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Night of the Demons (Blu-ray)

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Night of the Demons (Blu-ray)Starring Cathy Podewell, Allison Barron, Alvin Alexis, Linnea Quigley

Directed by Kevin Tenney

Distributed by The Scream Factory


Chances are if you’re a horror fan that grew up in the boon of VHS days, you’ve got a couple of big box art titles that have remained etched in your memory. Not so much for films you’ve seen countless times, but for those you never got around to renting for whatever reason. There are a handful of films I can recall avoiding specifically because I was at an age where I assumed the film contained within would haunt my nightmares for… ever, probably.

One example I continually use is 1985’s Transmutations, with a cover featuring a mutated, screaming mad scientist howling at a tiny person trapped in a beaker. Never saw it, and at this point I think it’s probably best I don’t shatter the legend it’s become in my mind. I like to leave some of my childhood boogeymen intact. Night of the Demons (1988) was another title that I cautiously avoided for years. Angela’s demonic visage and gnarled fangs alongside an invitation that claimed her party was too scary for both Jason and Freddy seared itself into my young brain, and it wasn’t until many years later, when Anchor Bay issued it on DVD, that I finally took the plunge and gave it a spin. As expected, it didn’t live up to the unbridled terror I’d conjured in my mind.

But sometimes films need a second viewing to be properly evaluated, so with a new perspective I dove into Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release and re-discovered it’s actually a fun ride. While the cover art makes it look like a trip into Hell, the truth is this is a darkly humorous film populated with animated characters, memorable one-liners, and some wonderfully gruesome make-up work, courtesy of FX legend Steve Johnson.

It’s Halloween night, and the school’s resident weirdo, Angela (Amelia Kinkade), is throwing a party at the infamous Hull House, an old abandoned mortuary rumored to be haunted. For some reason, a group of extremely varied kids who don’t all like her decide to attend the festivities. Also, it’s got to be one of the worst parties ever since only, like, seven people show up despite the fact this place could easily hold hundreds. Anyway, after the party is underway Angela and her friend Suzanne (Linnea Quigley) decide to throw an impromptu séance when the radio supplying the night’s tune craps out. Everyone thinks it’s harmless fun, but Suzanne sees a demon in the mirror, the evil in the house is now unleashed once more, and she’s also the first to be possessed. From that point on, each partier is demonized either through seduction or murder or seduction and murder until we’re down to the Final Girl. And Roger. Because Roger is a huge pussy.

There’s also a funny, twisted subplot that bookends the film involving a crotchety old man and his seemingly affable wife. I had wondered what the significance of his inclusion at the film’s opening was all about, so once it got to the payoff I was pleasantly surprised to see it got wrapped up in a sick kind of way.

Have you ever found yourself watching a (to pull from Ebert) “Dead Teenager Movie”, only to realize at some point that none of these people seem to like each other very much and they’re an odd bunch to be spending intimate time together? Night of the Demons has such a cast. Angela and Suzanne are the resident attractive girls who are just ever so slightly “off” by typical high school standards, so their friendship seems logical. Same goes for Stooge (Hal Havins), the porcine punk rocker who talks dirty and looks dirtier. But then his buddy, Roger (Alvin Alexis), appears as who we think is the Token Black Guy that’ll die early on. Turns out Roger is the other kind of Token Black Guy in a horror film – the one who gets his ass the hell out of there as soon as he has the faintest indication that shit is going down and white folks are dying. While this seems smart of Roger, and it kinda is, there are many moments during the climax where his help is greatly needed and he just stands there for a second before thinking “NOPE” and hightailing it out of sight.

Judy (Cathy Podewell), our requisite heroine, doesn’t even like Angela, but she goes because her boyfriend, Jay (Lance Fenton) got an invite. And he only wants to go because Angela is a “freak” and it’ll probably be fun in a circus sideshow sort of way. Then there’s Sal (William Gallo), the guido-est guido who is unquestionably out of place because every person at the party makes it clear they don’t like him. But he stays because there’s nothing else going on Halloween night other than a party in an isolated, decrepit Tudor home filled with a whopping half-dozen or so people that hate him.

Despite the contempt between nearly everyone there, the cast is a big part of why this film is such a fun watch. Stooge hogs the spotlight and pretty much steals the show with his crude observations and caveman persona. The guy is such a dick, but when he barks out a line like “Eat a bowl of fuck!” you can’t help but laugh at his absurdity. Judy makes for a fine Final Girl, taking charge when she’s got to, getting creative when demons need to be killed. She does a lot of this with Roger by her side, cowering and paralyzed with fear. Man, Roger is useless. Even if most of these people hate each other, having unique characters brought to life through committed acting gives just about all of them a distinct voice and a memorable personality. Although, Frannie (Jill Terashita) doesn’t do much outside of showing off her outstanding blouse bunnies.

