With some genre movies, sometimes you get a brilliant storyline or a style of filmmaking that reworks how you perceive the genre. Other times, you get a potboiler: something that doesn’t really seek to innovate in any direction and instead focuses on delivering the goods with as much craftsmanship as it can muster. Night Of The Demons is a textbook example of a potboiler for the horror crowd and has become a favorite with many ’80s horror enthusiasts since its original release.
Night Of The Demons takes place on one unlucky Halloween night. Class weirdo Angela (Mimi Kinkade) has teamed up with her boy-crazy pal Suzanne (Linnea Quigley) to throw a Halloween party at an abandoned and supposedly haunted house. This bash draws in a diverse crowd that includes good girl Judy (Cathy Podewell), bad boy Sal (William Gallo) and party-hearty goofball Stooge (Hal Havins). After an attempt at a “past lives” seance shatters a mirror, something awakens in the house and begins possessing the party guests. Pretty soon, the kids are transforming into mischievious demons as the survivors try to find a way out of the house.
Simply put, Night Of The Demons is not a movie you watch for the story. Indeed, its weakest link is the script by producer Joe Augustyn, which has little interest in plot or character. It consists of a first half that sets up its superficial set of characters with a lot of distinctly ’80s “party animal” humor and a second half that gleefully knocks those characters down in a cost-effective fashion by keeping it all in the same abandoned house. If you can’t or don’t want to tap into its ‘party movie for the horror crowd’ wavelength, there isn’t much for you to hold onto here.
That said, Night Of The Demons has earned a cult following for its ability to function at that party movie level. Though the characterizations are often grating in their one-note nature, the film benefits from an earnest cast that puts forth its best effort: Podewell is a solid “final girl,” Gallo is the wittiest of the bunch and Quigley is an enthusiastic presence whether she is topless, bottomless or coated in latex scare makeup. On that note, the film also benefits from excellent makeup effects by a young Steve Johnson, who comes with unique designs for the demons and enacts them with some innovative face-stretching prosthetics.
The most important element of Night Of The Demons is the direction by Kevin Tenney. He props up the film’s slender narrative with an attention to production values and cinematic craft, including a great haunted house location and sleek, colorful cinematography from David Lewis. Both elements keep the film interesting during its slow buildup.
Once the real horror material kicks in, Tenney cuts loose using a bag tricks cribbed from sources as diverse as Jaws and The Evil Dead. His direction shows a nice understanding of how to craft a setpiece, particularly a tense moment on the roof, and the kinetic energy of his work keeps the film on its feet all the way to the end credits. He also crafts some memorable stand-alone moments along the way, the most popular with fans being an impressive moment where the possessed Angela dances to a Bauhaus song before a roaring fire and a freaky FX illusion where a tube of lipstick disappears into a breast via the nipple.
Simply put, Night Of The Demons is more of a funhouse ride than a movie. If you can roll with approach, this little romp has some charm on its own party-movie level.