Night of the Demons (1988)
You know, I decided to just run over five bicyclists today. Unfortunately, because the city I live in has been deemed "grungy" and "trendy," we've had a massive influx of hipster douches and with them this city has become infested with bike riders. It's too bad these trust fund trolls can't learn to take the bus ironically 'cause they're bringing traffic to a standstill pedaling down the middle of the street at about two miles per hour and causing accidents swerving in front of oncoming traffic. That's the other thing, these selfie-snapping swine self-righteously whine that we need to share the road but they don't want to obey the rules of the road and go mowing down Mee Maws and toddlers like they're Hell's Angels on bike week. But that's an insult to the Hell's Angels, who're good drivers. These pseudo-bohemian bozos go weavin' and wobblin' all over the road like Otis Calhoun doing a field sobriety test.
Forget all that whiny namby pamby PC bullsnot about cracking down on drunk drivers, we need more of them to turn these post-modern pusbags into hood ornaments!
And speaking of infestations, today I'm talkin' about teenage demonic possession in the eighth film of the 31 Days of Halloween review-a-thon, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS written by JOE AUGUSTYN and directed by KEVIN TENNEY. You know, until recently, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS was one of those movies that I didn't understand the appeal of. I thought it was a cheap-o rip-off of THE EVIL DEAD with wooden acting and couldn't stand the whiny Final Girl. Re-watching it now, it's just Halloween fun with its gleeful cheesiness (check that animated title sequence and synth score) and imaginative touches. CATHY PODEWELL of DALLAS stars as buxom, squeaky-voiced goody-two-shoes Judy who's all set to go to the high school Halloween dance when her boyfriend Jay (LANCE FENTON of HEATHERS) insists "The school dance is for neeeeeeerds!" and drags her to a party thrown by goth outcast Angela Franklin (fellow Texas girl AMELIA KINKADE). Being a horror movie in the late '80s about teenagers, you know these high school kids look like they've been held back a lot and they're the kind of knuckleheads who think cavorting in coffins in abandoned reputedly-haunted mortuary is a brilliant idea.
They also have the bright idea to have a séance and unearth some mighty pissed off demons who begin possessing the teens one by one. And since this is a horror movie about teenagers, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS functions as a coming-of-age story in supernatural dressing. Though Judy is the least selfish of the teens (in fact, she arrives home late because she was volunteering at a food drive for the homeless), she's also a huge scarebaby and through surviving the night, grows from child to woman. But you know, even though I respect her for being able to create an impromptu flame thrower, I still don't like Judy. She's just such an uptight whiner I kept hoping she'd become demon chow and if a Mrs. J.R. Ewing is going to be the Final Girl in a horror movie, it should really be Sue Ellen.
Quick sidenote: Why wasn't LINDA GRAY ever in a horror movie?
Her fellow surviving teen is cowardly Rodger (ALVIN ALEXIS) who goes through a similar transformation; though he is smart enough to want to leave Hull House when strange things start happening, his method of coping is to scream and run away. In his journey to survive the night, Rodger develops courage (much like the Cowardly Lion) and is able to face his fears enough to turn back and help Judy over the wall ("Climb, girl, climb!") to freedom.
It's interesting to note Rodger is portrayed by a black actor. The producer of the film laudably cast minority actors to lessen the SAG salary requirements, which adds an interesting dimension to the film. There is a recurring theme in films made in the '70s and '80s of black characters and female characters joining forces to defeating a common enemy. Perhaps it's the lost dream that the civil rights movement and the feminist movement should have united, but NIGHT OF THE DEMONS too depicts a black man and a woman coming together to overcome an unstoppable evil that wants to transform us into monsters and make us all the same.
But we haven't even gotten to my favorite member of the diverse cast, wise-cracking Fonzie-style Italian-American delinquent, Sal Romero (WILLIAM GALLO). Despite his reputation as a bad boy, he has more of a conscience then the other male characters (unlike clean-cut Jay who leaves Judy locked in a room because she won't have sex with him) and is the only one who runs to Judy's defense under demon attack. He's got a quick wit, responding to one character's query about whether the house is possessed with, "No, just repossessed!"
He is also smart enough to repel the advances of demon-possessed boy-crazy bimbo Suzanne (played by scream queen LINNEA QUIGLEY) with my favorite line in the film.
"You are home," Suzanne growls when he announces he's leaving.
He informs her Hull House is not his home and, "I live in a real nice house with plastic covers on the furniture. Bye now."
