Orgy of the Dead

Color, 1990, 98 mins.
Directed by Charles Philip Moore
Starring Eric Larson, Francine Lapensée, Rufus Norris, Jack Vogel, Bobby Johnston, Stephen Quadros, Mark David Fritsche, Sherry Leigh, Lynn Clark, Richard Gabai
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

If Demon Windyou talk to any Demon Windhorror fan who grew up in the '80s or '90s, you'll notice a dreamy nostalgic glow appear when the subject of gimmicky VHS boxes comes up. You had your talking "Wanna date?" button boxes like Frankenhooker, the press-and-glow evil eyes of The Dead Pit and Metamorphosis, and the cheapest and perhaps most effective of them all, the lenticular cover that changes when you tilt it back and forth. Titles like Mirror Mirror, Jack Frost, and Uncle Sam made great use of the design method, but one stands out in the memories of many above them all: Demon Wind, whose gaudy tape release from Prism and Paramount featured a blue and lime design with a fanged demon smashing through a window. That was enough to entice many eager customers to plunk down a couple of bucks to see what was in store, knowing full well that it could be a come-on for a film that failed to deliver anything close to the thrills promised by its marketing. Well, Demon Wind actually turned out to be pretty fun, an effects-packed mash up of The Evil Dead (complete with cursed cabin, ancient dagger, and pivotal arcane book) and Demons (drooling, random plotting, and lots of claws).

In the 1931 prologue, a married couple in a farmhouse is engaged in a fiery battle to the death with the husband dribbling bright goo out of his mouth and the wife threatening to end them both by dropping a snow globe. Demon WindThat quickly comes to pass, leaving their home in blasted ruins. Flash forward to the present day (of 1990, that is) as one of their descendants, Cory (Larson), is on a road trip with Demon Windgirlfriend Elaine (Lapensée) to uncover what's wrong with his family. He's been in a mood since he tracked down his estranged father and hasn't been too forthcoming with the fact that dad slashed his wrists before they parted. Soon they're joined in waves by friends Cory has called in for reinforcements at the family cabin including ridiculously homophobic jackass Dell (future softcore staple Johnston), his highly unlucky and browbeaten girlfriend Terri (Clark), geeky Jack (Fritsche), sweet-natured Bonnie (Bendorf), and flamboyant magician and martial arts can-kicking pro Chuck (a scene-stealing Quadros). Of course, they're soon stuck in the middle of nowhere as demonic forces erupt, possess the interlopers one by one, and end up assembling a growling army from hell with only Larson's past offering a possible way of keeping it at bay.

Clunky but hugely entertaining, Demon Wind manages to build up to an admirable frenzy of monster mayhem in its second half when the plot basically goes out the window to provide one possession/attack scene after another. Demon WindIt's never quite clear how everything adds together with visions of spooky kids and awkward grandmother-witnessing nudity, but it really doesn't matter too much with Demon Windall the grue flying everywhere. You get enough of the necessary horror tropes here to make it solid comfort food along the way, such as the local diner where no one seems to know where that creepy old house is and unconvincingly claims that there's nothing out there to investigate. The film also provides way more potential meat for the demonic grinder than usual, too, and most of the actors acquit themselves well enough even if the material isn't too demanding. (Inexplicably, Lapensée starts off fine but seems to hilariously forget how to act at all during the last half hour.) The thumping John Carpenter-inspired score is a nice touch, too, and would be fun to have released on its own someday.

After decades of unavailability since its VHS and laserdisc run, Demon Wind comes to Blu-ray and DVD from Vinegar Syndrome looking shockingly good for a film its makers admit was shot cheaply on short ends (including a mislabeled initial batch that forced them to reshoot the initial couple of days of shooting). It's almost insane how much better the film looks Demon Windnow than anyone could have imagined back in the analogue days, with even the very lo-fi supernatural light effects coming off better than they should. The modest but pleasing DTS-HD MA English 5.0 track replicates the original four-track stereo mix about as well as possible for a film that isn't Demon Windrecorded with the greatest dynamic range you've ever heard; it's true to the source and probably about as good as it'll get under the circumstances. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided. On the extras side, producer Sandy Horowitz appears in the first featurette (26m27s) explaining how this film came about as part of a United Filmmakers package with Twisted Nightmare and was considered a lower and cheaper priority at the time. Actress Sherry Leigh, who had earlier shown up in Slaughterhouse, appears next (16m31s) and has fond memories of working with her actors for very long days and has a very funny story about her big, bloody demonic confrontation scene (that left her with a big hickey!). Cinematographer Thomas Callaway (19m57s) offers more details about that whole short ends thing and explains how he got the gig after cutting his teeth on films like Slumber Party Massacre II and Creepozoids, while editor Christopher Roth (20m18s) is interviewed via phone by the label's Joe Rubin about his career (including the much-loved TV show Monsters) and the daunted challenge of getting this film into presentable shape. A hefty still gallery (including some nice production shots) and the theatrical trailer round out the release -- and most importantly, yes, the limited edition of 3,000 units out there sold by Vinegar Syndrome and Diabolik comes with a lenticular cover, so you definitely need to snap this one up sooner rather than later.

Reviewed on October 23, 2017.