DOUBLE FEATURE RETROSPECTIVE – The Power (1984)/Demon Wind (1990)

The Power (1984)

An Aztec demon called Destacatyl, who is believed to be able to control human souls, is trapped in a small Aztec doll. However, a young man named Jerry is soon possessed and taken over by the demon after getting his hands on the idol and soon causes mayhem to anyone he comes across, including a group of high school students.

In order to raise money for The Power, Jeff Obrow and company originally shot a short promotional reel for the picture and enticed potential investors with glimpses of the action that would be found in a feature version of the project. “We didn’t use any of the same scenes in the product reel for The Power that we did in the feature film that we eventually made. We just went out and shot a little three-minute story, along the lines of a trailer that you would see in a theater that can get you all involved in what’s going on with just a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Once we raised money from the trailer, then we went out and actually wrote the script. It was exactly the same story; we just wanted to wait till the money was raised before we wrote a complete script, because, if we didn’t raise enough, we’d have to make one kind of story, and if we succeeded in raising enough, which we did, then we would be able to make a more ambitious story.”

The story used for The Power concerns a small Aztec idol that transmits an enormous evil force. Although the story is not based on a particular legend, to come up with the concept of the idol known as Destacatyl. Obrow says, “we did a lot of research into different cultures. We found that in the Aztec culture there were five stars that were supposed to have come down from the heavens; we talk a little about that in the film. These stars had names like Sayacatyl or Quetzacatyl. The name Destacatyl we made up ourselves; we felt it is reminiscent of the word destiny and that it has a nice dark sound to it. Destacatyl is not based on any particular real legend, but I am sure there are quite a few legends about idols that embody evil. I think that’s why the film works, because everybody has that feeling that there could be an amulet or an idol or a stone out there that has some sort of evil power, some sort of terrible jinx. There are legends about this sort of thing and we have loosely based The Power on all of them.”

According to Obrow, this picture shows “how the power of evil is passed on through four or five characters in the film. These characters become evil not because they want to become evil, but because they feel they can somehow possess the idol, but eventually, as we, and they, find out, you can’t possess the idol—the idol possesses you, If you think you can possess Destacatyl, then already that power that you’re searching for will turn against you. And that, I think, is a different variation that we’ve seen in other supernatural films. The quest for power itself can turn the evil onto yourself.

The experience of working on the picture together has helped this young production unit (the average age is about 24) to hone their skills and act upon the lessons learned from their first go-round. Obrow says that on a really low-budget first film “you tend to look at certain scenes and say, ‘Well, I don’t know if that really is right, but then we don’t know if we’re even going to get a distribution deal. Who knows if it’ll ever be in the theaters. And, as a result, a lot of things are allowed to slip a little. If you’re lucky enough to get that distribution deal, as we were, and the film does go into the theaters, you then start seeing it everywhere. We started to see it pop up in different places-in theaters, on Select TV in Los Angeles, and so on-and we saw those certain scenes that we might have played differently and taken more time with and put a little more money into; we watched it and said, ‘Ah, we definitely should have done it differently.’ So in the second film, if we weren’t certain about a scene we didn’t just let it slide by. We worked very hard to make it just the way we wanted, because we knew it was going to be in the theaters and we did not want to feel bad about what we could have done.”

“The movie is scary on an intimate level. I would say it’s a personal film in that everyone can relate to it. I’m sure everyone who has taken out a Ouija board has at some time thought, ‘Well, what if we really conjure up a spirit?’ The same applies to people in some meditation session or a séance. It’s something perhaps that they’ve always feared.”

The fact that Obrow uses the words “intimate” and “personal’ does not mean, however, that The Power doesn’t have its share of overt horror. The power of Destacatyl can turn people into hideous creatures who, if they have their druthers, will go on a killing spree. The makeup effects artist in charge of the Power’s horrific manifestations was Matthew Mungle. “The Power tested his abilities by presenting him with supernatural kinds of effects, a more advanced challenge. And he really came through. A lot of the makeup effects had to do with on-screen transformations. We really like that kind of stuff because it gives the audience something to watch for and get excited about or, on the other hand, make them put their hands over their eyes.”

I think the make-up budget was about $5,000. That included my salary on set. Those were the days. You did what you could with what you were given. Creating, and being as creative as you possibly could. It was a great experience and a training ground to my future in this industry. – Matthew W. Mungle

After Obrow and his associates produced The Power on their own, they made a distribution deal with Film Ventures. Part of the deal entailed shooting extra footage to prime the picture for release. Obrow says, “Film Ventures felt that the movie needed more action and we agreed with them 100%. When we finished the film and started taking it around to distributors, we had run out of funds for production; we had a completed picture that we were happy with, but the changes they wanted seemed to be good changes. Mostly they wanted more effects work-effects work and action scenes that really brought out the supernatural elements. We had that sort of thing in the film before, but these scenes really enhanced it. Also, there were a few slow scenes which were taken out. We originally thought that they were necessary, but in looking at the film later, we could see that they really weren’t.”

The Power (1984) Original Soundtrack by Christopher Young

Stephen Carpenter
Jeffrey Obrow
Jeffrey Obrow
Stephen Carpenter
Jeffrey Obrow
Stephen Carpenter
Jeffrey Obrow
John Penney
John Hopkins

Suzy Stokey as Sandy McKennah (as Susan Stokey)
Warren Lincoln as Jerry
Lisa Erickson as Julie
Chad Christian as Tommy
Ben Gilbert as Matt
J. Dinan Myrtetus as Francis Lott
Stan Weston as Professor Matthew Wilson
Chris Morrill as Ron Prince
Rod Mays as Lee McKennah
Alice Champlin as Roxanne

Demon Wind (1990)

In 1931, a body is burned on a cross. On a farm, a woman named Regina attempts to barricade a door, from where beyond, demons try to enter. Her husband George transforms into a demon instead and kills her.

