July 26, 2018


Through a clumsy exposition scene we learn that the old Willard property used to belong to some Native Americans. Old man Willard stole the property from it’s rightful owners and the Native Americans, none too happy about that fact, placed a curse on the land. Every ten years, for an unspecified amount of time, an ancient muscle-bound man in a monster mask materializes in the woods, hunting and killing any white man or woman he comes across.

A gaggle of college aged whities are about to have a really bad weekend as their hunting trip turns into an implied bloodbath, 90% of which happens during the daytime hours. Will Neal, the youngest member of the Willard family to ever return to the old family lands, be able to stop the marauding Demon Warrior before he can kill his lovely girlfriend, Sarah, and his friends Brent, Hassmiller and… sigh… a guy named Badger? Neal might be in luck, as an investment banker turned Indian shaman has arrived on the scene with a magic arrowhead, ready to do battle with the buff guy in the monster mask.

So yeah, Frank Patterson’s 1988 low budget slasher movie DEMON WARRIOR is yet another Native American themed horror film, just another romp about some well-to-do white people paying bloody reparations for the sins of their fathers. It seems this kind of film pops up from time to time. POLTERGEIST featured the typical Indian Burial Ground trope, a nicely done and lovingly cynical look at the underbelly of white suburban life. Tobe Hooper’s (or Steven Spielberg’s) film sits at the top of the list, a genuinely good large scale horror film. Much, MUCH further down the list you have tripe like Fred Olen Ray’s SCALPS and George McCowan’s SHADOW OF THE HAWK, and somewhere in the middle, there’s some fairly decent stuff, like William Girdler’s gonzo sci-fi/horror mash-up THE MANITOU and the Wendigo cycle of horror films from Larry Fessenden.

Where does DEMON WARRIOR fall on the list? Pretty low, to be honest. This is a film where virtually every detail of the script seemed to be dictated by the incredibly low budget. Although our cast of characters are all crashing at Neal’s family home, we spend very little time there, most likely because the production could only afford the location for a single day and the owners didn’t want their nice hardwood floors stained red with food coloring. As a result, the vast majority of the film takes place outdoors, but not in the woods or near any kind of eye catching scenery. Expect a lot of walking and running through wide open fields with characters simply crossing through the frame because no one could afford a Steadicam or any other kind of camera-stabilizing mount.

90% of the film happens during daytime hours, a good choice if you’re looking to save a few hundred bucks on lights and generators, but definitely not a good choice if you’re trying to create atmosphere or scares. The demon warrior is wisely kept off screen in these daytime scenes, only showing his poorly constructed face during the nighttime scenes that bookend the film. He’s a ridiculous creation, literally just an oiled up bodybuilder in a Halloween mask. He doesn’t even get a roar or a growl. He just shoots arrows and moves at a light jog so the actor in the oversized mask won’t trip on a log or a rock.

The only saving grace in DEMON WARRIOR is the cast of characters, many of whom actually have personalities, wants and needs, and emotions that go beyond the typical “must get laid” attitudes of 1980s slasher movie characters. There’s a bit of a love triangle between Neal, Sarah and Brent, her old boyfriend who still carries a flame for her. Patterson and his co-writers actually treat this element of the script with a lot of care. When Hassmiller calls Brent out for trying to hit on Neal’s girlfriend, Brent rightfully points out that Hassmiller is currently sleeping with, you guessed it, a woman in a relationship. This leads the two men to have a somewhat heartfelt ethical conversation about relationships and love and… I don’t know. It’s not poetry, but the fact that a film called DEMON WARRIOR has the audacity to stop in it’s tracks so two of it’s male characters can have a kind of heart-to-heart about their love pangs is, well, kinda neat.

Not that anything really comes of it, as Hassmiller’s love interest exits the narrative as quick as she enters it and Brent is shot with an arrow before he settles on a course of action, but it’s the thought that counts, right? I mean, no one in the cast is a world class actor and all the characterization is in service of a plot about a shirtless man in a Halloween mask chasing people through a field for 26 minutes, but I have to say that in a world full of obnoxious, can’t-wait-for-them-to-die slasher movie characters, the knuckleheads on display here are actually really likable.

