It really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that female nudity…doesn’t really do it for me. I can appreciate it in the abstract, but I’ve never felt the need to watch a movie because it will be in there. But a certain segment of the audience for horror films? They really enjoy their female nudity, and would like as much as possible, please. And so, it’s not really that much of a surprise that the more exploitative a horror film tends to get, the more likely it is that you’re going to see some naked women. Kevin Tenney’s 1988 film Night of the Demons certainly doesn’t disappoint on that score. It’s an utterly absurd mix of pretentious-Goth Satanism, gorey special effects, and naked women.

Thematically, Night of the Demons isn’t particularly original. A group of teenagers, the requisite mix of “good kids” and “bad kids”, go to a party hosted by creepy Goth girl Angela, on Halloween night, at the abandoned Hull House, a funeral home where a horrific murder occurred in the past, which was also built on a spot that was cursed by the Indians. It’s a bunch of horror cliches thrown together, because the people responsible for the film had apparently never heard the phrase “gilding the lily” before. The kids, stupidly, hold a seance, which awakens the evil demons that possess the house, who take over Angela and her pal Suzanne (a jaw dropping performance from horror veteran Linnea Quigley) and then proceed to kill off the rest of the kids one by one when they have the audacity to think it might be a good idea to have sex. Because, honestly, the boobs are meant to be as much of the draw for the audience here as the gore. We’re fairly quickly down to the final two kids, the only “good kids” left of the bunch, before the plot essentially runs out and they manage to escape, presumably next to try to think of a way to explain why there is a mortuary full of the mutilated remains of their friends.

It’s trashy and exploitative, and there’s really no getting around that. The film, to it’s credit, at least seems to understand that it’s exploitative trash. It’s extremely unpretentious in its use of silly horror themes and quite upfront with the female nudity. There are at least two ass shots, one quite lingering, within the first twenty minutes, almost as if the filmmakers are telling the audience “here you go, that’s what you came for, now stay for the story.” Which is a bit silly, because there really isn’t much story. It’s your standard “spam in a cabin” movie; one locale, almost everybody dies. The first half of the film doesn’t even give us anything really in the way of gore or scares. It’s all just mood setting with the kids trying to scare each other and leering at one another and generally just acting like dickish kids. By the time people actually start dying we’re fairly relieved, because at least something interesting is finally happening. That the film isn’t taking itself seriously and is upfront about being pure trash is the saving grace.

That all sounds like a harsh assessment, but the film actually does end up becoming greater than the sum of its part. Angela and Suzanne are memorable horror villains. Suzanne does this…thing…with a lipstick tube that scarred me on a deep level when I saw the film at the drive-in, back in the day. And Angela, camp and silly-Goth as she is, does have the distinction of being one of the very few female franchise horror villains. The film also defies genre expectations by having one of the surviving “good kids” be the black kid, a feat which horror films today still have trouble achieving. And it’s funny. It’s sometimes hard to tell how much of the humor is intentional and how much just arises from the cast and script being what they are, but there are darkly comic moments throughout, and moments that straddle the line between funny and scary. A particularly dark joke is in the scenes that bookend the film; the first a cranky old man who hatches a plot to put razors in apples to punish those terrible modern teens (because the film really hasn’t run into a horror cliche it doesn’t feel okay exploiting), and the second the “punchline” to the old man set-up. The music is also pretty remarkable, starting with a scary/erotic dance by Angela to “Stigmata Martyr” by Bauhaus and continuing on to the aggressively 80s synth-rock soundtrack. Even the opening credits are pretty damn cool, with animation reminiscent of the designs for Disney’s Haunted Mansion, giving the credits a cutely scary appearance that helps set the mood for the film. And it’s hard to deny that Angela has had a lasting impact. Her “look” is memorable, if not quite iconic, and I’ve seen Angela and Suzanne Halloween costumes, on girls and boys, for years. Quite a legacy for a cheap little horror flick filmed in East L.A.

2 Responses to “Night of Week: Night of the Demons”
  1. Mojo says:

    The lipstick thing scared the hell out of me when I first saw this as a young teenager. The scenes builds in a slow, creepy fashion and then has such an absurd payoff. Absurd but awesome.

  2. Thom says:

    The sequel really tried to outdo the original. Not with great success, but it did have a nun fight a snake monster with a sword, as I recall.

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