Sunday, October 7, 2012

Night of the Demon (1980) dir. James C. Wasson

Logline: A team of anthropologists go in search of Bigfoot, find Bigfoot, also find a Bigfoot cult. Many lives are lost for science.

Crime in the Past: Bigfoot rapes a woman named Crazy Wanda (who may or may not have been bestowed with that appellation prior to her journey into the hermit lifestyle). Wanda has a Bigfoot baby, which is then murdered by fear God-fearing father. The world could not withstand multiple Bigfeet (and a mixed-species Bigfoot at that!).

Bodycount: 13, including the death of any sense of good taste.

Themes/Moral Code: It's no surprise that there aren't any themes of interest here, but the moral code is shaky too. Bigfoot hates perversion (he murders two quasi-writhing lovers in a van), lewdness (he rips the penis off a man peeing in the forest), and trespassing (he kills all those prying anthropologists), but he also seems to hate innocence (he decimates a whole family of picnickers). The only person he seems to take a liking to is Crazy Wanda (Melanie Graham), and even then he has a dreadful way of expressing it. (It's intimated that Bigfoot and Crazy Wanda have carried on some sort of creepy inter-species relationship in the years following his rape of her. I refuse to pursue the implications of this-- I leave that to you, dear reader). Otherwise, there's no winning with Bigfoot.

Killer's Motivation: He's Bigfoot.

Final Girl: Bigfoot spares no one.

The Good, the Bad, & the Cheese:  The above is not entirely true, because Bigfoot does (probably unintentionally) spare Professor Nugent (Michael Cutt), lead researcher and no relation to Ted. But "spare" is a term I'm using loosely: Prof. Nugent has been horrifically burned, and spends the film's running time strapped to a hospital bed with half of his face bandaged. I note this because Prof. Nugent's convalescence produces the film's sole point of technical interest: Nugent tells a group of assorted hospital staff (and by extension, us) the events of the entire film in flashback. Yeah, right, so that's not of interest in itself-- but wait, there's more: there are then flashbacks within the major flashback, highlighting the circumstances of the deaths of various forest trespassers. But then we can't exactly call them flashbacks, because all of the characters within them (excepting Bigfoot) are horribly murdered (and I'm pretty certain it's not Bigfoot having the flashbacks), so they're more akin to "creative visual re-enactments" of the murders. But, in any case, there is at least one actual flashback within the framing flashback: Crazy Wanda has a flash back encompassing a couple years of events between her, Papa, and Bigfoot (this flashback being contained within Nugent's larger flashback). And then we even get dreams with the framing flashback. And sometimes we're allowed to see scenes in what we're forced to call BigfootVision, as we're transmitted the big brute's direct point of view as he stalks his victims, his vision rendered as two distorted, red-tinged circles in the center of the screen (so maybe we are blessed with Bigfoot flashbacks after all?). So, yes, all of this confusion and complexity is undoubtedly the product of shoddy scripting and editing, but heck if it doesn't produce a massively disorienting effect. No other film feels quite like Night of the Demon, for better or worse.

And I suppose another reason I appreciate the film's loopy narrative (literally loopy in this case) is because it seems unintentional, as if the filmmakers had to find some shortcut to string all their gags together and that incoherent layering of narrative levels was the best they could muster. The rest of the film is composed of very intentional gore gags: Bigfoot swirling around a dude in a sleeping bag, Bigfoot yanking off arms and penises, Bigfoot skewering with pitchforks and chopping with axes, Bigfoot whipping someone with his own intestines, Bigfoot grabbing and repeatedly throwing two armed women into each other so that they stab each other to death. The blood flows thick, but one can't help feeling that James C. Wasson and Co. are laying it on a little too thick, too. They're aware that having Bigfoot cause all this mayhem is funny, and so their execution rarely is. Brief segments of Night of the Demon are humorous because inept (the prolonged sequence of a woman dying of "fright" while Bigfoot idles aimlessly outside her van), but when it's inept and consciously striving to be funny, it can barely choke out a grin from me. I'm sure others feel differently, but the above coupled with its aforementioned lack of thematic content make it somewhat less than a favorite in my personal pantheon of slasherdom. Bizarro cinema, truly, but a curiously empty breed.

No comments:

Post a Comment