DirectorJames C. Wasson
Release Date(s)1980 (February 22, 2022)
Studio(s)Aldan Company (Severin Films)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: C+
- Extras Grade: A+
[Editor's Note: This title is currently available exclusively through the Severin Films website, but a wide release minus the swag will be available on February 22nd.]
In 1980, a small independent horror film was produced that featured a group of young people in the woods being stalked by a shadowy killer, who killed them off one by one in a variety of inventively gruesome ways—only in this case, the killer wasn’t Jason Voorhees, nor was it Jason’s mother. No, the serial killer in Night of the Demon was none other than... Bigfoot, or at least a preternatural simulacrum of that legendary beast. There are Bigfoot films, and then there are Bigfoot films, and then there's Night of the Demon. It’s in a class all its own.
While most Bigfoot or Yeti films (aside from Harry and the Hendersons) may not be well known outside of a small circle of devoted fans, it’s a surprisingly extensive subgenre. When Rob Hunter created a ranking of Bigfoot/Yeti films for Slashfilm in 2017, he managed to include 47 different titles, and his list was far from exhaustive. It’s a diverse subgenre, too, including straightforward horror films, horror comedies, pseudo-documentaries, Hitchcock pastiches, and multiple found footage films (one of them directed by none other than Bobcat Goldthwait). It’s even offered the world an earnest meditation on aging in the form of Robert D. Krzykowski’s elegiac The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot. But for sheer delightfully deranged lunacy, it’s difficult to top Night of the Demon.
This is a film that blends cryptozoology, folk horror, slasher films, and bestiality (involving a rape scene, so be forewarned), with buckets of gore to tie it all together. There are multiple dismemberments, in every sense of that term—we’re not just talking about arms and legs here, if you catch the drift. At one point, Bigfoot actually uses an axe on someone, and when he can’t find any handy tools, he disembowels someone else and uses the intestines as a whip. There’s even a sleeping bag gag, eight years before Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood would try the same thing (though to be fair, John Frankenheimer’s eccentric horror film Prophecy had already gotten there the year before Night of the Demon). As one of the characters helpfully notes, “Bigfoot's not playing games anymore.”
The gore is more memorable than any of the characters, and interestingly, most of it was an afterthought. Producer Jim L. Ball decided that director James C. Wasson’s initial cut was too tame, so he shot inserts to spice things up, without Wasson’s involvement. That’s why most of the graphic killings are shown in flashback, and involve characters unrelated to the main story. Those scenes are what gave the film its notoriety, especially in England, where it was branded as a “Video Nasty” and banned by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). Ironically, of course, that ban is part of what has kept the film alive over the decades—nothing makes people want to watch something more than telling them that they can’t. It’s the best form of free publicity. While many films have found new life on home video, Night of the Demon found that life thanks to bootlegs and other gray market releases. Fortunately, not even the government can keep a good demonic Bigfoot down.
Cinematographer John Quick shot Night of the Demon on 35 mm film using Arriflex BL cameras with spherical lenses. The source for Severin Films’ new Blu-ray release was Jim L. Ball’s complete 35 mm answer print, which was scanned at 2K resolution, and framed at its intended 1.85:1 aspect ratio (outside of screenings, the film never received a theatrical release). The results are surprisingly impressive, especially considering the source, and they’re a revelation compared to all of the old full-frame standard definition releases. There are minor scratches throughout, as well as faint blotches and other signs of damage, but none of it is particularly distracting. On the other hand, the image is nicely detailed, with moderately heavy but even grain, and only fleeting moments where the encode struggles to keep up with it. The contrast range is understandably limited at times, especially in darker shots, but it’s strong during daylight sequences. The color balance is somewhat muted but still looks reasonably natural, though the image quality dips a bit during the final twenty minutes of the film (the final reel must have deteriorated more than the others). Regardless, this is still the definitive presentation of Night of the Demon, and fans who grew up watching it on VHS will be stunned by the improvements.
