"An evil mutation embarks on a wave of brutal butchery."
directed by: James C Watson
starring: Michael J Cutt, Joy Allen, Bob Collins, Jodi Lazarus, Richard Fields, Michael Lang, Melanie Graham
(back of video blurb):
"In shock and pain after being found in the forest with his face mutilated and most of the skin burnt away, professor Nugent insists that the American legend of the 'Big Foot' monster is true. A number of horrific incidents are recalled in graphic flashbacks: the brutal murder of a local fisherman, the mutilation of a couple making love in their van, and the horrendous death of a young motorcyclist. All bear the gory signs of having been butchered by the demon.
A group from the University's anthropology class, including the young daughter of the dead fisherman, set out to uncover the mystery. They disturb a black magic ritual, and force the truth from a hermit, Wanda. She had been raped by the monster, and gave birth to a mutation. The group are eventually trapped by a demo, only to die in the most gruesome bloodbath ever filmed."
"One thing we can't deny, the heel is more humanoid than ape!"
- Prof. Nugent indulges in some thrilling anthropology babble
I am not worthy!
All hail what is undoubtedly the best of the worst of the early 80's backwoods slashers. We're not talking FRIDAY THE 13TH, JUST BEFORE DAWN or even MADMAN here (the good ones- honestly!), rather those slightly less distinguished entries into this much maligned sub-genre, you know the guilty usual suspects: THE FOREST, THE PREY, fellow 'nasty' DON'T GO IN THE WOODS ALONE! (the list goes on and on). NIGHT OF THE DEMON comes at at the top of that dubious list; it has so much going for it despite its shortcomings, or rather, perhaps, because of them
The film starts like FRIDAY THE 13TH concluded, with a patient, the bottom half of his face wrapped in bandages, lying in a hospital bed surrounded by police and doctors. It's at this bedside scene that the terrible truth emerges- the terrible truth about what lies in the woods, ready to prey on hapless campers. Anthropology Lecturer Professor Nugent, for it is he behind those bizarrely flapping bandages, mumbles something about a "demon" Now, this little gathering sets the scene beautifully for the rest of the film as a cavalcade of bad acting kicks in. Really, I thought they were taking the piss to start off with, but no, this is the real deal- it's so bad (the policeman deserves a special mention!) that I half expected to see Tor Johnson waddle on camera with Vampira on his arm. It's heartening to see, though, that this kind of honest-to-goodness thespian ineptitude didn't wave a cheery farewell when Ed Wood finally went and popped those clogs.
Now, that little opening scene could have kept my cheesometer ship-shape and Bristol fashion for days, but, uh-oh, this thing has only just got started ...
It comes as no great surprise that the rest of the film is told in flashback. The first scene has Prof. Nugent retelling the tale of an unlucky fisherman who is first POV stalked by some beast (in full on wooky blood-red monstoid vision) and then has his arm ripped out of his socket by said, as yet unglimpsed, beast. To, literally, add insult to injury the poor schmuck lies in the dirt bleeding to death, his weeping stump studied in loving close-up as it pumps crimson torrents; in a neat little twist the camera pans along the flow as it slowly fills up a giant footstep.
