Monday, June 08, 2009

Demon Lover So Dire

Here's a good one to watch with your buddies and a few (dozen) High Lifes on a lazy Saturday night. Press "play," and let the yoks begin. It's amazing that 1977's THE DEMON LOVER even exists, much less played theatrically and on home video in the early days of the VHS boom. It's a regional horror flick with lots of bad dialogue and amateurish acting to laugh at.

A bunch of young assholes hang out and get drunk at the castle of Laval (narcissistic co-director/co-writer/co-producer Jerry Younkins). One of them is a short guy with a high voice named Charlie who dances hilariously. I think they're supposed to be high school kids (the constantly whining Charlie says something about having to be home by 10pm), but the cast members are a long way past their teens.

Laval, who has long curly strawberry-blond hair, a paunch, and a chiseled chin that puts Dudley Do-Right to shame, demands his guests participate in a black mass. They refuse and leave. He then conjures a silly-looking monster that stalks the rest of the cast and kills them, as a dumb detective (Tom Hutton in the worst performance as a cop since ASYLUM OF SATAN) follows the clues.

The acting is astonishingly bad—the cast includes THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE's Leatherface, Gunnar Hansen, and Marvel Comics artist Val Mayerik ("Man-Thing")—which matches the screenplay, sets, and photography. Director/writer/producer Donald G. Jackson once implied that DEMON LOVER was intended as a parody of horror movies, but both the film itself and DEMON LOVER DIARY, which notoriously documented its making, belie that claim.

I don't know how Mayerik got involved (the characters are named after comic book artists and horror filmmakers), but he's easily the film's most attractive and accomplished performer, which is not as big a compliment as it sounds. The astonishing arrogance of director/star Younkins provides most of the unintentional humor, especially his big moment of practicing karate for several minutes for no reason except he thinks he looks badass (he doesn't).

Definitive proof that, at one time, there was an audience for any horror movie, THE DEMON LOVER managed to score some Midwestern drive-in dates and a home video release as THE DEVIL MASTER. Fiddle Faddle gets product placement, and the detective character shoots a female witness in the ass with a rubber band.

Outside of mocking it, the best reason to watch THE DEMON LOVER is to prepare yourself for DEMON LOVER DIARY, a none-too-flattering look at the film's making. Jeff Kreines is the cameraman who drove from New York to Jackson, Michigan to help his friend Jackson and Jackson's friend Younkins shoot THE DEMON LOVER. To chronicle the behind-the-scenes story, Krienes brought along his girlfriend Joel DeMott to make a 16mm documentary that captures the confusion and contention of amateur filmmaking. DIARY has not been officially released in any form since a few 1980 screenings, but is one of the most fascinating portraits of moviemaking I've ever seen.

Seeing the delusional Jackson and Younkins dispense their bullshit regarding the quality of their movie is DIARY's greatest entertainment. Touting their "masterpiece" as being "two-thirds action," for instance (it isn't), or bragging how they put two years into pre-production (DeMott's footage exposes the directors as completely disorganized and mostly clueless). Jackson and Younkins left their jobs at a speedometer cable factory to make THE DEMON LOVER using money Younkins received from an insurance settlement after he lost a finger in a (self-inflicted?) accident. For their climax, the baffled directors film at rock star Ted Nugent's house, where they get access to real guns and bullets for their action scene.

Surprisingly, Don Jackson went on to a long, if not particularly profitable, career as a schlock filmmaker with titles like HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN and (the stunningly inept) ROLLER BLADE to his credit. DeMott's film certainly doesn't make low-budget filmmaking look glamorous or even particularly fun, as resentment and paranoia boil over into an ambiguous conclusion that suggests Jackson's mood toward the interlopers, whose intrusive filmmaking he wasn't high on anyway, may have turned violent.

DEMON LOVER DIARY is chaotic, crude, and consistently interesting—only two of which adjectives also apply to THE DEMON LOVER.


Emily Street said...

Demon Lover Diary is a brilliant precursor to films like American Movie, and an early example of feminist verite filmmaking. One of my favorite films of all time. Have never, however, seen Demon Lover... it seems pretty irrelevant other than as a subject of DeMott's masterpiece.

Sir A1! said...

Interestingly, Jackson said in an interview with Psychotronic that Bruce Campbell picked his brain during the formative stages of EVIL DEAD and even had an audio recording to prove it. Now that's a bonus extra I'd love to hear.

Arbogast said...

A bunch of young assholes hang out and get drunk...

Incredibly, the New Testament begins exactly the same way.

Booksteve said...

I recall that the fan press of the day--such as it was: TMT,TBG,etc--was very supportive of this film simply because of the comics connections. I was even anxious to see it but it never came anywhere near.

Robert said...

The one-sheet design for the film is gorgeous, and you can imagine any ticket buyers who forked out their cash based on that alone being grossly let down.