CHILLING CLASSICS MONTH: Demons of Ludlow (1983)

Thanks to Dustin Fallon from Horror and Sons for this entry. He’s been instrumental in helping us get writers for this project and is one hell of a nice guy. Also, his site is great!

As the population of a small, quiet town prepares to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of its founding, the literal ghosts of its past return to seek retribution for the actions of their forefathers long, long before. If you think that this plot synopsis sounds like it’s for John Carpenter’s 1980 film The Fog, you are right! It sounds a whole Hell of a lot like The Fog.

In this case, the film in question is Bill Rebane’s 1983 release, The Demons of Ludlow. However, in Demons, it is the town’s founder himself that has returned with a supernatural bloodlust. And while Blake and his men may have sailed into Antonio Bay in spooky style in The Fog, Demons of Ludlow‘s Ephram Ludlow comes to town by way of a haunted piano. Somehow, that just doesn’t seem as “grand” an entrance.

The most significant difference between both films is undoubtedly in the quality of the production. Simply put, The Fog had a budget, while Demons clearly does not. By no means is that to say that Demons of Ludlow is not worth watching. In fact, it’s these same budgetary limitations that gives all of Rebane’s films whatever appeal they may have.

Being a major studio release, Carpenter was able to enlist the acting talents of heavyweights such as Hal Holbrook, Janet Leigh, and John Houseman to help lend his film some “credibility” (as well as some highly entertaining performances). However, the cast of Demons is comprised almost entirely of actors native to Rebane’s home of Wisconsin, most of whom had no previous or future film credits to their name.

Expectedly, performances here aren’t as “polished” as those in Carpenter’s film, but the majority of Demons‘ cast give respectable performances. A few scenes do feel like community theater performances, and this feeling is further enforced by a couple of the sets looking like just a backdrop on a stage. Overall, the film has a very “made for early 80’s syndication” look to it, which may provide some additional appeal for audiences alive during that era.

While The Fog undoubtedly provided more than a few chills and shocking deaths, Demons of Ludlow is much more gleefully sadistic with its underworldly carnage. Demons unabashedly presents scenes featuring a beheading, severed hands, an old woman pelted in the face with stones, and (most notably) a pack of ghouls possibly sexually assaulting a mentally handicapped woman while ripping her to pieces and eating her. Interestingly enough, the forthcoming scene featuring the Mayor’s complete lack of empathy about the girl’s death (with her mother present) is the film’s biggest comedic moment.

Gore is quite light in Rebane’s film, presumably due to budget. However, what is implied is just as effective as a pile of blood and guts on the screen, if not more so. There is one quick moment of nudity during the attack on the handicapped woman, and one character spends the majority of her screen time in sexy lingerie despite being the minister’s wife, so the film may not be appropriate for audiences of all ages. As there’s little to no outdoor lighting used in this film, it probably fits best as a late night viewing.

Much like Rebane’s most successful film, The Giant Spider Invasion, Demons of Ludlow is far from polished, but shines as an example of local filmmaking. What makes this film work is that all parties involved are trying their best to make it work. Special effects really aren’t all that “special”, but are wisely kept secondary to the story itself. The story is fairly ambitious, but the film never tries to be bigger than it is.

Demons of Ludlow is definitely not the best film on Mill Creek’s 50 Chilling Films collection, but it’s also far from being the worst. (I feel sympathy for the poor bastard stuck reviewing either War of the Robots or The Witch’s Mountain.) I’ve owned this set for quite a few years now and highly recommend it to any fan, new or old, that may want to freshen up a bit on their older horror films.

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