Dissecting NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1980)

 A BIGFOOT BY ANY OTHER NAME

Let me start by giving you all a warning, if you don’t like spoilers, do not read any further. This review is gonna be full of them. I’m sorry, but that’s just how I roll.

Okay, let’s get this shindig started.

My first love, when it comes to genre flicks, is monster movies. Plain and simple. Be it irradiated insects grown to monstrous proportions, creatures bred from questionable genetic research, or Mother Nature running amok and providing us with inbreds and/or mutant animals to contend with, if there is a creepy crawly, hairy beast, or a Lovecraftian abomination of any kind at the core of the story, I’m in, or, at the very least, my curiosity is piqued.

I don’t know exactly why, perhaps, it has something to do with living in the country, but I have a particular affinity for rural based horror, and in the last few years, maybe, even longer than that, a particular attraction for Killer Bigfoot movies.

Despite having a large collection of Fangorias, some going way back to the mid-80s, I have never heard of NIGHT OF THE DEMON, at least, not to my immediate recollection. It is entirely possible, though, I may have come across the title, in those aforementioned magazines, but never made the connection that it’s about a hairy, humanoid myth skulking the woods, forcing any, and all, poor souls it comes across to take an impromptu dirt nap.

Why might that be?

Well, for starters, it’s called, NIGHT OF THE DEMON!

And there in lies the first piece of evidence that this may be the most unique Killer Bigfoot movie you will ever see. I first heard it mentioned in conjunction with good ol’ Squatch on a message board I used to frequent in the summer of 2010, and then I heard it mentioned on another site, one I still frequent, but this time I was under the impression it’s plot revolved around a faux Squatch (i.e. someone pretending to be Bigfoot). As I understand there is a movie in existence that has that story angle—SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED. I have never seen that particular movie, but from what I gather the “Squatches in question” are simply disguised cannibals, or something along those lines. My interest in NIGHT OF THE DEMON didn’t really take hold until I eventually learned this was not the case with this movie.

After assessing the trailer one more time with that knowledge in mind, I decided to take a chance and go all in on this misleadingly titled Squatch hunt, in hopes it would entertain me and thus end up joining it’s brothers (ABOMINABLE, SNOW BEAST (’77 TV movie), and CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE) in my DVD collection.

I am happy to report the movie was all that I hoped it would be, and, surprisingly, so much more. I knew at the thirty-minute mark that I was going to keep it, which was rather presumptuous of me to decide, since the flick was just beginning and it could have easily taken a turn for the worsen, and gone head first into the crapper. But I could feel it in that primal part of my brain, where all Squatch movies are assessed and categorized, that it wasn’t going to disappoint me. Actually, I have to say it did, right at the very end, but the “disappointment” wasn’t so extreme that it destroyed everything I had just seen, but I’ll go more into that in a while.

Let’s dissect the opening first.

As the movie opens we are introduced to a man in a hospital bed with the lower half of his face wrapped in bandages. There are three other men standing around him, and as the doctor prompts Professor Nugent into consciousness again, the tale of how he came to be there, with his facial injuries, begins to unfold.

Interesting to note that under the trivia section of this movie on IMDB, it’s stated that there was initially a different cut of this movie where only two students were killed, and the survivors were rescued by a helicopter, but the movie’s distributor wanted an all out massacre with only one survivor, thinking it would make the flick “more commercial.” Would love to know if that version still exists somewhere.

“Oh, yes, I want to tell him. I want to tell everyone what’s going on in that forest. Inspector, those stories, those horror stories you’ve heard about in that forest? They’re true. They’re all true. There is a demon . . . a creature . . .” Professor Nugent replies to the doctor. He then proceeds to tell how he and his students entered the woods to search for Squatch and how it all went horribly and fatally wrong.

The rest of the movie from here on out is a flashback tale, so we already know everyone else is dead and this guy here is the only survivor. This story telling angle is nothing new. I’ve seen it before in two other movies, the Dennis Muren/Jack Woods directed, EQUINOX (1967/1970) and Ib Melchoir’s THE ANGRY RED PLANET (1959). Both movies have an early scene of a lone survivor in a hospital bed recounting the harrowing details of what decimated their expedition, or in the case of EQUINOX a picnic/search for a professor friend.

