Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Night of the Demons

Sometimes it’s just one letter that stands between a masterpiece and a piece of something else altogether. ‘Night of the Demon’ (singular) is an incredibly atmospheric 1957 film by Jacques Tourneur, loosely but effectively adapted from M.R. James’s wonderfully chilling short story “Casting the Runes”. ‘Night of the Demons’ (plural) is a shlocky low-budget 1988 film by Kevin Tenney (who ain’t no Tourneur) from a script by Joe Augustyn (who ain’t no M.R. James). Like I say, it’s just one letter –

(Sorry, what was that? ‘Night of the Demon’ is also an abject piece of shit 1980 flick by James C. Wasson, a staple of the video nasties list, principally remembered for a scene in which a biker stops to take a roadside piss only for a sasquatch to reach out of the bushes and yank his todger off? Oh. Yeah. Bollocks. Well, that completely deep sixes that opening paragraph!)

Ahem. Moving swiftly on.

Kevin Tenney’s ‘Night of the Demons’ is a shlocky low-budget horror movie that cheerful appropriates a melange of iconography from everything from John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ to Lamberto Bava’s ‘Demons’ by way of every campfire story ever told and glues them together with corn syrup and red dye and absolutely no consideration for characterization, narrative or coherence.

Okay; I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: back the fuck up, Fulwood. You made a case for a whole smorgasbord of stalk ‘n’ slash during the 13 for Halloween project – Christ, you even managed to wring some entertainment value out of ‘Slaughter High’ – so how come you’re getting so uppity over ‘Night of the Demons’?

Well, it’s little things like this: Tenney and Augustyn spend the first third of the movie setting up character dynamics – girl-next-door Judy (Cathy Podewell) agree to a Halloween party date with Ivy League type Jay (Lance Fenton) much to the chagrin of punkish former boyfriend Sal (Billy Gallo), who bullies Helen’s smartmouthed younger brother into giving up the location of said party; the party is thrown by goth outcast Angela (Amelia “Mimi” Kinkade) who inveigles her ditzy best pal Suzanne (Linnea Quigley) into helping out on the promise that she’s invited some “cute boys”; white trash oik Stooge (Hal Holvins) and his African-American best bud/whipping boy Rodger (Alvin Alexis) perpetually squabble, much to the frustration of Helen (Allison Barron), who may or may not have romantic attachments to one, both or neither of them; obnoxious jock Max (Philip Tanzini) and his Eurasian girlfriend Frannie (Jill Terashita) flip off Stooge and Rodger when a spare tyre strands them on the side of the road en route to the bash – only for none of the romantic/racial/rivalry-based conflicts to be explored once all of the protagonists are assembled in the same isolated locale, nor any explanation given as to why Angela invited these specific characters or why they accepted given Angela’s obvious status as a pariah.

Expectations of a pressure-cooker environment exacerbated by supernatural occurrences – or, better still, the horror developing internally from these social/prejudicial mores – are punctured when they just start boogie-ing to crap ’80s music, chugging beer and pairing off for the kind of twenty-second sexual encounters that are written in purely to tick the T&A box before the special effects team turn up to tick the blood ‘n’ gore box.

‘Night of the Demons’ is the kind of film that probably came into existence because the people behind it sat around at some point and had a conversation along these lines:

“Hey, you know what would be really cool? If a bunch of teens spent a night in an old house that used to be a funeral parlour.”

“Hey, man, let’s call it Hull House. Geddit? Geddit?!?!

“Cool. And they awaken a demon.”

“Cool. And they can’t get out because the gate they drove in through has suddenly turned into a brick wall.”

“Awesome! And there’s a séance and they break a mirror, because that’s, like, baaaad luck.”

“Dude, that’s deep. And you what? It’s a girl who gets turned into the first demon and she infects another girl by kissing her.”

“And there’s a couple who get naked and make out in a coffin.”

“Whoa, cool! And one of the girls who gets turned into a demon is a total goth chick and she does this sexy dance and then crouches in front of the fireplace and when she turns round her hands are on fire.”

“Awesome! And there’s this scene where one of the girls rips her blouse open and colours round her boobs with lipstick and then pushes the tube of lipstick into her nipple!

“Oh, man, this is going to be the coolest movie ever!!!”

And so they wrote these individual scenes, filmed them and decided that continuity was for pussies and the function of an editing machine was much the same as that of a meat grinder.

‘Night of the Demons’ is a delivery system for boobs, blood and rampant swathes of what-the-fuckery. The dialogue is fuck-awful (teenagers didn’t even talk like this in the 50s let alone the 80s); the acting makes it look like Stella Adler had a hand in your average Ed Wood production; and only the nastily effective framing device of the grumpy old man wishing revenge on Halloween revellers brings any degree of real imagination or originality to the table.

All things considered, ‘Night of the Demons’ ought to be a boilerplate, forgettable, unworthy-of-your-time-let-alone-an-800-word-review piece of work. Except for Amelia Kinkade. Single-handedly, she turns the demonically infested Angela into a horror movie icon as mordant, malicious and memorable as any of your Freddies, Jasons or Michaels. And she looks a hell of a lot better in a black party dress.


