Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Night of the Demons (2009)

After spending most of the past decade cranking out awful horror remakes, it’s reasonable to expect filmmakers to figure out what makes the original films such fan favorites. Yet, with one exception, studios keep mucking things up and the remake of Night of the Demons is no exception.

The film opens with a flashback to 1920’s New Orleans, as a well dressed woman hangs herself off the balcony of the Broussard mansion, rather than be captured by a demon possessed gentleman. Perhaps hanging is too weak a term, as the rope appears to be woven out of piano wire and pops the poor lady’s head clean off her shoulders. A bit over the top, but the physical effect is well executed and the flashback, filmed in the style of a silent film of the time, works well. But it sets up a significant departure from the original story, which becomes a problem later in the film.

Cut to modern day New Orleans, where Angela (Shannon Elizabeth, 13 Ghosts) is sending out email invitations to her Halloween party at the Broussard family mansion. She needs the party to be a success, or else she and her cat will be out on the streets. It’s not made clear why Angela needs the money so badly, or how she knows so many college students as, despite her good looks, Elizabeth seems a bit too old to attract the college crowd simply via email. Oh well, Linnea Quigley (who appears in a cameo, reprising her cheeky opening scene) was much older then her costars in the original and no one let that get in the way.

We next meet Colin (Edward Furlong, T2, Pet Semetary 2), a low-level drug dealer trying to smooth things over with his supplier. Though he’s not invited to the party, he plans to bribe the gatekeeper (Tiffany Shepis, in a too brief part), get inside, and sell enough drugs to save his hide.

Also getting ready for the party are three college girls. Maddie (Monica Keena, Freddy vs. Jason), dressing up like a survivor girl, is talking with Lily (Dioria Baird, TCM: The Beginning, 30 Days of Night: Dark Days), who’s dressed like a sexy kitty. Then, in a faux pas moment, in walks Suzanne (Bobbi Sue Luther, Laid to Rest, Killer Pad, The Poughkeepsie Tapes), dressed like a buxom kitty from an anime porno. Guess who survives the night.

Anyway, the threesome spend a little time discussing the benefits of bikini waxing, which had members of the FanGirlTastic boards asking if women really talk in such a graphic fashion. Now, I have no clue how realistic the scene is, not being privy to an all female chat about men’s preferences concerning a groomed nether region. And I don’t know if screenwriters Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch have any insight into what women talk about when the guys aren’t around. But the actresses play the scene well, suggesting the script might contain a ring of truth. Either that, or actresses in horror films are accustom to dialog that has no place in real life.

The party is a big one, as the Broussard mansion is overflowing with revelers by the time the girls arrive. In a clever nod to the original’s tag line (“Angela’s having a party, Freddy and Jason are too scared to come…”), we see revelers dressed as the Jigsaw puppet and Victor Crawley wandering through the house, only to vanish later when the nasty stuff starts. Lily bumps into her ex, some guy named Dex, who’s at the party with his friend Jason (Yes, these characters are so forgettable you can refer to them as “some guy named…”). Maddie notices her ex, Colin, is at the party, and tries to avoid him. And Suzanne is chugging drinks and dancing on the table. It’s not long before the cops show up to close it down, as Angela doesn’t have the right permits.

Maddie, Lily, Dex and Jason return after the police leave, having left Suzanne passed out in a corner. Colin, coming back to retrieve his stash from a heating vent, discovers his bag has fallen into the basement. He persuades the group take a look downstairs, where they discover a hidden room with six decomposing corpses arranged in a black magic circle. Angela, desperate after her gatekeeper walked off with the party’s take, decides to steal a gold tooth from one of the corpses. It’s no surprise that she’s bitten by the corpse (after all, that’s damn rude behavior) and is possessed by a demon. After mentioning that seven is the perfect number, she heads upstairs and, you guessed it, mayhem ensues as the group finds themselves locked in the house while trying to ward off demon attacks.

It’s a long build up (over 50 minutes before Angela gets her demon on), but now we can finally forget about the plot and meaningless character development, and get to some demon action. Not so fast, as someone decided that being chased around a dark, deserted house by demons isn’t good enough for a modern audience. Instead, our survivors find refuge in the maid’s room, where the walls covered in mystic runes designed to ward off demons. And they somehow decipher the runes and find out that the reason the owner of the Broussard house hung herself decades ago was to prevent the seven demons trapped in the house from possessing seven living people and free themselves to roam the Earth. Even more amazing than our survivors being able to read the sprawling runes is that they can replicate the spells without a “Klaatu barada, necktie” moment as the demons do their best to erase the walls and gain entry.

Like so many other remakes, Night of the Demons tries to cram in too much plot, which gets in the way of the story (to paraphrase Joe Bob Briggs). The original film worked because of its simplicity, its plot nothing more than a vehicle to get a bunch of horny kids into a haunted house for a party, where drink beer, have sex and end up being chased by demons. Surviving until sunrise is suspenseful enough and once the demons showed up, the movie didn’t take a break to add more to the plot.

Yet the remake seems to thrive on showing how it can one-up the original in random, rather pointless ways. The party is larger than in the original, the world now depends on one of the group surviving, and the name of the house’s owners has changed (likely to fit the New Orleans setting, but it still feels rather pointless). Even the famous lipstick scene is amped up with a pointless, bloody reappearance of the hidden tube (though it does provide the funniest line in the movie). While the idea behind a remake is to try improving on the original (as well as make a buck on a familiar title), filmmakers need to stop trying to tweak things in meaningless ways. Better production values and effects are fine, but if you want to start changing the plot, revamp it like The Fly and The Thing, not in a pointless fashion that comes off like a smug attempt to show how sophisticated you are compared to filmmakers in the 80’s. We don’t need to have Freddie to be coming back to haunt the children he first molested, Jason doesn’t need a Batcave and a bunch of kids trying to survive a demon attack is scary enough without the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

And the less said about the ending, the better. Again, it’s a cheap attempt to upstage the original. And while it does tie into the beginning of the film, it’s such a cheat that one wonders how stupid the screenwriters think their audience is.

Now, as this is a remake of a classic blood and boobs 80’s film, I feel it’s my duty to mention that this film, while including a few brief moments of bare breasts, pales in comparison to the original as far as nudity is concerned. And most the nudity occurs after the demon attacks begin, which is rather silly when you consider the mansion was packed full of dancing, drunken, horny college students at the start of the film. If anyone did get naked before the cops busted in, I don’t remember it. I guess the screenwriters were too concern with rather pointless character development, but come on. This is Night of the Demons we’re talking about, not Let the Right One In. Stereotypical characters will work just fine and get us to the demon action that much quicker, which is what the audience is paying to see.

And, once again, the women carry the burden of shedding their clothes (which, in Ed Furlong’s case, should be considered a blessing). Come on, Hollywood, we know that college frat boys are not that inhibited at a party or after a couple of six packs, and besides, female horror fans need some eye candy as well.

The move does have some good points. The practical effects are well done and the scene where Angela seduces Suzanne is nicely shot (though Elizabeth doesn’t come off as menacing and sexy as Amelia Kinkade in the original). The acting is good and the film looks much better than some of the online trailers might have led you to believe.

In fact, if you didn't know a superior version of this tale exists, you might enjoy it as a late night junk cinema fix. But Night of the Demons 2009 lacks the scares and sense of fun that makes the original such a cult favorite, and ends up being no different the the dozens of direct to DVD horror films release every month.