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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
"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!"