Leave it to Scream Factory to resurrect one of horror’s most unsung series, beautifully restored and prettier than they have ever looked before. 1988’s original Night of the Demons comes in a crisp 4K release, complete with an all-encompassing feature-length documentary about the making of the film (You’re Invited: The Making of Night of the Demons), and a plethora of bonus features; the sequels, 1994’s Night of the Demons 2 and 1997’s Night of the Demons 3, both come to Blu-Ray for the very first time. In grand Scream Factory tradition, both of those single-disc collector’s edition titles are showered with commentaries, interviews, and extra cuts of the film typically reserved for AAA titles. Party like it’s 1988, and let’s tear open the bowels of these fantastic new releases.
First up, the original Night of the Demons, once titled Halloween Party, has seriously never looked better. For those unfamiliar with the story, its setup will check boxes for any fan of schlocky 80s horror. The dilapidated Hull House, once a funeral home, serves as the site for a killer Halloween party (title drop), hosted by uber-goth, Angela (Amelia Kinkade). The teens have the clever idea to host a séance there, and mere minutes later, a demonic presence has been unleashed from the crematorium. One by one, the body count rises as the unleashed demons shove lipstick tubes into nipples and take over new hosts, Evil Dead-style. Night of the Demons is particularly notable for its potent Halloween atmosphere. As a kid who watched this movie way too young, I latched onto nearly every macabre moment, especially that ending with the razor blade apple pie. Filmed at a historic mansion later demolished in 1990, Hull House itself becomes an actual character.
The synthy score and dynamic animated opening credits set the stage for the unnerving moments that will follow. On this 4K disc, the excellent lighting and shocking practical effects really pop. The darks are jet black, and Angela’s legendary “Stigmata Martyr” dance sears a permanent mark on the retinas. Just as I remembered, Night of the Demons remains the perfect burst of gory fun for spooky season, and deserves to be on regular rotation. No expense was spared in terms of the disc’s features; I did not have a chance to check out the commentaries, however, the rest was impressive. Writer Joe Augustyn, who also scripted the second film, speaks candidly about its legacy, and changes to the original script. In his first draft, two characters were supposed to be a gay couple rather than a straight one, which would have been revolutionary for a horror flick in the 80s. The aforementioned documentary was the highlight, and showcases nearly every major character.
Changing gears, Night of the Demons 2 slithers in nastier and bigger than its predecessor; some would argue this sequel surpasses the 1988 original. Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith (Leprechaun 3, Leprechaun 4: In Space), the title makes major tweaks to the formula, and doubles down on the comedy. Angela (returning Amelia Kinkade) has now become the stuff of legend—people go to Hull House on dares, and the events of the first film have left Angela’s sister, Mouse (Merle Kennedy), an orphan. Instead of being set at only one location, Demons 2 alternates between Hull House and a catholic school, where a satanic conjuring has occurred. Mouse gets dragged to Hull House for a Halloween party, while another occurs at school under the watchful eye of nun Sister Gloria (Jennifer Rhodes). Before long, Angela reemerges, and a bigger cast—much better developed this time around—gets put on the chopping block. Keep an eye out for a young Christine Taylor, one year before she would go on to play Marcia in The Brady Bunch Movie. Trenchard-Smith and screenwriter Joe Augustyn really go for broke this time around. Demon handjobs, holy water balloons, heads in toilets, and much more fully embrace the zany premise.
