Friday, March 25, 2016

Stop Explaining: NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (2009)

Terrible movies were so much more fun in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s.  These days, instead of being enjoyably awful, terrible movies just tend to be boring.  They either try too hard to be clever or they lack the weirdness or obliviousness that makes even the worst movie interesting.  There are a handful of modern, entertainingly terrible movies out there, but the numbers pale in comparison to the old days.   I have a few theories as to why this is.  

One is the SCREAM curse.  SCREAM was a great movie, but heralded the grim dawn of the self-aware film.  Characters began referencing clichés in older movies that resembled their current situation, usually derisively.  A little bit here and there is fine.  Too much and it becomes a snarky put down of the referenced movie.    The characters imply that they are smarter than the ones in those dumb old movies, although they usually only wind up making different dumb mistakes.  It mostly happens in horror movies, but it can leak out into other genres as well (Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger should have been forced to do community service for their roles in THE EXPENDABLES 2).  It isn’t always that blatant.  Some movies try way too hard to be clever.  Sometimes the script just self-consciously tries to over explain why something isn’t really stupid when it clearly is.  You can’t be in the middle.  Either write a script that isn’t stupid, or own it.  

I admit, I’m biased.  I will give almost any old horror movie the benefit of the doubt.  I recently became aware of a 1984 horror movie starring Alice Cooper called MONSTER DOG.  I will likely get this on Blu Ray sight unseen, because it stars Alice Cooper and is called MONSTER DOG.  When it comes to modern indie horror, though, I can barely get through the pop up description on Netflix before moving on.  I know I should take more chances, because some of them have to be halfway decent.  Like the 2009 remake of NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, which I bought thinking it was the 1988 original.    
A bunch of obnoxious college kids go to a Halloween party.  Two of them are dressed like slutty cats.  One is dressed like a goth/emo boy (not sure if it’s a costume).  One is dressed like a victim from a hospital horror movie (possibly X-RAY, but I doubt it).  One might be a zombie, but looks more like she just got drunk and fell into a rose bush.  Edward Furlong also shows up dressed as the kid from TERMINATOR 2.  The party is hosted by Angela, who is dressed like a girl soon to be possessed by a demon.  For that authentic vibe that only people in horror movies care about, the party is in an abandoned, supposedly haunted New Orleans mansion.  After the cops bust up the festivities, Angela and her pals find themselves locked in the spooky old house.  They discover some decayed bodies in a hidden room in the basement and Angela is bitten by a skeleton when she tries to pull out its gold tooth.  It’s not a reanimated skeleton, just an ordinary 85 year old corpse with a snap jaw hidden in a basement, so no one freaks out or anything.  It is enough for Angela to catch demon rabies, though.  While the other kids drink and screw around, the demon curse spreads among them through traditional methods like a bite, a kiss, or – less documented – anal sex.  As the unpossessed to possessed ratio dwindles, spunky heroine Maddie and her friends fight to survive the night.  Of the demons.

This movie does not start off promisingly.  The opening prologue is done in bullshit silent movie style, complete with sepia tone and dialogue cards.  You know, to give you the feeling you are watching an authentic film from 1925, except with more decapitations.  Then it springs into the present with an equally horrible, oversaturated, quick cut Bourbon St. party montage.  There is a cheap looking CG title, worse than the simple grindhouse title cards or even the Eighties two-tone video titles.  There is a completely pointless and embarrassing cameo by Linnea Quigley (Trash from RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD deserves so much better).  Luckily, it gets all the worst shit out of the way early.  We meet our vacant young adult crew, who are knuckleheads but not as aggressively annoying as ones from an Eli Roth movie.  They all seem to like each other and there’s not a lot of bitching and backstabbing.  I wasn’t praying for their deaths, but I wasn’t broken up when they happened.  Final Girl Maddie is played by Monica Keena, who I liked in FREDDY VS JASON and is similarly likeable here.  She keeps a cool head and gets a chance to be badass later in the movie.  Ed Furlong looks way older than he should, either to be hanging out with these youngins or just in general.  Time has not been kind to him.  He does a good job of playing a loser drug dealer, though.  It’s a good mix of world weary and desperation.  I could have sworn that one of the dudes was on VERONICA MARS, but it turns out he’s just the kind of dude who you think would be on VERONICA MARS.

