On the list of things that can really put a damper on your day, demons are surely up there. Vomiting, speaking in an extremely deep voice, and being forced to disembowel your friends in a secluded cabin are but a few of the common annoyances a demon can bring into your life. In rare cases, they can even lead to the kissing of Satan’s butthole. To protect yourself from these threats, you must first know your enemy. Which is why I’ve decided to teach this advanced course in demonology.
If the vast knowledge I hold can save even one of you from ever having to smash a demonic prostitute’s fingers with a vending machine, then well, that’s one less person who’s had to go smashing a demonic prostitute’s fingers with a vending machine. This is a knowledge passed onto me via a series of ancient texts—ones long believed by the demonologists of old to depict the most accurate representations of demonkind.
I speak, of course, of horror films from the 80s and 90s.
Demons: A History
Yes, it’s true that cinematic demons have been seen as far back as 1922 in Haxan, and that in 1957 Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon showed us just how bad a visit to England can get when you’ve been slipped a piece of cursed parchment. You’re also probably well aware of how 1973’s The Exorcist ignited a demonoid pop culture craze, and brought to life every parent’s fear of seeing their child do the nasty with a crucifix. Yet it wasn’t until the 1980s that we scholars of demonology truly understood the lengths to which these Judeo-Christian hell-dwellers were willing to go in order to muck up our daily lives.
How many knew before 1981’s The Evil Dead that reading from a book bound in human flesh could ruin your weekend in the woods? It was thanks to The Incubus, the next year, that we discovered that a demon may attempt to murder you with its oversized penis, causing John Cassavetes to sweatily—and repeatedly—growl “uterus.” With Hellraiser we learned the hard truth that puzzle box S&M sex club demons are not nearly as much fun as you’d think. In Night of the Demons it was to never hold a séance at a sleepover. And did you know it wasn’t until 1992 that we were even aware of the existence of Demonic Toys, and it was a full year after that before we realized they could be stopped by a Dollman (Dollman vs Demonic Toys)?
So presented here for your careful study are two films from the 80s, and one from the 90s. Now be sure to take notes, as I’ll be providing information on the specific classification of demon that appears in each film. So listen carefully, your very souls may depend on it.
Demon Type: Succubus
Temptress is a succubus barfly who stalks a drinking hole filled with the thirstiest dudes in Brooklyn, where even the bartender is fantasizing out loud about “dressing up in your husband’s clothes and playing Captain Kirk.” She also talks to snakes, knows your name is Norman and not John, can grow a penis at will, and lures horny men back to her candlelit, fog-drenched brownstone for a little death by bumpin’ uglies.
Her ultimate target, though, is grandma’s boy and minister-in-training Joel (writer/producer/director James Bond III), who believes fornication is a sin. To keep from being sex’d to death he has nothing to rely on but his faith, as well as Spike Lee regular Bill Nunn as a CIA demon hunter with a distaste for “welfare butt.”
The real star is D.P.—and future Demon Knight director—Ernest Dickerson, who must have rented out every fog machine in New York to give things a look best described as Bed-Stuy Gothic. Def by Temptation is the rare film that manages to tackle themes of toxic masculinity and crisis of faith, while not forgetting to include a scene where a TV eats a guy and gacks up his ribcage.
Demon Type: Wind, maybe. I think.
There’s nothing quite like a crisp, cool demon wind to clear the mind, kill all your friends, and lead you to kick a hulking goat-hoofed devil in the balls. And that’s exactly what happens to Cory when he visits his grandparents’ cursed farmhouse. Not satisfied with just dooming himself, Cory brings along his girlfriend and plenty of friends, including a karate-kicking magician in Dracula cosplay.
But first they stop by a gas station where Cory once dreamt his grandmother saw him naked, and a hamburger is kept in the pie display case. The proprietor pulls a gun and warns them to never go near the farmhouse, before politely asking them not to go there, then eventually telling them exactly how to get there. When they arrive they’re greeted by a crucified skeleton and a sixty year-old roasted chicken, and then—wouldn’t you know it—that damn demon wind starts acting up again.
Old timey kids arrive and turn Cory’s friend Bonnie into an exploding babydoll, forcing them to rush into the farmhouse that’s burnt ruins on the outside, but magically intact on the inside. But before you can think too much about it, 80’s porn star Tiffany Million arrives topless with a horde of pointy-eared, oatmeal-faced demons in tow.
Heads are karate-kicked clean off, a demon is stabbed in the eye and becomes an infant before turning into a dove, and a cow skull eats a woman’s head after she calls it beautiful. Nobody even vaguely behaves like an actual human being. It’s easily the finest portrayal of a demonic wind in cinema history.
Demon Type: …Italian?
I think it’s time we all stopped trying to slap a label on demons, and embrace them simply as demons. That’s right, class is dismissed. Because the truth is I want you all to become possessed by demons, or Demons.
From Dario Argento, Dardano Sacchetti, and Lamberto “Son of Mario” Bava, Demons is the story of a creepy silver-masked guy in a Berlin train station who hands a college student free movie passes, which causes her to abandon someone named Ms. Buchholz and hit up a theater called the Metropol. Once inside she’s joined by Tony the pimp and his two girls, a cranky old man verbally abusing his wife on their anniversary, and a blind guy who has to constantly ask what’s going on, because he’s a blind guy at the movies.
They watch a film-within-a-film about kids snooping around Nostradamus’s grave, while discussing his best known prophecy: the coming of the demons. Soon everyone is bricked inside the theater, teeth start falling out, pulsating tumors pop, and folks are being turned into demons by the movie onscreen. Or by getting clawed in the neck, puked on, strangled, and whatever else the filmmakers were feeling at any given moment.
There’s demons in the air vents, demons in the toilet stalls, demons erupting out of backs. Coke-snorting punks thrash to Go West’s “We Close Our Eyes.” There’s both switchblade demon-stabbing and erotic razor blade nipple play, along with reductive blind man eye-gouging. By time Tony the pimp is screaming to “smash everything, smash everything” you’ll be trashing your living room; by the time the motorcycle, samurai sword, and helicopter-crashing finale happens, you’ll be convinced you’ve elevated to a higher plane of existence.
I waited six long years before I showed this movie to my girlfriend, because I knew her not liking it would mean the end of our love. But I shouldn’t have worried, you see, because love is fleeting, but Demons are forever.