Putting the fun in infernal! Or…infun…you get what I’m going for.
I’m proposing a new subgenre. “Party Horror”
There’s an untapped wellspring of automatic-art-esque films unique from the rest of horror, not just films centered around parties but around a mentality. Films where the wind-up is minimal, the characters are put on the slab immediately, and the outcome is a movie fueled entirely on party vibes rather than technical skill or being terrifying. A film that is pure “horror” without the shackles of worrying about being good. Just two imperatives: to party, and to survive.
And what movie is the gold standard for this school of horror filmmaking? None other than 1988’s Night of the Demons.
For the uninitiated, the film follows the “friends” of Angela Franklin, a goth outcast and the blueprint for Nancy from The Craft, who invites her classmates to the haunted Hull House for a Halloween party. When the group tries to make a party game out of a mirror séance, the slew of stock character teens end up unleashing a demonic spirit and its cohorts that hunger for human hosts.
This film has one of my favorite negative reviews of all time. From the Washington Post: “Demons’ sounds like it was recorded in a bathroom and plays like it was conceived in a vacuum.” And while it’s completely accurate, that’s what makes it so endearing. Truly, there are so few horror films that give me the vibes of being at a Halloween party like Night of the Demons. The entire film, frame to frame, feels like fistfuls of candy corn, fake blood, and ultra-cheap costume fabric. It’s low-grade, and it knows it.
Demons ‘88 doesn’t get wrapped up in the snares of trying to make itself look slick or badass; it doesn’t dwell on how bad it might be. It just does what it does; it simply is. It’s the essence of cheap schlock and a place where the rule of cool is to be as uncool as possible. This is the major failing of its abysmal 2009 remake, which tries its hardest to be stylish in a way that’s admirable instead of a way that’s fun; with more than three times the budget, they couldn’t even muster a fifth of the entertainment. The original understands the ethos of a good horror b-movie: if it’s not fun, why bother?
There’s a cartoonish-ness to the onscreen evil foreshadowed by the quaint intro of paper demon cutouts flying around and synth-rock. We get not one but two scenes where a character unironically tells a scary campfire story about the mansion’s demonic origins, one with a flashlight under his face. It’s a borderline parody in the best of ways.
This film also proves you can have poorly written characters moved by lame acting and still enjoy yourself because the fun they’re having in making the film is palpable. They’re ultra-memorable because they play directly into the genre’s cliches and wear the archetypes they’ve been assigned like a badge of honor. There’s Judy, the heart of gold final girl who must rise to the occasion; Sal, the Italian greaser stereotype that was about 20 years out of date; Rodger, the one superstitious person of color with any sense of self-preservation; Suzanne, the bubblegum valley girl with Psycho Goreman levels of hunky boys’ obsession; and Stooge, the fat, drunken lout who is too misogynist even for the ’80s.
The stooge of the group is quite literally named Stooge, how can you beat that?
But the film’s standout is Amelia Kinkade, the one and only Angela Franklin. Outside of being goth and instantly getting possessed, she has nothing but vibes and puns to offer, and she still works this movie for all it’s worth. Her burlesque scene in front of the fireplace to the industrial metal tune completely blows Trash’s graveyard dance from Return of the Living Dead out of the water. Yes, it’s that good. She also steals the show in Night of the Demons 2 and carries over the spirit of the first film, where the sequels and remake flounder.
Director Kevin Tenney effectively cut together the equivalent of an NBA highlight reel of every convention, cliché, and corny moment that was at the heart of cheap 80’s horror. The camerawork is full of homage to the Evil Dead films, particularly in the tracking shot that happens when the demon is released. It lacks the bite and genuine terror those films could evoke but uses the inspiration they provide to create something completely on the opposite of the tonal spectrum with improvised flamethrowers, coffin sex, and demons that like wordplay.
Is it the best or scariest of the horror movies from that decade? No, not in the slightest. Is it the best of that year on a technical level? Also no, The Blob remake beats it out by a little. But it is the perfect example of how good-bad horror can be when you abandon all reason and let the mood of a film take control. When you engage in the cinematic equivalent of high energy, fun-above-all-else party.
It Came From Shudder September Edition
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
I have been drowning myself in 1980s new wave/gothic music all summer, especially Bauhaus. Now that fall is here, I am doubling down with gothic cinema. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a silent German expressionist film of the Weimar Republic, follows a hypnotist who uses a sleepwalker as a vessel for murder. Visually stunning, Caligari twists viewers’ perceptions using sharp edges and shadows facilitated by an unorthodox set design that is just as much part of the art as the actual motion picture.
Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2 (1987)
The bitch is back! I am beyond excited to revisit Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2. This offshoot of Prom Night (1980) has it all: possession, campy 1950s dialogue, a subplot about teenage pregnancy, and undeniable queerness coming from the central antagonist. The film follows girl-next-door Vicky, who, after searching for a prom dress in the drama club closet, becomes possessed by prom queen-scorned Mary Lou, a promiscuous and tenacious 1950s teen who seeks revenge on her killers. It’s a fun mix of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and Carrie. I promise it will not disappoint.
The McPherson Tape (1989)
The McPherson Tape walked so The Blair Witch Project could run. The McPherson Tape is a found footage film from 1989, ten years before The Blair Witch Project became the blueprint for the future of found footage. Instead of a witch in the woods, The McPherson Tape revolves around an alien encounter during a family’s birthday celebration in 1983. Be prepared to watch this as if it were a home video you just popped into your VCR.
Queer for Fear (2022)
It has been a long time coming for this four-part series on the history of queer representation in the horror genre. Premiering September 30th with new episodes each week, Queer for Fear will discuss horror’s queer roots in the monster movies of the 1930s-1940s, make connections between horror cinema and dozens of queer histories, and how the genre has evolved since the problematic portrayals of the past. Get your notebooks ready and pencils sharpened (or just pull up your Letterboxd Watchlist), and be prepared to find some new queer horror recommendations and favorites!
‘Winnie The Pooh: Blood and Honey’ Trailer Out Now: Pooh and Piglet Are Out for Blood and Revenge
Move over Heffalumps and Woozles; there’s a new big bad in the hundred-acre wood.
The official trailer for Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey is finally upon us, and it looks like we’re all in for quite a ride with this one.
Brought to us by Premiere Entertainment, ITN distribution, and Jagged Edge Productions, this movie has been making waves on the internet ever since first-look photos of the film were released.
The trailer shows us all that the photos are nothing in comparison.
For better or for worse, now that the original Pooh bear is in the public domain, horror is out to change the public view on the childhood favorite. As we have grown, so have the characters of the hundred-acre wood, and they are pissed that Christopher Robin abandoned them.
Directed, written, and co-produced by Rhys Waterfield, he explained in a May interview with Variety that the film carefully traverses the line between horror and comedy, seeing Pooh and Piglet revert to the ways of “feral” animals.
Judging by the trailer, they may exist like animals, but they most certainly kill like people do. While some regarded the film as childhood-ruining, I, for one, am all the way here for this slasher film. Make no mistake; this film looks bloody, violent, and fantastic.
Check out the Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey trailer for yourself and let us know what you think about the upcoming horror film.