This fall, The Verge is making a choice. The choice is fear! We’ve decided to embrace the season by taking in as many new horror movies as possible and reporting back on which ones are worth your time. We’re calling this series Hold My Hand, as we look at films you might want to watch with a supportive viewing partner. Get comfortable, put the kettle on, check the closet for ghosts, then find a hand to squeeze until the bones pop.
The trailer for American Satan was emailed to me in a typo-riddled press release promising a starring turn for Game of Thrones’ John Bradley, who plays Samwell Tarly. His character is named Ricky Rollins. If that was not already more than enough to sell me, American Satan is billed as a supernatural thriller about a rock band called Relentless, which makes a deal with the devil for fame, fortune, and to save Denise Richards from breast cancer. All they have to do is murder a rude competitor played by Nickelodeon’s Drake Bell, most recently in the news for sparring with Josh Peck about a wedding invitation snub, and endorsing Donald Trump.
American Satan was directed and co-written by Ash Avildsen, the CEO of indie heavy-metal label Sumerian Records, with help from B-movie connoisseur Matty Beckerman. In the space of 90 minutes, it captures some of the worst acting ever committed to film, four semi-impressive (and very loud) musical numbers, a chilling performance by industry workhorse Malcolm McDowell as Satan (also referred to as “Mr. Capricorn”), a monologue about Steve Jobs, a rash of murders, and what feels like — if you are watching the movie in the cafeteria of a busy office building — 14 hours of Eyes Wide Shut-inspired sex scenes.
Unfortunately, John Bradley is not the star of the movie. He spends most of it looking nervous and eating plates of cocaine. Aside from the drugs, it isn’t a huge departure from his signature role. The star of American Satan is actually Andy Biersack, the 26-year-old lead singer of real-life Cincinnati glam metal band Black Veil Brides. He has no acting ability whatsoever, but does have very sad eyes and a remarkable resemblance to Tyson Ritter circa 2008. He is not super enthused about the deal with Satan, and finds it challenging to accept that his girlfriend — played by former Miss Universe Olivia Culpo — has to finish high school before she can join him in Los Angeles.
Larry King is also in this movie, playing himself. It feels almost as if you shouldn’t need any more convincing at this point, but let’s proceed through our usual questions anyway.
Is it scary?
I don’t know about you, but I find being totally unmoored inside a bizarre, campy trash pile at least as scary as a conventional “ghosts and stuff” scary story. American Satan is scary because as soon as someone signs a pact with the devil, you know some bad situations are going to arise, but you don’t know exactly when, or how bad. In this movie, they’re pretty bad! The devil is a messed-up dude, so he spends several minutes explaining how he helped Steve Jobs found Apple, claiming that’s why the original Apple computer retailed for $666.66. (This appears to be true, which is pretty weird of someone.) Mr. Capricorn claims his influence explains why the company logo is a piece of “forbidden fruit,” with a bite taken out of it. This part of the movie is frightening because — while you’re in the thick of it, suspending disbelief and enjoying a supernatural horror film — you have to wonder… why did they pick that logo? Afterward, you can look it up and see it has nothing to do with Satan.
“Don’t bite the apple, Eve!”
This is unrelated, but the devil also tells the band members that he wrote “Empire State of Mind” for Jay Z, which isn’t a great brag if you ask me. It’s a terrible song, and I’m embarrassed just thinking back for two seconds on how it defined the era of my life during which I badly wanted to grow up to be a person who lives in New York City. And Jay Z specifically says “Don’t bite the apple, Eve!” in that song, so this plot point doesn’t even really make sense.
Will I care about the characters?
Hopefully, no. Andy Biersack’s sad-boy rock star character Johnny Faust (a too-easy reference) is supposed to elicit empathy because he is the only person in the band who feels a little bad about murdering Drake Bell. The morality bar should perhaps be a little higher. American Satan is mostly preoccupied with Johnny’s descent into the classic pitfalls of rock n roll stardom, including sex, drugs, and accidentally killing a crazed racist in a “Stand Your Ground” state, thereby becoming an unwilling hero to gun-toting conservatives across America. Dozens of films have done a better job of making me feel empathy for someone in the position of ill-gotten, unenjoyable success, including 2009’s forgotten gem Hannah Montana: The Movie. Faust’s character is just a paper cutout of a conflicted person.
Maybe you will care about John Bradley’s Ricky Rollins, who is not the star of the movie, though his Game of Thrones connection has been a major marketing point. If nothing else, Ricky seems a lot more sensible than everyone else, at least for a while. Maybe you will care about CNN host who has to ask the members of Relentless whether they think their devil-praise songs and trigger-happy lead singer are causing copycat murders and a new rash of public Satan worship. How exactly did this happen for you, my dude?
Is it visually impressive?
The devil horn masks from the Eyes Wide Shut scenes are elaborate and terrifying, a wonder to behold. The rest of this movie sort of looks like a cable news segment.
What’s lurking beneath the surface?
On the surface, American Satan is a horror movie about how the devil is bad, and entering into vague contracts with him will not make you happy. I’m not sure what audiences are supposed to get out of it otherwise, but “the devil is bad, and entering into vague contracts with him will not make you happy” is also the top-level message of the 1989 film The Little Mermaid. Under the surface of that movie (pun intended, sorry!), there was a second message that went something like “anything you do for love is all right in the end.”
I don’t want to spoil the conclusion of American Satan, but there are several parallels between these two scrappy entries in the surrealist “finding your voice” genre.
How can I watch it?
American Satan opened in limited release in the US, Canada, Australia, and Mexico on October 13th.
Is it a hand-holding movie?
No. You will likely need your hands for other things, like putting in earplugs, or checking IMDb on your phone every five minutes. You’ll be doing a lot of “Where do I recognize this guy from?” and “What was the trajectory of his life prior to now?” and “How do I avoid ever experiencing a remotely similar trajectory?”
If you want to hold hands, may I suggest:
Correction: A previous version of this article listed Sebastian Bach as a member of the cast. He is erroneously listed on the film’s IMDb page but is not in the film. Lines delivered by a CNN anchor were also misattributed to a character played by Larry King.