Welcome to The Prime Sublime, a weekly column dedicated to the underseen and underloved films buried beneath page after page of far more popular fare on Amazon’s Prime Video collection. We’re not just cherry-picking obscure titles, though, as these are movies that we find beautiful in their own, often unique ways. You might even say we think they’re sublime…
“Sublime /səˈblīm/: of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe”
Did I start this week with a look at 1977’s “yeti on the slopes” movie Snowbeast? Yes. Am I now ending it with write-up about one of the greatest Bigfoot movies of all time? Yes, yes I am. Night of the Demon (1980) lands at #2 on my 2017 ranking of 47 Bigfoot flicks because it’s an absolute gem of a monster movie despite the low budget, questionable acting, rough script, absent direction, and camera “work.” It’s cheap, but it’s also entertaining as hell and absolutely unforgettable — and its lack of a Blu-ray release makes it a great addition to your streaming queue on Amazon Prime.
What’s it about?
When Professor Bill wakes up in a hospital bed it’s with terrible memories of the past several days and a loose handkerchief covering the bottom half of his face. Why? Reasons. A doctor and a police officer stand over him in search of answers, and it’s with a heavy heart that Bill begins his tale. He teaches a popular anthropology class, and when news arrives of some nearby deaths that might be the work of Bigfoot he and his students head into the woods in search of the truth. They’re joined by Carla, a young woman mourning the loss of her father at the hands of the sasquatch, and while the locals aren’t all that forthcoming their perseverance pays off. They hear about a mute woman named Wanda who lives deep in the forest and who just might hold the clue to the Bigfoot legend, but while they ultimately find the answers they’re looking for they come at a deadly cost.
What makes it sublime?
Oh man, where to start.
Night of the Demon is directed by James C. Wasson, written by Mike Williams, and conceived/produced by Jim L. Ball — and it’s the only film any of them ever made. Is it because they knew they’d never be able to recapture such exquisite lightning in a bottle? Probably, but whatever the reason, the film they created stands the test of time as a sincere slice of cryptozploitation. Make no mistake, the movie is hilarious, but its intentions are serious from the humorless script to the crassly disturbing story turns. It’s also as far from Harry and the Hendersons (1987) as you can get thanks to an abundance of gore, some nudity/sex, a fairly perverse reveal involving a criminally horny Bigfoot, and a scene involving Girl Scouts that just might be one of the most unfortunate brand placements in cinema history.
This is the kind of film that embeds flashbacks within flashbacks. Bill is telling the story, but barely ten minutes in Carla tells her own tale, and her double flashback is just the first of many as later stories told by other people also flash back within Bill’s own memory. They mostly serve as opportunities to show random kills as Bill and his students work their way through the woods — we get walking and chatter, and then we get a glorious kill. Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat.
They’re worth it, though, and never grow tiring or intrusive. One guy gets his arm ripped off, and as the blood spills from his stump it puddles in to fill a giant footprint — it’s the title screen, and it’s genius. A couple boning in a van is perved on by a Bigfoot before the beast drags out the guy for a slow death. A dude in a sleeping bag is swung through the air before being tossed and impaled on a tree branch (and for those keeping track, this comes one year after the mutated monster in 1979’s Prophecy slapped a kid in a sleeping bag to his death, but eight years before Jason slammed a woman in a sleeping bag against a tree in Friday the 13th: The New Blood). A biker has his junk torn off, Bigfoot uses tools like axes and pitchforks, one guy’s intestines are pulled out and handled like nunchucks, another has his neck dragged across a glass shard, two Girl Scouts earn their merit badges in Ridiculous Deaths when the monster forces them to repeatedly stab and slice each other… this is the Bigfoot slasher movie you never knew you wanted.
And speaking of Bigfoot, he’s mostly glimpsed in brief flashes, but the film’s big finale — a final ten minutes that features nearly five of those minutes in slow motion — shows him in all his glory. And ladies, this sasquatch shaves his chest and stomach. I’m not joking. I don’t understand it, but I’m not joking. (Pic above for proof!) And if motivation is your game, well Bigfoot has it in spades as more flashbacks reveal his assault on a woman and sadness over the subsequent death of their “child.” Add in a backwoods sex cult, inappropriate forest management (our heroes accidentally start a fire but decide “we’re not expected to take care of it”), an 83% chance the actor beneath the handkerchief in the opening/closing of the film is not the same guy playing the professor in the flashbacks, a score consisting almost exclusively of a synthesizer’s dying scream, and more, and you have something truly special.
And in conclusion…
I love Night of the Demon, and if you give it a chance I think you might too. It takes itself so seriously but is nonetheless absolutely and utterly bonkers in its gleefully mean tear through human flesh and good taste. Grab yourself a few drinks, settle in, and press play on a classic of 80s horror that might not win any awards but will quite possibly win your goddamn heart.