Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This time around I have a special treat for you old school horror fans. Director Kevin Tenney ruled horror screens across the country with two classic genre films in the eighties WITCHBOARD and the original NIGHT OF THE DEMONS. I had a chance to talk with Kevin last week about this week’s BluRay release of these two horror films that I can proudly say I saw in theaters when they first came out. Read on to find out about Kevin’s experiences making these two fantastically terrifying films that were highly representational of the eighties horror scene and after the interview are reviews for WITCHBOARD and both NIGHT OF THE DEMONS and the recent remake!
KEVIN TENNEY (KT): Hey Mark, how are you?
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): I’m great, Kevin, nice to meet you.
KT: You too.
BUG: Well, you’re here today to talk about two of your films, WITCHBOARD and NIGHT OF THE DEMONS. It’s pretty awesome that both films are being released on BluRay at the same time.
KT: The same exact release day. Correct.
BUG: So it’s kind of like a Kevin Tenney day.
KT: It’s a two for one day. (laughs)
BUG: The eighties were such an amazing time for the horror genre. And both of your films really are iconic films of that time. What was it like to be a filmmaker in that era?
KT: Absolutely. One of the reasons I decided to make WITCHBOARD was because horror was so popular. I knew for my first film, if I were to make a drama or a comedy with no budget and a no-name cast it would never find a theatrical release. And dramatic comedies have trouble even if they have name people in many cases. I knew that, even though I wasn’t a big horror fan and I had not seen a bunch of low budget horror films…I had seen the big budget ones; THE OMEN, JAWS, THE EXORCIST, but no FRIDAY THE 13THs or anything like that, but I still knew that was the way to go if I wanted to direct a feature film.
BUG: So after these two films, were you working to try not to be labeled as a horror director?
KT: It didn’t really matter. I just loved filmmaking, so the fact that I was making movies was great. I did make two other horror films after those; THE CELLAR and WITCHCRAFT. And then I got the chance to do a scifi action film, which was kind of—when I was making super 8 films with my friends in high school and middle school, most of them were scifi action films. That was kind of what I was more drawn to.
BUG: It always interesting to me to find out about directors who don’t like horror films because for some reason they seem to make pretty interesting horror films.
KT: It think it was because of that—a lot of reviews came out at the time expressing how amazing that this film was made in the middle of the slasher craze. But I didn’t know there was a slasher craze because I didn’t go to those films. I just made what I thought would be interesting. The horror films that I’d seen were the classics like THE HAUNTING, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, or the big studio films, and they all were character driven to some degree. So I knew that I wanted to make a film with three dimensional characters that had backstory and stuff going on in their lives between them that had nothing to do with the ghost story that they were going to be plunged into. At one point, I was going to do a film with Sam Raimi and we talked a lot about that. And he wasn’t a big horror film fan either. He was a big THREE STOOGES fan, that’s why his films are so filled with slapstick comedy. EVIL DEAD was so innovative because there was so much slapstick in there. You listen to the commentary to the guys who make their cheap little video films now and they say things like, “This is my homage to EVIL DEAD or HUMAN CENTIPEDE or DAWN OF THE DEAD”, but they are so busy homaging all of their favorite horror films that they didn’t come up with anything original. So I think sometimes being a fan can actually hurt you.
BUG: Definitely. So with WITCHBOARD, you had the treat to work with Tawny Kitaen who seemed to be at the peak of her popularity with her Whitesnake videos.
KT: Oh, she hadn’t done the Whitesnake video yet when she was cast. We got really lucky. Stephen Nichols had just been cast as Patch on DAYS OF OUR LIVES. And by the time the film was released, Tawny was in the Whitesnake videos and they were getting played all the time on MTV and Stephen Nichols’ character Patch was the #1 soap star on TV.
BUG: So how did you luck upon those two?
KT: We just lucked out there that we had two people who suddenly became names while we were posting the film. I’m still friends with Stephen Nichols. He has a daughter who has the same birthday as my son and my daughter is a year younger with his daughter, so when they were kids, we’d have play dates with all of them together. He lives in my neighborhood. Tawny, I kind of lost touch with for a while, but we always got along with her. She has a great sense of humor. She’s very self-effacing. She’s got a video on Funny Or Die right now where a guy is on a car lot buying a car and the dealer sells him this old, classic Jaguar and he says, “The best thing is that it comes with its own Tawny Kitaen.” And she’s dancing all over the hood.
KT: So she’s very good at poking fun at herself.
BUG: That’s great. Did you know much about cult and mystical aspects going into WITCHBOARD?
