My Demon Lover / 1987
Dir.: Charlie Loventhal
Starring: Scott Valentine, Michele Little, Arnold Johnson
Movies that cram in as many genres as possible are the best. What could be more special than a movie that wants to cover so much ground? And what could be more fascinating than watching that fail? Enter My Demon Lover, a romantic comedy with an OUTRAGEOUS twist: its main character Kaz (the attractive male lead played by attractive male human Scott Valentine) is secretly a hideous monster. Even TWISTIER? His grotesque features only show themselves when he is sexually aroused. But he still believes in LOVE, goddammit, and he’s seeking it out the only way he knows how: groping women on the street.
My Demon Lover is a massive failure, but not because of the wild concept – this is obviously a great idea for a movie. It’s the execution. There’s a fun way to do the classic “man-turns-into-ugly-beast-when-horny” trope and there’s My Demon Lover’s way, which makes Kaz out to be a sexual deviant and serial killer for half its runtime. The movie could be amusing and cute; instead the inconceivably vulnerable Denny (the attractive female lead played by attractive female human Michele Little) always appears so desperate that it comes off unsettling and cruel.
The film opens with Denny’s boyfriend Chip dumping her via burglary, leaving her with nothing but garbage and a tin of tuna (but no can opener – HA!). “I could’ve made it work…I can make anything work,” she says to her man-eater Sassy Hispanic Friend, who probably has a name, but whatever. From the opening montage, you can tell this movie is meant to be A Real New York-style Rom-Com! – cute, with a little bit of artistic edge, but super cute – but Denny’s weakness and submissiveness is more suited to a Lifetime Original Movie about a chronically abused girlfriend holding on to unrealistic ideals of love who just doesn’t understand that before a person can be happy in relationships, she must be happy…with herself.
So, when Denny chases down Chip’s van shouting, “I think this relationship isn’t working!” it’s not cute, it’s depressing. When she blames herself and makes excuses for Chip, who, she explains, left her because he didn’t want to come to her birthday party, you’re not on her side, and you’ve already thrown your VCR out the window. HEY but look at her kooky outfits!!!
Cut to Kaz, busking in a subway car, apparently homeless, coated in a fine layer of sexy movie-grime and dressed like a reject from a Hall & Oates-themed Sears catalog photo shoot. He plays the saxophone, perhaps a metaphor for the yearning that drives him, or maybe just a funny instrument for a guy in a surprisingly well-lit New York City subway car to be playing at the beginning of a movie about a gnarly sex monster.
Kaz and Denny’s first meeting is the stuff of rom-com legend: she gives him food after he rolls out of a garbage pile, he vomits on her, then chases her home and dry humps her until his monstrous side is revealed. Basically lifted shot-for-shot from The Philadelphia Story, but it works, I swear!
Later that night, Chip returns and says the words “I got busted for passing a hot blender,” then attacks Denny but is chased away by Kaz, who was still hanging out by her apartment, I guess.
Far be it from me, however, to act like I don’t love this shit. My Demon Lover’s crowning filmic achievement comes just under halfway through, as we learn that Kaz’s malady is in fact a vicious “pozatski” spell cast on him in his teens by a pissed off Romanian witch. The truth of the curse is, of course, revealed to him by a hilarious old street psychic (Arnold Johnson, who played Putney in Robert Downey, Sr.’s satirical landmark Putney Swope, as well as a neighbor on “Sanford & Son”, and then a variety of drunks in “Hill Street Blues”). With a suitcase full of tarot cards and a magical crystal doorknob, they look into Kaz’s past to see the event that scarred him, which of course helps the psychic determine what will cure him: “performing a noble act.”
Why did it take so long, fifteen years or so, for Kaz to seek out a colorful clairvoyant from which to learn this crucial tip? And what, he hadn’t done a single good deed that entire time? He spent all of his adolescence and adult life so far being a shitty tramp? He seems pretty goddamn surprised when the flashback starts, had he blocked this event from his memory or something? Also who the fuck is this psychic? Wait we’re just glossing over the whole Romanian witch thing?
SURE, FUCK IT.
The idea that a murderer known as The Mangler is terrorizing New York’s beautiful young women is established early on. You’re supposed to believe the killing is Kaz’s doing, but that doesn’t really hold up because Kaz is meant to be lovable, albeit demonically quirky, and sexual assault and homicide lie somewhat beyond the boundaries of quirkiness. The end of the movie launches into outerspace when you learn The Mangler is actually Chuckie, an obnoxious hanger-on always trying to wrangle dates out of Denny and her Sassy Hispanic Friend.
