Home Video Hovel- Night of the Demons, by Tyler Smith
In the making-of featurette on the new Blu Ray of Kevin Tenney’s Night of the Demons, it is revealed that the script contained an opening scene right out of a James Whale film. A priest comes out from behind a curtain and blesses the audience, so that the demonic images to follow will not have an adverse affect on them. It would have been a funny scene, had the director opted to film it, but he didn’t. However, the film still retains that sense of self awareness and fun. At least for the first hour.
It’s a familiar story. Several high schoolers spend the night – Halloween night, of course – in an abandoned mansion/mortuary. The place has a history of violence and insanity; the perfect place for a spooky party. While there, the teenagers conduct a seance that awakens the supernatural forces largely responsible for the horrors in the house’s past. One by one, the group is possessed by demons, who attack those that remain.
Night of the Demons was released in 1988, at a time when the Dead Teenager Movies had become commonplace. Kenney and his writer Joe Augustyn seemed to understand this, and there is a notably meta quality to the film as it develops. There really aren’t any characters to speak of. Instead, we have archetypes. The coward. The jack-ass. The virgin. The goth. And so forth.
The establishing of these characters- along with a first rate animated opening credit sequence- really sets this film apart from other movies of its kind. It creates a nice atmosphere, helped along by the knowledge that it’s not taking itself too seriously.
Unfortunately, the nature of the film does require it to be scary, and that’s where things start to fall apart. Once the demons start taking possession of our characters, I started losing interest in the proceedings. There are some creepy moments – such as a possessed girl absorbing a tube of lipstick into her bare breast – but it’s just not enough. Thankfully, the film ends on so silly a note that I was able to think back on the overall experience fondly.
Perhaps the film could never have been a success. The beginning feels a lot like parody, which made everything fun, like we were all in on the joke. But then the film has to do what all horror movies do, and it’s hard to invest oneself in the fate of characters that were never meant to be real people with real emotions. Had they done something particularly clever with the death and possession scenes, then the whole thing might have come across as a stylish, humorous exploration of the genre. But the violence and gore are pretty straightforward, making us forget all of the fun that came before.
In the end, Night of the Demons was a fine movie watching experience. I watched the film with somebody that is a big fan of 80s horror, and he seemed to enjoy it much more than I did. So perhaps the film is for those that truly love the genre and are better able to appreciate the nuances and flourishes of it. For everybody else, the film will only be so satisfying.
Nonetheless, Shout Factory has put out a very good Blu Ray, with not only a solid video transfer, but several notable special features. These include a fairly in-depth making-of featurette, as well as a couple of commentary tracks.