Unfortunately, everything else about DEMON WARRIOR is not so likable. All of violence (minus a few arrows to the chest and a nice, juicy scalping) is off screen, the Final Girl never gets to be a proper Final Girl, and the whole film boils down to a long scene of Indian magic and unconvincing lightning optical effects. There just isn’t a lot of movie here. Most of it is running through fields and making sandwiches. There is however a rather ludicrous car accident and at least one memorable nightmare sequence. So it’s not totally useless, I guess. It’s just not very good.

July 7, 2018


The second VCR my family ever owned was a gloriously large, ridiculously heavy Zenith machine that we bought from K-Mart for a couple hundred bucks. It was a definite step up from our first videocassette recorder, with true composite cable output and a remote control that actually worked from more than five feet away. It also had a feature I didn’t know even existed at the time. While it would still only rewind at standard speed during playback, this Zenith VCR could fast forward at variable speeds. Press the button once and it would move through the film at 2x speed. Press it a second time and it would run noticeably faster. Pressing the button again would kick the machine into overdrive (relatively speaking), zipping the movie along at a whopping 6x speed. A truly remarkable feature for those of us desperately seeking out whatever nudity a film contained while our parents were busy at the grocery store.

When DVD came along, I was blown away by the picture quality, the sound clarity, the special features, all that jazz. But for some reason, I found myself genuinely disappointed by – of all goddamn things – the fast forward and rewind features. Seems like a fairly stupid nitpick, doesn’t it? Well, it is, but I have to admit that back in the day it absolutely annoyed me that kicking the fast forward into high gear didn’t result in a smooth image. I expected something like an old chase scene from a silent movie. What I got was more or less a slide show, with the film seeming to leap forward every ten or fifteen seconds. I’m sure you all know what I’m talking about, right? 

I want you to hold that thought for a moment while I give a very brief (and possibly fabricated) history of Doris Wishman’s 1983 film A NIGHT TO DISMEMBER.

This low rent slasher flick was intended to be Wishman’s first full blooded foray into the horror genre, a real change of pace from the kind of nudie-cutie and roughie flicks Wishman had spent the last two decades creating. Filmed almost entirely in 1977, Wishman’s film plays a bit more like PIECES than HALLOWEEN, a grim and nasty B-movie filled with more than a few gialloesque moments. It might have been yet another success for Wishman had the film been released as intended, but as fate would have it, the world would never set eyes on a fully completed A NIGHT TO DISMEMBER. 

According to legend, nearly 40% of the film negatives were destroyed by a disgruntled lab technician and Wishman, contractually obligated to deliver a feature length film, had to spend the next year or two shooting all new scenes in a desperate attempt to piece together what was left of her film. Whether this story is true or not, I have no idea, but it is very, very easy to tell that A NIGHT TO DISMEMBER is far from complete.

And this brings us back to my petty annoyance with the fast forward feature on my DVD player. Because watching A NIGHT TO DISMEMBER is a lot like watching a movie with the fast forward cranked up to 16x speed. The first few minutes of the film are a disjointed mess, an attempt at back story cobbled together not from whole scenes, but from scene fragments. In order to make this intelligible, Wishman employs voice over narration from a police detective named Tim O’Malley. He tells us all about the Kent family and the horrible fates that befell them in the far future of 1986.

It’s a relatively straight forward bit of exposition covering two generations of the Kent family. In the first, young Susan kills her younger sister, Bonnie, with a hatchet before accidentally falling on the blade herself. In the second, a husband returns home from a business trip to find his beautiful wife dead in a pool of blood. It is later discovered that the husband had hired someone to kill his wife. After his arrest, the man hangs himself in his prison cell. That sounds straight forward, right? Not difficult to follow at all, just a clear cut way of showing that the Kent family tree sure can produce some nuts.

Except watching it play out on screen is a different story. We begin with a zoom-in on an upstairs window of a home, then cut to an old man playing cards. We cut to Bonnie stripping in the bathroom then to a doorknob turning. Bonnie steps into the bath, a hatchet is shown in shadowy silhouette, another window is zoomed in on, then Susan hacks her sister to pieces. Once the bloody work is done, we are treated to a shot of a dead (though still blinking) Susan lying motionless on the floor. We then immediately cut to the second of the two stories without any indication of changing location. A man returns home. He looks around the empty room. We then cut to Detective O’Malley speaking to the man on the phone. This leads to an outdoors shot of a busty, barely clothed woman walking through the woods. When we cut back to the home, the man wanders into another room. We see a brief shot of someone, presumably his wife, lying nude in a blood filled bathtub. The next series of shots involve a black gloved hand turning a doorknob, the wife sitting in her bedroom, a silhouetted murder, another too brief shot of a body being dragged into yet another room, and a silhouette of someone dangling from a noose.