BRENT said...

Bugger me!!! How is that for a coincidence? I just reviewd this very same film myself only a matter of hours ago!!! Really 'creepy' huh?!!
Not as well as you though I'm afraid! You are straight to point and god damned funny with it.
Lets be honest, I enjoyed the film up to a point but it was crap in the 80's and is even worse now!!!!!!!!

Neil Fulwood said...

That really is coincidental. I posted this review having not looked at anybody else's blog today.

I have to say, your review is probably more justified in that you didn't waste too much time and too many words talking about it. I suffer from this weird condition where I can write a reasonably short review of a bona fide classic, but spew out 1,000 words on a piece of outright nonsense like 'Night of the Demons'. Maybe it's because it's sometimes funnier (and definitely easier) to deconstruct bad movies.

Whatever the reason, hang on to your sanity because I'm devoting the rest of this week to looking at the sequels and the recent remake!

Hans A. said...

"'Night of the Demons’ is a delivery system for boobs, blood and rampant swathes of what-the-fuckery."--why I love this film.

Speaking of coincidences, I have two Kevin S. Tenney films (recent ones) that I just received. I consider Night of the Demons and Witchboard, two of the best low-budget horror films to come out of the 80s.

While I love Kinkade's Angela, Linnea Quigley, one of the most iconic Scream Queens of the 80s, gives one of her most memorable roles. Her lipstick/nipple scene is unforgettable. Yeah, the screenplay is corny, but that's intentional. How can these lines not be intentional, for example:

"'Night, doll. I'm going home."
"You are home, Sal."
"I live in a nice place...with plastic slip-covers on the furniture."

These aren't the exact lines, but I haven't seen the film in a while. A lot of the dialogue is memorable.

While a lot of Night of the Demons is by the numbers. Tenney puts a lot of creative touches in. For example, Kinkade's dance (to Bauhaus?) is fairly erotic and pretty haunting. The demonic fx and the demon voice work is effective. Night of the Demons is a ninety-minute, rock-n-roll film and totally fun.

I'm interested on your takes on the sequels, Neil. The second film is much sleazier, while I cannot even remember the third, save Kinkade's appearance and some kids driving a van. The recent remake had a lot of potential but never quite gels. Some great visuals and sexy bits within though.

By the way, hope the novel is going well, and I did really enjoy this review, despite disagreeing with your opinion of it. Be cool, Neil, and hope all is well.

Neil Fulwood said...

Hans, thanks for commenting. Although it probably doesn't come through in my review, I did enjoy 'Night of the Demons' for what it was. It's one of those films that gives you free licence to write about it in an irreverent and jocular style, and my tendency to sarcasm probably overwhelmed the review a little bit.

Yeah, Sal's comment about "living in a nice house" is priceless and, like you say, evidently written intentionally. I love the fact that an ostensibly grubby street punk would come out with a line like that!

Angela's dance is definitely a high point. It's reprised in the sequel (to a song by Morbid Angel) but it doesn't work half as well as in this film. Having said that, I preferred the sequel purely because it ramps up the black comedy (review tomorrow).

The third film and the remake, however, are almost entirely forgettable.

BRENT said...

Oh my god there is a re-make?!! God help us! You know it is funny as I find re-makes of classic 80's horrors are worse than the originals! I mean the recent Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, were absolute crap. At least the originals were scary in their day whereas the re-makes aren't scary.
In fact they are are just down right embarassing.
But yeah I know what you saying with word length. Some films are really easy to write up and yet some others are more difficult. And generally the worse the film the more words they take up.
Writing is not the easy skil some would have us believe!

Neil Fulwood said...

Brent, you have every right to feel trepidacious about the sequel. I've got a review prepared for it, which I'll be posting towards the end of the week, but it really is a misconceived piece of work: neither scary nor funny and the casting of Shannon Elizabeth as Angela is an epic fail.

Nostalgia Kinky said...

Great piece Neil...I have been curious about this.

Neil Fulwood said...

Thanks for commenting, Jeremy. Approach it as a trashy, moderately entertaining slice of 1980s low-budget hokum and you'll probably have a good time with it.

Ultimately, though, it's worth it purely for Amelia Kinkade as Angela.

Franco Macabro said...

I like this one, I mean, I know its stupid and it makes very little sense, but it reminds me of the 80's, and the way those cheap horror movies were made back in the day. I also love the opening sequence, the art on it I mean.

But really, this guy simply took the ideas presented on Evil Dead and reworked them into a lesser film, thats still kind of fun to watch on Halloween night.

The remake managed to leave out any of the charm this one might had...it completely sucks balls, every step of the way! But I guess we can talk about that on your up coming review for it.

Neil Fulwood said...

Hey, Franco. Thanks for the comment. Stay tuned for my review of the remake on Friday. It's not a very positive one.

Undead Nicole said...

‘Night of the Demons’ is a delivery system for boobs, blood and rampant swathes of what-the-fuckery.

I know that's meant to be negative but if you add in jello shots, that's my definition of a great movie night. ;)