Monday, August 20, 2012

Night of the Demons (1988)

... aka: Halloween Party

Directed by:
Kevin S. Tenney

After scoring a hit with WITCHBOARD (1986), a tale of OUIJA boards, ghostly possession and Tawny Kitaen attempting to prove her talents went beyond dancing in Whitesnake music videos, Kevin Tenney immediately returned with this gorier tale of demonic possession. It's Halloween night and Goth girl Angela (Mimi Kinkade), who has a reputation as a real weird-o around town, is throwing a party at a decepid, abandoned old mansion known as Hull House. The place naturally has a blood-soaked history. Actually the whole strip of land has a bad history. Long before the current home was constructed, an Indian settled there by mistake and ended up going crazy and cannibalizing his wife and baby. Long after that, Old Man Hull, a mortician and necrophile, build a funeral parlor on the land. On Halloween night, someone went mad, slaughtered the entire family and then commited suicide. The crime scene was such a bloody mess that the authorities couldn't even tell who killed who or what really happened there. The place has been closed ever since then. A brick wall was built on top of an underground stream surrounding the property because, according to legend, the evil spirits that haunt the land cannot cross over running water. The county usually keeps the gate locked, but when the party guests arrive the gate is wide open... almost as if they're beings inviting them inside.

Angela, who'd just discovered an ingenious new way to shoplight all of the party supplies with help from her slutty bimbo friend Suzanne (Linnea Quigley), shows up. And so does sweet girl Judy (Cathy Podewell), who's still trying to get over the embarrassment of her mother offering her date Jay (Lance Fenton) cookies that looked like "sun-dried poodle turds." The brainy Max (Philip Tanzini), who knows a lot about the history of Hull House, and his girlfriend Frannie (Jill Terashita) accompany them. Obnoxious fat guy Stooge (Hal Havins), whose car had broken down on the way there, and his friends; preacher's son Rodger (Alvin Alexis) and Helen (Allison Barron), pop in. Party crasher Sal (William Gallo), who has a thing for Judy and maybe vice versa, completes the list of the only ten people brave enough - or is that brainless enough? - to venture into Hull House on Halloween night. The party gets off to your usual start; 80s metal music, beer and dancing. When the batteries on the radio die, they all unwisely decide to hold a past life seance, which is just enough to summon some dormant demons residing in the basement. A vapor manages to get inside of Suzanne and possesses her. From there a girl-to-girl kiss infects Angela and then the two ladies get to work slaughtering everyone; each new victim becoming a demon themself.

The survivors discover the gate they drove in through has managed to mysteriously disappear, so they're all trapped inside for the night and must try to make it through the night until morning, when the demons will return to hell. In the meantime we get some wonderful gore courtesy of effects artist Steve Johnson. Aside from the great possession makeups, there are hands roasted in a fireplace, a smashed-in face, a bitten off tongue, eyeballs gouged out with fingertips, an arm ripped off, a couple smashed while having sex in a coffin, a head twisted around, some demon torchings and other stuff. The most head-turning sequence by far is the one featuring Quigley ripping open her top and drawing circles around her breast with her lipstick before sticking the lipstick tube inside her breast. There's also a great animated opening credits sequence and a fun soundtrack from the director's brother, Dennis Michael Tenney, who did both the synthesizer score and contributed some songs. The usage of Bauhaus' 'Stigmata Martyr' during a strobe-light lit demon dance is pretty memorable, as well.

One could, of course, criticize some of the amateurish acting and writing. They certainly go a bit overboard on some of the characters. Who in their right mind would want to hang out with some of these jerks? However, NOTD is actually quite underrated in several key areas. It has, for example, never been given credit for the amount of atmosphere it's able to achieve via effective lighting, shadowing and art direction, nor has it been given credit for how stylish the material is presented. It's sometimes very inventively photographed. There are long unbroken shots of an invisible spirits breezing through corridors. Low angle shots of a demonized Angela floating along the corridors are highly effective and creepy. There also are some truly bizarre shots, such as several consecutive 360 degree shots during a dialogue scene and one of broken pieces of mirror reflecting all of the characters. The lighting is also very clever at times. Immediately after Suzanne is possessed, a mirror shard in her hand lights up half of her face, revealing a mischievously evil eye as the others discuss what's going on. Sound design is very good and Tenney also stages several effective jump scares. A framework involving a kid-hating old man who attempts to put razor blades in apples is pretty amusing, as well.

Made on a fairly low-budget of 1.2 million dollars, NOTD managed to gain back around three times its budget on a very limited theatrical run in a short amount of time. It did even better on cable and video. As the cult reputation of the film rose, several sequels starring Kinkade as the demonic Angela were made. NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 2 (1994), which had Catholic students managing to transfer a demon from Hull boarding to their school, put more emphasis on comedy and less on the scares. The much lower-budgeted Canadian-produced NIGHT OF THE DEMONS III (1996) is best forgotten. Ditto for Adam Gierasch's obnoxious 2009 remake.



Paul Awful said...

I have never seen Witchboard but if it is half as good as NOTD I should probably give it a go.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I do like Witchboard quite a bit. Despite having far less gore and nudity than Demons, it does have a better plot and that same great dated 80s feel to it.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Linnea Quigley (as the bird was in 1976 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

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