Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Night of the Demons (1988, Kevin Tenney)

Thanks to Scream Factory I was able to view another 80s cult film, this one being titled Night of the Demons. By the late 1980s the horror film genre was tired of slasher movies, and so films like this one were more the norm, although of course a group of teenagers wander into some abandoned building and get horribly murdered. However “Night” has a more slower pace, as it builds up the tension until events really get out of hand. And naturally a film like this has a morality tale of sorts included, offering up why one should not mess with forces beyond our world, or something like that. Not really a complex message, although this movie is pretty straightforward, which is part of its charm. Also the opener is darkly humorous, as it features an old man preparing to lace his candy apples with razor blades. How that side story concludes, is um, with a quite gruesome surprise.

This is the type of horror movie where you have character names such as Angela, Judy, Helen, Max and Roger. Although of course you have a guy like Stooge, who by the end of the film truly lives up to his human pig reputation. Most of the film doesn’t contain humor and is a suspenseful movie, turning into a chase style trying to escape movie by the conclusion. Despite having some cliches “Night” has some surprises, and I was entertained despite the film’s low budget limitations. I also liked that the film saves its gory elements for later on, and doesn’t become too campy, the bizarre plot aside. Oh and the film has a really good soundtrack, with one of the tracks being sang by Bauhaus, who also contributed a track to the 1980s horror classic The Hunger. I’m not sure why or how this film spawned multiple sequels (plus the typical horror remake) although by the 1980s franchises had become the norm for anything halfway successful or notable.

Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Phantasm II (1988, Don Coscarelli)

Created almost a decade after the original cult classic, Phantasm II is a really cool, well made sequel. Reggie, Mike return to do battle with The Tall Man once more after surviving the events of the first film. Hunting the evil being across the United States, this film has the look and feel of a road trip movie in addition to being a horror film. The stakes are even higher in this movie, as Mike rushes to save a girl he loves from a terrifying fate.

Unlike the first movie there is more action involved. Particularly in the form of a chainsaw battle, which is epic. Also the flying spheres of death are back and one turns out to be the ultimate in horribly killing people. The series retains its dark sense of humor and keeps the strong weird factor that makes it so watchable and interesting in the first place.

Furthermore elements of this film are right at home stylistically when it comes to some of Don Coscarelli’s work. You have inter-dimensional beings, sinister henchmen that dress only in black, and even a mocking of organized religion. It seems that many of the 80s and 90s horror films had something to comment about God, the Devil, and evil versus good in the world. Also the flamethrower moments plus the beings from another plane of existence reminded me a bit of one of his latest films, John Dies At The End, which I also enjoyed last year.

Naturally this is not the last entry in the series. I look forward to viewing the rest of the Phantasm series and enjoying what they have to offer. Oh and they are making another one, which just goes to show that nothing truly ends.

Horrorfest 2013 Presents: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986, John McNaughton)

Made before found footage movies became standard, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is almost a found footage film. It has some of the characteristics: a first person look at the characters, acting rather biographical and up front and personal. Henry is a mass murdering psychopath who happens to hook up with Otis and his sister, two people who really have no idea who he is or what he is doing. Slowly though Otis uncovers the truth, and instead of running away chooses to become Henry’s disciple and engage in killing and mayhem.

Few horror films have ever been, to quote the great horror critic Bleeding Critic, “Damaging,” not to mention absolutely brutal and unrelenting. In fact my one criticism of this film is that by the end you so numb to what happened that the damage has already been done, that the film is spinning its wheels by the final shot. That’s rather disturbing, although that criticism was my same issue with another cult horror film/drama classic, Man Bites Dog, which came along later and was probably in many ways influenced by Henry. In the case of Henry the film is helped greatly by Michael Rooker’s disturbing and stark, brilliant and unflinching performance which is the dark heart of this film.

Still there are plenty of nasty and brutal scenes to be found, chief among them the murder of a family that Otis chooses to document, a moment that is defiantly found footage style material. The worst part about that entire scene though is that Otis not only captured every horrible detail, but that he chooses to rewind and watch all of what him and Henry did all over again. That is beyond the pale-two men who have no conscience, no remorse for what they have done. Since both Henry and Otis were real people its quite chilling to think about if your next door neighbor is really a homicidal manic who will kill you and those you love without even thinking twice.

Could elements of this movie have been pure fiction? Sure, as Hollywood has a legacy of bending facts for dramatic impact. What cannot be denied though is that Henry did murder endless numbers of people, and that Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a window into his black soul. Henry can be seen as a shark, a creature of habit that killed for no reason, moving from place to place, staying ahead of the authorities hunting him. Films like this one cover real life monsters that get the viewer too close, like being able to wander into the lion cage at the zoo or being in a shark cage in the shark tank as a great white circles past.

Horrorfest 2013 Presents: City of the Living Dead (1980, Lucio Fulci)

Hungry for the flesh of the living, they emerge from the earth to prey upon the living and devour them whole. Ravenous and unrelenting, they are the undead: zombies, creatures of the night, unholy terrors that lurk beneath the pretty facade of normal everyday life. Lucio Fulci doesn’t just shoot his 1980 film City of the Living Dead in the darkness because its a low budget movie. No its because he is choosing to lay bare the terrors that await us when the sun goes down and the light fades away.

Light is peace and a refuge from what nasty beasts lie in wait for man and woman as they stumble around in the empty black of nighttime. There is no telling what may lay around the corner, and usually its something that is very hungry and has plenty of teeth. Although I guess these zombies are decaying and lack teeth so they make due by tearing your flesh apart. Quite chilling, really. That’s not even without touching upon the horrific and famous death by drill scene that occurs in the movie as well, and is rather bloody.

Despite the low budget limitations that plagued his entire career Fulci always managed to create films that were pure experiences in terror and City of the Living Dead does not fail in that area. I liked the scene where a child discovers a zombie dwelling in their closet and makes the mistake of opening the door. Its a truly creepy moment in a movie that depends heavily on atmosphere, and in that regard Fulci was in touch with his fellow horror filmmakers Mario Bava and Dario Argento.

All three were gifted at ignoring plot conventions and simply making horror films that struck at the nerve of the viewer, although Bava and Argento were more talented than Fulci. Still I rather enjoyed City of the Living Dead. Its kind of dumb, and yet it has a nasty charm that can be admired. Besides that opener is perfect: a nice day in a cemetery shattered by the suicide of a priest that happens to release the Gates of Hell. That’s truly something.

Horrorfest 2013 Presents: Bloody Birthday (1981, Ed Hunt)

Made when the slasher genre was still at its peak Bloody Birthday is a weird and twisted film. A trio of children born on the same day proceed to go on an epic murder spree, realizing that since they are children no one will think they are capable of killing people. One of them even helps the other two murder her own father in a scene that is both disturbing and comical at the same time. The film is clearly low budget and is just another one of the many slasher films that existed in the 1980s, and yet I was entertained and couldn’t believe what I was watching. I’m not sure if this film was supposed to be serious or a semi-parody take on the genre. Either way its not as bad as I thought it was going to be, although the last act dives into what are now typical slasher and horror film cliches.

Oh and the one older girl that suspects the trio is branded crazy midway through the film, so her and her brother are in endless danger after a birthday party that teases the possibility of the child trio poisoning kids. Not to mention a handful of crazy and outrageous kills that I won’t reveal here. Bloody Birthday walks a fine line between humor and being truly awful, and although its limited by both its strict adherence to the slasher sub-genre and a lack of money its still a decent film. It would have been great if this movie had resulted in a series, but we are left with only the first one to enjoy.

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