I am so effin’ set. A cool breeze is crawling through the daily air, I got one of my favorite Halloween themed desktop wallpapers up, and the hoodies and long sleeve undershirts are out of the storage room and in the dresser drawers. What’s that? It’s not even the middle of September? Too bad jerk off (Die Hard reference anyone?), I’m starting early. I figured to kick off the avalanche of reviews I am planning to do on movies that take place on or around my favorite holiday, I would start with something with a fairly decent reputation that I have not seen yet. And maybe there was a reason I hadn’t seen it yet. For many years, Night of the Demons is the movie I always told myself I needed to see one day, but always got interrupted before I ever got 10 minutes into it. Now that I’ve seen, I can’t help but feel really underwhelmed. Maybe my expectations were too high, or I have put it on a mental pedestal since it always eluded me whenever I tried to sit down and view it, but Night of the Demons lacked that… “juno se qua” that makes a horror movie really stand out and pop.
The plot is simple and serviceable enough. A gaggle of stereotypical teenagers get invited by the weird goth chick from history class to “Hull House” for a party on Halloween night. The house is an old funeral home, that isn’t only built on some historical sacred/crazy scary patch of land, but was also the venue for a grisly multiple homicide and suicide by its former residents AND located right next to a cemetery. Talk about a bad place to put funeral home, shit. I don’t think it takes a nuclear physicist to figure out what the rest of the night is going to be like for these raging sacks of hormones.
The first, and most crucial, complaint I have with Night of the Demons is the fact that it takes forever to get to where it’s going, and even then it never really ramps it up like its mid-to-late 80’s contemporaries did so well. Kevin Tenney (director of the more recent zombie flick Brain Dead, which I reviewed here) revs the engine too many times without letting the brake go and just going full bore into the killing fields, and by the time he does, the engine has been taxed too much and can barely top 60 miles an hour. It’s a classic example of “too little, too late” film making in horror where you have been braced for all hell to be unleashed so many times, that by the time it does, even if it is really kick ass, you just don’t care anymore. I really hate being this negative, and coming down on a film like this, because it did genuinely have some original ideas, like dressing the female lead in an Alice costume from Alice in Wonderland and having her be put in situation that could be free-associated quite easily to parallel Wonderland, but as I said before, I felt like I was watching a nervous executioner trying to flip the switch on a serial killer. Another silent killer was the fact the movie wallows in darkness for far too long. Not in sense of mood or tone, but I mean actual absence of lighting. I had to watch this with the lights off just to offset some of the scenes where all I could make out were hues of blue and windows. It works for a while, and I understand that in the darkness, boo scares are much easier to pull off (and Night of the Demons had a few really good ones) but eventually you have to let us see what is going on.
On the brighter side of things, the soundtrack is a pretty cool combination of little bumps in the night and eerie sounds and noises organized quite well. The opening number that plays over the really fun to watch animated credit sequence is the best example of this. There are some decent boo scares, and there is a wraparound subplot that is told through two scenes (one in the beginning of the movie, and then finished in the last scene) that is absolutely genius. Linnea Quiqley is downright scary as she switches back and forth from prissy attractive girl who is always applying makeup, to possessed hell beast, to hyper-sexual possessed hell beast, to playful little girl at the end of a hallway with a ballerina dress on, who is also a possessed hell beast. Everyone else in the movie, with the exception the incredibly enjoyable grumpy old man from the first and last scenes, are just various shades of “meh.” No one really bombs their roles entirely, but I think some of them may have been working more for exposure or to pay back weed debts to their college buddies who now happen to be casting directors and film makers. There are a few good bits of weird gore that is worth a mention as well, and the facial make up on the demonized party-goers is pretty fantastic, when you can actually see it. The best special effect would have to be Angela floating, instead of walking, through the hallways of the maze like funeral home. I don’t know if it is just me, but whenever people get all evil and messed up, and then gain the ability to float an inch or so off the ground, that is really quite unnerving.
So, my little party didn’t get off to quite the rollicking start I had hoped it would, but Night of the Demons is far from the worst possessed house/demon party movie I have seen. It has moments where you can feel some genuine creativity and spark rumbling just beneath the surface, but for whatever reason, that just never erupted into a fully realized on-screen bloodbath or jolt-fest that would have elevated it quite a bit. There are some funny lines, but the constant gear switches and late blooming of the proper stalk-and-kill second and third acta managed to bring Night of the Demons to a screeching halt a few times too many times to keep up any type of serious or comedic flow, momentum, and tension. Not the worst choice for a movie to get you into the holiday spirit, but I can guarantee I will have finer examples of the season via cinema over the next 40 or so days. The party at Hull House isn’t one I would recommend crashing to most, save for the dedicated few who need to see more of Linnea Quiqley naked, or just every horror film that takes place on All Hallows Eve.
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