NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (1988) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Kevin Tenney
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

"Angela is having a party, Jason and Freddy are too scared to come…" but you're invited, and Scream Factory is escorting you with a collector's edition Blu-ray/DVD combo.

On Halloween night in a Midwestern town, goth Angela (Amelia Kinkade, ROAD HOUSE) and her sexpot friend Suzanne (Linnea Quigley, DON'T GO NEAR THE PARK) decide to throw a party at Hull House, a funeral parlor built on cursed land and long abandoned since the night one of the Hulls massacred the rest of the family and committed suicide (it was too messy to discern which one was the killer). The guests include "good girl" Judy (Cathy Podewell, TV's DALLAS), preppy Jay (Lance Fenton, HEATHERS), wise guy Sal (Billy Gallo, PRETTY WOMAN), slob Stooge (Hal Havins, SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA), scared black guy Rodger (Alvin Alexis, THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET) and crybaby Helen (Allison Barron, BEVERLY HILLS BODYSNATCHERS), as well as horny couple Max (Philip Tanzini, TV's GENERAL HOSPITAL) and Frannie (Jill Terashita, SLEEPAWAY CAMP III: TEENAGE WASTELAND). A séance rouses dormant evil forces and they start taking over the kids one by one, transforming them into demons with gory death on their minds. As their numbers dwindle, the surviving guests may not be able to survive until dawn.

Director Kevin Tenney's follow-up to the home video favorite WITCHBOARD, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS has a pretty skimpy plot – emphasizing effects over the former film's human drama in a natural progression towards the producers' even more effects-heavy and flashy NIGHT ANGEL (while Tenney's own subsequent follow-up WITCHTRAP could be seen as a step back) – is quintessential eighties horror fun. The plot is campy and could have produced a more family-friendly or a raunchier horror-comedy, but Tenney and company go for scares and get them. The demons do not actually make an appearance until roughly forty minutes into the film, but the usual partying, jokes, pranks, sex, nudity, and jump scares as the character are introduced and then wander the corridors of Hull House doesn't wear on the viewer thanks to an attractive and likable cast of eager newcomers giving some depth to sketchy slasher film characterizations.

Once all hell breaks loose, Tenney and company pile on the set-pieces, both gory and visually dazzling. Possessed Angela's strobe-lit dance to Bauhaus' "Stigmata Martyr" is a wonderfully indulgent piece of filmmaking for a low budget production – showcasing the talents of dancer Kinkaide and cinematographer David Lewis (who also shot the sequel) – while Quigley's Suzanne is just as memorable as her turn as "Trash" in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Steve Johnson's budget-belying demon make-up and some gnarly gore add an extra level of dread to the stalk and kill scenes that occupy much of the latter half of the film. As with WITCHBOARD, the director's brother David Michael Tenney provides the score; highlights of which include the animated title sequence's synth accompaniment – oddly reminiscent of the intro to Van Halen's "I'll Wait" – and a couple vocals like the cheesy, rollicking "Computer Date".

NIGHT OF THE DEMONS first arrived on VHS stateside courtesy of Republic Pictures in rated and unrated versions. It made its digital debut overseas in various releases utilizing fullscreen video masters before Anchor Bay released a special edition DVD in 2004 featuring an anamorphic widescreen transfer, commentary by Tenney and producers Jeff Geoffray and Walter Josten, and a featurette with Linnea Quigley. While the bulk of the transfer looked quite good, it was sourced from the R-rated version with the additional gore shots taken from a 1" master (I haven't seen the R-rated cut but there are several other non-gore shots that are also of inferior quality in the Anchor Bay presentation). Gierasch's remake hit Blu-ray long before the original, the rights of which had since been acquired by MGM (presumably they don't have home video rights themselves since there is no MGM logo on the case – although there is one at the start of the film – but one for Blue Rider Pictures) who provided the HD master of the unrated version presented here.

Scream Factory's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC is framed at 1.85:1 like the Anchor Bay release, but the older transfer looks slightly zoomed-in by comparison. The colors are also slightly more vibrant, with the Halloween costumes popping out of the frame during the night exteriors. The Hull House interiors are more sharply defined and a touch warmer in the scenes lit from the fireplace. In addition to the original Ultra Stereo mix in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo, there is a brand new stereo mix in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Presumably the original 2.0 track was provided by MGM, and the newer track was modified in some way by Tenney. It may have some newer effects or other edits, but the new track generally sounds a bit louder and punchier (it appears to have been the track used for the disc's 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio upmix as well). Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.

