Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Census Bloodbath: My, What Big Feet You Have

Year: 1980
Director: James C. Wasson
Cast: Michael Cutt, Joy Allen, Bob Collins
Run Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

As we approach the end of 1980, the first year of my Census Bloodbath marathon, things start to get a little weird. You see, the back end of the year is where I logged all the slasher movies that, by all accounts, did come out in our year nineteen hundred and eighty, but for mysterious and perhaps sinister reasons have no official release date on IMDb or anywhere else.

Night of the Demon is one of those films and the rest of its pedigree is no less murky. The only copy available to me was what appears to be a bad VHS transfer on YouTube (should you wish to subject yourself to it, here's the link!) that's so blurry I might have been watching a bootleg of Breakfast at Tiffany's for all I knew if it weren't for the screaming.

And the dazzling visual effects.

Night of the Demon is quite a unique slasher film because, for all that it is beholden to the tropes of the genre (a herd of teen campers being picked off one by one), which had been cemented in with Friday the 13th in May, the formulaic ideas were still new enough that the filmmakers felt freedom to marry them with other genres as well. 

Well, other genre.

I guess there's no beating around the bush here. The killer is Bigfoot. You heard me. Bigfoot. In a costume that makes me rethink my contempt of 1313: Bigfoot Island. At least you could tell that that movie wasn't trying.

It might not make the film any less crappy than it is, but the additional of such an important American mythological figure really amps up the campiness in the kill scenes, providing the film a shot in the arm during its duller moments.

Of which there are many when this guy's not around.

The plot centers around Professor Nugent (Michael Cutt, who we will see again in Sweet 16 if we ever make it out of 1980 alive), a bigfootology (?) professor who brings several students of his on a Sasquatching trip to the woods where the murderous beast is rumored to live. Seems like a fun and safe field trip, I daresay. No abuse of power here. Perfectly legal.

These students are such characterless meat puppets that even Carla, the most obviously Final Girly one of them all, the daughter of a fisherman who was killed by the rampaging Sasquatch, gets nothing to do and is quickly dispatched and forgotten in the finale. The other four are Greg, a pretty blonde boy; Linda, a pretty blonde girl who they only allowed to come along because she agreed to do the dishes although I don't see the point because they didn't actually bring any dishes because, you know, they're camping; Roy, a dumb Bluto-esque young man; and Pete, who doesn't even get a name until after he dies, until which point I affectionately referred to him as "Bowl Cut."

The film doesn't even have the decency to inform us of which actors played which characters in the credits, so I'm going to have to use my Francis Bacon scientific method skills to hypothesize that the students were played by Joy Allen, Bob Collins, Jody Lazarus, Rick Fields, and Michael Lang, none of whom ever appeared in anything of note ever again.

Only my nightmares.

So basically they all go around searching for Bigfoot and he begins to murder them because this is a slasher movie and he's a big hairy beast so who needs a motive? Also, a young student in a sleeping bag is killed in an early scene and never spoken of again. I may have actually hallucinated that whole thing because that scene or character is literally never mentioned before or after it occurs.

So, let's start with the good, shall we? 



There's one well-composed shot! Exactly one. In the opening scene. As a fisherman gets his arm pulled off (Cheesy, but cool. More on that later.), his blood begins to pool, filling up a massive humanoid footprint when the title appears.

Yes, this is the best shot. Citizen Kane it ain't.

The other (and only) good parts in the film are the kill sequences, which are of a piece ineptly rendered (the characters seem to have watered-down Tapatío running through their veins), but hilarious in their clumsiness and surprisingly brutal at times. The film knows that these scenes are its strong suit and it makes sure to pack in as many as it can at the expense of plot coherence.

Kill scenes are jammed in haphazardly throughout the film like a board game that doesn't quite fit back in its box after you've played it for the first time. The beginning and middle thirds are thoroughly padded with the professor abruptly saying mid-stroll "Did you ever hear about the (logger/biker/girl scout/rodeo clown/etc) that was murdered in these woods?" then cutting to a "flashback" kill sequence.

