Night of the Demons (Blu-ray)
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.
3 1/2 out of 5
4 1/2 out of 5