Friday, October 29, 2010

Night of the Demons (1987)

The Movie: Good girl Judy (Cathy Podewell) is excited to be going to the Halloween dance with Jay (Lance Fenton). However, Jay has a change of plans. Creepy goth-girl Angela (Mimi Kinkade) and her friend, Suzanne (the great scream queen Linnea Quigley, of such films as Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers and Return of the Living Dead), are throwing a party that he would rather attend instead.

The party is at Hull House, a deserted house/former funeral parlor with a rather checkered history. By checkered I mean mysterious deaths, massacres, cursed ground. You know, the usual. Jay talks Judy into going, and the party starts. The teenagers look forward to a night of drinking, dancing, party games, and getting into each others’ pants

Unfortunately, there is something to all those horrible stories about Hull House. It turns out that demonic entities live there, and that Halloween is the one night they can come out to torment humanity. As the partygoers get possessed and killed in gruesome ways, the survivors try to find an escape. The one hope is the underground stream that the wall surrounding the property is built over, which the demons are unable to cross. Unfortunately, they have taken that little issue into account. Let the real party begin….

The Review:

Don’t worry Sal, it ain’t the weird ones you got to watch out for. God, didn’t your mother teach you nothing about women?”

On its surface, Night of the Demons resembles a typical dead teenager movie of the standard set by Friday the 13th. Hell, you could even do a checklist of the various elements. Group of teenagers throws a party in a location where a great evil lurks? Check. Said teenagers get killed off in grotesque ways? Check. Majority of characters little more than walking targets? Check. Gratuitous female nudity? Almost all the female characters bare some flesh at some point. Total asshole character? We get two, three if you count Jay.

So what is there to distinguish Night of the Demons from the rest of the pack? Quite a bit, actually. Probably most prominent is that the filmmakers show a sense of self awareness throughout the whole work. Hey! Get back here! Don’t worry, I’m not meaning that winking, smirking, “aren’t we clever” self awareness we see all too often in horror movies these days.

Instead, we get a deadpan “so they think they know what’s coming? Let’s see if they catch this!” mentality. It’s clear that the filmmakers are very aware of what they are creating; and they use that to tweak the formula. There aren’t too many glaring changes, though there are at least one or two. However, there are enough adjustments to the established cannon to keep you off your guard.

For example, Judy, our obvious final girl. There is a hint, not elaborated upon but still there, that she might not be a virgin. Likewise, at the beginning she actually bares some skin for the camera! In your standard Friday the 13th inspired dead teenager movie, either one of these would mark her as dead meat. However, it’s still clear that if anyone survives the happenings it will be her.
I would also like to point out that Ms. Podewell is fairly convincing in her role. On the one hand, she does come across as a genuinely good person; on the other she doesn’t come across as either too saccharine or intolerable, as one would be lead by other movies to expect her to be. I could imagine meeting someone like Judy, and actually enjoying her company.

This is done with some of the other characters as well. One of our total assholes actually shows a good head when things start getting weird; and even some nobility when he sacrifices his own life to save Judy’s. Another character, one of the survivors, has not one but two traits that, in any other movie of this type, would mark them out as one of the very first to die.

Along with the little tweaks to catch us off guard, the filmmakers obviously knew that they were supposed to be making a horror movie. I shouldn’t have to say that, but unfortunately there are so many makers of these films who don’t. There are some genuinely frightening scenes in Night of the Demons. One of my personal favorites, Angela’s dance to Bauhaus’ Stigmata Martyr, I find to be simultaneously one of the creepiest and most arousing horror movies scenes I have come across. There are also some good, subtlely done indications that characters are possessed. I wish they’d stuck to the subtle hints, I find the possessies a lot less scary when they are in full-fledged demon makeup.

Finally, and probably most importantly, it was clear that somebody had fun making Night of the Demons. This shows in the special effects, the plot, and especially in the wonderful animations played during the credits. Probably the two best actors, who also gave the impression of enjoying their roles, were Kinkade and Quigley. They played off each other well, and Kinkade reminded me of some women I’ve known in high school and college, though not ones I’d want to deal with in person.

Linnea Quigley’s character actually had a few clever things about her. One of the things I liked was how pre-possession, Suzanne doesn’t have much of a personality. Once she’s possessed she has a clearly defined, although very mean spirited, one.
My favorite scene with her character; because it is so clever, albeit amoral; is when she first appears. She’s at a mini-mart, wearing a really short skirt and bending all the way over. And while the losers behind the counter are staring and drooling, Angela shoplifts the supplies for the party.

In short, Night of the Demons is a conventional formula with a few clever tweaks and twists and a few scary scenes. It is also a lot of fun. If you like movies with gore and gratuitous female nudity, you’ll love Night of the Demons. If you like these things, or at least don’t mind them, but you want a bit more in your movies; give this one a try.

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