KT: No, as a matter of fact, right before I left for film school, I was living in a Victorian home that had been turned into apartments, which is why in WITCHBOARD they were living in a home like that. And a friend brought a Ouija board to the party and he was kind of a Ouija expert the same way the character of Brandon (Nichols) is in the film. And while he was doing that, I was thinking “Oh my god, I’m not a big horror fan, but I think there’s a horror movie in this.” I had never heard of a film that centered on a Ouija board and I’ll bet there was something you could do with that. Then when I went to UIC, there was a class where you had to write a feature script and the only idea I had was the Ouija board idea, so I started researching Ouija boards. So once I knew what they were capable of and what the mythology of the Ouija board was, I just had to create the characters and the story to go with it. So I based a lot of the characters on myself and my friends.
BUG: WITCHBOARD has become one of the most iconic of the Ouija board films.
KT: I’ve seen a couple that were made in Asia and there was one low budget one called…oh, I’m not sure the name, but it was released recently…it was a found footage film where people are playing with a Ouija board…
BUG: Yeah, I think it was called I AM ZOZO, I reviewed it a while ago.
KT: Yeah, they reference WITCHBOARD in that movie.
BUG: What’s it like not being a big horror fan and having this iconic film under your belt?
KT: It was bizarre. I was so concerned to make sure the characters were real and the drama was real that I was concerned that it wouldn’t be scary. I had a panic attack when I was shopping it around asking myself, “What if I didn’t make a scary movie out of all of this? What if it’s a really nice drama.” (laughs) But it was nice when I saw the distributors jumping in their seats. I was like, “Oh thank god.”
BUG: I remember seeing the film in the theaters. I was definitely too young to be in there, but I was in the theater anyway with a bunch of my friends.
KT: Most of my fans have the exact same story.
BUG: Yeah, I think we actually saw it a few times in the theater. Let’s move on to NIGHT OF THE DEMONS which I basically see as a big party movie. It seemed like a lot of fun to make. Was it?
KT: Yep, pretty much. We had a great time making it. Even with all of the tension and the fighting and the butting of heads, it was still probably one of the most fun I had on a movie set. That was because with WITCHBOARD we had to be very serious and we had these big dramatic moments and stuff like that and you have to be quiet to have the actors get to that dark place where they have to be to cry or to convey that there is love or lack of love between characters, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS was like “Fuck this. Eat that. Blow me.” and things like that. We never had to worry about things being dramatic. We just had fun.
BUG: And there were effects in WITCHBOARD, but in NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, the whole film basically was a showcase for practical special effects.
KT: That was the thing, the producers were the same ones I had worked with on WITCHBOARD, and we kind of wanted to make something drastically different. We didn’t want to get pigeon-holed, so we made something that went completely the other way; a balls-to-the-wall, rollercoaster, funhouse ride type of film.
BUG: Was it difficult for you to make the shift from drama to the more special effects driven/shock scare type of film?
KT: It’s not hard. The hard part is that you just don’t have as much control. I can be as brilliant as I want, but if the effect isn’t ready, then you kind of have to sit around and wait for it to be ready. Not being the make-up effects guy, I couldn’t go in there and say, “Get out of the way, I’ll do it!” I had to wait until the effects guys were ready.
BUG: I know you wrote WITCHBOARD, but you didn’t write NIGHT OF THE DEMONS. I also know that every director puts their mark on a film, so are there any parts of NIGHT OF THE DEMONS that are all you?
KT: It was minor stuff. The writer was also a producer, Joe [Augustyn], and because I’m a writer myself, I probably respect the writers more than the average director who thinks they are all idiots that he has to deal with. So if there were things that had to be rewritten because of schedule or budget, I would go to Joe for that. The few suggestions that I made that I think were pretty big, but weren’t a problem was the lipstick through the nipple. That was my idea.
BUG: I was going to ask about that next.
KT: It was hinted at in the script, but definitely not as obvious as what we ended up with. And the heroine Judy was actually dressed as Little Red Riding Hood in the script with the red cowl. And I said, one, the red doesn’t really spell innocence, it kind of spells vampy. And two, since this was about demons, we might want to stay away from that color and dress the heroine devilishly. So we gave her the Alice in Wonderland costume. There were these big holes in the script like…the doors would slam themselves shut in the crematorium scene and the doors couldn’t unlock themselves, but the pins in the door could fall out for the demons to get in. And there were all of these holes that we started saying, if we’re going to address all of these holes, then it was going to slow down the momentum of the story. So mu idea was to dress Judy as Alice In Wonderland and then we are subconsciously saying, “Shit doesn’t have to make sense.” Judy “Our Alice” is in Wonderland and it’s fucking with her.
