Monday, July 23, 2012

Night of the Demon



Night of the Demon
Directed by: James C. Wasson
USA, 1980
Horror, 92min
Distributed by: CodeRed.

Hailed by some as the "Best Bigfoot film of all time", if not the "single best movie" ever, James C. Wasson’s Night of the Demon has a hell of a lot to stand up too… Well, it’ sure as hell isn’t one of the best movies ever, but it’s got several really great examples of crap storytelling a lot of weird shit goes on, and the cheap and cheerful effects which are part of the whopping death toll make up for a lot of the bad, because if there’s one thing that I like predominately, it’s passion. Night of the Demon has a lot of passion, and really want’s to be a great horror flick. It tries a bit too hard, but it’s a damned entertaining little oddity that certainly manages to make the 93 minute runtime shoot past in no time at all.
Doctor Nugent [Michael J. Cutt] is hospitalized with serious injuries. At his bedside stand Doctors Paxton [Eugene Dow], Harris [Don Hurst] and Inspector Slack [Terry Wilson] who bid Nugent to tell his story… the story of how he and several of his student’s took a trip into the wilderness to search for clues to the reason behind the death of one of the student’s father. Nugent claims that all the stories they have heard about strange things going on in the woods are true, there is a beast living up there in those woods, and the beast is responsible for the deaths of all his students…
Then the trouble starts, the hospital scene leads to a flashback of Nugent rallying up a couple of bucky students for a weekend expedition. They take off and set up camp – in broad daylight – outside some really lame park ranger’s cabin before Nugent starts telling “bigfoot” stories… which in turn lead to yet another flashback within the flashback. Just about every pastime scene is presented in flashback form, for no apparent reason, as the attacks could have taken place in the real time of the movie. But the main problem is that almost every flashback scene is lead up to by a piece of really shitty dialogue along the lines of “oh, yeah, that like those two girl scouts who went missing…” or “that young couple who went missing from their van…” etc. etc. before fading into a flashback. All that’s missing is that tingly wiggly sound Wayne and Garth used to make each time they had a past tense story to tell.
This is obviously an annoyance, and it get’s worse, a lot of pointless exposition is simply shitty conclusion work presented in really bogus dialogue such as “oh so those people what we saw must have been part of that strange cult we heard of before we came up here…” kind of stuff. It’s annoying, but definitely worth seeing as this is a textbook example of what not to do… despite the high entertainment value.
Yes, I said strange cult above, there’s a Cultist subplot concerning cultists who worship the bigfoot, there’s a outrageous father, and cult leader subplot, who keeps his young daughter under lock and key to keep her away from the groping hands of horny young men, and there’s the absolutely delirious – but superb – subplot concerning “Crazy Wanda” [Melanie Graham], her deceased mutant baby and a surreal “rape” scene that definitely makes the movie growl in the night. A lot of the subplots, are unfortunately come off as just being tossed in, and few of them really tie into the main story – such as the sinister cop who stalks the kids, is part of the cult and whom one expects to become something of a secondary protagonist, but just vanishes from the story… it’s a shame, because some of the sub-plots are as mentioned fucking outrageous and undoubtedly pretty unique. Although the introduction of the subplot cluster, is done in a really effective way, through crosscutting rapid sessions of interviews with townsfolk, just as Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myric did almost twenty years later in The Blair Witch Project 1999. This is kind of what made me muster up the effort to write about this movie at all. I’ve always claimed that most movies will contain at least one great moment where it all comes into focus, where it all drops into place and the intended vision of that segment really snaps into place. The introduction of Cult, Cult leader and Crazy Wanda are such moments, and it makes up for a lot of poor storytelling stuff that goes on in this film. 
