It was padded to get it up to minimum feature length. The commentators claim that Satan’s Children is better than other 70s independent, low-budget films. Homophobia is evident in the portrayal of the gay thugs who rape Bobby and the Satanists’ hatred of gays. The discussion moves on to lost gay porn films. The film is referred to as an “absurd, wonderful relic” and “an accidental gay-themed movie of the 70s.”
Cast and Crew Reunion – This 40th anniversary reunion of cast and crew members occurred in a Tampa, Florida theater on November 15, 2014. The members of the panel discuss the making of Satan’s Children, relate anecdotes, discuss how they were cast, talk about their roles, comment on the film’s cult legacy, and update the audience on what they’ve been up to since making the film.
The World of Weird – This is a 1970 TV special hosted by Ralph Story. Guest stars include Linda Kaye Henning, Pamela Mason, Terry Moore, Criswell, Ann Francis, and Tige Andrews. This is a lighthearted examination of the occult, psychic experiences, difficult-to-explain occurrences, and how beliefs affect lives. A recognized witch is interviewed, an astrologist explains how the stars predict how people born under certain signs will fare, and there’s a discussion of ghosts.
Satan in Church – In this animated, surrealistic look at the powers of good and evil, hooded figures enter a church, a naked woman is paraded in front of priests (who are mortified), and a battle ensues between priests and Satanists.
Boys Beware – This cautionary film is about men who prey on boys. In three different dramatizations, it shows how men win the confidence of boys and entice them into dangerous situations. Boys can be molested by people they know, not only by strangers. If molested, boys should speak to a trusted adult, such as a parent, teacher, or counselor.
Torrid Trailers from Lucifer’s Vaults – The following trailers are included: Devil Times Five, The Devil Within Her, The Devil’s Wedding Night, Magdalena: Possessed by the Devil, and The Touch of Satan.
Satan’s Children is a sordid tale of exploitation excess that finds Bobby abused by everyone he comes in contact with. Though it titillates, it never goes full out in terms of visuals. People are killed and maimed but the camera and the special effects are restrained, yet the film is sleazy, unsavory, and boldly in-your-face with its depiction of appalling human beings and their hideous behaviors.
- Dennis Seuling