24th Jan2014

‘Night of the Demons’ [1988] Blu-ray Review (Scream Factory)

by Nathan Smith

Stars: Amelia Kinkade, Linnea Quigley, Cathy Podewell, Alvin Alexis, Hal Havins, Billy Gallo, Allison Barron, Lance Fenton, Donnie Jeffcoat, Jill Terashita, Philip Tanzini | Written by Joe Augustyn | Directed by Kevin Tenney

NOTD-1988

My discovery of Night of the Demons is one I’d consider the fondest of memories. It was back in my skuzzy VHS youth, whereupon I would scour my local mom and pop video store (RIP Video Express), placing the tags you’d need to procure said videotapes for rental. My mother would patronize the store every Friday, and my sister and I would be tasked by the friendly clerks with putting the tags out for returned tapes. I remember my curiosity being peaked by the horror section, because this was where the real gold lay within the store. The box art of these tapes showcased images that couldn’t even dream of being seen in a standard retail store sat there in its lurid, ugly and quite fascinating glory. Many of them intrigued me. Others gave me terrible dreams. One in particular, was Night of the Demons.

It was simply Angela, holding up an invitation telling potential viewers about her party, one that the two bigger horror heavies Jason and Freddy (who actually got a lot of flak from that other Angela in the Sleepaway Camp sequels), refused to go to because they were scared. Well, that’s a pretty high bar to set, no? And for the most part, the bar is met. Night of the Demons is a simple set up that hooks you right from the start with its twinkly, Casio score and its neat animation that effectively screams HALLOWEEN IN THE 80’S, but harkens back, at least to me, of that old Disney short about Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. But once the credits are past us, we’re treated to a tale about good-looking, but pretty unlikable kids getting picked off one by one in a dark, secluded house. What follows is a slasher movie with the major twist that the victims become the antagonists.

It’s a film full of everything that made the 80’s great, as a matter of fact; it functions as a checkbox of the 80’s movie. It has great practical gore effects courtesy of Steve “Splat” Johnson, who also worked on the aforementioned Sleepaway Camp sequels (the underrated ones, for what it’s worth). It’s got Linnea Quigley doing exactly what you’d expect from Linnea Quigley in a move from the 1980’s and it doesn’t disappoint in that regard. The soundtrack is even a slice of what makes the movie work, from the eerie, synthy score to the songs (particularly Bauhaus’ Stigmata Martyr used to great effect in a memorable scene involving Angela). The direction by Kevin Tenney is pretty tight, and slinky which is befitting for a film about possession, and creates some striking scene and makes the film actually pretty scary. The script by Joe Augustyn does some wonders for character traits, even if they are pretty unlikable (one wonders how these people even found each other as friends), but by making the one person who spends most of the time being cowardly and running away from the menace, the hero, it flips things on a dime and subverts the slasher movie expectations by making the final girl, the person who has persevered throughout the film fighting in the face of demonic possession, the person in ultimately in need of rescuing. My only complaint is the final stinger with the old man, simply because it feels out of place, even in a film that takes place on Halloween night, but it does provide a blast of gory madness before the credits roll. It’s just mean-spirited behavior in a film that has a free and wild energy throughout.

One of the keystone features of the gorgeously transferred and packed to the gills Blu-Ray from Scream Factory, is a lengthy documentary, “You’re Invited,” about the film (it runs 71 minutes) and is chock full of juicy details about the production that would make the staunchest of fans feel wistful. They go into detail regarding the name change about the production (originally titled Halloween Party), but the film had to change titles because of a lawsuit from a famous genre producer of another little film that took place on Halloween. The whole cast and crew gets their time in the spotlight, regaling with tales of how they came to the production and discussing the nitty-gritty of making a low budget horror film in the 80’s. One thing that stood out greatly is the fact that Mimi Kinkade looks drastically different from her Goth persona essayed in the film. She lets loose that her aunt is Rue Mclanahan of Golden Girls fame. It’s discussed that she choreographed that memorable dance that she does, and was found due to her appearance in a Stray Cats video. See what I mean? It’s the 80’s through and through. Or Alvin Alexis pointing out that his character Rodger survives the film despite the stereotype of the black character dying off early in slasher films. There’s a tidbit about how James W. Quinn who plays the store clerk at the film’s beginning provided all of the demon voices. There’s lots of talk of Hull House, which was a real house that the cast lived in (ahh, low-budget films) and some believed to be haunted. It was sadly torn down to the chagrin of the actors. Hal Havins lets loose with an anecdote of how he got his memorably crass line in the film from a biography on John Belushi, and how Kevin Tenney let him shoehorn it in. Tenney gets lots of good marks as a director willing to adjust to please his actors. Overall, it’s a glowing documentary and the cast are very pleased with the film altogether. And my favorite bit has to be the meet cute between Linnea Quigley and Steve Johnson, who later married. The way he tells the story is just flat-out adorable.

There are two commentaries with director Kevin Tenney, the producers and most of the principal cast. The commentaries are great for digging into the nuts and bolts of the production while enjoying some of the fun tales the cast regales the listener with, unfortunately most of the stories are repeated from the documentray but it is to be expected. Mimi Kinkade gets a 22 minute interview segment to discuss her role in the films, a role she admits that she believed no one would ever see. The Blu-Ray is replete with promo, tv, and radio spots, photo galleries and more. It’s quite the exhaustive journey for a film that as Tenney says on the cast commentary, “a film made between $850,000 to a million.”

Bottom line, Night of the Demons is a must buy. It’s either for you as an upgrade from that old Anchor Bay port (and is definitely not a double dip) or that horror aficionado who complains that there aren’t enough classic films to watch on Halloween night with his or her buddies and a case of beer. This film belongs in a regular rotation with John Carpenter’s Halloween and Trick ‘R Treat. But a word of advice: Avoid the remake. It’s a listless and dull stinker that completely bombs the brilliant concept set up in this film, despite the talent behind and in front of the camera.

Night of the Demons releases on Blu-Ray/DVD combo in February 4th.

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