Middle-aged science fiction fan Jane begins hearing voices coming from her appliances. Starring scream queen Brinke Stevens, with the voices of fellow scream queensand .
DIRECTED BY: Dan O’Bannon
FEATURING: Clu Gulager, Don Calfa, James Karen, Thom Mathews,
PLOT: Workers at a cadaver warehouse accidentally release an experimental army chemical that reanimates the dead and, together with a band of punks, find themselves fighting hundreds of brain-eating zombies.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s essential cult movie viewing, but it’s not inside the perimeter of the weird.
COMMENTS: In the mid-1980s horror movies realized that, in a post-Leatherface/Michael Meyers/Jason/Dawn of the Dead world, it was fast becoming impossible to shock jaded horror audiences with escalating gore. The response was to embrace, and exaggerate, the campy aspects of the genre. By 1984, wisecracking Freddy Krueger and his groaner puns supplanted the silent masked killers of just a few years earlier. Along with 1985’s bloody-but-wacky Re-Animator and the increasingly cartoonish horrors of , Return of the Living Dead was in the vanguard of the new tongue-in-cheek horror movement, helping to start a cycle that reached an artistic apex with 1987’s Evil Dead II (verifying the trend towards black comedy, II was itself an outrageously campy sequel/remake of the earnestly grim 1981 original).
While The Toxic Avenger and its ilk, Return got the tone just right, adding reassuring flecks of “you shouldn’t take this seriously” to the script in a way that didn’t mar its legitimately scary and thrilling aspects. Return‘s jokes range from the blatant and silly (a zombie grabs a walkie-talkie from an abandoned ambulance and advises the concerned dispatcher to “send more paramedics”) to the subtle and silly (a pair of the survivalists are named “Burt” and “Ernie”). But the gags are just opportunities to catch your breath as the zombies close in, not the entire point of the show. Return captures the siege mentality of its inspiration, ‘s Night of the Living Dead. The victory of the ghouls is inevitable, because the dead outnumber the living. The victims, funeral industry workers and a gang of “punks” trapped in the melee while partying in the cemetery, can’t hope to defeat the undead. These corpses are particularly resilient—if you chop them up into tiny pieces and throw them in a garbage bag, the dismembered parts continue squirming. They are, in fact, nearly indestructible. The living can only hope to hold out long enough for the National Guard to arrive. Along the way come some imaginatively freakish sights, such as quivering half-dog zombies (the FX are not great by today’s standard, but it’s the concept that chills you) and the interrogation of a female corpse who’s missing the lower half of her body. Add in proto-Goth Linnea Quigley’s full-frontal nude dance among the tombstones (which is about as much Eros as a teenage boy in the 1980s could take with his Thanatos without exploding) and you have a trashy but timeless horror spectacle.took horror’s basement budget subgenre into ridiculous realms of farce with
Scream Factory released a 2-Blu-ray “Collector’s Edition” of Return in 2016, with four different commentary tracks (!), including contributions by director O’Bannon and a number of the cast members. The set also includes unused scenes taken from the work print and a definitive 2-hour documentary on the film (More Brains: A Return To The Living Dead) among its comprehensive encyclopedia of supplemental features.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
(This movie was nominated for review by “Brad.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here).
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: