Welcome back to another Friday Nightmare Reviews, wherein I tell you what you could be watching instead of wasting even more of your time socializing through a computer rather than put on pants and doing it in person. Or not. While most of the time, movies are the ones to tout the horrors of disconnecting from the world through the evils of technology, occasionally we’re treated to a film that sings the virtues of how sometimes being social is entirely overrated. It accomplishes this feat by filling its entire first act with a bunch of characters that you are counting down the seconds until they are dead, and thus finally stop having any spoken dialogue for you to suffer through.
It’s fairly commonplace that horror films feature the kinds of people that you actively hope will meet their demise while you get to watch. Part of this usually has to do with the fact that watching horror villains is far more entertaining, most of the time, than watching the survivors. Think of it, when was the last time you saw Kruger lamenting about his past? Does he sit around wondering where he went wrong in life and what it was like to be the child of rape and how it affected his life and his mother? Fuck no he doesn’t! He laughs it up and makes a joke out of everything, including your death. He’s have the time of his life AND death! Sure, there’s some villains that don’t seem to have that much fun. Because we don’t get any gleeful cackling in their direction, it’s hard to tell if Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers are actually having any fun with what they’re doing or if it’s a colossal chore for them but for the most part, what we get treated to is a bunch of sobbing victims who are trying to make their way to dawn and a lot of monsters who are living their best lives and enjoying every minute of it. I think that for this reason, we end up with a kind of fondness for our monsters and villainous folk. Think of how much we love characters like Pennywise or Chucky or Hannibal Lecter even though they kill children, cause horrible pain to characters we care about or plot our demise and eat us while we’re standing right there. Somehow it only makes us love them more. It often doesn’t help that these paragons of horror are paired up with people who are mostly meant to die. Sometimes we have characters who attempt to nudge their way into our affections as well but for some films, we end up with the story being populated with people who are just shy of painting targets on their bodies and trying to be as unlikeable as possible. Guess which one Night of the Demons is?
I suppose that’s an unfair question as this film has its heroes and a rather glaring difference from most films of its time, that being the way back year of (when else?) 1988. I’m getting ahead of myself, however, and before we start talking about this odd and somewhat incredibly flawed movie, let’s start with what we’re looking at here. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a dissertation about this movie. If you haven’t seen it, this film is a by the numbers, dime a dozen 80s slasher. It’s a picture perfect example of what you would expect from the genre with a concept that is so often imitated that it can’t rise to the classic level of horror and instead will always swim in the cult following pool. That said, it’s still worth looking at because this film, like all its slasher siblings, has little easter eggs, concepts and just plain weird shit that this genre always delivers. If I had to guess, I would say that I believe that these films played with these hidden gems and turning concepts around exactly because they were so commonplace back in the day. Sure, you could make any cheap ass horror film you wanted, but you couldn’t just rip off of major movie franchise and still pull in any money. Horror audiences are forgiving but they also know what they like and aren’t oblivious to when someone doesn’t have anything to say and nothing interesting to offer. You still have to have that one scene or that one original element or something to make your carbon copy pop out as something people can identify with or you end up filtered out of the cult following pool and straight into the drainage pipe of straight to video bullshit. So come to Angela’s party with me and let’s find out what exactly got added to this film to keep it floating.
For as much as the carbon copy premise isn’t the worst thing in the world but it does happen to be least interesting part of the film. The idea is simple and has been used many a time to diminishing returns: Hey gang, let’s throw a party/explore/perform a weird ritual in a house where bad shit happened. It’s the first thing that you find in a horror recipe book. Go to spooky place and initiate spooky happening. Add in little ingredients like the fact that it’s Halloween, give us one or more sacrificial lambs, make sure that at least one of these red shirts is a virgin, get some tits out and you’ve got blood in no time. I’m sure that somewhere, there exists a list of films that have this exact plot and it would take a reviewer with far more time than I have to go through them all and go over their relevance but that’s not why we’re here. In fact, from the start, we have to ask ourselves exactly what we did show up for. The film helpfully lets us know within a few minutes after the incredibly cool opening credits that we are definitely not here to enjoy spending any time with these future corpses that we’re meeting now. Seriously, basically no one is very likeable and even our main heroine is kind of uninspired. And boring. And annoying. And mostly useless. This would be Judy, by the way, played by Cathy Podewell. I will pause here to say directly that I don’t think that this has anything to do with Podewell as an actress. To be honest, she’s given so little to work with, it’s a wonder that poor Podewell was even awake for most of her screen time. As a final girl, she’s stuck whining, crying and screaming a lot and she doesn’t really ever get a chance to rise to the occasion and really duke it out with our main antagonist. It doesn’t help that said antagonist is the whole reason to watch this film in the first place.
