By Scott Dorward
Night of the Demons (USA, 1988)
“Eat a bowl of fuck!”
Sometimes you want to sip fine wine from a crystal glass, swirling it around to let it breathe, appreciating the bouquet and savouring every mouthful; and sometimes you just want to sit on a cemetery wall by moonlight, necking supermarket-brand cider straight from the bottle. Barring a couple of exceptions, I have chosen too many worthy, aspirational horror films this month. Most horror just isn’t like that, however. It’s hard to think of another genre that’s filled with as much cheap, unapologetic, joyous trash. So, here comes Night of the Demons!
Creepy goth girl Angela has invited a bunch of thirty-year-old teenagers to her Halloween party. The characters are pretty much the stereotypes you’d imagine. This saves any effort in getting to know them.
The party, of course, takes place at the local abandoned funeral parlour. This sinister old structure is located atop a hill, surrounded by underground rivers, and on the site of a Native American, um, well, some kind of bad place. Oh, and it’s filled with demons.
“A haunted house is a house with ghosts in it, the spirits of people who’ve died. The spirits living in a house possessed have never existed in human form; they’ve only existed in spirit form. They’re pure evil. They’re demons.”
For all the build-up, it takes some time for us to actually meet any demons. Instead, we’re treated to lots of teenage hijinks in the abandoned funeral parlour. Happily, after all the drinking, flirting and messing around with coffins, the partygoers finally decide to get down to some serious occult shit. These are the people Jack Chick warned us about.
The demons only gain a cloven-foothold once the kids try some daft ritual with a mirror and accidentally smash it, letting the bad things out. Even then, the spirits take their time possessing people, spreading via deep, lingering kisses like some kind of satanic STD. Once they get going, however, they stalk, seduce and slash with gleeful abandon. The kids who have managed to stay human find themselves trapped in the old building, and the body count grows.
For those of us old enough to remember the ’80s, just watching the opening of Night of the Demons is like stepping into a time machine. Pounding synths… Badly drawn title art… Linnea Quigley! It’s like coming home.
Given that Angela goes out of her way to tell us that demons aren’t the spirits of people come from the dead, I have to wonder why they’re hanging around an abandoned funeral home. Maybe they just liked to watch the old necrophile who used to run the place going about his business. It doesn’t really matter, though. This isn’t a film that’s meant to make sense.
Like any good exploitation film, Night of the Demons is filled with gore and nudity, often in the same scene. Unsurprisingly, the nudity is almost all female, with some downright voyeuristic camera work early on. A highlight is the unsettling disappearing act Linnea Quigley (I’m sure her character has a name but I can only think of her as “Linnea Quigley”) plays with a tube of lipstick and her nipple.
Another scene, involving a severed arm, feels like a half-hearted reinvention of the severed hand shenanigans from Evil Dead II. In fact, the whole film feels like a much less artful knock-off of the Evil Dead franchise, bereft of Raimi’s wit and inventiveness.
There is a little less gore than I expected, in frequency if not in quantity. When a character does get injured or killed, there is plenty of blood. While the film looks cheap in almost every respect, it seems they saved their budget for makeup effects.
Night of the Demons is a deeply silly film. Happily, it knows what it is and makes no attempt to take itself seriously. While it falls just short of being a parody, it comes perilously close. The characters barely extend to two dimensions. Their dialogue is filled with exchanges like, “A funeral parlour? Way out here?” “Well, sure. It’s nice and cosy, right next to the old cemetery.” And the acting is barely up to the standards of porn.
In any other film, these might be problems. In Night of the Demons, they’re virtues. Each clumsy character interaction, badly written scene and cheap set just adds to the overall charm of the thing. Whatever the opposite of pretension is, this is it. This is a film made for groups of friends to watch in chemically altered states, shouting along with the mayhem.
The only real complaint I have about Night of the Demons is that it takes too long to get to the good bits. While the build-up is entertaining enough, it’s over halfway into the film before the first demon appears and almost an hour before anyone is killed. That is a lot of foreplay for the cinematic equivalent of a knee-trembler out by the bins behind the kebab shop.
I’d be interested in hearing how younger viewers find the film. The casual sexism and creaky social mores of the times might be off-putting to some, but it’s hard to see any ill-intent here. It was just the ’80s. Of course, this could just be the pernicious effects of nostalgia. Do let me know your opinion!
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- 1 – Baskin (2015)
- 2 – The Bar (2017)
- 3 – The Editor (2014)
- 4 – The Beach House (2019)
- 5 – The Mummy (1959)
- 6 – The Wind (2020)
- 7 – Tigers are Not Afraid (2018)
- 8 – Voices From Beyond (1991)
- 9 – Dearest Sister (2016)
- 10 – Patrick (1978)
- 11 – The Transfiguration (2016)
- 12 – The House at the End of Time (2013)
- 13 – The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
- 14 – The Hallow (2015)
- 15 – Night of the Demons (1988)
- 16 – Deep Dark (2015)
- 17 – The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976)
- 18 – Black Sheep (2006)
- 19 – The Battery (2012)
- 20 – Eaten Alive (1976)
- 21 – Satan’s Slaves (2017)
- 22 – Evolution (2015)
- 23 – Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973)
- 24 – The Dead Center (2018)
- 25 – Your Vice is a Locked Room and I Have the Only Key (1972)
- 26 – The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013)
- 27 – Here Comes the Devil (2012)
- 28 – Gretel & Hansel (2020)
- 29 – Two Thousand Maniacs (1964)
- 30 – The Stepfather (1987)
- 31 – In Fabric (2018)
Be warned that I may alter this list according to availability, what I feel like watching at the time, and sheer capriciousness.
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!