Speaking of which, there’s enough boob and ass footage here to qualify as a National Geographic special. All of the film’s gorgeous women have ample assets, and Tenney wants to make sure everyone knows that.

The real star of this film isn’t even seen on screen – he’s Steve Johnson, FX extraordinaire. This was Johnson’s first big project with his own studio, and the producers and Tenney mention in the bonus features they’d never have been able to afford him if he didn’t need this job right away after being canned off a Michael Jackson project. Johnson’s work steals the show, no question. The lipstick scene with Quigley, when she casually inserts a lipstick tube through her nipple is such a fantastic effect. Even after seeing it a few times, it’s hard not to be fooled by the lifelike appliance the actress is wearing. Arms are violently severed, tongues are bitten off, eyes are popped like grapes… once the action gets going, we’re just moving from one sight gag to the next. The demonic make-up work is just exquisite, too. Johnson applied layers upon layers upon layers to achieve the right look of pallid, rotting skin in various stages. Stooge, in particular, goes through a number of changes to his appearance that is progressively more gruesome.

While there’s not a whole lot of originality to Tenney’s film, it does things right by employing a roster of distinctive characters, having top notch FX work, and creating a dark & foreboding atmosphere that acts as another character in the film. Hull House is bleak and rotting and it takes on a life of its own as the film progresses. I was reminded of films like The Unnamable (1988, and maybe a title Scream Factory should consider…), where groups of kids meet at a big place to party, split off, and wander seemingly endless hallways full of doors before meeting a demise no one will be aware of until the climax. It’s fun, and sometimes that’s enough.

Just so there’s no confusion, this Blu-ray includes the film’s 90-minute unrated cut.

Night of the Demons makes its Blu-ray debut with a 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps picture that is a very appreciable upgrade over its DVD counterpart. The print this was culled from appears to have been in good shape, with no marks and scratches visible. There’s a healthy grain structure that stays consistent throughout, never becoming noisy or obtrusive. The budget for this picture wasn’t the highest, and some of the roots show in the lack of finer details and very crisp definition; however, detail is much improved during the rare daylight scenes. Colors are nicely saturated, and contrast is strong. Most of the film was shot in low lighting conditions, and this disc handles those deep black levels quite well. There is a bit of mild black crush during a couple of scenes, but overall they remain consistent and rich. The integrity of the original negative looks to have been maintained here, allowing for a filmic presentation devoid of manipulation.

The film’s sound comes in three varieties – an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track, a new DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, and the film’s original 2.0 mix presented in DTS-HD Master Audio. Purists, if you want the original mix have at it, but be aware that it’s thinner and less robust than either of the other two tracks. Of those, the multi-channel option is best simply because it affords the most immersive experience. Horror films tend to work best when the picture can envelope the viewer in atmosphere, which is perfectly set by composer Dennis Tenney’s (yes, Kevin’s brother) synth-laden main titles. The film has a lot of punk & metal soundtrack cuts that have some heft to them. Dialogue registers high in the mix, never getting tinny or inaudible. There’s not a whole lot going on with the LFE track, but bass is there and does offer up a little support. The 5.1 track has a nice weight to it, with no real deficiencies to report. It’s not an aggressive mix, or even a particularly memorable one, but it is done right and the results are clear. Subtitles are included in English.

Night of the Demons is presented as a Scream Factory Collector’s Edition, and as such it is afforded all the usual bells & whistles fans have come to expect. The package features both a Blu-ray and DVD, and includes a couple of audio commentaries, a documentary, interviews, featurettes, trailers, TV spots, and much more. For those completists, though, note that it omits the My Demon Nights featurette found on Anchor Bay’s DVD, which was a 14-minute interview with actress Linnea Quigley. I’m sure most, if not all, of the info she dispenses there is included in here somewhere, but if you’re a bonus features nerd, then be aware that’s missing here.

First up, a new audio commentary with director Kevin Tenney, actors Cathy Podewell, Billy Gallo, Hal Havins, and special make-up effects creator Steve Johnson. Tenney takes the reins on this reunion-of-sorts track, guiding it along as the other participants chime in with their thoughts on seeing the film all these years later. Johnson, in particular, has a lot to say about his grueling make-up work. Lots of great recollections here. It’s definitely worth a listen. The second audio commentary is with director Kevin Tenney, producer Jeff Geoffray, and executive producer Walter Josten. This is the track previously found on Anchor Bay’s DVD. It’s a little drier and more technical than the other track, and some information has been made redundant if you’ve already heard the other and/or watched the documentary, but if you’re interested in the nuts-and-bolts filmmaking side of things, it’s certainly informative.

