Night Of The Demons (2009)

The period of about 2005 to 2012 saw the great horror remaking, as studios, desperate for cash and bereft of original ideas as always, decided to raid their intellectual properties and hope a few fans of the originals wandered into the multiplex. A (probably incomplete) list – “Friday The 13th”, “Halloween”, “A Nightmare On Elm Street”, “My Bloody Valentine”, “April Fools Day”, “Children Of The Corn”, “The Hills Have Eyes”, “Day Of The Dead”, “Dawn Of The Dead”, “Fright Night”, “Silent Night, Deadly Night”, “Prom Night”, “Black Christmas” and “The Stepfather”; to that we can add this, when the originals were so obscure I completely forgot about them the last time I did this list, in November of last year. Of those, the only two worth the slightest bit of a damn are “Fright Night” and “Dawn Of The Dead”, although neither of them are close to as good as their originals; let’s see how this one does.

Actually, as the original “Night Of The Demons” was terrible, this is easily better than it, without still being all that fantastic. One trait it shares with another remake, “Prom Night”, is to be so completely different to its original that the choice to use its name must have been solely monetary – when they throw in a few random bits of continuity as the movie goes on, it’s sort of a surprise as you’ll forget quite quickly that the two are in any way related.

In a stylistic similarity with the original trilogy, we get a cold open of people getting murdered in demon-y ways, this time from 1926 (with the footage meant to look like it’s from that era). It’s the Broussard House, in New Orleans – neither the same name or town as the originals – and in the current day, it’s about to be rented out by a local entrepreneur, who needs this night to be a success in order to save herself and her cat from living on the streets.

There are people you’ll recognise in this movie! The entrepreneur, Angela (same name, same sort of character arc, I guess) is Shannon Elizabeth, of “American Pie” fame; one of the three beautiful young women who know Angela and are preparing to attend her event is Monica Keena (“Dawson’s Creek”, “Freddy vs. Jason”). The local drug dealer who needs some sales at the party to keep his supplier from killing him is Edward Furlong (“Terminator 2”). A brief aside: Furlong has had what sounds like a messed up life, chewed up by Hollywood as a young kid, but…anyway, he and Keena met on the set of this, and began a relationship which is still apparently dragging along today, despite his multiple arrests for domestic violence and substance abuse issues. Sad story.

What’s interesting is how packed the house is with party-goers, making me think this was going to be a real bloodbath; but then for absolutely no reason, cops appear and break things up, leaving the seven main cast members. I have to assume cops in New Orleans have better things to do on Halloween than break up perfectly peaceful house parties, but then I could be wrong. When Furlong and Elizabeth find a hidden door which leads to a sub-basement with a group of very old dead bodies in it, and when she puts her finger in the mouth of one of them, she gets bit and we’re on for another demonism-is-passed-on-via-blood-or-saliva epic.

Because we’ve established kissing can pass on the curse, we’re treated to a number of girl-on-girl scenes, because of course – although one of them ends with a girl getting her face ripped off, which is a fresh take on it. Plus, something for the trailer! (I haven’t seen the trailer, but I’d bet every penny I’ve ever earned one of those scenes is in it).

90 SECONDS LATER EDIT: I was right 😦

It’s not bad, if we’re being honest. Elizabeth is vastly better than Amelia Kinkade as the Angela character, mixing sexy and scary in a much more interesting way. Keena is a genuinely brilliant Final Girl and I wish her career had gone better than it has, and the rest of the cast are all fine, with Furlong having the sunken eyes of an actual drug addict to go along with playing a sleazy drug dealer. The effects are decent, even if they’re a bit too heavy on the CGI and a bit too light on the practical stuff.

The story even makes sense, of a sort. They explain why the house is cursed, and why the seven people there are all doomed, and why Halloween is important (even if it’s a silly reason, they at least bother to give one). All things that improve on the original. And it’s got a light tone without being too wacky, with Keena getting some nicely comic moments.

