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Exclusive Set Report: Night of the Demons

The remake starring Shannon Elizabeth & Diora Baird

And things were going so well. Up until a minute ago, a Halloween bacchanal was underway. Costumed revelers danced under orange lights and party store skeletons hanging in doorways like grim sentinels. They did this surrounded by foam rubber heads (faces fixed in blood splattered anguish), Jack ‘O Lanterns and a purple glow revealing black light-painted pentagrams on the walls. Somewhere, a DJ kept an eye on his levels as Peter Steele from Type O Negative growled through the speakers about one spooky gal fretting over the color of her roots (“It’s all Hallows Eve. The moon is full. Will she trick or treat? I bet she will.”). Then the cops had to come and ruin this celebration. And an exodus of ghouls and devils and masked freaks made its way through the front entrance.

Angela Feld’s liquor-drenched party had come to an end. Or so she thought.

Welcome to Leda Street, New Orleans. A place where black cats roam. The full moon sits high in the cloudless sky. A cemetery resides a mere block away facing a Catholic school on Esplanade Avenue. This is where hell is being unleashed in a re-telling of Kevin Tenney’s 1988 cult film Night of the Demons.

The original, a trashy late-night movie watching fave starring Amelia Kinkade and Linnea Quigley, is getting a facelift courtesy of Seven Arts Pictures, director Adam Gierasch and his writing partner Jace Anderson. Demons is Gierasch’s sophomore feature film in the director’s chair after Autopsy, and here he’s working with a larger budget, an ambitious production and a cast featuring Monica Keena, Shannon Elizabeth, Diora Baird, Edward Furlong, Bobbi Sue Luther, John Beach and Michael Copon. Genre vet Tiffany Shepis turns up for a brief cameo as a thieving door gal monitoring the entrance to the aforementioned party.

Story-wise, Gierasch and Anderson have retained the premise of Tenney’s film – party-goers trapped in an old manse for the evening defend themselves from possession or risk turning into clawed, toothsome, rapacious demons – yet they promise a number of fresh twists and turns along the way, an entirely new set-up to the action and the return of an original cast member. “I don’t want to talk too much about the set-up,” Gierasch will admit. “We shot a scene that will have people scratching their heads thinking, Are you sure this is Night of the Demons? Anderson continues: “But all of these scenes are ways of introducing the characters and it’s all about getting them to that party where shit goes down. The core is, and always will be, people running around being chased by demons.”

Leda Street is where the production is settled down for the four nights when ShockTillYouDrop.com visits the Big Easy. It’s early October and day four of shooting is taking place in the Luling Mansion where Shannon Elizabeth’s character Angela has made the joint her party headquarters. Talk to the locals here – most ecstatic to hear a horror movie is being filmed during this time of year – and they’ll give you a broken history of this Italianate three-story landmark built in 1865 for Florence Luling. How it was a Jockey Club in the 1870s and ’80s after Luling left the house and moved to England. How, as one little girl put it, “the old man who used to live there didn’t like kids.” Now it’s occupied by an elderly woman and Demons is the first film production she’s allowed to utilize its baroque estate that comes complete with wrought iron fencing and creeping vines. The Munsters would call this play home.

“We found this house just location scouting,” Gierasch beams proudly in between takes of the aforementioned “party bust” sequence where Angela’s surging soiree flatlines. “We saw other houses but this is far and away the coolest.” This writer agrees. Without the Halloween decorations, the Luling has enough inherent character to send a chill down one’s spine. “It’s not too beat up and it’s not too clean. You can believe this house had been abandoned. Still, it’s not gross looking. It also had the most interesting architecture I’ve ever seen. You can’t classify what it looks like. It’s just a big time haunted house.”

Summoning the remake rights to Tenney’s original film was producer Greg McKay. Through his friendship with Tenney he took a meeting with the rights owners. “This film came up and I immediately knew it was a great title to have,” McKay explains. “About a month later, I got the rights and we started to develop it.” McKay, an industry multi-hyphenate who doubles as a casting director for films like Primary Colors with John Travolta, also walked away with the rights to Tenney’s ’86 effort Witchboard. (Yes, a remake of that is coming, too.) With Demons, though, the attraction for him was the title and the concept. “It’s instantly recognizable and marketable. Plus I was a fan. I wasn’t thinking of improving it. It was more of: Wouldn’t it be great to expose this generation to that film?”

