As I sit down to sell you on Kevin Tenney’s little-respected Night of the Demons, I find it important to reiterate once again that this series is not designed as a treatise on the best horror films of all time. There’s going to be some overlap, sure, particularly as we get closer to the holiday, but this month we’re looking to direct you towards flicks that embody the fun, eerie nature of the holiday. It’s not important that each film be a masterpiece, or even a horror movie — Gil Kenan’s Monster House, which isn’t on the docket this year, is a terrific Halloween adventure that most wouldn’t classify as true horror. (On the flip side, Pascal Laugier’s stunning and brutal Martyrs isn’t coming up either; it’s one of the greatest horrors of the decade, but it’s a bit weightier than I wanted to go.)
Night of the Demons is a horror movie, and perhaps that’s one of the knocks against it; not the genre it’s in, of course, but the fact that it’s often seen as a generic ’80s horror film. Dumb teenagers spending the night at a house with a grisly past are terrorized by things that go bump in the night and chintzy special effects; insert a few keywords into a computer, change the settings to “80s supernatural horror,” and it just might spit this bad boy out. Each bit is easily telegraphed and programmable, according to the beats of the genre.
It’s a bad movie from any cinephile’s objective standpoint, but then again, we horror movie fans have a long history of exalting the mediocre and the cliched. In a lot of ways, it’s sort of the essence of horror — we’re so fond of the genre that we have a deep appreciation for even the most flawed entries. Night of the Demons suffers from many of the flaws you’d expect it to: cardboard characters, stilted line readings, bargain-basement gore effects. And yet, it’s also got a healthy amount of Halloween magic, a cheesy, somewhat-creepy movie for a cheesy, somewhat-creepy holiday. It’s a brain-dead delight, the living embodiment of thousands of cornball ’80s horrors — so, even though it’s objectively bad, it’s kind of glorious.
The one thing that saves Night of the Demons from being Troll 2 is an insistence on actual atmosphere. A horror movie’s atmosphere can smooth over any number of plot and acting missteps, and Demons has it in spades. The moment these dunderheaded teens step into the creepy abandoned house (seriously, this exact script could be used for a horror parody and nobody’d say boo) and have a seance (seriously!), the setting is pitch-perfect. Apparitions wait in the shadows, the ruddy orange glow of the candlelight plays tricks on the walls, lights flicker and die with no warning… it’s the perfect ambiance for a flick of this nature. It’s almost old-fashioned that way, resorting to an eerie, anything-can-happen aesthetic, except with more titties.
There are even a few vignettes that only tangentially have anything to do with the bare-bones story that legitimately work: the scene where resident goth girl Angela does a kinetic, unnerving dance under a pulsating strobe light (to Bauhaus!) is a genuinely creepy sequence, and for pure go-for-broke weirdness it’s hard to beat the topless girl with carnivorous nipples. It’s this sort of adherence to form that ultimately makes Night of the Demons succeed despite it’s myriad flaws; it’s ’80s horror distilled to the bare essence, and it’s endlessly rewatchable as a result.
Extra Credit: For another slice of the decade’s best watchable cheese, look no further than Killer Klowns From Outer Space. If you’re not already keenly aware of how ridiculous, silly, and completely awesome that movie’s gonna be, let me once again reiterate the title to you: Killer Klowns From Outer Space. Thank you for your time.