Sal may have not survived the movie, but he'll be Final Boy in my heart.
There is an interesting aspect about the teenage characters that the film does not delve that deeply into and that's that many of them use a mask of bravado to conceal their own insecurities. Angela is dismissed by her classmates as a weirdo and reputed to practice witchcraft; she even acts strange to purposely frighten Judy. However, she's the first one to realize the fun is over when the scary stuff hits the fan, frightened enough to leave Hull House and visibly hurt when she's rejected by her demonically possessed best friend.
The film too explores adult attitudes toward teenagers. The kids in NIGHT OF THE DEMONS don't just drink and have sex, their repulsively selfish, abrasive, completely sex-crazed to the point of stupidity, and even steal. They don't even seem to really like each other. They don't really seem to care about anything other than their own instant gratification. The exemplification of this is Stooge, a loud, obnoxious, Big Fat Party Animal archetype (he even wears a pig nose for Halloween) who refers to every female character in the film as "Bitch." Stooge is the kind of guy who would've gotten kicked out of ANIMAL HOUSE for being too gross. He also goes back to my point earlier: as every character in the group dismisses him as a "fat, stupid pig" Stooge knows he's not well-liked so he'll just be as unlikable as possible.
The adults aren't left entirely off the hook either as a curmudgeony old creep neighbor of Judy's whose snarling refrain is "Damn kids!" gets a nasty comeuppance when his razor-blade-in-the-apple trick backfires.
NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, like all horror, uses demonic possession as a metaphor for our fears of bodily functions and sexuality, particularly female sexuality. In the film, the female body is regarded as The Other and female sexuality is dangerous, alien and frightening. A possessed Suzanne, once obsessed with her appearance and continually applying lipstick, now shoves the lipstick tube straight into her breast. The female body not only does not function like it is supposed to, ie function the way a man's does, but is also voracious. A newly possessed Angela, in the film's most iconic scene, performs a wild, writhing, contortionist dance to Bauhaus's "Stigmata Martyr" like the one Marie Janisse used to perform on the strip club circuit with stage blood and a python that got her banned in Austin. Uninhibited female sexuality in the film is viewed as both alluring and frightening. Alluring because what has been repressed is finally cut loose and frightening because it can no longer be controlled. And sexually uninhibited women ultimately prove dangerous as Angela bites off Stooge's face when he attempts to kiss her and Suzanne gouges out Jay's eyes while they are having sex. Through horror symbolism, the film addresses male fears about the unfamiliar female body and female sexuality in general, in particular the fear of being rejected by potential sexual partners or being unable to satisfy a female partner sexually.
Quick sidebar about Suzanne because Suzanne is the Horror Bimbo to End All Horror Bimbos and no one plays a bimbo quite like LINNEA QUIGLEY (Trash in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) who acts like MARY VIVAN PEARCE spaced out on downers. Her only focus in life is getting laid and her method of seduction is none-to-subtly bending over and waving her pink-panty clad butt back and forth in front of her target. Suzanne's possession could also be symbolic of her own insecurities about her attractiveness. "Stop looking at me!" she howls to Jay as her facial features rapidly transform to that of a fanged, yellow-eyed monster. If she is no longer attractive to men, she would view herself as a monster. But hey, that's how consumer culture gets us to keep buying more shit.
It's interesting to note that in the film demonic possession is first transferred by a lesbian kiss. Female sexuality that is not for the purposes of male pleasure is ultimately destructive in the film. Unlike EVIL DEAD in which the demonic entities just jumped into any warm body, possession in NIGHT OF THE DEMONS is spread through exchange of bodily fluids either through kissing or sexual contact. This is in line with the rampant fear of sexually transmitted diseases that rose in the 1980s, culminating in the AIDS crisis. So much for those stuffed shirt academic critics who believe horror movies aren't about anything. This is some deep shit!
For someone who initially disliked NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, I think I'm now open to embracing its dubious charms and have had a lot of fun talking about it today. I was surprised how imaginative I found a lot of the film's touches such as the house changing its entries and exits to prevent the teenagers from leaving the grounds. Judy's choice of Halloween costume is significant in that the film is ultimately a demon-flavored ALICE IN WONDERLAND and an expression of teenage fears about navigating the adult world.
And did you know AMELIA KINKADE is the niece of RUE MCLANAHAN of GOLDEN GIRLS fame? Which leads me to another important question: Why wasn't BETTY WHITE ever in a horror movie?