The piece below was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.
The 1988 cult classic gets the Shout Factory Special Treatment
These days, it seems you can’t throw a rock without hitting a cult genre film that’s being pulled from the mists of time and given a lavish special edition release from a boutique label – and that just rocks, because it means we get to see glorious schlock like Kevin S. Tenney’s demonsploitation romp Night of the Demons look better than it has in 35 years.
The film was a fairly serious hit given its budget, and helped to put independent studio Republic Pictures on the playing field in a serious way. From an original script by Joe Augustyn (who’s idea for the demonic creatures in question was that of spirits who’ve never had physical form and so view possessing humans as the ultimate amusement park ride), the film primarily follows high school good girl Judy (Cathy Podewell) and her peers as they experience an evening of. . . well, it’s in the title.
The titular night of said misfortune just so happens to be Halloween, when the borders between this world and the others are at their thinnest. Angela Franklin (Amelia Kinkade) has invited some of her fellow students to join her for a part in Hull House for what sounds like an innocent night of ’80s teenage debauchery but escalates to gooey terror. An abandoned funeral parlor that’s the subject of local gruesome folklore (including the murder of the Hull family) and supposedly restless spirits, Hull House as a location starts creepy and turns downright malicious as the night goes on. After a disastrous seance unleashes a mischievous demon in the house, guests start getting possessed and either meet a gruesome fate or attempt to murder their schoolmates – generally both.
It’s easy to see why Night of the Demons has gained a following, even apart from the very ably executed (if somewhat familiar) Evil Dead-esque monster face / murder business once the dark magic kicks into high gear. The film arguably spends a bit too long in table setting while wrangling its ensemble cast so that they’re all in the same place for monster shenanigans, but this patience also allows the movie to really wrap its hands around some genre tropes that it upends even as it revels in others. None of the characters quite pop the way Ashley Williams does in Sam Raimi’s big breakout, but Tenney and screenwriter Joe Augustyn do an impressive job of balancing dynamics and locations among their large ensemble, and make solid use of the locations and levels in the house.
Night of the Demons is at its best when its doing things like the grossest possible version of “cat got your tongue” or letting pulp horror star Linnea Quigley have a breakdown while applying makeup or throwing people off roofs to be impaled by rusty spikes, and less so when it’s lingering on strobe light dance scenes or shouty “teens” trading insults. It feels like more time could have been spent with fleshing out the motivations of characters like Angela (the goth putting one over on some of the popular kids). But it’s got both the “commitment to the bit” spirit and the genuine talent behind its makeup effects, and gets to the finish line in time for a genuinely solid finale. It’s not quite a Lost Classic, but it goes down real easy as a way to start ringing in the season of the witch.
Shout Studios / Scream Factory really did a hell of a job on this restoration, even compared to the previous HD release. The film can’t escape the era in which is was filmed or the obviously limited budget, but the 4K transfer (evidently from a the original Unrated negatives) lets the blacks of the film’s many shadows soak through nicely as well as bringing out the tones of the various types of viscera or the blues of Judy’s Alice in Wonderland dress. And in spite of how rich the detail is up close, this is an example of a make-up heavy film where the illusion still holds up in the face of Ultra HD. The audio is equally limited by its time and means, but the disc delivers the same clean mix from the 2014 Blu-ray release that spotlights the growly demons voices and booming music while never losing dialogue clarity.
Shout Studios and Scream Factory really rolled out the red carpet for this 2-disc set, with both the 4K disc and the Blu-ray each coming with a suite of extras that remind me of the DVD special features heyday of the naughties.
Disc 1 (4K UHD):
Audio Commentary – With Director Kevin Tenney, Actors Cathy Podewell, Billy Gallo, And Hal Havins, And Special Make-Up Effects Creator Steve Johnson
Audio Commentary – With Director Kevin Tenney, Producer Jeff Geoffray, And Executive Producer Walter Josten
Audio Commentary – With Director Kevin Tenney, Actors Linnea Quigley And Phillip Tanzini, And Casting Director Tedra Gabriel
See You In Hell (35 minutes ) – Interview With Writer/Producer Joe Augustyn
Contortions And Coffins (18 min) – Interview With Actor Jill Terashita
The Perfect Punk (9 min) – Interview With Special Effects Artist Nick Benson
International Cut (90 min) – Standard-definition of the workprint of the film
Disc 2 (Blu-Ray):
You’re Invited (72 minutes) – The Making Of NIGHT OF THE DEMONS: A Documentary
Amelia Kinkade, Protean (23 min) – An Interview With Actor Amelia Kinkade
My Demon Nights – An Interview With Pulp Scream Queen Linnea Quigley
Allison Barron’s Demon Memories (4 min)
THE HALLOWEEN PARTY Workprint (88 minutes) – Standard Definition Workprint With Alternate Title
THE HALLOWEEN PARTY Alternate Opening Title Sequence (4 min)
Alternate R-Rated Scenes (3 minutes)
A Short NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (8 min) – distribution promo
Still Galleries – Behind-The-Scenes, Special Effects And Makeup, Stills, Posters, And Storyboards
Yeah, look at all that good fucking food – you love to see it.
Night of the Demons: Collectors Edition is available on 4K UHD and Blu-Ray from Shout Studios and Scream Factory.
Get it at Amazon: Night of the Demons Scream Factory 4K UHD Blu-ray
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