I think you can already see the similarities between DEMON and EQUINOX, from the flash back set-up, to the woods setting, and a monster being the culprit for the missing others. I can’t help but wonder if EQUINOX was some kind of inspiration for the DEMON filmmakers.

Did you notice Nugent used the word, “demon”?

Hmmm, our first acknowledgement of the title and how it fits into this Squatch hunting scenario. I have to admit, as the movie progressed, I was eager to see what more they were going to do with these two extremely divergent concepts. Well, our next “demonic” connection to Mr. Foot comes in Nugent’s telling of a fisherman who was killed by the mythic hominid. This is also where our ingenious opening credits begin.

Right off the bat we get a POV shot of how the Squatch sees the world, and apparently it’s through an oval window bordered by red tint. Did you get that? Red tint. A very red tint.  As the man gets his arm torn off and the camera pans in so close to the wound you can make out every detail of the bloody stump, he falls to the ground, and we watch as the blood drains out into a footprint of the creature, filling it up. The credits then start and the title appears on screen right over the blood filled print.

That is a fucking brilliant title sequence!


 DON’T GO IN THE WOODS!

We move next into a college classroom setting where Professor Nugent is giving a lecture on some recent Bigfoot sightings and talking about the fisherman who was killed. We are then introduced to the fisherman’s daughter, Carla Thomas, who ends up accompanying Nugent and three of his students, two guys and a girl, out into the wilderness.

Here they meet an ornery man named Mr. Carlson who’s living in a cabin outside of town. He wants nothing to do with the visitors, but later on we understand this man has sent letters to Nugent, and he states it’s those very letters that have brought them all out here to begin with. It’s clear, later on, in a dialogue scene inside the cabin with one of the students, that this man knows a lot more than he’s letting on.

He’s afraid, but of what?

The Squatch?

Possibly.

This portion of the movie had be thinking about a short story by H.P. Lovecraft called, The Whisperer In Darkness, that is basically about a man living in a cabin in the woods who is besieged by an alien race intent on dominating the planet, and his correspondence through letters with a man who finally gets intrigued enough to pay him a visit. This is the first of two nods to Lovecraft that also had me wondering if this author influenced the filmmakers, too?

From this point on the movie becomes something more than just a squatch hunt. It’s not a radical deviation in the plot, just a little more juice added to the soup to make it more interesting. Mr. Carlson tells that student that there’s chick living way back in the woods. Crazy Wanda she’s known as who knows a lot about the Squatch. Intrigued by this development, Nugent decides he wants to go see her, but first they head into town to query the townsfolk about her.

Here we learn she’s the daughter of this seriously fucked up bible thumper named Reverend McGinty, who lived in the forest with his flock, the “forest people”. Wanda had a child, a deformed one that died, and McGinty eventually committed suicide by burning himself to death, presumably because of the “Mongoloid” looking infant.

From this point on we watch Nugent and his gang journey through the woods looking for Wanda, along the way two significant events occur. The first being the second nod to Lovecraft that takes the form of a ritual, the chanting of which wakes up the Squatch hunters. With pistol in hand, he and one of the students investigate, spying a weird ceremony in progress that is being over seen by a huge straw effigy of some humanoid creature. The chanters are supposed to be the remnants of McGinty’s forest people, or descendants of them, not sure which, and they are gathered around an alter where a young girl is laid out. As they chant something that sounds very reminiscent of things I have read in Lovecraft’s tales, a naked dude comes sauntering up to the prone chick.

His sauntering his weird to the point where I chuckled.

While all this is going on, the MC of this twisted little soiree is uttering this: “. . . through him, Mighty Maluk, plant your seeds in the body of your unholy bride. Nurture those seeds within her to produce a demon child. Let your seeds of hell grow within her . . .”