It turns out that the deceased was the Father of one of Prof. Nugent's Anthropology students, Carla Thomas, who is convinced that he was murdered (doh!). In class, to back up her theory that there is something up there in them thar hills the Prof. shows the suitably gormless looking class a piece of film supposedly found at the site where a family disappeared whilst picnicking. The scratchy film shows a woman and child with frozen cheesy grins waving at the camera; then their smiles drop to slack-jawed terror as something furry and big races briefly into shot (garnering a suitably impressed "oooh" from the class) and knocks the camera to the ground. It's hardly the climax to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT but it got the point across (actually, as unbelievable as it sounds this flick has been suggested as an influence on 1999's low budget mega-hit, but I digress ...) . Next, Prof. Nugent tells the chilling tale of what happened to a young couple one night whilst they were making out in their passion wagon up in the hills (all shown in flashback, natch). Firstly we're treated to the sight of a naked horizontal couple going at it with all the believability of an especially wooden 70's porno feature- "Ooooh Aaaah . Ohhhh " (oh, you get the idea). Now, whatever it is in those woods had never heard the saying "When the wagon's rockin', don't come a knockin'", as, all of a sudden the doors are flung open and these huge, furry ginger arms reach in and drag the butt-nekkid guy off his lady friend and out of the van and into the night. The 70's skin-flick acting angle is now taken to the next level as we hear the guy being banged about on top of the van, making the kind of impassioned cries of pain more usually associated with the bored indifference of mildly chaffing one's hemorrhoids, before dribbling bloodily down the windscreen. His girlfriend, however, ups the ante by having possibly the most unconvincing attack of hysterics ever committed to celluloid, which involves her making her porno "Ooooh Aaaah . Ohhhh " noises, but at a slightly higher pitch, whilst opening and shutting her mouth like a guppy fish. The filmmakers also have the admirable audacity to finish the scene with a close up of the girl's unblinking eye which is lifted from the close of the shower scene in Hitchcock's PSYCHO. And, ladies and gentleman, this is all within the first ten minutes!
Phew. I guess it comes as no great surprise that, next, Prof. Nugent and a gaggle of over-sexed, over-aged students jump in the first canoe and paddle upstream to Bigfoot country. Ah, now I've said it. Yep, they've come to the conclusion that they're after that most elusive of missing links- they are Anthropology students afterall!
OK, I could go on for days. Suffice to say it doesn't end well with a boffo 'orgy of violence' finale right out of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (only, Romero's film didn't feature a scene where some poor guy has his stomach split open and his entrails pulled out from the wound, before being whipped with them in lipsmacking slow motion!). There's plenty more to get your teeth into before that happens, what with the kids setting up camp and wigging out to their honky-tonk music, "Who wants to dance?!"; backwoods Crazy Wanda and her unnatural unions; her religious nut of a Father, "I'm saving your soul you ungrateful bitch!"; a Bigfoot worshipping cult; and more juicy dialogue than you can shake a stick at: when the students find that their boat gone and the moorings ripped out one of them goes,"What could have done that? Something huge, like an elephant!" (eh?).
What makes NIGHT OF THE DEMON so much more palatable than some other of the other trashy backwoods slashers, apart from dialogue howlers like that, is the fact that the makers throw in a random cheap but still pretty darn juicy gore murder to spice things up when the pacing threatens to sag. Every half-an-hour, or so, Prof. Nugent will stop, his eyes becoming a little glazed, and say something like: "It wasn't far from here that his body was found horribly mutilated, the skull had been crushed with his own axe " [cue footage of said axe murder and loving close up of bubbling wounds] " and it was in the same area that two girl scouts disappeared " [ a double murder that has to be seen to be believed where two girl scouts forcibly stab each other to death in a bizarre version of the Hokey-kokey orchestrated by the Bigfoot!]. Possibly the most infamous death scene in the movie, and perhaps the funniest, occurs when a motorcyclist stops to have a piss by some bushes and has his tackle grabbed by the Bigfoot and ripped away, which, I guess gives a whole new meaning to being pulled off!
Unfortunately, the British press and politicians didn't see the funny side of NIGHT OF THE DEMON and it found itself on the infamous Video-nasties list- a place it still holds today, as far as I know, which is a real shame. This bad movie par excellence deserves to be seen, I mean, where else can you see an eight foot monster which looks like a cross between Basil Brush and Mick Jagger chase and dismember hapless campers? Anchor Bay, are you listening?
BODYCOUNT 19 female:7 / male:12
1) Male has arm yanked clean off
2) Male killed off-screen
3) Female killed off-screen
4) Female killed off-screen
5) Male mangled
6) Female killed off-screen
7) Male swung around in sleeping bag and impaled on branch
8) Male has penis yanked off (!)
9) Male has larynx ripped out (dream sequence)
10) Male dismembered with axe
11) Female stabbed to death via hokey-cokey of death!
12) Female (same as above)
13) Male accidentally shoots himself in the head
14) Male baby killed (off-screen)
15) Male burnt to death
16) Female choked to death
17) Male disembowled and whipped with own innards!
18) Male half-decapitated on broken window
19) Female run through with pitchfork