Released a decade after John Carpenter’s Halloween, Night of the Demons began a very different type of Halloween centered franchise that was unafraid to get weird. Perhaps too weird for mainstream audiences, as Night of the Demons is the definition of cult classic. The brainchild of producer/writer Joe Augustyn, a lifelong fan of horror, Night of the Demons spawned two direct-to-video sequels and a reboot in 2009. The first two films, both featuring Augustyn’s involvement, are must-watch Halloween treats. Without Augustyn, well, the series became a mean Halloween trick. For better or worse, this Halloween season we revisited horror’s other major Halloween series, Night of the Demons.
Night of the Demons
Written/produced by Joe Augustyn and directed by Kevin Tenney (Witchboard), Night of the Demons is a Halloween cult classic. Receiving a regional theatrical release that began in Detroit on September 9, 1988, and spread throughout the country until June 1989, Night of the Demons was initially panned by critics despite earning a profit and, per usual, reception has long since grown more positive throughout the years.
The premise is simple. Teen outcasts Angela Franklin and Suzanne decide to throw a Halloween party in Hull House, an abandoned mortuary with a dark past. The party turns to horror, though, when Angela hosts a séance that frees the demons from the crematorium and begins to possess the partygoers one by one. Though Amelia Kinkade’s goth Angela would become the film’s cover girl, the most recognizable name in the cast is Linnea Quigley, as the first to be possessed Suzanne.
Despite great build up toward the unleashing of the demons, it actually takes a while for the body count to begin. As memorable as the primary possessed villains are in Angela and Suzanne, final girl Judy (Cathy Podewell) is one of horror’s most annoying. Helpless and reliant on the men around her to rescue her, the true (unsung) final girl of the film belongs to Rodger (Alvin Alexis). Never has a will to live been as strong as Rodger, who proves willing to do just about anything to escape the clutches of the enclosing demons.
What separates Night of the Demons from similar plotlines in demonic possession horror is the heavy use of Halloween iconography and special makeup effects design. The animated opening credits is pure holiday magic, and the bookend story about the razorblade spiked apples is a delightful Halloween trick. This is a horror movie that embraces Halloween in a way that so few horror movies even attempt.
The special makeup effects were designed and created by the talented Steve Johnson (Blade II, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master), elevating the low budget into something with an enduring quality. It’s a film not afraid to get weird, if Suzanne’s lipstick trick is any indication.
Night of the Demons is a Halloween descent into raucous B-movie fun that dances with both horror and comedy. Memorable creature designs, a rocking soundtrack, punk attitude, and Halloween iconography makes it understandable why this has become more regarded in the 30 years since release, even if imperfect. Of course, clever marketing with catchy taglines like ‘Angela is having a party, Jason and Freddy are too scared to come. But You’ll have a hell of a time,” helps.
Night of the Demons 2
Co-written by original Night of the Demons writer/producer Joe Augustyn and directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith (Dead End Drive-In, Stunt Rock), this sequel is exactly what any horror sequel should be. It retains the core spirit of what made its predecessor beloved while expanding upon the mythology, upping the body count, and improving on special effects.
Set six years after the events of the first film, all bodies were recovered from Hull House save Angela’s. When her parents received a Halloween card from their missing daughter, they committed suicide, leaving their remaining daughter, Mouse, alone. Under the care of a Catholic boarding school for troubled teens, Mouse gets dragged to Hull House by some of the school’s mean girls for a Halloween party. Not only does Angela now have a new group of victims to play with, she also has more sinister plans in mind thanks to the arrival of her sister.
This sequel doesn’t take near as long for the demonic chaos to ensue, and boldly takes Angela out of Hull House for much of the second act. But above all, Night of the Demons 2 is a Halloween treat in gore. The makeup effects supervisor on this sequel was Joel Harlow, an Academy Award winner for Best Makeup and Hairstyling on 2009’s Star Trek, and character and makeup designer on upcoming Hellboy reboot. In other words, the special makeup effects here are far better than what you’d typically find in straight-to-video sequels.
When these demons kill or get killed, it’s one sloppy, glorious gory mess. It’s also the first and only film in the entire franchise to make good use of both its poster girl, Angela, and the monster demon glimpsed in the mirror of the first film as the big bad. When the protagonists outsmart her in the third act, dealing what seems to be a mortal blow, Angela morphs into a monstrous serpentine demon. Bold horror statement: Night of the Demons 2 is the best of the series.
Night of the Demons 3
There are retro movies that remain out of print due to legal issues, and there are retro movies that remain out of print because they’re so bad no one wants to spend the money to polish them off for new release. Night of the Demons 3 falls squarely in the latter category. This third entry, also known as Demon House, can only be recommended for serious completionists. Even then, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Written by original Night of the Demons director Kevin Tenney, who also served as 2nd unit director, this sequel seems to have lost all sense of what made the previous films entertaining. Released straight-to-video in 1997, Night of the Demons 3 feels and looks more like a movie that should have been released about 5-6 years earlier. Halloween is more of an afterthought in this installment; the unwitting group of victims enter Hull House after one of them shoots a police officer at a gas station and they need a place to hide for the evening.
This version of Hull House is a beautifully restored upper-class home, with pristine white painted walls. It’s nothing at all like the dilapidated, abandoned mortuary of the first two films. Amelia Kinkade once again reprises her role as Angela, but this Angela is much different than the demonic Halloween goth we’ve come to know. There’s no tiara, no gothic dress, and no goth makeup. Angela rarely even shows her demonic side in this sequel at all. Instead, it’s a clean-cut Angela wearing lacy negligee, and her personality is more softcore seductress than soul chewing demon.
That’s essentially what Night of the Demons 3 is; less of a Halloween creature feature spookfest and more of an excuse to get these horny teens together and naked. Plenty of nudity, and often for weird puzzling reasons. The sex scenes, including one really bizarre scene featuring Angela, are eye-rolling. Where’s the carnage? What little gore there is are done up in poorly dated ‘90s CGI. Also, nothing dates a movie from the ‘90s like having your group of delinquents show off how tough they are by trading “yo mama” jokes. An abysmal conclusion to the original trilogy, Night of the Demons 3 should stay buried in the cemetery of out of print films.
Despite a lackluster finish, two out of three fun-filled holiday-themed horror films are still better than most horror trilogies and franchises. Night of the Demons gets a lot of deserving love this time of year, but Night of the Demons 2 is a great sequel worth carving out space for on those October watchlists.