Audio is offered in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English SDH subtitles. The dialogue varies in quality and can sometimes sound muffled, with occasional distortion and excessive sibilance. All of those limitations are inherent to the source, but they’re not bad enough to obscure what’s being said. The score from Star Trek television composer Dennis McCarthy is affected by the limited fidelity, but it’s clear enough.
Severin’s Blu-ray release of Night of the Demon is a 2-Disc set that includes a slipcover, as well as a reversible insert featuring different artwork on each side. The slipcover features new artwork while the front of the insert features the German DVD artwork and the reverse features the Gemstone Entertainment VHS artwork (the latter is used for this review). The real prize is their sold-out Demon Bundle, which was limited to 300 unites and included the Blu-rays, a statue of Bigfoot with prize in hand, a keychain, an enameled pin, a patch, a sticker, and the novelization of the film. But aside from the extra swag, the disc-based content is identical. The following extras are included:
DISC ONE: FEATURE AND EXTRAS
- Just a Little Kid outta Waco, Texas (HD – 22:12)
- The Demon Made Me Do It (HD – 26:28)
- Eye of the Demon (HD – 20:59)
- Fraternity of Horror (SD – 67:58)
- Trailer (HD – 1:15)
Just a Little Kid outta Waco, Texas is an interview with Jim L. Ball, who wryly describes Night of the Demon as a “normal, family picture.” He discusses his personal background, how he got into the film business, and working with the likes of Roger Corman and Sam Arkoff. He even talks about his time working in the adult film industry under the pseudonym Kenneth Holloway. After briefly covering his first horror film Fraternity of Horror, he goes into much more detail about Night of the Demon, including the process of adding the blood and guts. He also proudly shows off the film canisters containing the only print in existence. He closes by talking about his lost direct-to-video horror film Prophecy of Blood. Ball is clearly having a ball during the interview, so this is a fun way to kick off the extras.
The Demon Made Me Do It is an interview with James C. Wasson, who admits that he’s never seen the version of the film that Ball released. He gives his own background as a singer and even as a manager for Bobby Gentry, and is shocked when the interviewer asks him about his first film Dreamer (Wasson also spent time working in the adult film business). He describes the production of Night of the Demon, noting that Ball insisted on doing only one take per shot. He also explains what happened when they screened his cut, and that when Ball later showed him the new gory footage, it was the last time the two ever spoke to each other. He expresses some bafflement that his film became a Video Nasty, but gives the added gore credit for keeping the film from fading into obscurity.
Eye of the Demon is an interview with John Quick, who talks about how he made the move from still photography to the film business, how he met Jim L. Ball, and their experiences making Fraternity of Horror, before moving on to Night of the Demon. The film was shot on a budget of $70,000, so he had limited equipment, and acted as his own camera operator—he tells a story about having an accident while shooting one of the numerous Bigfoot POV shots. He was also involved with the reshoots. He feels that the film isn’t any good, and warns viewers to have low expectations. He also briefly recounts shooting Prophecy of Blood for Ball.
Fraternity of Horror is interesting as a historical artifact, though perhaps not as an actual film. It was shot for no budget on 16 mm film, and this version appears to be from a full-frame VHS tape, so the quality is poor, but it’s the only exiting version of the film.
DISC TWO: BIGFOOT AND VIDEO NASTY EXTRAS
- Cryptid Currency: Transgression Aggression in Bigfoot Cinema (HD – 18:26)
- Tales from the Cryptid (HD – 37:11)
- Deconstructing Patty (HD – 23:13)
- Mondo Bigfoot (HD – 26:53)
- Ban the Sadist Videos! (SD – 53:55)
- Ban the Sadist Videos! Part 2 (SD – 44:11)
- My Nasty Memories (HD – 27:58)
Cryptid Currency: Transgression Aggression in Bigfoot Cinema is a video essay by David Coleman, who literally wrote the book on the subject: The Bigfoot Filmography: Fictional and Documentary Appearances in Film and Television. (The essay was edited by Howard S. Berger, who also edited the interviews on Disc One.) He describes Night of the Demon as being revolutionary in its own modest way, as the Bigfoot films that preceded it had generally kept both the monster and the killings off-screen. Thus, the in-your-face monster of Night of the Demon was both reactionary and subversive. He spends some time analyzing the influences for the film, from Shriek of the Mutilated to The Beast. He also provides a thematic analysis of the transgressive nature of the film.
