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Horror Flick Brings Satanic Worship to Highland Park — Don’t Worry, It’s Fiction

The campy, gore-filled throwback Satanic Panic fits right in with producer Dallas Sonnier’s vision for Fangoria, the iconic genre brand he resurrected last year.
By Todd Jorgenson |
RLJE Films

The latest film from local producer Dallas Sonnier is about a resilient pizza delivery driver, a cheapskate who lives in a stately home, and a satanic cult preparing for a virgin sacrifice.

So of course Satanic Panic was filmed primarily in the affluent enclaves such as the Park Cities and Preston Hollow, right? But it’s all done with love.

“It was really fun to poke at my neighborhood, in a way,” said Sonnier, a Highland Park High School graduate who relocated back to the area from Los Angeles in 2016. “Coming back to Dallas, you’d think I would have chosen to do kids movies or Christian conservative movies, but really, this is more fun.”

The gore-filled throwback to old-school horror flicks fits right in with Sonnier’s vision for Fangoria, the iconic genre brand he resurrected last year. He’s also relaunched the horror magazine through Cinestate, his upstart Dallas-based creative company.

“There’s an openness to the strange things that we’re up to here in Dallas, and to indie filmmaking,” said Sonnier’s producing partner, Amanda Presmyk, at the recent Oak Cliff Film Festival. “We really want to build something special here. We’re ready to rock the posts and make a really loud sound.”

Satanic Panic tracks Sam (Hayley Griffith), who’s miffed about being shortchanged on a tip at a posh suburban mansion. So she confronts the owner, only to be sucked into a satanic cult whose leader (Rebecca Romijn) is looking to appease her followers by seeking out a virgin to sacrifice.

The filmmakers stretched their limited budget while shooting for 18 days in Dallas last fall — Home Run Pizza in Oak Cliff also makes an appearance — with a crew that was almost entirely local.

That’s the plan going forward for Fangoria, which has shot four features in North Texas in the past two years. Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich was released last year and another film, V.F.W., is ready to start a festival run.

Sonnier said the company will continue to try and boost the area’s beleaguered film production scene without relying on tax incentives.

“We have an amazing film commission here in Dallas. [Film commissioner] Janis Burklund deserves a lot of credit for fighting with both arms tied behind her back. She has no support from the city council or the state legislature,” Sonnier said. “Hollywood is notorious at taking advantage of state incentives, and coming in and destroying the place, then leaving. We’re trying to build a business here with a sustainable existence.”

In its films, Fangoria emphasizes the use of practical horror effects rather than computers, which actually worked to the advantage of those on set — as long as they didn’t mind getting their hands dirty.

“It was my f—ed up childhood dream,” Griffith joked. “It made my job easier because everything was happening right there.”

Rookie director Chelsea Stardust calls it “my punk-rock satanic Wizard of Oz,” adding she enjoyed exploring the story’s subtext and tweaking genre expectations.

“It’s a commentary on classism, obviously,” Stardust said. “One of the things that drew me to the script is that it’s all women in power. All of the women in this movie are really strong, but strong doesn’t mean perfect. I wanted to show those imperfections.”


Producers Dallas Sonnier and Amanda Presmyk will attend a screening at 7:45 p.m. Friday at the Alamo Drafthouse Richardson. The film also will screen at 6 p.m. Sunday and 9 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Texas Theater. It will open for a regular run on Sept. 13 at the Alamo Richardson.

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