Monday, 8 October 2012

Night of the Demon

1980, US, Directed by James Wasson
Colour, Running Time: 92 minutes
Review Source: DVD, R1, Code Red; Video: 1.33:1, Audio: Mono

Notorious probably mostly because it made the infamous 'banned' list in Britain back in the early 80s, Night of the Demon has over the years become a symbol of the bad film as amusement. So, does the 'brainchild' of Jim Ball (who appears to have done absolutely nothing before or since, at least in the film world) deserve such an... accolade, or should it have been forgotten the moment they lost the original negatives. One of the few films to take on the legend of the bigfoot, or sasquatch (the big ape-like creature we've only ever seen footprints or blurry photographs of), the story is told in retrospect by a heavily bandaged professor in a hospital who recounts his trip into the backwoods with a bunch of college students in an effort to get to the bottom of the mystery, where several people have been found mutilated in various ways. Of course the fools find that the legends are gruesomely true, and not only that but the big hairy mutha has a taste for the human female (go find one of your own kind!). Climaxing at a woodland cabin the last few teens begin to wish they'd spent their holidays at summer camp being slaughtered by Jason, as the place is attacked by the monster and their blood becomes decoration across the rotten wooden walls.
Eschewing any kind of careful thought from the outset, the film (with a story that somewhat foreshadows elements of The Blair Witch Project) portrays an odd series of flashbacks within a flashback, many of which couldn't possibly have been witnessed to the circumstantial degree which they're retold by the know-it-all young professor. The frequent deaths are, however, rather entertaining (though I'm sure Mary Whitehouse's grandchildren and The Daily Star would beg to differ), one of my favourites being the camping guy who gets picked up in his sleeping bag and swung round the beast's head five or six times before flying through the air to end up impaled on a branch. Then there are the wondering pair of girl guides who are forced to get up close and personal with one another. Oh and there's the scene in the van with the lovers, one of whom ends up a bloody mess on the windscreen while the woman sits there unproductively screaming her head off. The list goes on, and I think it's all this crazy disregard for human life that has kept the film alive over the years. I honestly don't think this mad shit could ever corrupt anybody! Hence looking back at the BBFC's decision in the 80s (and in the 90s - it was eventually released then quite heavily cut) arouses some measure of bewilderment (though this is likely due to some of the really nasty stuff that has gotten past the board in more recent years). One thing I will say though is that, despite the monster here often being derided I actually think it's rather effective. Yes, the hairless chest on an otherwise hirsute ape-man is rather odd, but the uncanny neanderthal appearance is I would say pretty nightmarish, and I think the show-stopping finale in the cabin evinces an aura of terror and doom, the wonderfully deranged sound design playing a part here. So, far from demonstration material at the London Film School, it's something you're unlikely to become too bored watching.

I think the bigfoot legend has been something that's lurked around my own imagination for a long time, probably because of the effective take on it in The Six Million Dollar Man back in the 70s, where the creature (which turns out to be a robot) scared the pants off me as a child. Therefore I was intrigued when I saw a few clips of Night of the Demon in my late teens, and later picked up a dupe cassette of the film (it was not readily available at the time due to the ban). There has since been a legitimate sell-through VHS tape and subsequent DVD of this film released by Vipco in the UK, but you may as well forget about those. Code Red put out their own disc in the US in 2011. Unable to locate a film source they turned to a videotape master struck by VCI (there is some overlaying text betraying this fact at the beginning of the film but thankfully this soon disappears). Code Red apologise for the quality but it's not too bad, though detail-wise it is average in the grand scheme of things. They came under flak, however, due to the overbearing appearance of Maria Kanellis, some ex-wrestling star who's decided she wants to blemish the horror world with her presence. I do agree that this (consisting of an introduction and, yetch, a generic music video!) is completely unnecessary but I don't really understand why such a move should give birth to the hostility that it does. It's the same as the Arrow syndrome, where so called 'fans' scream bloody murder because they don't like the cover art or something, despite Arrow providing four cover options for your choice! Personally I'm glad just to have these films available at all (though preferably on Blu-ray, something which would for once have been pointless in this case). Sound is Dolby Digital-ly encoded mono, and extras of more relevance include several trailers. Code Red seem to court controversy (and I do think some of this could be avoided), which is sort of odd considering their discs then go on to fetch rather a lot of money once they go out of print, but they've put out some interesting releases for the collections of genuine enthusiasts. This being one of them.

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