Monday, July 17, 2023

“I Forgot Today Was Your Night for Rounds” - Demented (1980)

It is time to discuss Demented (1980), a prototypical rape-revenge film that features what might be the most spectacularly powerful performance of all time by Sallee Elyse (aka Sallee Young) and written by actor/writer Alex Rebar.

As usual, some of your universe's critics fail to appreciate Demented. For example, reviewer alicespiral writes (under the clever but inaccurate review title "Gives bad movies a bad name"), "I only made it to the end because I was curious to how much worse it could get." Reviewer ofumalow writes, "This is one of those movies that's so bad it's just bad--too plodding, amateurish, gore-free etc." And reviewer jivinmutt writes dismissively, "This 'movie' is absurd, horrible, et al."

Read on for a more accurate description of Demented...

A woman wearing large, pink-tinged sunglasses opens a stable door and pets a horse. As soon as she leaves the horse, she is assaulted by a group of large man wearing pantyhose over their heads. In a terrifying sequence, the four men threaten her with a pitchfork and then brutally rape her in an empty stable. (As in most scenes of this type, the rape scene is sickening and difficult to watch, but is not explicit and lasts only a minute or two.)

The filmmakers cut to several months later, after the woman, Linda, has spent some time in a sanitarium. “I really think I can put the pieces together and go on,” she tells her husband Matt (played pseudonymously by Harry Reems) as he drives her through the country.

“Mind if I join you?” he asks.

“Well, you damn well better.”

“That’s my girl.” Her husband also tells her that her sister Annie wants to pay a visit.

The car pulls into an estate. After taking about three minutes to climb out of the car, Linda and Matt walk wordlessly and emotionless lay into their house. After she admires some flowers he bought for her, he says, “You’re beautiful” and attempts to touch her shoulder, but she pulls away.

“I know,” Linda says. “God made me that way just for you.”

She goes outside to pick some fruit for a fresh fruit salad, but she is startled by the gardener brandishing (rather aggressively) a sharp gardening tool and she screams. He apologies.

Matt guides Linda upstairs so she can nap. “I’m going to give you a sedative,” he tells her, opening his medical bag and preparing the hypodermic needle expertly while she undresses (not quite as expertly). While injecting her, Matt reminds her that the men who raped her were caught and put away.

As she lies under the covers, Linda tells a story about Halloween and a practical joke she played on her father. “I crept into my brother’s bedroom and I put on his Frankenstein costume. I crept ever so slowly down the hallway toward the bathroom. It was hard to go slow but I really had to because the boards creaked. Anyway, I rushed to the bathroom screaming and scared the hell out of him!” She adds, somewhat ambiguously, “I always wanted to do that,” and then falls asleep.

Matt walks down the stairs casually, though incongruous and mysterious music plays.

Later, when Linda wakes up and puts on a robe, she imagines a goofy man wearing a stocking over his head appear in her mirror, grin at her, and then fade away.

Later, it is revealed that Matt is having an affair with a woman named Carol when he receives an unexpected phone call. He promises Carol he will see her tonight. 

For unexplained reasons, the filmmakers cut to an extended scene of Matt’s rendezvous with Carol during which Carol takes a phone call from another admirer and complains about auditioning for a role as a prostitute. Matt expresses his jealousy and Carol asks for money before turning on a record player so the two can make love.

Later, at their home, Matt eats dinner with Linda. “Honey, that meal  was delicious,” he says. “I see you haven’t lost your touch.”

“Matt, I was raped. I didn’t get a frontal lobotomy.” Then she quips about her period, “Why do they call it a period? Why not a comma? Period sounds so definite, so final.”

Of course, Matt laughs at her hilarious joke.

She tells him she is starting to feel like making love again, though they can’t because of her period. He suggests they fly to Mexico next week. During their conversation, he gets another phone call from his mistress Carol, and he goes to his office to take the call in private, but only after his wife calls him “Zorro” for no apparent reason.

