Saturday, October 15, 2016

31 Days of Halloween – Demonoid (1981)

By Jerry Chandler

Demonoid: Messenger of Death (AKA Macabra) was meant to be writer/director Alfredo Zacarías’s horror tour de force. Unfortunately, while the film does have its loyal cult following, it came out a little more in the way of a tour de farce. The film boasts an almost clever idea, some rather pedestrian action scenes, music that would have been home on primetime television of the 1970s, silly FX, and a couple of lead actors who were probably only paying the bills at that point thanks to The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. No, seriously… Between the two of them they had nine appearances on Fantasy Island alone.

Our story begins about 300 years ago with a bunch of guys in yellow robes chasing a young woman in yellow robes around inside of a dirt cave. When they get their hands on her, she starts to toss them around like ragdolls. Her left arm is noticeably stronger than the rest of her, doing some fine damage to the yellow rose robe brigade, but the rest of her seems to be about average toughness. They quickly contain her, chain her, and, being a low budget horror film in the early 1980s, expose her bare breasts to the camera. Because, you know, nothing said early 80’s horror like gratuitous breast shots as soon as you start your film.

Once the filmmakers made sure the audiences were paying attention (in one of the few ways they could guarantee that in this film) we get to see the kickoff for our plot. One of our men in yellow robes had recovered from the smackdown she laid on him enough to grab a large axe. He closes in on the now terrified woman and swings for all he’s worth. At first you think maybe he’s still a bit concussed from having his bell rung as all he manages to do is cut off her left hand, except then everyone reacts as if they’ve just won the lottery. 

The woman falls to her knees and sprays red Kool-Aid towards everyone out of the thing on her arm that’s meant to look like her chopped forearm except for now being noticeably longer than her arm and hand were moments earlier. No issue here though as everyone quickly ignores her to watch the severed hand wiggle itself out of the shackle it was hanging in, fall to the ground, and start crawling away from everyone as quickly as it can.

You know, a good warning sign for filmmakers out there that you might not have the scariest film on your hands is when your monster looks like Thing from the Addams Family, only less scary. Anyhow…

One of our men in yellow stabs the hand with a long knife and lifts it up off the ground. The man moves the still wiggling thing over to another man who is holding a flimsy tin box not quite entirely shaped like a fist and forearm. They trap the hand in the flimsy tin box, place it on an altar, and gleefully run away- perhaps to discuss firing their agents.

We fast forward to 1980 and meet Mark and Jennifer Baines (Roy Jenson and Samantha Eggar) taking a tour of a museum in Guanajuato, Mexico. We learn that they’re archeologists (or something to that effect) and they’ve been working a dig site in the area. As they walk through the museum they see a long row of mummies in a display. Jennifer notices that they’re all missing their left hand and comments how that’s the same as their mummies.

From there they head down to the dig and discover that no one is working. Everyone else involved with the dig is a local, and they’ve all refused to have anything further to do with the dig. When asked, they mumble something about having found the temple of a demon hand. Apparently this is an old legend in the area, and anything to do with this demon is taboo. This is one of the moments you scratch your head while watching the film. It’s made clear that no local wants anything to do with this, yet we just left a local museum filled with locals that has a display of one-handed mummies connected to the curse of the demon. Anyhow…

Mark and Jennifer decide that they’re going to go down into the dig site and see what’s scared everyone. Mark isn’t immediately keen on Jennifer going, but she comments that it will shame all the men if they’re afraid to go down into the hole while a woman will happily go there. Once down in the amazingly well lit cave, Mark starts sinking in the sand. He flails about screaming for help rather than taking a step in any direction and suddenly slides down and ends up in a lower chamber of the temple.

He grabs an old ladder made of what looks like bamboo and vine to place in the chute he just came through so that Jennifer can safely come down. Why is there a ladder down there when the yellow robe brigade obviously left another way? Who knows? How did the flimsy thing last for three hundred years in the corner? Who knows? Why is this hidden chamber lit better than the lobbies of the theaters this thing played in? Who knows? Anyhow…

Jennifer makes her way down the chute and the two of them explore the chamber. In it they find the demon- a statue holding a sword in its right hand while missing its left hand. On the altar in front of the statue is the tin box. Mark picks the tin box up and begins to make fun of the statue before commenting that maybe now, once they return to the surface with the box and prove they’ve slayed the demon, the work can continue. As he does this he shakes the tin box and waves it around so as to rattle the contents. You know, just like all good archeologists do when they’ve found a rare, possibly valuable artifact.