BUG: Linnea Quigley is the one everyone thinks about when this film comes up. What was it like to work with her? Her scene with the lipstick was a moment in film that scarred my childhood mind forever after.
KT: It was the defining moment of her career.
BUG: How did you approach her with this idea to stick a lipstick into her boob?
KT: Linnea had been nude modeling long before she had been starring in movies, so she was completely comfortable doing the scene. She read the script. Saw what we were going to do. Sent her over to Steve Johnson who made a cast of her breasts and the rest is history.
BUG: It definitely did scar me. For a long time afterwards, any time I saw a boob, I wondered if there was a lipstick stuck in there.
KT: It would sure beat not having to carry purses, wouldn’t it?
BUG: I guess. Having seen WITCHBOARD and NIGHT OF THE DEMONS on BluRay again after all of these years, can you tell me what that experience is like?
KT: Actually, we had a screening of NIGHT OF THE DEMONS at the New Beverly and that was the first time I’d seen it since we had the cast and crew party when it was finished. Maybe I saw it in theaters with a paying audience when it first came out. And I’d forgotten how good it looked. On VHS, you just don’t get the quality of lighting in the film and the little details in that house. It’s glossed over on VHS, but is so vivid in the new transfer.
BUG: Have you seen the remake of NIGHT OF THE DEMONS?
KT: I was one of the producers.
BUG: Oh great! I saw it not long ago and it really is a fun film.
KT: I was involved in hiring Jace and Adam (writer Jace Anderson & writer/director Adam Gierasch) for the film. The minute we met with them, we knew they were the ones to do the remake. And I think it turned out great. We were really pleased with that film.
BUG: One last question, what are you presently working on?
KT: Well, I’m writing a book and it’s far more painful than I thought it would be. (laughs) And I have an idea for a very small, claustrophobic film that takes place in one house, but can be genuinely creepy and scary. My wife and I are actually talking about producing it ourselves so that we own all of the rights to it. And I’ve working with Seven Arts to shoot a sequel to the NIGHT OF THE DEMONS remake.
BUG: Oh fantastic!
KT: We already have the script and I think it’s really going to be a great entry to the series.
BUG: Of all of the remakes, I felt that one was one of the best ones.
KT: I know I’m biased, but I really think it was a good one. Of all of the remakes I’ve seen in the last few years, I’d definitely rank it among the top ones.
BUG: Thanks for talking with me today. I’ve had a great time going back and watching these films. They are definitely classics in my mind.
KT: Thank you so much, Mark!
BUG: Thanks, Kevin. Both WITCHBOARD and NIGHT OF THE DEMONS are out this week on BluRay from The Shout Factory! Below are my reviews of both films!
Retro-review: New on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
WITCHBOARD (1986)Directed by Kevin Tenney
Written by Kevin Tenney
Starring Tawny Kitaen, Stephen Nichols, Todd Allen, Kathleen Wilhoite, Burke Byrnes, Rose Marie
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
One of the more representative horror films of the 80’s was WITCHBOARD which, love it or hate it, has a lot of what has come to be associated to the 80’s banging around in its story. From scorching hair metal sound tracks, to feathered hair, to stone washed pegged jeans, and mena wearing headbands; WITCHBOARD has a lot of what we try to burn from our memories from the eighties. The tale follows Linda (Tawny Kitaen) as she is sucked into the magical world of Ouija when an upper crust friend of hers, Brandon (Stephen Nichols aka Patch from DAYS OF OUR LIVES) introduces her to the mystical board at a party. Though her boyfriend Jim (Todd Allen) objects to both her “friendship” with Brandon and his Ouija board, Linda becomes fascinated by the board and though she is warned, starts using the board alone. This allowing her soul to be possessed by the spirits within the board and all sorts of mystical badness raining down on Linda and Jim’s lives.
Unlike most horror films of its time as the genre was hip deep in the slasher craze at that point, WITCHBOARD focused on the supernatural when the supernatural wasn’t so cool. It delved into the magic behind the boards and toyed with the fact that these boards (mass produced by Parker Brothers) really had mystical properties. The film very firmly establishes itself as the rulebook for all Ouija board films to follow (seen most recently in I AM ZOZO – reviewed here) as it explains both the history and powers of the boards. Writer/director Kevin Tenney seems to have done his homework and outlines a certain set of rules; sometimes clumsily over-explained by Nichols in this film, but definite in their establishment that these boards are not to be screwed with.
Another thing that sets this film apart from the herd is that it involves real adult characters having real adult issues. These are teens being lined up for the slaughter. The film centers on a love triangle between two former best friends and a woman that came between them. Sure the way Nichols and Allen deal with these issues are not the most adult as they shoot barbs at each other in between fist-flying duke outs, but the way their emotion is written is definitely outside of the norm you see in horror, especially low budgeters from this era.
