The Demon is a title that many horror fans know from its frequent appearances on “all-time worst horror film” lists. It’s certainly got all the hallmarks of a bad movie: from the dialogue and the plotting to the action and mise en scene, there’s nothing here that works the way it is intended to. However, that doesn’t mean it is a forgettable experience. The Demon is an utterly bizarre experience on a number of levels, eccentric in ways that its “bad movie” tag doesn’t fully prepare you for.
The oddness starts with the film’s disconnected narrative. The opening scene begins with a mother being attacked in her home by a mysterious assailant who steals away with her daughter. The father brings in Colonel Bill Carson (Cameron Mitchell), an ex-military man with psychic abilities, to determine if their daughter is still alive and perhaps find the killer.
However, the above scenario is not the main plot of the film. You see, our killer – who wears black gloves with sharp tips that unfortunately resemble the business end of a bottle opener – is attacking women all over the film’s unnamed city. He seems to be circling his way towards two targets who form the majority of the film’s loose plot: Mary (Jennifer Holmes) and her cousin Jo (Zoli Markey) work at a nursery school. Things seem normal in their world until Mary starts to sense she is being spied on by the killer. It’s inevitable that the two women will come face with this menace.
That said, no one could’ve guess the circuitous, sometimes oblique route that the film takes to its inevitable cat-and-mouse finale. The Demon often feels like the product of misfiring synapses, spewing out elements that never connect. The Colonel sputters and pontificates about the killer but never comes up with a real clue. No attempt is ever made to present a background or motive for the faceless killer. Mary seems to be our heroine but Jo gets more screen time via a subplot about her relationship with a young playboy, which includes some of the most mind-bending attempts at hip romantic dialogue you’ve ever heard. A neighbor who suspects something bad is introduced and cut away to several times during the third act but is never worked into the finale. Nothing in this film adds up, ever.
The mise en scene makes the story feel even stranger than these descriptions make it sound. Most of the attacks happen at night and are lit so dimly that struggling to see what happening becomes part of the “suspense.” Anything remotely horrific is accompanied by a screechy blast of blood-and-thunder style horror movie music that feels like it was woven in from a film about two decades older than this one. One attack scene works in a motorcycle crash and explosion for no apparent reason. Mary spends a good multiple-minute stretch of the finale topless before donning a makeshift shower curtain poncho to face off with him – and wait ’til you see the ‘Last House On The Left meets MacGyver‘ tactics she uses to take him on.
And the fermented cherry atop this lysergic schlock sundae is a furiously hammy performance by Cameron Mitchell. This one-time leading man turned character actor has long been a favorite with Your Humble Reviewer for the wild performances he gave in schlock fare during the 1970’s and 1980’s. His work in The Toolbox Murders is still the golden standard in this area but his work in The Demon is fascinating. He babbles non-sequiturs about “hallucinating evil”, huffs and puffs during his visions like he’s about to have an aneurysm and at one point frantically snorts a pillow belonging to the missing girl before ripping it to shreds. The filmmakers definitely got their money’s worth out of Mitchell and his crazed antics are the main reason for the film’s prominence in the annals of junk-horror.
In short, The Demon is not a film that can be recommended in good conscience nor is as lively as better-known bad movie favorites… but there’s a quiet, deadpan weirdness to all of its elements that is likely to haunt your memory long after you view it. It’s the kind of trashy, throwaway fare that is best viewed in the wee hours of the morning, when its nonsensical, fragmented quality will play like a fever dream for your tired mind. If you’re a schlock scholar, the film is worth seeing – but you’d better steel yourself before picking up this particular bad-film gauntlet.