Rawhead Rex

Color, 1990, 88 mins. 16 secs.
Directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard
Starring Isa Jank, Linden Ashby, Debra Feuer, Helen Martin, Karen Black, Doug Jones
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

The Night Angelvery rocky Night Angelstate of horror films in the late '80s and early '90s left fans and magazines digging around desperately to find the next big thing as more and more worldwide genre offerings wound up going straight to video. One name seized upon by publications like Fangoria around the turn of the decade was Dominique Othenin-Girard, a Swiss-born filmmaker with only one big-screen film to his credit, the muted thriller After Darkness, to his credit when he was handed to reins to 1989's much-anticipated Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers. Before that film even hit theaters, hype was already building around another horror film he had already directed but had yet to be released called Night Angel, a sexy and effects-packed shocker riffing on the idea of Lilith, a ravenous female demon from Jewish folklore. However, Halloween 5 turned out to be a mostly messy and unpleasant slog of a film compared to its predecessors, and Night Angel ended up getting cut for an R rating and basically dumped to VHS from Fries after a tiny handful of token theatrical screenings in 1990. After one more stab at the genre with Omen IV: The Awakening for TV, the director returned to non-English fare in Europe where he's remained ever since.

However, time has been somewhat kind to his output, especially this film. Its music video aesthetic, druggy atmosphere, foggy eroticism, and bizarre injections of comedy relief give it a nice time capsule quality far removed Night Angelfrom what you'd see in genre fare now, and no horror movie set in the fashion industry can possibly look boring. Plus you get to see Karen Black shrieking "Shut Night Angelup! Shut up!" as she tries to kill someone with a Klieg light, so that's an automatic recommendation right now. Reborn out of some primordial mud, Lilith (German actress Jank) sets her sights on becoming a model superstar as the covergirl for trend-setting Siren magazine, even if it means killing off everyone in charge. Photographer Craig (Ashby from TV's Teen Wolf) is currently involved with Kirstie (To Live and Die in L.A.'s Feuer), the sister of magazine editor Rita (Black), but his life is turned into a hallucinatory nightmare when Lilith sets her sights on him. Snapping mouth snakes, a diabolical nightclub torture orgy in hell, and lots of pink and blue lighting further blur the line between fantasy and reality as he tries to extricate himself from the grip of this alluring succubus.

Long on style and eye-popping latex effects from the KNB EFX Group gang, Night Angel has no idea how to pace itself or deliver a shock effect. However, if you're willing to put aside expectations of a traditional horror film, there's fun to be had with dialogue like "She is Satan's whore! Lust is her lifeforce!" and silliness about a six-night Night Angelblack moon that provides a countdown for Lilith's latest crusade. The supporting cast is plenty of fun, too, including an odd bit for Twink Caplan, a.k.a. Miss Geist from Clueless, 227's Helen Night AngelMartin as a sassy exposition deliverer, and monster movie staple / Guillermo Del Toro mascot Doug Jones, looking incredibly young here. This would also prove to be the end of the road for short-lived Paragon Arts International, the company behind Witchboard, Blood Salvage, and Night of the Demons, several of whose veterans (including writer-producer Joe Augustyn) made a return appearance here.

Almost entirely ignored on home video after its initial run on VHS and laserdisc, Night Angel comes to Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber in a very stacked edition that easily makes up for years of neglect. The film passed into the domain of MGM several years earlier and popped up on its MGM HD channel, and the master is not only complete but far, far better than any other editions with lots of pretty, pretty colors all over the place. It's not a fresh scan but it generally holds up well while maintaining that somewhat rough, cheap late '80s film stock look in darker scenes. The DTS-HD MA English stereo track also sounds solid, especially when it comes to the amusing choice of wailing pop songs on the soundtrack. Two audio Night Angelcommentaries are also included, first with Othenin-Girard and moderator Heather Buckley (recorded in China!) for a thorough dissection of how the film came about shortly after he and his wife moved to L.A., with him only coming to learn about the horror genre after agreeing to do the script. It's fun to hear him say "all gooey" in a Swiss accent, too, Night Angeland tell lots of stories about the cast including "goofball" Jones and "my love" Martin. A second commentary featuring Canuxploitation's Paul Corupe and film historian Jason Pichonsky starts off with an appreciation of actor Roscoe Lee Browne (also on 227), who provides the opening narration, and goes through the film's somewhat rocky production at a difficult time in genre history. Their clear-eyed view of the film including its merits and occasional incoherence makes for an enjoyable track as well as they put it in context both as a supernatural film and a rare look at the Lilith legend. A new interview with Jank (19m49s) covers her interesting transition from modeling to acting (appropriately enough) and goes into the process of auditioning for and creating the seductive character ("which I do not practice in private life!") seen in the film. Augustyn comes up next with a new interview (12m54s) about how the story evolved considerably from the initial script to the screen (basically a whole different Lilith story) due to budgetary factors, while special makeup effects designer and creator Steve Johnson has a chat (9m40s) about Night Angelthe film's oh-so-'80s aesthetic and the fun of doing practical effects as young enthusiastic kids. Also included are a behind-the-scenes gallery (1m39s), a really great "Night Angel Tests" VHS reel of visual effects test footage (37m5s) with tons of spraying fake blood and shredding latex, a shorter reel of "Head Erosion Tests" (3m16s) and a "Chest Grab Test" (1m26s), the theatrical trailer, and a bonus trailer for Rawhead Rex.

Reviewed on October 21, 2017.