Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Night of the Demon (1980): or, The Legend of the Rape Ape

How you react to James C. Wasson's infamous 1980 'Squatchsploitation flick Night of the Demon will depend largely upon a few key factors:

1. Whether your love for Bigfoot falls more heavily on the Monster Version side, or the Sasquatch: Friend of Nature side.
2. Your ability to forgive inept moviemaking and terrible acting in the name of wild, outre plot points and general icky enthusiasm.
3. How much you've had to drink.

If you're playing at home, metrics on items 2 and 3 should be SUBSTANTIAL.

We open with Professor Nugent (since he's not on first-name basis with anyone in the flick, hereafter I shall call him "Fred") regaining consciousness in a hospital. His lower face has been horribly mutilated (whether this occasioned a SHRIEK or not is unclear) so he wears an old-school Western Kerchief Mask as he warns the doctor and the aptly named Inspector Slack about the evil what still lurks in them there woods: "There's is a demon...a creature!" And apparently, IT'S HUNGRY FOR FACES.


We now flashback to Professor Fred's college course, where he's lecturing to a packed house about cryptozoology--specifically, the multiple Bigfoot sightings reported in the area over the years. As he spins an anecdotal tale we're treated to the first of MANY flashbacks within the larger flashback, this one dealing with the tragedy of one family's ill-fated camping trip. Out of nowhere the Bigfoot attacks, ripping the arm off the dad and treating us to some nice butcher shop-based gore FX. The short-armed father figure falls to the ground, and the blood flows in a red river from his meaty stump across the dirt, where it slowly fills up a deep Bigfoot footprint as the credits begin! Nice!

Unfortunately that's one of the few directorial flourishes we'll see in this flick, since apart from some Dutch Tilts here and there the camera work is fairly unimaginative. What's not unimaginative is the script when it comes to blood-soaked Bigfoot mayhem--the writer had so much of it banging around his braincase, we're barely back in Professor Nugent's class before the teacher says, "Another young girl saw her boyfriend brutally murdered..." and we're off into another flashback!

The girl in question doesn't look all that young--she actually looks more like Flo from Mel's Diner--but she and her unattractive boyfriend engage in a lot of gratuitous groping and nipple-nibbling in their van out in the deep dark woods. It's not long before Sasquatch has had enough of all this soft-porn crap and pulls the screaming boyfriend out, ripping his throat and washing the windshield in thick arterial spray. The girl screams and screams...and screams again...and just when you wish Bigfoot would finish the job and shut her up already, we're back in the present-day of the *original* flashback to begin our story proper.

"Thanks...for the...RIDE...Lady!"

Following the research of his mentor who died not long before, the Nuge and a select group of his grad students are going on a cryptozoological expedition to get to the bottom of all this bloody Bigfoot business, despite Fred's wife's misgivings and the university's withdrawal of its sanction. With his group of emotively challenged thirtysomething college kids, the Prof hires a boat and takes it downriver to Carlson's landing, seeking the one man who has seen the creature and lived.

Now's as good a place as any to talk about a few of the many shortcomings of this way-below-indie production. First of all, it's really hard to imagine the acting being any worse. The actors all sound like they're being overdubbed by a cut-rate Eurotrash dubbing team, even though they're not. If Professor Nugent has more than one facial expression, I didn't see it. And his aged college students are all pretty much interchangeable in their bland, talent-free screen presence. Old Man Carlson's makeup consists of baby powder in his hair and a gray-greased moustache. Throw in the aforementioned static camera and some truly slapdash editing, and you'd think the situation would be pretty dire.

But on the other side of the cinematic balance scales, the movie has INSANE BIGFOOT ACTION TO SPARE. In the next Nuge-narrated flashback, a young man sleeping alone under the stars awakens in the morning to find Sasquatch looming over him. Before the boy can scream, Bigfoot picks up the feet-end of the sleeping bag and twirls it around his head like David taking aim on Goliath! The boy screams, and Bigfoot throws him at a stack of old broken branches, where his victim is impaled upside down! Never mind the fact there's no way Nuge could *possibly* know exactly what happened to the lone murder victim, let alone whether Bigfoot was responsible--that's AWESOME.

Swing Your Partner

In a way, the Nuge's constant retelling of these Bigfoot sightings that nobody but the (dead) victims could have witnessed can be seen as emblematic of the whole I WANT TO BELIEVE aspect of many Bigfoot-search enthusiasts. No matter what happened, no matter how unlikely, "It HAD to be Bigfoot!" Gorilla suits in freezers? Obviously a government cover-up. Sasquatch Scat turns out to be identical to bear poo? Well, they have the same diet, don't they? It's kind of like Fox Mulder and aliens. Except, you know--not.

When the group finally convinces the crotchety old Carlson to open up via bribery--always pack extra booze and cigs on your Bigfoot hunts, kids--we learn that there's more to fear out in these woods than just the Big Guy. Turns out there used to be a crazy old preacher who lived deep in the forest, and taught his backwoods congregation that the creature was a Demon from Hell. When the creature raped the preacher's daughter and the holy man himself was immolated under mysterious circumstances, the now-at-loose-ends congregation decided that Sasquatch was not a demon, but a GOD. Now they roam the forest in their long robes, bearing torches, performing fertility rituals on the preacher's still-living daughter in praise of their hairy, stinky deity.

Yes, you read that right: a BIGFOOT SEX CULT.

