Delivering “Panic”: An Interview with Grady Hendrix

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Grady Hendrix is a renowned author who got his start finding the New York-based Subway Cinema, which founded the New York Asian Film Festival. Hendrix, an avid fan of Hong Kong and B-movies, would be known as an author when he wrote his first book, Occupy Space, in 2012. However, it was his 2014 book Horrorstör, that gave him an amazing following. In 2017, he wrote his first screenplay with Ted Ghoghegan, the period thriller Mohawk. He and Ghoghegan came up with the story and wrote the screenplay himself for the upcoming horror-comedy Satanic Panic, coming to theaters, On Demand, and Digital on September 6 from RLJE Films and Fangoria Films.

World Film Geek had the opportunity to speak with Hendrix about the film.

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Grady, it’s an honor talking to you about Satanic Panic. This was a fun film to watch. Great performances, excellent story. I had a blast watching this!
Oh, thank you very much! I appreciate it so much! It was a blast to write.

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Grady Hendrix calls Return of the Living Dead one of the greatest horror films ever made.

I know you were always a fan of Hong Kong cinema as I was and still am as well. How long have you been a horror film fan and what are some of your favorites?
Well, horror for me, it wasn’t at a young age because I used to freak out when I saw the covers of horror books (Laughs). As for movies, there were a few memories I had when I was younger. One was Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the Philip Kaufman 1978 version. I would catch bits and pieces of it and one of the scenes I remember is Donald Sutherland falling asleep in the garden and getting replicated. I mean that just stuck with me.

The other one was Dawn of the Dead when I was really young. I mean zombies really get to me psychologically, not so much physically. The other one I can really think of was when I was very very young and there was a broadcast of The Shining. My cousins and I were staying at my great aunt’s house and we would sneak up behind my great uncle, who was watching it on his TV on the porch. But the twin sisters being slaughtered, the blood on the wall, the soundtrack, and the party scene at the end, it was very disturbing for me.

As for my favorite horror movies, I think there are two of the greatest movies in history and where one is not horror, the other for me is Return of the Living Dead. I was in 8th grade when it came out, and you know it was rated R and you needed an adult to see it, well, at least in South Carolina, where I grew up. I wasn’t allowed to see horror movies at the time, so I didn’t get to see it at the time. I saw it a few years later and it’s just one of those movies that when you take away the objective quality like it’s better than Vertigo, but you look at it and this is a film that delivers on every promise it makes. I mean, it fulfills every expectation it sets up. It’s a perfectly structured movie and the biggest bad guy, the one with the highest body count, just happens to be the President of the United States.

That movie made such a huge impact on me. And as I mentioned, I wasn’t allowed to see horror movies as a kid so at that age, we would convince our Scoutmaster to take us to the Oasis gas station after our meetings and we had money from our parents. The other kids would be buy snacks and candy and I looked at the shelves and found Fangoria magazine. So, I would pretty much read about the movies there and tell the kids I did see the films based on what I read in Fangoria (Laughs).

It was when I saw Friday the 13th Part 2 I realized, hey wait a minute, I didn’t see this film. I just read about it in Fangoria and I was telling people I saw the film, but it was based on what I read in the magazine. So, I wasn’t allowed to see horror movies, but I would catch glimpses here and there when I wasn’t supposed to, and then reading about them, which is rare these days.

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Pizza Delivery Girl (and Hero) Sam (Hayley Griffith) in Satanic Panic (RLJE Films/Fangoria Films)

How did you come up with the story for Satanic Panic?
I wanted to do a project about pizza delivery people. I mean they are underrated and everyone loves pizza. Here are these people who go out at night, to the most bumblef**k destinations, going on the dodgiest roads to bring you “God’s food”. It’s like who are these heroes? I also really like iconology of 1970s Satanic cults, and it seemed like a nice way to bring them together. And for some reason, I’m obsessed with jobs and how terrible they can be.

Originally, it was Ted Ghoghegan who was going to direct the film. He’s the one who came up with the title Satanic Panic. And also, the lead character of Sam was originally going to be a boy. But for Ted and I, we decided to do a gender swap. Then Ted and I worked on Mohawk and he’s got other projects in the works and also with Fangoria. So, it was basically those three elements of 19780s Satanism, the horrors of a job, and pizza delivery people, how they are the unstrung heroes of our civilization.

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Chelsea Stardust, director of Satanic Panic

I spoke with [director] Chelsea Stardust, who was determined to direct the film after saying she was a big fan of your work. What was your reaction and were you able to be on the set of the film?
(Laughs) It was amorously flattering and I was really happy with what she did with the film, because we worked on it a bit together. Really what they shot was what Ted, Chelsea, and I had written. The best thing about Satanic Panic is that well, no one really wants a writer on set when the cameras are rolling. I think there is a place for a writer on set but it requires a lot of self-discipline. You’re not going to be reading on set. You’re probably going to be sitting there eating a lot of bagels off Craft Services and people will ask who’s that jerk eating the bagels (Laughs). But, when they need you, they need you.

On Satanic Panic, I was there until two days before they started rolling. I flew to Dallas to do a table read and tweaked the dialogue for the actors. We worked with the actors on different scenes. It was like being there for the realities of production and the realities of the actors playing their parts to the realities of costuming. I mean it was so nice to do that on the script stage, because the script is the cheapest thing. If you do it right, you can see it was a nice collaboration because we got the script as tight as we can get it. Chelsea really stuck to the script because we didn’t have to resort to anyone ad-libbing. We were able to get everyone and everything on the same page.

I think next time, I would be 85% useless but it’s that other 15% where having a writer could be essential  because there may be a time where a funny scene could be happening because one actor may say what about this, and the other would say how about saying this. On one hand, you may feel f**ked because why would you improv the movie but on the other hand, it’s like it’s a situation has to be handled and I think the writer could handle that situation when the cameras are rolling. But overall, I’m happy with how this film turned out.

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The crazed cult of Satanic Panic (RLJE Films/Fangoria Films)

What did you think of the cast? I thought they did an excellent job on the film.
I thought they were great and it’s also weird because you get to hear your dialogue come out of these people’s mouths. It’s funny. I’ve seen a rough cut and I sat with an audience on the final film once. It’s so amazing how performances are done. During a viewing of the rough cut, I was thinking, hmmm, I don’t know about this one or that one. Then you see it with an audience and you are thinking, oh! This actor clearly knows what they are doing. They’re professional and they know what the audience wants and it’s timed perfectly.

Acting is quite a skill to have and as a writer who is just starting to do this on movies, it’s very interesting to see what actors bring into it. If you set it up right, they really knock it out of the park.

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Finally, what’s next for you?
Well, I just finished my next book, which is coming out in April 2020. It’s called The Southerner’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, which is a lot darker than the title. I’m kind of worried because there’s going to be nice people picking this up thinking it’s this nice and fluffy title and really getting traumatized (Laughs).

I have a few other film scripts that are in the works but the major thing I’m working on now is that I’m working with Valencourt Books on reviving horror novels from the 70’s and 80’s, which came from the Paperbacks from Hell (above). We just get Mass Market paperback size and we try to get the original cover or pay people who are back in the day to create something new or recreate the cover. We just released one title a few months ago and we have the next title set to announce in two weeks and it’s a title we never imagined we would get, but we are excited about it.

That’s awesome! Satanic Panic is coming to theaters, On Demand, and Digital on September 6. If you like horror and comedy, then this will be a treat for the fans. Thank you so much again Grady for talking about the film.
Thank you for having me! It was a pleasure!

A Special Thank You goes to Katrina Wan PR and Grady Hendrix for making this interview possible.

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