We’ll be rocking ’til the sun goes down, I believe in a thing called love!
We Summon the Darkness is a dark satire worthy of high praise. Unfortunately, while its heart is in the right place, its execution (and executions) is lacking.
The trailer makes the film appear to be about six young people, three girls and three boys, that are into heavy metal music attending a rock concert. They get wrapped up in something where they become part of a satanic murder ritual, which is being reported by the news. Johnny Knoxville plays the TV preacher denouncing rock music and the satanists. Hmmm, I wonder who the killer will turn out to be?
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
It’s 1988 and three young women are driving across Indiana to a heavy metal concert by the band Soldiers of Satan. The ladies include Alexis (Alexandra Daddario), the driver and alpha personality of the group, Valerie (Maddie Hasson), a blonde woman who keeps asking Alexis to stop so she can pee, and Beverly (Amy Forsyth), a younger, ring-pop sucking girl. When they stop to get gas at a small convenience store the television is tuned to the Heartland Faith Network, where Pastor John Henry Butler is exposing the evils of heavy metal music and the recent satanic ritual killings around the country. The girls laugh this off.
Back on the road they are passed by a blue van which hurls a chocolate milkshake on their window nearly making Alexis crash. When they arrive at the concert parking lot, they begin tailgating–forcing Bev to have a drink, even though she said no–and see the blue van. Val tosses a firecracker into the open window scaring the occupants who tumble out. Ivan (Austin Swift), Mark (Keean Johnson), and Kovacs ( Logan Miller) are also heavy metal connoisseurs who find instant attraction to the girls. Val seems interested in them but Alexis is distracted as they discuss first concerts and the recent death toll of 18 people by the reported satanic cult.
After the concert the girls have a brief discussion and agree to invite the boys back to Alexis’ father’s house, where they are staying. They park out back and play the drinking game, Never Have I Ever, which Bev wants to abstain from. Alexis reminds her that she’s new to their group and to follow her lead. They get to know each other a bit, and Alexis says the final statement, “I have never drugged someone’s drink,” before drinking. Ivan and the other guys soon slump unconscious and are dragged into the house.
The boys awaken, stripped to their boxers, tied to chairs in a room with satanic imagery and the phrase “We Summon The Darkness” spray painted on the walls. Alexis explains that they don’t really like heavy metal music. They are part of a church whose members are killing people across the country and making it look like a satanic cult in order to “save people” and draw numbers to their cause. The boys are defiant and Alexis stabs Ivan in the neck, killing him. Bev calls the girls out of the room, apparently hesitant, but says that she wants to kill the other two. When they return Mark and Kovacs have escaped their bonds. Alexis manages to slice Kovacs arm before the boys barricade themselves in the pantry.
Alexis’ stepmom arrives, having forgotten her passport and discovers the dead body of Ivan. Alexis kills her too, but not before hearing that she had also called the police. When the officer arrives he discovers the boys first, believing them suspect. He is shot in the head by Val. Alexis and Val fight over the gun when Bev returns with an outboard boat motor and a change of heart. She discovers lots of cash and deeds to houses in the garage and realizes that something is seriously wrong. She helps Mark and Kovacs, who is bleeding out due to his injury, as the other two girls hide in the house.
A final car shows up belonging to Pastor Butler. This is his house. He shoots Kovacs who is trying to warn him of the crazy women inside. Bev fights Val in the basement, eventually lighting her hairspray infused hair on fire. Upstairs Mark has the upper hand on Alexis, when the Pastor shoots him. Her father is disappointed in how much Alexis has bungled their plan. Bev arrives knocking the pastor out and throwing Alexis out the second-story window. As Bev and Mark escape in the car, Alexis blocks their way having survived. Bev guns the engine, driving directly at her. The next morning the driveway has evidence of a dragging death as the news reporters interview Pastor Butler about his daughter’s unfortunate conversion by a satanic group. Bev and Mark see the news report on a TV at the convenience store and she tells the owner “you shouldn’t believe everything you see.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s true. It only matters if people believe it.” – Alexis
We Summon the Darkness deserves kudos for tackling the conservative Christian attack on rock music, even if it’s 40 years too late. For those unfamiliar with the rock scene and right wing Christians in the 1980s, high profile televangelists lobbied against the dangers of heavy metal music and its lyrics. More prominent was the congressional group called the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) which actually held hearings on the ill effects and potential harm that affects teenagers in rock music lyrics. Bands such as Twisted Sister, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath, along with Ozzy Osborne, Frank Zappa and others were asked to testify on the meanings and interpretations of their work.