The next day, Linda goes outside to the mailbox to collect her mail but she is harassed by neighborhood teenagers in her driveway who say sexually suggestive things like “Woo! What’s in the mailbox, hmm?”

One of the teenage boys, Mark, feels guilty about the harassment and knocks on Linda’s door, startling her. He apologizes quickly, then leaves. 

Frustrated, Linda calls her husband at his hospital job (innovatively, the filmmakers relay most of the story’s plot points using one-sided telephone conversations), but he doesn’t want to talk to her. She tells him she’ll see him at dinner, but then yells, “Oh no! I forgot today was your night for rounds!”

At night, Linda tries to sleep alone but visions of men wearing stockings over their faces dance in her head. She gets up but she is assaulted by a group of men (clearly the neighborhood teenagers) wearing bizarre masks.

She locks herself in the laundry room and says (or perhaps “screeches” is a more appropriate verb), “This can’t be happening! Not again!”

One of the intruders, after suggesting that he is imaginary, sticks his masked head through a doggy door and says, “Trick or treat!” Linda faints in the laundry room.

As his wife lies unconscious, Matt makes love to his mistress Carol across town.

In the morning, Linda collapses in the kitchen before Matt finds her. She (screechingly) tells him that she was attacked last night. “They were here! They said they would hurt me!”

Of course, they call the police. A detective searches the house but finds no evidence of a break-in. He accuses Linda of having trauma-induced flashbacks. “The mind plays funny tricks, after a while,” he says.

She replies (again, screechingly), “The only funny tricks around here are yours!”

Later, in a bizarre but amusing scene, Matt makes love to Carol while she asks how many movie stars he knows and how he can advance her career as an actress. The scene ends with a funny “button” as Carol asks, “How much money did you make last year?”

When Matt comes back home to a dark house, Linda tries attacking him with a razor blade. He protests, “God, you scared me to death.”

“Well, you didn’t give me a great laugh either,” she replies.

The next day, Linda’s sister Annie arrives to stay with her. With her inexplicably English accent, Annie tells Linda, “Yes, you were raped. Those men are paying for what they’ve done and you’ve got to build your life from here. Do you remember when we were both kids? You were always my big sister? Strong, independent. And when you and Matt got married, everyone thought that was just fantastic. You know, if I had a guy like Matt, I’d sure work out whatever it was.”

Linda complains (perhaps “whines” is the preferable word) that Matt is always away from home and she is scared by herself. That evening, the three have dinner in a well-composed shot highlighting their isolation from each other (though it is somewhat confusing that Annie is obscured by her rather large dining chair).

During dinner, Linda’s frustrations quickly erupt. She says screechingly, “Were you raped last week, last month, last year? Were you ever raped? Of course not! Well, you’ve never had to deal with anything more than having to kiss a boy on the first date or note!”

Annie, speaking from behind her chair, admits she cannot help the situation, so she leaves the dinner table, preparing to leave (she is never seen again). Of course, Matt scolds Linda. “She came here to give you a little companionship and you blew it right out of the water. Congratulations.”

At night, with Matt gone, the family doctor makes another house call, injecting Linda with a sedative so she can sleep. Then, in an extended sequence highlighting the banality of domestic life, the doctor goes downstairs to get Linda a glass of orange juice. Eventually, after pouring the juice and replacing the cap on the jug and returning the jug to the refrigerator, the doctor sees something through the kitchen window. As would any doctor, he immediately pulls a pistol from his pocket and investigates.

Outside, the doctor finds Mark kneeling beside a window. “Freeze,” says the doctor (perhaps invoking some little-known clause in the Hippocrates Oath), “or I’ll blow your head off.”

Mark protests that he was just checking on Linda to make sure everything was all right. Linda opens a window (she is brandishing a meat cleaver) and vouches for Mark, so the doctor lets him go. Then the doctor leaves. Linda takes the meat cleaver and returns to bed.