That said, there’s a healthy portion of cheese to this film. Tenney throws in as much hokey psychics and clichéd witchy antics as he can muster. Kathleen Wilhoite’s character of Zarabeth is probably one of the most annoying characters in horror in the 80’s as she is mocked up in a Hollywood version of punk rock, horsely guffawing at painful “psychic humor” and uses the term TTFN generously in conversations. The rest of the cast try to convey the seriousness of the issue (in Nichols sense a bit too serious) but most of the time give performances that ring more melodramatic than empathy inducing.
On the up side, we’ve got Tawny Kitaen. Every time she appears in frame with her lion’s mane of red hair she absolutely sizzles. Through the eighties in the Whitesnake videos, she made me wish my face resembled the hood of a car and her performance holds up as absolutely engrossing upon viewing the film all of these years later. Kitaen seems to be having a blast being tossed around by spirits and talking in the devil’s tongue while swinging an axe. Is it probable this beauty could beat the shit out of a brawny guy? Not really. But seeing her do it entertains to no end.
Sporting a glam rock soundtrack and some horrible style choices in terms of clothing, hairstyles and vocabulary, WITCHBOARD’s conviction to the material and the age it was made in makes it a true standout in 80’s horror. Kitaen’s performance will tighten a few pants areas and there’s some decent gore and a few surprisingly mature conflicts as well. All in all, WITCHBOARD is 80’s low budget horror at its best.
A Make/Remake Special Celebrating the release of The Shout Factory’s BluRay of the Original NIGHT OF THE DEMONS!
NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (1988)Directed by Kevin Tenney
Written by Joe Augustyn
Starring Amelia Kinkdale, Linnea Quigley, Billy Gallo, Lance Fenton, Cathy Podewell, Hal Havins
NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (2010)Directed by Adam Gierasch
Written by Jace Anderson & Adam Gierasch (screenplay), Joe Augustyn (original screenplay)
Starring Monica Keena, Shannon Elizabeth, Edward Furlong, Diora Baird, Bobby Sue Luther, Tiffany Shepis
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Some films aren’t meant to be fine art. Some are just meant to be plain fun. NIGHT OF THE DEMONS is such a film. Filled with sick sights and sounds and depraved kids doing awful things to one another all in the name of Halloween, this little film from the 80’s was quite the phenomenon in the late eighties.
I remember seeing NIGHT OF THE DEMONS in an old theater in my home town. They didn’t give a shit that my brother and I were under age and were happy to sit our still infantile asses in the theater seats while my mom shopped around the surrounding mall. Even back then, my brother and I knew we were seeing something special. Taking place on Halloween, a group of kids gather in an old house for a party. Though the budget appeared to be low and the acting leaves a lot to be desired, what makes NIGHT OF THE DEMONS stand out are the special effects and truly twisted script.
Effects wizard Steve Johnson really pulls out all of the stops here. This was the day and age of Fangoria, where effects wizards like Savini, Baker, and Bottin were worshipped as gods and a whole new generation of frightsters like Johnson and KNB Effects were just getting started. Johnson pulls off some amazing stuff in this film with full body appliances, full make-up demon faces, gory severed limbs, and burn sequences--all of which are captured on screen through the lens of Kevin Tenney, who lingers on each effect like highway drivers passing by a pileup. The scene that made NIGHT OF THE DEMONS most memorable, the scene where Scream Queen Linnea Quigley shoves lipstick into her boob while possessed, still remains as shocking as it was then and the imagery still is so good that you’ll wonder how they got away with it and accomplished the task. If any film was made as a showcase reel for outstanding effects, it’s NIGHT OF THE DEMONS.
Aside from that, the late 80’s film serves as a product of its time, reflecting the voice of youth for that generation. Though not the smartest of scripts and with acting that leaves a lot to be desired, there’s something innocent about watching what these kids called partying in that time as they fire up the boom box, crack open cans of warm beer and dance in a circle in front of a fireplace. That’s not to say that the script doesn’t have its share of doozy lines (some of which I’ve incorporated into this review).
Mention must be made of the film’s stars: Amelia Kinkdale and Linnea Quigley, who play the hosts of the party. Kinkdale may not have the over the top role Quigley does with the lipstick boob and the eye gouging, but her performance as Angela is definitely awesome. Playing to the goth standard of today’s Twilighters, Kinkdale’s Angela is pure evil when she has to be. Both Kinkdale and Quigley soak in the horror proudly and wallow in it to the delight of all who view the film.
