Thursday, October 29, 2015

31 Days of Halloween: The Perfect Halloween Creature Feature

This weekend is Halloween, so, of course, almost everyone picks Halloween (1978) as their ultimate Halloween movie. Not me. Don’t get me wrong here. I love John Carpenter’s slasher classic, I just feel like Halloween is as much about goofy fun as it is about horror. As such, one of my favorite Halloween night fright flicks is another tale of terror set on All Hallows Eve. This would be 1988’s goofy horror spectacular Night of the Demons.

Look, I’m going to be honest with you here. Night of the Demons is not a great film. It’s a good film at its best moments and just average when it’s not giving you those best moments. However, it’s a really watchable film owing to the fact that it’s a genuinely fun film. It’s a party film, and that makes it a good film for Halloween.

Our story is actually fairly straightforward. A group of teenagers are looking to party on Halloween. Since this is a late 1980’s film, our teenagers are looking to drink, do some minor drugs, and spend time horizontal with some of their fellow attractive partiers. This means that mom and dad’s house is out, and most other places that frown on illegal activities are also no-goes. Their solution falls into the well-worn path (i.e. the cliché) of the typical horror movie- they’re going to break into some place with a questionable past. In this case, it’s an abandoned local mortuary known as Hull House.

Our cast of characters fills the checklist of 80’s teen stereotypes quite nicely. There’s nothing original or unexpected with the way any of them are portrayed, but they’re all played well enough that they work perfectly for the film. You also have Linnea Quigley and Jill Terashita playing roles in a 1980’s horror film, so guys going in expecting typical 1980’s b-movie horror female nudity won’t be disappointed.

Eventually, after a lot of scenes done to give us the gist of which character is going to play what stereotype, our group is assembled and ready to make their way to party central. Oh, pay close attention to what seems a throw away bit with a cranky old man who hates kids and Halloween and loves buying apples and razorblades. That comes back into play later in the movie. But, anyhow, our gang gets to Hull House and makes their way inside to party the night away.

The place’s storyline history is long, convoluted, and full of the types of urban legend details that one would actually hear about such places. As told to us by our film’s party goers themselves, the chunk of real estate the place was built on was known to be taboo lands by the Indians who lived their centuries earlier. The Indians knew not to cross an old creek and venture into the lands, as the woods were the home of evil spirits. The stories even come with the tale of an Indian who ventured into the woods and disappeared only to be found days later living in a tent made from his wife’s skin and feeding on his child. The place’s modern history includes whispered stories of black magic rituals held by the owners before its closure. These stories, of course, lead our partiers to decide that holding a séance there on Halloween night is a really good idea.

Of course, as happens with every movie where teens partying in a house of the dead whip out a Ouija board, hold a séance, or in some other way try to commune with the dead, the dead decide to chat back. They also decide that being bugged by partying teenagers makes them more than just a wee bit cranky. The filmmakers didn’t play coy with the concept of the séance opening the door that would unleash hell on our characters either. We get our first fast glimpse of our ancient demonic entity in a large standing mirror being used for the séance.  

One of our characters sees the entity in the mirror, but, of course, no one else takes her tearful, terrified claims seriously. From there the group starts their planned festivities save the two of them that decide that getting the hell out of there is a really great idea to prioritize. These festivities don’t last long however as things start to go hellishly south very quickly. Our two smart members of the group discover that leaving is not an option at that point, and our partiers quickly discover they’ve unleashed something evil into their midst that pretty much just wants to see them die painful deaths before the evening is done.

From there we get the basic paint by number seen in a lot of the horror films that came out in the 1980s. Everyone tries their level best to survive, not everyone does. The big bad they’ve unleashed has its fun with them rather than killing them outright or all at once, so we get multiple scenes of horrific death as well as some almost Scooby-Dooesque monster chasing people through the haunted house scenes. When we finally reach the end of our schlockfest, we see our survivors walking away in shock and we get our twisted payoff scene with grumpy old guy and his razorblade apples.

Again, this is essentially just an okay movie. The story isn’t  particular inspired, there are no real standout performances, the music was run of the mill stuff for the genre at the time, and even the opening credits section feels horribly dated. The thing about the film is this though; it’s just goofy fun. It’s not the so bad it’s good type of fun film, it’s just a legitimately fun film in a gruesome, gory kind of way.

The monster makeup and FX for our demon possessed killers is pretty good, and the gore scenes are satisfying without going too far towards the extreme. While not really bringing anything greatly original to the concepts seen in the film, what’s there is pulled off (or, as in one very famous scene amongst fans, pushed in) well enough to provide visceral scares, shocks, and even some black humor laughs. That last bit may be a key thing here as the film never seems to take itself too seriously. The filmmakers knew they didn’t have the next Halloween or The Exorcist on their hands, but rather they had a very dark, black humor tinged horror film on their hands and they filmed it as such. It’s not humor in the mold of Army of Darkness or Shaun of the Dead, but there’s an undeniable black humor vibe throughout a number of the film’s moments- especially with regards to grumpy apples and razorblades guy.

It’s not a film for everyone, but it has become a film that’s acquired a strong cult following over the years because of the attributes I just listed above. It’s also a great Halloween film because of those attributes. It’s good, goofy, gory fun- a perfect Halloween film.

Night of the Demons as well as an okay sequel film and a skipable third installment are available in various home video formats for pretty reasonable prices through online retailers like Amazon and your local brick and mortar stores. 

Jerry Chandler is a serious horror geek with a lifelong love of trying to find books and movies that can scare the spit out of him. When not watching and reading horror, he can sometimes be found helping to make horror with his filmmaking family in NC, Adrenalin Productions. He loves Halloween slightly more than Christmas, and almost as much as Dragon Con. When not writing here, he can be found at his other homes on the web by looking at his own blog, his Twitter, and his Facebook.

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