Devil Worshipping Has Changed Them Into…Satan’s Children!
Surly runaway Bobby is beaten and raped by a gang of bikers, and then left for dead on the side of the road. He’s discovered by a group of freewheeling teenagers who bring him back to their commune to recuperate. These aren’t your run of the mill hippies, though, but rather a cult of young Satanists who cannot agree about what to do with him. Second-in-Command Sherry develops romantic feelings for the abused boy, but when older leader Simon returns from his absence, he’s not pleased with the decisions she’s been making in his stead.
SATAN’S CHILDREN is low-budget, problematic trash. It is ugly, vile, violent, goofy, and occasionally inept. And yet there is something undeniably appealing about it. It is cheap, down-and-dirty, exploitation filmmaking of the sort you simply don’t see anymore, and we will likely never see again. Maybe that’s for the best, but I can’t help but think this would go over like gangbusters at the drive-in, even today.
The whole Bobby-Sherry love affair might appear highly unlikely. This is not due entirely to their spiritual beliefs—people convert religions for their spouses all the time. It’s just difficult for many of us to believe that a victim of rape would so quickly jump into bed with someone else. We are inclined to think this way because the vast majority of rape depicted in the media is perpetrated against females. Recent studies, though, have shown that male victims are prone to question their own sexuality after the assault, and some may quickly seek to assert their heterosexuality. What better way for Bobby to do so than to bed down with the first pretty girl who shows any interest in him?
In the small cinematic universe that SATAN’S CHILDREN takes place in, it would seem that the worst thing Bobby could be is gay. Slurs are bandied about with casual aplomb, and Simon is quick to point out that Satan despises homosexuals (which seems an odd stance for an entity who supposedly stands for everything that the Biblical God stands against). It’s really no wonder that he would want to prove that he was a “real man”, both to himself and to those around him.
Yes, this movie comes off as extremely homophobic. The gay characters are all depicted as deviants, predators, and rapists (though, to be fair, so are the heterosexuals. Everyone is rather despicable in this film). And yet, I’ve never encountered a movie this homophobic that was so full of homoerotic imagery. For instance, when a female character is raped, it happens entirely off-camera; but when Bobby is raped, we’re treated to quite a glimpse of his bare ass as he lies, hogtied and helpless, on the floor like the centerfold of some particularly low-rent rough trade magazine. Even when he’s not naked, Bobby is seldom fully clothed, and he spends the majority of the running time in nothing but a pair of soiled briefs.
Bobby is a dirty boy, indeed.
SATAN’S CHILDREN was a low-budget regional effort shot in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. The crew was comprised almost entirely of employees of local television station WTVT, and the cast members were mostly students of the University of South Florida’s theater department. Shot for somewhere between $25-50 thousand dollars (estimations vary), and utilizing a single set for all interior shots (which would be reconfigured and redecorated for masking purposes), the result is a down-and-dirty exploitation film that is not for everyone’s taste, but is a must-see for fans of trash cinema. It has a small but growing legion of fans, and in November 2014, Fangoria magazine sponsored a showing of the film at the Tampa Theatre. The Q&A that was held afterwards can be viewed at YouTube—it’s not especially informative, and Stephen White (Bobby) is obviously resentful of being there, but it’s still interesting to see what the players look like today.
The script was written by Gary Garrett and Rob Levitt, both of whom didn’t continue very far in the movie industry. Only Garrett has an additional credit, having written the script for the TV movie RUN TILL YOU FALL (1988), starting Jamie Farr, Fred Savage, and Shelley Fabares.
Few of the cast members went onto other projects, and those that did never received sizable roles. Producer-director Joe Wiezycki had a short career in movies, but a long and interesting one in show business, which I shall attempt to summarize here.
Joe Wiezycki married Shirley, his high school girlfriend, and had two kids—son Larry and daughter Pam. After moving to Tampa from Chicago in 1959, Joe got a job as a mover. Despite the intensive manual labor involved, he showed up at work every day in a suit and tie. One of his clients was Ken Smith, an employee of WTVT, who was impressed with Joe’s personal dress code and friendly demeanor, and their casual acquaintance eventually blossomed into a job for Joe at the television station.
Joe started off as a projectionist, but eventually worked his way up to production assistant for the mobile news unit, and then became its camera operator, on site to capture important footage of astronaut John Glenn after his return to earth. He became director of THE MARY ELLEN SHOW, and even cast his son in one episode in which he was captured by pirates.
