Night of the Demon (1979) ***½
Not to be confused with Night of the Demons, or with any of the other flicks called Night of the Demon, this is the movie that I was looking for when I watched Shriek of the Mutilated, in both the literal and figurative senses of that phrase. On the one hand, I really did pick up Shriek of the Mutilated on the mistaken impression that it was Night of the Demon. (When I get around to talking about the story, I think the reason for my confusion will become clear.) On the other hand, Night of the Demon is the movie that Michael and Roberta Findlay’s flick should have been, and came within an ace of being before the botched ending screwed everything up.
This is probably the slimiest of the killer bigfoot movies-- at least, it’s the slimiest one that I’ve seen, and I have yet to read or hear a description of another that sounds likely to match it. The basic premise is all but indistinguishable from that of Shriek of the Mutilated (in fact, I have a hard time believing this movie to be anything other than a direct rip-off of the earlier film, though I have a hard time imagining why anyone would want to do such a thing), with only a few detail changes and a reversal of the red herring status of the devil-cult angle relative to the bigfoot angle to help you tell the two movies apart. Once again, we have a college anthropology professor heading north to the woods with several of his most trusted students to hunt for a legendary man-beast. (At least Night of the Demon knows that the North American version of the monster is called Bigfoot or Sasquatch, and not the abominable snowman.) And once again, the decision proves to be a disastrous one for the man’s students, whose casualty rate ends up being an astonishing 100%. The main differences are structural and technical in nature, and are responsible for the great superiority of this film over its likely progenitor. To begin with, the story is told as a multi-layered series of flashbacks within flashbacks, an intriguing device which is outright startling in a film of this caliber (that is to say, cheap and trashy). This movie also has a surprisingly firm sense of pace, considering the fact that the real action of the main storyline doesn’t begin until the movie is well past the halfway mark. Night of the Demon circumvents this shortcoming in a remarkably economical way-- whenever the movie begins to sag, Professor Nugent (the misguided anthropologist) simply tells the students another story about Bigfoot (“Do you guys know about the two Girl Scouts who disappeared around here?...”). This way, the filmmakers get to show bigfoot killing huge numbers of people without ever having to worry about character development outside the core group, displaying in the process a tremendous flair for the imaginative slaying. (Check out the scene where bigfoot yanks off the biker’s dick when he stops by the side of the road to take a piss!)
In another point of resemblance to Shriek of the Mutilated, Night of the Demon has a pretty good twist up its sleeve, which in this case is actually revealed early enough for the movie to make some use of it. And again, the twist involves an evil cult, but that’s far from the whole story. Here, the pagans are combined with an unhinged renegade Catholic (sort of like a male version of the mother in Carrie) and a “shocking” secret regarding said fanatic’s daughter; you’ll probably figure that last part out long before the movie tells you what’s up, but this particular contrivance manages to satisfy through sheer, brute sleaziness alone.
And then there’s Bigfoot himself. Like many movie monsters, he looks much better from some angles than he does from others, but surprisingly, one of the good angles is full in the face! This makes it all the more puzzling that the creature should look so screamingly phony from behind-- you’d think that the face would be the hard part. The biggest misstep as far as the monster suit is concerned becomes evident only in the climactic scene, when it becomes glaringly obvious that its lower half is really just a pair of furry pants!
By normal standards-- even my normal standards-- Night of the Demon is not exactly a good movie. The usual complaints about acting and logic and character motivation all apply, and attentive viewers will find themselves asking, “wait a minute-- what happened to the cultists?” for the last quarter of the film. But in spite of everything that’s wrong with it, the movie works anyway to an astonishing degree, and watching Night of the Demon gives me the impression that I’m seeing somebody discovering a talent that they never suspected they had. That talent is being used with extreme clumsiness here, but talent wielded by an oaf is still talent, and there’s definitely more than just sleaze at work in this movie (though, praise Satan, there’s plenty of that on display, too). It’s a shame that director James C. Watson seems to have shot his movie-making wad with this one, because I’d have high hopes for anything I saw his name on in the future.