I love genre cinema. I will always have a soft spot for horror, action, sci-fi, and all the subgenres that exist inside those larger categories. What I have never felt any real connection to are those films that exist in the realm of pure sleaze. You know the ones: the films from the ’70s and ’80s, filled with ugly violence and sex that is the opposite of titillating, usually shot on cheap film stock with semi-amateur casts. But knowing these films have a large following and several companies devoted to restoring them makes me wonder what I am missing. With that in mind, I am going to do a deep dive into the world of sleazy exploitation. This is My Exploitation Education.
I am not sure if it is possible for a SOV cheapie to be too well put together, but that is how DEMON QUEEN comes across. Even with the expectedly rough visual quality of the camcorder footage, the flick clearly has a filmmaking team behind it that has a clue of what they’re doing. Unfortunately, that competency leads to an end product that is relatively bland instead of possessing the roughly constructed DIY charm of less sure-handed but infinitely more entertaining SOV movies of the ’80s.
The vampire-like Lucinda (Mary Fanaro) saves small-time drug dealer Jesse (Dennis Stewart) from being murdered by a couple of thugs by ripping the throat out of one while the other runs for his life. Given the fact that she saved his life, Jesse is happy to let Lucinda crash on his couch, much to the chagrin of his junkie girlfriend Wendy (Patti Valliere). As Jesse has horrible, violent nightmares, Lucinda goes out in the streets and does her vampire thing while her victims rise from the dead and kill random victims. Eventually, Lucinda’s affections for Jesse become obvious and tensions between them and Wendy violently break. You can probably guess what happens from there.
DEMON QUEEN is the debut movie from prolific indie exploitation writer/director Donald Farmer. Even working with a cheap camcorder and sound equipment, he brings an efficient method to his storytelling that almost makes the movie feel like it is a traditional vampire tale on fast-forward. Expository scenes are non-existent and it does not really matter because we have seen this story played out countless times. While it is refreshing that Farmer largely casts aside concerns about explaining what Lucinda is or why she should be so attracted to a loser like Jesse in favor of moving on to the next gore sequence, the only reason he is able to do so is because the story is so very clichéd—even in 1987, when it was released.
It’s an interesting conundrum that DEMON QUEEN is shot, acted, and edited better than many other SOV flicks, yet somehow winds up a largely dull experience. Because Farmer does have such a firm handle on the expected beats of this type of story, he does nothing to subvert those expectations. While I admire how swiftly he flies through the story, I also cannot ignore just how dull the results are. It is saying something that what should be an obnoxious scene set in a video store with a clerk sneering at a woman looking for a romantic comedy and suggesting she check out something with Udo Kier or Michael Berryman does not fit into the film at all, yet is its most entertaining moment. I honestly would have enjoyed a few more out of left field scenes like this just to keep me on my toes.
Even with as by the numbers as the story is, Farmer does deliver the exploitation goods. He may have gone cheap on just about every other aspect of the production, but he does supply plenty of ripped out throats, hearts pulled from chests, and faces torn off. Fanaro even successfully provides the sort of androgynous, erotic presence that so many female vampire flicks promise but rarely deliver.
I find myself struggling to either recommend or dismiss DEMON QUEEN. Farmer does accomplish his modest goals with the movie, but that does not make it particularly entertaining. Still, it moves swiftly and if you are looking for a slightly slicker than usual version of down-and-dirty ’80s SOV exploitation, you could do worse.
–Matt Wedge (@MovieNerdMatt)