[20 October 2010]
Warning: this review contains spoilers and sexually explicit language. (It’s all very scary!)
Night of the Demons oozes desperation, from the potty-mouthed 20- and 30-somethings behaving like teenagers who populate the film; to Edward Furlong, hoping to salvage his sagging career with any starring role; to director Adam Gierasch, eager to pass off this plodding clunker as “the horny, punk-rock movie that I wanted to see when I was 17 years old”.
Bad girl Angela (Shannon Elizabeth) throws a Halloween party at a New Orleans mansion where grisly murders took place 85 years earlier. A raft of post- and post-post-adolescent partiers descends on the place, and at their hostess’ bidding, embark on a night of debauchery. Alas, the cops soon arrive and shut down the party. The revelers run off, leaving Angela and her gang of friends, including drug dealer Colin (Edward Furlong) and Colin’s ex Maddie (Monica Keena), to continue the party in a more intimate fashion.
When Angela gets too close to a skeleton that the group finds in the basement, she is possessed by one of seven resident demons, setting the plot in motion: once all the demons inhabit humans (the Halloween party conveniently numbers seven), they will be free from imprisonment inside the house. However, if just one of the gang survives until dawn, the spell will be broken and the demons will return to Hell until next Halloween (or the sequel, whichever comes first).
Extraneous explication, some dull patches before the demonic shenanigans begin in earnest, dialogue that tries hard but fails to be witty, and a soundtrack full of generic metal and goth rock (where was the punk?) combine to sink the film.
The original Night of the Demons (1988), no gem either, embraces the ‘80s horror film tradition of depicting adolescent sexuality, then punishing its practitioners with gory demises. Have sex in a casket: suffer dismemberment and demonic possession. Kiss another girl: get flambéed by a makeshift flame-thrower (after undergoing demonic possession).
Night of the Demons the remake ups the transgression. “We could have an orgy”, Suzanne (Linnea Quigley, who has a cameo in the 2009 version) says hopefully in the original, but no teens—demon or otherwise—take her up on her offer. Not so with the remake, which treats us to a brief glimpse of demon group sex. Night of the Demons, in fact seems to have been scripted as a loose confederation of scenes modeled on various porn genres. “I wanna see some guy on guy!” cries Suzanne (Bobbi Sue Luther), when Jason (John F. Beach) is paired with Dex (Michael Copon) in a game of spin the bottle. Demon Angela flirts with Jason by fellating a liquor bottle (oral!), Suzanne pushes a lipstick into her breast in a scene borrowed from the original (fetish!), while the possessed Dex engages with girlfriend Lily (Diora Baird) in what director and co-screenwriter Adam Gierasch claims to be “the first demon butt-fucking scene ever put on film”.
Don’t conclude that Night of the Demon overturns the horror-film notion that sex is a punishable. The Final Girl rule remains firmly in place in the remake, as in the original. Only the female able to abstain from sex and other vices survives to confront and defeat the monsters. Maddie, like Judy (Cathy Podewell) in the original, is clearly marked as the Final Girl from the start of the film, by her dress as much as by her behavior. Judy goes to the party as Alice in Wonderland. Maddie, made up as a slasher victim, is dressed more modestly than Lily and Suzanne, both garbed scantily and provocatively as cats. Their twin costumes underscore their conformity, just as their grooming practices mark them as followers of sexual fashion, and further distance them from Maddie. Unlike her two friends, we learn in an early conversation among the three, our Final Girl doesn’t wax.
So, rather than mark a more progressive attitude toward sexuality, Night of the Demon seems instead to reflect the mainstreaming of a pornographic sensibility grafted onto the familiar, reactionary modern horror film plot. Women are granted sexual agency rather than wantonness, and homosexuality is at least countenanced, if still feared by hetero males. Yet sex is punished, and sexual appetite is aligned with the demonic.
This bundle of contradictions may result from the film’s co-authored screenplay. Gierasch shares screenwriting credit with Jace Anderson, with whom he’s collaborated before; the two also co-wrote Autopsy (2008), which Gierasch directed. “We have big-titted chicks being chased by demons”, he reports in an interview at Comic-Con 2010, included in the DVD extras; she calls the film “a fun, party horror movie filled with girls in corsets”. Both are correct. Maybe Colin sums it up best: “Why the hell are you being so goddam logical; none of this makes any fuckin’ sense!”