The darkness that shrouds every mention of The Mangler mangles any chance our heroes have of becoming entertaining or relatable. Denny and Kaz spend a fantastic and adorably platonic day exploring the West Village; in the next scene, Sassy Hispanic Friend is doting over her unconscious sister, at death’s door after a chilling encounter with The Mangler. There’s Kaz, being goofy and playing sexy jazz saxophone on the subway; oh shit but that woman waiting for the 1 train was just slaughtered. The Mangler mystery is never actually suspenseful. It derails the proceedings, achieving nothing, then later serves as the deformed wire hanger on which the thrilling climax hangs.
After meeting the street psychic, Kaz decides to believe he might be The Mangler, and interprets the whole “noble act” thing to mean that he must leave Denny alone. Denny, on the other hand, does not give a fuck, and instead fully intends to nail this cursed freak because she is an awful fool. This triggers a series of events: they make out. Kaz gets pretty excited, boner-wise, and does his ghoulish thing. It is revealed that Kaz’s monsterism also has a telepathic component, perhaps implying that the intensity of his feelings affects what ensues when he “changes.” Anyway, Denny’s apartment is wrecked again.
Kaz blacks out and causes a minor explosion. Sassy Hispanic Friend, believing Kaz to be not only The Mangler but also the devil (after meeting him once), takes a flint knife from the fucking antique weaponry store she apparently works at and rushes to Denny’s apartment with Chuckie, who is a dick for not mentioning that truly he is the one who mangles.
Kaz and Sassy Hispanic Friend fight, and we see Kaz control his powers at will (though maybe he was still really horny). Chuckie kidnaps Denny and takes her to ye olde electrically lit murder castle in Central Park. Kaz and Sassy Hispanic Friend fuck right outside the murder castle so that Kaz can morph into a winged beast and save Denny, contradicting my interpretation of the earlier scene in which it appeared that he could just do whatever he wanted, demon-wise, if he really put his mind to it. Anyway, everyone watches, and it’s gross. Turns out Chuckie is also a pozatski, obviously, then Kaz and Chuckie have a lightning fight atop the murder castle, and even though it’s pretty close for a second, Kaz wins and the pozatski curse is lifted!
Most of this movie takes place in these thirty minutes, as it suddenly transforms into a sci-fi/fantasy adventure. The first hour, when My Demon Lover is an eerie-though-vague murder mystery wrapped in the gelatinous translucent shell of a flailing romantic comedy, is entirely a set-up for this final third. Here, all the components comingle and burst into stupid, stupid flames, complete with a final confrontation with absolutely no stakes, nonsensical slapstick bits, and the explosion of several cop cars in a meadow.
Sometimes a bad movie could’ve been improved with better editing, better acting, a better script – the adjustment of some out-of-whack individual element. A total overhaul would be necessary for My Demon Lover to work. Buried in it is the kernel of a decent story; like I said, it obviously revolves around film history’s greatest premise. (It was the only movie written by Leslie Ray, who would go on to be a staff writer on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and co-create “The Wayans Bros.” so I have no shade whatsoever to throw her way.) But it has no foundation. Its tone and message are so confusing it all melts together into an off-putting mess that feels like it was stitched together from three different movies. Its characters learn nothing. The only things that even happen and create change before that eighty-fifth minute are Kaz meeting Denny; Kaz learning the truth of the pozatski curse; the brutal MURDERING of numerous women; a goblin fucking a woman in front of a bunch of cops; Kaz being cured of the pozatski curse.
If My Demon Lover wasn’t so filthy and creepy, it might make a good second-rate animated children’s movie, like a funky Land Before Time. That way, all the simplified characters and disconnected vibes and bullshit dialogue could be justified and might even look sort of cool. Maybe a Bakshi-esque freak-fest would be more its speed. Unfortunately, all we’ve got is humans, and everything’s weird, and these two fools dance away from that murder castle happy. Kaz is a real boy again and Denny found her belief that she needs a boyfriend to survive in New York entirely reinforced. It’s hard to say whether she wins, loses, or pretty much just breaks even.
How long can such a relationship last? How long until the thrill fades? Will Denny ever learn to stand up for herself? Will Kaz soon yearn for his lost demonic abilities? It seemed like he was only beginning to comprehend the power at his disposal. I’d like to see a My Demon Lover sequel set maybe a decade down the road, with Kaz seeking out a clan of Romanian witches and muttering about pozatskis, while Denny does everything in her power to remember how to walk down the street without a man constantly supporting her.