Night Angel (1990) Retrospective

SUMMARY
A terrifying centuries-old evil has awakened in the form of the wicked, voluptuous Lilith (Isa Anderson). Lilith, in the updated guise of a beautiful model, infiltrates the offices of a successful fashion magazine with the aim of corrupting the world via mass media and uses her beauty and her insatiable lust as a potent lifeforce which spreads death and destruction to all who dare to succumb to her charms. Lilith becomes the object of insane desire for all who brave her seductive gaze. Only true love can withstand her awesome powers and only one man (Linden Ashby) is strong enough to test them in a frightening test of will and death tango with Night Angel, the mistress of hell.

DEVELOPMENT
Night Angel is the third horror film produced by Paragon Arts, the first two being Witchboard (1986) and Night of the Demons (1988). The company was formed two years ago by Walter Josten.

I had heard about people financing films the way we did it in the commodities market-you’re dealing with investors who want to take a shot and hope it hits big. I thought, they’ve got to love a film investment: it’s risky; it’s speculative; there’s a good chance for the upside, and the downside, with video and cable, is buffered. So we went out and looked for a script and came up with Oija, written by Kevin Tenney, who wanted to direct. I liked his philosophy: he wasn’t an artsy-craftsy director; he wanted to do a film that was gonna do some business. We formed a limited partnership, produced the film and went out and shopped it.”

The result was Witchboard, an above average supernatural thriller whose $2.3 million investment recouped $8 million at the box office. This impressive result convinced Josten to attempt a second horror film, Night of the Demons, a $2.7. million investment that traded away much of the charm of Witchboard in favor of a more extensive use of graphic special effects. “You have to believe you’re selling to a certain audience; otherwise, don’t make the movie,” said Josten, who admitted, “Night of the Demons tends to-if I may use the word pander a little more to its audience. It doesn’t have the story Witchboard does, but it has great special effects. We went more for that target kid audience.”

The story of Night Angel was the brainchild of Joe Augustyn, who also produced and wrote Night of the Demons. A fan of old horror movies, Augustyn wanted to create a horror villain based on mythology, as Bram Stoker did with Dracula. “I did a lot of research,” he said. “I read tons of books. I had known about Lilith for a long time, through friends who were radical lesbian feminists in the early 70s. The more I researched, the more Lilith seemed a natural.”

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Augustyn pitched the idea to Josten, who immediately liked it. “When Joe presented it, I thought this idea was really good—to have a villainess steeped in reality,” Josten explained. “This person may not be real, but you can look her up in the dictionary and read about her in the encyclopedia, and there’s a lot of lore that’s never been exploited on film before.”

Augustyn’s first draft script then went through extensive revision under the supervision of Josten before the search for a director started. Josten and Augustyn had narrowed their search down to four when Dominique Othenin-Girard popped in on a fluke. He had been in the country only a few months and was introduced to them by his apartment manager, who had written a script for Paragon Arts.

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Paragon’s initial interest in Girard’s work came after a viewing of Cop Trap “Piège à flics” (1985), a French TV movie which the director himself acknowledges as “the doorway to my career in the U.S.” Piège à flics became something of a controversy in Europe”. states Girard with more than a hint of pride. It was produced for a prime time television slot, filled with violence and sex and money. And I guess the Americans understood it.

800px-Lilith_(John_Collier_painting)Lilith, female demonic figure of Jewish folklore. Her name and personality are thought to be derived from the class of Mesopotamian demons called lilû (feminine: lilītu), and the name is usually translated as “night monster.” A cult associated with Lilith survived among some Jews as late as the 7th century CE. The evil she threatened, especially against children and women in childbirth, was said to be counteracted by the wearing of an amulet bearing the names of certain angels. – Britannica

Girard battled the European censors in defense of his cut. “A film director is somewhat of an outlaw. We have to break open the taboos society inflicts on the people.” The public flooded him with letters, some seriously accusing Girard of being the actual devil himself. But along with those came others of very high praise. Piège à flics went on to garner top European award nominations for it’s principal leads.

“He had the best ideas, seemed the most enthusiastic, and really understood the subject matter,” said Augustyn. “Ironically, when we had first started talking about a director, we were thinking maybe Paul Verhoeven-we wanted a European director who would bring a level of sophistication to the film. A lot of young American directors come out of film school with certain limitations, especially in the area of sex. It seems anything sexual they lump into T&A. We thought Dominique could bring in the sexuality without being tacky.”

Girard was given a copy of the script and shown two previous Paragon Arts films, Night of the Demons and Tips, the latter a comedy. Said Girard, “I was impressed by the goodwill but not the manufacture of Tips. I thought Night of the Demons was a pretty straightforward, exploitative movie. That disturbed me in a way. I thought it was very empty, but I liked in some way the manufacture of the film.”

Girard continued, “We had a five-hour meeting after the two films, in which they expected me to analyze the films and the script. The script I thought was rather weak, having no real hero nor goal to the hero. Walter, Joe and Jeff Geoffray, supervising producer said, ‘How interesting!’ instead of ‘How dare he! We immediately started to work on it.”