Again, the phenomenal effects work from Award-winning special effects artist Steve Johnson greatly contributes to the quality of the direct-to-video sequel. At one point in Demons 2, Angela becomes a humanoid snake creature, which is probably the most impressive scene. Kinkade laments the 27 hours she spent in snake makeup, strapped into a trench and glued to a teeter-totter. To this day, that remains an effects record. Additionally, it netted Kinkade a bigger paycheck than any other title. As the sole returning cast member from the original, Kinkade’s Angela steals the show with Freddy-like one-liners. On purely a technical level, Demons 2 surpasses the writing of the first by featuring textured characters and a zippy narrative structure. Leaving room for a Rambo-nun to swoop in and save the day could not have been an easy feat, yet they weave her into the fabric of this sequel seamlessly. The special features are again terrific, going into the freedom of process behind the demon performances. A lengthy talk between Kevin S. Tenney and Brian Trenchard-Smith conversationally details how they crafted Demons 2. The duo go off on random tangents frequently, but hearing them shoot the shit delights, particularly when they discuss the Leprechaun movies. A VHS-quality workprint of the sequel is also included.
Most people consider Nights of the Demons 3 to be the worst entry in the series, and I am inclined to agree. With that out of the way, the concept is pretty fun. This entry was an entirely Canadian production, filmed at a historic home as Hull House that looks nothing like 1 or 2. A group of teens take shelter in Hull House to “lie low” after they accidentally shoot a cop at a convenience store. Angela (Kinkade for the final time) returns again, up to her old tricks, but she pretends to be an innocent at first rather than a horrifying demon. Demons 3, directed by Jim Kaufman who had neither helmed a horror feature nor seen the first two films, has a decidedly different feel. More akin to a cheesy episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark, there are nevertheless so many intriguing ideas present. Snake arms and bizarre transformations color this entry, and unlike Demons 2, this actually feels direct-to-video. At least Angela seductively dances in each movie, and Kinkade can embrace her dancing background.
Night of the Demons 3 was the most tumultuous production of the bunch. Original writer Joe Augustyn, who wanted 3 to be set in an apartment complex, was not interesting in returning to Hull House for the same old, same old. Instead, the first film’s director Kevin S. Tunney came back. His script was highly regarded, but hiring an amateur director and robbing Hull House of its identity all but ensured it would not live up to previous entries. In both the commentary and an interview, Tunney laments what could have been; he even comments that while the original is untouchable, he would love to remake Night of the Demons 3. Amelia Kinkade speaks more positively of her experience, enjoying the heavier focus on Angela, as well as her time on location in Canada. Kinkade seems so sweet, and fondly looks back on her time with all three films. The disc also includes a TV edit of the film, and a director’s cut workprint.
Night of the Demons remains one of horror’s most underrated franchises, even with 2009’s campy remake shining a light on the series once more. Its striking VHS cover arts remain some of the best from my youth. Each entry shines a distinct point of view on late 80s/early 90s horror that no one else was successfully tapping into at the time. Love them or hate them, Scream Factory really gives the most bang for your buck, as it loads the entire trilogy with captivating special features. Pop them in for a return trip to Hull House if you dare!
Scream Factory provided review copies, but the thoughts and opinions expressed here are all my own. All three titles are currently available for purchase from Scream Factory, and would make great holiday gifts for any horror fanatic!
Night of the Demons
Night of the Demons 2
Night of the Demons 3
Movie Review | ‘Dune: Part Two’ improves on first film’s grand formula
When your first movie is a hit, the studio tends to give you more cash to spend on the sequel.
And when your film adapts what essentially is the second half of a book, it tends to be more exciting than the installment that came before it.
Not surprisingly, then, filmmaker Denis Villeneuve’s excellent “Dune: Part Two” — in theaters March 1, after being pushed into 2024 as a result of last year’s Hollywood strikes — is greater in scale and more frequently riveting than its strong predecessor, 2021’s six-time Academy Award-winning “Dune.”
This second “Dune,” costing a reported $190 million, isn’t a giant leap forward, the science-fiction epic matching the first ($165 million) precisely in terms of look and tone. And it picks up where “Dune” left off, with possible future messiah Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother, mystical Bene Gesserit Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson, “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning”), living among the Fremen, the native people of the remote desert planet Arrakis.
In case you need a refresher, “Dune” and “Dune: Part Two” are based on Frank Herbert’s influential 1965 novel “Dune,” a work interested in ecological themes, among others.
