Never Cry Devil (1989): Snuggle up with Satan

Matty gets a cuddle from Ol’ Scratch, courtesy of Rupert Hitzig’s homey shocker.

Written as a deliberately trashy and nasty horror flick designed to cash-in on ‘80s America’s favourite moral panic, Satanism, credited scripter Randal Viscovich got the shock of his life when NEVER CRY DEVIL finally came to fruition. Fashioned as a not entirely serious amalgam of Rear Window (1954), Soylent Green (1973), Craze (1974), Race with the Devil (1975), Bloodsucking Freaks (1976), The Evil Dead (1981), and Body Double (1984) that could be made for $200,000, genre nut Viscovich’s screenplay was originally mounted under the stewardship of David A. Prior’s money man, Richard Corey. Alas, Corey’s bankruptcy sank that iteration of the project. Instead, Never Cry Devil — then called ‘The Boy Who Cried Devil’ — landed in the lap of Wolfen (1981) and Jaws 3D (1983) producer Rupert Hitzig, who was looking to make his directorial debut with, wouldn’t ya know, a lil’ horror movie priced at the million-or-less mark. However, there was a caveat: the company financing Never Cry Devil, Premiere Pictures (an Australian outfit who’d produced Brian Trenchard-Smith’s BMX Bandits (1983) and Karl Zwicky’s criminally underseen Contagion (1987)), wanted it softened. As Viscovich told author Francesco Borseti in 2016: 

“The producer, Alain Silver, was the axe-man for [Premiere]. I found Alain to be a nice guy, at least to me… [but] he was told by the executives to “water down” the script. So Alain and his writing partner Bruce Kimmel went to work. Everything related to cannibalism was removed. Every four-lettered word was removed. All excessive violence was removed. Anything considered crude or obscene was removed. Basically, I was baffled. Premiere had bought a grindhouse screenplay, but wanted to make The Sound of Music (1965)!” [1]

Of course, despite Never Cry Devil’s ultimate form being no more than a fairly cozy Fright Night (1985) riff that replaces a vampire with a Satan-worshipping serial killer, there’s still a few ragged edges that’ll appease those craving something seamy. The most prominent are the unashamedly exploitative nods to Richard Ramirez, with the use of a blood-drawn pentagram in the aftermath of an otherwise coyly staged moment of sex and death invoking the then-on-trial psycho’s horrific ‘Night Stalker’ murders — an allusion furthered by the film’s homophonous U.S. title, ‘Night Visitor’ [2]. The rest of it, though — as already stated, it’s cozy. But that’s OK. Never Cry Devil is an enjoyable bit of matinee macabre. Just consider the teensy bit of skin and blood on show a bonus. 

Derek Rydall (best known as the eponymous ghoul from from Richard Friedman’s nifty Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge (1989)) stars as a fib-happy high schooler whose relentless porkies bite him on the backside when he has to convince his Mam, his friends, and the local police force that his uptight history teacher, Mr. Willard (Allen Garfield), is, in fact, a murderous disciple of the dark lord.

Shot in twenty days and benefiting from Hitzig’s spirited direction, Never Cry Devil boasts solid tech credentials and a wealth of colourful performances. In regards to the former, Parmer Fuller’s score is delicious, full of Omen (1976)-esque chanting that dovetails nicely with the playful passages of spooky, candle-lit mumbo-jumbo captured by Steadicam specialist Peter Jensen’s gliding cinematography. And as for the latter, well, what do you expect from a supporting ensemble that features: Shannon Tweed as a sexy, doomed neighbour; Richard Roundtree as a gruff detective; and Garfield’s Nashville (1975) castmates Henry Gibson and Elliot Gould as a psychologist and the frazzled ex-cop equivalent of Roddy McDowall’s part in the aforementioned Fright Night? [3] The standout, mind, is Garfield. Gleefully sinking his teeth into the role’s ‘Ed Rooney from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) by way of a Scooby Doo villain’ schtick, he is, quite simply, brilliant — especially in the scenes that find him bouncing off quirky bit-parter par excellence Michael J. Pollard (as his idiot brother/minion). Their interplay is very funny indeed and convincingly presents their sibling dynamic, where they’re at once caring yet massively irritated by each other.

USA ● 1989 ● Horror ● 93mins

Derek Rydall, Allen Garfield, Elliot Gould, Michael J. Pollard ● Dir. Rupert Hitzig Wri. Randal Viscovich

[1] It Came From the ‘80s: Interviews with 124 Cult Filmmakers by Francesco Borseti, 2016, McFarland & Company, Inc. Incidentally, both Silver and Kimmel appear in Never Cry Devil as a pair of detectives.
[2] A moniker that, amazingly, distributor MGM/UA thought was less problematic than anything with ‘devil’ in it.
[3] Interestingly, Gibson would tread similar tongue-in-cheek, suburban terror terrain as the antagonist in Joe Dante’s released-the-same-year The ‘Burbs.

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