Demon Warrior 1988 Review
Demon Warrior 1988
Directed by: Frank Patterson
Starring: Wiley M. Pickett, Leslie Mullin, John Langione
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It didn’t take too long after Halloween had kicked off the slasher boom for the category to be cursed by continuous mediocrity. As early as 1983 the genre was already struggling to release more than a handful of decent offerings per year and by ’90 the stalk and slash flick had become pretty much the whipping boy of horror cinema. By that time major studios were all aware that repeating the tired formula was no longer a lucrative direction, which left it up to independent and mostly inexperienced filmmakers to continue the legacy that John Carpenter had created. Although there was still an impressive number of features hitting shelves in 88, most of them were weakly produced and taken as a whole it was surprising that there were a fair few gems amongst the rubble. Scott Spiegel’s Intruder in its uncut form was a superb gross out classic, whilst Evil Dead Trap proved that the cycle had not yet completely run out of style and panache. William Lustig’s Maniac Cop was successful enough to launch a franchise and we haven’t yet mentioned Hardcover.
It was the continual release of schlock like Blood Lake, Deadly Dreams and The Last Slumber Party that cursed the slasher movie to eight years of obscurity. It finally took the big budgeted flamboyance of Wes Craven’s Screamto provide the necessary resuscitation. Having not heard anything about Demon Warrior before I came across it unexpectedly, I instantly assumed that it was part of the low brow trash that led to the downfall of the slasher phase. But with that said the movie boasts an intriguing premise that sits comfortably beside Scalps and Camping Del Terrore as another welcome addition to the Native-American influenced catalogue.
A truck pulls up on a woodland road and out step two laughably dramatised rednecks. The hillbilly lumberjacks are only on screen for around for ten seconds and then they are murdered by an unseen menace. Next we meet a troupe of five young adults that are heading to the same location for a spot of shotgun-target-practice on some of the local wildlife. The area is owned by Neil Willard and has been passed down through three generations of his family. His Grandfather stole the land from an Indian medicine man that was rumoured to have left a curse on the property. According to legend, every ten years a Demon Warrior with an extreme hatred for mankind stalks the forest reaping revenge on those he deems responsible for the pilfering of the tribe’s home. It wouldn’t be much fun if those myths were a falsehood, so regular as clockwork a maniacal assassin turns up with a taste for blood. Will the kids be able to stop this phantom killer…?
Demon Warrior is best described as a bigger budgeted (but still woefully cheap) re-imaging of Fred Olen Ray’s Scalps. The bogeymen from both films are virtually identical and the director even throws in a scalping sequence to confirm my suspicions. Things start promisingly with some crisp Friday the 13th-style first-person cinematography and a couple of shock-jolts that were composed with finesse by director Frank Patterson. Thomas Callaway did a good job with the photography and the tribal-drum score makes a refreshing change from the more traditional late-eighties synthesizer rubbish. Flourishes of suspense are juxtaposed with a couple of credible directorial embellishments and there are even a few attempts at humour. The killer looked successfully creepy in demon attire and the inclusion of a bow and arrow as the main murder weapon was a deft touch from the director.
Fred Olen Ray’s notorious slasher was notable for its stark and credibly unsettling atmosphere. Unfortunately despite being produced on twice the budget, Demon Warrior never comes close to the film that it so desperately emulates. Rumour has it that the majority of the actors were drafted from the Texas Baylor University and were not even paid for their inclusion in the feature. Of course it goes without saying that the dramatics are appropriately abysmal. I especially enjoyed the hilarious John Langione – an ‘Italian’ Native American (don’t ask) that portrays about as much emotion as the trees in the forest that surrounded him. Warrior started with some credible glimpses of panache from the director that actually led me to believe that this could be a welcome inclusion to the slasher index. Unfortunately, the poisonous cocktail of limp dialogue and an ending plucked directly from stupidsville seriously changed the initial plan I had in mind for a rating. It’s a shame that the dramatics were so scraped from the bottom of the thespian barrel, because at times Demon Warrior showed flashes of potential.
All in all, Patterson’s movie is a mixed bag of ideas – some of them were good, but mostly they were staggeringly mediocre. Because this was released at a time when the slasher genre had been watered down to avoid the scissor happy censors, there’s really no gore worth mentioning. Even the scalping sequence is relatively tame compared to Olen Ray’s graphic depiction. It may not be quite as bad as the aforementioned Deadly Dreams, Blood Lake et al, but not really THAT good either….
Final Girl: √√