Sunday, October 14, 2012

Halloween Havoc: NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 2 (1994)

In the annuls of late '80s low-budget horror flicks, Kevin Tenney's NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (1988) holds a special place in the rotten hearts of horror fans. Why? Well, it had Linnea Quigley at the height of her popularity, it had a lot of controversy over the X-rating originally imposed on it by Jack Valenti's housewife posse, it had rather striking scenes of a demonically possessed girl in a black wedding dress, it had Linnea Quigley... did I mention that already?
The thing of it is, I've always felt that it was missing something. I liked it well enough back in the day, but over the years, as much as I like certain things about it (yes, the lipstick in the boob thing is pretty seamless), I grow less and less fond of it. The much balyhooed gore? Ummm, not so much. Not only is there very little blood, even in the uncut print, the special effects in general are very minimal, limited to mostly the latex mask work of the possessed kids, and X-rated? Horror films took a beating from the MPAA in 1988, but I can see stuff that is much more graphic in the R-rated version of HELLRAISER II, not to mention any episode of THE WALKING DEAD these days. Don't get me wrong, I really like most of Tenney's body of work (PINOCCIO'S REVENGE not withstanding), but I'm saying that NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 2 is the film that NIGHT OF THE DEMONS should have been. Lipstick-in-the-nipple scene notwithstanding, of course.

Starting out with a quick vignette in which a pair of Jehova types stop by Hull House, only to find out that perhaps the occupant really does not want to be saved and says so with a small machete. Not too far from the old Hull House is a Catholic boarding school for wayward teens, and well all know what that means. Wayward teens who look a little long in the tooth for college, but take their clothes off at the drop of a paycheck. The school is ruled with an iron fist by Sister Gloria (Jennifer Rhodes), a yard-stick fencing nun who's obsession with discipline clashes with Father Bob 's (Rod McCary) ideals of general tolerance, except when it comes to the subject of demonology. Why demonology? That would be because unlike his fellow roommates who are focused on the frequently undressed hotties across they way (am I the only one who is uncomfortable with two men, standing way too close, in their underwear, getting excited over spying on the girls next door?), ubernerd Perry (Robert Jayne), finds his solo excitement in studying books about demonology. Hey, what do you expect from someone locked up in a Catholic school?

On the girl's side, one of the (few) non-busty roommates is Mellissa (Merle Kennedy, of Albert Pyun's immortal 1992 classic NEMESIS), known as "Mouse" to her none-too-sympathetic roomies. Why should they be sympathetic? Well, she seems to have taken her hair-styling tips from Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1998) and if that wasn't crushing enough, oh yeah, she is the sister of the legendary Angela Franklin, the demon of Hull House (cue eerie music)! Her frequent nightmares (one of which includes having her chin ripped off - what would Freud say about that?) wake up the other girls, and worse, she thinks that an appropriate Halloween costume is a big red clown outfit sans make-up, rubber nose and chainsaw. Yep, that girl just ain't right.

After the girl with the biggest boobs and an attitude to match, Shirley (Zoe Trilling), steals Perry's book, Perry flips out on roommate "They call me Kingsnake" Kurt (Ladd York). Rushing to Kurt's defense, another roommate, Johnny (Johnny Moran, who occasionally bears a disturbing resemblance to David Spade) jumps to Kurt's defense saying "What would he want with a book? Kurt can barely read a clock!" Zing! Yeah, ok, so it's not going to give David Mammet a run for his money, well, unless he keeps writing scripts like HANNIBAL (2001). Damn straight, I'll take NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 2 over that gussied up turd any day of the week.

Father Bob has obviously been watching too many old Mickey Rooney movies and decides that instead of letting Sister Gloria arrange the annual pagan ritual of the "Halloween Dance", the kids will learn a sense of purpose and do it themselves... and there will be no more talk of Hull House! Of course, it wouldn't be much of a movie if nobody actually went to Hull House, so after our overexcited "teens" find themselves grounded, Shirley decides that they need to throw their own party! Even better it will be a surprise location (a surprise to everyone but the audience), using the old "roadsign switch" trick. Better still, they've managed to talk Mouse into going along for the ride. Speaking of ride, is that a 1959 Cadillac Fleetwood outfitted with circular saw blades like Blackie Lawless' crotch? Damn, I want that car. It's nice. Way too nice for Shirley's loud-mouth rocker boyfriend, Rick (Rick Peters), who actually reminds me way too much of the friends I used to hang out with in high-school, but I digress.

