You did remember to invite some cute boys to the party, I hope.
Of course I did, and we're gonna scare the shit out of them.
Dexterous, savvy and in some ways ahead of its time (the '80s hairstyles and fashions are not two of those ways), "Night of the Demons" is a teenage possession flick that also works as stylish slasher fodder and as a guide to Halloween myths and traditions. Director Kevin Tenney (1986's "Witchboard") displays impressive ambition in creating a definite mood and identity to the piece, starting with a lovingly rendered animated opening credits sequencepractically unheard of in the annals of low-budget horror releasesscored to the memorable, propulsive synthesizer chords of Dennis Michael Tenney's music score. What his few unpolished actors occasionally lack in thespian prowess, Tenney and screenwriter Joe Augustyn make up for with a barrage of imaginative ideas and tight pacing that lift the film well above the norm.
As the live-action movie proper begins, the viewer is inundated with the calling cards of the holiday, from pumpkins, to costumes, to prankish scares, to candy and seasonal appetizers, to television specials (1936's vintage cartoon short "The Cobweb Hotel" makes an appearance), to parties, and so on. Speaking of parties, Angela (Amelia Kinkade) is hosting one at Hull House, a spooky abandoned funeral parlor at the edge of town. In attendance are demure, sweet-natured Judy (Cathy Podewell) and her date, player Jay (Lance Fenton); Judy's ex-boyfriend Sal (Billy Gallo); Judy's fun-loving friend Frannie (Jill Terashita) and her boyfriend Max (Philip Tanzini); Angela's guy-crazy best friend Suzanne (Linnea Quigley); and the odd trio of loud-mouthed, piggish Stooge (Hal Havins) and superstitious Helen (Allison Barron) and Rodger (Alvin Alexis). Dancing and good times at the cobwebbed mansion lead to a sťance where, lo and behold, they manage to stir up the demonic forces living on the property. As the characters scatter around the house, they one by one fall victim to Angela, possessed by the spirits and set on transforming the rest of them into minions of Hell, too.
"Night of the Demons" is funny in an anything-goes way, but also rather exciting when the action sets in and Judy and Rodger are chased through the dark hallways of the house by a fast-multiplying population of demons. That one of the heroes of the piece is black, well-educated and not treated as a victim or comic relief is pretty groundbreaking for its time, and admirable. As sensitively played by Alvin Alexis, the pirate-costumed Rodger is one of the most positive portrayals of an African-American in a horror movie in memory. As Judy, dressed as Alice in Wonderland, Cathy Podewell (who would go on to play Cally Ewing on TV's "Dallas") is attractive, dignified (she stands up for herself when Jay pressures sex on her), and sweet as apple pie. These two, bonding as two would-be victims might if being hunted by demons, are protagonists worth rooting for.
As Suzanne, Linnea Quigley (1984's "The Return of the Living Dead") embraces her eye-candy status and character's flaky persona, while also disrobing on cue and turning titillation into terror when she does something unthinkable with a tube of lipstick in the picture's most infamous scene. Quigley has never been a masterful actress, but she has used her assets to the benefit of an enduring B-movie career. And, as head villain Angela, Amelia Kinkade (who would reprise the character in the hugely inferior 1994 and 1997 sequels) is creepy as a possessed Goth chick who performs a strobe-lit dance to Bauhaus' "Stigmata Martyr" and really means it when she toasts her hands by the fire. The make-up effects by longtime ace designer Steve Johnson greatly contributes to the atmosphere, bringing to rotting, malevolent life the demons of the title.
The tattered, haunted-house production design by Ken Aichele never really looks like anything but sets on a studio lot, but it is a detailed feast to gaze upon all the same. Cinematography by David Lewis is top-notch, making indelible use of shadows, intricately set-up reflections in broken glass, and a superior tracking shot that barrels through the interior of the funeral parlor. Special effects are generally chintzy, but that's to be expected for the decade in which it was made. "Night of the Demons" doesn't have anything of importance to say and offers no deep messages. Instead, it's got violence, sex, nudity and a good-humored script. There are all different types of genre films, and this one was purely made to entertain. Its technical and creative ingenuity is but a plus on the scorecard, and its wraparound sequence, involving a grouchy old man who has the tables turned on him when he slips razorblades in the trick-or-treaters' apples, is a bewitchingly grim capper. "Night of the Demons" isn't free of flaws, but it is practically dripping with the blood, sweat and tears of those who set out to make a genuinely good party movie, and did exactly that.