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Night of the Demons (1988)

Shout Factory // Unrated // February 4, 2014
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted January 21, 2014 | E-mail the Author
C'mon, it's Halloween. Who wants to slog their way through another graham crackers-and-sippy-cup school dance when that creepy goth chick is throwing a party in a haunted house? Angela (Amelia Kinkade) would stop me right about there, though. Hull House isn't haunted; it's possessed. Less Poltergeist, more Exorcist. Y'know...demons. That's all just an old urban legend, though, so whatever. Booze. Boning. A little TSOL on the boombox. Maybe a séance or two. Like the man said: Halloween! Unfortunately for them, these teenagers accidentally unleash a primordial evil on the one night that the supernatural doesn't have to play by the rules. This sinister force consumes them one by one, reanimating what remains of their ravaged corpses. As the survivors are bumped off, the number of possessed hunters swells. Before long, the demon-possessed undead far outnumber the living...

Night of the Demons tears the '80s horror playbook into thin, bloody strips. Most spam-in-a-cabin movies from that era would kick off with some pre-credits slaughter, spend a little time getting to know the red shirts, and then slop out some kind of scare every eight minutes, to the point where you could just about set your watch for the next kill. Night of the Demons instead carves out its
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own path. A little over half the movie is setup: no blood, no body count, no stalk 'n slash. If it were a rollercoaster ride, Night of the Demons would spend fifty minutes slowly creeping up the track, and then it'd be a breathless, breakneck, downhill scream for right at forty minutes straight. Especially with this sort of deliriously over-the-top genre flick, you really wouldn't expect that level of restraint. Night of the Demons somehow makes it work. It's not lush with characterization or anything, and a lot of the acting is...yeah.

Still, the decaying mansion standing in for Hull House is all the right kinds of spooky, the editing and cinematography are accomplished enough to keep the film visually engaging, and the very young cast is energetic enough (and bares enough skin) to keep the whole thing buzzing along. If you're looking for straightahead horror beats, nothing happens for more than half the movie, and yet somehow Night of the Demons is never boring. When all Hell finally does break loose, Night of the Demons refuses to ease up on the throttle. The final thirtysomeodd minutes are wall-to-wall chaos: nothing but eye gouging, dismemberment, pyromania, impalement, and gloriously gruesome makeup effects. There's really one sequence in Night of the Demons' second half where the movie stops to catch its breath, and even it's too claustrophobic enough to let the energy that had been propelling the flick ever peter out.

This isn't the type of movie where I can push up my glasses and drone on and on about symbolism or whatever. At least that keeps this part of the review short. Nope, Night of the Demons is just an infectiously fun, trashy-in-all-the-right-ways '80s horror flick. Boobs. Butts. Blood. Tremendous makeup effects. Small army of demons. Not much of anything else to get in the way. There's still plenty of stuff that sets Night of the Demons apart from the rest of the pack, though, and I'm not just talking about Linnea Quigley going all full-frontal again. The makeup effects designed by Steve Johnson still look impressive more than a quarter-century later. I can't think of a more iconic villainess in a horror franchise than Angela. (Most female killers don't make it to a second installment, and even the movies that do get sequels like Ginger Snaps and Sleepaway Camp redirect their focus or are recast.) I don't think of Night of the Demons as being "scary", exactly, but the climax with the onslaught of the possessed still rattles me even my fifth or sixth time through. You'll never look at lipstick the same way again, and I defy you to watch the movie and not walk away saying "eat a bowl of fuck!" at some point afterwards. Can't be done. Highly Recommended.

