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“Handy J From Hell”

During a recent convention weekend, a friend and I were taking one last spin through the vendor room before it closed for the evening. I had already purchased most everything that I’d even considered picking up by this point, but thought that maybe I’d find one or two last “treasures” before heading home the next morning. Somehow, I had managed to miss an entire aisle.

This final row was primarily movie dealers, so I was fairly disappointed to find that I had missed it. There were your usual dealers that sold “duplicated copies of out-of-print films”. (That’s the correct terminology, right?) There were the guys that sold label-release DVDs & blus, usually asking crazy prices. “Oh, you want me to pay $30 for a blu of Manos that I just paid $14 for?” And then there was the Vinegar Syndrome booth.

I knew what I wanted as soon as I saw the table. I ran over and immediately picked up the newly-released blu-ray of Demonoid. Without hesitation, I handed over my cash. My friend had never seen it and asked me if it was a good film. My only response was the honest one. “Nooooooooooooo! Not at all.”

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Movie Review – US Cut:  The films starts in the underground chambers of a cult of demon worshipers, presumably hundreds of years in the past. A woman, dressed in the customary robes and hood, is captured after being possessed by the severed hand of the demon that you see on the “van mural worthy” cover art featured above. She is thrown against a wall and her robes removed, giving us some early gratuitous nudity.

Her hand is lopped off with an ax. The effect is done well enough, blood spraying from the stump. The hand begins to crawl away, but is speared with a dagger and then placed in a hand-shaped container from which it can not escape. As credits begin to roll over a Goblin-inspired opening theme, the B-grade intentions of the film have already been set.

Move ahead to the “present day” of 1980. Samantha Eggar (The Brood, Curtains) stars as “Jennifer Baines”. Jennifer has arrived in Mexico to visit her husband, Mark (Roy Jensen – Soylent Green, The Car), who is currently excavating a silver mine. The local miners that he’s hired fear the mine. Jennifer reasons that if the workers see a woman (her) descend down into the mine, they will feel foolish and will begin work.

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While searching the mine, Mark is sucked into a slow-sinking pit of sand. He emerges in the shrine room of the hidden temple. Mark finds the metal container housing the demonic appendage and brings it back out with him to show the workers. This move backfires as the workers leave the site completely.

That evening at their hotel room, Mark is distressed about the state of his dig and attempts to drink away his problems as Jennifer sleeps. In his inebriated state, he foolishly opens the container. The hand inside has long turned to dust. He dumps the dust on the coffee table and stumbles his drunk ass to bed.

As they sleep, the dust that was a hand reforms into one again. It crawls into their bed and up Jennifer’s leg. She wakes screaming. Mark pulls back the sheet and attempts to pry the hand from his wife’s leg. The hand grabs his and vanishes, which is Demonoid‘s way of letting you know he’s now possessed.

After Jennifer picks up the hand’s former prison, Mark flees the hotel. The next morning, he blows up the entrance to the temple while workers are still inside. I’m not sure if these are the same guys that left the site the day before. If so, I guess that’s what they get for coming back. Mark then does what seems like the next logical thing for any demon in possession of a human body to do. He takes off for Vegas.

Mark hits the casinos and goes on a supernatural winning streak. He draws the attention of a two-bit con man (Ted White, “Jason” in Friday the 13th – The Final Chapter) and his gal. After being seduced into leaving with the woman, Mark is knocked unconscious by White in the parking lot and driven to a shack near what appears to be a quarry. Wanting to know the secret behind Mark’s streak, White’s character threatens to cut off his hand. The demonic force responds by killing both White and the woman.

Suddenly feeling guilt, Mark attempts to chop off the hand. Instead, it splashes him with gasoline and sets him on fire. The hand saves itself by dragging the flaming body into the desert and burying itself in the sand.

The body is misidentified as an old prospector and shipped to a church in Los Angeles. Jennifer travels there and meets with Father Cunningham, played by Stuart Whitman (Ruby, Crazy Mama). He informs her that her husband has already be buried. He takes her to the grave site, but both are surprised to find the body missing. The damage shows that what was once inside has found its way out.

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A police officer comes to investigate the scene. The walking piece of beef jerky formerly known as “Mark” severs the hand by slamming it in the door of the police car, finally freeing his soul to die. The hand soon takes possession of the police officer, setting off a chain of possession transference. Kinda like Fallen, but via the hand that Ash chainsawed off.

Instead of being just another demonic possession flick or even another crawling hand story, Demonoid hits the viewer with car chases, boxing matches, and even a secret affair between a plastic surgeon and his nurse. However, it’s these same disparate elements that make Demonoid so entertaining. There’s really not much of a story, so why not paste it all together with some action sequences that seem drastically out-of-place?

And there’s a lot going on here in the brief 80 minutes run time too. Multiple severed hands, a nurse with an unprofessional level of cleavage, blowtorches, cars flipping in slow motion while set to a funk soundtrack, crushed skulls, a hand riding a train, and even a priest being repeated punched in the face. Possessed or not, I’m pretty sure that you’re going to hell for that last one.

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Macabra (Alternate International Version): Also included is the international release version of the film. While the US cut of the film featured nudity and gore, those elements were either removed or re-shot to make the international version targeted towards an all-ages audience. This means that the entire opening sequence featured in the US release was cut from this version as well as the 2 face-crushing deaths.

Also missing from this version are the repeated image of the demon from the cover art which occasionally flashes on the screen. While this adds nothing to the story, it’s just friggin’ cool! You kinda keep waiting for an early-80’s heavy metal video to kick in.

Even with that added footage excised, this cut still manages to run 10 minutes longer. This is due to other scenes in the film being extended. While these extended scenes make the plot a little more  coherent, they also marginally slow down the pace of the film.

Audio/Video: I can rightfully only compare this transfer to the previous DVD release, as that is the only previous release of this film that I’ve watched. In comparison to that release, which at times looked to be nothing more than a VHS-rip, the blu-ray is a revelation. The picture is VERY grainy, spiking heavily in darker scenes, but also disappearing completely during some daylight scenes.

While some sequences look remarkably sharp and detailed (most notably the scenes at the surgeon’s office), the film maintains a respectable filmic look throughout. The print does feature some damage, but not to the extent that it ever becomes a distraction.

While the audio is never something that will rattle your speakers, I was quite impressed with the audio track presented. Then again, this may very well be due to my only being previously exposed to copies with inferior audio. Dialogue and music always seems very clear and there was never a need to adjust the volume levels to compensate for faults.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

Interview with Director Alfredo Zacarias: 14:35 – A brief interview with the director in which he discusses the origins of the film’s concept, stating that the idea stemmed from a conversation with a psychologist friend about multiple personality disorders. Zacarias feels that the concept is more about  the manifestations of man’s darker side than it is about possession.

He also says that he made the film in the hopes that Roger Corman would distribute it. And it does feel like one of Roger’s films from this time, so his involvement would have been a natural fit. Alas, Zacarias decided to distribute and promote the film himself, a decision that ended up much more of a headache that expected.

Trailers and TV Spots

Artwork Gallery: Featuring poster art and lobby cards

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FINAL VERDICT:  For viewers looking for some mindless cheese that moves at a fairly steady pace, Demonoid might be just what you are looking for.  While the transfer present on this release may not impress those not familiar with the film or its previous home releases, fans of the film should be moderately impressed with the image presented. RECOMMENDED