“Satanic Panic” is a very real fear that gripped the United States in the eighties and nineties.
Over those decades, there existed over 10,000 unsubstantiated cases of Satanic ritual abuse and death. By the late nineties the panic began to spread to other countries. The media and the church unleashed a terror campaign. Though not as large an issue as it once was, the fear persists to this day.
The seeds of the “Satanic Panic” were planted in the early eighties but it was the 1984 killing examined in this film (and the tons of media misinformation) that helped it catch fire.
On June 19, 1984, in Northport, Long Island Ricky Kasso and his two friends Jimmy Troiano and Albert Quinones (everyone high on mescaline) lured Gary Lauwers into the woods and murdered him.
“The Acid King” is a exhilarating documentary that examines Kasso, his life, and the events that led to the murder through interviews with friends and those who knew him best. Dan Jones and Jesse P. Pollack’s film shines a light on the case and gets deep into the real story of the murder of Lauwers and the events that led Ricky Vasso to a short life of drugs and murder.
The filmmakers throw a lot of information at the audience but it all goes down easy. The endless firsthand accounts of Kasso and Lauwers provide a detailed story of the two boys, their lifestyles, and of the town they lived in. Not one talking head seems to have bias. Many speak of their time with Kasso. Everyone seems to have the same recollection. Most partied with, or bought drugs from, him. Almost everyone was freaked out by his presence. The consensus was that by being thrown out by his father at thirteen and having to live in the streets after this Kasso got in a bad way.
One of the film’s most important analyses is the exposure of the sensationalist journalism that fueled the Satanism issue. It seems that, while Kasso and friends dabbled in Satan worship for a time, it was the authorities who put out false statements regarding the murder that would turn the killing into a media blitz by calling it a Satanic sacrifice.
The sadness of it all is how the case becomes a story of an alienated young man shunned by his family, his life destroyed by drugs, who lost it and killed his friend.
Truly, the case of Ricky Kasso and his murder of Gary Lauwers is one of the most sensationalized crime stories in U.S. media history. The truth of what happened becomes the ugly fact that the memory of the victim became lost in flurry of blaming Heavy Metal music and Satanism.
Phony psychic David St. Clair wrote an immediately debunked book (“Say You Love Satan”) on Kasso and the murder. The book was filled with plagiarisms and false information on the case entire. Ironically, the book became a cult sensation and was a big part of the media blaming Satanism on anything violent with youth.
As one interviewee states, this particular story refuses to go away because of “all the bullshit.” A drug-fueled murder in the suburbs was turned into a sacrifice for Satan by the media, all in the name of television ratings and boom sales. Though decades ago, the media and money-hungry opportunists continue to thrive.
Directed with steady hands by its two directors, the film has moments that are eerie and shocking, and many that get to the gut. There is no sensationalism or deception in the filmmaking.
We live in a time of post-truth and conspiracy theories, QAnon spews tales of Satan controlling Hollywood, this bizarre way of thinking has crept into certain religious factions. It is the same type of mass hysteria from the Satanic Panic craze. Even today, the media coverage is a large part of the problem.
Jones and Pollack have directed a massively thorough film that takes on the fact of how this kind of mass hysteria taints the truth and becomes more dangerous than any murder.
“The Acid King” is shocking, disturbing, and strangely moving. It is a film that reminds us that behind every luridly-told news story of murder there are victims that go beyond the murdered and the murderer.