Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Night of the Demons

Night of the Demons
Directed by: Kevin S. Tenney
USA, 1988
Horror, 90min
Distributed by: Anchor Bay 

I really like Night of the Demons, REALLY! I’ve had a real soft spot for it since the very first time I saw it a long, long time ago. Yeah, it’s one of those eighties flicks that I hold as a classic, and I held on to that old VHS tape for an eternity. It’s schlocky, creepy, fun and intimidating, just in the right way, it plays out almost like the first time you rode the ghost train. The first time around it was scary and fun, the second time you knew the beats and came prepared, and every time from there on, you just took the ride for the sheer fun of it. I can’t really say why this one became a fave more than any other title, but at the time Steve Johnson FX where buzzing, Linnea Quigley was THE scream queen and the flick had one of the best Bauhaus songs ever on the soundtrack.
A bunch of kids gather at Hall House, an infamous haunted house, where Angela has invited them to a Halloween party. The party starts and fun get’s rollin', until they decide to hold a séance. Disturbing images are seen in the mirror, which shatters into a thousand pieces releasing the demons of Hull House, which start possessing the youngsters one by one…
Basically Night of the Demons is a pretty straightforward generic horror that takes place on Halloween night. Gender roles and stereotypical characters are all introduced within the first ten minutes as the bunch of kids attending Angela’s party are introduced.  Judy [Cathy Podewell – who went on to became a regular on Dallas, as J.R’s second wife Cally, her date Jay [Lance Fenton], Sal [William Gallo], the bad-boy, with a crush on Judy. Their friends Max [Philip Tanzini] and Frannie [Jill Terashita], Angela [Mimi Kinkade] shop lifting while Suzanne [Linnea Quigley] – who only want’s to look good for the boys, bends over way to deep distracting the clerks with her pink panties… and in classic Quigley style, there’s more to come. Punk rockers Rodger, [Alvin Alexis] Helen [Allison Barron] and Stooge [Hal Havins]… and finally the Hull House, where the events of the night are about to unfold.  All of their traits are rapidly presented and we get a crash course into their personalities… and knowing genre conventions you know exactly where they are going to go during the movie. When jock type Jay get’s irritable that Judy won’t put out – after all he’s “heard the rumours” of her and Sal – he ditches her in the dark room and she’s left to her own devices.
Archetypes displaying their traits in the classic way, and from that moment on you know that the good girl virgin, Judy is gong to be this movies “Final girl”. Hey, it’s no coincidence that Judy’s wearing an Alice in wonderland dress, as Alice is a symbol of innocence, a metaphor for virginity… I’ve discussed how Alice in Wonderland is a goldmine for genre filmmakers – such as Jay Lee’s Alyce 2011, and this is yet another example of how it common it is in popular culture, and specifically the horror genre.
Oh, and notice that splendid character shift, where the unfortunate old man taunted by obnoxious teenagers turns into sinister old man about to hide razorblade in apples… That’s the kind of two-sided comedy/darkness I love about The Night of the Demons, and he’ll be back for the wraparound in a final blood drenched Steve Johnson effect.
It’s kind of silly, but the genesis of the haunted Hull House is told through corny dialogue bringing us up to speed – obviously it concerns someone in the Hull House going insane and slaughtering the entire family, and the underground stream, which the house supposedly was built on, that traps the evil spirits inside the old creepy house.

Being such a piece of eighties pop culture, and generic formula, the kids obviously have a few brew’s, dance around to some new wave rock, and then kick up a séance, which releases the evil forces. Buckle up, shits about to get wild, and Steve Johnson’s about to unleash a shit load of amazing special effects upon you as Demons walk the world.
False scares, conventional build-ups, traditional horror ploys, but also some very original moments that still stand out today. You can’t argue with Steve Johnson's spectacular eighties special effects, the eye gouging, possessed faces, burn victims, trauma injuries - still spectacular today  - or that gory climax! Who can ever forget the image of Linnea Quigley pushing her lipstick info the flesh of her nipple. An iconic moment of generic horror that still stands the test of time. The lipstick into the breast scene is still an awesomely impressive effect, and is in many ways an epitome of sex and horror colliding, creating a discomfort within the audience.  First it get’s you all excited then it freaks the hell out of you, but that’s nothing compared to the seductive little dance Suzanne gives Jay later; lifting up her skirt, showing him some muff, straddling the expectant lad, and then turning into a demon only to gouge out his eyes… awesome stuff, and definitely a head fuck in the best possible way.
Night of the Demons was followed by two sequels – Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Night of the Demons 2, and Jim Kaufman’s straight to Video Night of the Demons III (written by Tenney) - all starring Amelia Kinkade as Angela. It was also source for a remake in 2009 Adam Gierasch Night of the Demons, to little success, despite Edward Furlong (Who's arm I grabbed and snarled "Watch it Kid!" at, at a convention in Stockholm a few years back, after Furlong stumbled out of a booth in the bathroom, bumped into my then seven year old, and snarled "Watch it kid!"), Shannon Elizabeth, a Quigley cameo, and an almost blueprint replica of the original movie – including lipstick gag. The contemporary take on old-school generic horror fails miserably as it lacks the enthusiasm, fines and passion of this original gem with it’s almost perfect tongue in cheek mix of scares, cark comedy and sexual allusions, and ironic wraparound story.
Night of the Demons is a movie that I love so profoundly that I have no trouble revisiting it over and over again. On a list of 20 desert island titles, I'd take this one with me. Despite being rather conventional and a universally generic horror film, it has some fantastic effects by Steve Johnson – who finally got to showcase his work on his own and not as part of a team, a great new wave soundtrack and an original score by Dennis Michael Tenney, and a cast and crew, who obviously are having a great time. I elevate it above the most other generic flicks of the time, because there’s something magical about the demons in Hull House. 

1 comment:

Kev D. said...

I actually JUST watched "Brain Dead" today, which is a more recent Tenney film... let's just say that he should have stopped after "Night of the Demons"

Nice post.