Nothing cramps the style of unchaperoned teens like Satan. I would figure he'd leave them to their sinful indulgences, then settle up accounts after time had it's way with them. But the Devil isn't a patient creature and he's also not content to simply pillage our eternal souls. He's more like Randy from A Christmas Story or Richard Dreyfus from Close Encounters of the Third Kind: compelled to ceaselessly play with their mashed potatoes prior to eating. Nothing gives the prince darkness and his cronies the same level of gravy decorating joy than tormenting heedless teens. Evil Dead made solid bank this past weekend but has brought with it a firestorm of mixed emotions. So let's excise all that built up angst with a lighthearted look at the most visually interesting possessed characters from the splatter demon subgenre.
When diving into a topic like this, the first place my mind's eye is drawn to is Bava's 1985 classic Demons. With Italian style evocative of apocalyptic urban wasteland, the unpossessed punks, pimps, and prostitutes of Demons are so visually interesting that topping off requires exaggeration and a starkly bright color palette. A spiderweb of hideous veins escape from eyes unnaturally red in some scenes, while glowing incandescent hot in others, almost pulling our gaze off the enormously jagged maw leaking foul toxic froth. A spirit of hopeless perseverance peppers this movie, breaking up a series of stunning non-sequiturs with a secret sauce that perfectly blends all pieces together into an unforgettable schlocky pleasure. The inescapable possessed are fierce, frightening, and amazing to behold. They are that all important key to locking us in for dozens of repeat viewings.
The next demonic neighborhood to drop the kids off in on our visually celebratory bus tour belongs to Night of the Demons. Edward Furlong is an actor in this 2009 movie...just kidding. Of course I've got the 1988 love letter to our base nature on my mind. We're assured a much better time than the film's party goers when it's laid out that they're attending a Halloween party at at funeral parlor, built over an underground Indian stream, in a house whose title is one letter removed from "Hell" (Hull). What a staggering show of bravado. Our primary demon puppet begins the evening as Angela, the knock out bitchy girl attired as a gothic bride. Her hellish reveal starts as a sultry strip tease that transitions into Sigourney Weaver from Ghostbusters levels of levitation, before truly giving us the goods. Massive chompers, a fried pork chop complexion, and rubbed raw eyes complete the look. Viola! We're off to the races. Roger is still my favorite character from among the Maniac Mansion-esk ensemble.
We conclude our guided tour of damned style with Mike Mendez's oft overlooked throw back shock fest, The Convent. With solid cameo anchoring by Adrienne Barbeau, Coolio, and Chop-Top himself, Bill Mosley, The Convent weaves a wracked out possession tale which strikes familiar and comfortable chords. Teens visit an abandoned convent where something horrible once happened, but it isn't as devoid of danger as they were led to believe. The transformation makeup here is of the same family as Demons and Night of the Demons, but distinguishes itself with light reactive gore. All of the puss, blood, organs, and eyes beam bright florescent, making this movie feel more like a mad felt poster strung up in a corner of your childhood horror festooned bedroom. Nostalgia flows freer than fluids as we watch The Convent, with its huge wink and nod to the films 80's horror fans love. Give it some love back if you've never had the chance.
I've rooted around one family tree in the demon possession line of succession. There are a number of other flavored varieties of hell spawned nasties abound, with pounds of prosthetics and gallons of gushing gore. No matter where they ooze liquids from or how their voice is modulated to elicit fear of the "other", they all strive to go for the gold of torment before dismemberment. I think we can all agree it's an entertaining aspiration. What's your all time favorite demon possession makeup transformation?
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Saturday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famousColonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.