In Horror Bucket List, I fill in gaps in my horror film knowledge based on recommendations from friends on Twitter. We then have a back and forth discussion about their history with the film.
First up: 1988’s Night of the Demons with @JohnnyPHreak.
Plot: Ten teenagers party at an abandoned funeral parlor on Halloween night. When an evil force awakens, demonic spirits keep them from leaving and turn their gathering into a living Hell.
Obviously this was a first time watch for me. I didn’t really get into horror until the early to mid 90s, so I have a lot of gaps in my 80s knowledge. I think I had heard of this film from the tagline (“Angela is having a party. Jason and Freddy are too scared to come, but you’ll have a hell of a time”), but I really had no idea what to expect going in.
When did you first see Night of the Demons?
This is a two part answer for me. When I was a kid (approximately 7-10), I had a best friend and we would sleep over at each other’s homes. During those years we would secretly watch R-rated movies on cable that I couldn’t see at home. This is where I got my introduction to Freddy Krueger, zombie movies and Candyman.
I don’t specifically remember when it happened, but one night we saw pieces of Night of the Demons. It was near the end because I remember Judy (Cathy Podewell) in the Alice costume.I remember her being chased down the halls by the demons in the film. It terrified me to no end. I had nightmares of being attacked in a haunted house for weeks.
Fast forward to my late teens, when I was really getting into film. I had a license, an allowance and the ability to rent films on my own. This is where I got into the Friday the 13th series and my love of horror blossomed. I rented Night of the Demons because of that cover – it was calling to me. It’s so goofy and fun (I won’t call it campy).
By the end of the film I was getting flashbacks of what I had seen as a kid and it scared me a bit. But I was also so excited by what I saw that I knew I wanted more.
That nostalgia element is funny. It can sometimes cloud our memories of a film so when we revisit it, we discover that it doesn’t hold up as well as we thought. I love that this was a gateway horror entry for you (this is horror movies at sleepovers are so important!), but I’m especially glad that you still love it. What is it about the film that you like/love?
I was born in ‘82 and one of my first life memories is seeing E.T. I should be a Stan for ‘90s horror, but ‘80s films have had such an impact on me and hold a special place in my heart. They shaped me who I am as a person and as a film nerd.
Night of the Demons is one of those underrated gems that flies under everyone’s radar.
I love the mostly practical effects of the horror in the film. The story is one that has been done to death, but in this setting it’s appealing. Instead of an info dump, we get back story in dialogue between characters; they’re just passing along information they’ve heard. I really love that. I actually enjoy most of the characters even those mostly all of them are annoying! They play on familiar character tropes, but they’re just different enough to make the film interesting.
At times, you might want to see some of these characters die, but then they each get a moment where you kind of hope that they don’t. One character I really enjoy (Amelia Kinkade’s Angela) turns out to be the villain. The “bully” character turns out to be a sort of hero, and not all of the characters that you expect to die do. That’s the film playing against type.
Interestingly, haunted house films don’t always hook me in. What seems different to me about this film is that there is no one nefarious in the main cast; everyone just wants to party. But they happen to be partying in the wrong house on the wrong night. It’s kind of a comedy of errors that leads to demons being unleashed.
Night of the Demons is pure ‘80s from the look, from the costume design to the design of the house. I live for how all of that makes me feel. The soundtrack mixes punk rock with a bit of ‘80’s synth pop. If there are any two genres of music outside of classic rock that I love, it’s those two.
The subversion was definitely one of the more unexpected parts of the film. After I watched it, we were discussing the film offline. I was struggling with some of the narrative choices, particularly the fact that Angela is such a fun, relatable character, but once she becomes possessed, we’re stuck with bland Judy and preachy Rod as our protagonists, which feels like both a bold and a safe choice all at once. Who is your favourite character(s)?
I really love Angela before and after she becomes the main demon and protagonist of the film. She’s the connective tissue of the film because without this party, we have no story. She’s also the outsider of the group. I was an outcast and if I was to throw a party in high school, it was for all the wrong reasons, so I really relate to her. Angela just wants to have fun, be spooky and scare her “friends”. And that’s exactly what happens in the film!
Suzanne (Linnea Quigley) is fun as well. She could have been the cookie cutter, boy crazy best friend, but as played by the horror icon, Suzanne is given some real weight. Quigley seems to be having some real fun in the role. She is also one of the few performers that gets a fair amount to do. As a fan of hers, seeing her in anything always makes me happy.
Quigley is hilariously great (Sidebar: sometimes I forget about the 80s penchant for nudity, so seeing her fully nude body at one point was a bit surprising). I’ll confess that one of the single greatest scenes in the film for me is when Suzanne randomly inserts a tube of lipstick into her breast! It’s such a bold, bizarre moment (and again, highlights the fun practical effects that you mention above). Do you have a specific scene or scare that you like to revisit or that comes to mind when you think of the film?
There are three scenes that stick out to me and two of them are the quintessential moments that people talk about when this film is brought up. The first is Angela’s dance sequence; it’s mesmerizing and haunting. I don’t entirely feel that she’s lost control during that moment, though she is teetering on the edge of full possession. We are told she’s an outcast and weird, so I think this might be something she would do while human, but the demon is feeding on her impulses and during the course of the dance is when she fully becomes a monster.
The second is that shock of a final moment when the old man who hates kids and Halloween gets brutally murdered by his spouse as a Halloween joke. We are taught to make sure to check your candy as kids and at the beginning this Scrooge does plan on “spiking” kids treats, which is horrible. So it’s karma. It’s also not something I was expecting when I first saw it. It’s so bloody and gory that it leaves the viewer awestruck.
The third moment that caught my attention was right near the end just after Judy and Rodger get chased into the crematorium and they have a really deep laugh before Rodger starts balling in Judy’s arms. lt’ss a great character beat that you don’t always see in a horror film. I really love the emotion of that scene because it feels raw and real.
This film is from 1988, so it’s coming in at the end of a decade full of horror films. I felt like director Kevin Tenney and writer Joe Augustyn were really pulling from the Evil Dead films with the comedy and the camerawork. What other influences or homages do you see?
I think they might be taking their premise from old ghosts and haunted house stories as well as the great haunted house films like The House on Haunted Hill, The Shining and The Legend of Hell House.
That last one seems most akin to this film. I don’t think it’s a spoof as much as it is a homage to great haunted house films of the past. Films of the ‘50s and ‘60s were a huge influence on films of the 80s, but some of the best haunted house films actually came out in the ‘70s. Night of the Demons mixes traditional ghost stories with the haunted house film, as well as “the party gone wrong”. And then add in demons! So they are pulling from multiple sub-genres and somehow it all works pretty well.
I really enjoyed this silly, zany film, so I’m really glad you suggested it! I think it’s a solid 3.5/5 for me.
What’s your final rating (out of 5) for Night of the Demons? And where can people get in touch with you (Twitter/Letterboxd) if they want to follow up?
I would give the film a three and a half out of 5. It hits all my nostalgia buttons for ‘80s horror films. The film also plays with tropes and has a few interesting characters.
People can find me on Twitter and Letterboxd at JohnnyPHreak. I also co-host a film podcast with my friend Shannon, the Voice Over Picture Show, which is available on most podcast apps.