You’re Invited – The Making of Night of the Demons is a documentary that runs for over an hour. Nothing is left uncovered here, with participation from just about every principal on the cast & crew candidly recalling their work on the film. I think the most interesting anecdote to come out of it was that the film was originally called The Halloween Party before Moustapha Akkad (then producer of the Halloween series) threatened legal action and the filmmakers acquiesced by changing the name. Good call, since Night of the Demons is a stronger title. Interview with Amelia Kinkade features the buxom actress, who still looks incredible, providing a career retrospective of sorts, looking back on how she got her start in Hollywood, memorable roles she’s taken, and her enduring legacy thanks to fans at horror conventions. Allison Barron’s Demon Memories is an interview where the actress shares a number of on-set photos she took during the production, with narration to provide a little background on each one.

The film’s red-band theatrical trailer is included, along with a video trailer, TV spots, radio spots, and a promo reel intended for video store managers to get them excited about stocking up on VHS tapes for their stores. The disc also includes still galleries for Behind the Scenes, Special Effects and Make-Up, a Photo Gallery, and a Poster & Storyboard gallery.

The two-disc set comes housed in an amaray keepcase, with each disc housed on a hub opposite the other. As with all other Scream Factory Collector’s Editions, the cover art is reversible so you can display the original key art. A slipcover is included for initial pressings with newly-created artwork adorning the front.

Night of the Demons doesn’t try to scare the pants off its audience, nor does it attempt to play things too seriously. It’s an atmospheric romp through a crumbling haunted house populated by quintessential ‘80s teens – and that’s enough to sell me on a good time. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release is packed to the gills with great bonus features and a quality A/V presentation. Highly recommended.

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary with director Kevin Tenney, actors Cathy Podewell, Billy Gallo, & Hal Havins, and special make-up effects creator Steve Johnson.
  • Audio commentary with director Kevin Teney, producer Jeff Geoffray, and executive producer Walter Josten.
  • You’re Invited – The Making of Night of the Demons
  • Interview with Amelia Kinkade
  • Allison Barron’s Demon Memories
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Video trailer
  • TV spots
  • Radio spots
  • Promo reel
  • Behind the Scenes still gallery
  • Special Effects and Make-Up still gallery
  • Photo Gallery still gallery
  • Poster & Storyboard still gallery
  • Reversible cover art
    Film:
    3 1/2 out of 5

    Special Features:
    4 1/2 out of 5

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Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions

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Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa

Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa


During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.

Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).

What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.

While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.

Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.

While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.

With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.

  • Before We Vanish
4.0

Summary

Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.

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Delirium Review – Bros, Cameras And A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On

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Starring Mike C. Manning, Griffin Freeman, Ryan Pinkston

Directed by Johnny Martin


When will these testosterone-overloaded frat bros with cameras ever learn that pissing off the evil souls of the departed all in the name of amusement won’t get you anywhere but wrecked? Same goes for filmmakers: when will they learn that found-footage exploits set in a house of pure sadism are something of a wrung-out affectation? Oh well, as long as people keep renting them, they’ll continue to get manufactured…which might or might not be to the benefit of the horror film-watching populous.

Delirium opens with a poor lad, strapped with a GoPro, running for his life through a labyrinth of haunted territory, praying for an escape…and it’s a foregone conclusion as to what happens to this trespassing individual. We then relocate our focus towards a collection of (ahem), “gentlemen” self-titled as The Hell Gang, and their escapades are about as profound as their grasp on the English language and its verbiage. The words “dude”, creepy”, and the term “what the fuck” are thrown about so much in this movie it’ll make your head spin to the point of regurgitation. Anyway, their interest in the home of the Brandt clan is more piqued now than ever, especially considering one of their own has gone missing, and they’ve apparently got the gonads to load up the cameras, and traverse the property after-hours, and against the warnings of the local law-enforcement, who surprisingly are just inadequate enough to ignore a dangerous situation. The cursed family and the residence has quite the illustrious and bleak history, and it’s ripe for these pseudo-snoopers to poke around in.

Usually I’m curb-stomping these first person POV movies until there’s nothing left but a mash of blood, snot and hair left on the cement, but Martin’s direction takes the “footage” a little bit outside of the box, with steadier shots (sometimes) and a bit more focus on the characters as they go about their business. Also, there are a few genuinely spooky scenes to speak of involving the possession of bodies, but there really isn’t much more to crow about, as the plot’s basically a retread of many films before it, and with this collection of borderline-douches manning the recording equipment, it’s a sad state of affairs we’re in that something such as this has crept its way towards us all again. I’m always down for jumping into a cold grave, especially when there could be a sweet prize to be dug up in all that dirt, but Delirium was one of those movies that never let you find your footing, even after you’ve clawed your way through all of the funereal sediment – take a hard pass on this one.

 

  • Film
2.0

Summary

Got about a half-dozen bros with cameras and a wanton will to get slaughtered on camera, all the while repetitively uttering the same phrases all damn day long? Then my friends, you’ve got yourself a horror movie!

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Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility

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Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita

Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita


The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.

The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.

The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.

From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.

The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.

Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.

The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.

  • Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters
2.0

Summary

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.

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