Look, I’m going to be honest with you here. Night of the Demons is not a great film. It’s a good film at its best moments and just an average 1980s horror effort when it’s not giving you those best moments. However, it more than makes up for any shortcomings it may have by being an absolute blast and a genuinely fun film to watch no matter your horror mood of the moment. It’s a horror film that shouldn’t stick out from the pack the way it has, but, somehow, it did back then and continues to do so today. It’s also a good party film for the Halloween season or any other season as it’s a film you can throw on the big screen TV and just enjoy the hell out of with a bunch of likeminded horror hounds.
The film’s story is actually fairly straightforward 1980s horror fare. A group of teenagers is looking to party on Halloween. Since this is a late 1980s film, our teenagers are looking to drink, do some drugs, and spend more than a little time horizontal with some of their fellow attractive partiers. This means that mom and dad’s house is out, and most other places that frown on illegal activities are also not high on the list of places to go. Their solution falls into the well-worn path (i.e. the old but still fun cliché) of the typical horror movie- they’re going to break into someplace with a questionable past. In this case, it’s an abandoned local mortuary known as Hull House.
Our cast of characters fills the checklist of 80’s teen stereotypes quite nicely. There’s nothing original or unexpected with the way any of them are portrayed, but they’re all played well enough that they work perfectly for this film. You also have Linnea Quigley and Jill Terashita playing roles in a 1980’s horror film so guys going in expecting typical 1980’s b-movie horror female nudity won’t be disappointed.
Eventually, after a lot of scenes done to give us the gist of which character is going to play what stereotype, our group is assembled and ready to make their way to party central. Oh, pay close attention to what seems a throwaway bit with a cranky old man who hates kids and Halloween and loves buying apples and razor blades. That comes back into play later in the movie. But, anyhow, our gang gets to Hull House and makes their way inside to party the night away.
Hull House’s storyline history is long, convoluted, and full of the types of urban legend details that one would actually hear about such places in real life and around their hometown. As told to us by our film’s partygoers, the chunk of real estate the place was built on was known to be taboo lands by the Indians who lived there centuries earlier. The Indians knew not to cross an old creek and venture into the lands as the woods were the home of evil spirits. The stories even come with the tale of an Indian who ventured into the woods and disappeared only to be found days later living in a tent made from his wife’s skin and feeding on his child. The place’s modern history includes whispered stories of black magic rituals held by the owners before its closure. These stories, of course, lead our partiers to decide that holding a séance there on Halloween night is a really good idea. These kids have obviously never seen HELL NO: The Sensible Horror Film and taken notes.
Of course, as happens with every movie where teens partying in a house of the dead whip out their Ouija board, hold a séance, or in some other way or another try to commune with the dead, the dead decide to chat back. They also decide that being bugged by partying teenagers makes them more than just a wee bit cranky. The filmmakers didn’t play coy with the concept of the séance opening the door that would unleash hell on our characters either. We get our first fast glimpse of our ancient demonic entity in a large standing mirror being used for the séance.
One of our characters sees the entity in the mirror, but, of course, no one else takes her tearful, terrified claims seriously. From there, the group starts their planned festivities save the two of them that decide that getting the hell out of there is really the much better plan to prioritize. These festivities don’t last long however as things start to go hellishly south very quickly. Our two smart members of the group discover that leaving is not an option at that point, and our partiers quickly discover they’ve unleashed something evil into their midst that pretty much just wants to see them die painful deaths before the evening is done. Well, and to hide lipstick in a way that made my skin crawl back when I first saw this in the 80s.
From there we get the basic paint by number knocking off of characters seen in a lot of the horror films that came out in the 1980s. But, again, something in the film makes the standard paint by number path seem a lot better than most the other films that did it. There’s an unrestrained glee in the way the horror is played out on the screen, and it comes through in ways that just hook you as a viewer.
Everyone tries their level best to survive, but, of course, not everyone does. The big bad they’ve unleashed has its fun with them rather than killing them outright or all at once, so we get multiple scenes of horrific death as well as some almost Scooby-Dooesque monster chasing people through the haunted house scenes. When we finally reach the end of our schlockfest, we see our survivors walking away in shock and we get our twisted payoff scene with the grumpy old guy and his razor blade apples.
Again, when you break it down to its basics, this is essentially just an okay movie. The story isn’t particularly inspired or different from the pack, there are no real standout performances from much of the horror fare of its kind from that time, the music was run of the mill stuff for the genre at the time, and even the opening credits section feels horribly dated. The thing about the film is this though; it’s just goofy fun. It’s not a so bad it’s good type of fun film, it’s just a legitimately fun film in a gruesome, gory kind of way. It’s a film where all of the very basic parts just added up to be something way better than they seemingly should have, and they created an amazingly enjoyable horror classic from the late 1980s.
The monster makeup and FX for our demon-possessed killers are pretty damned good, and the gore scenes are satisfying without going too far towards the extreme. While not really bringing anything greatly original to the concepts seen in the film, what’s there is pulled off (or, as in one very famous scene amongst fans I referenced earlier, pushed in) well enough to provide visceral scares, shocks, and even some black humor laughs. That last bit may be a key thing here as the film never seems to take itself too seriously.
The filmmakers knew they didn’t have the next Halloween or The Exorcist on their hands, but rather they had a very dark, black humor tinged horror film on their hands and they filmed it as such. It’s not always overt humor in the mold of Army of Darkness or Shaun of the Dead, but there’s an undeniable black humor vibe throughout a number of the film’s moments- especially with regards to the grumpy old man with his apples and razor blades.
It’s not a film for everyone, but it has become a film that’s acquired a strong cult following over the years because of the attributes I just listed above. It’s also a great party film because of those attributes. It’s good, goofy, gory, and a hell of a lot of fun.
Night of the Demons, as well as an okay sequel film and a mostly skippable third installment, are available in various home video formats for pretty reasonable prices through online retailers like Amazon and your local brick and mortar stores.
Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek who, while enjoying most everything fandom has to offer, finds himself most at home in the horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction genres. He has in the past contributed to websites like Needless Things, Gruesome Magazine, and others while occasionally remembering to put up the odd musings on his own blog. He’s been a guest on several podcasts from the ESO Network, on Decades of Horror, and on the Nerdy Laser. He is also a regular co-host on The Assignment: Horror Podcast as well as the primary writer for its affiliated blog.