It’s Halloween night and a goth teenager named Angela is hosting a party. Although Angela is considered weird by her high school peers and is rumored to practice witchcraft, her holiday celebration is an event that appeals to teens across the spectrum of types and cliques.
Attending this soirée will be Angela’s boy-loving, makeup obsessed sidekick Suzanne, dressed in some sort of cutesy pink outfit; son of a preacher man Rodger, dressed as a pirate; party animal/punk rocker/slob Stooge, who adds a pig nose to his regular get-up; toga-sporting Helen, who hangs out with Stooge despite the fact that he’s constantly berating her; couple Max and Frannie, who are dressed to match as a surgeon and nurse; rich boy Jay, who’s too good to wear a costume; Jay’s new girlfriend Judy, dressed as Alice in Wonderland; and Judy’s trouble-making ex (they went on one date) Sal, who still has a thing for her and finds out about the party at the last minute from Judy’s bratty little brother, who he steals a mask from. Hostess Angela wears a black wedding dress.
A good girl, Judy is at first hesitant about going to the party and hanging around the likes of Angela. She was planning to go the high school Halloween dance, but Jay talks her into changing their plans, because who could possibly throw a better Halloween party than Angela? “It’s like Christmas to her.”
The film makes it clear to us that Judy is our heroine as soon as she is introduced, sweetly trying to help an elderly man who was just the victim of two pranks in a row. The youth-hating old jerk doesn’t appreciate Judy’s kindness, but she tried. Apparently she’s a helper in general, because it’s also mentioned that she took part in a benefit drive for the homeless.
There is an odd step taken when the camera lingers on Judy getting ready to change into her costume while talking to Jay on the phone. There’s a glimpse of her bare butt, then she’s walking around in her bra. Come on, movie, don’t creep on your innocent heroine! The scene is capped off by her brother jumping out of her closet to scare her and commenting that she has “bodacious boobies”.
It takes a while for the characters to reach Angela’s party, but they do eventually get to the venue, a place which is both off-putting and a draw, considering the date. The infamous Hull House, a crumbling mansion on the outskirts of town, right next to the cemetery. Thanks to an old book Max once checked out of the local library, he knows a whole lot about Hull House and the land it sits on, and he’s very willing to share his knowledge. Hull House used to be a funeral parlor, until one Halloween night the necrophiliac mortician and his family were butchered in a murder/suicide, the crime scene such a gory mess that authorities were never able to determine which of the corpses was also the killer. The legends of horrible occurrences go back further than that, though, all the way back to the times of early settlers. The local Indian tribes wouldn’t cross the underground stream that surrounds the property, believing the land to be unclean. Their fears were confirmed when a brave got lost in the area, crossed onto the bad land, and turned cannibal. In modern times, a brick wall was built over the top of the underground stream to mark it. It’s said that evil spirits can’t cross over running water, so if a person besieged by the evil that inhabits Hull House can manage to get over the wall and thus cross the stream, they will be safe.
Someone will have to do just that by the time this night is over.
The party starts off like any typical teenage gathering. The kids down alcohol, dance, and eat snacks that Angela shoplifted from a convenience store while Suzanne distracted the clerks with her skimpy skirt. Then, things take a turn for the spooky when Angela suggests they hold a séance, a notion Frannie supports, saying they should have a past life séance. This involves the group sitting in front of a full-length mirror, staring into it until it clouds over black, and then within the mirror they’ll see images of their past lives.
Most of the partiers don’t take this seriously, which angers Angela, who takes it very seriously. The group stares into a mirror, it clouds over black, and then Sal breaks everyone’s concentration with an exclamation of surprise at the fact that the mirror actually did cloud over. Everyone looks away… and while they’re not looking, the face of a demon appears in the mirror. The only person who catches a glimpse of the demon is Helen, who is so scared by the sight that she accidentally causes the mirror to topple over and shatter.
Soon after the mirror breaks, banging sounds begin to emanate from the basement. These sounds are coming from inside the crematory chamber. The chamber door bursts open and an otherworldly P.O.V. raises through the house, going upstairs, bringing with it a cold and a stench of the sort, according to Angela, that accompanies demonic infestation.
