The Acid King (2021)

Ricky Kasso, an American teenager who murdered his friend, Gary Lauwers, in an alleged (it wasn’t) “Satanic sacrifice” during the summer of 1984, is a name we’ve oft-spoken on the digitized pages of B&S About Movies. We’ve examined his giving-metal-a-bad-name exploits (but, as we come to learn through the frames of The Acid King: it was actually the media’s fault, not Kasso’s) in our reviews of the Keanu Reeves-starring River’s Edge (1986), Jim Van Bebber’s Deadbeat at Dawn (1988) (by way of his short film, My Sweet Satan (1994), based on Kasso’s exploits; he opines extensively, here), and a rather weak attempt at dramatizing the horrors as Black Circle Boys (1998). Other films based on David St. Clair’s (since discredit) book, Say You Love Satan (1987), are the better, Canadian-produced Ricky 6 (2000) (written and directed by Peter Filardi; he wrote The Craft in 1996), and the even weaker, fictionally-based Under Surveillance (2006) (aka Dark Chamber, starring underground horror queen Felissa Rose). Prior to these films, there was the gritty, B&W short (thirty-minutes) that fictionalized the myth: Where Evil Dwells (1985).

In the release-wake of The Acid King, we can also look forward to that film’s producer, Chandler Thistle, soon-to-be-released, ’70s drive-in styled throwback on the life of Ricky Kasso: Lucifer’s Satanic Daughter (2022), a film which plays it loose with the tale: after sacrificing his best friend, Ricky really does summon a witch.

The final, accurate word.

While the aforementioned David St. Clair’s book was the first document on Ricky Kasso’s life — one that quickly became a best-selling paperback (a “bible” we carried in our back pockets, as we did with the Jim Morrison paperback tale, No One Here Gets out Alive*) — that Dell Books’ paperback was left to fall out-of-print when it was discovered St. Clair’s work was not only heavily fictionalized: it also plagiarized several portions of “Kids in the Dark,” a November 1984 exposé on Kasso written by David Breskin for Rolling Stone.

However, the discredited David St. Clair was simply hoping the “Christian Scare” bandwagon. The since discredited best seller wholly responsible for the “Satanic Panic” craze of the ’80s was Lawrence Pazder’s Michelle Remembers (November 1980) where Michelle Smith alleges she was a “victim of Satanic ritual abuse led by her own mother.” Then there’s Laurel Rose Wilson’s equally discredited best seller — under the name of Lauren Stratford — of her own “ritualistic abuse” in the pages of Satan’s Underground (July 1991). The “panic” reached it apogee with “The Devil Worshipers,” ABC-TV’s irresponsible, 30-minute segment on a May 16, 1985, edition of their highly-rated, hour-long news magazine, 20/20 — which leads off with the exploits of the “Acid King” himself, Ricky Kasso. (Smith’s and Wilson’s exploits have since been chronicled with their own film: 2023’s Satan Wants You.)

As for The Acid King: the film is not based on St. Clair’s discredited work, but Jesse P. Pollack’s own, well-received Simon Schuster book of the same name: a responsibly-written, nonfiction account of Ricky Kasso’s life; one that contains, not speculations or plagiarisms, but first-hand interviews with Ricky Kasso’s friends, family, and the investigators who worked the case. Pollack also takes it one step further: he examines the irresponsible, sensationalist journalism, noted above, that led to the creation of St. Clair’s work and its inspiration in the creation of the above noted films (and as we learn from the film: bands and their song catalogues).

The ongoing influence of Ricky Kasso.

Pollack is a writer of distinction when it come to New Jersey-New York-bred crimes. His first book, Death on the Devil’s Teeth (2015), investigated the somewhat similar, 1972 murder (occult sacrifice) on the cold case of Jeannette DePalma. Born and raised in the garden state of New Jersey, Pollack serves as a contributing writer for Weird NJ magazine, since 2001. As an accomplished musician, his soundtrack work appears in Driving Jersey, an Emmy-nominated PBS documentary series. (The soundtrack to The Acid King, not so much a “soundtrack,” but a montage of queasy-inducing, Blair Witch-styled noises, is an excellent complement to its subject matter that needs its own release.)

While I enjoy film documentaries (especially true-crime documents, then music docs; since The Acid King is amalgamate, it’s a win-win) I know the documentary-storytelling format isn’t for everyone. So, while I do not mind this insightful investigation’s one hour fifty-minute running time (a limited-edition “work print” briefly streamed on Amazon in October 2019 at two hours twenty-three minutes), that length — mostly narrated by talking heads — may discourage others to stream it. That’s my only reservation towards the film: the length, for the work, as result of its honest desire to finally set the story, straight, encourages (an engaging) steaming. As we’ve discussed many times at B&S About Movies: We are no longer in the lands of ’90s indie theatrical features distributed by the likes of Fine Line Features, Fox Searchlight, and Miramax, and 80-minute home video DVDs. Today’s distribution platform is all about digital streaming and the new distribution model allows filmmakers to break the rules when it comes to the art of storytelling. Filmmakers, today, can bypass studios, self-distribute and go straight the consumer — while indulging and not commercially compromise their vision.

The 30-plus minutes edited out of the 2019 work print-version for this 2021 streaming-relaunch are the film’s sidebars to other “Satanic Panic” cases from the ’80s in the wake of the Ricky Kasso case (we discuss those cases in our reviews of Black Circle Boys and River’s Edge); the new-distributed version concentrates on Ricky’s case, as it was the “Satanic Panic” harbinger. Other superfluous, irrelevant interviews (too much talking-headin’ from Jim Van Beeber and musicians who weren’t there; too much Amityville Horror tangents**) have been excised. Still, even with that earlier version’s narrative and production faux-pas (mostly in sound): the film is still real; its honesty in documenting the unfiltered truth is to be commended.