Unfortunately for Linda, the masked men return in the middle of the night. One of them jumps onto Linda’s bed and begins to assault her. She slams the cleaver into his neck.

The masked teenager dies quickly and nearly bloodlessly. Linda pushes his body off her and touches the wound in his neck. She starts giggling as she feels the small amount of blood on her fingers. Then she looks at herself in the mirror and says, “My hair is an absolute mess.” She starts powdering her nose and applying red lipstick, having completely snapped due to the assault.

Linda slowly changes into a bra and panties with garter and stockings. As she sits on the bed, the young man jerks upright and falls against her. She ignores this, as anyone in her position would, and lets his body fall to the side on the bed.

Meanwhile, the other teenagers are looting the house, for unexplained reasons. Unaware that Linda has cleavered their friend, one of the teenagers allows her to seduce him with a glass of wine. He takes off his mask to drink. Unfortunately for the would-be rapist, Linda has drugged the wine. He falls unconscious to the kitchen floor. She takes off his shirt and uses it to gag him.

In the final act of the film, Linda becomes a squeaky-voiced executioner, seducing the teenagers and incapacitating them. She says to one of them, “Isn’t that what you came here for? To make love to me?”

He stammers, “Well, yeah. Sure.”

Then she circles a wire around his (clothed) genitalia and threatens to squeeze. She makes him dance with her, then makes him kneel and beg like a dog. Then she tells him, “You’re never gonna hurt me again” and yanks the wire, incapacitating him. Also, she stabs him with the meat cleaver for good measure, laughing maniacally.

After killing three teenagers, she ties the one she drugged with wine to a chair and forces him to eat dinner with her. When he doesn’t eat the steak on his plate because he is tied to the chair, she scolds him, but eventually she removes his gag. “It was only a joke,” he protests. “We weren’t the ones who raped you. We only meant to play a joke. Honest.”

Oddly, Linda doesn’t get the point of the joke, apparently finding threats of rape and looting houses unfunny, for some reason. She forces him to eat a bite of steak. “Do you like it?”

“Yes,” he replies.

“Do I have nice breasts?”


“Why am I so lonely? I’m a good girl. I like people, but they’re always hurting me.” She then invokes the films Sunset Boulevard and Bambi, which both made her cry. Also, she complains that her father never cried at a movie, which is perhaps the root of her psychosis. Finally, she implies that Mel Brooks took her to her prom.

At the end of dinner, Linda presents the teenager with the special dessert she has prepared: a double-barreled shotgun. She shoots him twice.

In the film’s coda, Matt and Carol sit in a car discussing Linda. He says he will tell Linda he is leaving her tomorrow. Then he drives home, where he calls for Linda, who says she is upstairs. He navigates the darkened house, but he has to wait for her to unlock the bedroom door. “There’s something I want to tell you,” he says from the upstairs hallway.

“I know what it is, Matt,” she says from behind the door. “You’re leaving me.”

“That’s what I had in mind,” he admits.

“Don’t worry, Matt. So did I.”

He opens the door and enters the bedroom. He pulls the covers off the bed to see a dead teenager, and then in the final shot Linda attacks him with her cleaver.

The End

Of course, the highlight of Demented is the performance of Sallee Elyse as Linda. Perhaps Sally Field used Ms. Elyse as the model for her screeching performance as Mary Todd Lincoln in Spielberg's Lincoln (2012), but Ms. Field is too trained an actor to reach the dizzying heights of Ms. Elyse's powerful vocal histrionics. Demented is a film with a central performance that must be seen to be believed. Who, without experiencing Ms. Elyse in this role she was born to play, could possibly understand the power an actor can bring to a film? The answer is "nobody." Ms. Elyse deserves accolades that do not even exist yet. Even if the film itself is somewhat unoriginal and could be improved in terms of pacing and surprises, Demented is a film that will never be forgotten due to Sallee Elyse's ability to surprise the viewer over and over again with her understanding of what it means to be an actor.