Mark and Jennifer head back to their hotel room- having apparently decided that the best place for their newly discovered artifact is their hotel room -where Jennifer decides to turn in for an early night. Actually, it feels like a really early night of it since it felt like midday in the film only a moment earlier. But we won’t quibble with that overly much. Bad editing and transitions are the least of this film’s artistic sins. As Jennifer drifts off to sleep in the bedroom, Mark decides to get staggeringly drunk and starts trying to pry open the artifact. You know, just like all good archeologists do when they’ve found a rare, possibly valuable artifact.

He gets it open and finds nothing but dust. He slowly pours the dust out onto a flat, square plate and for about a half a second looks like he’s contemplating trying to snort the entire contents up his nose. After deciding that this may not in fact be some of 1980 Mexico’s finest, he throws the tin box down and heads off to bed.

Somehow the dust reforms into a hand and begins to do its best spider walk across the floor. It enters the bedroom and climbs slowly up the bed. Apparently the last owner of the hand- presumably our young lady from the film’s opening –had a bit of a foot fetish as the hand lingers on Jennifer’s foot and ankle long enough to wake her up. She looks down at Thing’s greyer, dustier cousin and screams. Mark wakes up and immediately reaches for the hand. Not with his right hand mind you- and that would have been more natural given where he was in the bed –but with a wide, arcing lunge that has him grab the hand palm to palm with his left hand.

Mark grunts and groans in pain, spinning around the room before revealing that the only hands that are there are his. He starts telling her that they never really saw anything while Jennifer insists that they did. She picks up the tin box and sees that it’s open and empty. She turns to Mark who suddenly panics at the sight of the box and runs out the door. This may or may not have you scratching your head later.

The next morning Jennifer discovers that Mark has gone down to the dig and forced all of the workers down into the hole. As she starts heading towards the entrance to the site, Mark is shown pushing the handle down on the finest TNT plunger he could get from Wile E. Coyote, causing the dig site to explode and bury the workers. He then runs off before Jennifer can get to him.

Jennifer goes to the local authorities to find Mark. This ultimately doesn’t end well. In what has to be one of the more laughable scenes in the film, the hand forces Mark to find a small tool and go inside. Once inside, the hand starts getting Mark to throw himself around the shed- with a performance that makes you think it’s the actor rather than the character who is staggering drunk and maybe high –and pour gasoline over his head. Mark then lights himself on fire and runs out to the sand where the hand buries itself as Mark burns.

Jennifer has the body sent back to America. Once there the hand commands Mark’s dead body to get out of its grave, use a police car door to sever itself from Mark, and then take over a local police officer. As Jennifer begins to suspect something evil is happening, she seeks out a local priest. Enter Father Cunningham as played by Stuart Whitman. Cunningham blows off her concerns of evil (of course) before slowly coming around as events unfold.

One of the moments that he blows off her concerns in is when she suggests that the officer who was there when her husband’s dead body was found on the roadside is now possessed by the hand. He thinks it’s nonsense because- out of all of the police in the area –this guy works out at the same boxing gym that Cunningham does. In order to prove that the officer has no supernatural power, he gets into a “friendly” boxing match with him. Officer Demon Hand starts beating the snot out of Father Cunningham until Father Cunningham’s cross slips out from under his shirt and scares him off.

That bit with the cross? That’ll come back to make you scratch your head again.

The movie basically pads a lot of time in the center section. We see several people possessed by the hand and then try to have the hand removed. The reason for this is given when Officer Demon Hand kidnaps Jennifer and threatens a doctor in order to get the hand removed. Since Mark and Jennifer found and freed the hand, it belonged to them. They were chosen. This doesn’t actually make sense given the fact that it was actually on Mark and killed him, but maybe the hand just has a thing for the ladies. It also doesn’t make sense because of the fact that the hand passes up so many chances to grab Jennifer in the center section of the film.

With Jennifer trapped in the operating room with the hand, the hand wastes the time to pick up a gun and shoot a nurse, crush the face of the cop, and then it attaches itself to the doctor. Rather than try and do something to her, the doctor then runs out of the building, gets in his car, and flees the area. This by the way leads to a car chase that the producers of Starsky & Hutch would have been embarrassed to have in their show. Eventually the hand guides the doctor to train tracks and uses a passing train to cut itself off of the doctor. Then, in yet another head scratching moment, it grabs the train and escapes even as Jennifer rushes up to the doctor and gets down on the ground next to his dead body in order to check on him.

