D: Demon Wind (1990)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but… awwwww crap I used that lede for Assignment Terror didn’t I?

Well, you have heard this one before, because what you have here is the classic setup for what Joe Bob Briggs famously dubbed a “Spam in a cabin movie”. Not that there’s anything wrong with spam in a cabin movies. Hell, I wrote one. But I am also pleased to report that in this case, we have a movie that is determined to not just be another spam in a cabin movie.

We have a guy, Cory (Eric Larson) who is driving to the Middle of Nowhere with his girlfriend Elaine (Francine Lapensee) to a deserted farm somewhere just past the Middle of Nowhere. Cory had found his estranged father just two weeks before – his dad had disappeared after checking into the mysterious deaths of his parents at that farm – and after the subsequent suicide of Estranged Dad, Cory is going to find out what’s what. And since this is a spam in a cabin movie, Cory has invited along a bunch of friends who will serve as the potted meat product.

First, though we have to stop at the Middle of Nowhere Gas Station and Diner, to be menaced by this movie’s Harbinger (Rufus Norris), who bluntly tells them there is no farm and to go away. (Honestly, this guy might have served as a model for the character in Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods) As more friends arrive and gather in the diner (which oddly seems to be much bigger on the inside than out), the Harbinger ramps up his menace, finally pulling a gun and threatening them if they don’t leave and go back home. This leads to a cathartic confession from the Harbinger about the night that Cory’s grandparents died, after which the Harbinger admits the gun isn’t even loaded and becomes downright human.

This deviation from the spam in a cabin template, the humanizing of a traditionally one-note character is the first indication that Demon Wind might have a few more tricks up its sleeve than your typical Evil Dead cash-in.

We already know how the grandparents died because we watched the beginning of the movie, and it wasn’t good, so its time for our 8-pack of Spam to finally find what’s left of the farm. Only the ruined facades of the cabin and barn (that blowed up real good) still stand. Oh, and a skeleton tied to a cross.

The cabin’s facade holds the next interesting twist: basically just a wall and a doorframe, looking through the door lets you see and even enter an intact cabin, apparently maintained by the magic of Cory’s grandmother. This will become important since the cars will no longer start, and attempting to leave on foot results in a mysterious fog that transports our cast to different locations, ending back up at the farm.

So we have a bunch of people boarding up a cabin that does not exactly exist, and we get to winnowing down our chopping list. This all has something to do with Cory’s lineage – that plotline gets pretty berserk – there’s a zombie siege (of course) and oddly enough, two of the Daggers of Megiddo from The Omen. Even odder, they seem to be single-use weapons.

I love Spam! I’m having Spam Spam Spam Spam actress and Spam!”

There are parts of Demon Wind that play out like the sizzle reel to raise funding – the whole spam in a cabin thing, the zombie siege (“kids love zombies!”), the stuff modeled on obvious, profitable hits. Then there are the parts where writer/director Charles Philip Moore wants to show he can stretch the envelope on these things. Talking about those times any further would rob you of the fun of discovering them on your own. And you knew if you were going to watch this movie by the second paragraph of this review.

The movie comes so close to being a hidden gem. There are drawbacks, of course, most of them budgetary (oy that animation); the script deals in stereotypes, sort of a stylistic necessity in a story that deals in wall-to-wall murders, but the women seem particularly underwritten. Still, it’s a very good attempt to not exactly transcend the genre, but stretch it out in interesting directions. I’ll take interesting variations over rote repetition any day.

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