Night of the Demons (1988)
Directed by: Kevin Tenney
Starring: Cathy Podewell, Alvin Alexis, Amelia Kinkade, Linnea Quigley, Lance Fenton, Billy Gallo, Hal Havins, Allison Barron, Philip Tanzini, Jill Terashita, Harold Ayer, Don Jeffcoat
1/2 (out of 4)
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.
The cinematic horror equivalent of junk food, Night of the Demons looks to Sam Raimi for its inspirations, which is a good idea, but it almost sabotages itself with an over-reliance on broad, fraternity-style wackiness. Its characters are Animal House-lite, given low-brow dialogue stripped of humor, delivered in such a stilted fashion that you’ll soon begin rooting for the demons just to shut them up. The movie is trash – perfect for the drive-ins where acting and dialogue don’t mean much anyway, but in the end I would call it good, entertaining trash. Remember, for this kind of movie, skin and gore go a long way. The film has plenty of it, thanks mostly to scream queen Linnea Quigley, and there are other surprises up its sleeve that caused me to wonder if it was written by somebody in addition to Joe Augustyn, or maybe Augustyn just has some kind of multiple-personality disorder. On the other hand, maybe the horrible dialogue and acting are intentional, and I’m misreading things. Hey, it’s possible.
We are introduced to “teens” who look more like college students, nymphomaniac Suzanne especially (played by Quigley, who is 5 to 8 years older than the rest of the cast). Not that it matters much for that incredible figure of hers – Quigley’s introduction in the film is one for the books, as the camera starts at her ass and slowly pulls back as her 5′ 2″, 98 lb frame is revealed in a pink dress, meant to distract some convenience store employees while her goth friend Angela (Amelia Kinkade) fills a sack with stuff for their upcoming party at the “Hull House.” Also showing up at the Halloween-night shindig is obnoxious pig Stooge (Hal Havins), token-African American Rodger (Alvin Alexis), goody-two-shoes Judy (Cathy Podewell), Judy’s jerk date for the night Jay (Lance Fenton), and walking greaser stereotype Sal (Billy Gallo). There are others, including Jill Terashita (the token Asian), who probably should get a worthy mention because she also goes topless, but they can mostly be classified as extra meatbags to be used as demon food when the time comes. It takes almost 40 minutes of obnoxiousness before getting to the carnage, which involves demons possessing the living and turning violently on the rest, Evil Dead-like. We are first subjected to bizarre exposition (delivered unconvincingly) regarding former members of the house, which used to be a funeral parlor, and where the previous occupants died horribly. You’re not going to find out about any of them, or why there are demons on the property – just accept that there are, and that there’s a brick wall built over a stream on the perimeter which the evil spirits cannot cross. After a seance goes wrong, we see the first demon spring up from the basement, and the camera moves with it through the house, seeing things from its point-of-view – Raimi would be flattered. You haven’t lived though, until you hear Angela say “We all experienced it! The noise, the stink, and the chill! All signs of demonic infestation!”
Only Quigley and Kinkade are allowed to do anything truly interesting with their characters. Quigley does a trick with a lipstick and her left breast that had me doing a double-take. She then steals Judy’s boyfriend, shows a little full-frontal, then gouges the guy’s eyes out. Kinkade’s character Angela weirds out Sal by doing an entertaining goth dance act while Bauhaus’ Stigmata Martyr plays on a nearby boombox. It’s engaging imagery, complete with strobe light, fireplace, and jump-cut editing which shows real inventiveness. Other scenes, such as a neat camera shot of all the characters reflected in shards of broken glass, or Judy falling in mid-air, or a possessed Angela floating down hallways also impress. Special effects are very good, and there are some creep-outs, like when a zombie-like Jay bleeds from his eyes while whispering to Judy “Why has thou forsaken me?” The film also seems, in the end, to side with the characters who are moral and God-fearing – Judy remains chaste, and Rodger remains religious while finding his loyalty. Their honorable qualities enable their survival. The final scene of Night of the Demons bookends the first, where a grumpy old man fond of putting razor blades inside apples gets his own just desserts thanks to his well-meaning but oblivious wife (or is she?) It’s a black-humored Halloween joke in the style of Creepshow.
Other influences in the flick: some of the dialogue spoken by the possessed channel a little bit of Hellraiser; the musical sequences, Quigley nude scenes, and a flying arm trick all have the punk flavor of Return of the Living Dead – Tenney borrows from the best. It can also be said that the film looks good – it’s painted in vivid colors of red and orange, great for a Halloween atmosphere. The film is like a flipside to Lamberto Bava’s Demons – dumber than that movie in some ways, smarter than it in others – they might make a good pair for back-to-back viewing. A lot of Night of the Demons is moronic – but a lot of it is cheesy fun too. It’s like Halloween candy – bad for you, but it’s sweet-tasting so to hell with your diet.
- Bill Gordon
Buy Night of the Demons on DVD