Bigfoot is out to kill stupid people, ripping off various limbs (of all sorts) in the gory, unrated early 1980s oddity NIGHT OF THE DEMON, resurrected from the VCII vaults courtesy of Code Red Releasing and Maria’s B-Movie Mayhem.
After her father is brutally murdered and mutilated on a fishing trip, Carla Thomas approaches anthropologist Professor Nugent (Michael J. Cutt, SWEET 16) who has been investigating Bigfoot sightings. She shows him a photograph of a strange footprint taken by an investigating deputy who later testified against its existence when the negative disappeared. When the university mysteriously cuts funding into Nugent’s proposed expedition of the backwoods area where several Bigfoot sightings/murders have been reported, he, Carla, and four of his students (grad student Roy, radio tech Pete, and lovers Gary and Linda) decide to proceed with the trip on their own. They travel by boat into the back country and make their first stop at the cabin of hunter Lou Carlson (Phillip Boyd) who had previously written to Nugent with information on some of the sightings but is now reluctant to speak to them. They camp out near Carlson’s cabin that night and Roy makes Carlson a piece offering of whiskey and goads him with skepticism into providing them with some leads. The next day, the team head out into town and ask around about “Crazy Wanda,” the daughter of a backwoods preacher – who burned himself alive after supposedly seeing the devil – rendered mute by giving birth to a deformed baby. The preacher’s fanatical followers are rumored to still lurk in the woods and hold human sacrifices, and the team does indeed stumble across a bizarre ritual rape before a Bigfoot effigy. As they make their way deeper into “Bigfoot territory” in search of Crazy Wanda, they find themselves under increasing threat from a stalking, monstrous presence that has set loose their boat (in addition to demolishing the dock) and injured one of the students. When they finally reach the cabin of Crazy Wanda (Melanie Graham), they discover the shocking link between the woman and the creature; but will they survive to tell the tale?
Although NIGHT OF THE DEMON has the look and feel of a regional horror film – and would make a good double bill with DON’T GO IN THE WOODS with which shares a similar structure of inserting random kills of unnamed extras to break up the set-up first half of the film, or even a triple bill with SCALPS for its ill-fated expedition – it was an independent Hollywood-based production (the unidentified college campus seen in the beginning of the film is USC). Apparently, most of the flashback killings were filmed by a second unit crew – the end cast crawl features the credit “Monster (second unit)” – including some requisite nudity by a couple in a van who are attacked by the creature. The various Bigfoot kills are certainly gory, but they are way more likely to provoke titters rather than revulsion from the viewers (particularly the infamous scene where a biker loses his manhood for inadvertently taking a leak on the creature’s feet, and the monster’s dispatching of a pair of over-aged girl scouts). Similarly, viewers may find the slow-motion climactic decimating of most of the main cast more hilarious than horrific. Amusingly played straight is Nugent’s habit of describing in gory detail various Bigfoot-attributed deaths that occurred on the spots where they have chosen to set up camp (before cheerily telling them to all get some shut-eye). The prologue may have been added in post, since it seems as though the gory pre-credits teaser might have provided a stronger opening without the talky set-up (the flashback structure also pretty much gives away the fate of one character, whose injuries in the wraparounds vary greatly from those in the feature). Performances are generally bland, apart from Graham’s Crazy Wanda who is effectively pitiful, but none of the actors are particularly bad (most of the woodenness can be blamed on the scripted dialogue) or even annoying enough to make their gory fates truly cathartic for the viewers. The end credits identify most of the extras to their roles, but I was not able to ascertain who played who for most of the main characters (only Graham as Wanda and Lynn Eastman [PHANTASM] as Nugent’s wife – who appears in two brief scenes – are credited with their roles in the opening credits). The monster suit was worn by late stuntman Shane Dixon (MANIAC COP 2 and 3).
James Wasson’s direction is competent and not particularly showy until the arty sequence exploring the environs of Wanda’s locked room/shrine. The opening titles credit Dennis McCarthy – who followed this assignment up with a host of TV assignments from DYNASTY to a couple STAR TREK franchise series and is still working today – with the film’s score, and I’m assuming that applies to the trés-1970s title theme and folksy instrumentals since the end credits also cite Stuart Hardy with music composing and performing (possibly the jangly electronic cues). Aside from some under-lit night scenes, the technical aspects are generally polished (monster suit, excepted); although, there are some dodgy bits to which attention is heightened by the digital presentation. Some of the dubbed-in cries and moans of agony – under the barrage of electronic music stingers – from the monster’s victims in no way match their mouth movements, and a fireside conversation between would-be couple Roy and Carla seems to have been re-recorded in post as you can tell the dialogue is not synchronized despite the shots being bizarrely framed (or optically re-framed) in tight close-ups just above the actors’ mouths. It is not, however, an exaggeration to say that any and all of these shortcomings are part of the film’s overall charm. It’s the goriest Bigfoot film I’ve seen so far (although their may be funnier ones, intentionally or not); the recent SAVAGE  has a helping of gore [and a largely CGI’d monster], but it’s derivative storyline feels too calculated compared to the run of sasquatch/yeti pics of the 1970s – including the talky, bloodless ones – and it lacks an air of nostalgia either for the grindhouse or the video store shelves. As far as guilty pleasures go, NIGHT OF THE DEMON is a keeper and should enjoy repeat viewings for the converted.
The film was originally released on VHS by VCII – a mainstream offshoot of adult film label VCX – in big box and slipcase editions with different artwork (no poster art seems to have been made for the film). The film was later reissued as an LP sell-through cassette by Gemstone Entertainment. Due to lack of archival elements, Code Red’s DVD was transferred from open-matte 1” master with some additional digital clean-up; that said, the image quality is a massive improvement over the darkish Gemstone tape (the UK DVD by Vipco has been scissored by order of the BBFC and – being a Vipco release – probably comes from a master of similar age). The VCII watermark appears at the top and bottom of the frame for the first minute or so, but will likely not be noticed by most viewers due to their TV overscan. The night scenes will always be darkish because of the original cinematography, but the Bigfoot’s shaggy costume is no longer a mushy blur and you can actually see more details of the ritual scene (the red lettering of the end credits is also fully legible). The fullscreen transfer appears to be open-matte since the image zooms in nicely to 16:9, and was probably composed with 1.85:1 theatrical matting in mind. The mono audio quality is also very clean. There are no related extras, but hostess Maria Kanellis – in optional wraparounds – dons a scanty fur top and rips off some limbs from a Bill Olsen stand-in in frustration over the film (she doesn’t trash the film that much, and I think most viewers will share her lack of sympathy for any of the victims of the “furry avenger”). Kanellis’ music video “Fantasy” and trailers for KILLPOINT (with Richard Roundtree), LOWBLOW, and THE HEARSE are the only bonus features. (Eric Cotenas)
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