THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON
NOTE: HIDEOUS SUN DEMON is available via Amazon in a 2-Pack with REVENGE OF THE SUN DEMON, a re-dubbed spoof of the original. As I only had access to the original, I cannot comment on the second film. And I really don’t want to. –P. F.
I imagine the screenwriters who work for the SyFy channel revere THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON as an altar for worship. They kneel before it humbly and reverently, and pray for it to inspire their next MEGA SOMETHING vs GIANT ANYTHINGOID. They offer the great oracle back copies of DINOCROC, and appease it with the sacrifice of Tiffany and a MEGA piranha in exchange for its wise counsel. If the Sun Demon is pleased, they go about their work as a SyFy executive calls Lorenzo Lamas off his speed dial.
The writers have good reason to call HIDEOUS SUN DEMON their god; because it acts as the template for every piece of schlocky programmer they yield. Poorly acted, based on silly premises, with ludicrous dialogue and ridiculous monsters that wouldn’t scare my five-year-old nephew, the SyFy films are really just new incarnations of the 1950s programmers; films made for 15 year old boys to gobble popcorn with as they smooch with their best girl. Bad films? Certainly. But taken in the right light, fun films. Nobody’s going to put HIDEOUS SUN DEMON on par with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (which, as an odd footnote, recycled part of SUN DEMON’s score). But then again, nobody has to. Now putting it on par with MEGA SHARK vs. GIANT OCTOPUS…
Many sci-fi films start off by showing some horrible incident, then having a scientist explain it. This film breaks the “show, don’t tell” rule right off the bat by skipping right to the explanation. A close up of an alarm marked “DANGER Atomic Research Inc.” rolls into an establishing shot of some orderlies loading a gurney into an ambulance. As it drives off, The Elder Scientist kindly warns us about the hazards of radiation from the sun, hazards already discovered by Dr. Gilbert McKenna. Fortunately for us and the film’s budget, the Elder Scientist and the Lab Assistant Love Interest (right out of the 1950s model of the Generic Stereotype Generator) are able to provide exposition to the Puzzled Doctor about how McKenna bombarded himself. All because he had a hangover. Imagine that! Not that he was drunk, but because he was hung over. Talk about a prude opening. And a talky pseudo-science lesson at that.
But oh when it breaks into action! It turns out that every time McKenna soaks in some rays, he reverts to a lizard-like HIDEOUS SUN DEMON! This leads to all sorts of fun, as McKenna Demon runs amok, terrorizing an old lady on a hospital roof, medical staff,
a sexy lady pianist and her mobster boyfriend (whom he also pummels in his human form), his Lab Assistant Love Interest, and a group of little kids. He’s also not too kind to animals, as he crushes a rat and murders a dog (fortunately, the latter happens off-screen). In between his stints as a monster, he recuperates, not regretting what he’s done, but that he wanted to do what he’s done. As McKenna, writer/producer/director Robert Clarke brings just the right amount of schmaltzy pathos, as the tortured scientist goes on the lam. The whole thing plays for fun; its suggestion that man gestates from a one-celled creature through a lizard state before he’s born heavily outweighs any message about the dangers of radiation the movie may toss at us. With its wonky science and silly monster, SUN DEMON exists in a world all its own; I can’t criticize it as I would an average bad film, because it adheres to its own logic. Clarke clearly understood the engine that made these programmers work, because SUN DEMON is an enjoyable trip.
The best thing the film has going for it is the monster’s mask. It’s actually a neat looking piece, with its scales and big eyes. McKenna runs around with his lizard chest sticking out, his scaly arms protruding from his lab coat or dress shirt, the whites of which make for a nice contrast. Clarke throws himself into his beastly scenes, and does everything to sell the pains of his transformation. Unfortunately, I pegged it pretty early on that the flick would end poorly for our tortured sun demon doctor.
Though the DVD packaging claims there’s liner notes and personal recollections from Clarke, they’re not on the disc. It’s a shame, because this disc really deserves a commentary, a making-of doc, and a full featurette on monster masks from the 1950s sci-fi/ horror boom period. You can, however, find a great commentary on the film’s trailer by Joe Dante, who grew up on these programmers, at his website Trailers from Hell. It’s definitely worth a listen.
“HE WAS A MAN… THE BLAZE OF NOON MADE HIM A MONSTER” proclaims this flick’s tagline, and it would fit nicely in among the promos for any of SyFy’s movies (well… they may have to proclaim him a “MEGA-MONSTER,” but you catch my drift). The story goes that Clarke had starred in so many of these programmers that he decided anyone could make one. Apparently the powers that be at SyFy agree whole-heartedly.
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