Not sure about the spelling of Maluk, for the DVD has no subtitles. But you get the drift of what is supposed to be happening here. A rather interesting sub-plot that unfortunately is very poorly connected to the main Squatch-hunting tale. So much so, you really have to guess at what all that has to do with Bigfoot.

When the ritual-rape is interrupted by gunshots and everyone scatters, and we see the girl who was laid out, later one, when Nugent and his gang reach Crazy Wanda’s cabin, we see it was Wanda who was being prepped to give birth to a “demon child.”

Did ya catch that?

That is the third “demon” connection being tenuously tied to this infinitely entertaining Squatch flick.

The second event is an odd encounter with Squatch by two of the students who decided to take a sleeping bag, separate from the others and go screwing under the night sky. As they screw, Squatch sneaks up and rakes the back of the dude and then slips back into the woods. Yup, that’s all he does.

Once Nugent, the kids and Wanda are all together now we get the full twisted tale about how she knows so much about this killer Squatch. Knowledge we get through Nugent’s expertise at hypnotizing the mute girl, and getting her to talk. Apparently, a Squatch raped Wanda one night as she was sent out of the house as punishment for defiling her father’s shrine-like room with her presence. Twisted-as-fuck McGinty thought she “sinned” and had sex with some boy.

While she was huddling outside in the woods, staring at the house, wouldn’t you know it a goddamn, dyed-in-the-wool Bigfoot visits her. Now, this “visitation,” or “appearance” of the beast is one of the many reasons why this flick is so odd.

The appearance of the beast is filmed in such a way to make you think that perhaps this is God teaching the girl the error of her ways, at least that’s what popped into my head when his leg just comes into view, slowly and deliberately like it’s either stepping off of some place high, or floating down to the ground.

‘What the fuck?’ will run through you mind.

Trust me on this.

Anyway, the creature proceeds to rape Wanda, and plant his seed in her. While she’s screaming and a thunderstorm starts up, McGinty runs out with his rifle, acting weird, and muttering. Is he watching the rape and not doing anything about it? Hard to tell, for there’s a moment when he steps down the stairs, and his head cocks in their direction. By the way, he’s a lousy shot.

Our next reference to Bigfoot being something demonic is McGinty cursing the beast out in front of a pregnant Wanda during the hypnotizing. As the revelations continue we learn her father killed the baby after it was born, and Wanda trapped him inside a shed, or something, and set it a blaze.

The gross, gooey mutant fetus is held up to the camera and chimpanzee sounds are overlaid upon the image as the little animatronic mouth pulsate.

Yup, that’s right, apparently mutant human/Bigfoot hybrid infants sound like chimps. Who knew?

Eventually, Nugent and his students stay at the Wanda cabin come to an abrupt end as the dead baby’s father storms inside, chases everyone into a store room in the back and proceeds to kill all of them in a slow motion sequence. Then we switch back to Nugent’s hospital stay where the doctor diagnosis’ him criminally insane.

Credits roll.

Movie over.

Hang on, hang on, I know what you all are thinking, is the flick really that light on the carnage? It seems heavy on plot but light on gore. Goddammit, where’s the fuckin’ gore?!

Relax, my die-hard movie collector, I deliberately saved the best for last. Let’s move this discussion into the area that makes this flick the most memorable; the nature of the beast and how it dispatches its victims.


 KILLER VIGNETTES

Before I begin let me first describe the creature to you. For most of the film he’s seen from his hairy back, or from over his hairy shoulders, or his hairy arms and legs. Eventually, we see more of him as the movie goes on, and when seen from the front, he’s bare-chested, and his visage looks more like a caveman. From the neck up, to me, he kind of resembled the Cyclops/centaur from THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD, same kind of hairstyle, too, just longer.

Counting the one Professor Nugent tells in the opening, peppered throughout the movie are four vignettes of the homicidal Squatch doing what all homicidal Squatches do best—killing people that venture into his territory. Aside from two of them, one that’s told by Carla Thomas, the daughter of the fisherman that died in the first vignette, and a random one the movie just cuts to, they’re all told by Professor Nugent himself.