In Herbert’s world — set thousands of years in the future and following humanity winning a war against artificial intelligence — computers are outlawed in the universe. Instead, to traverse space, folks depend on spice, the mind-altering substance that grows in the sands of Arrakis. As a result, control of the otherwise desolate planet is important — so important that it cost Paul his father and saw the great House Atreides fall to the merciless types of House Harkonnen.
Now, the prescient Paul desires to express his distinct displeasure with what has happened to that house’s leader, the grotesque Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård, “Andor”), and the man pulling the strings from above him, the Emperor (Christopher Walken, “The Deer Hunter”), seen in “Part Two” for the first time.
“Your father didn’t believe in revenge,” Jessica reminds her son.
“Well I do,” Paul responds.
Paul wishes to learn the ways of the Fremen, who exist in the harsh lands of Arrakis despite the ever-present threat of the giant sandworms and do not appreciate outsiders coming to take the planet’s valuable resource. Fortunately for Paul, a key Fremen, Stilgar (Javier Bardem, “No Country for Old Men”), believes him to be the prophesied off-worlder who will lead the Fremen to a better existence. Paul isn’t so sure about that, and neither are others, among them Chani (Zendaya “Spider-Man: No Way Home”) — literally the woman of his spice-fueled dreams and to whom, of course, he grows closer in this film.
As the story progresses, Paul works to pass tests administered by Stilgar to prove his worth; encounters an old friend and mentor in Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin, “Avengers: End Game”); and faces a new and possibly more dangerous enemy in Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler), the psychopathic nephew of the baron, who rises to power as his brother, Beast Rabbanas (Dave Bautista, “Guardians of the Galaxy”), struggles to defeat the constantly attacking Fremen.
Most importantly, Paul wants to avoid the potentially catastrophic results of choosing the path he takes in his visions. However, other forces, including his mother — traveling her own rise to power in this chapter — may pull him there nonetheless.
Visually, at least, “Dune: Part Two” is a masterpiece. With contributions from returning contributors including director of photography Greig Fraser, production designer Patrice Vermette, editor Joe Walker, visual effects supervisor Paul Lambert and costume designer Jacqueline, the film is regularly wondrous while also presenting a very gritty and lived-in world. It is a sight to behold, for example, every time Fremen warriors rise from the sand and charge at the Harkonnen spice-harvesting operation. Ultimately, we seldom get world-building as stunning as what Villeneuve has offered with these two films.
Like the 2021 release, “Part Two” is a little slow at times, not a shock given its two-and-a-half-hour-plus runtime. Even still, this is yet more topnotch filmmaking from Villeneuve, whose previous directorial efforts include the outstanding films “Sicario” and “Blade Runner 2049.” He knows how to pull you into a story and keep you invested, even a narrative as strange and sprawling as that of “Dune.”
Villeneuve co-wrote the screenplay with another returning collaborator Jon Spaihts (“Doctor Strange”), the tandem continuing to show tremendous work in the realm of adaptation, bringing to the screen only what we need for a compelling tale.
Within the frame, Chalamet (“Wonka,” “Call Me by Your Name”), as he was in the first film, is merely a semi-engaging hero — that is until a rousing late-affair scene where the actor goes big and truly impresses. It’s a performance that’s needed to sell what’s to follow, and sell it he does.
The cast is too large to do much more singling out, but know that Butler, following impressive performances in projects including “Elvis” and “Masters of the Air,” is rather terrifying as the especially horrendous Harkonnen. Feyd-Rautha is one-dimensional and a disappointingly underdeveloped character, but Butler is terrifying as the villain all the same.
The huge ensemble of “Dune: Part Two” also includes notable newcomers in Florence Pugh (“Black Widow”), as Princess Irulan, daughter of the Emperor, and Léa Seydoux (“No Time to Die”), as Lady Fenring, an enigmatic Bene Gesserit who pays a visit to Feyd-Rautha. Both actors get relatively little screen time, but one imagines they could get significantly more in a third “Dune.”
