|Night of the Demons (1988)
Reviewed by Dustin Putman
(Release Date: February 4, 2014) Dexterous, savvy and in some ways ahead of its time (the '80s hairstyles and fashions are not two of those ways), "Night of the Demons" is a teenage possession flick that also works as stylish slasher fodder and as a guide to Halloween myths and traditions. Director Kevin Tenney (1986's "Witchboard") displays impressive ambition in creating a definite mood and identity to the piece, starting with a lovingly rendered animated opening credits sequencepractically unheard of in the annals of low-budget horror releasesscored to the memorable, propulsive synthesizer chords of Dennis Michael Tenney's music score. What his few unpolished actors occasionally lack in thespian prowess, Tenney and screenwriter Joe Augustyn make up for with a barrage of imaginative ideas and tight pacing that lift the film well above the norm.
As the live-action movie proper begins, the viewer is inundated with the calling cards of the holiday, from pumpkins, to costumes, to prankish scares, to candy and seasonal appetizers, to television specials (1936's vintage cartoon short "The Cobweb Hotel" makes an appearance), to parties, and so on. Speaking of parties, Angela (Amelia Kinkade) is hosting one at Hull House, a spooky abandoned funeral parlor at the edge of town. In attendance are demure, sweet-natured Judy (Cathy Podewell) and her date, player Jay (Lance Fenton); Judy's ex-boyfriend Sal (Billy Gallo); Judy's fun-loving friend Frannie (Jill Terashita) and her boyfriend Max (Philip Tanzini); Angela's guy-crazy best friend Suzanne (Linnea Quigley); and the odd trio of loud-mouthed, piggish Stooge (Hal Havins) and superstitious Helen (Allison Barron) and Rodger (Alvin Alexis). Dancing and good times at the cobwebbed mansion lead to a sťance where, lo and behold, they manage to stir up the demonic forces living on the property. As the characters scatter around the house, they one by one fall victim to Angela, possessed by the spirits and set on transforming the rest of them into minions of Hell, too.
"Night of the Demons" is funny in an anything-goes way, but also rather exciting when the action sets in and Judy and Rodger are chased through the dark hallways of the house by a fast-multiplying population of demons. That one of the heroes of the piece is black, well-educated and not treated as a victim or comic relief is pretty groundbreaking for its time, and admirable. As sensitively played by Alvin Alexis, the pirate-costumed Rodger is one of the most positive portrayals of an African-American in a horror movie in memory. As Judy, dressed as Alice in Wonderland, Cathy Podewell (who would go on to play Cally Ewing on TV's "Dallas") is attractive, dignified (she stands up for herself when Jay pressures sex on her), and sweet as apple pie. These two, bonding as two would-be victims might if being hunted by demons, are protagonists worth rooting for.
As Suzanne, Linnea Quigley (1984's "The Return of the Living Dead") embraces her eye-candy status and character's flaky persona, while also disrobing on cue and turning titillation into terror when she does something unthinkable with a tube of lipstick in the picture's most infamous scene. Quigley has never been a masterful actress, but she has used her assets to the benefit of an enduring B-movie career. And, as head villain Angela, Amelia Kinkade (who would reprise the character in the inferior 1994 and 1997 sequels) is creepy as a possessed Goth chick who performs a strobe-lit dance to Bauhaus' "Stigmata Martyr" and really means it when she toasts her hands by the fire. The make-up effects by longtime ace designer Steve Johnson greatly contributes to the atmosphere, bringing to rotting, malevolent life the demons of the title.
The tattered, haunted-house production design by Ken Aichele never really looks like anything but sets on a studio lot (interestingly, though, the documentary on this disc reveals that Hull House was a real location in downtown Los Angeles), but it is a detailed feast to gaze upon all the same. Cinematography by David Lewis is top-notch, making indelible use of shadows, intricately set-up reflections in broken glass, and a superior tracking shot that barrels through the interior of the funeral parlor. Special effects are generally chintzy, but that's to be expected for the decade in which it was made. "Night of the Demons" doesn't have anything of importance to say and offers no deep messages. Instead, it's got violence, sex, nudity and a good-humored script. There are all different types of genre films, and this one was purely made to entertain. Its technical and creative ingenuity is but a plus on the scorecard, and its wraparound sequence, involving a grouchy old man who has the tables turned on him when he slips razorblades in the trick-or-treaters' apples, is a bewitchingly grim capper. "Night of the Demons" isn't free of flaws, but it is practically dripping with the blood, sweat and tears of those who set out to make a genuinely good party movie, and did exactly that.
Even the possessed Angela and her demonic minions would be immensely pleased by the scarily good 1080p treatment which "Night of the Demons" receives courtesy of Scream Factory. With no signs of pesky DNR or artificial sharpening in sight, the image is lively and accurate, accentuated by a fine, natural layer of grain over a picture that reveals so much additional visual information from the musty standard-definition DVD it's like watching it anew. I have seen "Night of the Demons" too many times to count (it was a childhood favorite of mine, and I also wrote about in my recently published book, "The Fright File: 150 Films to See Before Halloween"), and yet there were details in the production design and backgrounds throughout the film that I noticed for the very first time. The lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is superb, bringing to dimensional aural life the atmospheric, synthesizer-heavy music score and accompanying soundtrack. A few times, a spare line or two of dialogue sounds a little tinny, but this is how it always sounded and is true to source. There is also a lossless stereo track availablemuch appreciated. Well done.
Audio Commentary with director Kevin Tenney, actors Cathy Podewell, Hal Havins and Billy Gallo, and FX artist Steve Johnson; Audio Commentary with director Kevin Tenney, executive producer Walter Josten and producer Jeff Geoffray; "You're Invited: The Making of 'Night of the Demons'" (1:11:31, HD); "Amelia Kinkade, Protean" (22:31, HD); "Allison Barron's Demon Memories" (3:56, HD); Theatrical Trailer (1:28, HD); Video Trailer (1:55, HD); TV Spots (1:16, HD); Radio Spot (0:35, HD); Promo Reel (4:11, SD); Behind the Scenes Gallery (9:22, HD); Special Effects and Make-Up Gallery (8:42 HD); Photo Gallery (8:37, HD); Posters and Storyboards (1:27, HD)
Scream Factory continues to do the lord's (genre) work with their features-packed special edition Blu-ray release of "Night of the Demons." Few other companies would be willing to put as much tender, loving care into this title, and the effort deserves to pay off for them in a big way. With top-notch A/V specs, a brand-new, feature-length documentary, two audio commentaries, and a gaggle of other quality bonus content (loved the featurette where actor Allison Barron, looking great, shares her collection of personal photos from the production), fans and newbies alike should not hesitate to pick up this sterling release. Scream Factory's "Night of the Demons" Blu-ray receives a strong recommendation and is a must-buy.
|© 2014 by Dustin Putman