Father Cunningham takes Jennifer to a hotel to get her a room where she can hide for the night and rest. When she pulls the sheets aside to lie down, the hand is there. She grabs the tin box and discovers that the hand has crushed it, making it useless. She gets out of the room and into Father Cunningham’s car, but not before the hand crawls slowly out of the room, moves slowly over the railing, shifts slowly over the edge, and drops onto the car just before it speeds away. 

Father Cunningham takes her to the one place he feels safe at this point- his church. This is where the head scratching moment starts for anyone who paid attention during the boxing match. A tiny cross around his neck is enough to stop the demon. An entire freaking church filled with them and other holy Christian symbols don’t bother it in the least. As a matter of fact, it crawls into the church like it owns the place and starts hunting Jennifer and Father Cunningham. The hand takes over Father Cunningham, but he resists the hand and traps it with the use of a metal gate and a knife. He tells Jennifer to hand him the torch and burns it to ash while reciting the bit about your hand offending thee.

They then rent a boat and give the ashes a nice Christian burial at sea. Now, call me paranoid, but if a demonic hand that’s working its way through bodies the way this one has was after me, throwing the ashes in the bay wouldn’t be my first thought with regards to disposal. I’m taking the ash and putting it in four or five different metal safe boxes, I’m filling the inside of the boxes with cement, I’m putting the safe boxes in safes, I’m filling the safes with cement, and then I’m burying the some of the safes in different states after dropping two of the safes into different oceans. I’m sorry, but the bay just ain’t cutting it in my book. This is why I would have lived longer than our lead character.

What, you thought the film was over? No way. This is a low budget foreign horror film from the 1980s. Of course the film isn’t ending with the monster burned to ash and dumped into the bay.

So, the film shifts locations and we get to see Jennifer walking around her home after the hand has been dealt with. She’s happily watering her plants when there’s a knock on the front door. One poorly executed jump scare later Jennifer is accepting a delivery from a courier. As she walks through her home she sees multiple puddles of water on the floor. At first she seems to act as if she believes her pots are leaking, but there are no pots where the water is. Still more walking and still more puddles, only now she sees what looks like bits of seaweed as well. Now, we just saw her acting like something as normal as a knock at the door is something to be alarmed and cautious about. But puddles of water with seaweed in them seemingly appearing out of nowhere in her home? This registers about as much reaction and concern as discovering that she left last night’s dinner out instead of putting in the fridge.

She continues to walk almost uncaringly through her house until she places the box down on a countertop and gets something to open the box with. She cuts the ribbon and opens the box to find white wrapping paper and… seaweed. She picks up the seaweed and looks at in confusion before unwrapping a large black candle already situated in a heavy stand. She gives the candle an odd look and places it on the counter by its box. She notices a dripping sound over in the sink and walks over to check on it when she sees the hand in the sink. It leaps (or whatever you call it when a hand does this) across the room and grabs the hair on the back of her head. She screams as the hand somehow spins her around the room, throwing her face first through a glass table. Over on the counter, the black candle lights itself as the movie ends.

Now, if the movie didn’t make you brain dead by the twenty-minute mark, you’d probably be scratching your head at the ending of the film. Beyond just Jennifer’s less than sensible reactions to the water and the seaweed, there’s everything else about the ending of the film that makes no sense when looked at in context with the rest of the film. How did the hand carry all that water and seaweed into her house? What’s the deal with the candle? At no point in the film- even when the hand thought it was going to get placed on Jennifer -do we see any reference to a black candle. And why the hell did the hand (seemingly) kill her in the end? We’ve been told through the entire film that the hand’s goal is to join with her, and everything we’ve been told through the film’s narrative is that this is done with living hosts.

The ending of the film makes less sense than any other part of the thing. It comes across as having been written after the fact and tacked on as an attempt to send the audiences home on a scare. It doesn’t completely work the way they hoped.

Demonoid is not a great film by any means. It’s not even a film that you’ll want to admit to some people that you like. I do- hell, I own it on Blu-Ray -but then I have no shame. I also have a semi-nostalgic soft spot in my head for the film having been introduced to it via Commander USA’s Groovy Movies show. Commander USA made everything better, even things like The Tennis Court. But it is a fantastic entry into the so bad it’s good genre of horror and well worth checking out- especially during the Halloween season when you can have enjoy poking fun at the film with a group of friends.  

Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek, dabbling in just about every genre but finding science fiction and horror to be his primary comfort zones. He has also had a lifelong devotion to that form of entertainment known as professional wrestling. When not worrying that his coworkers are going to inflict bodily harm onto him over his sense of humor, he enjoys hitting the convention scene or making indie films with his friends. He also finds talking about himself in third person to be very strange.

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