Sunday, October 9, 2011

October 7th: Night of The Demons 2 (1994)

Six years have passed since the Halloween Night Massacre at Hull House, which left seven teenagers brutally murdered. In the ensuing police investigation, all the bodies were found except one; Angela Franklin (Amelia Kinkade). When Angela's disappearance became public, rumors spread that Angela has physically descended into hell and still resides in Hull House, murdering anyone who ventures beyond the underground water system that keeps the demons trapped in Hull House.
A year after her disappearance, Angela's parents committed suicide after receiving a repulsive Halloween card signed by Angela. Her sister Melissa Franklin AKA Mouse (Merle Kennedy) is now attending St. Rita's Academy, a Catholic boarding school for troubled teens, where she is subjected to cruel bullying and teasing at the hands of the other girls, primarily school bullies Shirley Fennerty (Zoe Trilling) and Terri (Christine Taylor).
Banned from attending the school dance, Shirley decides to have a party at Hull House, inviting Terri, nice girl Bibi (Cristi Harris), Bibi's kung-fu boyfriend Johnny (Johnny Moran), jock Kurt (Ladd York), and Mouse. With help from her boyfriend Rick (Rick Peters) and friend Z-Boy (Darin Heames), Shirley intends to pull a prank on Mouse but Kurt interferes and the group returns to St. Rita's, but not before Bibi finds a tube of lipstick, which Shirley brings back with them, allowing Angela to cross the stream and attack St. Rita's. With the partygoers turned into demonic servants and Angela running amok, Bibi and Johnny join forces with righteous kung-fu nun Sister Gloria (Jennifer Rhodes) and demonology expert Perry (Bobby Jacoby) to stop Angela before she can sacrifice Mouse to Satan, which would give her limitless power.
REVIEWA few blogs ago, I reviewed the original Night of The Demons and I made no bones about how much I disliked it. To paraphrase that review, I found the humor childish and poorly written, the scares utterly pathetic, the characters annoying and worthless, the central villain poorly executed, the demon effects unsatisfying, the ending cheap, the dialogue groan-inducing, etc, etc. Save for Linnea Quigley and Angela's psychosexual dance number, I couldn't find any redeeming values in it. I can appreciate that Kevin S. Tenney and Joe Augustyn were trying to make an '80s rock and roll slasher with demons and I understand it's beloved by fans of cult horror but for me, I found it downright dreadful.
Given my disdain for Night of The Demons, I wasn't exactly foaming at the mouth in anticipation for Night of The Demons 2. The only hope I had was that Kevin S. Tenney was nowhere to be seen, replaced by Brian Trenchard-Smith, the director of Leprechaun 3 and Leprechaun 4: In Space. Granted, that resume far from makes me comfortable going into this film but, at the very least, I knew I'd be getting something mildly amusing, if not genuinely entertaining. Color me surprised; while not a good film technically speaking, Night of The Demons 2 is fairly entertaining in a so ridiculous its funny way.
Let's get this out of the way; Night of The Demons 2 is not a good movie in the technical sense. Once again written by Joe Augustyn, many of the script problems from Part One show up in Part Two. Though not as poorly done, the tone is once again imbalanced; whereas the original film was silly comedy with poorly done horror elements, the sequel is unscary horror with incredibly goofy humor peppered in. Once again, the characters are largely bland (Bibi, Kurt, Terri) or painfully over the top (Z-Boy, Rick, Johnny). The effects are still unsatisfying, though the actors are notably more expressive when clad in latex and every attempt to be atmospheric or scary falls flat on its face.

We've established that the tone is off and that the scares fail, but does the humor work? Surprisingly yes, albeit in a so bad its good way. Much of the humor comes courtesy of Sister Gloria. Jennifer Rhodes, having previously appeared as Crystal Bernard's mother in Slumber Party Massacre 2 and Winona Ryder's mother in Heathers, is playing a Ninja Nun. Yes, I said a Ninja Nun. It's absurd and out of nowhere. That being said, when watching a movie about a Ninja Nun fighting Demons, one can't help but accept that this is meant to be outrageous and Rhodes wisely gives the role just the right amount of winking humor and deadpan seriousness.

