Title: NIGHT OF THE DEMON
Director: James C. Wasson
Cast: Jennifer West, Michael Cutt, Eugene Dow
Runtime: 92 min.
Gratuitous bloody stump wagging
Heaving bare bosoms
Bloody boyfriend on a windshield
Sleeping bag on a stick
Satanic sex ritual
Mid-coitus claw to the back
Axe to the collarbone
Girl Scout slash-o-rama
Pitchfork to the spine
Since the release of the Patterson–Gimlin film footage in 1967, Bigfoot has been a fascinating obsession in popular culture. Countless documentaries have been made on the elusive creature, and the mythos surrounding him has lent itself to a myriad of tall tales, in print and on film. One such fictional account centered upon the Californian local legend was so bloody that it landed the distinction of “video nasty” with the Parlimentary passage of the Video Recordings Act of 1984. The film: James C. Wasson’s 1980 horror gem, NIGHT OF THE DEMON.
Convinced that local legend Bigfoot is the culprit of numerous deaths, Professor Nugent (Michael Cutt) leads his students on a journey to locate the beast. During this trek, Bigfoot, equipped with a sort of pre-PREDATOR Monster-Vision, embarks “on a wave of brutal butchery” as the film’s tagline proudly proclaims. After a bloody cold open that bodes well for a solid gory B-movie, the opening credits descend into monotony with 2 long minutes of a couple walking across a campus, set to 1970s After School Special woodwind music. It’s to be expected; standard grindhouse fare has been known to yo-yo between lifeless narrative filler and outrageous paydirt moments. The dialogue is endearing in its absurdity, and the students (Joy Allen, Bob Collins, Jody Lazarus) are largely forgettable fodder; the one convincing performance is from Melanie Graham as Crazy Wanda, the daughter of a hyper-pious hillbilly. Her subplot as the victim of some gnarly drama is surprisingly compelling, making up for the mundane story that preceded her entrance.
This inconsistency in pacing and tone is par for the course, but the film has its moments, particularly in the third act. Working with Jim L. Ball’s story, screenwriter Mike Williams throws everything in the blender and turns it on full blast in the last half hour of the film, which goes from a Quest for Knowledge plot to a Last Stand at a rural cabin. The body count rises dramatically and in slow-motion, culminating in a delightful scene in which Bigfoot reaches into a victim’s gaping belly wound and pulls out his guts (which look suspiciously like raw chicken), and waves the entrails back and forth over his head like he’s flagging a helicopter. All in all, while the film itself is ho-hum, there are moments that everyone should treat their eyes to.
The story is just a loose excuse for the death scenes, and strings the willing viewer along in a tacit agreement. However, many of the gory nighttime scenes are so poorly lit that the brunt of the carnage goes unseen, and many daytime scenes are so poorly edited that it’s hard to tell what’s going on, as is the case with the Girl Scout slash-o-rama. There’s some young women, a butcher knife between them, and Bigfoot waving both of them about. Blood sprays everywhere, and then they’re dead. Most penetration injuries are incredibly brief, instead lingering on the blood flowing from the wound and the dying victims moaning face. In more capable hands like Mario Bava’s this approach can still be jarring, as is the case in A BAY OF BLOOD. But in NIGHT OF THE DEMON, Wasson doesn’t seem to be firing for artistic effect. There is a heavily-hyped scene in which an unsuspecting biker relieves himself and has his penis sliced off in the process, but the castration scene’s editing is so choppy that it renders the sensationalism of the moment impotent. Despite the low production value, the conceptual boldness should not be lost upon the viewer: Bigfoot rapes a teen, and she has its hybrid baby. The very mystery surrounding Bigfoot is the idea of the creature as a genetic anomaly, a hiccup in the evolutionary process— a freak. His story is one of socio-biological othering and when that’s compounded with bestiality and rape, the effect is outrageous, even for a B-movie. The film doesn’t get any deeper than that superficial offensiveness, but the lack of depth means a lack of pretension as well. Wasson knows what his audience is there for, and it’s not biting social commentary. The aforementioned third act of NIGHT OF THE DEMON delivers the gruesome goods that were lacking in the rest of the film, which makes for a fun finale.
Other than the word-of-mouth infamy that surrounded the castration scene, NIGHT OF THE DEMON didn’t make much more than a ripple among moviegoers. It was listed as a Video Nasty by the British Board of Film Classification due to its copious bloodletting and gore, and stayed that way until 1994. That year, VIPCO resubmitted it to the BBFC, who agreed to pass it with an 18 certificate with one minute and forty-one seconds of cuts (including the removal of the castration scene and the gut-flailing mayhem).
NIGHT OF THE DEMON lacks the intentional cheekiness to qualify as a parody, but is committed enough to its story to disqualify the film as a cheap cash-in. This leaves it somewhere in the middle as a bad movie that takes itself seriously, which adds to its occasional charm. The few memorable moments it contains are wild, when they’re discernible. Cryptid enthusiasts will get an extra dose of enjoyment out of this cheesy movie but when Bigfoot is not onscreen, we all suffer.
VIDEO NASTIES ALREADY IN THE BIN:
Tags: Bigfoot, Bob Collins, Columns, Cryptids, Doin' The Nasties, Eugene Dow, Girl Scouts, Horror, James C. Wasson, Jennifer West, Jim L. Ball, Jody Lazarus, Joy Allen, Melanie Graham, Michael Cutt, Mike Williams, The 1980s