I have been watching Dante Tomaselli movies since the late 1990s, when Tomaselli released his Catholic horror film "Desecration," at a time when horror was just starting to make its huge comeback following nearly 10 years of slumber. "Desecration" was a chilling low-budget film and, for its price, a real masterpiece.
Tomaselli followed it up fairly quickly with "Horror", which followed some of the same themes of "Desecration." In both films, characters take a slow descent into a real underworld of horror where evil just simply seems to take a grip on reality. To me, "Desecration" and "Horror" are really just films about madness, with "Desecration being the superior of the two.
With "Satan's Playground," Tomaselli takes advantage of the New Jersey forestland to make his most accessible horror film yet. "Satan's Playground" has the best gore scene in a movie in half a decade, evoking a style very reminiscent of the 1980s. Of Tomaselli's three films, I'd say "Satan's Playground" is second best, with "Desecration" still topping the list. "Desecration" had a sense of dread that few films can match. At its best moments, "Satan's Playground" evokes some of the same sensibility.
Tomaselli knows how to exploit the eeriness of the New Jersey woods for maximum effect, giving the film some "Blair Witch"/ "Evil Dead"-style moments. Best yet, the total lack of CGI makes you think you're watching a movie from the 1980s.
"Satan's Playground" was made for $500,000, quite a bit more than the $150,000 "Desecration" was made for seven years ago, and it shows up in better gore effects and some fairly big-name (for horror fans at least) acting talent: Felissa Rose of "Sleepaway Camp" fame and Ellen Sandweiss, last seen in the original "Evil Dead". In fact, one gore effect in this movie is the best seen in a horror film since the 1980s, before CGI ruined make-up.
Tomaselli pays tribute to "Evil Dead" throughout this film, which sees four travelers stranded in their car in the middle of a New Jersey forest. Sandweiss and Rose are sisters, with "Desecration" star Danny Lopes along as a mute son.
Naturally, their car breaks down and when the family locates a house in a vain attempt to call AAA, they run into an old witch, Irma St. Paule. From this point on, the shit really starts to hit the fan. Edwin Neal (who played the hitchhiker in the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre") is featured in a small role as a baddie too.