McKay shopped the property around Hollywood and, according to him, the first two companies he approached responded to his pitch. The first was Seven Arts Pictures, the other, Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert’s Ghost House Pictures. McKay avoided wooing a third party after seeing a screening of Gierasch’s Autopsy which was being handled by Seven Arts and is now in the hands of distributors After Dark Films. It was after that the producer approached Gierasch.

“We were both passionate about the project,” he says. “I was stoked by the script Adam and Jace brought me. Usually, when a producer commissions a script, he loads them up with notes and sends them off. On this I said, Go write the script. And while we talked often, it wasn’t much about the script. What they delivered blew me away and surpassed my expectations. The scenes they came up with were incredible.” That was likely because Gierasch was using Demons to exorcise the pent up punk rock horror fantasies he’s been harboring for decades.

“When I was 17 this was the movie I wanted to see,” Gierasch professes. “Big breasted demon chicks, loud music, blood, guts, nudity and some of the most outrageous makeup effects I can imagine. Coming up with this, there are some makeup effects that just sprang into my head that had nothing to do with the original or any other movie I’ve seen.” On a career note, he felt it was a significant step up and “a platform to do all of the things I didn’t as well on Autopsy. Night of the Demons is a great platform to be stylistic and make a flashy, visually exciting movie. Plus, I love the original and I didn’t feel like a real director until I made a movie about demons.”

The ocular, and sometimes gleefully repulsive, cinematic feasts of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci gave Gierasch a notion of how he wanted Autopsy to look. Here, however, Gierasch tells us, “I’m thinking less about other movies, especially because it’s a remake.” This writer would argue that Argento’s influence is more prevalent than ever on this production. Director of photography Yaron Levy and Gierasch are creative with the color palette, offering Demons a vivid look.

Tenney remained at arm’s length during the inception process, keeping tabs on the first draft and throwing a modicum of input into the story. “Kevin gave us a lot of great notes,” Gierasch adds. “He gave us a hilarious line of dialogue that’s going to be in the movie.” And how about some of the choice barbs bandied about in the original, will those return? “Like the ‘eat a bowl of f**k’ line? I didn’t write it in the script, but I’m going to give it to a bunch of actors to say in different scenes and then pick the right one.” You can guarantee a montage of those scenes will appear down the line on DVD.

“We use a couple of character names from the original,” continues Anderson. “There are other names that are not in it. There was a lot of back and forth about whether we should use the original names or not. Kevin said, If you use the original names, you don’t necessarily have to have the characters do what they did in the original. You can play with people’s expectations.”

For those keeping track, returning names are Angela (once actress Kinkade now played by Elizabeth) and Suzanne, a role made memorable by Quigley and is here filled by Bobbi Sue Luther. And speaking of Quigley, look for her cameo in the remake’s opening moments. “She does something familiar for the fans,” Gierasch enthuses. “It’s a huge homage to the first movie. She’s totally cool. We shot a lot of [behind-the-scenes] video of her reciting her lines from [the first] Night of the Demons that are going to come out sporadically online or as DVD extras.”

Someone is getting their guts torn out inside the Luling (for Demons‘ purposes it’s called the Broussard Mansion in the film). It’s another night and, like sharks, the crew is swarming around the nightmare perched at the top of the Luling’s staircase which ascends and branches to the left and right of the house. A demon, courtesy of Drac Studios, is voraciously digging into the carcass of one of the cast members. Sinewy strands of flesh hang from the beast’s jaws. An effects technician works the air compressor to deliver the generous amount of blood Gierasch requested to see spill down the stairs. A night like this one can drum up a level of excitement in the cast akin to a classroom of young students counting the minutes to Christmas vacation. One of their own is gonna die, and that puts a big smile on their faces. But as Gierasch says, “No one really dies, they just get demonized.”

Sure, but not before enduring some form of extreme bodily harm or invasion.

Monica Keena is here, weaving through the crowd with her 35mm still camera. Around her face are signs of abuse. Scratches and smudges camp out on her cheeks. Her clothes are torn. She tells us some of it is part of her Halloween costume in the film. “My outfits in these movies always seem to be the same,” she jokes. We’re not going to complain about her complimenting attire. “I’m always wearing beat up jeans and a white tight little shirt that’s see-through. I saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with Jessica Biel and she’s in the same thing.” Okay, but what about the photography? A hobby. In fact, her work is displayed in a Los Angeles gallery in January.

