Night of the Demons (1988)
Release Date: October 14th, 1988 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Kevin S. Tenney Actors: Cathy Podewell, Lance Fenton, Linnea Quigley, Mimi Kinkade, Hal Havins, Allison Barron, Alvin Alexis, William Gallo, Donnie Jeffcoat, Jill Terashita
he synthesizer-heavy score (by Dennis Michael Tenney) immediately gives “Night of the Demons” an ’80s vibe, though there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The title graphics also date the film, but these are at least a little more ambiguous, since they can be interpreted as intentionally comical or lighthearted. Unfortunately, this opening is also incredibly long, doing little to set up the adventure to come.
Stooge (Hal Havins, whose lines are so abrasive that they sound wholly improvised by a savvy curser), Rodger (Alvin Alexis), and Helen (Allison Barron) careen down a residential street on Halloween night, drinking and shouting. As they cause a ruckus, they moon an old man (Harold Ayer), who drops his groceries in shock. When Judy Cassidy (Cathy Podewell), a friendly passerby, offers to help, the grump calls her a whore and tells her to go away. “Damn rotten kids! They’ll get what they deserve!”
This is, clearly, foreshadowing, though it’s done in such an insincere, goofy manner that it’s difficult to properly acknowledge. When Judy returns to her house to prepare for the school dance, her boyfriend Jay (Lance Fenton) phones her to tempt her into attending a party instead. Hosted by the creepy goth girl Angela (Mimi Kinkade), and set at the decrepit, abandoned funeral parlor called Hull House (bordering a ghostly cemetery), the gathering should prove to be a wild time – especially since Angela intends to scare her guests (and knows way too much about witchcraft and demonic infestation). Sal (William Gallo) hopes to crash the party, while Stooge’s crew joins in for the fun. Curiously, it’s Max (Philip Tanzini), accompanied by his girlfriend Frannie (Jill Terashita), who starts telling ghost stories about Indian settlers who wouldn’t go near the area upon which Hull House was built.
As legend has it, on Halloween night many years back, the Hull family was slaughtered so brutally that the authorities couldn’t even sort out all the body parts. And so the night is set for an unsettling event amidst evil spirits and a haunted building, initiated by a past-life seance that unearths basement-dwelling hellions. Their first target is Suzanne (Linnea Quigley), who becomes contagiously possessed, passing along otherworldly domination through kisses. Despite the hair-raising locale, the group quickly splits up to find quiet corners in which to make out – the classic mistake in nearly every teen thriller (along with characters falling down during chases).
As if to check off all the boxes for an exploitive teen horror picture, there’s swearing, poorly written dialogue, obnoxious characters, a strobe light, nudity (and bizarre sexual ideas), and a practically introductory shot of Judy slipping off her underwear before donning a skirt, giving the camera a bit of time to ogle her shapely rear. Although the movie maintains a sense of dread, particularly with its sets and props, it takes a long time before anything shocking actually happens. And then, even when the violence arrives, the structuring of these scenes becomes disorganized and disjointed. Something gruesome occurs, and then a transition into calmness allows the characters to start pointlessly exploring the premises again, dulling the thrills. Similarly, when the demons start stalking their prey, they give up or are sidetracked easily, wasting precious moments to keep the suspense high.
Fortunately, the film includes a large amount of meaningless characters, and since none of them are well designed or sympathetic, plenty of bodies are offered up for Steve Johnson’s ghoulish special make-up effects. Their reactions are never entirely convincing, however, as bravery or spontaneously good survival tactics feel unbecoming of the timid, squeamish Judy. But the order of the victims is mostly unpredictable and the third act is largely unrelenting in its terrors. In the end, “Night of the Demons” doesn’t have much of an identity of its own, unfolding very much like “The Evil Dead,” and failing to possess a villain or signature sequence of horror that can redeem the general disarray of its generic tale of zombie-like killers. Even the conclusion is a letdown, going for an unconvincing, bloody gag that has little to do with the night of torment.
– Mike Massie