Once everyone has piled out in Hull House, folks start pairing of for some private adventures (more nudity!), leaving Rick, Shirley and their sign switching friend Zevon in the parlour room. Zevon, (Darin Heames of PCU fame) seems to be cast on his ability to read lines of dialogue like "yee - ouuuww - weeee woooo!", and seems to be the throwback character. It's like they decided, "hey, it's a NIGHT OF THE DEMONS sequel! We need a character who will be annoying as hell!" Anyway, the trio decide to have a sacrifice and summon a demon. Seems pretty reasonable, since they are in Hull House and all. Since Mouse scared away their sacrificial black cat while flippin' and trippin' over the fact that she's actually in Hull House, I guess it's going to have to be a human virgin sacrifice, and she's promptly tied to a gurney while Shirley reads incantations from Perry's book and waves around a knife.

Little do they know that Perry has decided to do a little demon summoning of his own back at the church and manages to get Angela (Amelia Kinkade, returning) to pop out of a mirror. As it turns out Rick and Shirley's Halloween prank may have been just a gag with a fake knife, but Angela is now delighted to be on the loose and wants to dance (again). The best way to do it? Smuggle herself away in a tube of lipstick that will get taken back to the school dance, then turn into a fleshy snake-thing, wriggle out of the tube and crawl up the nearest available crotch! Easy! Fortunately for Angela there is a klepto female around to make that happen.

As you can tell, writer Joe Augustyn (who also wrote the first film), clearly felt the need to ramp things up for the sequel. There are two different venues for Angela to wreak havoc in, innumerably more victims, significantly more gore, more bare boobs than a Chuck Vincent film (well, almost), and what's this? Goddamn, there's a hell of a lot of plot going on here! Granted it ain't exactly Mario Puzo, but there is a staggering amount of character interaction compared to the first one. Surprisingly, it actually makes the movie move at a much faster pace, keeping it fun and never dull. The one thing that has been toned down is the characters. Sure they are still mostly obnoxious and deserving of their messy fates, but they are nowhere near as irritating as the characters in the first film (or even worse, the characters from the wince-inducing 2009 remake). We also get a big, wet finale with lots of splattery demises and even a monster at the end. Yes, a monster. Any sequel that goes the extra distance of doing a big animatronic and latex monster at the end instead of a bunch of smoke or a red/yellow color blob, gets my vote every time. It can even be a sadly implemented monster (such as CHILDREN OF THE CORN III), but, as my grandfather would say, it's better than a kick in the pants.

Australian director Brian Trenchard-Smith (who in the interest of full disclosure, I have been a big fan of since I discovered ESCAPE 2000 on a videostore shelf in 1985), attacks this project like an early '80s Jim Wynorski. The first half of the film is boobs and wisecracks and the second half is full-blown campy horror. I remember at the time being turned off by the ass-kicking nun (blatantly ripped off by Mike Mendez for the disappointing 2000 Adrienne Barbeau horror-comedy THE CONVENT), the holy water supersoaker and the general wiseassery in the last half hour of the movie, but I watch it now, and it's a damn good time. Where else are you going to see a demonically possessed Zoe Trilling attack a man with her breasts (and I mean that in a bad way)? I gotta admit, I got a laugh out of seeing Angela take over the Church dance by throwing on Morbid Angel - best of all, unlike modern films, that is a throwaway joke. If it were done today, there would have to be a close up of the CD case and a cutaway to a crucifix just to make absolutely sure you get it. Trenchard-Smith even works up some nice EVIL DEAD-ish POV shots, running through the halls and slamming doors with Angela making noise on the soundtrack. Interestingly, someone after the fact (presumably the distributor or producer), seems to have felt that having those POV shots wasn't enough, and we needed more shots of Angela roaming the corridors. Instead of doing costly re-shoots, they simply cut and paste shots from the first film, with notable differences in color temperature and grain.

So there, I've said it, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 2 is actually better than the first one. NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 3, you ask? Well, that's a different story all together.

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