Night Of The Demons (1988)

Our Kevin Tenney (Witchboard 1 and 2, Witchtrap) season continues with a movie you probably think you’ve seen, but almost certainly haven’t. It’s because the title sounds like a dozen other horrors from around the same time, and the plot – teens visit haunted house – is so generic that I’m going to struggle to do much recapping in a few paragraphs time; even I was pretty sure I’d seen it.

There is a problem, though. While Tenney and writer Joe Augustyn (more on him later) had some cool set piece ideas, and a decent story, they couldn’t figure out how to start it. I’m wracking my brain and still don’t have any idea why…anyway, let’s just gloss over that bit (much as they did).

Angela (Mimi Kinkaid) decides to stage a Halloween party in Hull House, which is a former mortuary. Even though she’s seen as a little kooky by her classmates, a few of them turn up, expecting the goth girl to throw a good party. Perhaps she just wanted to throw a party and make some new friends? Who knows. Everyone seems happy enough to attend and there’s some fun archetypes too – horny slob Stooge, party girl Suzanne (Linnea Quigley, who looks a long way removed from high school – to be fair, she initially didn’t go to audition, believing she looked too old herself), prudish final girl Judy (Cathy Podewell), hoodlum Sal, a jock, a hot cheerleader-type, and Rodger (Alvin Alexis), who appears to be absolutely useless at the beginning, as Stooge’s sidekick, but comes into his own.

Hull House has all sorts of creepy history, so when the party starts flagging (the stereo breaks, the lights start going out), Angela decides to hold a séance, and this releases a demon – obviously – which manifests first as a grotesque disembodied head before possessing Suzanne. Also, the demonic spirit can be passed along through kissing, or murder, and passed along it is! You know how it goes.

Aside: the movie was originally going to be called “Halloween Party” before the more famous “Halloween” franchise threatened to sue them; but the introductory demon scene, as we get a POV shot of it emerging from the depths of the basement to possess some teens, and indeed the possession itself, is straight out of “The Evil Dead”. I guess Raimi couldn’t be bothered to sue.

What’s “interesting” about this is how leisurely it is about getting to the reason people would watch an 80s B-horror – death and mayhem. The first actual on-screen death doesn’t happen til 58 minutes, and the demon doesn’t even show up til the halfway point. So, do you really like people wandering around an extremely dark house and arguing? If so, there’s about two-thirds of this movie catering to you – everyone else might have a tougher time.

Tenney has been known to have some relatively weak actors in central roles, but that’s not the case here, and I enjoyed his ensemble. Hal Havins as Stooge is a fun character, William Gallo as Sal gives a potential one-dimensional character some real depth, and…okay, Judy and Rodger are pretty bland, but the rest of the cannon-fodder are excellent. They’re not always given the greatest dialogue, but they try.

We’ve also compliments Tenney’s death effects in the past, and they’re also in full effect here. Eyes get gouged out, people get burned alive, limbs get hacked off, and for the relatively low budget, there’s some superb work going on. The effect I liked the most, though, was relatively simple, and involved the characters switching from their demon-possessed form to their “normal” one, done off-camera – so they’ll turn and attack someone, but when they escape, turn to look after them running away as their old selves. It’s simple but very effective, for me.

It’s quite difficult to summon up much energy for such an incredibly hackneyed plot, though – I could have started this review site in 2012 and written the same number of reviews, just of “teens go to a haunted house” spam-in-a-can movies, and I’d still be going strong today (962 reviews and counting!) Tenney has some flair, and shows it here, but you’re still just waiting round for the deaths and the reveals and so on, and with a first half where so little happens, it’s difficult to recommend it too highly.

Still, we have a couple of sequels, one of which was directed by ISCFC veteran Brian Trenchard-Smith (Dead End Drive In, the Leprechaun sequels, Drive Hard), so I’m cautiously optimistic.

One final word, about writer Joe Augustyn. He was evidently a very good guy, and did not like the racism of Hollywood, so made a point of casting POC in lead roles in his movies. Good on you, Joe! If only you’d given Rodger a bit more personality!