Rock music has been under attack for its potential harm towards children since Elvis Presley first started swinging his hips. Whether it’s backwards messages in The Beatles or Led Zeppelin, or overt imagery in music videos from the 80s, there have always been some individuals that feel the need to tell others how to live their lives. And in the 80s that hit peak exposure as preachers like Jimmy Swaggart and Paul & Jan Crouch took part in what has been dubbed the “satanic panic.” As with the Streisand effect of modern days, it seems that the more the preachers tried to tamp down these artists, the more popular and widespread the music became.
We Summon The Darkness makes the case that many people agree on; the louder someone shouts to point out a moral failing in others is most likely to hide something with themselves. Pastor John Henry Butler points the finger at others, all the while filling his coffers with donations and practicing amoral acts behind his followers backs. Using the guise of his home for wayward girls, The Daughters of the Dawn, Butler takes in runaways and homeless girls, using them to carry out his heinous acts of violence to help prove his point about the evils of rock music. As Beverly points out, its a form of brainwashing, where the girls are brought in, loved and cared for and then when asked (or forced) to commit murder feel trapped and are unable to say no.
While a clever satire, with possibly a grain of truth to it, We Summon the Darkness never quite gets to the final chorus. Starting with the trailer, teasing satanic cults and heavy metal music, then introducing a televangelist, it seems like he would make the obvious source of the killings. Who has the most to gain in this case? Taking that knowledge into the film, the girls seem an obvious target for the violence. That’s the historical function of women in modern horror, to act as the bait for the villains, but also to triumph and kill them in the end. The boys seem like possible suspects, as they travel the country, following the heavy metal band, and one or two of them seem to know a lot about the killings.
But this paradigm quickly reverses itself when Alexis reveals that they needed to park the cars in the back of the house to not draw attention. There was also an earlier moment where she told Bev that the news story in the paper was to scare other people, not them. It seems a shame, as the “twist” comes at the end of the first act. The remainder of the film is a role-reversal with the boys playing the victims and the girls as the killers, except Bev who rebels against the notion of being used by the church and killing people. What may be the final twist, with the revelation that Butler is actually Alexis’s father is weak and telegraphed as early as her killing of Ivan, when he insults the televangelist before she plunges the knife into his neck.
We Summon The Darkness almost becomes parody in the ineptness of the girls ability to complete the homicide. Alexis finds it easy to kill her coke-head stepmom, and Val complicates matters with the shooting of the Sheriff, but they can’t manage to finish off the two boys (at least right away). This does lead to some delicious dark humor when Butler derides his daughter, claiming they have to make sacrifices, before strangling her. Again, a telegraphed moment, but deliciously evil. It doesn’t go as far as The Babysitter (2017) for satire, nor as far into the sheer terror that a film like Red State (2011) produces. But the film provides some fun moments but could, and should, have gone further in its satirical portrayal of right wing morality in a horror setting.
- The characters in the film mention it’s about a month until the release of Metallica’s new album (with bassist Jason Newsted). That album is “And Justice For All…” which puts the events of this film around August 1988.
- Naming the pastor with three full names is a clever jab by Alan Trezza, the writer of the film. The only people on TV usually identified by their full names are serial killers, such as John Wayne Gacy, and Lee Harvey Oswald.
- A number of the cast have been in other recent horror projects
- Alexandra Daddario was in the 2013 Texas Chainsaw.
- Maddie Hasson had a role in the 2017 Mr. Mercedes TV series, modeled after the Stephen King book of the same name.
- Amy Forsyth has the most genre roles, starring in A Christmas Horror Story, Hell Fest and the anthology TV series Channel Zero.
- Logan Miller was recently in Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse and the thriller Escape Room.
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.