I even liked the few little bits of continuity – like Linnea Quigley making a brief cameo showing her ass in the same outfit she wore in part 1, although the trick-or-treaters look pleased and not horrified as she’s about the same age as their grandparents. The bit where one of the women shoved a lipstick tube into her boob also makes an unwelcome return! The Angela character treating everyone else to a dance scene was fun too, but there was an even deeper cut. Parts 1-3 all used the same Evil Dead-inspired scene of an unseen force rushing up on the unsuspecting teens. This one ripped off a different part of the Evil Dead, where they trap a possessed person in the cellar and desperately try to hold the trapdoor closed.

There’s even a link to ISCFC legend Donald Farmer, as the woman who’s working the door for the party (and steals all the cash when the party is broken up) is Tiffany Shepis, the extremely busy actress who was in his “Chainsaw Cheerleaders”. And she was in “Sharknado 2”, and “Tromeo and Juliet”, I guess.

I could have lived without the extreme use of handheld cameras towards the end, as it achieved nothing but making me feel a bit sick. And there’s a weird return for one of our least favourite bad movie tropes, “haha all our friends are dead”. But this is fairly small potatoes.

It’s okay! Nice moments, nothing to get too excited about but fun nontheless. I prefer part 2 of the original trilogy, but it’s much better than the original part 1 and if you ever see it on a low-end cable channel one evening, you could do a lot worse.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

 

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Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

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I’m as surprised as you’re going to be, ISCFC readers, because the last in the “original” run for both Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger is surprisingly decent. It really shouldn’t be – born from idiots on the early internet and “Fangoria” magazine seizing on the idea and running with it, the sort of thing that would be a meme these days instead of a movie.  But what it achieves is telling a fairly interesting story using both characters, has honest-no-fooling layers to it, with plenty of fine acting and gore too. But seriously, please read the rest of this review because I know I’ve totally given away my feelings in the first paragraph.

 

Although never mentioned, it seems like we’re being asked to ignore the last movie in both series. “Freddy’s Dead” finally, no twist at the end, kills Freddy off forever (and leaves Springwood a ghost town where all the kids are dead); and “Jason X” takes place in space 450 years in the future. I don’t think “New Nightmare” counts in this “universe” either, in case you’re already getting annoyed with me. Freddy is in hell, forgotten about, and is itching to get back into the teenager-slaughtering game; but he needs people to start remembering him so he has power, and to that end goes and finds Jason Voorhees and, pretending to be Jason’s mother, persuades him to resurrect himself and go to Springwood. Why Jason can just pop back into existence whenever he wants and Freddy can’t is sadly never explained. Even if, casting your mind back, Freddy didn’t need people to believe in him to start killing people in the first movie? Ah well, there’s worse plot holes in better movies. A few murders from Jason, people start talking Freddy again, and boom! He’s back in business. Or so the theory goes.

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Hearing Jason’s music play over a shot of 1428 Elm Street is, even for someone like me who hated most of one series and half the other, a pretty cool moment. Living at the old Elm Street house is Lori (Monica Keena), along with her widowed father; one boring weekend evening, she has her friends over, Kia, Gibb, Trey, and Blake (the women are the better-known of the group – Kia is singer Kelly Rowland and Gibb is Katharine Isabelle, from “Ginger Snaps”). Trey is every super-douchebag boyfriend cliché ever, and gets his first, being folded up the wrong way in a bed by Jason – the first of many excellent effects. There’s also Lori’s old boyfriend and his mate, who’ve been locked up in an asylum for four years, coming back to town to complicate matters.

 

“Freddy vs Jason” uses the cliché of “authority figures who don’t want to know” and for maybe the first time ever, does something clever with it. I won’t spoil it, because I think this one is worth watching, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The entire story of the non-supernatural-murderer people is solidly done, all round, which means you’re not just waiting round for the next teenager to get hacked to pieces or thrown about in their dreams – although there’s certainly that element to it. There comes a moment where Freddy is doing his thing with Gibb, but Jason kills her out in the real world before he can finish her off, and that brings their conflict to a head. Jason didn’t listen! He was only supposed to kill a few people! If you can’t trust an entirely mute monster of a man whose sole reason to exist is to murder people who enjoy sex, who can you trust?

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Director Ronny Yu is much better known for doing epic historical kung-fu movies in the Far East, and this represents the end of his dabbling with Hollywood. But he does get some lovely visuals in there, including the cornfield rave, a genuinely well-shot little moment, and the use of water to “imprison” Jason. For a slasher movie, it’s better than it has any right to be. Jason’s dream is quite clever too.

