Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #376
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: October 14, 1988
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $3,109,904
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: Kevin S. Tenney
Producer: Joe Augustyn
Screenplay: Joe Augustyn
Special Effects: Steve Johnson
Cinematography: David Lewis
Score: Dennis Michael Tenney
Editing: Daniel Duncan
Studio: Meridian Productions, Paragon Arts International, Republic Pictures, Skouras Pictures
Distributors: International Film Marketing, Metro-Goldwyn Mayer, Palace Video
Stars: William Gallo, Hal Havins, Amelia Kinkade, Cathy Podewell, Linnea Quigley, Alvin Alexis, Jill Terashita, Donnie Jeffcoat, Lance Fenton, Billy Gallo, Allison Barron, Philip Tanzini
Suggested Audio Candy:
Dennis Michael Tenney, Steve Ring, Rich Lowe, Paul Ojeda, & Bobby Thompson The Beast Inside
There is a world of difference between the words best and favorite. The former can be incredibly hard to ascertain as how does one decide whether Suspiria or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the better film? They don’t unless they’re woefully deluded or smart asses and I pride myself on being neither. However, should I be asked for my ten favorite horror movies to repeat view, then I could reel them off faster than Bill Clinton can unzip his pants during a public address. In no particular order and straight from the top of my head: Xtro, Galaxy of Terror, Halloween III: Season of The Witch, The Return of The Living Dead, Demons, Stagefright, The Burning, Halloween II, Creepshow, Night of The Demons. Barely any of these delights could be considered the crème de la crème of horror and that makes them all the easier to cherish. Kevin Tenney’s Night of The Demons is an absolutely glorious little movie and has more than justified its inclusion in my elite through repeat views alone.
Tenney had already been responsible for one of 1986’s sleeper hits, the above par Witchboard, and here he celebrated all that was good about low-budget eighties horror. Clocking in at a modest $1.2m budget, Night of The Demons received a limited theatrical run in Detroit and New York, earning overnight cult adoration and nearly three times its outlay in box office receipts in two states alone. Astonishingly, it never opened nationwide, thus we never got to see just how well it could have performed, with a little marketing and some good old-fashioned word of mouth. In the history of terminal error, this ranks up there with leaving Justin Bieber unsupervised with a mop bucket or inviting Mel Gibson to perform master of ceremony duties at your bar mitzvah. Consequently, Tenney’s film made itself at home on VHS and later faded into obscurity, despite spawning two sequels.
Then in 2011, at the tail-end of another boom, this time for anniversary remakes, Adam Gierasch gave his own affectionate interpretation of Night of The Demons and, despite failing to ignite any great interest, did just enough to remind us why we held the original so dear in the first place. This is one of those glorious movies that matures with age where, on the over hand, it never grows up. Go figure! As an adolescent I had a relatively simple wish list which consisted mostly of gore, terror, and unabashed T&A if I’m honest. Night of The Demons is that rare creature which ticks all three boxes and a fair few others aside. That alone ensures it makes my Halloween top table with graceful ease.
I’m sure the majority of us know how things pan out by now but, for the uninitiated, here’s the nutshell version. A group of hot to trot teens attend a party at a relinquished funeral parlor named Hull House which was previously the site of a brutal massacre, and unwittingly release this ancient malevolence cooped up inside an ornate mirror via way of séance. There are plenty of parallels to Sam Raimi’s majestic cut-price marvel, The Evil Dead, as the evil spreads to each in turn and the generous ten-strong guest list is unceremoniously whittled down. It’s essentially bread and butter stuff but a number of factors raise it defiantly above the topsoil.
Dennis Michael Tenney Night of The Demons
“Eat a bowl of fuck! I am here to PARTY!”
Straight off the bat, we are in the finest company. The animated opening credits are a thing of unbridled radiance, complimented exquisitely by Dennis Michael Tenney’s rousing electronic synth score, and evocative of films such as Better Off Dead which sparked our imaginations and got the juices flowing from the offset. It then proceeded to take its time getting to any incantations or executions and instead focused on establishing mood. Often it is remarked that Night of The Demons is too slow for its own good but I take great umbrage with that cop-out. It builds sustained tension and there are two reasons why this is so.
Firstly, the cast is uniformly game, despite the fact that they over-exaggerate their nuances. They’re each impossible not to warm to and it kind of feels like we’ve been invited to a party with friends, before getting to watch them being slaughtered one by one and in all manner of grisly manners for additional glee points.
Secondly, the ambiance created by Tenney’s attention to ominous detail, aside lustrous cinematography by David Lewis, is second to none. Full use is made of the building’s Gothic architecture, with dust-covered furniture and long, ethereally lit hallways drawing us deeper into the nightmare and demonic POV shots restraining us indefinitely.
Another reason to adore Night of The Demons is a certain Linnea Quigley. This divine bubblegum scream queen first caught my attention in Herb Freed’s 1981 slasher Graduation Day. Ms. Quigley’s lovable turn was the best thing about that movie and she endeared herself to me effortlessly. I always did have an eye for talent, and the world endorsed my infatuation, culminating in an enduring career for her royal highness which is currently almost 150 credits strong and still rising. As Suzanne, Quigley encapsulates everything we love about her, and one particular scene has become the thing of horror folklore for damned good reason.
It’s not just Linnea however and every pawn plays their part decidedly well, with Hal Havins as the legendarily obnoxious Stooge being a notable high point. They are aided by Joe Augustyn’s snappy screenplay but it is more than just recital. Instead, it is the evidence of assured direction and it is eternally baffling that Tenney hasn’t gone on to greater success. Night of The Demons may not be regarded as one of the greats and, in fairness, I would have to concur with that assessment. However, and you should know by now that I love me a however, it caters for its core audience with more generosity than nigh-on any other horror from the late eighties. For that I will gladly reveal it my lipstick.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Come on in, help yourself to the punch, but watch out for any sharp tasting apples or dubious fudge logs. There is something for all comers here: squished eyeballs, couples crammed into cramped coffins, chewed off tongues, blood spattered windscreens, consumed razor blades, and then there is the small matter of a magnum opus. To this very day, I suspect that Quigley still carries her lipstick in her left bosom as a cherished keepsake. It’s enough to make me want to become a new romantic; a simply mind-boggling effect courtesy of her future husband Steve Johnson which is as utterly seamless now as it was back in 1988. Tenney is also kind enough to cover the three B’s (Boobies, Butt, and Bush). Well done Kevin.
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