Oh, Geraldo. First the failure at Al Capone’s vault, now this.

In reviewing the previous coverage of Ricky Kasso’s crimes, until The Acid King, the only U.S.-made examinations as to the “whys” behind Kasso’s crimes was, again, ABC-TV’s 20-20 segment, “The Devil Worshipers” (1985), the later “Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground” (1988), a prime-time episode of the syndicated Geraldo series hosted by Geraldo Rivera, and “Occult Killers” (2012), an episode of The Biography Channel’s (later to airing on LMN) Killer Kids series (S1:E1). Another is a critically-derided, hour-length Australian news magazine television document, “Satan in the Suburbs” (2000), which opted to enhance its insights with superfluous, A&E-styled “reenactments” of the events (some of which came from the movie, Ricky 6).

The system failed him: the system blamed Satan.

Considering those are hour-long programs, once you add in commercials, the actual running-time of those programs is about 40 to 45 minutes. I’ve read both, Say You Love Satan and The Acid King, and those episodic TV documents are greatly truncated, merely scratching the investigative surfaces: they’re also irresponsible, “Satanic Panic” agenda-driven pieces. The irresponsibility of those television, as well as magazine and newspaper, journalists (sans the responsible work of Rolling Stone‘s David Breskin) were exasperated by David St. Clair’s wreckless, religious-driven journalistic mania for the Paul and Jan Couch TBN crowd (Clip 1 and Clip 2 of their son Paul’s “Backmasking Special”; their minion, Pastor Gary, and his show, “The Eagle’s Next”: Clip 1, Clip 2, and Clip 3).

Jesse P. Pollack’s book is not only vastly superior to St. Clair’s (regardless of the controversies surrounding the book — which we did not know at the time of its release — it is still a well-written, entertaining read), his film is a superior, accurate account against those TV episodic documentaries. Where all other accounts stop, and inaccurately dismissed Ricky Kasso as the leader of a rock music-driven Satanic cult, Pollack’s film takes the necessary steps to examine the media’s irresponsible, “Satanic Panic” aftermath that came to influence (by way of duping, we learn) filmmakers and musicians. As The Acid King points out: Ricky’s crime is not to be excused; however, it was not a case of his being a “perfect kid” who started smoking joints, discovered Ozzy Osbourne’s music, then fell under Satan’s influence and decided to “sacrifice” someone.

Speaking of ’80s metal mixed with Satan: Visit our “No False Metal Movies” week of Satanic Panic-inspired film reviews.

While Jesse P. Pollack’s work is not as visually engaging as Tom O’Dell’s stellar, final documentary word on Charles Manson’s life with Manson: Music From an Unsound Mind (2019)**, or Joe Berlinger’s three-part Paradise Lost film franchise (1996/200/2011) on the tragic West Memphis 3 case, Pollack’s film is, nonetheless, an accurately-crafted, against-the-budget final word on the life and ongoing influence of Ricky Kasso. The Acid King also serves as a lesson to organized religion and big media: get the facts straight and enough with the self-serving sensationalism. And the fact that Ozzy Osbourne wasn’t on a recruiting drive for Satan, AC/DC doesn’t mean “Anti-Christ Devil Child,” KISS doesn’t mean “Kids in Satan’s Service,” W.A.S.P doesn’t mean “We Are Sexual Perverts” (or, insert your eyeroll: “We Are Satan’s Pawns”), and Tipper Gore was simply a woman with too much time on her hands who created the “Satanic Panic” industry.

The Acid King is a film that needs to exist about a man who shouldn’t have existed and a myth that should not have been created by an insatiable media and delusional religious fervor in the first place (but let’s not transform Kasso into a modern-day, Masonesque anti-folk hero for t-shirts and posters; he’s a murderer, after all). It’s a past that needs to be chronicled . . . so we do not repeat it.

But we always do, don’t we? We are human, after all.

And some of us are more human than others. And the less human do end up on tee-shirts and become infamous. . . .

The Acid King premieres-on-demand on November 9 through Wild Eye Releasing. You can learn more about the best-selling and acclaimed paperback that serves as the film’s basis at Goodreads, as well as sample several pages at Amazon Prime. You can learn more about the film and Jesse P. Pollack’s wares on Twitter, Instagram, and Simon and Schuster. Pollack also speaks at length with Micheal Whelan on his Unresolved podcast (45 minutes).

Update, March 2022: You can now watch The Acid King as a free-with-ads stream on Tubi.

* We get down and dirty with Jim Morrison in our review of Larry Buchanan’s “What If” tale, Down on Us. We also discuss AC/DC’s lone feature film that broke them in the U.S., Let There Be Rock — a production ironically connected to the “No False Metal” classic, Rocktober Blood.

** We discuss the earlier influences Charles Manson had on filmmakers of the ’70s with our review of Lee Madden’s The Night God Screamed. We also discuss the religious and journalistic mania surrounding Ricky Kasso’s ’70s doppelganger: Ronald DeFeo, Jr., in our “Exploring: Amityville” featurette.

*˟ You can supplement your watch of The Acid King with two direct-from-television-to-video releases from the “Christian Scare” industry of the ’80s we’ve reviewed: Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames and Devil Worship: The Rise of Satanism.

The films spawned by the “Satanic Panic” industry.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes film critiques for B&S About Movies.