Yes, after being subjected to meeting a cast of characters that you are pretty meh about and some of which you’re counting down the minutes until they’re finally dead, we meet our main lady of the evening: Angela. Played to perfection by Amelia Kinkade. Angela is our gothic hostess to this party turned blood bath and she’s the best character hands down. For one, our introduction to her is ridiculously charming and funny. With her best friend, Suzanne, distracting a couple of horny store clerks with her costume, Angela shoplifts her party supplies, mostly making absolutely no attempt to hide what she’s doing, before getting Suzanne’s attention and quickly dashing out the door. This scene also features the other best reason to watch this film: Linnea Quigley as Angela’s candy pink colored friend, Suzanne. I love these two and would have happily ignored the entire rest of the cast just to watch the two of them. They couldn’t be more opposite but they seem to get along anyway and they’re basically just fun to watch. In a better film, they would have been the protagonists but alas, we’re watching Night of the Demons. That said, it’s not like it was lost on the filmmakers who the interesting character was as Angela was the only character to return for the sequels.
Now that we’ve got someone interesting in the film, it decides to go the incredibly well advised route of completely ignoring her and Suzanne to focus on the other unlikeable people that are attending Angela’s party. And of course the party is at Hull House. If you’re new to horror films, this is the abandoned house in the part of town that no one dares go to because of some reason and only through the magic of contrivance do our characters find their way there. In other films, you might recognize this house as Hill House, the Marsten House and the house on Niebolt, among others. Basically this is our house where bad shit happened and in this film, bad shit translates to it being a funeral home where someone went crazy and killed their family before committing suicide. And in a separate scene, there’s also some kind of stupid further explanation wherein the local indigenous tribes would not set foot on the land the house is built on because insert racially insensitive story here. With that now all established, we can get back to the story of a bunch of idiot teens having a boring party in a shitty, abandoned house. About now, the party is in full swing, there’s the virgin who is slowly finding out that her boyfriend is a piece of shit, Suzanne is trying to find her way into the pants of anyone even mildly attractive, our catharsis kill is being obnoxious and the rest of the characters are either being annoying or doing a whole lot of nothing. Just when we feel like we’ve been pulled along into the world’s least interesting gathering, Angela comes to our rescue by suggesting that horror film staple of bad ideas: a seance!
From here, things go predictably as well as seances always go. It is where things get more fun to watch, however, as demons are now on the loose and start their antics by infecting the open mouth of Suzanne first. Now, Suzanne was always sharper than she seemed with her wit but the demon tends to bring out the razor parts of her comments and from here, she gets some of the best lines of the movie. She also transfers the demon infection to Angela and the party really gets started with an iconic scene featuring Amelia Kinkade dancing to “Stigmata Martyr” by Bauhaus. Fair warning to anyone who wants to watch this scene, it has a heavy use of a strobe light so if this usually spells less intensely cool dance scene and more intensely horrible migraine or worse, intensely horrible seizure, you may want to skip it. In any case, it spells the beginning of the end for our red shirts as the bodies start to drop. In a show of stunning intelligence, our couples split off to explore our creepy house, which is code for finding places to fuck in a dusty, dirty, old, crumbling, rotten former funeral parlor. Or at least it would be but it turns out that Judy discovers the hard way that her date is a dickhead. After she gives him a perfectly respectable boundary and is far less angry than she should be over finding out that he’s only dating her because he thought she’d be an easy lay, he does the completely baffling thing of getting annoyed and locks her in an old room as he leaves. This pretty much seals his fate as a dead meat asshole but it also makes you wonder what the hell the purpose of it was. If this had been a normal party, was she going to really come off as being the bad guy in this? Whatever, these people are almost dead and we shouldn’t get in their way.