Sixty years later, after the suicide of his father, a young man named Cory, the grandson of Regina and George, and his girlfriend Elaine, along with a group of their friends, travel up to the farm, so that Cory can figure out what happened to his grandparents. They are attacked by a band of vicious demons. When the kids try to escape, a mysterious fog brings them back to the farm, protected by a shield that prevents the demons from entering the house. One by one, the kids become possessed by the demons, but manage to fight them off with a pair of daggers they find, which is the only thing that will kill them. But when the demons’ master arrives, the kids realize they will need something stronger to fend off the hellish threat.

“It was, by far, the most stressful thing! have ever done in my life,” said first-time director Chuck Moore of DEMON WIND. “It just puts everything else to shame-breaking up with women, having an accident everything else just pales in comparison to the amount of stress you’re under when you make a movie. I lost ten pounds during this production, and I’m not a real hefty guy as it is.” For those whose previous diets failed them, Moore’s secret to shedding pounds is to be a low-budget filmmaker. Demon Wind (1990)was shot on a 24-day schedule in January and February 1989, for just $500,000.

Moore’s initial foray into horror films was Twisted Nightmare (1987), serving as second assistant to director Paul Hunt, who co-produced DEMON WIND with partner Michael Bennett. The producers asked Moore to rewrite TWISTED NIGHTMARE, and Moore said he found himself directing much of the picture, although he received no credit for it. Hunt and Bennett were impressed enough with Moore to ask if he could come up with another horror film. Moore’s initial concept was just an image, a demonized girl killing her boyfriend with monstrous fingernails. He built the rest of the script around that.

Recalled Moore, “They approached me about writing a treatment that was suited to use the same Valencia locations as TWISTED NIGHTMARE; a farmhouse, a barn and a service station. I wrote the script with those particular locations in mind, but when we got ready to film, the price of the locations had skyrocketed so much that we couldn’t use them. We went all over the Los Angeles area to find locations that would match the script, but we couldn’t find any to match the budget. The start date was looming real close.”

Quick thinking by Moore saved the day and provided DEMON WIND with one of its most intriguing elements. “After location scouting one day, we came back to the office and I said, “How’s this? We won’t have a farmhouse or a barn. We’ll have the ruins of a farmhouse. The only thing still standing is the door. We’ll work it into the script so that the house blows up and when the kids come to see what happened, one of them opens the door. Inside, the house still exists, but only through this magic doorway.’ Everybody thought it was a great idea and it ended up stepping the film into a different kind of mythos. It no longer was a “kids go to camp and die’ movie. It was now a movie about magic. I rewrote certain sections of the script to pump that idea up.”

“The first day set the tone for the whole shoot,” recalled Moore. “We shot for seven hours and when we went to dailies the next morning, there was nothing there. The film stock was bad. I was already scared about directing my first movie. I thought I was going to have a heart attack right there. I was half a day behind on my second day. Later that week, I shot that day’s work, plus the lost half day. What originally took me seven hours, I refilmed in two. The way this film got made was that because of the inclement weather, the schedule had to be readjusted constantly. The circumstances of making the film were really arduous.”

The coldest temperatures in California history were recorded during production at Thousand Oaks, the film’s location. Snow drifts and gale winds knocked over sets and made moving cast and crew to each location a logistical nightmare. “Each new problem that came up had to be solved with a change in the script,” noted Moore. “I was actually rewriting on the set, and a lot of that ended up being some of the neater stuff in the movie. I would make up a scene or a bit of dialogue, tell it to the actors, give them five minutes to rehearse, then shoot.”

In Moore’s original script, a tree was supposed to fall behind the kids as they approach the farmhouse ruins, as though evil forces were at work. The stunt, simple for a larger production, proved too time consuming on Moore’s production schedule. “That gag would have cost me a whole day’s shooting,” said Moore. “We would have to get a tree, ship it to location and it would have to be strong enough to use over and over again. It would have required a lot of coordination. All of that made me think that we’re not going to get a lot of bang for the buck. I came up with another scene where the kids pass under a nest. The camera zooms in as an egg starts to hatch. But instead of a chick emerging, the egg is full of maggots! It was a much more visceral symbol. We were always trying to think up clever ways to get more for less.”

Makeup veteran Lance Anderson, along with key assistant David Atherton, lent their expertise to Moore’s production, creating a gaggle of demon-possessed teens and gruesome mechanical effects. Moore found that his rushed schedule didn’t allow for much trial and error. “There were days when I shot up to eleven set-ups in forty minutes,” he said. “I went into this project knowing that I would need a day to shoot each effect when I would only have a half a day. The schedule board for what had to be filmed and when it had to be done looked impossible.

According to Moore, DEMON WIND proved a good seller at the Cannes foreign sales market.

Charles Philip Moore

Michael Bennett
Peter Collins
Sandy Horowitz
Paul Hunt
Charles Philip Moore

Eric Larson as Cory
Francine Lapensée as Elaine
Rufus Norris as Harcourt
Jack Forcinito as Stacey (credited as Jack Vogel)
Stephen Quadros as Chuck
Mark David Fritsche as Jack
Sherry Leigh as Bonnie (credited as Sherry Bendorf)
Bobby Johnston as Dell

Cinefantastique v22n02

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