As you’d expect given that Herbert penned sequels to “Dune,” there is room for this story to continue. And as likely as a “Dune: Part Three” is to be green-lit, there are reasons to suspect it won’t arrive as quickly as this film has.
Regardless of when it arrives, with the gift Villeneuve so far has illustrated for spice-navigating us through space, we’ll follow him back to Arrakis as beyond.
“Dune: Part Two” is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, some suggestive material and brief strong language. Runtime: Two hours, 46 minutes.
Film Review: The Moon Thieves (2024) by Steve Yuen
“Lies are best based on truth”
The caper or heist film is one of the sub-genres of action that has a lot to offer thematically and stylistically if done correctly. If we think back to “To Catch a Thief” or even the “Oceans”-series, the world these stories show are a reflection of a society based on materialism and property, with the thieves sharing the same obsession as the owners of the object they want to steal. On the other hand, given its potential to be an ensemble piece, the caper/heist feature also offers actors the chance to shine. Steve Yuen’s “The Moon Thieves”, the director’s third feature, tries to combine the two aspects of the genre, but fails to offer some depth to its otherwise intriguing premise.
The Moon Thieves is released exclusively in UK cinemas by Central City Media
Uncle (Keung To) is a major player in the Hong Kong underworld and he is also a successful dealer in fake and real watches. Upon hearing three prestigious watches owned by painter Pablo Picasso will be auctioned in Tokyo, he recruits a crew to steal them and exchange them with counterfeits. Chief (Louis Cheng), a loyal follower to Uncle’s father, is the leader of the crew which also consists of Mario (Michael Ning), an explosive expert, Vincent (Edan Lui), a master counterfeiter, and finally Yoh (Anson Lo), a safe-cracker. Chief and Mario are somewhat skeptical of the two younger members of the team, especially Vincent who has issues with the whole undertaking and prefers to not be part of the heist itself.
However, he changes his mind upon seeing the contents of the safe where the watches are kept. Among the Picasso watches, there is also the infamous Moonwatch, which was supposedly worn by Buzz Aldrin upon walking on the moon for the first time in 1969. During a fireworks festival, the heist takes place and despite a few hiccups, everything goes largely as planned. But when one of the thieves also takes the precious Moonwatch, this sets in motion a series of events, as a Japanese businessman and crime lord is unwilling to give up on his property this easily.
While the premise of having a crew of thieves stealing three watches does not sound thrilling at first glance, Yuen’s film manages to make this idea attractive from the very first minute on. As we are introduced to the character of Vincent, we also delve deep into the world of watches, the art of making a “frankenwatch” using vintage parts from other watches and ultimately selling it to some rather shady looking individuals. The fast-paced editing and overall glossy aesthetics emphasize the image of a world of prestige and property, but also one easy to fool by a shiny surface, which is essentially the core of “The Moon Thieves”. Consequently, the characters go through various episodes in which they con their targets, deceive them and come up with such elaborate schemes that more than once seem a little pointless. Thanks to the performances of the cast, this is done in a way which is quite entertaining and even has some humorous interactions.
At the same time, this elaborate magic-show, which is another way to describe “The Moon Thieves”, becomes stale after a while. In the second part of the feature, the action elements take up much more space, making it look and feel more like every other blockbuster. It is still solid, especially the shooting and the stunts, but then again you cannot help but wonder whether there could have been more depth to some elements of “The Moon Thieves”. The characters, while some of them seem to have an interesting backstory, are more or less the conventional band of lowlifes and con-artists we have come to expect from the genre. Additionally, you cannot help but wonder about some of the casting decisions, especially Keung To as Uncle, who tries to give his best shot at being an intimidating mobster, but lacks credibility due to his young age and delivery.
“The Moon Thieves” is a solid caper/heist movie with some interesting ideas, which fail to fully materialize resulting in an ultimately conventional finale. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of fun to be had with Steve Yuen’s film, but it will also likely be forgotten soon after watching.
