October Horrorshow: Night of the Demons (1988)

Night of the Demons, the 1988 film from writer/producer Joe Augustyn and director Kevin Tenney, is exactly the kind of sleazy, low-budget horror flick that I expect from the 1980s. It’s not a perfect shitty horror flick, but there are numerous reasons this not-very-good movie is regarded fondly by fans of horror.

The story follows a group of teens who attend a small Halloween costume party at an abandoned funeral home, rather than hit up the lame high school dance. The host of the party is Angela (Amelia Kinkade), a student at the school who is low on the totem pole, but promises a wild night. Her idea is to have a bunch of supernatural party games to titillate and frighten the invitees.

As for those invitees, it’s a small guest list for a party, which might have something to do with the small budget.

The other partygoers are: couple Judy and Jay (Cathy Podewell and Lance Fenton); other couple Max and Frannie (Philip Tanzini and Jill Terashita); toxic couple Stooge and Helen (Hal Havins and Allison Barron); stags Rodger and Sal (Alvin Alexis and Billy Gallo); and the film’s resident slut, Suzanne (legendary scream queen Linnea Quigley, in arguably her most memorable role).

A little bit of suspension of disbelief is required in films that have twenty-somethings playing teenagers, but that’s just the reality of the business. Real teens are minors, so they can’t legally put in a full day’s work on set. Also, actors in their twenties have more experience, so they tend to give better performances. If a producer Night of the Demons 1988 movie posterhappens to hire a ‘teen’ that has a thicker five o’clock shadow than George Clooney, it’s a small inconvenience. Linnea Quigley as a teen, on the other hand, is just absurd. I’m not sure she could have passed for a college co-ed when this was filmed.

That said, she had to be in this movie. There was no other shitty horror actress who was so right for the role, who had the necessary je ne sais quoi, and who was willing to go full frontal for a dog like this. And, as it turns out, all she did was give audiences the best moments of the film.

Not long after everyone arrives, Angela suggests they have a séance. Somehow, in a way the filmmakers never bothered to explain, this allows demons residing in the house to take over the partygoers one by one, and spread some death.

Thankfully, it doesn’t take long for things to kick off. The opening scenes do a fine job introducing us to the characters and their foibles (Quigley wins the prize in epic fashion). Shortly thereafter, a demon takes its first victim well before anyone should have a chance to get bored. And that’s it for plot spoilers. I’m not giving anymore away. Not because what follows is especially good, but because I like surprises, and so should you.

Mostly, though, it’s because this is a character-driven movie. We all know this small, isolated cast is in for some shit. There is some blood and gore (not enough), some gratuitous nudity (thank you very much, Mses. Quigley and Terashita), and denouement. In between all this, we spend time with our heroes and all their foibles.

Besides Quigley, my personal favorite in the cast was Hal Havins. His Stooge is an absolute piece of shit, and a buffoon, to boot. His favorite word is ‘bitch,’ and he directs most of those barbs his date’s way, before inevitably turning his ire to the other females in attendance. It’s almost an endearing quality with him, though. He’s all bark and no bite.

He also has the most absurd lines of the film, including, “Eat a bowl of fuck!”, “Festering fuckwads!”, and “We can play post orifice, and you can be the stamp.” He’s a charmer, that Stooge, and a testament to Joe Augustyn’s powers as a writer.

Sometimes, spending 90 minutes with the characters in a horror flick can be a chore, and we viewers end up rooting for the bad guy. Make no mistake, it was a pleasure watching these folks get possessed by demons and/or killed, but I didn’t hate any of them.

It’s hard to put this down to the acting. This film was packed stem to stern with dead reads. And yet there’s life in all the performances, including early on from supporting actor Donnie Jeffcoat, who played Judy’s younger brother, Billy. Billy is a straight asshole, with a mouth on him that would make Stooge blush, and would earn him a fair share of bloody lips out here in the real world. His character did much to set the comedic tone of the film.

Night of the Demons is classic shit. It’s shameless, at times outrageous, and, most importantly for a b-movie, fun. Despite some 3rd act doldrums, it still scores well in the Watchability Index, taking over the #105 spot from City on Fire. Check it out.

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