• Gabe Powers

Night of the Demons Blu-ray Review (originally published 2014)

It’s Halloween night and Angela is throwing a party…but this is no ordinary Halloween party. Everybody’s headed to Hull House, a deserted funeral home, and formerly the home of a mass murderer. But, when the partygoers decide to have a séance, they awaken something evil...and these party crashers have a thirst for blood. Now it’s a battle for who can survive the night in Hull House. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)



Writer/director Kevin S. Tenney made his feature debut, Witchboard (1986), during the so-called “golden age” of straight-to-video horror. The home video revolution had slowly undone the genre’s major role in the grindhouse and drive-in scenes. Adolescence and young adults were much more likely to experience the joys of sex & violence from the safety and privacy of their own homes. In 1986, many of these films were still given teeny tiny theatrical releases that somehow justified their production, yet the filmmakers involved hadn’t necessarily given up on larger success. This new industry was a petri dish made to cull the talents of a guy like Tenney. However, Tenney never quite fit the molds set by his contemporaries. His output was far from excessive (14 movies in 22 years) and he didn’t make any noticeable effort to create an STV mini-empire, like Charles Band or Lloyd Kaufman (the head honchos of Full Moon and Troma, respectfully). He wasn’t a savvy technician trapped in a thankless role, like Anthony Hickox (Waxwork [1988], Warlock: The Armageddon [1993]), nor was he a talentless amateur, hacking his way through the process – he was swaddled right in the middle of the pack, which might actually be the worst place to be when it comes to cult filmmaking.


Night of the Demons (1988) was, without a doubt, Tenney’s finest hour. It got a bigger theatrical run than any other movie in his filmography (I’m not sure any of his post-Night of the Demons output had a theatrical release stateside) and it earned a strong cult reputation on VHS and DVD. Tonally, it has very little in common with Witchboard and the other very early Tenney movies and this is likely the byproduct of Tenney being brought on as a director for hire, not involved with the script as he was with his first movie (the original director had left at the last-minute). The screenplay was written by Joe Augustyn, whose only other credits include Dominique Othenin-Girard’s seedy succubus tale, Night Angel (1990), Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Night of the Demons 2 (1994), and an early draft of Adam Gierasch’s Night of the Demons remake (2009). Augustyn’s script is more teen and trope-friendly than Tenney’s soapy, melodramatic Witchboard script. This means the nominal challenge of complex characters is pushed aside in favour of gross-out scares and special effects, which is probably a better arena for the director’s Sam Raimi-inspired camera work (though Witchboard is still the better directed film). The performances are broad, the dialogue is silly, the T&A is right up in your face, and Steven Johnson’s elaborate special effects are appropriately goopy. The grotesque facial transformations and murders are particularly fantastic, but the film’s memorable highlight is a surrealistic scene where a possessed Linnea Quigley shoves an entire tube of lipstick into her nipple.



If you were a horror fan in the VHS era, Night of the Demons was readily available, but not as coveted as Lamberto Bava’s Demons (Italian: Demoni, 1985), which was produced by Dario Argento, released the year before Tenney’s film, and covered a similar outbreak of demonism. Bava’s film and its sequel, Demons 2 (Italian: Demoni 2, 1986), were gore and heavy metal-driven Euro-horror, a nice counterpoint to Night of the Demons’ pop Americana. It was also something of a rarity when it was released in both R-rated and unrated versions on home video. It might even be the first release to use the distinction as a selling point (Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator [1985] was perhaps the first to be available in both formats, but consumers could only know the difference by reading the back of the box). This Blu-ray contains, naturally, the longer, gorier, unrated version.



Video

Anchor Bay had anamorphic DVD releases of Night of the Demons in both the US and the UK, but this Scream Factory disc is the film’s first and only Blu-ray release. The 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer is similar to the same day Witchboard release in that it looks better than expected. Generally speaking, this is not a crisp movie. Tenney and cinematographer David Lewis (who shot both Witchboard 2 and Night of the Demons 2) use quite a bit of foggy soft focus to create their bubblegum horror mood, leading to some gritty, grainy moments and plush edges. Still, details are cleaner and sharper than any DVD version, especially stuff like facial close-ups. The darker wide-angle images show minor wear and edge enhancement, but clarity remains consistent throughout. The eclectic, neon and pastel ‘80s palette is vivid and well-separated, despite the softer focus and deep darkness. Black levels are consistent without appearing crushed or flat.


Audio

So far, Scream Factory has been content to release their films with uncompressed original audio tracks (kind of like Criterion), but Night of the Demons includes a 5.1 remix of the original 2.0 stereo sound. This appears to have been mixed specifically for this release, not taken from another release, like their John Carpenter releases. This release also includes two different DTS-HD MA 2.0 tracks, one based on the original Ultra Stereo mix and the other, seemingly based on the 5.1 remix. Comparing the tracks, I think that the remix is probably the strongest of the three, mostly because it thoroughly centers the dialogue and incidental effects. Otherwise, the difference between the tracks is negligible and all three feature the same minor inconsistencies in vocal volume. There’s very little in terms of immersive sound design, aside from some atmospheric frog/cricket noises and the most aggressive demon sounds. Dennis Michael Tenney returns to do the music; this time on a more epic scale with a poppier, more rock-infused score. The opening title number is quite possibly the best thing about the entire film. The 5.1 mix has a musical advantage due to the LFE bump, though the punk/rock/new wave additions are still generally tinny.



Extras

  • An all-new commentary with Tenney, FX artist Steve Johnson, and actors Cathy Podewell, Hal Havins, and Billy Gallo.

  • Anchor Bay’s older DVD commentary with Tenney, and producers Walter Johnson & Jeff Geoffrey.

  • You’re Invited (1:11:30, HD) – An new collection of interviews with Tenney, producers Johnson & Geoffrey, producer/writer Joe Augustyn, animators Kevin Kurchaver & Kathy Zielinski, FX artist Steve Johnson, stuntman/coordinator John Stewart, and actors Linnea Quigley, Cathy Podewell, Alvin Alexis, Allison Barron, Donnie Jeffcoat, Billy Gallo, James Quinn, Amelia Kinkade, Hal Havins, and Donnie Jeffcoat. The subject matter, once again, covers more or less the entirety of production. There’s quite a bit of overlap with the two commentaries, but this piece is info-packed enough to work as the disc’s only extra – everything else is just gravy.

  • Amelia Kinkade, Protean (22:30, HD) – A secondary interview segment with the actress (including even more overlap) that covers her work on Night of the Demons and its sequels.

  • Allison Barron’s Demon Memories (4:00, HD) – A chance for the actress to show us her personal photo gallery with narration.

  • Promo reel (4:10, SD)

  • Video and theatrical trailer

  • TV and radio spots

  • Behind-the-scenes, special effects/make-up, photo, poster, and storyboard galleries.


The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.


17 views0 comments