The disc features a chatty new commentary with director Kevin Tenney, actors Cathy Podewell, Billy Gallo, Hal Havins, and special make-up effects creator Steve Johnson. In between plenty of anecdotes from the actors about the genuinely creepy location (now a Ralph's), pranks played by the actors and the crew, and poking fun at themselves, Tenney and Johnson get across a lot of information about the photography – including many complex, time-consuming shot set-ups that ultimately paid off (like the shattered mirror shot that Tenney reused in WITCHBOARD 2), the music video camera used for Angela's dance scene, and using long lenses for all of the set-up scenes and wide-angle for the Hull House scenes to make it seem more cavernous – and the effects (Johnson first met Quigley, whom he would later marry, while doing a full cast of her torso for the lipstick scene), as well as addressing the film's logic issues.

Ported over from the Anchor Bay edition is a commentary with director Kevin Tenney, producer Jeff Geoffrey, and executive producer Walter Josten; which is a good thing since the entertainingly chatty newer track contains some overlap but fails to cover some bases. They mention doing test screenings themselves while trying to get a distributor, having Linnea Quigley promote the film for its New York run, how much influence casting director Tedra Gabriel had in assembling the final cast (pushing actors Tenney originally turned away), realizing that the forty-odd pages of set-up before the demons show up provided opportunities for Tenney to indulge in camera tricks, Kinkade suggesting "Stigmata Matyr" when Tenney originally had another Bauhaus tune in mind, as well as the touches that Tenney thought were too hokey at the time despite the film's humorous edge (the cheeky animated title sequence and the "Jason and Freddy are too scared to come" tagline).

"You're Invited: The Making of NIGHT OF THE DEMONS" (71:30) is a feature-length retrospective featurette. Despite its length, it's not a comprehensive exploration of the film. The first section is devoted to the origins of the project with producers Walter Josten and Jeff Geoffray discussing why they had to change the title from HALLOWEEN PARTY despite having errors and omission insurance coverage, as well as some difficulties with writer/producer Joe Augustyn. Augustyn seems unaware or diplomatic about the conflicts, but that seems to be because Tenney tells us here that he went to Augustyn for suggestions whenever changes had to be made to keep him in on the process. This section also features animators Kevin Kutchaver (WARLOCK) and Kathy Zielinski (THE LITTLE MERMAID) discussing the opening title sequence (and how they had to matte the new title over HALLOWEEN PARTY rather than start over again).

The second section features recollections from the cast, including those who did not appear on the track like Quigley, Alvin Alexis, Allison Barron, James W. Quinn (who did all of the demon voices, including Angela), Lance Fenton, Amelia Kinkaide, stuntman John Stewart, as well as Donnie Jeffcoat (who played Judy's kid brother and had just come off of GHOULIES II in Italy before getting this part). The final third or so of the featurette is devoted mainly to Steve Johnson discussing his effects work on the film (some of which was based on test work he did for THE LOST BOYS before Richard Edlund's Boss Film Studios lost the contract for that film) with interspersed comments from the actors about acting under the make-up and playing pranks on locals since the Hull House location was actually in the middle of downtown Los Angeles (the full shot of the house on a hill in the film is a glass matte). It's nice to see several of the cast members who are not in the business anymore looking healthy and happily recalling the film.

The disc also includes a separate interview with Amelia Kinkade (22:30), in which the exuberant actress-turned-pet psychic shares her memories of the NIGHT OF THE DEMONS trilogy. She also discusses her early dancing career – as well as singing with Ray Charles – and getting into acting at the encouragement of her aunt Rue McClanahan (TV's MAUDE and THE GOLDEN GIRLS). She recalls how the influence of FLASHDANCE created more possibilities for dancers in film at the time, and getting to choreograph her own dance in the film. She shares her memories of the cast, the location, and comparing her experiences in the make-up for the series' entries (including the pre-CGI thirty-foot snake in the second film). "Allison Barron's Demon Memories" (3:55) is a brief featurette in which the actress shares her on-set photographs and memories of the production, and appears to have been shot at the same time as her input on the above documentary.

Also ported over from the Anchor Bay release is the film's theatrical trailer (1:27), a video trailer (1:54) that looks as soft and gauzy as I remember the film looking on tape, three TV Spots (1:15), and a promo reel (4:10). The disc also includes a radio spot (0:34), and four still galleries: behind the scenes (9:21), special effects and make-up (8:41), promotional photo gallery (8:36), and a posters and storyboards (1:26). Not included from the Anchor Bay disc was a fourteen-minute featurette with Quigley, but that one is just as devoted to her cult career and she relays much of the same information in the "You're Invited" featurette here. I can't image what any other company could to top Scream Factory's special edition. (Eric Cotenas)