Night of the Demons (1988)

28 Oct

Don't watch this movie if you're squeamish about blood. Seriously.

Here’s the exact point when I knew I was going to have a great time watching the fondly remembered “Night of the Demons“:  The female lead, virginal good girl Judy, is on the phone with preppy Jay, who’s trying to convince her to attend a party at spooky Hull House. As he’s trying to talk her into it, he reaches for a box of Vanilla Wafers, and I was completely sold. Any horror movie this snarky is bound to be a fun ride.

“Night of the Demons” revolves around a party gal pals Angela (Amelia Kinkade, as Mimi Kinkade) and Suzanne (Linnea Quigley) are throwing at the old Hull House, an abandoned funeral home on the outskirts of town. They’ve invited a representative from a wide variety of teenage stereotypes to join them in their Halloween festivities: There’s the aforementioned Judy (Cathy Podewell), her paramour Jay (Lance Fenton), squirrelly wiseguy Sal (Billy Gallo), shy girl Helen (Allison Baron), hip black guy Rodger (Alvin Alexis), meathead Stooge (Hal Havins) and happy couple Max (Philip Tanzini) and Frannie (Jill Terashita). Including the two hostesses, that makes for 10 teenagers partying down in what’s said to be a haunted house on Halloween night. Guess where this is heading.

The action starts innocently enough, with some junk food and dancing, but the radio dies and then Angela suggests a mirror seance to liven up the fun. She’s playing up the drama in the hopes of scaring the others, but what she fails to realize is there really are dark forces lurking in the basement of Hull House, and she has unwittingly given them the power to prey on everyone inside the house — including herself. One by one, the teenagers succumb to the demonic presence, leaving those few still unaffected fighting to escape with their lives.

It Jay and Judy Vanilla Wafer, if you couldn't guess. He's too cool to wear a costume, and she's managed to look the polar opposite of sexy.

As horror stories go, “Night of the Demons” isn’t particularly original. Sexually charged teenage hijinks served up with a side of gore is a mainstay of horror and perhaps was never more so than during the slasher-riffic 80s. By 1988, though, the genre had been sort of done, so what this movie does is really quite clever: It’s endlessly self-mocking, handing out blood-soaked laughs and sarcasm galore. Instead of being a slasher film so bad it’s laughable, this one cuts straight through the attempt at drama and tension and goes straight for the humor. There are plenty of broad jokes, but there’s also a good bit of the more sly, tongue-in-cheek sarcasm — like the Vanilla Wafers bit — to please the slightly more sophisticated movie palate.

The action plays fairly straight and moves at breakneck pace. The film kicks off with some typical teenage rudeness then cashes in early with, ahem, “fan service,” which it continues to provide regularly … even when you wish it wouldn’t. In another fantastic poke at the audience, about midway through the movie the nudity goes from being gratuitous and sexy to being gratuitous and absolutely disgusting. There’s lots of hanky-panky going on in the old haunted house, but each encounter turns out to memorable for the wrong reasons.

Speaking of which, the ways in which this movie consistently tops itself in the death and dismemberment department are impressive. For a film of this era, the effects look pretty amazing, and the filmmakers go to some surprising places with the violence. There’s impaling, death by coffin, burned alive, and the perennial ratings-breaking “eye trauma,” and that’s just a sampling. Each death sequence has its own twist, so the long killing spree never feels repetitive. Plus, the film smartly sets up the action to mimic a sporting event, albeit one in which the players could be “persuaded” to change teams at any moment. It plays out like a very high stakes game of dodgeball, but with slightly more blood. This slayfest would be over-the-top and icky were it not for the consistent undercurrent of humor running throughout the entire film. A little laughter can go a long way when you’re talking demonic possession.

The demon effects really are impressive ... and creepy.

But don’t make the mistake of getting too comfortable with yukking it up. “Night of the Demons” delivers some great jump scares, a heaping portion of gross-out horror and a climactic chase sequence that’s actually heart-pounding. Legitimate scares get all cozy with jokes in this one, and I believe it’s that unlikely marriage that makes this film so absolutely fun to watch. The movie seems like standard fare, but it quickly proves pleasantly unpredictable. It goes so far beyond where you expect it to go that you even question whether those old horror cliches of who lives and who dies will hold true. (The answer? Sort of.) And just when you think “Night of the Demons” has nothing left to offer, it gives you one more over-the-top zing.

This movie is sheer fun from start to finish. It may not be high art, but there’s something to be said for a film that so clearly goes all out in its attempt to entertain us. Lucky for “Night of the Demons,” it succeeds magnificently. Three stars out of four.

Night of the Demons (1988)“: Rated R. Starring Alvin Alexis, Allison Baron, Lance Fenton, Billy Gallo, Hal Havins, Cathy Podewell, Linnea Quigley, Philip Tanzini, Jill Terashita, Harold Ayer, Marie Denn, Karen Ericson and Amelia Kinkade (as Mimi Kinkade). Directed by Kevin Tenney. Written by Joe Augustyn. Cinematography by David Lewis. Special effects by Nick Benson, Roger George and Lise Romanoff. Original music by Dennis Michael Tenney.

One Response to “Night of the Demons (1988)”


  1. 31 Nights of Horror: Final thoughts (2010) « Rhanda watches - November 23, 2010

    […] art, I stand by my two four-star reviews. As far as which films were the most fun to watch? “Night of the Demons” and “Sleepaway Camp” as straight horror and “Fido” as a […]

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