It is obvious that this entire set-up ran much longer in the first cut of the film (if it was included at all; I’ve had difficulty finding out what was originally shot back in 1977 and what was later added to bolster the running time), but here, it plays as a series of disconnected, disjointed shots. Were it not for the voice over narration, none of it would make any sense. This is a problem the film never manages to overcome.

The next scene takes place five years in the past, a plot detail that only serves to further the confusion. Two teen boys are chased into a basement and savagely killed. We learn the culprit is yet another Kent, a young(ish) woman named Vicki. We then move ahead five years to the present day. Despite brutally murdering those two boys, Vicki is released into her parent’s custody after her shrink declares her “cured” of her insanity. This rubs her siblings, Billy and Mary (both of whom are still living at home in their early 30s), the wrong way. Billy is fearful that Vicki might once again go insane. Mary, clearly the petty one in the family, simply doesn’t want Vicki stealing all the attention. Even though both siblings are well aware that Vicki’s brief stint of madness resulted in violent murders, they set about driving their sister crazy. All the while, someone is messily bumping off extended Kent family members.

Had the film been properly completed, all of this would make for a rather enjoyable, exploitative romp. Unfortunately, because it’s such a goddamn mess, Wishman needs to utilize more and more explicit voice over narration as the film goes along. As a result, we don’t even get to entertain the idea that Vicki might be losing her mind once again. We’re flat out told that everything that is happening is being caused by Billy and Mary, even the murders. Hilariously, once Detective O’Malley starts his investigation, the film has O’Malley narrating his own investigation in the third person. This absolutely drove me bonkers as the film went on as I could see the potential in the material. At one point, this was a movie I would have genuinely enjoyed watching.

The murder scenes lay somewhere between Herschell Gordon Lewis and Juan Piquer Simon, unconvincing but appropriately gooey and gross. A head is run over by a car, a knife is repeatedly stabbed into flesh in gruesome close-up, hatchets are slammed into skulls, fingers are cut off, nails are rammed through throats… It’s gloriously nasty and utterly mean spirited. The nudity is plentiful, the acting is dreadful, the excursions into strange 1970s editing are wonderful, the use of superimposition and classic spook show lightning effects are fantastic… It’s all there. 

Except that it isn’t. Not really. It’s a bag of flesh with no skeleton to keep it upright. The film had to be re-dubbed years later by a voice cast of about three people. Sound effects are all done with voices, the stabbing sounds accomplished by having someone go “squish squish” close to the microphone. A dog barking is actually just someone going “arf arf arf” in as highly pitched a voice as they could muster. The score is comprised of inappropriate library tracks. Vicki’s awkward return home is scored with light elevator rock music while her tender reunion with an old boyfriend is scored with booming, Gothic horror music. I’m fairly certain that Wishman used porn loops for the sounds of moaning that accompany all of the murder set pieces, as the actors all sound like they’re getting their rocks off from having their limbs removed. Many of the close-ups in the film are clearly made from B-roll material, as the actor’s close shot reactions rarely suit the context of the scene. With almost a half hour to go in the film, the voice over narration simply stops, rendering much of the final reel unintelligible.

I won’t say, as many other have, that A NIGHT TO DISMEMBER is one of the worst films ever made. It’s still somewhat enjoyable to watch (and at 69 minutes, it won’t waste much of your time) even if it rarely makes much sense. It would be rather easy for me to dismiss any and all criticism of the film by stating “well, it was never finished so...”, but that wouldn’t be an honest bit of argumentation. This particular version of A NIGHT TO DISMEMBER might not have been the intended version, but the fact remains that this is what was released to the public. This IS the film unfortunately and it’s a mess. A complete and total mess. 

But damn it, there’s a good film here, or at least an entertaining film. You can see it among all the confusion and cacophony. I stand by that. This could have been another PIECES, but as it stands, it’s just… wait for it… pieces, held together with tape, gutted and hallowed out. A shell of what it could have been.