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Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Demon Lover Diary (1980)

My notes on the documentary.

It’s worth mentioning at the outset that ten years after the troubled shoot of his debut feature The Demon Lover, Donald G. Jackson began a writing-directing-producing career in schlock – just about the only film of his to have anything like a profile is Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988) – that included forty-odd feature credits … because the guy we see here seems like a complete no-hoper, timid to the point of passive-aggression, overshadowed by a blowhard collaborator-star (Jerry Younkins, aka Christmas Robbins) who puts down the project as ‘junk’, chided by an unseen wife and a seen mother for going into debt to finance the film, and fired from his factory job for making a movie (and giving interviews about it) while on sick leave.  That the thrust of this fly-on-the-wall documentary would seem to be that Jackson is a near-tragic figure doesn’t jibe with the fact that he did go on to be a filmmaker rather than a shift-worker opens up one of several areas of debate about this entertaining, revealing and often horrific look at a mode of moviemaking which was proliferating in the ‘70s as those inspired by George Romero, Wes Craven, David Cronenberg and Tobe Hooper began to put together their little regional horror films in the hope of landing a major release … only to turn out messes which nevertheless played drive-ins and then fed the product-hungry maw of homevideo in the 1980s.  Many more Demon Lovers are thrown together these days on DV in equally chaotic circumstances and with even more dire results, and one or two documentaries (American Movie and Zombie Girl, for instance) are catching up with the potential for true-life comedy drama in such efforts.

 

In 1975, cinematographer Jeff Kreines, newly graduated from an MIT filmmaking program, was asked by Jackson to shoot his little horror film in Michigan, and agreed to do it for expenses only on the condition that his girlfriend Joel DeMott film a documentary about the process … which, reluctantly, Jackson agreed to, though I’d imagine he came to rue the day, even more than Kreines and DeMott, who eventually fled the production (shots were fired) before its completion, though they had the footage for this as compensation.  All these years on, it’s possible to feel that the just-graduated, metropolitan Joel and Jeff – and their pal Mark Rance, latterly a maker of DVD extras like The Magnolia Diary and The Making of Anastasia, but here a bearded grin with a lecherous gleam – are somewhat snobbish in their attitudes to middle America, where they feel stranded … though there are moments of casual racism and sexism from the locals that are more shocking now, and even a strange ethnographic angle in the way the incomers are surprised at how early their hosts got married and how they all seem to have come to complex post-divorce arrangements a few years on.  Joel nudges Mark into chatting up an eighteen-year-old actress, in a manner which is borderline sweet but also creepy – it’s one of the few thematic overlaps with The Demon Lover, a Manson-inspired cult shocker in which the evil guru (played by Younkins) tries to talk an acolyte into sex for ritual purposes (though DLD reveals that the actress playing the role is only fourteen).  Funny mishaps happen, but what DeMott mostly catches is waiting around on set while time is being wasted – a typical moviemaking experience, though exacerbated by the sense of time and money running out for what was supposed to be a two-week shoot.

 

Some of the drama – especially in the prickly relationship of Jackson and Younkins (who is part-funding the film with compensation after losing a finger in an industrial accident) – takes place in ellipses, and the horrific home stretch features a fiendish cameo from rock star Ted Nugent and his gun/hunting trophy collection which plainly spooks DeMott and an argument over where candles should be put on the set as Younkins harangues Kreines into quitting while Jackson stands and squirms and doesn’t intervene even as the guy who’s a liability is forcing one of the few professionals on the shoot off the film (presumably because he can just about replace a cinematographer but is stuck with Younkins as a lead actor).  Demon Lover, after all, isn’t as bad as this suggests it might be – it has some interest as (along with Equinox) an outlier of the in-joke heavy fan-turned-pro style of moviemaking that proliferated in the ‘80s thanks to the likes of Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski, but it’s also notably not in the same league as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or The Evil Dead, despite having essentially the same sort of resources to play with.  There’s certainly a feminist reading of the way DeMott is treated – Jackson first wants her to stay home and answer phones – but she also takes advantage of being seen as someone’s girlfriend to get a kind of invisible access … and she doesn’t always paint a flattering portrait of herself or Kreines (she films him in floppy y-fronts, on the toilet and having an extreme tantrum after whipped cream gets on his lens) even as she zeroes in on the other oddballs on the Demon Lover crew.

 

A (pretty poor) youtube transfer of Demon Lover Diary.

 

Also, for balance, an (even worse) video rip of The Demon Lover.

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