It may have been a fun idea to party in Hull House on Halloween night, but it wasn’t a smart one. The legends are true, this land is inhabited by demonic spirits, and the house itself is possessed… Not haunted, possessed. And on Halloween, these spirits are able to roam free. Now that they’re loose, they begin to wreak havoc on the youths who were foolish enough to come to Hull House on this night, tormenting, terrorizing, and murdering them, possessing their bodies to use in their homicidal fun and games.
Just as the possession starts, with Suzanne being the first to get possessed, the teens split up to do their own things, unknowingly making themselves easier prey. Max, Frannie, Jay, and Judy go exploring around the house, looking for some privacy – as typical horny horror movie characters, Max and Frannie attempt to have sex in a coffin they find. Too scared to stay any longer, Rodger and Helen try to leave – but find that the gate has disappeared, there is no break in the brick wall for them to pass through.
Removing the gate is just one trick the property plays. In the house, lights switch on and off on their own, doors refuse to open, they lock and unlock at the whim of the house. The demonic spirits are in control of everything, which makes it very hard to be a person fighting for your life in Hull House.
The possessed act differently at different times. Sometimes they seem like their former selves, just slightly off-kilter. For a while, Suzanne’s preoccupation with her looks is enhanced to a crazy degree, she can’t get her looks right, and what she does with her lipstick stays in the mind of everyone who watches this movie.
The demonic spirits also make the possessed act provocatively, most notably in the famous scene which features Angela doing a sexually-charged dance to “Stigmata Martyr” by Bauhaus. Angela’s dance is one my favorite moments in the movie. I always enjoy it when a movie takes time out for a dance sequence, and this one is accompanied by a cool goth rock song.
At other times, the possessed go through hideous transformations and become rampaging, zombie-like creatures that are just out for blood.
Characters get possessed in different ways, too. The evil spirit enters Suzanne through her mouth, and she passes it on to Angela through a kiss, who passes it on to Stooge through a kiss. The other way people get possessed? They get murdered, and then their corpses rise as demons.
Eventually, the characters are whittled down until Judy and Rodger are the only non-possessed teens left, struggling to survive until sunrise, when the evil spirits will be forced to return to the underworld.
A film in the tradition of the Evil Dead series, Night of the Demons is a very fun, gory, youth-oriented horror/comedy. That made it quite a change of pace for director Kevin S. Tenney, whose 1986 feature debut Witchboard had been serious and centered on adult characters with complicated personal lives. Written by first timer Joe Augustyn, Night of the Demons had a style very different than Tenney’s previous work, being much more concerned with laughs and bloodshed than studying its characters. Tenney was certain that it was going to be the end of his career, not trusting that this sort of movie would go over well with the public.
The public ate it up. Night of the Demons was a big hit, quickly developing fan base and going on to be considered one of the genre classics of the ’80s.
As delivered by a great cast that includes Amelia Kinkade as Angela, Cathy Podewell as Judy, scream queen Linnea Quigley as Suzanne, and show-stealing Hal Havins as Stooge, Augustyn’s lines bring the laughs. The scenarios he put their characters through effectively brings the horror.
Working with cinematographer David Lewis, Tenney made a fantastic looking film, a movie that he believes is the best looking one he’s ever made. The tone and style of it allowed them to work in some great camera movements and tricks; sweeping crane shots, Steadicam, 360s, a scene that plays on the reflection of characters in the shattered mirror glass on the floor. Tenney was unleashed, and the result is impressive.
Another impressive bit of movie magic is how isolated the filmmakers were able to make Hull House seem, when the shooting location was in fact right in downtown Los Angeles, at the corner of a busy intersection. On the screen, it plays like the middle of nowhere.
The movie perfectly captures the look and tone of a Halloween night in small town America, making it one of the best Halloween-set horror movies ever, and there have been quite a few of those.
The Halloween spookshow perfection begins at the same moment the film does, when the synth-heavy rock score composed by Dennis Michael Tenney kicks in and starts playing over an animated title sequence full of pumpkins, cemeteries, winged demons, skeleton creatures, dark clouds, and lightning.
As if the demon action wasn’t enough, there’s also an anthology-esque wraparound involving the pranked old man Judy tries to help early on. This old creep hates kids so much that he plans to bring to life a Halloween urban legend and hand out apples with razor blades inside them to trick-or-treaters. In true anthology fashion, the old man’s evil scheme turns out to be his own demise. It’s incredible.
More than twenty-five years after its initial release, Night of the Demons still holds up as a great entry in the horror genre, and one that is well worth watching every Halloween season.