DIRECTED BY: Kevin Tenney
FEATURING: Cathy Podewell, Amelia Kinkade, , Alvin Alexis, Lance Fenton, Bill Gallo, Hal Havins
PLOT: Hormonal teenagers spend Halloween night in an abandoned mortuary and are gradually possessed by demons.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: With its mixture of silly Halloween camp and slightly surreal occultism, this cheesy, culty teen horror deserves just an honorable mention in the annals of weird film.
COMMENTS: Even in 1988, Night of the Demons‘ basic plot—many horny teens go into creepy old house, few come out—was getting long in the tooth. In fact, the premise is so by-the-numbers that you may well be tempted to place bets on whether the lone black character will be the first to die and the virginal girl will be the last survivor. The acting ranges from just barely adequate (the always-welcome Linnea Quigley as the slut, whose insane sexual charisma makes her line deliveries irrelevant) to overwrought (Bill Gallo as an on-the-make greaseball) to hammy (Hal Havins as the piggish jock).
This is not the recipe for a great movie, but along the way something strange happens. Director Kevin Tenney infuses Demons with enough style points and over-the-top set pieces that the movie becomes a nearly perfect execution of its teen-execution formula. It does all the little things that distinguish a lovingly-made formula trash pic from a shoddy, cynical formula trash pic. For example, the fairly large ten-kid cast is characterized shallowly, but efficiently: from snout-nosed “Stooge” to Goth Angela to the exposition guy (who knows which room the maid got bumped off in 50 years ago), each individual archetype pops out distinctly. The animated credits sequence is spooky, expensive-looking Halloween fun that sets up an expectation of professionalism. Pacing is solid, with enough atmosphere, comedy and shameless T&A up front to keep your interest up, while still leaving room to kick the energy up a few notches when the demons get set loose. The lighting and cinematography are top-notch for a budget genre pic—there’s a very creative and difficult shot where the face of each partygoer is seen reflected in its own shard of glass. Special effects and makeup, and especially the prosthetics (you’ll know what I mean after watching) are also superlative. As for the set pieces, there are at least three great, slightly weird moments: a sexy/scary strobe-light dance to Bauhaus’ “Stigmata Martyr,” a ridiculous epilogue that’s a sick joke on the old urban legend about mean old men putting razor blades in apples, and Linnea Quigley’s justifiably famous lipstick trick (a bit that would have made this a movie to remember even if it contained nothing else of value). Night of the Demons is a nifty little thrill ride that doesn’t stray outside the box in the way an Evil Dead 2 or Cabin in the Woods does, but stands out as an example of how you can still make a reasonably great little haunted house film while staying inside the walls.
Shout! Factory’s lavish 2014 DVD/Blu-ray combo release includes a brand new commentary track with director Tenney along with stars Podewell, Havins and Gallo, while preserving the 2004 Anchor Bay commentary track with Tenney and the producers as a second option. There’s also a new feature-length “making of” documentary to accompany an array of stills, trailers and promotional material.
In one of those too-strange-to-make-up twists, Amelia Kinkade, who played black-clad weirdo Angela, now works as a pet psychic.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: