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.


Emanuelle - Perché violenza alle donne? (1977)

... aka: Confessions of Emanuelle
... aka: Degradation of Emanuelle, The
... aka: Emanuelle Around the World
... aka: Emanuelle Versus Violence to Women
... aka: Le vice dans la peau

Directed by:
Joe D'Amato

Emanuelle is up to her old tricks again. Or is that her new tricks? Well, whatever. I guess a trick is a trick. As Emanuelle Around the World opens, our globe-trotting "free-spirited" beauty (Laura Gemser) is busy getting down with American porno actor Paul Thomas in the back of his moving van. She travels light, with just a toothbrush in her cleavage to her name and if you're lucky enough to pick her up and give her a ride, she'll make sure to return the favor in her own special way. The release print under review today will be Severin's "European XXX Version" of this Italian Emanuelle adventure, which as per director Joe D'Amato's usual, has enough sick-o content to land it partially in our beloved genre. This version (titled Le vice dans peau on the actual print) was prepared for the French market and if the French were good at doing one thing to the films that crossed their borders in the 70s, it was adding hardcore sex inserts to them. However, in this particular instance it appears that D'Amato actually filmed the hardcore stuff himself (some scenes feature the original actors in the same shot as the X-rated stuff) so this was clearly prepared in advance for such an alternate release.

Emanuelle has her latest conquest drop her off at the Sheraton Hotel in San Francisco. She keeps telling everyone she's on a quest to find happiness and apparently she isn't getting it at her job (she's a famous photographer and reporter) or by bedding every person who crosses her path. Emanuelle runs into her good friend, feminist writer Cora Norman (Karin Schubert), who does more meaningful and reputable stories than our heroine, at the hotel and the two ladies agree to meet up later for drinks. After almost getting raped by an old pervert because of a room mix up, Emanuelle runs out into the hallway buck naked and bumps into rich and debonair Malcolm Robertson (Ivan Rassimov). Malcolm takes her on a shopping spree and then accompanies her to New York City to take her out to dinner. The two discuss sex and love and the meaning of it all. Malcolm is the old-fashioned romantic type while Emanuelle feels free to have relations with whomever, whenever she wants, yet feels empty and unfulfilled. Before they part, Malcolm (who works for the Third World Aid Committee at the United Nations) gives Emanuelle his itinerary of where he'll be the next three months and what hotels he'll be staying at.

Emanuelle returns to her newspaper and discovers she's going to be sent to India to meet a guru who knows the "secret to the ultimate climax." Upon arrival, she and her guide have trouble locating him, but Emanuelle does luck out meeting an attractive, stranded tourist named Mary (Brigitte Petronio). After their Sapphic encounter, Mary reveals that she had been gang raped by a bunch of men in Rome who are involved with the white slave trade: kidnapping girls to supply Middle Eastern harems. Emanuelle, who's wanting to be taken more seriously as a journalist, decides to add that to her 'to do' list. First she pays a visit to Guru Shanti's (George Eastman) orgy, where she offends the guru by making a guy get off. The two make up, and he takes her to the "School of Kama Sutra" where she watches a class where women learn "the thousand positions of love" using dildos. After exposing the guru as being the high paid fraud he is, she decides to start exploring a nobler cause. Namely sexual violence.

Emanuelle meets up with Cora in Rome to get some pointers on a white slavery ring that Cora herself is trying to bust. She then enlists the aid of a couple of Mary's girlfriends and a teenage boy to help her entrap the slavers. The three ladies get dragged back to some villa, are tied up, blindfolded and led into a dark room. Emanuelle almost gets raped (again) by a grotesque, facially-disfigured, one-eyed psycho who opts for another of the ladies before the teen boy calls in the cops to bust the operation. Speaking of rape, poor Cora ends up getting beat and sexually assaulted by some thugs. While that's going on, Emanuelle decides to repay the teenage boy who helped her out by doing him in the closet on his father's yacht while his stepmother has a lesbian tryst on the bed with her maid.

Having had enough of the sexual violence perpetrated on women by men, Cora and Emanuelle team up and go to Hong Kong, Macao, the Middle East and then New York City in order to expose how scummy men can be. The Hong Kong scenes plumb the depths of tastelessness. Emanuelle gets kidnapped, is taken to a gymnasium, tied up and forced to watch a deranged sadist torture two women. One has milk poured on her privates and a snake inserted in her vagina and the other is raped by a German Shepherd! In the Middle East, Emanuelle and Cora prove that the best way to a man's heart - and his conscience - isn't through his stomach as they sandwich a sheik. In the concluding scenes in New York, a bunch of decadent upper crust folks - including a Senator - decide to punish Miss Ohio (American porno actress Juliet Graham under the name "Elisabeta Terribile") by making her strip by some docks. Some greasy bums crash the party, chase off the rich cowards and rape the beauty queen. Emanuelle tries to escape but one of the bums gets her, puts a gun to her head and forces her to give him a blowjob. After her experiences, it's no wonder Em can't wait to get back to the kind and sensitive Malcolm. The moral of the story? Uh, I guess that most men are pigs?

This mildly diverting, very sleazy chapter in the Emanuelle saga at least has a certain philosophy about female empowerment and sex that's semi-interesting. Most of the problems are caused by out-of-control male libido yet our heroines must use sex themselves (albeit consensual sex) to solve these very problems. Perhaps because this was based on a story written by a woman (Maria Pia Fusco, who also co-scripted), the female empowerment angle rings a little truer here than in many similar films. The two central females are established, successful women risking their own asses when they don't have to in order to help out other women. Despite what they go through, neither give up or let men stop or distract them from achieving their goal. Of course some would say this is all at odds with the near-constant depictions of women being degraded and violated, but it would be difficult to effectively comment upon the exploitation of women without being a bit exploitative itself, eh? Of course, no one is really going to tune in to an Emanuelle sex flick looking for a deeper meaning, but some effort to justify the content was actually put into this one. For those very reasons, I actually enjoyed this one a little more than some of the other Black Emanuelle movies I've seen.

Don't get your hopes (or anything else for that matter) up for the hardcore footage as there's actually not very much of it here. None of the more well-known actors participate in any of it and what there is is very brief and not even finished. A cornball pop theme song called "The Picture of Love" (by Nico Fidenco) plays throughout. The cast also includes Marino Masé, Gianni Macchia, Craig Hill and Dirce Funari. The director also appears unbilled.

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