Genre fans of a certain age may be interested to know that he was also the producer and director of the local edition of SHOCK THEATER, featuring host Paul Reynolds as the teenage ghoul Shock Armstrong, who introduced old sci-fi and horror outings. Joe himself was a semi-regular on the show, portraying the cantankerous neighbor Mr. Wilson who was often heard but never seen. On an interesting side note, when SHOCK THEATER was canceled in 1967, Larry told his young friends about it and suggested they picket the station. Other kids joined in, resulting in the show being reinstated.
After seeing the success of the low budget EASY RIDER in 1969, Joe decided to try his hand at filmmaking. Borrowing $1000 each from ten different coworkers, he set about crafting the drama WILLY’S GONE (tagline: “…a black and white story filmed in color, so powerful and believable it’s frightening…“, or, as the Evening Independent (11/17/72) summarized, it was about “a black youth from the ghetto who runs away and has adventures”.) Once completed, the film was plagued with distribution problems, and it never earned back its investment.
WILLY’S GONE is now thought to be a lost film, but SATAN’S CHILDREN was all but lost for decades before the fine folks at Something Weird Video scrounged up a print and released it on DVD with William Girdler’s ASYLUM OF SATAN, so fingers crossed that a print of the man’s first film will eventually resurface as well.
Despite the poor return on WILLY’S GONE, the urge to direct a movie struck Joe again a few years later. This time around, it was SATAN’S CHILDREN. Larry worked on the set alongside his father, as a set-builder and production assistant. Again, this movie suffered distribution problems, as the distributor was misrepresenting ticket sales. To this day, it is unknown how many theaters it actually played in or how many tickets were really sold.
Joe became the producer-director of the show PULSE PLUS, on which hundreds of celebrities appeared—including presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, and later, Nancy Reagan in her first live interview as First Lady. Joe was a guest on the program himself when he retired from the station in 1989, having found it difficult to transition to computerized technology after working solely with pen and paper for thirty years.
He continued to work under his production company, Florida International Pictures, which stayed solvent by making training films. When he passed away from a heart attack in 1994, Joe was developing a script for a drama about Elvis Presley entitled THE KING OF ROCK AND ROLL.
Joe’s son Larry passed away in December 2012, but his son Larry, Jr. continues in the family line of work, acting as producer and editor. I contacted Larry Jr. to gather what little information was yet to be uncovered.
“Joe was the kind of guy that could walk into a room, and you could feel it,” Larry Jr. said about his grandfather. “He was this gentle but commanding presence that caused everyone around him to straighten up… not out of fear but out of respect. A lover of great food and fine wine, he seemed to spend his money less on ‘things’ and more on people, and on doing things. Always quick to tip and quick to pick up the tab….Joe’s manner and character in one word:‘gravitas.’”
He also recalled Joe talking about his idea for an Elvis movie for years, though nothing ever came of it. Joe continued, “His only other film from back in the 70s was called WILLY’S GONE. You’ll laugh, but I actually used to have portions of both the original films SATAN’S CHILDREN and WILLY’S GONE [boxed up] in my garage, but most all of it had deteriorated to a horrible smelly mess and I had to throw it out other than maybe a few pieces/reels. The history of those boxes runs something like this: Joe had them in a hot un-air-conditioned apartment for the 80s and the 90s until he passed away. Then my dad had them for a little bit and got my cousin John to store them in a shed along with some of Joe’s old production stuff. When my cousin packed up his business from there, he no longer had space to store any of the boxes that were rotting and falling apart filled with rusty reels and conned me into taking them! So I hung onto it a few years in my garage until parting with most of it several years ago. 40 years is not kind to celluloid!”
Perhaps WILLY’S GONE truly is lost after all.
When asked what he thought of SATAN’S CHILDREN, Larry Jr. admitted, “I haven’t actually seen Satan’s Children myself…My cousin John, Joe’s other grandson, has seen it though and told me it was awful. I kinda thought that was the point of 70’s horror movies though! I actually didn’t know much about the movie until my dad mentioned (a couple years before passing away in 2012) that he wondered if he should contact Something Weird Video to find out how they had rights to sell the movie on DVD! It wasn’t something neither of us really pursued seriously and we both thought it ironic after all these years that the movie actually surfaced.”
Curious, I contacted Something Weird Video to ask how they had acquired the rights to the film, but I have not received a response.