My favorite part of the movie is when the few possessed partiers are still trying to play it cool and seduce the normal folk.  Apparently these demons would consider the behavior in SPRING BREAKERS to be subtle, because their technique is ridiculously over the top.  Even the horny single dude is kind of disgusted.  One demon demonstrates a neat trick of making a lipstick tube disappear through her nipple and produces it from her hoochie.  Warning to parents, DO NOT hire demon magicians for your kid’s birthday party, even if they are cheap.

The biggest problem with the movie is that it will not shut up with the explanations.  There are three separate backstory exposition dumps.  I felt like I was on a New Orleans ghost tour.  At one point Maddie reads from a bunch of gibberish scrawled on a wall.  She makes the surprising discovery that the demons who have been trying to kill them are, in fact, demons.  You can skip that part, we got it.  It’s in the title, for crying out loud.  Listen movie, I don’t need your cockamamie hypothesis on why rust hurts demons.  No one is wondering that.  “For some reason” is perfectly fine.  Any reason we the audience cook up probably makes more sense, anyway.  

The movie is at its best when it loosens up and just rolls with the insanity.  One of the characters suddenly falls through not one but three floors for no discernible reason.  Maddie shoves iron nails down the barrel of a shotgun and fires them like she was Elmer Fudd.  Everyone is trapped on the deadly property because the outer gate is locked.  It’s not an electrified gate or covered in snakes or anything, just a regular gate.  Yet no one even suggests climbing over it.  Maybe their costumes were rentals and they didn’t want to risk tearing them.  I even like the little moments of stupidity, like how the bathroom is always vacant during a party with a hundred drunken revelers.  Or how Angela charges for admission, but has spent at least twenty times the total cover on an open bar and ridiculous lighting and sound systems.  Or why Furlong’s scary New Orleans drug connection is British.  

One not so great weird thing is the way they criminally underused the N.O. setting.  They have one (terrible) establishing shot of Bourbon St. in the beginning, then it’s all sound stages.  Due to the drabness, I actually suspected it was filmed in Bulgaria, like every DTV action movie made in the last fifteen years.  I was surprised to find it really was filmed entirely in New Orleans.  

They do a much better job with the soundtrack, including an exceptional use of Concrete Blonde’s “Vampire Song”.  I’m surprised they didn’t find a way to point out the movie is about demons, not vampires, though.  Just in case we were confused.  The theme song is by 45 Grave, of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD fame.  It’s no “Party Time”, but it’s a nice touch.  I didn’t recognize any of the other music, but the soundtrack has a handpicked quality and works thematically.  Plus, one of the bands is named Goatwhore.  I approve.

The make-up work is justifiably the highlight of the movie.  There is some CG enhanced (?) shots, but most of it is practical.   The opening decapitation is nice and blood spurty, even if it is in sepia tone.  There is a bathtub of blood, which I always appreciate.  The demons in particular are well done, with a lot of weird and asymmetric touches.   Someone gets her face ripped off and her demon form remains faceless.  There are boob tentacles.  Any movie with boob tentacles is worth your time.

So despite its self-conscious self-awareness, I found the movie charming.  It has a lot of heart.  You can tell director Adam Gierasch is really into ‘80’s horror and wanted to give it that fun feel.  There’s nothing mean spirited about it, just gory and goofy without becoming a parody.   Not a bad job.  I haven’t seen (or recognized) any of Gierasch’s other movies.  I’m not sure I’m going to actively seek them out, but if I flip by them on Netflix one weekend, maybe I’ll give it a shot.  Hopefully he’s learned to loosen up and embrace the stupidity. 

C Chaka

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