Thursday, October 21, 2010

Night of the Demons (1988)

As promised, though a bit late of a start, here's my review of the original Night of the Demons. Expect Part 2 to follow soon until we reach the remake, released this week.

Coming off his first film, Witchboard, Kevin Tenney served up a cult classic with a light-hearted romp in a haunted (oops, make that possessed) house that’s still a lot of fun today.. Night of the Demons is a great roller coaster ride of a movie full of gore, nudity and thrills, a perfect Halloween movie for the spooky season.
This movie caused a surprising amount of controversy when it was released in theaters back in the late 80's. The gratuitous nudity and graphic gore by Steve Johnson (Dead Heat, Species) earned a lot of critical ire and forced the film to be trimmed for its theatrical release. But I feel the bookend scenes of the movie, involving a crotchety old man planning to put razorblades in Halloween apples, rub a few people the wrong way. He gets his comeuppance, have no fear, but the film was released during the media frenzy over poisoned candy and tampered carmel apples. And while these scenes were not directly attacked, the apple threat comes during the opening minutes of the film and I’m sure it put the MPAA and other moral guardians on high alert. One can only imagine their disgust that a horror film would dare include such a scene. What if senior citizens decided to imitate what they saw on the screen? Not that they were the target audience, but seniors could sneak into the theater, just like underage kids!
Regardless of the response from the MPAA and major critics, the film did well in the theaters on a limited release and garnered some good reviews. And thanks to a well-staged promotion for the VHS release, including an unrated version and some great promotional extras to rental shops, the film became a cult classic. And deservedly so, as the film is a lot of fun and holds up well for a modern audience.
The story keeps things simple. Angela (Amelia Kinkade, billed as Mimi Kinkade) and her friend Suzanne (Linnea Quigley) invite a group of teens to a Halloween party at the abandoned Hull House. A funeral home located on a plot of cursed land that was the site of countless acts of massacres and mayhem throughout the ages. The house is surrounded by a high stone fence, which is built over an underground river that keeps the demons from traveling to the surrounding woods.
As Halloween is the night demons can come out and party, how can they resist a group of horny teens? Angela and Suzanne are possessed and start dealing gory mayhem to their guests. The survivors must get out of the maze-like house and over the massive fence to escape (as the gate has vanished), or stay alive until daybreak. Both options seem unlikely, as each victim become possessed, adding to Angela’s unstoppable army.
The characters are little more than the basic cut and paste teens you’ve seen hundreds of times before, though the cast does a good job with the roles they are given. The one that seems a bit out of place is the bad boy/faux gang member. The actor can’t quite pull off a convincing tough guy menace and really doesn’t look the part. It’s a minor distraction, as most of the cast is little more than mincemeat for a demon pie.
The gore gets nasty at times, as with a brutal eye gouging scene, some nice burn makeup (after a very effective stunt sequence with two burning demons bouncing off the walls of a hallway) and a memorable “hide the lipstick tube” moment with Linnea Quigley.
Quigley supplies most of the nudity and is featured in one of horror’s most memorable close ups. About ten minutes into the film, while Angela is busy ripping off a minimart for party supplies, Suzanne is distracting the two clerks by bending over in a short, frilly skirt, while pretending to look at merchandise on the bottom counter. You’ll know the moment, as the screen is suddenly filled with a tight shot of Quigley’s, um, bum, filmed with a reverence reserved for head shots of Selma Hayek or George Clooney. One can only imagine the reaction to that scene from the crowds in the theaters or drive-ins where the film was screened.
The film also features a scene where a grade school boy scares his sister, then comments on her “bodacious boobies,” which are threatening to bust out of her bra. Only in the 80’s could kids get away with lines like when the boy asks her sister’s date if he’s only after her “ta-tas.” From the mouth of babes….
Tenney keeps the tone light and fun, despite all the gore. The film is as menacing as a spook house ride and while a few moments are genuinely creepy, it’s hard to take things too seriously. But what Tenney gets right is the chases through the house. While I find most movies that feature long tracking shots of monsters and victims traveling down dark hallways rather dull, Tenney manages to infuse some life into these static shots. The labyrinthian location is used very well, and Angela looks terrifying as she glides down the hall in search of victims. Kinkade’s dancing skills (she was lead dancer in several music videos and tours during the 80’s) serve her well, as her performance is on par with that of Katrin Alexandre as the monster in The Unnamable.
Lots of films are called cult classics, but this one earns the title. It’s hard not to enjoy this film, as Tenney and cast serve up the cheese with a smile. This movie is a pure Halloween treat that should be in any horror fan’s collection.