None of these are connected in any way and the sheer proliferation of the scenes, especially toward the slower parts in the middle, gets irritating, but the killings are all lovely cheesy 80's artifacts. There's a woodsman who gets the axe. We get a swinging sleeping bag impaled on a branch. We get arms ripped off, guts pulled out, and all sorts of lovely things. Sure, it's no Tom Savini, but after slogging through all those goreless proto-slasher "suspense" pieces, it's a breath of fresh air to see the blood flowing freely.

And come on! It's Bigfoot! Who could ask for more?

To my consternation, a film can't entirely be comprised of awesome kill scenes, and unfortunately that seems to be the case here. Everything that doesn't directly involve the murderous ape being is like trying to watch paint dry in an ocean - monotonous and futile. The whole thing is so padded from beginning to end that they even have the audacity to cut away to a dream sequence of a character who doesn't even have any involvement in the plot and would never appear again.

Bigfoot's POV is demarcated by a searing bright red filter with a small circle in the middle of the frame, and the entire final act is a dull slog when it's not being crass (with an unforgivably nonessential Bigfoot rape) including another one of those dreadful hypnotism scenes that horror movies always seem to think are so compelling.

There's not a lot to like during the human sequences, although I do commend the composer for including such daring orchestrations that swing between genres like "instructional PSA," "coffee commercial," and "synth falling asleep over a Celine Dion instrumental."

So, really, Night of the Demon isn't very good at all. It has a threadbare plot populated with hyperbolically uninteresting characters. But I do have a soft spot in my heart for appendages being ripped off, so there's that. And at least we'll always have this shot of Dr. Nugent in his underwear.

From the Andrew Christian "Dicey Professor" collection.

UPDATE: As I was writing this article, it occurred to me that what with its early 80's production date and overload of specifically sexual gore and vicious rape, it sounded like a perfect candidate for the Video Nasties, a notorious list of films banned in the UK for violent content in the early 80's. After some digging, I discovered that it is, in fact, on that list. It's remarkable that it slid under the radar, considering that many of the other films listed are far less vicious than this.

Killer: Bigfoot
Final Girl: Professor Nugent (Michael Cutt)
Best Kill: A motocylist takes a pit stop to relieve himself. Then Bigfoot shows up to relieve the man of his penis. By tearing it off. (Also, notably, the first full-frontal male nudity I've seen in this entire project! Yay gender equality!)

Sign of the Times: In the first sex scene (yes, first), the young woman's hair is even bigger than her breasts.
Scariest Moment: Two knife-wielding girl scouts are slammed into each other repeatedly, cutting one another with their own knives.
Weirdest Moment: A woman screams in orgasmic rapture as her boyfriend gets killed. For a full minute.
Champion Dialogue: "Begin at the beginning of your story."
Body Count: 15; 14 by Bigfoot and 1 by fire. Quite an ambitious number, even higher than the prolific Jason's first outing in the genre.
  1. Mr. Thomas' arm is ripped off.
  2. Found Footage Girl #1 is killed offscreen.
  3. Found Footage Girl #2 is killed offscreen.
  4. Van Lover is mauled and tossed onto the windshield.
  5. Hunter is swung around in his sleeping bag and impaled on a tree branch.
  6. Motorcyclist has his penis torn off.
  7. Woodsman is hit in the shoulder with an axe. 
  8. Girl Scout #1 is stabbed repeatedly.
  9. Girl Scout #2 is stabbed repeatedly.
  10. Pete has his face slammed into a tree.
  11. Reverend McGinty is set on fire.
  12. Carla is strangled.
  13. Gary is thrown onto a saw blade and has his innards ripped out.
  14. Roy has his head bashed through a window and his neck sliced on a glass shard.
  15. Linda is impaled with a pitchfork.  

TL;DR: Night of the Demon is shoddily made, but the murder sequences are entertaining and the killer is unique for the genre.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 1570

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