Keena’s a mellow one. Enthusiastic about her craft and more than happy to talk about her part in another horror flick after 2003′s Freddy vs. Jason. In Demons, the actress plays Maddie, roommate to Luther and Baird’s Suzanne and Lily, respectively.

“She’s the dry, sarcastic and smartest one of the gang,” Keena grins. “I’m dragged along to this party. I run into my ex-boyfriend there who’s played by Ed Furlong. He’s into drugs and this night just turns into a disaster…then it turns into another disaster.” Although it’s still early in the shoot, the actress is looking forward to getting into the scenes from the latter half of the film. “I have to get progressively tougher and tougher. What I love about the script is it says I get into Rambo mode. I’ve got brass knuckles at one point and a gun. I’m excited to do a lot of the action and stunt stuff.”

“I liked the writing,” she continues, singing praise for Gierasch and Anderson’s script. “For a horror movie, I thought it was human and realistic as opposed to being hokey, over-the-top and ridiculous. It’s real people in a bizarro situation. We’re playing it real. It’s funny at the same time, but we’re not caricatures. I’ve seen the original and when I got this job, I re-watched it. It’s still a pretty cool, iconic classic horror movie which got me excited to do this remake.”

The actress is called away and this writer wanders down by the trailers parked next to a pizzeria that was used, days earlier, to house the party scene extras. I run across two Catholic school employees who mistake me for a crew member and inquire about the parking issue. When I clarify I’m not on the crew but rather visiting the set, they ask with curiosity: “So, what are they shooting here?”

“A horror film,” I respond to which the older gentleman of the pair queries with concern spreading across his brow: “What’s it called?”

“Night of the Demons.”

The two exchange a glance, maybe in silent prayer. “Oh,” says the man and they head back for the school. I continue on. Shannon Elizabeth is coming out of make-up and this is the first we’ve seen of her tapping into a dark side. Her attire is a Hot Topic employee’s fantasy. Boots. Choker. Fishnets. Sexy, no doubt about it. Dyed red locks fight for attention in her raven black hair.

“This role is different and fun,” she tells us. “I like doing things where people might not recognize me at first.” Elizabeth, unfamiliar with Tenney’s film, or for that matter Kinkade’s performance, is making Angela entirely her own. “I perceive her as this club promoter party girl. I know a lot of people who do this, but she’s one of these people who’s not good at handling money. She’s broke and she’s going to throw this big Halloween party, her last shot at getting money before she’s tossed out on the street.”

The party, as we all know at this point, gets canned and “some of the group gets locked within the gates of the house,” Elizabeth adds. “They explore and there are a lot of tales about this house. Ghost stories and bodies never found. The group is trying to find different things. One guy is a drug dealer and he stashed his drugs, so he’s trying to find them. Other people are looking for a way out. In the process they come across what they think are the bodies of the ‘Legend of the Broussard House.’ [Angela] thinks this is going to make her famous.”

Elizabeth responded to Demons‘ level of FX. Yes, she has experienced her share of latex and foam rubber in Thirteen Ghosts and Cursed but “I was the innocent good girl and I’m not really the innocent good girl in this.” She says this with a sinister yet coy tone. It’s no secret to fans that Angela undergoes a demonic metamorphosis and the team at Drac has taken molds of Elizabeth’s head and teeth which guarantees we’ll be seeing her in an altered, hideous visage. Just not yet.

“The only reason I haven’t done it so far is because the scenes that I’ve shot, they needed me as me and me as the demon at the same time, or almost at the same time,” she explains. This conundrum was remedied by hiring stunt performer Simone Bargetze who is also going into the make-up chair to double as Demon Angela for the more rigorous scenes. “They didn’t have time for me to go sit for five hours of prosthetics and then come back. Simone looks amazing, but I’m looking forward [to getting into make-up]. I want to do it once. I don’t know if I want to do it more than once,” Elizabeth laughs. “[Simone] sits there for five hours getting all done up and then the poor girl…you see her with these claws on. She can’t do anything. She needed help going to the bathroom and eating. What do you do once you’re in all of that?”

