Some movies, like romantics, wear their hearts on their sleeve. More to the point here, others wear their influences just as publicly. Some, like Demonwarp, flaunt their inspirations so nakedly it is almost impossible to deal with the film as its own creature - it simply has no identity of its own until its final twenty minutes, and by then it is far too late.
The movie begins with a view of Earth from space - and immediately one is reminded of the opening of John Carpenter's The Thing. This movie could not afford the combination model/animation of that film, however, so we must make do with an animated meteor fall, straight down, and never crossing the face of the globe.
Cut to the ground, where a traveling preacher and his hoss walk through some hill country. The preacher (John "Send more paramedics" Durbin) is reading from what sounds like The Book of Revelations... though it seems to be an odd translation of Revelations, almost as if... oh, I don't know... someone was writing from a fuzzy memory, with no inclination to crack open an actual Bible. The fact that the preacher is reading this from the very front of his Bible doesn't help matters much.
Well, there is a replay of the meteor fall; some smoke blows in the preacher's face; and the camera cuts to a wider view, and we see that the meteor - suspiciously spherical in shape - has plowed a deep furrow in the Earth immediately next to the peripatetic padre, somehow without causing any harm or upset to him or his hoss. Then, in a leap of logic that will define the rest of the movie, the preacher decides that this is the Second Coming of the Lord, as we fade to black.
Then the titles play out over footage of forestry that apparently we are to find ominous. As this movie was released eleven years before The Blair Witch Project, I cannot accuse it of ripping off the forest imagery from that, but I can point out that composer Dan Slider listened to the soundtrack of Phantasm a lot. The lingering shots of supposedly ominous foliage is a motif that will continue throughout the picture.
Now it is time to journey to the present day and meet that fine purveyor of quality entertainment, George Kennedy. Kennedy is playing a fellow named Bill Crafton, who is trying to get reacquainted with his estranged daughter (Jill Marin) at a cabin in the woods. Crafton seems to feel that the way to do this is to play Trivial Pursuit (well, it is 1988, after all). Interrupting this light-hearted shilly-shally is nothing less than Bigfoot, who smashes down the door, kills the daughter, and proceeds to drag her corpse away, while Crafton lies unconscious under the wreckage of the door. It might have been more impressive had the door not so obviously been composed of a thin sheet of paneling.
Rnter now a truckload of youthful monster bait (can anyone say Evil Dead, Friday the 13th, or any number of movies made in the 80s?): Jack (David Michael O'Neill), his chick Carrie (Pamela Gilbert); Fred (Hank Stratton) and his chick Cindy (Coleen McDermott); and Tom (Billy Jayne, aka Billy Jacoby, aka "that guy from Silver Spoons"), who will be your designated Odious Comic Relief for the evening. Tom would really like to make some time with Cindy, just to heighten the already nonexistent dramatic tension.
Which also means it's time for some exposition: this stretch of land is known as Demonwood Forest, and strange stuff has been happening there for over 100 years. Jack's Uncle Clem bought the land and built a cabin there, hoping to add more and make a tidy sum off the rental of these getaways. It is to this cabin that the kids are traveling, with a fair amount of electronic equipment. Their goal: to get evidence of Bigfoot, or something like that.
Except that the cabin they are going to was rented by Crafton, and they find the place doorless - a sheet of plywood covers the empty doorway - and the interior still trashed from the beginning of the movie. Crafton himself even shows up, and warns them that the place is dangerous, and they should leave (which shows some nice economy - after all, the Old Coot That Warns The Youngsters To Leave is usually a red herring secondary character - combining it with Crafton's character must have saved the production, oh, fifty bucks or so). Noting that Jack is doing suspicious things like loading an M-1 rifle and an automatic pistol, Carrie - and the others - insist on knowing the truth.
Okay, so after the attack on the Craftons, Jack's Uncle Clem came up to the area to investigate - and mysteriously vanished. So they're actually there to look for Clem. Instead of questioning Jack's duplicity, everyone agrees to help him out - which means that they might as well start wearing labels that read "$1.25 per pound".
It also means that the girls must get naked, because this is the 80s. Carrie to relieve some of Jack's tension, and Cindy to take a shower. Fred creeps up to the bathroom window (has anyone ever seen a bathroom with such a strategically located, large window? Except in Forever Evil, of course), wearing a gorilla mask, so he can scare the nekkid chick. Call me suspicious, but I can't help but think the filmmakers saw Screams of a Winter Night, which had the same trick, but Demonwarp had enough money to actually coax the frightened actress out of her clothes.
Well, ha ha on Fred, because not only does this give Tom a chance to ingratiate himself to Cindy (when she's clad in only a towel, no less), but it also means that he's locked outside (how, when there is no front door, is beyond me), and before you can say, "Hey, there's something out here," Fred screams and vanishes, leaving behind only his flashlight.
