The video boom in the 1980s led to opening the floodgates for professional, independent, and amateur filmmakers alike. You no longer needed to rent a theatre or a sign a television deal to get your movie seen and even with the most minimal of funds you could string a story together, find some friends, maybe hire a couple of models, toss in some blood and boobs and you pretty much had a high possibility of getting onto the video rental shelves of most every video store. The glorious mom and pop video shoppe days, how they've disappeared forever. One such amateur with an idea, Donald Farmer, took the plunge with less than $2000 after he had visited plenty of movie sets such as Romero's Day of the Dead working as a journalist for magazines such as Fangoria deciding he could make his own movie. So with the help of Rick Gonzales, one of Savini's effects hands on Day of the Dead, he started off an underground career with 1986's Demon Queen.
Lucinda (Mary Fanaro, Truth or Dare? A Critical Madness) is a succubus. Her thirst for blood is so strong she's on a spree seducing all around her in order to satisfy her insatiable desires. Unable to remain in one place for too long she's constantly on the run. Jesse (Dennis Stewart), a local second-hand hustler selling cocaine on the street, is in a bit of trouble. He owes a couple of grand to a small-time gangster by the name of Izzi, who is extremely short in stature and bears a resemblance to Chuck Norris if he had the body of Danny DeVito, and if he doesn't pay up soon Izzi's henchman Bone (Cliff Dance) is gonna cut an inch off your dick for every grand you owe us. So as luck would have it, Lucinda happens to be taking a stroll near the scuffle as Bone begins to rough up Jesse.
After chowing down on the jugular of Bone and scaring off Izzi, Lucinda manages to befriend Jesse, who appears oblivious to what just happened and the fact that Lucinda is a murderess. After posing the question that she needs a place to crash for a couple of days Jesse is happy to offer her lodging since she just saved his life. Although his cocaine-snorting girlfriend may not be too happy about having the beautiful and voluptuous Lucinda staying over. Soon Jesse is having erotically charged dreams where he's seduced by Lucinda as she forces him to motorboat her breasts, but after the brief sexual ecstasy he is thrown on his back and has his heart torn out. Wet dreams can be so cruel sometimes.
During the day Lucinda sneaks out and feasts while Jesse tries to stay out of trouble. The only problem is that trouble seems to be following him as strange things begin happening. Those around him are dying by what appears to be having their throats bit open. But Lucinda's victims don't stay dead and soon these undead need to feast themselves to feed their blood hunger. Can Jesse manage to avoid Lucinda and find out what is happening and that she is infact the Demon Queen, or will he succumb to the sexual hypnosis of Lucinda's assets or fall at the hands of her undead army?
Donald Farmer's first feature film, or video I guess, only clocks in at 54 minutes and 31 seconds. Its actual story is even shorter as both the opening and end credits eat up 8 minutes of screen time. So if things go South you needn't worry about wasting too much time. Demon Queen's thread-bare plot stretches pasts its available elasticity where scenes go on as if played out in real time. If the credits were any indication for eating up time the early dream sequence involving Jesse and Lucinda lasts about as long as a real dream would. Shot over 3 days in Miami, Florida, the rushed production is padded even further after the first cut was likely only a half an hour with scenes shot at a Nashville video store where mismatched couples renting Make Them Die Slowly! discuss the local murders with the store staff. Demon Queen is pretty slow paced and there's not a whole lot of action to wake the viewer from the slumber it could potentially induce.
That's not to say that Demon Queen is a completely terrible Z-grade SOV horror film. Donald Farmer directs the amateur, and mostly unpaid cast (except those who bared their breasts) with enough competence that the characters are surprisingly well realized despite being one-dimensional stereotypes. The Casio keyboard-esque synth score by Jan Haflin is also better than most low-budget bargain bin synth scores. The riffs and melodies are surprisingly catchy and layered, with bass lines overtop of lead rhythms and keyboard drums. And the variance between catchy synth-pop and moody atmosphere is quite welcome. Although when the pitch bend is thrown in every single instrument succumbs to the dip or raise in pitch which is pretty hilarious the few times it's heard. It's too bad Haflin didn't score any other 80's no-budget SOVs as he'd probably be pretty well known if he had gotten more, or any other, video score work.
