Sunday, October 30, 2011

Night of the Demons (2009)

The Movie: It is Halloween night in New Orleans. Creepy Goth/party-girl Angela (the lovely Shannon Elizabeth of American Pie fame) is deeply in need of money, and as a last ditch effort throws a huge Halloween bash at the Broussard Mansion; a house with a dark past and darker stories surrounding it. As the pre-credits flashback shows us; Evangeline Broussard (Tatyana Kanavka) threw a party which ended with her hanging herself and her six guests disappearing mysteriously.

Among the contemporary party guests are Suzanne (Bobbi Sue Luther), a longtime friend of Angela and her two friends; Lily (Doira Baird) and Maddie (Monica Keena of Freddy vs. Jason). Once at the party, the ladies bump into a few more familiar faces; Maddie’s ex, Colin (Edward Furlong, who you may remember as John Conner from Terminator 2: Judgment Day), who is dealing drugs in a last-ditch effort to make enough money to keep the local drug lord from killing him; Lily’s estranged, but still missed ex, Dex (Michael Copon); and his best friend, Jason (John F. Beach). However, the personal drama and wild debauchery are rudely interrupted when the police arrive and shut the party down. The seven friends are the last to leave, and find themselves locked in the house.

Searching for an exit, they stumble across a secret room, which contains six skeletons. Angela speculates (all too accurately, as it turns out) that these are the remains of Evangeline Broussard’s ill-fated guests. She also receives a nasty bite on the hand when she reaches for a gold tooth.

That bite is the beginning of the end for the party-goers. It turns out that Ms. Broussard inadvertently summoned up some particularly nasty demons at her party, and now one of them has been transmitted into Angela. Quickly, the majority of the group is brutally killed and possessed; and the real party begins as the few humans remaining try desperately to survive the night.

The Review: Happy Halloween dear readers! Or, for my fellow Pagans, happy Samhain. This has always been one of my favorite holidays, even beating out Christmas in recent years, which has recently sunk to the level of Valentine’s Day for me. So, in my blog’s own humble recognition of the holiday, I present my current review.
Technically, Night of the Demons is a remake of the movie of the same title which I reviewed last Halloween. As a result, a little comparing and contrasting will be in order. However, nowhere near as much as you might think. While there is a bit of borrowing, as well as some winks and nods to the original, Night of the Demons is, overall, very much its own movie. If you want to know what I said about the original, read my October, 2010 review and then come back for this one. If not, you should still have no problems making sense of this review.

Getting it out of the way first, the elements taken from the original aren’t very much. It does use the basic bare-bones plot, but that plot was a few millennia old when Evil Dead used it in 1981, much less seven years later for the original Night of the Demons. There is also a small nod to the original in the form of a very short cameo by Linnea Quigley at the very beginning.

Otherwise, with one exception, the elements borrowed from the original are mainly minor cosmetic ones, such as the names of characters. The one exception is where Night of the Demons uses one of the original’s most effective scare scenes. The scene with Linnea Quigley and the lipstick in the original always makes me shudder; but the remake doesn’t just borrow that scene, it actually one-ups it. My only response to that is “good show.” Also, “bleeeechh!”

As for being a movie in its own right, I can probably best sum up Night of the Demons as a decent, well-made, and effective little horror movie. First and most importantly, the makers of this movie, unlike so many self-proclaimed makers of horror films these days, knew first and foremost that they were making a horror movie. In fact, in this element they were a little more effective than in the original movie.

The second major element makers of this movie got right were the protagonists. While they aren’t exactly three-dimensional, our heroes are a far cry from being one-dimensional caricatures, either. While lightly done so, they are all fleshed out just enough that we can see them as living, breathing human beings. This makes them identifiable and sympathetic enough that we care about what happens to them. Hell, there was even one character who I kept looking at and thinking “oh gods, that’s me!” Considering said character’s traits that I was identifying with, it wasn’t exactly flattering for me or him. Still, it drew me in further.

What’s more, the protagonists are actually fairly smart. They’re not geniuses, and they do make mistakes, but said mistakes are the kind you can expect your average human being to make in similar circumstances. This is one important detail that so many moviemakers employing the slasher mold don’t get; contestants for the Darwin Awards getting killed in surreally bizarre ways by a wisecracking killer isn’t scary, it’s cartoonish. Now, relatively intelligent and competent individuals who, for the most part, rise as much as they can to the situation yet still fall? That’s scary.

The script is actually pretty clever in how it sets the protagonists up. We in the audience have a basic idea what they are in for simply because we know we’re watching a horror movie; but they don’t, nor do they have any reason to. The early signs of the trouble to come are all presented in ways that are easily rationalized and dismissed.

An arm attacks Maddie through the bathroom mirror? She’s at a party where various intoxicants are flowing freely, Halloween is the time for those kinds of pranks, and Suzanne tells her that it’s something Angela would do. Her ending thought on the incident is to wonder how Angela did it. Angela coming on to Dex a little too aggressively during a game of spin the bottle? Suzanne did warn Maddie and Lily to keep Angela away from any men they were after. Gate locked so they can’t leave? It was probably the police, who didn’t know anyone was left. By the time it’s obvious that something weird is going on, it’s way too late to do much about it.

Then there’s how obvious it is just how outmatched our heroes are by the demons. These things are deadly, and the movie makes that very clear. And, even though the heroes are provided some aid, none of it is the magic bullet it might be in other ways. The wall of exposition (a literal wall; a maid survived the original night by covering the walls of a room with protective wards, and she also wrote everything she knew as well) provides a few answers, but only enough so that we and the protagonists know a) what they are up against and b) what the stakes are. The demons do, it turns out, have a weakness; and one readily obtainable in the house. It is, however, limited. And even if the demons can’t get into the warded room, that doesn’t keep them from dripping blood down the walls to wash away the wards (in an oddly effective scene), or creating fake daylight to lure the heroes out.

So ultimately, we wind up spending ninety minutes with people we can identify with and/or care about on some level as they try to deal with a situation that is far outside their experience. And in the end, isn’t that what a good horror story is supposed to be? Night of the Demons was obviously intended as a real horror movie, so much effort went into it. While there is humor, there is none of the self-referential, “aren’t we clever?” winking we’ve come to expect these days. The majority of the humor is at the beginning, and quite a bit of it is actually clever. I particularly like the spin the bottle scene. However, once the demons start striking, whatever humor there is present is of the very blackest sort.

The demons themselves are pretty damn scary. As in the original movie, I still think they’re at their scariest when they look perfectly human except for minor things like briefly glowing eyes or unusual behavior. However, the effects and actors here present us with things that are straight out of a nightmare. They work.

Finally, I have to mention the soundtrack. The music here, as opposed to the films that throw in extraneous pop songs just to sell them, actually adds to the atmosphere of the movie. It’s goth-rock and heavy metal, admittedly an acquired taste, but I find it effective.

So in conclusion, Night of the Demons is a fun, effective and scary film which, despite its status as a remake, comes out as a decent and well made movie in its own right. And in the end, can you really ask for much more?

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