[Cinepocalypse 2019 World Premiere Review] Attack of the Demons blew me away

Welcome to Barrington, a sign reads, where “Big things can happen in the smallest places.” This fictitious town in Colorado seems like the kind of place that would be a hop, skip and mountain away from another Colorado town called South Park. That might seem like an odd comparison if you’re reading this, not knowing anything about Attack of the Demons. But basically, this animated horror film has a look reminiscent of South Park…if Parker and Stone spent more time and love on the animation.

Think of it this way. If South Park, The Evil Dead and Demons had a baby that liked to dabble in the body horror monstrosities of Carpenter’s The Thing…it’d look something like Attack of the Demons.

Basically? This movie is a blast.

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It’s late. A lone man fishes with his pup, while nearby a demonic-looking cultist chants foreboding words. Unfortunately, the fisherman interrupts the cultist, who continues to chant as he slits his hand and the fisherman groans as blood spurts. After this brief cold open, we’re introduced to our three loner and unlikely heroes.

First there's horror fan Kevin (Thomas Petersen). He's the kind of young adult who champions rare and unknown 70s horror films by Italian horror directors named Rizzo. His walls are plastered with posters of his favorite movies. He lives with and takes care of his grandmother and while on an errand for her, he bumps into Jeff (Andreas Petersen) as he plays an arcade game in the store. Jeff is a loner himself; a gamer who loves rare arcade games and has a list of the ones he needs to track down and play.

Their initial interaction, even though the script doesn't delve into it, is the kind of adorable meet cute you'd expect in a romantic comedy. The way Jeff is framed with a halo of light when Kevin first meets him is a subtle clue that maybe Kevin is gay. After he accidentally causes Jeff to lose his game, Kevin buys him a drink and plan on meeting up for a bite to eat later.

Rounding out the trio of outsiders is Natalie (Katie Maguire). She's tagging along with her vaguely insufferable boyfriend Chet (Eric Power) and his friend Brandon (Andreas Petersen) to Barrington. Chet and Brandon are excited to see their favorite band Banshee Riders play at a Battle of the Bands competition. They are, after all, the most influential horror punk band. Natalie, meanwhile is more interested in Teek, an indie band no one's heard of that's also playing in a small bar.  

The three outsiders end up meeting each other before disaster strikes as the cultist from the cold open speaks his Candarian-like chant in front of the Battle of the Bands crowd. The cultist causes an avalanche that closes the town’s only entrance before floating above the crowd and bursting in a skin-dissolving explosion, turning the crowd into demonic creatures. The town is under siege. Before you know it, it's up to Kevin, Jeff and Natalie to save Barrington and, quite possibly, the world. 

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The first thing that struck me about Attack of the Demons was the impossibly stunning art and animation that director and animator Eric Power used to tell the story by Andreas Petersen. It uses paper cut outs of characters in such a fluid way that you easily forget how time consuming and hard it must have been to work on it. It’s a stunning work of art that reminds you of the beauty of animation. South Park has nothing on this movie. Eric Power has created a beautiful film…that happens to be gory AF.

Attack of the Demons has a melancholic heart beneath all of the genre trappings. In a really cool segment, we see each of our heroes visiting their favorite and under-appreciated loves. Kevin shows up all excited to see Rizzo’s Grotesque Mirror and discovers he’s the only one in the theatre while Jeff finds a rare arcade game to check off his list and surveys the empty Arcade and Natalie is the only one “whoo!”ing to the dulcet tones of Teek. Each one is an island to themselves, trying to support their favorite loves, whether music or movies or video games. In this way, I know fans of obscure horror or games or bands can completely understand the sentiment and it’s this feeling that carries a lot of the emotional weight.

But just because it has a heart made out of cut-paper animation, don’t think it’s not gory as hell. The effects are stunningly created and had me laughing at the audaciousness. The creature designs felt ripped from the 80s, with knowing nods to the Re-Animator, Evil Dead, Demons, The Thing and even Society, in a way. There’s some gnarly monsters and the spurting blood had me cackling at the inventiveness. And while it name-drops these iconic movies in spirit, it never feels imitative. It manages to stand on its own, even while calling to mind horror classics.

I also have to talk about the pulsing electro-industrial score by John Dixon. It complements the action and the throwback vibes, while also establishing its own voice. I actually want the soundtrack on vinyl, please and thank you. As the score mixed with the animation, I found myself grinning. This is something special. The combination of sound and sight becomes a bloody and purulent phantasmagoria of inventiveness. Obviously a lot of love and attention went into this project and it shows.

This is one of my favorites at Cinepocalypse and if you get a chance to see this in theatres or along its probable festival route, make sure you do.

Also check out my review of the stop animation short film Toe, which is attached (hah) to Attack of the Demons.