Not Good, But Great: NIGHT OF THE DEMON
There are several monsters I would follow down any cinematic path, no matter how rough the terrain: scarecrows, werewolves, and Bigfoot. The North American Primate and me have a rather interesting history. As a boy growing up in Southeast Texas with the Big Thicket in our backyard, my friends and I would play many a game and share many a made-up story about the things that lived in the woods. They were a place that fascinated and haunted me.
So, naturally, when my dad told me about a movie called The Legend of Boggy Creek, about how it took place only a few hours away, about how it was about THE boogeyman of the woods, and about how it was the only movie my grandpa had ever seen in theaters in his entire life, I quickly shit my pants and then asked if we could watch it. We rented the VHS and the rest, as they say, was history. My mind was forever warped by a hairy howling behemoth from the muck and I lost nearly an entire year’s worth of sleep to the image of a cat petrified from fear. There was no more terrifying image to me than of looking out my window at night and instead of seeing trees, seeing a hairy not-man not-ape looking back at me. And like most children, I became obsessed with what I feared most. I had to know more about the thing that walked in the dark and peeked in people’s windows on the edge of the woods and swamp.
I met Loren Coleman. I met Bob Gimlin. I went to the Texas Bigfoot Conference, twice. All these years later I wouldn’t say with 100% certainty that I actually believe Sasquatch exists, but I am still fascinated by the image and the idea. Maybe he does exist, and he lives inside each of us at night when we’re outside and alone.
All this to say, I think 1980’s Night of the Demon is the best Bigfoot movie ever made (that isn’t named The Legend of Boggy Creek). No, not Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon, and no, not even 1988’s Night of the Demons, 1980 saw the release of an apocalyptic vision of the Wildman of North America and his hatred for humanity. The story, as it is, follows Dr. Nugent and his anthropology students as they embark on a quest into the woods to find the culprit of several grisly murders and, you know, many bad things befall people dressed in flannel. But while the story isn’t anything original or particularly interesting, the structure certainly is. The entire movie is framed as a flashback, being told by a severely injured and bandaged survivor of an attack by an unknown creature, but within that flashback, we are given multiple flashbacks within the flashback as each student recounts different murders they have heard stories about from the surrounding area.
Oh, I’m sorry, did I say “murders”? My bad; Biggie doesn’t just “murder” people in this flick. He absolutely OBLITERATES them. They are dismembered, mutilated, annihilated, helicopter-spun in their sleeping bags (years before JayJay Voorhees), chops them up with their own axes, makes them stab one another, and whips them with their own entrails. This is the biggest reason why, even though the story and the storytelling aren’t particularly engaging more often than not, the Bigfoot action in this movie is second to none. It just delivers in every way you’ve ever wanted from a Bigfoot slasher.
Oh, I’m sorry, did I say “Bigfoot”? My bad; I meant . . . Demon? Or . . . Alien? Or extra-dimensional force of nature? Whether it’s the muddy dialogue and aesthetic, the actual identity of the hairy monster remains nebulous, which is another strength in my opinion. Through one of the flashbacks, we see bear witness to an incredibly eerie and ultimately disturbing sequences wherein the Sasquatch emerges from the sky in absolute silence and . . . um . . . look, there’s no way around this. Bigfoot rapes Wanda, the films most unfortunate character. This trope is nothing new to Bigfoot fiction (storytellers have an uncomfortable fascination with the idea of Sasquatch/human sexual relations in fiction) but it remains an icky subject whatever the intent. In Night of the Demon, it leads to a half-human, half-demon, half-Bigfoot baby. And that’s not the only crazy thing you get here. There is also a Bigfoot Cult! Now, that’s something new! Along with the kills (most of which are shot in slow motion during the finale), these ideas and images are so nasty and cruel that it gives this movie an air of something much bigger than it is. It is a bleak and uncaring world this movie takes place in, one where nature wants only to defile, hurt, and mutilate all of mankind.
Night of the Demon has been on the Video Nasties list since its home release, and can be found on some bargain-bin horror mega-packs and on Amazon Prime. But, you know, if anyone from Severin happens to be a reader of Ghastly Grinning, I want you to know you would certainly make at least one person VERY happy if this were given a ridiculously beautiful Blu-ray release. This is one of those movies where I want to track down everyone involved in its inception and production and just ask “How?’ and, better, “Why?” I want the full story.
Like many others, I’ve gone through several phases of quantifying what I enjoy out of movies. Of course one of the phases I went through during late high school and college was an obsession with movies known to be “So bad they’re good.” Well, after years of making several films of my own—all of them “so bad they’re bad”—my tone has changed a bit. I still enjoy discovering and watching movies that may be considered “bad” by the average moviegoer, but no longer laugh at these things in a mocking way. This kind of change occurs, not only by trying and failing yourself, but also just by watching more film. A lot of quality these pictures have are simply eccentricities of the filmmakers and their limitations, and once your mind has expanded beyond just snarky arrogance you can learn to love a lot more about movies; to truly laugh with the movies rather than at them. I still firmly believe, for creative people, their are infinitely more lessons to learn from “failures” than “successes” and I believe that still true, but just because a movie is a failure doesn’t make it bad. It’s now a teaching tool, and when it is also as entertaining as this weirdo backwoods Sasquatch slasher, that’s the prime example of what I call not good, but great.