‘…and please, don’t let me kill again.’
The Demon Murder Case is a 1983 American made-for-TV film directed by William Hale (Night Gallery) from a screenplay by William Kelley for NBC.
The film stars Eddie Albert (The Devil’s Rain), Andy Griffith, Kevin Bacon (Friday the 13th; Tremors; The Darkness), Joyce Van Patten (The Wide World of Mystery; The Stranger Within; The Haunted) and Cloris Leachman (Young Frankenstein; Scary Movie 4; Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse).
This made-for-TV, Dick Clark production, is a fictionalised account of the actual 1981 Devil Made Me Do It Case from Brookfield, Connecticut. For those not in the know, this was an infamous murder trial which beefed-up its macabre credentials by claiming the first demon possession defence and by having the Paranormal Pompom Squad of Ed and Lorraine Warren (also see The Conjuring and sequel) as its investigators/promoters.
Andy Griffith and Beverlee McKinsey play Guy and Charlotte Harris (aka The Warrens) investigating the possible possession of young Brian Frazier (Charles Fields). Early on, Brian’s sister, Nancy (Liane Langland), relates to her parents how Brian told her a burnt man with sunken eyes and hoofed feet attacked him at the house she and her fiancé, Kenny (Kevin Bacon), were cleaning up and hoping to soon move into; Brian then tells his mother, Connie (Joyce Van Patten), that the burnt man, who calls himself The Beast, has followed them back to his parent’s house.
The husband, Gary (James Doerr), remains skeptical until that night when the demon makes itself known by shaking the house and by the yelling coming from Brian’s room. The family rushes in and finds Brian on the floor claiming to be threatened by The Beast; after Connie tries to reassure him, he kicks her away, then proceeds to growl and laugh manically; he gets up and moves away from them, then whispers menacingly over his shoulder that they are all going to die.
The violence escalates with family members attempting to hold Brian down as an unsourced wind whips things about the room, parts of the house continue to shake, and a thunderstorm rumbles impotently outside. A police officer finally arrives with complaints from the neighbours concerning the noise.
More crazed, sweaty demon laughter ensues, along with growls, distorted close-ups of the possessed, and looks of terror before Connie suggests they call in the Harris couple for help. Once there, the paranormal duo do a cursory investigation, declare a possession, and promptly clash with a banausic priest who thinks the whole thing foolish. His tune changes, however, once the bishop tries to exercise the demon. After this fails, a twist occurs which ultimately leads to the murder referred to in the title and the subsequent trial of the accused.
The high point of the film is Billy Hale’s solidly proficient direction; he knows what he wants, and he knows how to get it without losing the raw-nerved energy required to keep this complex story moving, while John Lindley enhances Hale’s direction by using his palmy cinematography to create a meaty dread throughout the film.
George Tipton’s score fits beautifully, getting under the skin by weaving threatening violin notes through a lamenting oboe’s forlorn sobs. On the flip side, we have questionable acting on the part of Kevin Bacon (Friday the 13th; Tremors; The Darkness), surprisingly enough. He seems to be phoning it in while waiting for his big break to arrive with Footloose.
Overall, the film works, even though it does falter at times, revealing its quick production, shoestring budget, and occasional lapses in acting; it also seems to be glancing longingly backwards to the higher-level tension of 1970’s productions such as Kolchak: The Night Stalker and When Michael Calls. Still, it’s a commendable effort that is well worth seeking out for a slight chill up the spine.
Ben Spurling, MOVIES and MANIA
“As far as the direction goes this is pretty rudimentary stuff, but due to the subject matter it needs only touch a few bases to be effective anyway. Distorted camera angles go a long way when depicting a tortured soul and there is just something legitimately disturbing about a grizzled adult voice coming out of a child and wailing, “You’re all going to die!” Sure, I fell asleep a tad during the boring second half, but when I did, I had bad dreams, bad dreams with hooves!” Kindertrauma