SCREEN QUEST: DEMON LOVER DIARY

Joel DeMott’s DEMON LOVER DIARY (1980) screened at BFI as part of the WOMAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA strand – 26 SEP 2017.


(USA, 1hr 30min)

At face value, DEMON LOVER DIARY is an intriguing ‘whipped cream on the lens’ documentary about the perils of micro budget movie making in the American Midwest. It’s also about a clash of cultures as trained filmmakers Joel DeMott and her cinematographer boyfriend Jeff Kreines travel from the big smoke to help out blue-collar amateurs Donald G. Jackson and Jerry Younkins. THE DEMON LOVER (aka THE DEVIL MASTER) is the latter’s passion project and its co-directors are hellbent on forging cinematic gold, even if they have to start from the bottom up: “This stuff is junk but we know it”.

From the shocking revelations – “I lost my fucking fingers to do this movie” – to the endless arguments about who gets to do what – “I’m not going to be the girl that stays and answers the phone” – it’s clear this journey is going to be a very bumpy one. By the time rockstar and lifelong NRA member Ted Nugent lends the production real weaponry and live ammunition, our film school graduates have travelled far from their comfort zones.

DEMON LOVER DIARY (1980) Donald G. Jackson
DEMON LOVER DIARY (1980) screened at BFI (26 SEP 2017).

WOMAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA

BFI screened this documentary in their WOMAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA strand, drawing attention to persistent inequalities. Accordingly, this is a rare “film about cinema made by a woman” (Isabel Stevens, Sight & Sound). In DIARY, Jackson and Younkins repeatedly dismiss DeMott, appearing to forget her camera is there. Panellist Abigail Blackmore (see below) pointed out that this apparent sexism allows DeMott to capture moments of raw ego without ever being drafted into help with the sprawling production (after all, what would she know?).

DeMott is far from a neutral observer, playing numerous off-camera but in-film roles. She brokers contractual commitments for her less than assertive boyfriend and helps sound man Mark cop a feel with a cast member. Thanks to conservative family values, she also has to pretend to be Kreines’ wife in order to stay with Jackson’s mother, one of the few ’nice’ people in the entire film and the only one to offer any real insight come the jaw dropping finale: “You guys are running from something”. DeMott also alludes to the role of women in horror, from the worryingly young actors to casually aloof references to make-believe violence: “Once Susan gets her throat cut…”.

Intriguingly, it’s also DeMott’s voice that adds another dimension to the film, one of snarky condescension to her (filmmaking) brethren. Whilst it’s always clear that Jackson and Younkins are way out of their depth, we mainly see arguments about filmmaking rather than the process of film being made. Tellingly, DeMott ignores THE DEMON LOVER’s eventual completion and limited release, preferring to leave Jackson and Younkins framed as sexist blowhards.

Can DeMott’s film be trusted entirely? It’s hard to tell but it does seem prone to exaggeration: those severed fingers, the pantomime villains, the BLAIR WITCH ending… We won’t get Kreines’ saggy Y-fronts in a twist about it, but we are left wondering if everything here is (always) at it appears.

Whether you see DEMON LOVER DIARY as documentary, mockumentary or, as Time Out describe it, a “film-within-a-film”, it remains a fascinating account of what happens when the urge to create boils over into something more dangerous.

DEMON LOVER DIARY discussion panel at BFI 26 September 2017
DEMON LOVER DIARY discussion panel at BFI (26 SEP).

DEMON LOVER DIARY DISCUSSION PANEL

We don’t normally moan about such things, but this panel felt a little stiff: a group of too-tightly huddled experts in need of reanimation. Despite Isabel Stevens’ committed hosting, this would have flatlined without Kim Newman. His expert offerings fleshed out Jackson’s subsequent career (HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN et al), matched his debut budget to that of better known peers (Hooper and Raimi), and remarked on how such films ever came to be distributed in VHS hungry Britain.

“THE DEMON LOVER is a film that gets better as it goes along but never gets good.” Kim Newman.

As to the rest, when Trump gets thrown into the mix, you know things have rather run out of steam…

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Featured images: DEMON LOVER DIARY (1980) and THE DEMON LOVER (1977).

THE DEMON LOVER 1977 movie poster

 

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