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Cameron’s Closet (1988)

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This is another of our 80s video shop “classics”. Chances are, if you remember this movie at all, it’s probably on the horror shelves of your local video shop – and, if you’re like me, you looked at it, went “this sounds rubbish. Who cares about a closet?” and put it back in favour of something with zombies and gore in it. But, we’ve decided the best way to drive traffic to the site is to review stuff like this, almost impossible to get hold of and guaranteed remembered fondly by no-one; so here we all are. “Cameron’s Closet” was a “Monday Night Movie Club” selection, where a group of my friends gather at my place every week and we take it in turns to pick a movie to watch. I picked “Night Life” last week, so we’ve got a pretty poor recent batting average; this is fellow ISCFC reviewer @kilran’s, so if you want someone to blame, he’s your man.

 

Cameron is a kid, and he has a closet (to help non-American readers, they have extremely large closets as a matter of course). He has a monster of some sort living in it, all large, very ugly, glowing eyes; but his Dad seems not to believe in its existence. One day, trying to track down the noises he’s been hearing from Cameron’s room, he tries to go up into the attic while, for some reason, using a machete to open the attic hatch. Just give it a push mate! Anyway, he falls off the ladder and the conveniently placed machete slices his head clean off. The Dad, by the way, will be familiar to John Waters fans – it’s Tab Hunter, from “Polyester” (oh, and he was the biggest movie star in the world for a few years in the late 50s).

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Anyway, fast forward an unspecified amount of time, and Cameron’s got a stepdad – Gary Hudson, one of the great “That Guy” actors. He’s hostile in the classic evil stepdad way to Cameron, and – spoiler! – doesn’t last very long. The real battle is Sam the cop (Cotter Smith) and Nora the psychiatrist (Mel Harris, “Thirtysomething”) against the monster in the closet. They, naturally, don’t believe him at first, but luckily the beast isn’t too subtle.

 

With the best will in the world, it’s just not very interesting. We discover that Tab Hunter was a scientist, and his experiments on Cameron’s mind caused him to summon the creature forth – it feels like it was written first as either a straight horror or a psychological thriller, but was hastily rewritten into a sort of mish-mash of the two when the producers were all “hey, this movie was pretty successful at the box office last week” (I have a relatively low opinion of producers). And if the movies have taught us one thing, it’s that you don’t upset children with psychic powers.

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The cast is solid, all soap opera types (I spotted a few people from the “Dallas” / “Dynasty” stable). Smith and Harris, who were married in real life at the time, don’t have an ounce of on-screen chemistry, even though Harris is great. The one interesting name attached to this movie is Carlo Rambaldi, who created E.T. He’d clearly burned out on that, because by the time it came to create the closet-monster, he just decided on a mass of painted rubber with sharp teeth and glowing eyes.

 

Because we sort of know the mystery from the very beginning, we’re just twiddling our thumbs waiting for the denouement (a psychic lazer-fight between Cameron and the thing from the recesses of his psyche). If you’re still paying 100% attention by that point, you’re a better person than I.

 

There’s one scene where someone Cameron hates is thrown through a window, flies a good 100 feet through the air and crashes through the hood of a car, dead. Now, how are we supposed to read this scene? You’d really be stretching to call it the monster’s fault, but of course this being a studio movie, the kid is perfect and innocent. It just appears that no-one bothered to consider that some of this stuff might be Cameron’s doing. Ah, I don’t know, I feel like I’m giving this entire thing way too much thought.

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An interesting name attached to this movie is Carlo Rambaldi, who created E.T. He’d clearly burned out on that, because by the time it came to create the closet-monster, he just decided on a mass of painted rubber with sharp teeth and glowing eyes. Here’s a photo, because I don’t care about spoiling a near 30 year old horror movie that’s barely available and barely competent. The rest of the makeup is fine, I suppose, but it’s all very meh.

 

Pretty short review, eh? When I can write nearly 2000 words about the glory of Neil Breen’s “I Am Here….Now” but barely scrape 800 with this, it’s not that the robo-zombie-gorilla-space-Jesus movie is that much better, it’s just much more interesting. That was the insane mumblings of one man, this is a committee-created slice of barely passable entertainment that I’m positive not a single person would shed a tear for if its existence was forever deleted from the universe.

 

Rating: thumbs down