Friday, June 10, 2016


A little while ago, I reviewed the 2009 remake of NIGHT OF THE DEMONS.  As I stated then, I ordered the blu ray thinking it was the original ‘80’s version.  I was immediately disappointed when I realized what it was.  I almost didn’t watch it because by the look of the case, it was just another cheap, crappy remake that I never knew existed.  But the scrappy little indie won me over with its heart and enthusiasm, so I gave it a pass.  It still pales to the original, I thought.  The thing is, I finally got around to rewatching the original.  Guess what?  It’s terrible.  It has its moments, good make-up effects, and a crazy performance by Linnea Quigley, but it’s so uninspired.  Kids sneak into a spooky abandoned house for a party and they start getting possessed by demons.  They run from one boring room to the next and scream a lot.  That’s about it.  Anyone who’s seen THE EVIL DEAD knows that a basic plot doesn’t have to mean a dull movie, as long as the other elements are strong enough.    NIGHT OF THE DEMONS just wasn’t strong enough.  So yes, the remake is better than the original, in my opinion.  Sorry for doubting you, remake.  You may now hold your head high.  The real surprise, however, is that the 1994 sequel I’ve been ignoring forever turned out to be better than both.

The Capsule:
A group of witless teens sneak out of their strict Catholic school for a little Halloween partying.  Most of them are harmlessly obnoxious, but Shirley has a real nasty streak.  Along with a couple of reprobate friends, she lures her school mates to Hull House, the abandoned funeral parlor rumored to be haunted.  This is especially traumatic for Mouse, because her sister Angela disappeared from Hull House years ago after a Halloween massacre.   Turns out the demonic Angela is still knocking around the old place.  When one of Shirley’s twisted pranks sends everyone running back to the school, Angela tags along.  Soon, kids are getting possessed, heads start flying, and car seats are giving phantom handjobs.  Angela kidnaps Mouse and hauls her back to Hull House to be sacrificed.  Nice girl Bibi, her rock stupid boyfriend Johnny, and demon obsessed nerd Perry, all head off to save her.  Leading the way is righteous ass kicker Sister Gloria.  She’s a rosary whipping, holy water bombing supernun.  But all the holy water in the world might not be enough to stop Angela on the (Second) Night of the Demons.

My biggest problem with the original NIGHT OF THE DEMONS was that I was stuck in a single location with a bunch of annoying characters for almost the whole time.  The good kids were whiny and useless.  The bad kids were obnoxious and also useless.  There was no one to root for.  The sequel is a huge step up.  Most of the characters are still annoying, but the things that happen to them are more entertaining.  One character in particular, though, steals the whole show.

For a School for Troubled Teens, not many teens seem to be that troubled.  Not many of them seem like teens, either, but that’s a separate matter.  Angela’s sister Mouse clearly has issues, and Shirley is a hellion, but everyone else seems like a typical over-privileged suburban kid (in their twenties).  Christine Taylor, as Shirley, is playing a prototype of her mean girl from THE CRAFT.  She can be sneering and catty, but she never takes it too far.  She's just a spoiled brat.  I like that Rick, Shirley’s douchey boyfriend, actually calls her Marcia, and this is a year before she got the part in THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE.  Maybe this is what inspired her to go for it.  

Kurt is a typical bullying jock.  He becomes much more interesting when demonified, playing basketball with his own severed head.  Perry is the occult obsessed nerd.  He even has a copy of the Necronomicon (4th edition, Penguin Press).  It’s funny, because he’s completely oblivious to why Father Bob disapproves of his hobby.  He doesn’t seem to get that the occult has anything to do with religion.  He’s coming at it like a science experiment.  I would be surprised if he didn’t have a survey prepared for the demons he’s trying to summon.  

Bibi is clearly established as the final girl in this equation.  She hangs out with Terri and Shirley, but disapproves whenever they pick on Mouse.  Unfortunately, she’s the second blandest character in the movie, topped only by her young Michael Biehn looking boyfriend, Johnny.  She spends most of her time moving slowly and looking scared, but she gets one decent scene, at least.  After she escapes from the sexually predatory Z Boy, who was bad enough in human form and worse as a demon, she lobs a holy water filled balloon right into his monster crotch.  She and Johnny also get to go against the sex = death trope.  They get it on in Hull House (Angela isn’t great about dusting but insists on fresh bed linens, apparently), and they are never punished for it.  I guess blandness is punishment enough.

