My Best Friend’s Exorcism and Stranger Things 4 both satirize the real-life Satanic Panic of the 80s and both fall flat thanks to a shared problem.
While My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a fun horror-comedy, the adaptation shares an issue that plagued Stranger Things season 4. The Grady Hendrix adaptation My Best Friend’s Exorcism tells the story of a teenage girl who realizes her best friend is possessed after a string of creepy events. She enlists the help of a youth pastor to exorcise her friend, but things don’t go entirely to plan.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a largely faithful adaptation of the source novel of the same name but, unfortunately, the movie struggles with a problem that also came up in Stranger Things season 4. Both My Best Friend’s Exorcism and Stranger Things season 4 try to satirize the Satanic Panic of the 80s, a real-life phenomenon wherein musicians, authors, and even childcare providers were erroneously accused of worshiping the devil, promoting Satanism and, in more serious cases, abusing children during a hysterical moral panic. However, My Best Friend’s Exorcism’s ending shows that demons and supernatural monsters are real which, like the paranormal elements of Stranger Things season 4, unintentionally implies that the Satanic Panic was at least partially justified.
Stranger Things & My Best Friend’s Exorcism’s Satanic Panic Plots
In Stranger Things season 4, a gang of violent jocks (including a reluctant Lucas) threaten to attack anyone who plays Dungeons and Dragons, afraid that these social outcasts are responsible for a string of grisly murders that have taken place throughout Hawkins. In reality, it is an inter-dimensional monster that is to blame for the killings, as Stranger Things season 4’s villain Vecna murdered the local teens. However, the ring leader of the jocks witnesses one of these killings in convoluted circumstances that made it look like Eddie, a harmless Dungeons and Dragons fan, was the one committing the murder. This justifies the jock’s fear of the metalhead, making his subsequent vendetta against “Satanists” much more defensible than the real-life Satanic panic. Similarly, in My Best Friend’s Exorcism, the heroine’s friend turns out to really be possessed by a demon, meaning the movie’s mockery of the Satanic panic falls flat in a context where characters have every reason to be afraid of Satan.
Why So Many Satanic Panic Horror Stories Fail
The problem with both My Best Friend’s Exorcism’s ending and Stranger Things season 4’s Vecna twist is that both stories depict supernatural phenomena like demonic possession and the nightmarish hell world of the Upside-Down as ‘real’ within their stories. As such, their satire of Satanic moral panics doesn’t land. Are these movies and shows saying that Satan isn’t real and that the Satanic panic was a dangerous fad (like Red State or We Summon The Darkness did), or are they saying that the devil and demons are real and Satanic panic was justified? It seems like the latter is the conclusion that both My Best Friend’s Exorcism and Stranger Things season 4 end up unintentionally coming to, even though both projects initially appear to present a sharp satire of the real-life phenomenon.
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