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Review

'Devilsdorp': Satanic Krugersdorp killings laid bare in true-crime doccie

This four-part Showmax series about the murderous 'Chosen by God' cult will have you watching with open-mouthed shock

25 July 2021 - 00:01 By and tymon smith
The details in 'Devilsdorp' are grim, horrific and often hard to believe.
The details in 'Devilsdorp' are grim, horrific and often hard to believe.
Image: Showmax

The dark lord comes down to Krugersdorp in Devilsdorp, Showmax's first original true-crime docuseries. You might argue that, in the popular imagination of many who have a morbid fascination with stories of satanic panic, it's long been believed that the road to hell runs straight through the West Rand mining town.

Perhaps no recent story of macabre tragedy and evil intrigue has captured the attention of the South African press and tabloid readers as much as the so-strange-it-has-to-be-true tale of the murderous trail wrought by the members of the Electus Per Deus (Latin for “Chosen by God”) cult. Between 2012 and 2016 they engaged in a brutal killing spree across the West Rand that left at least 11 people dead.

It's a grim, horrific story, often still hard to believe in spite of the arrests and trial that brought the details to light. It involves a host of strange and miserable characters who all found themselves under the spell of an agoraphobic self-proclaimed “42nd-generation Satanic witch” who sent her followers out to commit murder and robbery, without ever getting her own hands dirty.

One thread of series director David Enright's four-episode show follows the cult and its transformation from dedicated Christian protectors of Cecilia Steyn — a seemingly hapless former Satanist in need of constant spiritual assistance to ensure she wasn't dragged back to hell — to zombie-like soldiers in service of the insane murderous plans she hatched in her shabby flat opposite a Krugersdorp hospital.

The other thread traces the efforts of a mullet-sporting, endearingly dedicated police detective to get to the bottom of the perplexing links between two series of murders committed four years apart, and the journalists who became obsessed with reporting the details of the case and the twists and turns of its sensational trial.

Along the way there are traumatised family members of the victims, shadowy corrupt cops, a brash but dogged prosecutor, patiently explaining psychologists, witness-protected informers and a reporter who was so smitten with one of the suspects that she lost her job and marriage because of it.

Full of eerily quiet overhead shots of the unsuspecting town that belie the madness unfolding within a small section of it and interviews recorded in dimly lit rooms and a recurring image of a strange art installation filled with objects and photographs related to the crimes that, depending on which way you look at it, is either a cross or a pentagram, it's all suitably ominous and deeply unsettling, in spite of the incredulity you may initially have towards some of its melodrama and players.

What it lacks in broader examination of the sociological peculiarities that create the circumstances for the stark oppositions between Satanic panic and religious zealotry in places like Krugersdorp, it makes up for with a well-paced unravelling of all the elements in its complicated web and an effective use of the familiar but useful cliffhanger to keep you watching with increasing “what-the-hell” open-mouthed shock until its satisfyingly nail-biting courtroom drama conclusion.  

• Available on Showmax from July 29.


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