Fueled by the success of the Friday the 13th and the Evil Dead franchises, the cabin-in-the-woods motif has become a staple of the modern horror movie. Sometimes it’s played for gore, as in Cabin Fever, and sometimes it generates real horror, as in Misery, but the trope itself is one of the most recognizable in cinematic history, even garnering a parody, simply called The Cabin in the Woods, which turned out to be one of the best movies of 2012. Because of its familiarity, however, the archetype is usually played for laughs, even way back when it was in its infancy in 1990 and Demon Wind was made.
Demon Wind is about a young man named Cory (Eric Larson from Uninvited) who travels to a secluded farm with a group of his friends in an effort to find out what happened to his grandparents who lived on the property sixty years earlier and disappeared under suspicious circumstances. The group is met right away by a burned out skeleton on a cross, and things only get creepier when they start to see ghostly images around the grounds of people dressed in old-time clothing. They try to leave, but none of their cars will start, and a mysterious fog – a demon wind, if you will (so it’s not just a clever name) – rolls in and strands them there. The gang retreats to the decrepit house on the property, which seems to be the safest place, since anyone who is caught outside by the demonic figures is killed and turned into a demon themselves. They try to wait out the night, but something bigger is coming for them, and soon enough, Cory learns the horrible truth about what happened to his grandparents.
Written and directed by Charles Philip Moore (Angel of Destruction, Dance with Death), Demon Wind is typical of the low-budget schlock movies that were being made at the tail end of the eighties. It’s got a thin story which is held together by banal dialogue, idiotic character decisions, and plenty of first-rate gore. It’s not poorly made by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have the tone and feel of a movie that was tossed together by a bunch of friends with a camera who happened to have access to a spooky location. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Demon Wind is the epitome of the cabin-in-the-woods movie. It rips pages right out of the Evil Dead book by having its characters get possessed one-by-one by the demonic force, thereby also owing a debt to the slasher movie formula as well. It also, at times, becomes a Night of the Living Dead/Assault on Precinct 13-style siege movie, with the demons taking up position outside the farmhouse and trying to break in through the boarded-up windows and doors. The titular Demon Wind, the rolling fog that traps Cory and his friends at the farm, is also reminiscent of movies like The Mist and, well, The Fog. Demon Wind is a smorgasbord movie that still manages to retain its own identity.
And the cabin-in-the-woods motif is not the only one that’s at play in Demon Wind; it uses every horror trope in the book. Some are story decisions, like the dead car batteries that keep the kids from leaving the property, or the tales of the occult and black magic that surround the old farm. Some are filmmaking choices, like the showing of the demonic intruders in cloudy silhouette as they approach the cabin. Cory’s friends represent every single horror character archetype imaginable, including the nerd, the jock, the slut, and the prude. Much of the acting is, for lack of a better term, Shatner-esque in its noticeably unsubtle presentation, bringing to mind the melodramatic B-movies of the fifties and sixties. Again, despite all of these influences and tributes, Demon Wind does not feel like a rip off, or at least not any more of a rip off than any other cabin-in-the-woods movie.
In true eighties horror movie fashion, the special makeup effects in Demon Wind are awesome, thanks to the small army of effects artists who worked on the film. The gore gags range from bloody beheadings to total evisceration, and it’s all goopy, gooey fun. In one scene, one of Cory’s friends karate-kicks a zombie demon’s head clean off in a hilarious show of machismo. The final boss demon showdown features a couple of really cool full-head creature makeup designs that look like they were lifted right out of Nightbreed. And, with the exception of a little bit of rotoscoping, all of the effects in Demon Wind are practical, in-camera effects, just as they should be in a zany late-eighties horror movie.
In a world where isolated cabins in the woods are the go-to settings for horror movies, Demon Wind has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle. Truth be told, for as much fun as it is, it’s not one of the higher quality movies of its time. But it’s not one of the worst either. And it’s as entertaining as they come.