Night of the Demons (1988) [Collector's Edition]

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2014-02-06 04:44

Night of the Demons (1988)
Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: February 4th, 2014

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

The movie:

Angela is having a party. Jason and Freddy are too scared to come…but you’ll have a hell of a time!

Opening with another nostalgia trip down the video store aisle is as stale and dusty as the floors in those old joints, but I’m going to indulge it one more time because Night of the Demons and its above tagline were a big deal to a saucer-eyed kid looking to program another weekend’s worth of entertainment. Any movie that had the balls to call out the reigning kings of horror immediately announced itself as required viewing, if not some kind of some kind of challenge aimed right at an 8-year-old ego that was sure he’d already taken the best shots the horror section had to offer.

In retrospect, that's all monumentally silly to think about because, well, Night of the Demons is a monumentally silly movie that didn’t offer many genuine scares even in my more impressionable years. Which is just as well, as it remains a perfect pre-adolescent horror movie since it should appall parents while remaining relatively harmless in its aim to deliver blood, boobs, and Linnea Quigley’s ass (the preferred diet of most 80s horror kids). At that age, the film also feels like it’s granting a sneak peek of what you imagine your teenage years will be like, all soaked in sex, drugs, beer, séances, parties, and rock and roll (looking back, I realize that my actual adolescence only featured a lot of rock and roll nothing more).

Of course, anything that has the good sense to parade splatter and cleavage will seem impressive to an eight-year-old; I’d like to say that two decades have refined my tastes, but, I dunno—weird shit happens once you move through that mid-20s movie snob phase and realize that some of those simple pleasures manage to rise through a cesspool and hold up even as they drip with noxiousness. Night of the Demons is such a film—it might shrug at refinement, tact, and plot, but it does it like the coolest motherfucker that struts through the door. It’s got the best animated opening this side of Creepshow 2, an old curmudgeon planting apples in razor blades, William Gallo channeling the Diceman, a kid peeking on his sister, and Quigley shaking that thing for a couple of hypnotized convenience store workers—and that’s before anyone even reaches the overly-haunted Hull House, host to the night’s festivities and a sordid history involving cursed Indian land and oodles of familicide.

Director Kevin Tenney rounds up a raucous herd and shepherds them through the gates for what eventually becomes a Sam Raimi-inspired romp (the demon is even conjured up via Raimi-cam). Emphasis on eventually. Like Tenney’s Witchboard, Night of the Demons hits a rather deliberate patch, which wouldn’t be an altogether bad thing if it didn’t come charging off the blocks so forcibly with a parade of outrageous personalities and their more outrageous exploits. The vigor and the verve reach a crescendo as the frenzied masses gyrate beneath a strobe light to the strains of their party anthem until something spooky kills the batteries and promptly needle-scratches the film itself for a bit.

While it doesn’t take long for party host and resident weirdo Angela (Amelia Kinkade in full Wiccan-wannabe getup) to summon the house’s demons through a nearby mirror, it doesn’t properly introduce itself until after the cast aimlessly wanders through the house to poke around for the typical horndog exploits—just about everyone’s looking to bang someone, and some are more successful than others in the sense that the demon at least allows some of its victims to get some before totally wrecking their shit. Once this happens, Night of the Demons rustles back to life with some slick effects gags and a wicked sense of humor. For all the tagline’s posturing, the film borrows the funny bone from the decade’s brand of splatstick horror, with the possessed Angela essentially inhabiting the goofball Freddy role, corny dialogue and all.

Predictably, its characters aren’t long for this world, but, rather unpredictably, Tenney has some fun with his clichéd set before disposing of them. It turns out that Gallo’s hood rat is really more of a greaser with a heart of gold and is clearly the better choice for the film’s default protagonist (Allison Barron as the vacuous but sweet-natured blonde) since her boyfriend Jay (Lance Felton) is a sneaky creep that’s a step away from date-raping her at any moment. Other characters range from obnoxious (Hal Havins’s Stooge is a misogynous mouth-breather) to scrappy (Alvin Alexis as the token minority that would be an afterthought in most horror films but is wise enough to get the fuck out of dodge here), and each proves to be memorable enough to form one of the decade’s better ensembles (though one can’t help but shake the feeling that it’s a pale imitator of the gang from Return of the Living Dead).

Any discussion of Night of the Demons also can’t overlook the holiday décor. John Carpenter obviously left everyone scurrying for second place on the Halloween podium, and while I’m not so sure it definitely finds its way there, it does enter the conversation. The raucous B-side to Carpenter’s film, it captures the debauchery and the rowdiness of the holiday quite well, and its final scene features one of the most demented instances of trick or treating imaginable. It’s a party that appropriately rages from dusk until dawn, and, if not for its mistimed hangover just as the festivities kick off, it’d be an even better companion piece to other All Hallows Eve haunts.

The disc:

A long-time cult favorite, Night of the Demons has been canonized by Scream Factory with one of their most impressive Collector’s Editions to date. The high-definition makeover strikingly captures Tenney’s candy-colored aesthetic, while three different lossless tracks (a 5.1 and two stereo mixes) reveal a lively soundstage. It’s a far cry from those old VHS tapes and even Anchor Bay’s previous DVD release.

Even more impressive is the roster of special features. Tenney sits in for two audio commentaries: one joins him with Cathy Podewell, Havins, Gallo, and effects artist Steve Johnson, while producers Walter Josten and Jeff Geoffray sit in on the other. A newly-produced 70 minute retrospective features the cast and crew’s reflections on the film and takes viewers through the making of the film, from its forced re-titling (it was originally branded Halloween Party) to its modest release and subsequent ascension into the cult canon. A separate 20 minute interview with Kinkade, a three minute visit with Barron, and a horde of promotional materials (trailers, TV spots, a radio spot, a promo reel, photo galleries, and posters) fill up a sumptuous grab bag for any Night of the Demons aficionado.

At this point, it’s a common refrain with Scream Factory’s releases, but it bears repeating: this is the definitive edition of Night of the Demons. Their choice to revisit the film is an obvious one given my generation’s reverence towards it, and it rekindled my own appreciation for it (even if Witchboard has aged more gracefully over the years). My only nitpick is that the newly-commissioned artwork truncates the tagline, but even that's easily remedied by flipping the reversible cover to the original artwork. I'd say that the sight of it had me longing for those halcyon days at the video store, but who really needs those when Scream Factory can summon such memories and so much more?
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