Following the story of the original film in only a broad sketch, the new NOTD again centers on a house party that gets crashed by some horny and bloodthirsty demons. It is Halloween and Maddie (Freddy vs Jason’s Monica Keena and her the eerily immobile breasts) and her friends Lily (Diora Baird) and Suzanne (Bobbi Sue Luther) are attending a party thrown by their friend Angela (American Pie’s Shannon Elizabeth) at the notorious Broussard Mansion – nearly a century ago, six people disappeared from the mansion without a trace and the owner, Evangeline Broussard, hung herself. Along with a mighty throng of partygoers, also in attendance are Lily’s crush Dex (Michael Copon), his buddy Jason (John F. Beach), and Maddie’s drug-dealing ex-boyfriend, Colin (Edward Furlong). After the police bust up the party, the cluster of acquaintances are left alone in the house. As you might guess, some demons show up.
The highest compliment I can pay the new NOTD is that it gets it. To those more discerning members of the horror community, “80’s throwback” has rapidly become code for “obnoxious disappointment.” The vast majority of these “throwback” films aren’t using the 80’s as inspiration so much as they’re trying to travel back in time and actually be them. Adam Gierasch gets that the aspect of the 80’s he’s trying to recreate isn’t the look or the story beats or the costumes or certain character types – he’s trying to recreate the fun, and nothing more (though the original film’s Linnea Quigley does pop up for an amusing cameo here). And for a while it really works. The first half of NOTD is a blast.
Gierasch does a great job of glossing over the film’s clearly scant budget by keeping the pacing unwaveringly upbeat and giving the characters entertaining things to do. The characters are the typical b-movie blank-slates, with no background on who they are or how they know each other. Our three main girls form a classic tripartite soul: Suzanne is the party girl, Lily is the uptight one, and Maddie is the everygirl. We know even less about Dex and Jason, although they are given a great introduction scene in which they become enraged upon seeing a high school kid (with a lazy costume) trick’r’treating along with little kids, so they assault the teen with a paintball gun. The only character who is given any kind of interesting context is Furlong’s Colin, who we first meet in a seedy nightclub where he gets grilled by his boss while the boss is receiving a blowjob. It is a great tone establishing moment, watching this seedy mobster making angry threats to Colin while we faintly see the back of a girl’s head bobbing in and out of frame at the bottom of the screen.
Gierasch has a very firm grasp on the tone of the film, always keeping things funny while never allowing the humor to totally consume the movie and take away from the horror. And at first the horror elements are really in step too. Going into this remake I figured they had to do something with the original film’s most iconic bit, the lipstick/nipple scene (if you haven’t seen the original, go discover this for yourself). Amazingly, the new NOTD manages to take this bit and create an equally memorable and humorously disquieting scene (let’s just say that aside from Diora Baird’s breast, another part of the female anatomy is involved; as are a couple gallons of blood). And John F. Beach’s reaction to witnessing this bit is part of its success. Which is the other area that Gierasch excels in – managing the performances.
This isn’t the most talented bunch of actors, but they gel together very well and their heightened yet mostly realistic reactions to the insane things they’re seeing is the major source of comic relief in the film. Edward Furlong in particular deserves some love here. Furlong really epitomizes the kind of actor who has coasted by entirely on the fame generated by a single work (Terminator 2). It’s not that he is entirely without talent, but were he not “Edward Furlong” I can’t imagine he would have made it through the audition process for any film he’s been in. At his best (Detroit Rock City, Pecker, American History X) I still usually find him merely average. But he was by far my favorite part of NOTD. He has a lion’s share of the best dialogue, but the guy has managed to nail down a fantastic weary-exasperated comedic delivery that makes lines as simple as “Fuck” into big laugh gags. (He looks awful though – starting to develop that almost hunchback-like hump people with horrible posture will get when they gain weight. Furlong, get it together man. After this film I want you around for a bit longer.)
But the good times don’t last in NOTD. By the time we’re down to only three non-demonized characters trapped in a magically protected room, the film starts to sag under the weight of its own clunky logic and backstory. The events start to feel hurried and forced, as though the filmmakers ran out of ideas and now they’re just limping to the finish line. The film’s low-budget was always apparent, but at first Gierasch was able to work around it. Eventually, though, it seems there was simply no way to perform any slight of hand to distract us. The film’s final “battle” with the demons feels incredibly cheap and unfortunately uninspired, and the ending is a predictable misfire. An inherent problem with these final moments is also Monica Keena. I’ve never really understood Monica Keena’s career. She was utilized very well on Undeclared, but I’ve found her pretty lacking in almost everything else I’ve seen her in. She’s not a terrible actress, but she always feels disingenuous to me (which I suppose might qualify as terrible acting) and I never like or care about her beyond the basic emotions that get unconsciously applied to the protagonist in a story. I frankly would’ve liked to see Diora Baird in the lead. Baird continues to surprise me with her acting ability (and I’m not just saying that because of her worthy-of-forming-a-religion-over boobs). She’s got a subtle likability that really translates on screen, which makes all her scenes charming to watch. She also looks a lot less botoxed and otherwise surgically altered that the other females in this film. That always helps too.
Despite the momentum-losing let down of the second half, on the grand remake landscape I would still call Night of the Demons a success. It isn’t going to foster that kind of fandom the original inspired, but it has something to offer. It is a shame the film is going straight to video, because the most appropriate way to watch it is with a large and vocal audience. This is a communal experience film; a lot of its energy is going to be lost when you’re sitting on your couch by yourself. So maybe invite over some friends if you watch it.