The first two are fairly standard Squatch killings; fisherman getting his arm ripped off, and the one told by his daughter of a couple screwing in the back of the van when the back doors are flung open and the man is pulled out and squatched to death. Unseen as the camera stays with the cowering, naked chick who listens to the horrible sounds move over the top of the van, the man suddenly sliding slowly down the windshield as blood flows from his unseen wounds.

The oddness kind of starts in that van scene as the woman’s screams of terror kind of come off as orgasmic, not to mention slow zoom into her eyeball as the scene ends. I thought, perhaps, she had also died of fright, or something, for as this happens, she just freezes, mouth open, but Carla does not mention the fact that she died.

Squatch starts to get creative with his kills on the random scene the movie switches to of some dude zonked out in a sleeping bag in this clearing. The poor man is rudely pulled out of his slumber when Squatch grabs him by the ankle, while inside the bag, and starts swinging him around his head. Not once, not twice, but many times before a well-timed release impales the guy on a tree limb.

The next two vignettes are the most unintentionally hilarious; with his encounter with a biker being the one this film seems to be equated with the most. If you mention this movie on any message board that focuses on genre flicks, you will inevitably get a response that brings up this poor bikers gruesome demise. See, he stops to take a leak, and the moment he gets his fly unzipped and his dick out, Squatch pops out of the bush, grabs the dude’s man-staff and hauls him off his feet!

It’s not until the next shot of the man staggering back to his bike do we learn he is sans junk. You got it, Squatch tore it right off! He stands at his bike, legs quivering as blood drools out over his chrome machine. This scene also disturbed me. Eye trauma and decapitations in movies bother me; apparently “junk removal” does, too.

We actually see his junk just before Squatch makes a grab for it, and it had me wondering if that’s the guy’s real schlong, or a stunt schlong. Being as low budget as it is you can easily make the case that the director told him to simply pop his own tallywhacker out. But, you can also make the case, since they obviously had some kind of decent budget for FX that it could be a stunt staff. Sadly, without a commentary we will never know.

When it comes to the demise of the two girl scouts in another vignette, the Squatch is either an authentic wacko or a certified genius (yeah, that’s right, I stole that from GHOSTBUSTERS) for both of them have knives in their hands when they run into him and he grabs the arms and for a minute I assumed he was trying to knock their heads together, but that wasn’t his plan at all. No sir, he wants this encounter to look like a murder suicide, or a girl fight gone bad, for he’s got a good hold of the arms the girls are holding their knives with and as he swings their bodies together he stabs the girls with their own blades.

Oh, right, I forgot to mention the vignette with the guy chopping wood. Squatch takes his ax and gives him a good chop in the shoulder, and then proceeds to keep on chopping, but we only see the initially chop. All these vignettes have another thing in common, the filmmakers like to zoom in on each bloody wound, and sit on it as the blood pumps out.


 THE BACK ROOM MASSACRE

For the most part all the principal actors make it through the entire movie, save but one who gets killed near the end. As for everyone else, they meet their end in this back room they try to hide in as Squatch breaks into the cabin. This is where I was mildly disappointed by the movie. For ninety-nine percent of the movie I dug how they portrayed Squatch. The way he should always be portrayed in every movie, until the money shots at the end, with limited scenes showing only portions of the creature and supplying him with eerie music and weird sound effects to give him that air menacing like the mythic beast he is that has skulked the forests of the worlds since time immemorial. The filmmakers falter in this endeavor the moment he breaks into that back room. After that his height, which thus far has been filmed as if he towers over his victims, gets reduced so he is no taller than the rest of the actors.

His killing methods are also in tune with those vignettes, in that he uses what’s around him to kill Nugent and his remaining students (i.e. stomach opened up by a saw, raking a neck over a broken window, shoving a face into a stove). After that dude gets his stomach cut open, the Squatch goes nuts, digs out his intestines and starts swinging them madly all over the place.