Further investigation reveals that something has wrecked the engine of the truck (silently, no less). This is the cue to retreat back to the cabin, and barricade the plywood against the empty door opening. To no avail, as our pal Bigfoot again smashes through the doorway, and proceeds to kill Tom ("Yes! Yes!!" I cry, "Kill the Odious Comic Relief! You get an extra Half Tor for that!!!"). Though Jack has a clear shot at the murderous myth when it pauses in its mayhem to steal some of their electronic equipment (!), he does not take the shot, much to the dismay of Carrie (and the audience) - he simply sits there in shock. (He will later puzzledly explain, "I recognized it.")
The next day, Jack, Carrie and Cindy prepare to hike through the woods to a fire road. When Cindy protests that the monster is in the woods, Jack brandishes his map - which has all the weird events of the last few years marked with X's - and informs her that the monster could be anywhere, after all. Yeah, never mind that it's easier to run from something on a halfway level, clear surface - like, say, the road you came in on?
Jack also doesn't mention that Tom's body, which they placed upstairs, somehow disappeared during the night.
Well, we've whittled the cast down to three in the first half-hour, which must mean it's time to introduce some Brand New Monster Fodder, in the form of a hiker (Larry Grogan) and two women, Betsy and Tara (Michelle Bauer! and Shannon Kennedy). The women are driving their red Jeep into Demonwood to raid Betsy's ex-boyfriend's "secret garden", and when nothing is found there, Bauer immediately sheds her top, with the classic Scream Queen line, "We might as well get a tan, right?"
The hiker, on the other hand, is out there to take pictures, and doesn't suspect anything is up until Bigfoot starts doing anti-social things like throwing severed arms at him. So it's time for the hiker to go on a seemingly eternal jog away from the monster, while Michelle tans and the other three trek through the woods, pausing only for angst-ridden bouts of recrimination (I checked every reference available to me, and the date stays set at 1988 - I still can't find a reasonable way to accuse them of ripping off Blair Witch).
The hiker runs into another man on his jog through the woods, but the other fellow appears to be a zombie. Okay, I admit - things might be getting interesting. Naaaah. Michelle's sunbathing (in a wooded area?) is interrupted when Bigfoot appears and rips off Tara's head. And the hiker stumbles into what appears to be Bigfoot's killing field, littered with body parts and bones. This is the point at which Bigfoot finally uses the traditional weapon of slow-moving bad guys - Offscreen Teleportation - and puts paid to the poor guy by slamming his arm in a bear trap, and then disemboweling him with a stick - a genuinely unpleasant scene.
Now that we've had some kills to pass the time, let us return to our three young friends from all walks of life, who have had a devil of a time avoiding all the bear traps Crafton has set out for the Bigfoot, eventually finding Crafton himself, who reveals he's also been setting out trip wires attached to dynamite. What nobody - except the audience - knows is that the wily Bigfoot has been skillfully defusing these home made bombs. At Crafton's camp, the frightened Bauer joins the company, just in time to have Bigfoot jump out of Crafton's tent (just like in Octaman - and who in God's Green Earth would want to rip off Octaman?) and proceed to whomp up on everyone.
Once more, not a single shot is fired - first because it is beating up on Jack, then because Cindy is playing Tarzan-and-the-Crocodile on the monster with her hunting knife, and then because in the face of a monster, all guns are required by Crap Movie Law to jam. Crafton decoys the monster off, thinking to lead it right into a TNT booby trap, but he did not reckon with the Bigfoot's ability to teleport, or at least move quickly and completely silently (like, say, the stealthy T. Rex in Jurassic Park). It is, of course, behind him, and it introduces Crafton's head rather forcibly into a large rock, over and over again.
Jack awakens to find everybody else gone from the camp. He grabs a bag full of dynamite and his trusty .45 auto (which, as you know, jams less than those undependable bolt-action rifles) and heads out for some payback.
We now enter the point that Demonwarp actually becomes interesting. As this final segment is about the only real reason to watch the movie, I'm injecting some Spoiler Space here. Those who simply have to watch this thing should go elsewhere - here for example - to continue to feed their bad movie habit. The rest of you join me further down the page. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.
La de dum de dum.... not peeking, are you?
Congratulations. You are quite right - no matter how novel the last act of this movie may be, it's not worth sitting through the first two-thirds.
Jack comes upon Cindy apparently wandering aimlessly. But do you remember that zombie that passed the ill-fated Hiker? Well, we can now count Cindy among their number, as she's walking around with one side of her face caved in. Jack follows her into a cave (for once it's not Bronson Canyon, cheating me of the opportunity to accuse them of ripping off Robot Monster), where Bigfoot makes another appearance, and Jack finally shoots it. Takes only two shots, too. The dying Bigfoot then transforms into his Uncle Clem, who begs Jack's forgiveness, because "they changed me!"