Demon Queen's biggest positive, besides the fairly abundant nudity, is the practical effects by Rick Gonzales who here replicates the signature Romero-esque zombie bite when Lucinda lunges for her victims' throats. The way the skin stretches and rips looks surprisingly realistic and the quality of the fake blood is dark translucent crimson, much closer to real life than the ketchup-esque blood you'd find in most every other SOV film. And in the final act of the film, when the undead start to deteriorate the skull-faced make-up is quite bloody, gross, and effective. If only they had hired Rick Gonzales to do Skeletor's make-up in the horribly entertaining atrocity that was the Masters of the Universe live-action film. Unfortunately most of these positives aren't going to stop the Demon Queen from sucking the life out of the majority of the audience that comes across it. But those who do find the unpolished charm of shot-on-video movies entertaining will still find something to keep them interested for the under an hour running time.
Demon Queen was mostly shot on 3/4 video tape so it's not gonna be crystal clear. Some of the pick-up shots and sequences to pad the time out were shot on 1/2 inch tape, like that of a mall venture by Lucinda where she picks up a Wayne Gretzky-looking dude or the video store bits, so those sequences are even less clear where sometimes faces look as if they are optically fogged. Massacre Video's full frame 1.33:1 transfer doesn't improve the already hazy and soft looking image. Not sure if they produced the transfer themselves, or if this was the digital transfer they were given, but this digital encoding of the tape master appears to have only been a one-pass encoding as the image is fairly blocky and the digital artifacts increase when there is lots of motion or action. Because of this digital artifacting the original Mogul VHS probably looks better than what is presented here. Interesting to note that the frame rate on the disc is at 60fps.
The English AC3-encoded Stereo audio track is acceptable on the Massacre Video DVD. It's only moderately encoded at 192 kb/s but doesn't seem to suffer the digital quality drop that the video did. Dialogue is audible, although at times not the easiest to hear but this is the quality it was recorded at during the actual production. Jan Haflin's synth score may not blow your speakers but it's enough to get stuck in your head. Other than the natural hiss of video tape there's not much else to talk about with Demon Queen's audio presentation. It is what it is.
Massacre Video provides us with a fairly recent interview with director Donald Farmer where he discusses how he worked as a journalist and behind-the-scenes reporter which led him to taking a stab at filmmaking himself after he gained interest from his numerous set visits. Farmer discusses how Demon Queen came about and how he got involved with Rick Gonzales as well as tidbits into the movie's casting and how to get women willing to take off their tops for the camera. This 17 minute interview, which is shot in what appears to be a banquet room of some '70s community hall, is informative and enlightening if you want to know Farmer's back story and the facts in the case of Demon Queen, such as the story behind the infamous Mogul VHS cover art which was stolen from Umberto Lenzi's Nightmare City aka City of the Walking Dead (this art actually shows up on the wall in Jesse's apartment in the movie). Also included is an image gallery which runs about 2 and a half minutes and features many excellent 35mm still photographs from behind the scenes on Demon Queen which showcase the great effects work. Rounding out the Special Features are Massacre Video trailers for 555, Orozco the Embalmer, Junk Films, and Demon Queen as well as a brief special thanks and a reversible DVD cover.
Demon Queen is a short excursion into sex, death, and horror on video. Donald Farmer's story of a succubus may not be the best realized SOV title out there, but it features some competent acting and some gory kills and effective make-up effects that will ensure it has a home in a few collector's collections. Massacre Video's release may be a step down in the visual department but providing this rarity for fans with a couple informative special features will temporarily satisfy SOV fans' hunger. Released on limited edition VHS, DVD, and even in special limited Hardbox packaging it's more than this title deserves, but only the regular DVD remains in print. There's probably better ways to spend 54 minutes and 31 seconds but if the movie sounds up your alley or you're a Z-grade SOV fan you'll likely find some entertainment in the blood, boobs, and real-time dream sequences of Demon Queen.
Haha...nice review. Its good to see even the really really bad flicks get some of the limelight.
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