I'm not sure when MGM hammered out this high-def transfer of Night of the Demons, but it's not surprisingly a pretty dramatic improvement over Anchor Bay's DVD from a decade back. Brief moments from the Anchor Bay disc were culled from a low-quality video source; MGM and Scream Factory's, meanwhile, is all film, all the way. Even the celluloid-sourced stretches of the Anchor Bay disc were dragged down by a somewhat harsh, video-like contrast, while this shiny new Blu-ray disc is more filmic overall. The color timing leans a bit more towards the cooler end of the spectrum than the original Anchor Bay release, and although I'm not sure which one's more accurate, the palette here feels right to me. I snapped a few screencaps if you want to do a side-by-side comparison. If I felt like dusting off my old Laserdisc, I could've thrown that in too for good measure, but whatever.
Anchor Bay DVD (2004) Scream Factory DVD (2014) Scream Factory BD (2014)
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This Blu-ray release of Night of the Demons is exactly what I waltzed in hoping to see. The image does strike me as a bit soft at times but is generally very nicely defined and offers up plenty of fine detail. Black levels are spot-on. Film grain is also rendered really well, expectedly looking kinda chunky under low light but is otherwise fairly tight and unintrusive. The presentation doesn't look overly filtered or artificially processed. I couldn't spot any hiccups in the AVC encode, even in those challenging sequences where Night of the Demons whips out the strobe light again. There's not a whole lot of anything in the way of speckling or wear. We're talking about a movie that's been on my Blu-ray wish list for a while, and this disc definitely lives up to my expectations. I'd even go so far as to say it's one of the best looking releases from Scream Factory yet.

Night of the Demons is a combo pack that features this dual-layer Blu-ray disc alongside an anamorphic widescreen DVD. This presentation is very lightly letterboxed to preserve the film's theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

This Blu-ray disc piles on three lossless soundtracks, each in 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio. There's the expected 5.1 remix, of course, along with a pair of stereo tracks. The first stereo track is listed as the original audio,
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and doing some quick comparisons, it sounds kinda thin and dated. I didn't spend a lot of time with the newer stereo track either, but I wonder if it's a downmix of the 5.1 remix. Switching back and forth between the two, the new stereo mix sounds very similar, just without as much ferocity or a discrete LFE channel to whip out.

I generally listened to Night of the Demons in 5.1, and it's okay. I was really impressed at first by the clarity and throaty synth-bass of the music over the opening titles, but things get a lot more meek after that. The quality of the dialogue can vary wildly from scene to scene. It just doesn't have that lossless fidelity -- that distinctness, that clarity -- that Blu-ray usually spoils me with, and the same holds for most of the sound effects. It's all a little dull and muddled together. Some lines and effects also bleed somewhat from the front mains into the surrounds, and that can be an unwelcome distraction. The rear channels aren't especially aggressive in this remix but make their presence known when it counts, such as a couple enveloping, haunting bursts of evil and a barrage of slamming doors near the end. There aren't any big, booming stings in the score to really get you leaping off your couch, and the subwoofer is hit or miss. I really wished a slam-slam-slammed coffin lid would've packed a thicker, meatier crunch, but instead it's kinda bland. As unremarkable as the lossless remix is, at least it doesn't leave me with any of the usual gripes: no clipping, distortion, dropouts, intrusive background noise, or any of that.

There are a couple of commentaries to go along with these three lossless soundtracks, but I'll dig into those a little later. All of the soundtracks are in English, and the same goes for Night of the Demons' subtitles.

Night of the Demons comes packaged in a slipcase with original artwork by Nathan Thomas Milliner. It looks great to me, but if that's not your thing, the reversible cover art also features the iconic "Angela is having a party..." poster.

I'll review all the extras and everything, but the short answer is that this is as definitive a release as you could possibly imagine.
  • You're Invited: The Making of Night of the Demons (72 min.; HD): Easily the standout extra on Night of the Demons is this feature-length retrospective with damned near everyone on both sides of the camera: director Kevin Tenney, writer Joe Augustyn, animators Kevin Kutchaver and Kathy Zielinski, stunt coordinator John
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    Stewart, special effects makeup designer Steve Johnson, producers Jeff Geoffray and Walter Josten, and actors Linnea Quigley, Cathy Podewell, Alvin Alexis, Allison Barron, Donnie Jeffcoat, Billy Gallo, James W. Quinn, Amelia Kinkade, Hal Havins, and Lance Fenton. (Whew!)

