Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Demonwarp (1988)

... aka: Demon Warp
... aka: Endemoniados (Demonized)
... aka: O Demônio do Espaço (The Space Demon)
... aka: Transmutation

Directed by:
Emmett Alston

This began as a script called Demonwarp: The Ancients by John Carl Buechler. Buechler was one of the busiest make-up and special artists at the time who'd recently moved his way to up directing and writing features for Charles Band's Empire Productions. Home video distributor Vidmark, who'd decided to branch out and start making their own films, bought Buechler's script and put up much of the 225,000 dollar budget. Vidmark then put a deal together with ad agency owner / producer Richard L. Albert. Buechler was set to direct and do all of the make-up fx for the film and they even managed to snag Jack Palance for the lead role. After Buechler created several monsters for the film (only one of which was ultimately used) the production was put on hold. Buechler went on to direct the seventh installment of the Friday the 13th series instead and Palance also bailed because he decided he wanted to start doing more prestigious films (a wise move considering he'd win an Oscar just a few years later for City Slickers). When the production picked back up again, Albert then put two of his employees; Bruce Akiyama and Jim Bertges, in charge of re-writing the entire script. While they kept many of the basics of Buechler's original plot, so much was ultimately changed that Buechler only walked away with a story credit for the film.





With Palance out, the production needed another big name to headline the picture and managed to rope in George Kennedy, who agreed to “star” only if his salary demands (15,000 dollars for three days of shooting) were met and they also found a role for his aspiring actress daughter. Done and done. Bruce Barlow was then hired to take care of the rest of the special makeup effects and Emmett Alston, who'd previously made the awful slasher flick New Year's Evil (1981), was then drafted to direct. The rest is history. The film was shot in less than two weeks in the summer of 1987. (Note: I am indebted to Keith Bailey at The Unknown Movies and Bertges, who wore many hats other than just writer on this production, including dubbing some of the monsters, helping to build a set and doing the typeset for the credits, for much of the above information. To read a very thorough piece on the film head RIGHT HERE.)







A century ago, a large, meteor-like object fell from the sky into the California wilderness. Odd things have been going down in Demonwood Forest ever since. With a name like Demonwood Forest, is it any wonder? Bill Crafton (Kennedy) and his daughter Julie (Jill Merin) are enjoying a game of Trivial Pursuit when suddenly a hairy Bigfoot-style monster crashes through the door, knocks him out, murders Julie and drags her body away. A few months later, five twenty-somethings go to the same rental cabin. Jack Bergman (David Michael O'Neill), whose missing Uncle Clem (Joe Praml) owns a good stretch of the woods, drags his girlfriend Carrie (Pamela Gilbert) along, as well as three of their oblivious friends; Cindy (Colleen McDermott), Fred (Hank Stratton) and wisecracking fifth wheel Tom (Billy Jacoby). Due to the rash of mysterious disappearances in the area plus Bigfoot sightings, Jack's decided to bring along firearms and high tech electronics (sound wave equipment, long range listening devices, motion detectors) in hopes of finding out just what's going on. Alas, he and the others don't even get a chance to unpack. They're attacked by the monster their first night there. 






Fred vanishes, Tom is killed when the monster snaps his neck (his body also disappears), their Blazer is ripped apart and many pieces of electronic equipment have been stolen. With their only mode of transportation now disabled, Jack, Carrie and Cindy are forced to arm themselves, venture out into the dangerous woods and head toward the nearest highway. They soon realize they not only have to worry about the monster itself, but also a bunch of bear traps and dynamite traps Bill (who's camping out in the area looking for revenge) has set up. Meanwhile, airheads Betsy (Michelle Bauer = yay!) and Tara (Shannon Kennedy, daughter of you-know-who) show up in the woods in their bikinis looking for a “plentiful patch of pleasure” (marijuana) Betsy had discovered earlier. When they arrive, the crop is already gone so they opt for some sunbathing instead. The creature swings by long enough to rip off Tara's head,  but Betsy escapes into the woods. Jack and company, Betsy and Bill all eventually meet up at Bill's camp where they barely have time to take a breather before Bigfoot attacks once again. When Jack comes to, everyone else is missing. He ventures off to some caves (the ever-popular Bronson Canyon) to discover what's going on.






Though this definitely has its issues, it's a highly entertaining little B flick all the same. It's reasonably well-made, the actors are tolerable and there are lots of enjoyable makeups (Buechler's very ugly Bigfoot design is particularly fun). Gore and T&A quotients are more than met for the direct-to-video market and things get wonderfully kooky in the final half hour. Just how kooky? Let's just say that all of the strange events are going down because of an evil alien; a being which comes complete with a steel claw for a hand and some snake-like appendage that injects victims with green goo that turns them into monsters. Working for it are a bunch of mindless, rubbery-looking zombies and a deranged, pale-faced priest (the amusing John Durbin) who thinks his master is “the archangel Azdreth” and cuts the hearts out of topless females. The Bigfoot creature is also tied in with the alien, whose ultimate goal is to rebuild its crashed spaceship.






Injected into the middle of the film is a lengthy scene of a photographer being pursued by the creature through the woods until it ensnares his arm in a trap and then disembowels him with a stick (!) This footage was all added to the film later when the desired 90-minute run time came up a bit short. The ending also had to be altered after filming when it was discovered what was shot at the time couldn't be used. This was originally supposed to end with several characters essentially walking off into the sunset but that's been replaced by a poorly-done and confusing nightmare-inside-of-a-nightmare-inside-of-a-nightmare scene. Jacoby, still fondly remembered by many as the horn dog younger brother in Just One of the Guys, does an undead Jack Nicholson impersonation (a bit out of place considering none of the other zombies talk) while Kennedy gets to spout a few campy one-liners like “Come on you woolly bastard!” It's not quite “Die, you miserable, ugly fuck!” but it'll do.







Demonwarp enjoyed wide video distribution (I found VHS boxes from all over the world) and did well enough there and on cable to prompt a few more in-house Vidmark titles, like the Irene Cara WIP vehicle Caged in Paradiso (1990) and Fred Olen Ray's comedy Mob Boss (1990). There is no legitimate DVD release as of this writing. The only widescreen copy I was able to locate is dubbed into Tamil and is missing nearly 15 minutes. All of the nudity and most of the gore has been removed from that version.

★★1/2
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