Despite the below-the-radar VHS sleeve of an ominous full moon, and sharing it's title with a 1957 Jacques Tourneur Horror classic, Night of the Demon from 1980 came to the attention of the DPP, most likely for a scene where an unwitting motorcyclist has his cock ripped off by the titular demon. What begins like another lo-fi American indie à la Don't Go in the Woods and Forest of Fear, gradually develops into quite an interesting little film worthy of rediscovery.
The film unfolds in flashback from the hospital bed of a man with terrible burns to his face. The man is one Professor Nugent who along with some college students make an ill-fated expedition into a remote wooded area in search of a mythical sasquatch refuted to be the missing link between beast and man... Directed by James C. Wasson, Night of the Demon is a routine monster movie until around the halfway mark when the intrepid investigators uncover a bunch of townspeople engaged in a pagan fertility ritual (think of The Wicker Man meets The Devil Rides Out). The significance of this moment is never quite explained (apart from introducing the character of "Crazy Wanda", the woman about to be ritually raped) but from here on the film becomes oddly engaging, culminating in the strange and dreamlike finale where the Professor and students are massacred by the "demon" - an impressively tall, hairy beast which Wesson wisely shows only in oblique cutaways until he's revealed in all his glory for the climax.
Night of the Demon has become a cult film within the Video Nasties, mostly for its spirited gore scenes - the film opens with a fisherman having his arm ripped off (the film's title card imaginatively overlaid against the pool of blood) with the splatter coming thick and fast throughout - sometimes to an absurd degree, like a scene where the beast knocks two girl scouts together, their knives inadvertently stabbing and mutilating each other. What is significant though is that the film remains watchable beyond the gore. There's a particularly memorable sequence in the film when Crazy Wanda's character is seen being impregnated by the beast, and suffering the rage of her disgusted father. This flashback sequence (in a film obsessed with flashbacks) contains the most striking shot of the film when Wanda's father is seen holding aloft the stillborn baby to the camera (surreally captured with an extreme fish-eyes lens)
Night of the Demon is terminally cheap, from its dated flute driven soundtrack which alternates with typical synthesizer weirdness, to its rough hewn cinematography. The film would be the sole cinematic outing for director James Wasson and much of the cast, although judging by the performances and occasional fluffed lines, perhaps that was a good thing. Worth noting that the film has some interesting parallels with another indie effort, The Blair Witch Project, sharing elements of the story (college kids go into the woods seeking out a local legend), and some comparable scenes - at one point in Night of the Demon, the students interview the townsfolk about the mythical demon, and in another moment the beast is seen attacking some campers from the point-of-view of a discarded camcorder.
Night of the Demon has been one of the more elusive of Video Nasties to make it to DVD, at least in the US. In Europe, the film was released on DVD in the UK courtesy of Vipco (cut) and in Germany by Retrofilm (uncut) both discs featuring less than stellar transfers. (My copy is sourced from a VHS rip). Code Red are set to release their edition of the film, scheduled for October and should be the definitive release.