As everyone else was pretty much oblivious to anything wrong after the seance, our only black character, Roger, was our voice of reason in this film. For all that people joke about this kind of thing, it’s kind of refreshing, especially for an 80s slasher, to have a person of color being the one to say that they should get the fuck out of there. He attempts to do the smart thing and books it right after the first weird thing comes up. If not for the film pulling an Evil Dead style fuck you by taking away their only escape, Roger and the only person who believes him would have easily moved on to live happier PTSD-free lives. Unfortunately for them, despite being smart about getting out early, they discover that the demons had taken exception to their attempt to leave early and only Roger is able to seek shelter before his friend disappears to go through a corpse transformation. From here, poor Roger is mostly absent from the film unless he’s being a bit of a coward. Now, don’t get me wrong. This is also kinda unique as he isn’t a posturing macho asshole and doesn’t even try to be. That said, he is kind of cast as being a bit on the pathetic side and there’s even a moment where we see him thinking twice about trying to save our final girl because he’s too scared. All this taken into account, Roger stands as unique because for all the horror films that I’ve seen that aren’t a part of the blacksplotation movement, he’s one of the first, if not the first, black character that makes it to the end. His cowardice is rewarded, which is absolutely rare, and in the end, he and our final girl do the traumatized shuffle back home, which is pretty awesome.
That said, let’s also talk about something else that needs to be addressed. In recent years, you might have heard a few people, including myself, that have been bitching and moaning about the prevalence of jump scares used in the horror genre. Now, for the record, jump scares don’t have to be a deal breaker but the cheaper they are, the more it looks like you’ve got nothing to work with in your movie. We like to think that this is a recent invention and a sign of the times, that things that have been going downhill. Then you watch something like Night of the Demons and realize that cheap jump scares have been pretty much par for the course since forever. No really, it’s not like this film invented them or it would be better known and probably have far more critics and fans. But if you are going to watch it, be prepared that once everything goes to shit, it’s basically one jump scare after another. It’s not as bad as other films that I can think of but you might want to take into account that once people are reduced to the final list of survivor possibilities, you can look forward to another half hour of “let me guess, everything went quiet so she’s going to be fine” before something pops out and a music sting gets you if you the demon didn’t.
So I’ll level with you guys, this is a pretty bad movie but I still can’t say I don’t like it. I know this is pretty much par for the course but for all the things that are wrong with it, there’s still stuff to like. If you’re looking for reasons to skip it, there are plenty. The story elements are kinda meh and you’ve seen this before if you’ve seen any horror film. There really aren’t much for characters at all and you aren’t really that sad when most of them die. Even the ones that they try to make more sympathetic, you aren’t really that broken up about because they aren’t really that likeable to begin with. That said, I really can’t stress how much I love Angela and Suzanne. We don’t even get to see them for that long before they get turned into demons and they’re still the best part of the whole film. Amelia Kinkade and Linnea Quigley are just so much fun to watch that I recommend it for that part alone. The demon versions of both of them are actually really well done as well and there was a lot of work and effort to make her look horrific. In fact, looking at what Angela especially looks like in the original versus the remake, they really leaned into making her look demonic and even put in a little Kruger-style burns to make it that much more gross. I know I told you about Roger’s fate but in truth, there’s also a little tiny easter egg at the end that I refuse to spoil because it’s also a nice little fun element that has basically nothing to do with the story but it was great anyway and that’s worth watching too. In all, if you’re okay with a little bit of “of its time” cringe and a tale as old as horror, this one is a treat that you can enjoy, even when it’s not Halloween.
As always, thank you so much for joining me for another Friday Nightmare Review. Just a heads up that starting in December, there will only be a couple more regular updates before we start up our annual Christmas ghost story! This year Dolly and company are going to be staring in their own little tale that is separate from Young Bucks but fear not because that story will resume in the New Year. Keep an eye out for a small teaser coming up soon! Until next time, keep an eye on those party invitations, make sure that you’ve got a decent date, check to make sure that you look good for the boys and may all your nightmares be pleasant ones!