For a growing teen hungering for fun, gory horror, 'Night of the Demons' was a satisfying spectacle of ghastly delights, full of drunken teenage mayhem, bloodthirsty monsters infesting a spooky, dilapidated house, and of course, boobs! The original VHS cover was a simple picture of one of the possessed characters flashing a disgusting smile of sharp teeth and holding an invitation to a Halloween party. One could never guess the content or plot of the movie, yet that diabolically twisted image effectively made a person cagey about renting the videotape while also daring him or her into watching it. Those brave enough to take the movie home, however, were treated to a devilishly good time that amazingly walks a thin line between hilariously bad and creatively inspired.
Don't get me wrong, the low-budget production is far from the best in the genre — or in all of cinema, for that matter — but it's a fun flick with some interestingly stylish touches, awesome make-up work and great special effects. Starting with Joe Augustyn's script, the story follows the standard "slasher" formula of horny, misbehaving, stereotypical teens eventually killed one at a time with the "final girl" surviving the gruesome pandemonium. This clichéd-riddled plot is then situated around a demonic possession, occult scenario as the kids are chased through an abandoned mortuary called "Hull House" (*wink, wink*). I love that the characters play up the legend of the house with stories of a murderous family, evil spirits that can't cross running water and even Native American folklore about the ground being cursed.
What I'm trying to arrive at is that I'm fairly convinced there is some level of deliberate self-awareness mixed with a genuine attempt at scaring audiences. Basically, 'Night of the Demons' is a monster B-horror flick with a wickedly crafty tongue firmly pressed against the cheek. Augustyn's plot may be following convention, but it more toys with common genre tropes while also working against them. Our "final girl" heroine is the strait-laced Judy (Cathy Podewell). Although she makes the effort to fight back, at one point using a crematorium pipe as a flamethrower, she is deathly terrified and acts like a whiny, screaming wimp. Her Alice in Wonderland costume also adds a nice touch to the story. As the token black guy and dressed as a pirate, Alvin Alexis's Roger is Judy's cowardly equal — always the first to run from danger, leaving others to die in his dust, hilariously surviving the chaos but finally manning up in the last heroic second.
Must admit, however, the acting is pretty awful, ranging from over the top in the stereotyped machismo of Sal (William Gallo) and incredibly rude lug-head Stooge (Hal Havins) to unable to read lines convincingly in exceedingly dull Max (Philip Tanzini) and hired only for her breasts Frannie (Jill Terashita). It would seem the filmmakers saved themselves a few pennies in the casting, placing budgetary concerns more on the visual effects and stage design, and frankly, it pays off. Director Kevin Tenney ('Witchboard') makes the best use of the limitations with some impressive camerawork, far exceeding what one would expect from such a small production. Several dolly shots, some of which include a couple choice push-pull "Vertigo effects," which are used to great effect for adding suspense and shock. Best of all is seeing the bridal demon floating down hallways.
Speaking of which, the whole reason behind the Hull House party is gothic outcast Angela (Amelia Kinkade), who originally wanted the bash in an effort to scare the popular kids. Along with scream queen of B-movies Linnea Quigley ('Return of the Living Dead'), who flashes the camera quite a bit and does one of the most disgusting magic tricks with her lipstick, Kinkade's Angela delivers what is arguably the most memorable part of the movie. Dressed in a creepy black bridal gown and with the help of some good editing effects, Kinkade performs a provocatively eerie dance to Bauhaus's "Stigmata Martyr" in front of a strobe light. Since watching 'Night of the Demons' on VHS all those many years ago, this sequence has always lingered in the back of my mind and remains just as awesome as ever to watch today.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'Night of the Demons' to Blu-ray as a Two-Disc Collector's Edition under the distributor's Scream Factory line. The Region A locked, BD50 disc is housed inside the normal blue case with brand new reversible cover art and a shiny cardboard slipcover. The second disc is a DVD-9 copy of the film. At startup, the disc goes to a generic main menu selection on the left side with the music and full-motion clips. Also, if you buy direct from Shout! Factory, fans can get an exclusive, limited edition poster of the newly commissioned artwork with their purchase!
The 'Demons' go into a diabolical frenzy on Blu-ray with a strong and satisfying 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) that looks its age but is still in pretty good condition. Majority of the runtime shows great resolution and clarity, especially the brightly lit sequences, of which there are very few. Fine lines and objects are nicely detailed and fairly distinct in the distance, and considering much of the plot takes place at night with limited light, delineation in the darkest portions is competent and as good as could be expected from such a low-budget production. Then again, low visibility in the shadows is also a deliberate creative choice. Except for a couple moments where blacks appear digitized with some minor crush, brightness levels are excellent while contrast is spot-on, if only slightly on the lower side of the grayscale. Colors are boldly and cleanly rendered with excellent saturation in the secondary hues. Awash with a thin layer of film-like grain throughout, the high-def transfer is sure to please fans.
The 'Demons' raise some hell with a trio of audio choices for hoarse, rabid fans to sink their teeth into. As usual, the 5.1 upmix makes an appreciated appearance but sadly, not quite the life of the party with a noticeably bad echoing effect, especially in the vocals, because the audio source has been stretched and extended beyond its limits. The original, untouched stereo track in DTS-HD MA has also been included, which is better but comes with a fair amount of hissing and noise in the background. The soundstage is nicely balanced with a passable yet pretty flat and uniform mid-range.
The best of the bunch is the track labeled as a new soundtrack from the original stereo design, which I take to mean as cleaned and remastered. Indeed, this lossless mix offers a bit more clarity and detail with effective off-screen effects and spacious imaging. Dynamics and acoustics exhibit cleaner fidelity with a bit more warmth, and the track also extends better into the upper ranges without distortion or noise, which is greatly appreciated during the couple action sequences and various song selections. Although it's not especially commanding, low bass is also a tad fuller, making the throaty voices of the possessed harsher and providing music with some weight. With very well-prioritized and intelligible vocals in the center, this high-rez track is definitely the way to go.
English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired also included.
A few supplements are ported over from the 2004 Anchor Bay DVD.
Serving up tons of laughs and memories, 'Night of the Demons' remains an enjoyable cult favorite that intentionally toys with genre conventions and familiar "slasher" tropes. With Amelia Kinkade and Linnea Quigley providing some genuine highlights, the movie is not only a great nostalgia trip but also a devilishly good time. The Blu-ray from Shout! Factory arrives with a strong, satisfying picture quality and a trio of lossless audio options. A healthy set of supplements, some of which are high-def exclusives, makes the overall package an awesome addition to the library of any cult enthusiast.Recommended.