Eric’s CFF Review: Attack of the Demons (2020)

Fangoria! Woo!
★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★

Origami Horror! Attack of the Demons is a unique artisan-crafted animated cut-paper gore flick that worships at the altar of Dario Argento and Sam Raimi and largely succeeds in its efforts.

Directed and Animated by Eric Power

Chattanooga Film Festival ended earlier this May, but there is a slate of movies still worthy of mention. Since the theaters have been devoid of new content through our ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, film festivals have been the best way to see new horror movie content this Summer.

One of the most striking looking and conventionally appealing films at the CFF was Austin animator Eric Power’s Attack of the Demons. While it breaks no new ground story-wise, it absolutely blows the lid off of the craftsmanship of an animated horror film. Animated horror features are so rare, as they typically skew to a child demographic. ParaNorman, Monster House, and Hotel Transylvania come to mind.

Power goes completely in the opposite direction, by serving up a loving homage to the demon possession films of the 1980s. He taps straight to source material like Kevin Tenney’s Night of the Demons, Lamberto Bava’s Demons, or in particular… Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead. What you will immediately recognize is that Power is animating his movie with cut paper, which immediately conjures up South Park comparisons.

I would suggest to you that Attack of the Demons is a much higher animating standard than South Park. The use of subtle shading and texture creates a wondrous bas relief and there is a ton of richness to the color palette that is employed to tell this story. It also brings a less cartoony feel, using normally proportioned people, sets, and backgrounds. It feels like the most bloody but luxurious Colorform set you’ve ever seen, put into motion. It is definitively a 2D medium, but Power has mastered the use of layering and tonal depth to give the images a real perspective. Check out the image below for example:

Come for the animated adult storybook, and stay for the familiar tropes.

Attack of the Demons is an almost too-familiar plot. It focuses on three teens in a small Colorado Town, each of whom has their own obsessive nerd-focus that both ostracizes them, gives them focus, and eventually comes in handy for tactics as plot points in the film. Though the movie utilizes ’80s tropes, the story takes place in 1994 at the height of the grunge movement.

Kevin (Thomas Petersen) is the boy who remained in the sleepy backwoods town, and is obsessed with horror films. He is oblivious as to why nobody else appreciates the subtle nuances of the genre, and is, of course, the character who I most identify with. Jeff (Andreas Petersen) is the leather jacked wearing loner, whose infatuation with coin-op fighting video games is his anti-social refuge. And finally, Natalie (Katie Maguire), who is the music critic (snob), accompanying her hipster boyfriend on a return back to town for a big Lollapalooza-like concert in the big outdoor amphitheater.

It is at this concert, where an Emporer Palpatine-like cultist comes on stage as a late addition to the stage performers for the concert, and starts uttering cryptic incantations. The crowd thinks that this is very metal, and goes along with it, until the audience gets possessed by demons summoned by the incantation, and erupt from their formerly human packaging to destroy and dismember the community. The demons are wickedly imaginative, and freaky fun.

Our three protagonists, each of them loners to a degree, are not cool enough to be attending the concert, and so are spared the initial onslaught, but they bond together quickly and head for the mountains where Kevin’s crazy uncle conveniently has a fortified CABIN IN THE WOODS, and the crew prepares to make a desperate last stand to save themselves and the town.

Most animated features rely upon exaggerated voice acting to make up for the limitations of the facial nuance inherent to animation. Big over-the-top personalities and action gestures. Not so for Attack of the Demons. Power went for a more deadpan and low-key style. Some of this may be due to the fact that for each of the leads, this is their debut feature film. So, at times the performances feel a bit flat, but never annoying or cartoonish.

The characters are earnest and endearing, and easy to root for. The story oozes with nostalgia, and you can’t help but feel a bit of autobiographical tendencies, ala the Duffer brothers and Stranger Things. As the old adage about authorship goes, “Write what you know.” And clearly Power has an affinity for ’80s exploitation films… and the nods to the nobility of nerdiness is suggestive of a badge of honor here.

Much like the source material, Attack of the Demons is a fairly lightweight, but it remains a fun feature. You will marvel at the artistic direction and when you realize that this is largely a single man’s effort in a 75-minute film it is an astounding accomplishment. Those of you familiar with the festival short film circuit will have seen some short horror films that try and approach this level of ambition but did it in fifteen minutes. As a full feature-length presentation by an individual, this appears to have been a Herculean task, taking him two years to produce. Power was the Director, Cinematographer, Editor, and Animator for the film. The only other crew credits are for the writer Andreas Petersen (also playing Jeff), the Composer, John Dixon, and the Dark Star Pictures Production team. Bravo!

This movie is not yet rated. And despite all the paper cut out gore, I would be hard-pressed to call the movie gory requiring an R-rating. And yet, it would be a disservice to give it a PG-13 rating given its heritage and source material. It is… a curiosity. Attack of the Demons has shown at Cinepocalypse and The Chattanooga Film Festival and is likely to work its way through the film festival circuit to generate more buzz, so I would expect that we won’t see it streaming until next year.

Review by Eric Li

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