What makes a film good? Is it a unique plot? Brilliant direction? Snappy editing? Oscar-worthy performances? Could it be a combination of perfect costuming, breathtaking locations, and a bombastic, sweeping score that tugs on your heartstrings like a hunchback on a bellrope? Does it make you cry or laugh or feel inspired? At the very least, did it make a lot of money?
Well, these are the things that make a movie conventionally good. And lucky for us, that means they’re all totally irrelevant. Because Night of the Demon (1980), our flick du jour, is anything but conventionally good. Of course, this doesn’t stop it from being amazing in every other way.
Night of the Demon begins with the impressively mustachioed Professor Nugent proposing an optional extra credit trip to his mostly bored students. Seems like a decent enough idea...except for the fact that the purpose of this little expedition is to go in search of a particularly violent Bigfoot which is supposed to be responsible for a number of grisly murders. The few students stupid, er, intrepid enough sign up, and they head off into the mountains.
and oh, what marvels await them. In these tall forests of ancient pines lurks a hairy horror with a chip on its shoulder the size of Iowa. Now, you would probably predict the plot to go as follows: group gets lost in the woods, and everyone ends up picked off one by one under circumstances of extreme stupidity. However, that’s where you’re in for a surprise. Instead, the prof and his followers discover a cult of mountain people with questionable breeding. These wacky rednecks worship the Bigfoot as a god, and perform strange rituals deep in the mountains. After a bit of detective work, it becomes apparent to our heroes that the only person who really knows what’s up with this sassy Sasquatch is an insane, mute hermit aptly named “Crazy Wanda.” So, the game is a-bigfoot, and the search is on to find Wanda and the yeti that’s been mutilating the local yokels.
Really, I can’t bear to reveal much more than that. Plot is truly one of the strengths of Night of the Demon. There are plenty of delightful little moments you simply won’t see coming. Watching it for the first time is like unwrapping a series of decidedly unusual Christmas presents. A hypnosis inspired flashback to an abusive childhood? Why, you shouldn’t have! Let’s face it, the script is just plain better than average. the structure is interesting. Aside from the truly breathtaking finale, almost all the gore scenes take place in a flashback. The usual format is, someone will begin telling the sordid tale of yet another hapless Bigfoot victim, and we’ll fade to the actual killing. It’s brilliant! The best stories are always told by Professor Nugent, because afterwards he gets lines like “By the time they found him, he’d bled to death. Well, we’d better get to bed!” He’s such a charmer.
But naturally, the real star of the show is the sinister Sasquatch. He’s not just psychotic, he’s emotionally complex. In the course of the film we see him go through a vast range of emotions, from the aforementioned furious killing rage, to disturbingly amorous, and even filled with a wistful melcholy as he contemplates the extinction of his species. It’s apparent that he possesses some level of intelligence; this bigfoot is a tool-using animal.
And the killings, oh the killings. No one ever dies the same way twice. If you meet this beast, hey, at least you’ve got options! You could be torn limb from limb, violently divorced from your genitals, hacked up with an axe, impaled on a tree branch, stabbed with your best friend’s knife, get your face burned off on a hot stove...oh, the ways you can go! So, let’s recap, shall we? A sinister cult of rednecks performing weird rituals. Protagonists who are certainly hapless, yet manage not to be too offensively stupid. And an endless series of creative violence. Honestly, what else do you need? In short, if you only see one film starring a dick-rippin’, gut-slingin’ yeti this holiday season, make sure it’s Night of the Demon.