A few months ago, we reviewed “Demon Lover”, the first work in the “career” of Donald Jackson, a man who went on to make “Roller Blade Seven” and then managed, if such a thing is even possible, to get even worse. But those gems are far in our future, if we can find copies of them, as we’re right back at the beginning.
We’re not just at the beginning of Jackson’s career, but that of Joel DeMott, who went on to make a documentary (“Seventeen”) that won the Grand Prize at the Sundance Festival in 1985 – a few articles claim multiple documentaries were made by DeMott and her partner Joel Kreines, but information on her is pretty thin on the ground.
So, it goes that Donald Jackson and his friend Jerry Younkins worked in a factory, and due to an industrial accident where Younkins lost several fingers, received enough money to fund their dream, making a movie. Jackson saw some of Kreines’ work in a film festival, befriended him and asked him to come to Adrian, Michigan to help him realise his vision. Kreines agreed, on the proviso DeMott could accompany him to shoot a documentary, and that their friend could come and do the sound.
But that’s a dry description of what happens. Kreines and DeMott are a week late getting from New York to Michigan, and blow this off as…well, they’re doing it for free? Jackson almost immediately reveals he’s not got much of a clue what he’s doing, including a sort of vague division of labour between himself and Younkins (one directs the actors, the other the crew), hiring their girlfriends in fairly major roles, putting up Kreines and DeMott at his mother’s house but telling them to not mention the subject matter or title of the movie he was making to her, and so on. It’s chaos from beginning to end, and the fact they managed to make a movie at all is sort of impressive.
It’s shot handheld on not-great equipment, and quite a few of the scenes are just underlit masses of hippie hair with voices coming from all corners. But what’s most interesting about it are the stories that are told – Jackson basically admits at one moment that the industrial accident was no accident; and one of the women hired to act delights the crew with a jaw-droppingly racist series of jokes. Jackson begs to use Kreines’ equipment to shoot the movie himself, even agreeing to pay him $1,000 (from his initial budget of $8,000) for the privilege. There’s the way both “directors” talk about how this is just their initial commercial movie, and they’ll go on to more interesting projects when this makes its money back. Oh, and I guess there’s a culmination of sorts of Ted Nugent’s house, I’m still not sure how they got to know him but they do, and they hang at his place and borrow some guns and explosives.
A crew member is shot, and taken away in an ambulance; the crew demand that Jackson sign a contract to stop with the chaos, or they all walk immediately. There’s a genuinely crazy ending where the documentarians worry that Jackson wants to kill them and believe him entirely capable of it, so run away, and the movie ends with them sat at a gas station, nervously checking each car that pulls up isn’t Jackson with some of Nugent’s guns.
What’s most interesting about this isn’t “Demon Lover” itself, as that’s terrible. It’s watching Donald Jackson, and knowing the future he’d have in movies that avoided having scripts because he didn’t like explaining himself to his cast and crew; it’s the documentarians themselves, DeMott with her voiceover and Kreines suffering from a lack of sleep and a lack of any sort of direction from any of the people around him. It’s the ridiculous boastfulness of Younkins, who’d never do anything else in the movie business. It’s the time when Jackson, who’d taken off work sick to make “Demon Lover”, does an interview with a local newspaper and then acts surprised that his work wants to fire him for obviously not being sick.
While it’s not all that great a documentary – it’s almost impossible to watch in places due to the terrible lighting and fuzzy picture – if you’re one of the foolish few who watched “Demon Lover”, then it’s a lot of fun to see the circumstances it was made in. It’s also good to know that, to the end of his life, Jackson hated “Demon Lover Diary”, seemingly unaware that his hatred spoke volumes.
Rating: thumbs in the middle