This is a perverse film with copious amounts of sex and violence, often incorporated together in the same scene (one couple even has sex in a coffin before being offed). Though it’s definitely not the first to pair sex with death, it does so with reckless abandon as if it did come up with the concept. This is no by the numbers film, but a dark one which has a lot of fun scaring the piss out of its viewers while at the same time not pulling punches. The especially wicked ending involving a crotchety old man who fall victim to his own Halloween prank is deviously delicious. With the barrage of remakes hitting theaters these days, it’s no wonder the film was remade. Thankfully, the film was remade with someone with balls and what looks to be a deep respect for the original.
Though sinfully under marketed, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (2010) is one of the few films which captures the true spirit of the original while expanding on it to fit modern cinematic expectations and technology. Most of the same story is present. A party is being held by a “bad girl” named Angela (played this time by AMERICAN PIE’s Shannon Elizabeth). Unlike the first film, relatively known stars are cast with Monica Keena (UNDECLARED, FREDDY VS JASON) playing the “good girl” with other party goers such as Diora Baird in the role inspired by Quigley and Bobby Sue Luther (the final girl in LAID TO REST) putting her gigantic pair of…ahem…acting talents on full display in a cat suit. Scream Queen Tiffany Shepis also makes an appearance in a minor role as well and even Linnea Quigley dons her little pink dress from the first film to make a cameo. Rounding out the cast is a puffy Edward Furlong who looks as if he’s seen better days.
Though at times director Adam Gierasch seems to rush through things (some of the takes seem to capture the lack of enthusiasm some of the actors—mostly Furlong—seemed to have in their performances), he does fill every single moment in this one with thrills, wild camera work and fantastic musical choices to set the mood. The Halloween party Gierasch sets up is the type of Halloween party I’d like to go to.
A lot of the elements of what made the original such a classic are present here. The lipstick sequence is repeated with Baird displaying her impressive chesticles, though with lesser cinematic “wow”. The sequence is somewhat rushed through compared to the much more patient and jaw-dropping original sequence. Though in Gierasch’s new version, Baird’s boobs do have tentacles flapping about later on, a welcome addition to the perversity mixing of sex and death theme which was so prevalent. Baird seemed to be the highlight of the sex/death motif during a sex scene where she and her partner literally become the beast with two backs.
Gierasch and his wife/collaborator/writer Jace Anderson incorporate some goofy mythos toward the end regarding demons and rusted metal which only barely makes sense and requires explanation/discourse from teens who really shouldn’t know the first thing about demon incantation. The same clueless kids also somehow immediately know how to write these incantations on walls in order to protect the room they’re in from invading demon forces. All of this is goofy logic, but with the amount of fun and sheer glee Gierasch doles out the perverse horrors, I’m willing to forgive him for that. All in all, this remake builds on and honors the original, something you can’t say for too many remakes these days. With walls dripping blood, boob tentacles, lesbian kissing resulting in a face being ripped off and all sorts of sordid and bloody antics, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 2010 is one of the best remakes I’ve ever witnessed.
As with the original film, the remake of NIGHT OF THE DEMONS sports a fantastic soundtrack this time from Type O Negative to Concrete Blonde supplying creepy songs to help amp up the mood and chills. Again, with a soundtrack like this and the quality of the film, I am amazed that this film didn’t get a theatrical release while pap like the WHEN A STRANGER CALLS and PROM NIGHT remakes had cross-country screen time.
The new NIGHT OF THE DEMONS BluRay has brand new commentary by director Kevin Tenney, actors Cathy Podewell, Hal Havins, Billy Gallo, and fx guru Steve Johnson. Plus cast and crew interviews with Tenney, Producer/writer Joe Augustyn, and the ever fascinating Linnea Quigley. Plus the usual stills, trailers, and TV spots. It doesn’t have to be Halloween to enjoy this pair of films focusing on the Halloween Party from Hell. Both NIGHT OF THE DEMONS an its remake have got enough eye candy and gore to make your trick or treat bags runneth over with blood, boobs, drugs, booze, demons, and loud music. What more could you ask for on Halloween or any old time of the year?
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 12 years & AICN HORROR for 4. Mark’s written comics such as THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, DEATHSPORT GAMES, NANNY & HANK (soon to be a feature film from Uptown 6 Films), Zenescope’sGRIMM FAIRY TALES Vol.13 & UNLEASHED: WEREWOLVES – THE HUNGER and a chapter in Black Mask Studios’OCCUPY COMICS. FAMOUS MONSTERS’ LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (co-written with Martin Fisher) will be available soon in trade. Mark also wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK and its follow up THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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