The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1980)

Damon Swindall

by: Damon Swindall
April 28th, 2011

After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. GATW’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!


One of the things I, as a film geek, think about on a regular basis is dream double bills. This would be the double feature I would show, in 35mm of course, to a crowd if I had the means to do such a thing. Providing anyone would even come out, of course. One would follow a “horror in a movie theater” motiff consisting of POPCORN and Lamberto Bava’s DEMONS, while going in another route would be “80s alternative sports night” featuring THRASHIN’ and the BMX classic RAD. There are many more in my mind but now I have a new twofer to add to the list. A night of Bigfoot fun with HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS and a completely ridiculous, bloody fun flick from 1980 known as NIGHT OF THE DEMON.

If you watched this along with us last week you know that this is not the Halloween centered demonic possession flick - that’s NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (plural). In this film the singular 'demon' the title refers to is a Sasquatch living out in the woods that is believed to be responsible for the deaths and disappearances of many campers and necking couples. To check out the rumors, a college professor, Dr. Nugent (Michael Cutt), takes a small group of his students out into the forest to study the supposed Bigfoot footprints and determine if there is any validity to them. While there they uncover a lot more than the existence of such an elusive creature but also backwoods rape rituals, childbearing secrets and a strange girl known as Crazy Wanda (Melanie Graham).

Dr. Nugent: “A student femme fatale? That would be more of an anthropological find than Bigfoot.”

This film is truly something special. From the first few blood soaked minutes I already loved everything James C. Wasson was delivering with his film and could hardly stay in my seat I was so excited. While watching the HMN films each week I make notes of things I want to mention, and try to keep a tally of certain events for the bullet points at the bottom of the column. Normally a film’s notes fill a page to a page-and-a-half in my 6”x4” notebook but my notes on NIGHT OF THE DEMON went on for nearly four pages!

Sexy Underwear

Right off the bat I will say that the acting is, for the most part, quite atrocious. Flat delivery and some rather low production values don’t really add much toward making this film succeed. I guess you could say that it adds to the enjoyment because the horrible characters can make for some pretty big laughs, as can Nugent’s incredible dark blue briefs (seen above). There’s also a scene between two of the students over a very flirtatious game of chess (he’s got a lot of game - rimshot) where the camera is zoomed in uncomfortably close to where you can only see their eye. That’s right eye, you can’t even fit both of them into frame. While this is puzzling the real confusing part is when did chess become a way to pick-up women?

The odd filmmaking techniques don’t end at extreme close-ups. There are so many transitions that fade-to-black for a few seconds that it became fun to count them. Of course you’ll almost go mad doing so. I would say when you watch this again that would be a good time to take a swig in a drinking game, as would every time the audio drops out in a weird mixing job that makes you think your equipment is malfunctioning. It could be fun but I must insist that Gordon and the Whale, nor myself, shall be at fault if you get alcohol poisoning. Another transition technique that was quite popular in the 70s and 80s was the slow zoom on a freeze frame. This was used mainly at the end of the film and is quite an effective technique. Just recall the first time you saw that final jaw-dropping shot in SLEEPAWAY CAMP and it will all come flooding back to you. The weird thing is in this film they use that freeze frame shot but around the eleven minute mark and it goes on for nearly twenty seconds before a - you guessed it, fade-to-black!

Thanks to slashers and proto-slashers we all know the stalk-and-kill horror film has to have the POV shot and this is no exception. But here we get Bigfoot Vision where there is a lovely red hue surrounding the screen. It makes for a nice frame to the terror, almost postcard material. Love it!

Bigfoot Vision!

Another odd (read as “overused”) addition to the storytelling method here is the flashback. Sometimes a film will use one or two of these at a time to catch someone up to speed or get some pesky exposition out of the way, but Wesson decided it best to hang the majority of the film on the technique. At the opening we have Nugent laid out in a hospital bed telling the doctors and cops the story of what happened. But inside this flashback, which is the entirety of the film, there are even more flashbacks - more than you could count on one hand! Most of these moments are used to tell tales of those who have supposedly died by the hands of the Bigfoot. But there is a great moment with ol’ Crazy Wanda too.

Rev McGinty: “I’m savin’ your soul you ungrateful bitch! I’m savin’ ya from burnin’ in hell, just like your wretched mother.”

They search for this girl Wanda because of the strange things rumored to surround her. The students hear she knows about the Sasquatch and that she had a deformed child under strange circumstances. Her father, Reverend McGinty, even went so far as to burn himself alive after seeing the abomination that was her child. The students need to get to the bottom of this and when they meet her they see that she appears, in dress as well as mannerisms, to be stuck in a childlike state. It’s also easy to tell that she is indeed crazy by all of her random screaming. So how do the students choose to get the story - hypnosis. Who the hell are these kids anyway? They start out as an anthropology class studying Cryptozoological creatures and out of nowhere they all happen to be versed in the ins and outs of hypnosis? Sigh. But using this trick they learn the baby she had was the result of being raped by the the Sasquatch and her father killed the hybrid. Of course, they don’t fully believe her so they go out to excavate the baby’s grave. Stupid kids. Any sane person would have gotten the hell out of there after that story. They deserve what they get.

And get it they do! For all the horrid acting and zany logic in this film there is plenty of awesome in the form of the killing and gore. This Bigfoot is not your typical pissed of ape. He does kill with his bare hands - the second scene in the film is of him ripping a guy’s arm off - but he also has fun new ways to take care of the humans in his forest. He swings them overhead in a sleeping bag before tossing them on a protruding branch (eat your heart out Jason), makes two Girl Scouts stab each other with their own blades, uses an axe on someone and so much more. The crew did not skimp out on the kill scenes here and that is arguably the most fun and interesting part of the whole film, especially considering the creature himself is a bit of a let down. It takes until the last bit of the film before we fully see Bigfoot and, sadly, he kind of resembles MAD Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman in a second rate Chewbacca costume.

Is this MAD Magazine?

NIGHT OF THE DEMON is a very fun flick that I will be watching over and over again for years to come. I love everything from the woman whose cries of terror sound more orgasmic than the moaning while she was having sex just moments earlier to the theremin heavy soundtrack during the last gore-soaked act. Right now it’s not too easy to get your hands on a copy of this classic but the guys over at Code Red posted on their blog in December that they have worked a deal with VCX to start releasing back catalog flicks! This includes NIGHT OF THE DEMON and a film we watched a few weeks ago, MARDI GRAS MASSACRE. No date is set in stone but they said they hope to have them out by September 2011. I’m crossing my fingers for sure!

Until next week - be careful when you pee in the woods.

Body Count: 13 (and 1 baby offscreen)
Best Kill: Has to go to the guy who gets his junk torn off while urinating!
First Blood: 3:14
Number of Stories Told in Flashback: 7
Number of Times They Fade to Black: 10

Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-4/27/11: TICKS (1993)
-5/4/11: DREAMANIAC (1986)
-5/11/11: THE ABOMINATION (1986)
-5/18/11: HOMEBODIES (1974)

She's So Scared

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