 

This was the first movie for writers Mark Swift and Damian Shannon, who’ve since gone on to write the 2009 “Friday The 13th” reboot, and have their names attached to the new “Baywatch” movie (among others). I don’t want to get too excited about this, but I think there are people who just knock together whatever will do for the money, and there are people that realise even a probably terrible slasher movie can be used as a calling card, if it’s decent enough. Putting thought into something doesn’t cost extra – although it would have been nice if they’d watched the previous movies in both series, as there’s the odd thing I noticed, and I’m just some joe off the internet who likes horror.

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It’s not all fun and games, though. There’s a thing about Jason dying in water so Freddy traps him with it, as if he’s mortally afraid of it. The problem is, Jason was never really “afraid” of water  (he swims most of the way from Crystal Lake to New York in part 8, if you care to cast your mind back) so it smacks of a last-minute decision because they needed to extend the final fight a bit. And even after the attempt to bring Englund’s characterisation in “New Nightmare” back to something more genuinely terrifying, he’s the same old quip-spewing psycho here as he always was. In the age of the internet, the idea that blacking out a few newspaper reports will be enough to make people forget about him is strange – not one teenager ever looked on a “gross local news” website?

 

But after all that, I liked it! The final fight between the two titans of terror, the Gods of Gore, the super-slashers, the I-have-a-headache-and-can’t-think-of-any-more, is really well done; and Jason’s “characterisation” (from stuntman Ken Kirzinger, not long-time guy Kane Hodder) is deliberate, slow and as frightening as a slasher movie is going to get. Eagle-eyed viewers can also spot future “Lost” star Evangeline Lilly, back when she was a model who just did occasional extra work, as a high school student too.

 

Freddy’s complaint about being forgotten is a meta-reference and mirrors the vague feeling of embarrassment there’d be at making another straight “Nightmare On Elm Street” movie – and that “New Nightmare” was, relatively speaking, a box office failure. Freddy “needing” Jason plays into this too – much as I love it, the previous year’s “Jason X” performed worst of the lot at the box office, so it was both of them or neither of them.

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There’s also the fact that New Line Cinema, home of both franchises, originated Freddy whereas Jason was bought in. And Freddy can talk, which certainly makes him a more interesting character…saying that though, the thing is, this feels much more like a “Friday the 13th” movie with a guest appearance from Freddy than it does the reverse. The thing about Jason is (depending on how much you’ve thought about it, or at all), he’s a force of nature more than a person, so who cares about backstory or anything like that. He can be adapted, whereas Freddy needs dreams, teenagers, parents with secrets, etc. Plus, he loves torturing people before he kills them, whereas Jason definitely doesn’t, which is why Freddy only manages a measly one kill to Jason’s 15 or 16 (I lost count).

 

I suppose it’s easier to fit Freddy into a Jason movie? Or perhaps it was the on-set influence of producer Sean S Cunningham, aka the biggest hack in the modern history of the movies, who was apparently around more than “Freddy’s producer” Robert Shaye. Have I mentioned how little I like Cunningham? Oh yes, every chance I get. I also just found out that Ronny Yu was allowed to film the final fight (the only real reason anyone paid to watch this, surely) any way he liked, including picking the winner. The coda is the same old (literal) wink-wink, nothing’s-over crap we’ve had in so many slasher movies, but that shouldn’t spoil the rest.

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So, a movie that succeeds, with strong acting and a decent sense of humour, despite it’s occasionally hefty roadblocks. If you rank both franchises together, it’s definitely top 5, (along with Nightmares 1, 3 and 4, and Jason X), but if you’re seriously ranking slasher movies, then you might need to go and have a lie down and a nice cup of tea.

 

Rating: thumbs up

 

Postscript! I’ve been thinking about the Freddy thing, and continuity. Let’s say the Freddy that we know dies at the end of part 3, with the destruction of his bones. The chap who pops up at the beginning of part 4 is different, a dream demon entity who’s borrowed Freddy’s face and feeds on fear (such as the people of Springwood have for Freddy). Actually, with the opening monologue from Freddy, using clips from the first three movies, this doesn’t work either. DAMMIT