The true hero of the movie is undeniably Sister Gloria (Jennifer Rhodes).  It’s a fantastic subversion of expectations.  Normally in a movie like this, the nun character would be a humorless sadist, going out of her way to degrade and punish.  Sister Gloria seems this way at first.  She’s very strict and prudish.  When she catches Shirley and Kurt fooling around, she bans them and innocent spectators Bibi and Johnny from the Halloween dance.  She seems like perfect demon bait.  Then, bit by bit, you get to see her playful side.  She practices fencing with her knuckle rapping yard stick.  When Shirley tries to embarrass her in class by asking a question about fellatio, Sister Gloria skillfully turns it around and makes Shirley look like the fool.  She’s the one who steps up when the demon shit hits the fan, staring down Angela and forcing her retreat.  After Angela kidnaps Mouse, Sister Gloria is the one who leads the rescue.  There’s a great sequence of her suiting up like she’s an action hero, only with a habit and rosaries instead of a head band and a bandolier of bullets.  She opens a drawer that has a set of yard sticks precisely lined up like swords.  She’s prepared for this kind of shit.

Even though the movie is partially based in a Catholic school, it plays the religion pretty light.  It’s obviously satire, but doesn’t become derogatory or sacrilegious.   I like that Sister Gloria stays true to her character even after becoming a demon ass kicker.  For her, it’s more about saving the kids than it is about destroying evil.  She is a bit corny, using lines like “save room for the Holy Ghost” when keeping the students from getting too intimate (the gag pays off nicely later).  She genuinely cares about the kids, though, and is willing to sacrifice her life if need be.  But she’s also ready with a holy water filled machine gun if opportunity arises.

The demon effects are much more creative than in the original (or remake).  There’s a talking head in the toilet (always welcome).  Demon Shirley’s boobs turn into hands to grab and burn up her lunkhead boyfriend.  Holy water makes them dissolve into green ooze and blood.  In one fantastic scene, the entire floor is covered in sloshy demon guts, flopping limbs, and Father Bob’s torso stuck in the middle.  He’s like a moving GI Joe melted down on a skillet.  They do the silly but appreciated gag where a decapitated body shuffles around spurting blood for several seconds after his head drops.  The most ambitious effects are at the end when Angela transforms into a giant snake monster.  It’s marred a bit in HD because you can see the cables that make it whip around, but it’s still an impressive visual. 

My biggest complaint with the NIGHT OF THE DEMONS remake was that they over explain things.  There had to be a reason behind everything, even if the reason made no sense.  The original was the opposite, it didn’t explain much of anything.  Why are there demons running around?  Because it’s Halloween, demons love Halloween.  NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 2 is nicely balanced.  It does explain a few key parts, like how Angela is able to escape the underground stream barrier that kept her in Hull House (it involves a clever, and gross, use of Linnea Quigley’s lipstick from the first film).  Other times, the movie lets you figure it out on your own, like why some demonified people can be purified by holy water while others are destroyed by it.  My explanation may be different from the filmmakers (if they even had one), but that is part of the fun.  A lot of it is left vague.  We know Angela will gain power through sacrifice, but we never know how much power or what she plans to do with it.  My money is on evilness, but who knows.  Maybe she just wants to renovate Hull House into a quaint bed and breakfast.  She clearly enjoys playing hostess.

Incidentally, I wonder how Angela and her demon pals got back into Hull House, since it was still surrounded by the underground stream.  Far be it from me to suggest a low budget horror movie sequel would have plot holes.  It must have been in a deleted scene.  

All of this is brought to us by the wonderful Brian Trenchard-Smith.  Smith was an early Ozpliotation director, unleashing insane Australian films like DEAD END DRIVE-IN, TURKEY SHOOT, and THE MAN FROM HONG KONG.  He was in his prime during the mid ‘70’s to ‘80’s.  By the ‘90’s, he was working mostly in the US and his style of gonzo filmmaking had ebbed.  I either forgot or never knew he did this one before I watched it, so it’s off-kilter and clever approach was a nice surprise.  He went on to do a couple of LEPRECHAN sequels after this, neither of which I have seen.  I should give them a shot sometime.  There might be a bit of mad Aussie magic hidden in them, too.

C Chaka

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