Tales from the Cryptid is an interview with Stephen R. Bissette, the co-author of Cryptid Cinema: Meditations on Bigfoot, Bayou Beasts & Backwoods Bogeymen of the Movies. He details the literary roots of cryptid cinema, and broadly defines two branches to it: stories involving real-world cryptids, and those involving unknown creatures. He gives a fairly expansive overview of Bigfoot cinema, including the Patterson-Gimlin film, which he considers to be ground zero for the found footage genre. From there, he traces Bigfoot’s roots in regional cinema, through its expansion in the Seventies after the smash success of The Legend of Boggy Creek, and the move away from family films into gorier fare at the end of the Seventies. His research shows that there was no theatrical release for Night of the Demon, so it wasn’t seen publicly until its first VHS release in England in 1982. As a result, he doesn’t necessarily consider it to be influential, though he does admit that it’s audacious.
Deconstructing Patty is an interview with William Munns, the author of When Roger Met Patty, who analyzes the legendary Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot footage from 1967. He describes the state of makeup effects at the time, including films like Planet of the Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and also his own makeup work on films like Swamp Thing. He uses that experience to find apparent discrepancies between what the footage shows, and the limitations of effects technology at the time. He also shows how he surveyed the Bluff Creek site to map out the path of the subject, and Roger Patterson’s path following it. Nothing here is going to convince skeptics, but it’s still an engrossing piece.
Mondo Bigfoot is an interview with Lyle Blackburn, the author of Boggy Creek Memories. He describes himself as a musician and a cryptic researcher, and he gives his own survey of the Bigfoot genre, starting with The Legend of Boggy Creek through more recent films like Willow Creek and Exists. He also spends time on the Patterson-Gimlin film, and discusses Night of the Demon at length, noting the unusual elements in it such as folk horror and Bigfoot’s use of tools.
Ban the Sadist Videos! is a two-part documentary that was originally released as a part of the 2005 Box of the Banned Region 2 DVD set by Anchor Bay Entertainment. Written and directed by David Gregory, it’s a fascinating look at how the rise of the home video business resulted in an expansion of censorship in the UK. The first part traces what led up to the passage of the Video Recordings Act of 1984, while the second part focuses on its aftermath. It includes interviews with many people who were involved, including some of the filmmakers whose work was affected, as well as archival footage such as news reports. It’s filled with stories about the hysteria over Video Nasties, as well as the influence of Mary Whitehouse, Margaret Thatcher, and the infamous secretary of the British Board of Film Censors, James Ferman. Unsurprisingly, their efforts resulted in the expansion of a black market for uncertified tapes. Night of the Demon isn’t mentioned by name, but it was on the infamous list of banned films.
My Nasty Memories is an interview with David Gregory, who not only directed Ban the Sadist Videos!, but is also the founder and president of Severin Films. He relates his own personal experiences of growing up in England during that period. He talks about the paternalistic nature of censorship, and how his participation in the growing underground network for these films led to him co-founding his own company to release VHS tapes through the label Exploited. Ultimately, his continuing issue with censorship is why he left England to form Severin in the United States.
If Severin had only released the first disc of this Night of the Demon set, it still would have been a cause for celebration, but the addition of the second disc makes it something else entirely. Taken together, both discs offer an embarrassment of riches: a comprehensive look at Night of the Demon, cryptid cinema in general, Bigfoot in particular, and the whole Video Nasty period. Any one of those subjects would have been interesting enough on its own, let alone put together into such a tasty package. 2021 was a banner year for physical media releases, but 2022 is already off to in impressive start with this set, which is an early contender for one of the best of the new year.
- Stephen Bjork