Friday, August 24, 2007

The Demon (1979): or, Halloween 3 on Earth-4

The Demon is one weird flick.

This is a movie that literally surprises you. I don't mean that things jump out at the screen and make you squeak, nor that you're sitting there at the end thinking "How surprising, that was actually pretty good" (though you might be doing that too). I mean that things happen in this movie that seemingly come out of nowhere and completely waylay you. Plot developments out of nowhere. Shocking entrances and exits of characters, completely against the cliches you've been conditioned to expect. And an ending, a last 20 minutes that had me--grizzled horror vet that I am--saying to myself "WOW. Just WOW."

Thank you once again, 50 Chilling Classics and Mill Creek Entertainment! I should really send you guys some more money. It feels like I'm stealing.

We start out with an over-sexed 14-year-old girl (!) talking with her mother about...something. Before you can get too far into the conversation, however, the mother is attacked by a Hulking Shape out of the darkness, her hands bound and a plastic bag tied around her neck. As she's left to suffocate (very disturbing visual here with the woman gasping, eyes wide with terror, breath pulling the plastic into her gaping mouth), the Hulking Shape moves upstairs and grabs and bags the girl as well. The husband arrives home to find his wife almost expired and pulls the bag off her in a nick of time, but it's too late for their daughter--she's gone, kidnapped by the Hulking Shape, spirited off into the pitch black night.

Scary, shocking, disturbing--a VERY promising start!

Searchers comb the woods near the house, looking for the girl. Later that night, a good Samaritan picks up a hitchhiker--a huge, muscular man whose face we never see, and who of course quickly proves himself to be the Hulking Shape. He dispatches the driver, showing immense strength by tossing the body over a fence like a rag doll, then drives away. Is he human? Something else? All options are open.

Then we're back at the house, where Mom and Dad, frustrated with the police force's efforts, have called in ex-military man and psychic bloodhound Cameron Mitchell. It must be said that the actors in the parental roles are so terrible they actually make Mitchell look good. Cam expositions overtime about his "gifts," then goes upstairs and does some very strange sniffing of the girl's bedclothes to get the "vibes, as the kids would call them." When the shocked parents find him sweating with his face buried in their daughter's ripped-up pillow, he says "This must look like witchcraft." No, Cam, it looks like pervy-ness! But he's got the scent, and we're ready to follow him as he tries to find the Hulking Shape and rescue the girl, right?

WRONG. In a sharp right turn we're introduced to a perky blonde American (Jennifer Holmes) and her not-quite-as-perky English cousin, who are teachers at a day care. (Did I mention we're in England? We are, even though the film posits an unrealistically high Yank-to-Limey ratio.) The perky blonde notices a Hulking Shape outside the daycare, and he seems to be watching her. But when she looks again, he's gone. She goes shopping for a dress in a sequence that goes a LONG WAY out of the way to show some female skin--not that I don't appreciate the extra effort, mind you--and again sees the Hulking Shape on the periphery, only to have him disappear. This is all starting to feel familiar... Meanwhile, Cam is getting weird POV flashes from the killer, watching him workout his huge muscles, intercut with scenes of a surging sea. What does it mean?

Somebody goes to Boobs Disco (yes, BOOBS DISCO), but nothing happens except some boogeying. The Hulking Shape stalks a woman down an alley and attacks, when suddenly the near-slashing turns into a motorbike showdown! Two bikes speed down the alley out-of-nowhere, and the Hulking Shape clotheslines them both, leading to a fiery bike asplosion! Action, drama, intrigue! Back at the missing girl's home, Cam shows some composite sketches of the killer, which look great except they have NO FACE. Cam intones ominously, "He's less...than a man...and MORE than a man. Much more." Again, something familiar, something that makes me think of the blackest eyes, the devil's eyes...

Then things slow waaaaaay down. Perky Blonde is stalked some more. Not-as-perky Cousin meets and dates American Playboy with a Southwest-themed penthouse. The girls talk almost entirely in innuendo. Sexy meditation happens for no reason. Girl's dad drives around...and around...thinking of revenge. More street fighting with Hulking Shape, to no purpose. Cheery English Neighbor tells Perky Blonde he'll be over with his .38 special if she needs him. Don't they have gun control in England? Dad drives around some more..and some more...and FINALLY finds the killer, whereafter we're put out of his acting misery in a very familiar way. A creepy discovery is made by some English kids. Cam tells widowed Mom that "The time of the Demon...our drawing close." Then something extraordinary happens. What's that I said about gun control?

The Demon had me, then lost me, then got me again BUT GOOD. Ten minutes of strong opening gives way to 50 more of excruciating padding, bad acting, and a meandering, frankly baffling plot line. But if you can just hang on though that dry season, the last 20 minutes brings the rain in a BIG way. To say more would be to cheat you. Avoid further summaries. Just see it.

Now, that Halloween thing. In many ways The Demon is a Halloween-clone. But unlike most of the other H-clones I've seen, Demon gets it RIGHT. The implacable, unstoppable, possibly-supernatural killer--he's the Boogeyman, The Shape before The Shape had a name. His strength, his reasonless stalking, his complete, inscrutable's creepy shit. And the final confrontation, while almost a copy of the same sequence in the original Halloween, gets the tone so right and the suspense so tense, it's hard to count its copying as a fault. Plus, it does some things different--some very good things. I don't want to rob you of the surprise, but trust me on this. If your tastes in movies are like mine, you will be amazed and appreciative.

I give The Demon 2.75 thumbs. It would be 3 or 3+ if not for the painful padding, but still it's a strange little movie that should be seen. Like Halloween made in a parallel universe, and I mean that in the best possible way. If you're one of those folks who just can't get into Halloween 3: Season of the Witch because there's no Michael Myers in it, let The Demon be your Halloween 3. It almost deserves that title. Watch it NOW.


The Duke of DVD said...

You had me at "over-sexed 14-year-old girl", sir! Seriously, good god man, what a film we have here. Bravo on the stellar (as always) review! It is refreshing that someone could take the sacred Halloween formula and successfully extract its vital ethers in order to concoct such cinematic awesome. I look forward to borrowing it from you when chance to meet, perhaps at the next sabbat?

The Vicar of VHS said...

Definitely so, dear Duke. Knowing you as I do, old friend, I know you will appreciate it as much as I did. So long as in the middle section you keep telling yourself "It's going to get's going to get better..." I actually thought about stopping and going down to the dungeon for some R&R during all the padding, but now I'm so glad I didn't.

Anonymous said...

I bought the Demon for very cheap and was pleasantly surprised by how well it was made. The ending is great, and the "famous" Cameron Mitchell scene has to be seen to be believed!

Lost Boy said...

Just got done watching this, also getting it from Mill Creek (going through my block of 50). I was pleasantly surprised by this film. The final scene with Mitchell had me going WTF. I do a movie suggestion page on FB under Movie Fun for Movie Lovers. Saturdays are for horror and this will be todays suggestion.

Anonymous said...

I've seen The Demon. I thought it was okay but like you said very much a copy of the original Halloween. You made one mistake in your review. It was not filmed in England it was shot in South Africa.

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