Girard, whose stepfather is an archeologist, was already familiar with many of the world’s ancient myths, including Lilith, and he used that background to help give input to the script. “What was fascinating for me was the (notion of) two kinds of sexuality: the one that links Adam and Eve, where male and female link together in order to reach God, and the other kind, more supported by Lilith, which is just lust, sexual pleasure to manipulate. What was also fascinating was the fact that she is a legendary figure. I dug into the legend in order to find images for the film to motivate myself on how to portray this woman.”

The scripting sessions continued for three weeks while the film was simultaneously going through pre-production planning. “After three weeks, I felt that we regressed,” recalled Girard. “Unfortunately, a lot of these images never made it into the film. I found a lot of restriction on the side of Walter Josten, who thought that some of these ideas were too European, too weird. I don’t think they were, but he was a more conservative figure. I believe sometimes he is imitating too many successful films, instead of going for the original film. That was our conflict. He wanted to apply not only one formula, but mix several formulas into the same film, which I didn’t think was working too well. I was suggesting to him to be simpler about it… But who cares? The film will speak for itself.”

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PRE-PRODUCTION
The next hurdle was casting the part of Lilith. “We wanted to use an actress that we’d never seen before, who could be anybody, because Lilith takes many forms.” said Josten. Dominique Girard added, “I didn’t want to go for the simple bimbo who could lift up her skirt and take off her bra. That was not the point; the point was the charisma.”

Finally, after literally hundreds of actresses were auditioned, Isa Anderson was chosen. “Some actresses who came in were incredible knockouts until someone tried to direct them to be seductive, and then they were like little girls,” said Augustyn. “We were really lucky to get Isa. She really got what we were trying to do. She read books about Lilith. She is elegant and very sensual. She was a model, so she can pull off a lot of different looks, and she’s a really good actress. Her accent is nondescript. Dominique and I, if we could have run with it, probably would have gone more for a middle Eastern accent, to be true to the myth, but Walter was really concerned. He wanted her to sound as if she could have come from anywhere—which also makes sense, on one level.”

After final script revisions, in order to bring the project to a level manageable on its budget, the film shot four six-day weeks last year on various locations scattered around Los Angeles. “I have experience making small-budget films in Europe,” said Girard. “I have a reputation of giving a very polished look with very little money. I of course wanted to obtain this in order to transcend the formula of an exploitative movie. I believe we achieved an incredible quality. The producers are very glad about it, because they know this film will establish them as a company with credibility.”

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SPECIAL EFFECTS
The rushed production schedule prevented Steve Johnson’s crew from being able to film many of the planned special effects during principal photography. By that time, Johnson had left to work on James Cameron’s The Abyss, so the additional effects were assigned to KNB. Fortunately, the budget included additional money for shooting pick-ups, so after the principle footage was assembled, the crew shot an additional eight days of effects footage late last year.

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Steve Johnson was hired to handle the psychological requirements. Girard calls the effects artist Magnificent. He was very precise. A great pleasure. He had the hand going into the chest and you could see the fingers, just plunging. The chest piece was a seamless appliance and there was a fake arm used for Lilith, where you could actually see the blood traveling through her veins.”

Likewise, when additional pick up shots were needed, the magnificent requirements continued, even without the services of Johnson.

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Girard found working with both teams to be an educational and rewarding experience. “I had some special effects in my previous movies but never to the extent of Night Angel,” he said. “I enjoyed learning about special effects and learning how to shoot special effects in order to sell them. Special effects people know what they need to get, but they don’t necessarily know how to sell the effect to the audience. That’s my part of the work. I’ve got to push them not only to do the effect correctly, but to give me the freedom to shoot the effect with a specific camera angle and movement. Instead of having a prosthetic person totally steady —that wouldn’t sell the effect. I need that person to move, and that sometimes makes for incredible complications.”

POST PRODUCTION
After completing the effects photography, Girard left the production temporarily, going to Salt Lake City to film Halloween V. Paragon Arts, meanwhile, put the project on hiatus for a couple of months in order to raise money to complete post-production work. In mid-June, Girard and Steve Johnson returned to the production to film an opening prologue sequence; Girard is also supervising the soundtrack’s music and effects. The score is by Cory Lerios, of Pablo Cruise fame.

“If a horror film is successful, it is very much because of the soundtrack,” Girard claimed. “I love films because they are fluid-they are composed more like a piece of music than a novel, to my mind. Corey Lerios is a very imaginative composer. He’s a bit taken short by the number of cues he has to do. There is in the movie an enormous amount of music, but I don’t think we are drowning the film with music. It’s music which clarifies the story, which imposes the threat of Lilith upon our young characters even when she’s not there-because the music carries her. It is a complimentary story-telling point instead of just an accompanying soundtrack.”

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Night Angel (1990) Music Tracks

CAST/CREW
Director Dominique Othenin-Girard
Writers Joe Augustyn, Walter Josten

Isa Jank        Lilith (as Isa Andersen)
Linden Ashby Craig
Debra Feuer Kirstie
Helen Martin Sadie
Karen Black  Rita
Doug Jones  Ken

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Horrorfan#04
Gorezone#13
Slaughterhouse#05
blu-ray.com

 

 

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