Tenney for your Thoughts: Soul of the Demon (1991)

Despite its derivative nature, Dave argues that Charles Lang’s excellent SOV flick warrants a little attention.

“SOV movies, with their eye-catching and garish covers,” wrote Richard Mogg in his book Analog Nightmares: The Shot on Video Horror Films of 1982-1995. “They were designed to get your attention, but there was a dangerous magic of shot-on-video horror – you never really knew what you were going to get.”

With its murky, nondescript artwork, SOUL OF THE DEMON certainly didn’t see the memo in respect to the VHS case — although its vague one-line synopsis certainly feeds the notion of having no clue regarding what you’re letting yourself in for. As it happens, it’s one of the best SOV’rs of the era. 

Joey (Sky Daniel) and Toby (Garry Godfrey) are two pesky mid-teens who enjoy bunking off school, biking through the Nevada desert, and digging up gargoyles to unwittingly unleash a murderous demon. Well, at least that’s what the old man (Harold Allen) who appears out of nowhere tells them they’ve done. It’s not until Joey’s brother, Josh (John Bonito), assembles his friends for a Halloween night séance in an abandoned house that things go a little crazy – and before you can say ‘Kevin S. Tenney’, people start dying in the most gratuitous fashion. 

An unapologetic riff on Night of the Demons (1988) this may be, but don’t hold that against it, because in terms of style, wit and, eventually, gore, Soul of the Demon is a homage that warrants a great deal of praise. Writer-director Chuck Lang went on to form a highly successful production company, but it’s clear he had a copious amount of filmmaking ability, at ease with dolly zooms and adept at layering shots with atmosphere and dread. For the grue, a tip of the hat is warranted in the direction of Robert Bagy, who coats the final two reels of this Nevadan nightmare with lashings of blood and impressive D-I-Y make-up work, including an eyeball skewering that would make Lucio Fulci proud. 

Joey’s mates and their matching mullets are a fairly indistinguishable lot, but a few self-referential lines (“You’ve all seen seances in horror films, right?”) go a long way to endearing these soon-to-be-corpses – even if they utter “dude!” more often than Bill and Ted combined. Meanwhile, young Joey has a little bit of an A. Michael Baldwin/Phantasm (1979) vibe about him, and his bedroom is decked out in everything the set dresser could nab from the local video store, including posters of The Blob (1988) and Halloween IV (1988).

Clocking in at an ideal seventy-eight minutes, Soul of the Demon has more craft than many of its bigger budgeted peers and, regarding preservation, it deserves a physical media release if only to showcase SOV at its highest echelon. 

USA ● 1991 ● Horror ● 78mins

Sky Daniel, Garry Godfrey, Harold Allen, John Bonito ● Dir./Wri. Charles Lang

Artwork courtesy of VHS Collector

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