Deeper in the cave, Jack finds yet more zombie types robotically working on various cast-off electronic parts. He also finds Fred, tied hand and foot and still wearing the gorilla mask. He's alive, but informs Jack that he's "all broken up, inside". Fred tells him that Carrie is inside "the craft" (motioning to a nearby metal doorway set into the rock wall). But when Jack tries to enter "the craft" who should pop out of the doorway but Tom, now undead but still cracking "wise" (at this point in my notes appears the scrawled message, MOVIE, YOU JUST LOST THAT HALF-TOR).
As the zombies close in on him, Jack employs the .45, but in a direct violation of Crap Movie Law, it only takes him two shots instead of the standard three to determine that only the head shot is fatal. He then proceeds to take down zombie after zombie with blue whistlers through the brainpan - this guy would be useful in some Italian zombie films I could name - but then, he only put four bullets in his spare clip, so he gets beaten up anyway.
Yes, beaten up, not killed or eaten. You see, the meteor fall at the beginning of the flick was a crashed alien spaceship. The preacher is still alive and the henchman of the surviving alien, whom he addresses as "Lord" and "The Archangel Astreth". The zombies are all working to repair the ship (anyone see a TV movie from the 70s called Night Slaves? Same thing, but the aliens let the repairmen live). The Alien also likes to eat human hearts, which the Preacher obligingly cuts out for him (Coughing into hand: Blood Feast! Blood Feast!) Bauer survived this long, but now it's time for her heart to join the blood buffet.
Jack was allowed to live because he's supposed to take his Uncle Clem's place, Carrie's about to get a radical cardiectomy, and Fred - well, Fred's still fodder. Jack manfully escapes his zombie guard and stabs the Preacher to death with his own dagger. Fred attacks the alien but gets skewered by its rather limp scorpion tail, until Jack finds his gun - wasn't it empty? - in a zombie's waistband (!) and kills the alien. Fred, now turning into a Bigfoot, grabs the dynamite and tells Jack to get Carrie out. Jack does, spaceship goes boom. The end.
No it's not, because this is a crap movie, remember? There is a double-blind dream ending, right out of Phantasm. Now it's the end.
Oh, where to start? Well, the movie is competently made, at least, even if it shows the marks made by three writers, if you count the original story credit given make-up dude John Carl Buechler (also credited with the monster design). Yes, it took three writers to rip off this many movies. And among these three writers not one could come with a second act that did not involve killing time by wandering around, or introducing new characters just so they could be killed. I also note that one of the writers was a Firesign Theater fan - although their last names are never given in the movie, the cast list shows that four of the five major roles got their last names from the original members of that fine comedy troupe.
David Michael O'Neill plays the hero, Jack, just one twitch short of a shooting rampage. Were the actor older, or the movie made earlier (or later), the character could reasonably be assumed to be a vet with Post- Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He spends so much time glowering and acting grim, you wonder why anyone would go anywhere with him, let alone a location so desolate and removed. On the other hand, when he and Carrie are escaping the spaceship, and Carrie wastes some countdown time refusing to abandon the zombie Cindy, it was quite reasonable for this character to settle the dispute by whipping out his pistol and popping a couple of caps in the zombie. Argument over, now let's get out of here before the bomb goes off, hm?
None of the other characters even reach that level of definition; it was probably felt that it was not necessary for a low-budget horror movie. Pity, though, as it's pretty competently made. I've always liked Michelle Bauer, even back in the old days when she was just getting started as a porn starlet, mainly because she is one of the few of her breed that can actually act. George Kennedy is... George Kennedy. What else were you expecting? Not that much can be done with a role where you spend half your scenes having your gun taken away by meddling kids led by a borderline psychopath...
And though I would like to champion the cause of better story and good acting in such films, the sad reality is that they are watched for their monsters and other effects, and here the grade is still pretty middlin'. The Bigfoot suit, seen in broad daylight for much of the movie, holds up fairly well, if its feet are too obviously rubber. The face has a small range of expressions, which allows it a better presence than, say, Trog, but certainly less than the suit it will be (inevitably and unfortunately) compared to, in Harry and the Hendersons. The Alien "Lord" is more inexpressive, and nailed down an odd pedestal-type device. The least expressive is the legion of zombies, some of whom are quite impressive, and others are plainly over-the head masks with the shirt collar tightly and awkwardly buttoned to hide the neck.
Can't blame the make-up guys too much for that one, though - the director always has the final say about which zombies get feature play - and I think it was all of them (more bang for the buck), even the ones that were meant to hang around in the background.
What Demonwarp reminds me of (besides a half dozen other movies) is those jars of "Homemade Style" soup you see at the supermarket: all the good stuff has sunk to the bottom of the jar, leaving only a thin, unappealing broth in the top two-thirds.
Man, I love me a good metaphor.
Saved by the last act. Barely.
- January 6, 2001