Monday, August 22, 2016

Demon Wind (1990) - Part 2 of 2

The is Part 2 of Demon Wind. Part 1 is here. Last time, Cory and Elaine and five of their friends were trapped in Cory's grandmother's interdimensional farmhouse, fending off demons, ghost children, and a cold fog driven by a light breeze (the demon wind of the title). The twists and turns continue...

After the unexpected arrival of Willy and Reena, Dell and his girlfriend decide to set out on foot, undeterred by the threat of the cold fog, or even the light breeze. “I don’t think they're gonna make it,” says Jack when they're a few yards away. “I don’t think so either,” says Cory.

Needless to say, Dell and his girlfriend swiftly meet a foggy, demonic end. So our group quickly numbers five again.

Cory and Jack come up with a reasonable plan. What if the barn also contains an interdimensional portal? Why, it would have to be the center of the force that’s opposing them, and they can fight it in some unspecified manner. They make their way to the ruins of the barn door, and it is in fact a portal into an intact barn. There they find a skeleton propped against the wall, but instead of a human skull it’s adorned, charmingly, with the rather larger skull of a bull.

Cory knows it's an altar to the devil. Reena says it's really beautiful, which the skull perceives as an invitation. In a terrifying sequence of stop-motion animation that puts Ray Harryhausen and Willis O'Brien to shame, the skull's jaws open and a prehensile tongue drags the girl to her bloody death. Then the jaws slide shut.

With one more down, four remain.

They race back to the farmhouse, running from the demonized magicians and then the demonized Reena. At this point, the screenplay serves up another brilliant twist: Cory remembers the magic daggers he found in the farmhouse. He stabs Reena with one, turning her from a gleeful demon to a mopey human. Then electric blue light emerges from her eyes and she disappears.

Speaking of the screenplay, it continues to be two or three steps ahead of the audience. We are never given the details of Cory's master plan, so we are surprised when we see the results. If the plan was to lose more of his team to a cattle skull and run back and forth between the barn and the farmhouse, then the plan succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Likewise, if another part of the plan was to get the barn to spew dozens of demons, then this part was similarly successful.

Back in the farmhouse, Cory realizes that Willy was still in the barn. One more down -- Willy stumbles out the barn door as a demon. Only three of the friends remain.

But this film has still more surprises up its sleeve. As the demons advance on our friends barricaded in the farmhouse, more blue electricity crackles around the walls. Cory's grandmother's protective spell is still effective! Ingenious!

The friends are elated, while the audience realizes with amusement that this means everyone was protected in the farmhouse all along. Cory and his friends could have remained inside, playing gin rummy, enjoying exploding turkeys, and sitting by the warm fire made of family photographs.

That is, until the demons break the spell by taking a few steps closer to the farmhouse. The electricity vanishes and Cory and his friends are vulnerable once again. Honestly, the twists and turns of this cinematic jigsaw puzzle are enough to take one's breath away.

Inverting the usual narrative trope in which humans besiege a confined space full of well-armed zombies, Cory, Elaine, and Jack confine themselves in the back rooms of the farmhouse and try to defend themselves from the oncoming horde of demons. This strategy works fairly well. In one room, Cory and Elaine hold off the demons until Cory realizes he would like to do some light reading and his grandmother's diary would be just perfect. In another room, Jack receives only a harmless bite from one of the demons.

Cory sends Elaine to get Jack, but in a shocking twist, Jack has somehow become a demon, a transformation which appears to have improved his ears but not his eyesight or his taste in fashion eyewear.

Elaine stabs Jack with a magic dagger and he is enveloped by white light, transforming from his demon form back to a human, then to a young boy, then to a baby, and finally, of course, into a white dove that flies away.

With only Cory and Elaine remaining, the demons overrun the house. All seems lost, until a voice beckons the demons back outside. "Our time is at hand," the voice says. "I bring you greetings from the Shadow Father." It is the ghost of the devil worshipping settler mentioned in the diary, arriving just in time to rescue Cory and Elaine by turning the demons into orange lights.

This devil worshipper's plan has a downside, however: He wants to take Cory with him and end his family's lineage, which will allow the villain to take over the world. The devil worshipper uses the energy of the demons to transform into a slightly taller, slightly uglier demon.

Realizing the diary is the key, Cory and Elaine draw a chalk circle on the floor and recite one of his grandmother's protection spells. Knowingly, Cory takes some flash powder and ignites it with a candle as everything comes together and Cory transforms into his bald-headed superhero alter ego.

After the tall demon throws Cory around the room and plays some mind tricks on him, Cory reveals the truth: The demons are terrified of the humans because only humans feel emotion. "You hide behind your cheap magic tricks because you're dead," Cory explains before entreating Elaine to read the last spell from the diary. As she does so, the fireplace explodes, lightning the tall demon on fire and causing devils that look like Halloween decorations at a kindergarten party to burst from the demon's flesh.

The farmhouse explodes (again), this time without the aid of a snowglobe, but Cory and Elaine survive. Overcome by their love for one another, they squeeze each other's elbows briefly and check out the wreckage.

There is nothing left to do but drive back to the gas station, confront the counterperson, now a demon, and suck him or her into the diary, which now has magical powers itself. In the final shot of the film, as Cory and Elaine drive away, we see a demon girl who might or might not be the girl pointing the stick at the beginning. Everything has come full circle. The End.

As you have no doubt discerned from my description above, Demon Wind is a sophisticated rollercoaster ride full of twists and turns. It represents the peak of the cabin in the woods genre. It takes the basic situation of movies as disparate as The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead II (1987), and Evil Dead (2013) but adds layers of complexity and emotion that work on many different levels. For example, themes of love versus familial responsibility are intertwined throughout the narrative. Cory and Elaine say they love each other at the most stressful times, but the most they can manage at the film's climax is a shoulder squeeze. On the other hand, Cory’s relationship with his grandmother, who died long before his birth, is more passionate: in the dream where he appears nude, his grandmother is the one confronting him; later in the farmhouse, his grandmother’s ghost beckons him into the bedroom. Is the film saying that familial love is more important than romantic love? Or simply that Cory prefers middle-aged blood-spattered women?

In the end, however, I think the movie resonates so well, and was such a massive commercial success in the more sophisticated Universe-Prime, because it is at heart a magic show. While some in your universe may deride the grand entrance of the magicians as silly, those in my universe were enchanted by the melding of magic and demonic cabin horror. Magic is a constant through the story, not just literal magic tricks performed onscreen as tricks but also in special effects like the friends walking through the interdimensional doorways, the demonic transformation scenes, and of course Jack’s final metamorphosis into a dove. Magic tricks impart a sense of wonder, and this film reminds us that it doesn’t matter if we know the trick ultimately not real.

Demon Wind strikes close to the essence of what is special about the movies, and it does so while also serving as a public service announcement about the dangers of snowglobes. What could be more timeless--and heartfelt--than that?