Indeed, what can you do? Walk the dog, apparently. We spy Simone in running sneakers, pants and a t-shirt taking a stroll with her speckled canine down the street – but her head, hands and forearms have been completely demonized. Elizabeth assures us the demons do much more like “kill and eat people. Your teeth and nails grow. You get horns and a tail. You become very powerful and strong. Oh, and you can transfer the demon like an STD. One of the guys calls it an STDD: A Sexually Transmitted Demon Disease.”

That anacronym comes courtesy of comic relief Michael Copon, playing Dex, who greets us in half-demon guise (contacts, claws). “I’ve always wanted to play a demon,” he says and hams it up, giving us a taste of his dangerous side. “The full demon allows me to be another character completely. I envision him to be like a gorilla. He’ll have his shoulders back like a gorilla and he moves like a panther and moves his head like a snake. I put that together to be the Dex Demon. I want him to be creepy and animal-like.”

“This movie is so unique because it’s almost like bringing back the original horror style of the ’80s,” he continues. “Comical horror but with a twist. It’ll be interesting to see how [audiences] react to this because you’ll get people who loved that first film and that whole era of horror films. Then you’re going to get the new kids that are ready to see any horror film. It’s still gory, but a lot of times too many horror films go for the gross out. This keeps it a bit humorous.”

Also bringing a little levity to both the film and the filming is Bobbi Sue Luther, fresh off of producing and acting duties in Rob Hall’s Laid to Rest. The blonde, blue-eyed firecracker regales us with a story of one scene that had the crew in fits of laughter. “I’m putting aloe vera on my crotch and I went right in there,” she mimics this by rubbing her hand furiously by her waistline. “Adam was like, You’re just applying it gently. It was funny because I was making a face and the crew was appreciative of my enthusiasm.” Right on.

As Suzanne, Luther admits she doesn’t do anything special with her lipstick, as Linnea Quigley’s character had done in the original – another character takes that honor. Still, Suzanne will go through plenty before the night is over. “To stay alive in this place, my character – my perspective on her – all the dark stuff that’s going on, she’s almost turned on by it. She’s excited by it. A lot of other people are freaking out a bit more. She’s definitely freaking out because all of the stuff in the folklore she’s grown up with. When it comes down to it, it’s more of the adrenaline excitement as opposed to the sheer terror excitement that’s driving her through the scenes.”

As wife of Hall, who’s head of Almost Human FX, would Luther say her man’s a tad jealous that another shop is doing her first major make-up effects transformation? “He feels a little bit like someone who’s sending his child off to the first day of kindergarten. He really like the guys at Drac and loves their work, so if anyone is going to do it, he’s happy they are. Plus, he knows the makeup artists that are coming out. It’s a small incestuous business, they all know each other.” But that’s the least of her jitters. She’s found out Gierasch and Anderson has written her three new pages of dialogue. “It’s new, totally fresh. So, I’m a bit nervous about it. But I’m excited because it sets up the entire back story.”

A bucket of blood sits in an upstairs bedroom. We’re making our final rounds inside the Luling. Furlong, Beach and Keena are getting gored up by the makeup and wardrobe department. The actors are instructed to just “dip their hands in.” Beach is the eager one and he sinks his mitts in up to his elbow. Keena’s next, she doesn’t seem to mind. It’s Furlong who’s hesitant. Eventually, he takes the plunge with a sarcastic sneer.

Gierasch supervises and nods, “They have to look like they’ve been through a battle.” He leads us into the next room. There’s a book of storyboards sitting by the monitors and we thumb through them getting glimpses of various awesome demon attacks. They’re sophisticated and Gierasch is determined to transcend expectations. “I understand why people get down on remakes but some of the absolute great films were inspired by a story,” he says. “For this movie, it’s such a classic story, Night of the Demons one, two, three, Demons one and two, Evil Dead one and two, Night of the Living Dead all the way back to Last Man on Earth. These are people trapped in settings. This one just so happens to have the title Night of the Demons with a character named Angela in it.

He holds a beat. A big smile forming beneath his mustache. “Not to take things too seriously, this is supposed to be a fun movie, that’s all it’s supposed to be. Just a balls-to-the-wall punk rock horror film that would be great to watch with your buddies really loud on a widescreen TV set. Or go to the theater and have a couple of drinks. I think people are going to have fun with it.”

Source: Ryan Rotten