It’s finally October once again, and it’s the beginning of the holiday season for horror fans! In celebration, I thought I’d rewatch one of my favorite movies of all time that just happens to take place on Halloween night: Night of the Demons!
Night of the Demons is, in my opinion, one of the classics of 1980s horror. It has everything: a dark and dirty mansion with a creepy history, an assortment of teenager stereotypes that often make terrible decisions, a bunch of cheesy jokes and one-liners, a decent amount of blood and gory makeup, and Linnea Quigley! What more do you really need? Well, if you do need more convincing to go watch this right now, or if you’d just like to find out what I think about it, please read on as I do my best to take a (mostly) objective look at Night of the Demons.
Night of the Demons is about a group of teenagers who get together for a party on Halloween night at a place called Hull House. Hull House is an old mansion on the outskirts of town that used to be a funeral parlor and has a history of violence and death. It’s been abandoned ever since its last occupants were all found brutally murdered. Whoever (or whatever) killed them was never determined, and the house is now said to be haunted. It’s the kind of place that kids talk about to scare each other and dare their friends to go into. When we first see Hull House in the movie, it’s presented like a typical matte painting of a haunted mansion on a hill. Classic.
The party is hosted by Angela. All the other kids think she’s weird and normally wouldn’t have anything to do with her, but this is Halloween so they’ll put aside their differences for the sake of partying at a creepy old house. Angela just wants to get all these people together to “scare the shit out them.” She has a plan to conduct a seance to scare everyone, but she gets way more than she bargained for when a real demon is summoned from the crematory in the basement. Someone gets possessed, and the rest of the movie unfolds as a fight for survival as the rest of the kids try to avoid being the next to die and come back as a demon possessed corpse themselves.
There are ten kids at the party, and for the most part they all fit into some pretty standard horror movie archetypes. There’s the creepy girl, the hot girl, the preacher’s son, the party girl, the bookworm, the gross guy, and the tough-talking party crasher. Then there’s Judy, the good girl with a jerk for a boyfriend. Most of the characters get a good amount of screen time, but Judy is definitely the protagonist of the movie. The characters tend to be pretty flat, but we get to learn a decent amount about Judy and see her character change over the course of the night.
Judy’s costume for the party is Alice from Alice in Wonderland which seems fitting for her situation. She is unwillingly exposed to the horrors of Hull House and has to deal with things as they come. She is sweet and pure (we know this because she helps old people and the homeless) and in the beginning is very unprepared to handle the supernatural dangers she’s faced with. Out of necessity though, she eventually has to take it upon herself to determine her own fate.
The story of Night of the Demons isn’t the most original, but it works. I feel like the writer, Joe Augustyn, was trying for a classic scary story feel with a modern horror edge, and I think he nailed it. The story of Hull House is a take on a pretty standard cliche and feels like a reference to places like Hill House (from 1963’s The Haunting) and Belasco House (from 1973’s The Legend of Hell House). He even incorporates some classic Halloween urban legends into the movie like handing out razor blade filled apples to trick-or-treaters. To add a modern horror movie edge to it, he uses demon possession similar to what had been seen previously in movies like Evil Dead (1981) and Demons (1985). In fact, the way in which the demonic force possesses the first kid is a direct reference to Evil Dead. I think it all works beautifully together.
While the story works, I think some of it was presented in a ham-fisted way. One of the kids, Max, reads a lot and serves as the movie’s exposition generator. He apparently knows everything about Hull House. Before the real action starts, he stops the movie down several times and explains, at length, all of the background information we need to know and all of the rules that will be important later when the kids are trying to escape. I realize it’s all important information, but it feels pretty unnatural how it’s done. Still, that’s a minor complaint.
To complement the story, the direction and cinematography are nicely done. The dark hallways of Hull House look sufficiently creepy with shafts of pale moonlight passing through boarded up windows to create criss-crossing patterns on the walls. The demon possessed Angela looks particularly eerie (and a little cheesy) as she floats down the halls, laughing and taunting those who are still living. There’s also a scene where Angela is dancing in front of a strobe light that is one of the most effective uses of light and sound in the movie in creating an ominous atmosphere.
For fans of blood, the special effects are well done and fairly typical for a horror film from the eighties. The demons bite, gouge, and dismember their victims, and a scene involving Linnea Quigley and a tube of lipstick is one that has a special place in horror history (at least for me). The demon makeup itself is often very good as well. Angela is easily the face of the movie, and her face is a memorable one. Though it takes a while for the bloody action to get started in Night of the Demons, I think people watching just for that won’t be disappointed.
7 – Good
If you’ve never seen Night of the Demons and are a fan of eighties horror, then you need to see this. I’ve seen some people categorize this as a horror comedy, but I don’t think that is entirely accurate. There are some funny parts, but the horror is treated in a serious manner. I feel like it falls somewhere between the aforementioned Evil Dead and something like The Return of the Living Dead as far as tone goes, and anyone who like those movies will like this. There might not be as much blood and gore as those movies, but they are similar in terms of feel and quality. If you’re like me, Night of the Demons might just become one of your new Halloween traditions.
Dead Dudes in the House (1991)
Originally titled The Dead Come Home, this movie is actually pretty bad, but I love it. Like Night of the Demons, it features a bunch of young people trapped in a big old house being killed one by one. The effects aren’t great, the script is bad, and the acting is often laughable, but I’ve probably watched it more times than I care to count.
The kids in Dead Dudes in the House go to an old house that one of them has bought in order to fix it up. Unbeknownst to them, their actions awaken the spirit of an old lady who haunts the place. She proceeds to hunt them down and kill them one by one, but the spirits of the dead don’t seem to stay quiet for long here.
You can find Dead Dudes in the House on DVD, but you can watch the whole thing on YouTube on the TromaMovies channel. Check it out.
Title: Night of the Demons
Director: Kevin Tenney
Writer: Joe Augustyn
Featured Cast: Cathy Podewell, Amelia Kinkade, Linnea Quigley, Billy Gallo, Alvin Alexis, Lance Fenton, Hal Havins, Allison Barron, Philip Tanzini, Jill Terashita
Run Time: 90 minutes
Availability: Available on DVD and Blu-Ray
(A DVD version has been out for a while, but Scream Factory released a great Blu-Ray version in 2014. I suggest you get that one.)