There are two other characters worth mentioning; the first of which is Shirley Fennerty, played by cult actress Zoe Trilling from such films as Girls Just Want To Have Fun, Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes and Leprechaun 3. Shirley is, without question, the most hateful person I've seen in a horror film in a very, very long time and a lot of it goes to Zoe's performance. Confident, sexy and mean-spirited, Zoe tackles this role with full gusto; I spent the whole film wanting her to die a horrible, painful, slow death and cheered every time something bad happened to her. In a straightforward horror film, this character would never work but, for a film that's clearly just trying to be crazy fun, you can't help but love to hate every second of screentime Zoe has here.
The second character in question is Perry, nerd turned demon slayer. In stark contrast to every other teen in the film, Perry comes off as a genuinely good person; sure he's into demonology, but he equals Sister Gloria in his determination to stop the demons and save Mouse. Bobby Jacoby has spent the majority of his career languishing in TV movie Hell, but I am more familiar with his film work. To this day, I still consider Tremors, the 1990 science fiction homage/send-up starring Kevin Bacon, to be one of my all-time favorite movies and Jacoby was memorable for his brief role as annoying brat Mel Plug, a role he would reprise in Tremors 3: Back To Perfection and the short-lived TV series. Here, Jacoby is instantly likeable, taking the nerd role, which usually equates to dead meat, and giving it a nice spin by making him heroic and brave. I would never call him a great actor, but he's colorful here and his chemistry with Jennifer Rhodes is the highlight of the second half of the film.
Last time, I was quite clear that I didn't find Angela Franklin to be a satisfying villain. It had nothing to do with her being a petite woman; it had everything to do with the character lacking any menace or real motivation. This time around, Augustyn gives Angela motivation behind her actions in the form of her uber-meek sister Mouse; Angela plays on her sister's feelings of loneliness and desire for family, helping to make Mouse sympathetic (Merle Kennedy certainly isn't helpful in that regard). Amelia Kinkade is clearly more comfortable with the character now and, thought not menacing in the least, she's at least more fun to watch now. And yes, she does her crazy psychosexual dance again, though the nudity is oddly missing. Don't worry, though; Zoe Trilling fills the nudity requirement to fantastic results.
From a filmmaking standpoint, how does the auteur responsible for two Leprechaun sequels do? All in all, it's nothing special. It's workmanlike in that he knows where to put the camera when filming horror scenes and how to switch between the serious horror and the silly humor well enough. My only real complaint was his tendency to use footage from Night of The Demons of Angela floating down the hallway; it's always been a sticking point for me when a filmmaker tries to pass off footage from a previous film as his own, even if it's not intentional. Director of Photography David Lewis, the man who shot the original film and Trenchard-Smith's Leprechaun films, makes effective use of lighting, especially in the Hull House scenes. He makes the film look better than it has any right to be and I can see why Trenchard-Smith would keep using him for his films.
Going back to my review of Night of The Demons, I was quite frustrated with that film's conclusion. Rather than fighting back against the demons, Judy and Roger simply ran away, the sun came up and the demons burned back to hell. Yikes, what a dull ending. Fortunately, Night of The Demons 2 avoids that mistake. The finale at Hull House is surprisingly epic; Bibi, Johnny, Perry, and Sister Gloria fight the demons for a good 15-20 minutes. Balloons filled with Holy Water are thrown, heads are knocked off and dribbled like basketballs, demons melt into bloody piles of goo, and Angela gets to showcase the full extent of her powers. For such a low-budget sequel to have a climax this well done, I was thoroughly impressed.
Before going into my final thoughts, I think it'd be appropriate to explain how I can say it's so bad its good. It's a phrase that gets thrown around a lot and all it means is the film in question isn't technically a good film due to acting, writing, directing or any other aspect of filmmaking but gets by because it's entertaining and fun to watch because of how bad it is. That's what I'm saying about Night of The Demons 2. I fully recognize that Brian Trenchard-Smith and Joe Augustyn have not made a legitimately good film; all I'm saying is that the film's entertainment value, combined with the things it does right, outweigh the flaws of the film, if only slightly.
I give Night of The Demons 2 3 out of 5 Stars. While not perfect, Brian Trenchard-Smith has moderately succeeded in making the kind of film Kevin S. Tenney should've made in 1988. It's certainly flawed; the main cast sucks, the scares are non-existent and the script feels incohesive most of the time. Fortunately, the film works because of Jennifer Rhodes and Bobby Jacoby's chemistry, the wacky humor, Zoe Trilling's uber-bitchy acting, an impressive finale, and a better iteration of Angela. It's nothing special, but it's worth a watch. Look at this way; Night of The Demons 2 is gold compared to Night of The Demons. Nuff said.

Next Up: October 8th: Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf (1985)

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