Let’s talk about the "violent" special effects.  Well, perhaps not too violent, but kind of low-budget effective special effects, and bloody hell do the special effect’s woman, Susan Brott, work her ass of on Night of the Demon. There’s somewhere near nineteen deaths in the movie, and at least fourteen of them are on screen carnage! It’s all a right laugh, but at the same time the further the movie gets, the more dark the violence becomes, at first there’s simple splort-splash scenes, but the last act is pure diabolical hell. The last act becomes something of a siege movie, when the band of youths – and Doctor Nugent - are held captive in a small mountain shack whilst the Bigfoot strikes at them one at a time. So the road to the last act goes via schlocky gore gags, to a biker having his knob ripped off, to the final carnage where highlights include being thrown on a saw, cutting a huge gash and then watching the Bigfoot pull out the intestines, an almost Argentoesque pane of glass throat slicing moment and a face being hideously disfigured as it’s pushed into a hot fiery stove…
Oh, I almost forgot, the movie does have an initial attack to establish genre and the main protagonists – the beast, and introduce its unique Bigfoot vision. The initial attack focuses on the bloke who’s daughter is part of the Nugent expedition, and it’s him we witness being attacked and killed in a rather “H.G. Lewis toned” attack. The subjective camera lurks forth, he grimaces and from the armless silhouette shadowed on his tent the torn off arm splatters the entire fabric with red goo… but it doesn’t stop there, as it’s just about to go from hyper kitsch to really neat opening titles. The blood pours from the gaping wound where the man’s arm once hung, and flows across the soil, creating a small river of blood that finally ends up filling the footprint of The Bigfoot! I like it, and this is the kind of dorky, cheesy tone that this movie delivers en masse. Not deliberately funny like a Troma movie, but accidentally funny, as it just happens to become funny under the circumstance.
The star of the movie could be Bigfoot, played by Shane Dixon -who went on to be a stuntman in Hollywood, and this despite the fact that Sasquatch mostly wobbles around looking like a flea-market Chewbacca suit, and is revealed way to early for my tastes.  Director James C. Wasson only ever made the one movie, this one. The video artwork used to sport a warning for scenes of extreme and explicit violence… which probably felt like a kick in the bollocks when it shortly after it’s release found itself being seized and prosecuted as one of the films on the infamous British video nasties list – which just goes to show how outrageous that list actually was. Just a few years ago the Iver Film Services original VHS, with their Oscar statue mimicking logotype, would put you back close to a hundred quid. In 1994 the movie was passed with almost two minutes cut from the flick…
But what I really like about this little flick is that there’s an almost Edward D. Wood Jr. vibe to the film. I love the passion of Wood’s film making, I don’t lay any value into his filmmaking skills or get into that whole shit flicking discussion. The guy had passion in his films and his storytelling, and that’s a lot more than one can say about a lot of other films in this genre.  I find the same energy in Night of the Demon. Certain actors are pretty all right, and others kind of really not all right; some of the actors could definitely come from the realm of amateur porn, and I’d be surprised if there isn’t someone out there who’s shouted out “Oh look it’s whatsherface from that movie!” in the campervan shagging scene, but all of them – and the crew – at least give off an aura of believing that they are making a masterpiece. For a one shot moviemaker James C. Wasson at least had the right attitude, drive and passion, and perhaps in some ways Rubbermonsterfetischism and  NinjaDixon are right, perhaps this is a masterpiece in it’s own little way.

5 comments:

Nigel Maskell said...

Not really that good a film but it was one in my local video store so we watched this one a few times back in the day. Puzzling entry to the nasties list. If the list came about in part because of what the list would make people do then I am not sure what the tories thought this film would make people do- go on Bigfoot hunts? Have bigfoot babies?

Possibly the best bigfoot movie I have seen is the documentary The Legend of Bigfoot.

Out of interest weren't there some films released as sequels to Night of the Demon back in the day?RT

CiNEZiLLA said...

I'm completely with you on the "Not really that good a film" Nigel!

Will look for Legend of Bigfoot, and had never guessed that there where sequels!

Jesper said...

Where can I get my hands on this?

Nigel Maskell said...

I'm not sure there were sequels but seem to have something in the back of my mind that there were videos marketed as sequels- cant find anything on the net though so doubting my own memory!

Ninja Dixon said...

No, THE best Bigfoot-film is Ryan Schifrin's Abominable. A very fresh take on the old 'foot :)