    Admittedly, part of me thinks that You're Invited might've worked better if it had been split up a bit. The discussion about the animated title sequence feels like a self-contained featurette spliced into the beginning of this retrospective. On its own, it'd play wonderfully; the way it is here, delving into the the opening titles in such a lengthy and in-depth fashion slows everything down too much. Steve Johnson could very easily have shouldered a dedicated interview all his own too, what with Night of the Demons being so heavily oriented around his makeup effects and all. The structure's not perfect, but...geez, there's just so much here that I love, and the feature-length runtime certainly does ensure that it's comprehensive. Trash can reverb for the demonic voices. Where "eat a bowl of fuck" comes from, exactly. Blue smoke boogers. Bloody stump drive-thru pranks. How to do a burn gag while shooting on location in someone else's house. Some of the key changes made from the original drafts of the screenplay. There's a lot to love here.

  • Interview with Amelia Kinkade (23 min.; HD): A good bit of this conversation was already featured in You're Invited, but if you're not done palling around with Mimi Kinkade quite yet, here you go. She speaks about how her background as a dancer made the grueling makeup work throughout Night of the Demons more bearable, delves into the even more challenging effects she endured in the first sequel, touches on what it was like to work with the rest of the cast and crew, and chats about her post-acting life as an animal whisperer. Kinkade is very...theatrical, and there's this strange, artificial leaning to the whole thing that's kind of fascinating to watch.

  • Audio Commentaries: Night of the Demons features two audio commentaries, including a newly-recorded track with director Kevin Tenney, special effects wizard Steve Johnson, and actors Cathy Podewell, Billy Gallo, and Hal Havins. They tackle everything from cringeworthy alternate titles to financing to the remake to the use of specific lenses and all the way to the gleefully ridiculous epilogue. Well-worth a listen, especially all the clever ways they worked around the lean budget, and surprisingly few of these talking points are featured anywhere throughout You're Invited.

    The other commentary -- with director Kevin Tenney, producer Jeff Geoffray, and executive producer Walter Josten -- is carried over from the 2004 Anchor Bay DVD. It's a solid track, and its inclusion is appreciated for archival reasons if nothing else, but a lot of what the three of 'em talk about here has already been covered elsewhere on the disc. Some of the highlights unique to this commentary are how pilot season made this an unusually tough movie to cast, the budget helping ensure that there weren't any unneeded scenes to delete, and more about Night of the Demons' successful release, both commercially and critically.

  • Promotional Stuff (9 min.; partially HD): Two trailers -- one theatrical, the other aimed towards home video -- are both served up here in high-def. There are also a few TV spots, a quick radio ad, and a four minute promotional featurette. That last one's for video store managers, oriented around pull quotes, box office, and advertising support for the VHS release.

  • Image Galleries (HD): Night of the Demons piles on four different still galleries with just shy of 350 images
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    between 'em. Three galleries lob out a little over a hundred images each: a behind the scenes gallery, a special effects and makeup gallery, and a traditional photo gallery. There's some conceptual art sprinkled in there for good measure too. The posters and storyboards gallery features somewhere around 17 sets of images, including another peek at the conceptual poster under the title Halloween Party. Pretty much all of these photos are very high-res scans.

    Elsewhere on the disc, Allison Barron spends four minutes narrating over a montage of photos from her personal collection. As you'd probably guess for a gallery with narration, these cycle through automatically, unlike the others that require mashing a button on your remote.

The Final Word
No matter how many times I see it, Night of the Demons is one of those movies that I think I like more than I actually do, but whatever. This is a fast, fun, frenetic flick that scratches my '80s trash-horror itch as few others can, and Scream Factory has lavished one of the era's most memorable B-movies with the Blu-ray release it deserves. Highly Recommended.

In Case You Missed It Up There...
Yes, this is the unrated version of Night of the Demons. Accept no substitutes.
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