Movie review: Dune: Part Two – Baltimore Magazine
I want to start this review by speaking directly to the people who were eagerly looking forward to Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two. Congratulations. This film is going to exceed your expectations, light up your pleasure sensors, and pretty much blow your minds. As the kids say, you will be fed.
But what about the rest of us? For all its stellar special effects, rousing action, awe-inspiring beauty—undulating sand dunes, billowing capes, fire-red crescent moons—and cast of young Hollywood hotties acting their butts off, Dune Part Two didn’t pass the ultimate test for me. That test being: Would I recommend the film to my mother? No. No I would not.
Look, not all films are for all people—I get that. But the very best genre films transcend their tropes and offer something for everyone. An apropos example: I would recommend Villeneuve’s Arrival to all film lovers, not just sci-fi fans.
My biggest objection to the Dune series continues to be that it takes itself far too seriously. Again, I get it—we’re dealing with serious stuff here: dying civilizations, ancient prophecies, struggles for power, the dark temptation of revenge. But just because something is set in a desert doesn’t mean it has to be this dry.
I was a fan of first Dune in this series, although I logged similar complaints about its self-seriousness. This one is a little better; the action is just as thrilling but the characters are given more depth and the central moral dilemma of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet)—at what point does one become blinded by power?—begins to snap into focus. There is also a love story with the wonderful Zendaya, playing Chani, a member of the blue-eyed desert people, the Fremen of Arrakis. Paul is utterly devoted to her (“I will love you for as long as I breathe”) but she is a bit more circumspect. “You will never lose me as long as you stay who you are,” she says pointedly. She knows that Paul is being pulled by some powerful temptations, namely the Fremen people, who see him as a possible savior. They grow to worship him, especially after he manages to tame one of those giant worm creatures, riding it like Ben Hur through the swirling sand. But will Paul lose himself in his quest for revenge? It’s hard not to root for the brave and resolute Paul—he is played by Chalamet, after all—but Chani serves as the film’s voice of moral clarity and skepticism. She knows he’s teetering toward a point of no return.
But we’re not there yet. Paul is still quite heroic in this film, even as he’s haunted by visions of leading the Fremen people to their own destruction. He has voices in his ear: His power-hungry, sorceress mother (Rebecca Ferguson), now pregnant with Paul’s sister, and recruited by the Fremen to be their Reverend Mother; the big-hearted Fremen patriarch, Stilgar (Javier Bardem), who is a true believer in Paul as the messiah; and Chani, who tells him to be wary of these prophecies.
Meanwhile, Arrakis is under siege by the Harkonnen kingdom, a land with, apparently, no Rogaine. Last film we met the Jabba the Hut-like Baron (Stellan Skarsgard), who was after the Arrakis’ precious resource of “spice.” This time we also meet his creepy nephew Feyd (Austin Butler), a lethal swordsman, not above cheating to win a dual, with a beautiful, alien-like face and positively crazed eyes.
Florence Pugh, who does some of the film’s narration, only appears briefly as the daughter of the Emperor Shaddam IV (Christopher Walken), who feels his grip on power slipping away. Her arc will be compelling—she’s loyal to her father, just as Paul was loyal to his, but she comes to realize that he is not a righteous man. By the film’s end, her fate and Paul’s fate will be inextricably entwined. (Alas, we’re going to have to wait for Part Three to see it play out.)
Villeneuve recently gave an interview where he said that he is mostly interested in cinema for spectacle, that dialogue holds little appeal to him. Having seen Dune: Part Two that tracks. The film is a spectacle, a marvel of craftsmanship, the sort of film you need to see on the largest screen possible. But the dialogue is mostly expository, and at times painfully earnest. That said, I wouldn’t want some script doctor jazzing this thing up with zingers (“Stop trying to worm your way out of this, Paul!”). That’s definitely not the vibe. Dune Part Two is the best Dune Part Two it can possibly be. I just have to accept that it’s not the best film for me.
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