Demon Wind

5 out of 5

Directed by: Charles Philip Moore

In the annals of dumb horror movies, there are those that are just plain dumb, and many of those now form the baseline or backbone of our B-movie fandom, the “so bad it’s good” effect. Perhaps responding to that, there are those flicks that try to lean in to their dumbness, hoping to effect some kind of smart-dumb vibe; this is very hard to pull off, and only a select few – a lot are cult favorites – sneaked through successfully. Somewhere in that scale are those movies that are purely dumb, are able to lean into that dumbness sans pretense, and – most importantly – are actually competently made. “Competently,” in this context, is surely also something that can be rated varyingly, but I suppose I mean that you can take a cheap budget and effects, and work with them to the best of your ability. And then you make Demon Wind, a 1990 horror flick which falls into that ‘competent dumb’ camp, and nips and nabs from all of our favorites – some Night of the Living dead, lots of Evil Dead, maybe a touch of Children of the Corn, and sprinkle it with some Carpenter music – while sticking to its dumb guns the whole damn while.

The setup of a group of young adults visiting the seemingly cursed farm of Cory’s (Eric Larson) recently deceased grandfather is as thin and generic as it gets – cue old guy warning about the farm; include one oddball and one jock type amongst the group – and the film hardly tries to supply an exact reason why Cory needs his friends along with him for the trip, but as soon as we get to said farm, writer / director Charles Philip Moore starts pushing things in an off-the-beaten-path direction: skulls are discovered on the land and transmute memories of past, evil events to Cory; the main building looks like a wreck from the outside – missing walls and the whole lot – but is fully intact once inside; and in both of these cases, no one really bats an eye. Heck, the movie has started working its charms prior to this, even, because that oddball friend? He’s a magician, showing up to the scene in a grand entrance and proffering magic-appeared doves and flowers. Why? No reason. Same reason he does karate kicks to scare off the jock dude.

Things inside the house do the moving-on-their-own shtick, and Cory tells all of his freaked out friends they’re free to go, but he’s staying! – he says, as he joins them in leaving. (There’s plenty of great dialogue like this.) Alas, the cars won’t start, so they pledge to walk it back to the closest gas station, only for a cloud of fog (demonic wind, perhaps?) to deposit them back at the farm. Not before transferring them to some random location prior to that, though, for just a moment. Why? Uh huh.

The movie delightfully follows its whims wherever it wants, but does find a throughline with witches and angels and demons and a book of spells. The gore isn’t necessarily great – lots of goop pouring out of mouths – but the Demon Wind crew goes for it with gusto, giving us kicked off heads and melted bodies and a goddamned dude-in-a-full-suit creature towards the end. The jump scares are actually really solid because the flick has willfully gone into weird and dreamlike territory, meaning we can have stationary objects suddenly pop out at us and they’re legitimately doing so – it’s not a fake out; similarly, the ending gets good mileage out of this, pulling a couple of tricks that, in less committed movies, would result in us just rolling our eyes, but totally land here.

In finding the line between a great and amazing movie – this being the latter – it really is that commitment to its own dumbness, and the competency. No one is making a masterpiece, but Charles Philip Moore and his crew are trying to make the best, trashy, goopy horror flick they can, and that dedication gives him the leverage to push things into unexpectedly kooky directions, resulting in a 90-minute blast that I’m surprised isn’t seated higher up in the echelon of all-time cult hits.