Monday, January 2, 2017

"That Rich Dessert, More Likely" - The Demon (1981) - Part 3 of 3

This is Part 3 of our discussion of the South African slasher film The Demon. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

We have reached the final act of the film. The killer is stalking preschool teacher Mary in her home. What will happen next? Is the killer really a demon? Will he be brought to justice? Read on.

A few minutes after we witness the killer murder Jo, Bob drives Mary home. She tells him she wants to get to sleep, but after he drives away she runs a bath. Before she steps into the tub, however, she hears a sound, investigates, and finds that Jo's bedroom has been ransacked.

Thus begins the film's brilliant cat-and-mouse suspense finale.

The lights go out. Mary grabs a flashlight and walks downstairs. After first passing the room where her cousin's body rests, she wanders around and then back into the same room. Finally, she sees Jo's body, the face covered with plastic. Mary screams.

The killer confronts her, destroying the phone.

Mary runs upstairs to another phone and calls not the police but her boyfriend Bob. Bob answers his stylish Fisher Price telephone and hears that Mary is in trouble.

The killer, truly more than a man, punches his way through the door. 

Mary picks up the bedside lamp and aims for the door and the killer's arm, but when she throws it, it sails into the window, alerting the elderly neighbors.

Mary hides beneath her bed, a gambit that ends poorly as the killer simply tosses the mattress aside. Somehow the overturned bed turns on a radio whose announcer is reading what sounds like a bible verse. It distracts the killer sufficiently for Mary to run out of the room.

Bob, on the other side of town, dashes toward his car, but he somehow manages to break his key in the ignition.

(It is a credit to the film's ability to generate suspense that Mary, her neighbors, and Bob all have access to working telephones, but none of them feel the need to call the police.)

The killer's razor-studded glove appears on the staircase. Mary screams and runs upstairs again. 

In the neighbors' house, the husband peers out the window. "I tell you, that was a scream."

"That rich dessert, more likely," his wife scoffs. When her husband notices the lights going on and off in Mary's house, his wife says they're just playing games. "The young folks these days like to add a little spice to life. Kinky, they call it. Or wouldn't you know?"

Back in her house, Mary has perhaps unwisely left her bathrobe on the floor as a lure for the killer. Wearing only her panties, she creeps through the attic and spies on the killer, who rips her robe to shreds, accompanied by the sound of tearing paper.

Mary is able to move some roof tiles aside and climb from the attic to the roof. The killer hears the tiles clattering to the ground. He follows her to the attic and grabs her legs, forcing her to fall through the floor of the attic and back into her bedroom.

She finds some scissors and, somewhat incongruously, wears a shower curtain a poncho, then covers her hair with a shower cap. She implements a desperate plan involving shampoo on the floor and the shower spraying possibly scalding water toward the door.

When the killer enters, the water splashes him in the face and Mary attacks him with the scissors, burying them in his neck.

The plan is surprisingly effective. Mary is able to overpower the killer, who is no longer wearing a mask. He stumbles backward toward the tub, and then gently lowers himself into it.

Only a second later, the killer is masked and still struggling in the tub.

The killer, or perhaps the mask itself, appears to have truly supernatural powers.

Mary screams and runs out of the house and down the street, clearly traumatized irreparably by seeing a featureless mask appear suddenly on the killer's face.

The End

Filmed in South Africa and directed by Percival Rubens, The Demon, also known by the less interesting title Midnight Caller, pulls together the wildly disparate slasher and jello (excuse me, "giallo" in your universe) genres. Like the slasher movies popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the killer is a big, mysterious figure with no backstory. Like the giallo movies popular around the same time, the killer wears black leather and gloves; another similarity with gialli is the photography scene and the presence of a psychic investigator. The Demon also dispenses with some of the less interesting aspects of each genre. For example, the whodunnit aspect of the giallo is jettisoned completely; the killer's identity and motive are never explained. Likewise, the graphic violence of the slasher movie is also abandoned. As a result, the film is streamlined and suspenseful, though a critic searching for flaws might complain that it spends a bit too much time on Jo's romantic escapades.

The Demon is also a visionary work well ahead of its time. The killer's razor-tipped glove is a clear precursor to Freddy Krueger's weapon of choice, introduced a few years later in A Nightmare on Elm Street. The Demon might have been even more influential if the killer had used the glove in his murders rather than wrapping plastic bags around his victim's heads. (We shall chalk up to cinematic license the question of where he stores his apparently inexhaustible supply of what can only be called murder bags.)

As we must whenever possible, we will end our discussion of The Demon by considering the performance of the great Cameron Mitchell. Although his storyline fades into the background after Mary is introduced, this film would not be the same without his professionalism and the quirky character touches he brings to his role. Colonel Carson is a fascinating character, and he would doubtless have been the centerpiece of dozens more films if he had not been tragically murdered in cold blood in the second act of this film. Mr. Mitchell brings his wealth of experience to the character of the psychic colonel. What other actor could sniff the bedclothes with such commitment? Who else could command our rapt attention for nearly 10 minutes while handling the contents of a young girl's bedroom? And who else could make us gasp in shocked disbelief as he crumples to the sofa, shot in the head?

No one else, is the answer. No one but the great Cameron Mitchell.