Even though they don't do enough with that frankly jaw-dropping plot idea, the writers are still to be applauded for it, I think. Oh, and when the students catch up with the preacher's daughter (now known sensitively as Crazy Wanda), they learn via hypnotism and another flashback that she not only unwillingly learned the wonders of Stink Ape Love (Lengthy Sasquatch Sex scene? Why, of COURSE there is!), but also bore Bigfoot's love child, which unfortunately died soon after. So Godfoot now hangs around her cabin, either looking for his only begotten son or else hoping for some more sweet human nookie.

"Look, how am *I* supposed to know how they got power lines this far out in the wilderness? I'm a BIGFOOT HUNTER, not the Power company!"

So eventually the Big Guy lays seige to Crazy Wanda's cabin, trapping our group inside Night of the Living Dead style, and it ends up about as well as you'd think. But the plot, inventive as it is, isn't really the point here--the point is showing as many wild Bigfoot kills as possible, and the filmmakers wisely decide to throw caution and restraint to the winds where these are concerned. Via the always-handy unsubstantiated flashback, we learn the following from the Nuge about the hairy adversary:

  • Bigfoot is not only a cryptid and a cult leader, he's also apparently a NINJA. Not only can he sneak up completely undetected behind a lumberjack, swipe his axe when he turns away for a second, then bury it in his shoulder, he can also beat two knife-wielding Girl Scouts at their own game, bare-handed, grabbing their wrists and forcing them to stab each other again and again and again! Those hairy paws should be registered as deadly weapons!
"Quit stabbing yourselves!"
  • Never stop your motorcycle to go off to the side of the road and take a whiz when you're in Bigfoot country. He's absolutely invisible in the low brush, and prone to reaching up and ripping off your wiener if he catches any sidesplash. You were warned.
  • Baby Bigfoot skulls look surprisingly like those of a dog. But then, he had been in the ground a while. Also, Bigfoot is naturally adept at using tools--or axes and pitchforks, at the very least.
The filmmakers actually do well to keep Bigfoot in the shadows most of the movie, showing only his arms, legs, or hairy back, letting the viewers' imaginations take care of the rest. But when the Big Guy lays siege to the cabin at the end and bursts into full view, you finally understand why he's so insane--it's because he's not Bigfoot at all, but THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR!


Night of the Demon, for me, is perhaps the definition of a "so bad it's good" Mad Movie--inept, poorly acted, and technically questionable on just about every level, it muscles on through the joy barrier by sheer force of insanity and misdirected enthusiasm. And the copious gore scenes really aren't that bad--certainly not the worst I've seen, whatever faint praise that might be.

Still, rating it presents a bit of a problem, as your mileage will DEFINITELY vary depending on your love for cinematic badness and your willingness to short-circuit your taste receptors and bask in the Bigfooty goodness. Still, even for those who won't share the love, it's definitely worth seeing if only to say you have. Therefore I'm settling on a 2 Thumb, give-it-a-look rating. Whatever your reaction, I guarantee you've never seen Bigfoot like this, before or since.

And that is probably a good thing.

Come on now, it wasn't THAT bad!


Tenebrous Kate said...

Oh wow--amazing write-up of one of my guiltiest of rapey-bigfoot-related pleasures! This one's hard to match on a scale of sheer WTF'ery. The ineptitude, IMHO, only helps plead its case. Great work--I'm giggling out loud over here :)

Word verification: anismism, which I can only assume is a misspelled version of bum-related ancestor worship.

The Duke of DVD said...

I am simply agog. A rapist, ninja Bigfoot. Knife-wielding Girl Scouts. Stealthy wiener tearings. A truly MAD movie, indeed, dearest Vicar. Bravo to you, sir, for bringing this movie to our collective attentions. I shall acquire it post haste.

Darius Whiteplume said...

A hunger for faeces?

Oh, sorry, archaic spelling :-)

Nice writeup. Maybe a bottle of cheap scotch on a night the wife is away could make this one happen :-)

Knarf Black XIV said...

Every movie needs recursive flashbacks.

The Vicar of VHS said...

Empress--I *thought* you might be familiar with this one. Glad to hear I'm staying in good-standing with the Empire with this appreciation! ;)

Duke--sadly this has all but vanished from mass circulation (talk about MIA on DVD!), but since the Vicarage's Tribute is coming due in a fortnight, maybe I'll slip this in along with the gilded crucifixes and gelded altarboys.

Darius--a coprophagous cryptid is about the only thing they DIDN'T throw in here! If you can get a hold of this, it simply must be watched.

Knarf Black XIV: Welcome! I was thinking at one point during NotD that they might go into a flashback which flashed back to the beginning of the original flashback, thus creating a space-time anomaly a la Army of Darkness and sucking Bigfoot back to medieval times. I can only assume that were saving that for the sequel. ;)

Knarf Black XIV said...

I'd put that on my Netflix queue.

Reminds me of the "twist ending" to Nightmare City

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venoms5 said...

I finally got around to watching this one about three weeks ago. I recall coming across it in an old horror book I had from the celebrated author of all things distasteful, the late Chas. Balun. His description of a "pissed off Yeti" was branded into my head.

The movie is definitely bad, but ambitious. The flashbacks within flashbacks was funny and also the guy telling the story whose face is burned far worse at the end than what we see while he's in the hospital bed.

I'd say this is the best of the Bigfeet flicks....which isn't saying a whole lot.

I did get a good laugh when you referenced the creature to that joke of a wrestler, the ultimate warrior.

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