If you pay attention there is an explanation to be had as to why the Squatch is killing people like a crazed, human slasher would. Of course, it’s not spelled out for you, some thinking has to be done. My theory is that this creature, too, was the product of a Bigfoot/human rape, and because of that his psychotic learning curve is a lot higher than the normal Squatch. He knows what an ax can do, what wounds a piece of glass can make, he knows the evils that man do and can mimic them perfectly, even hang a kid up by a rope with an expertly tied not.


 BAD ACTING, GOOD ACTING, IT’S ALL RELATIVE

The acting is not as uniformly bad as you might expect with a flick like this. Yes, there are moments where the dialogue is stilted and cringe worthy, but there are also moments when it’s pretty good. Of course, I could be jaded. After you see a lot of bad acting something weird happens, that bad acting suddenly starts looking good. So, it’s always a mind-blowing kick when I do encounter some “bad acting” that I just cannot stomach. Case in point, to this day, I cannot get passed the first twenty minutes of TROLL 2.


 THE “DEMON” ON DISC

After years of being only available in bootleg form, Code Red has decided to release NIGHT OF THE DEMON on DVD, unfortunately, film elements could not be found, and the transfer we see on the DVD was taken from a 1-inch tape master. In fact, after you start the movie up, this message comes up, telling you about the limitations Code Red had to work with:

Due to unforeseen circumstances, a 1-inch tape master was all that was left in the vault for this film. We at Code Red digitally cleaned it up as much as possible and apologize for any disappointment. We hope the quality will not deter viewers from enjoying the film. Thank You.

I had no idea what a 1-inch tape master was, thinking for the longest time it was technical talk for VHS transfer. I found out they are two different things. Ideally, any company wants film elements when mastering a film to DVD. If none are available, and you have a choice between using a VHS transfer or a 1-inch tape master, apparently, the latter is the better way to go.

I have not seen any of the bootlegs, or VHS tapes, floating around, so, I can’t comment on how this 1-inch transfer compares, but I have to imagine Code Red’s DVD has gotta be head and shoulders above them all. Colors are very good and for the most part the image is clear as a button. I only had issues with a few night scenes, specifically the rape and the Squatch looking at the skeletal remains of it’s offspring in a tiny coffin Nugent and his students dug up. That scene takes place in the dark, and is very hard to see what the beast is doing. A couple of shots from the rape scene are the same, but I can’t tell if that darkness was inherent in the filming of the movie, or because I’m looking at a cleaned up 1-inch tape master. But don’t let that deter any of you; the transfer Code Red created is a damn good.

I assume because of the lack of any film elements the movie could not be widescreened. It’s presented full frame here, though, from other reviews I have read it’s been said it’s an open matte, and for those of you with HD TVs, you can use your pixel shape button to frame the movie as close to it’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio as possible. I watched the movie twice, once full frame and once cropped to the TV’s 1.78:1 aspect ratio and the cropping looked good. Though, if I were to watch it again, I would stick with the full frame, so I can see the extra picture.

Can’t really comment on the black levels, for I’ve got a Sanyo, and that model isn’t known for it’s deep, rich blacks.

The audio is mono and is passable. I listen to all my movies on wireless headphones, and I had to turn the volume pretty high to be able to hear everything that was happening, which is a sign that the audio could have been better, but, hey, what are going to do.

Code Red released the movie under the ‘Maria’s “B” Movie Mayhem’ banner, and for those who are not familiar with Maria Kanellis, she was a former WWE Diva, who was recruited by Code Red and used on a number of DVDs they acquired as a way to see if they could get more sales than usual, hoping to appeal to that wresting crowd who are fans of hers; she bookends the flicks sort of like what Elvira does with the comedy shtick on her Movie Macabre TV show.

Might I add Maria is a smokin’ hot chick, who has a very long tongue, evident in the bookend that follows the movie.

Chicks with long tongues are hot! Just putting that out there.

The only extras on this disc are Maria’s new music video and trailers for three movies Code Red will soon be releasing: THE HEARSE, and two actioners, LOWBLOW and KILLPOINT.


Shawn Francis is an expert on monster movies and horror film. He runs his own blog, DVD News Flash.  Find more of his writing there. 

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