The Chattanooga Film Festival: SOUTH PARK + EVIL DEAD = ATTACK OF THE DEMONS

Eric Power's loving ode to gory demon flicks of the past comes in a most unexpected format.

When I was a kid, I was always drawing. Cartoons, comics, anything that I could get down onto paper. A movie fan from an unreasonably early age, I was particularly drawn to animated films. My childhood love of animation peaked around the time that Disney was dropping one 2D masterpiece after another into theaters, and I soaked up those visuals like a sponge, allowing them (along with the comic books I was reading and the shows I watched religiously, like THE SIMPSONS) to inform the work I was doing at home. Until I hit my late teens, most of the people who knew me assumed I'd grow up to be an artist of some sort. I clearly had a talent for it, and I lived and breathed that sort of stuff. But various events in my late teens drove me away from my artistic impulses. This disinterest in doing the work somehow metastisized into a disinterest in animation altogether, and as I've gotten older I've found it very difficult to reclaim the appreciation I once had for animated films or TV shows. It'd probably take a good therapist and many long hours to get to the bottom of what happened there, but ... well, that's where I'm at.

All of which is a very long-winded way of getting to the following: I'm exceptionally picky about animated stuff. For an animated movie to hold my attention these days, it's gotta be doing a number of very specific things, executed in a very specific way. If you're an animated filmmaker, I am basically the last person you'd want to show your work to. 

And so, when I do stumble across an animated film or TV show that I enjoy, it tends to be something pretty memorable. Case in point: Eric Power's animated horror comedy, ATTACK OF THE DEMONS, which is playing as part of the lineup at this year's (online) Chattanooga Film Festival. With an artistic style that can basically be described as "SOUTH PARK, only with more attention to detail" and a narrative that calls to mind '80s horror films like THE EVIL DEAD, DEMONS and THE THING, ATTACK OF THE DEMONS charmed the everloving shit out of me. Its style is truly impressive, as is the delight it takes in using that style to render an eye-popping series of monstrous demons and gory kills. I very nearly passed on watching this one because I wasn't sure I'd be able to give it a fair shake, but I'm very glad I did.

The setup: In Barrington, CO (no way is that coincidence), a massive Halloween festival is about to kick off, with a gigantic Battle of The Bands serving as its central attraction. This event has attracted people from all over, including young Natalie (voice of Katie Maguire), who's headed into town with her dim boyfriend, Chet (director Power), and his dimmer friend, Brandon (Andreas Petersen). When a cloaked cultist takes the stage and performs a ritual (which, hilariously, involves the cultist levitating off the stage, swelling to an enormous size, and exploding all over the crowd below) that unleashes literal hell into the community,  Natalie joins forces with locals Jeff (also Peterson) and Kevin (Thomas Peterson) to survive the onslaught. 

It's worth stopping to note here, before I get into a full paragraph about how great the film's gory visuals are, to point out that ATTACK OF THE DEMONS isn't just "gory shit rendered with SOUTH PARK-level visuals". There's plenty of that, to be sure, but the film also takes more time than you'd expect to arrive at that stuff. Power first takes the time to establish Natalie, Jeff and Kevin as their own characters, and this gives ATTACK OF THE DEMONS more depth than I honestly expected it to have after glancing over a synopsis and checking out a few of its marketing stills. Natalie's en route to Barrington for the festival, yes, but she's not there for the Battle of The Bands - she's there to see a relatively unknown artist perform in a small bar nearby. Jeff's a video game fanatic, and we spend time with him in an arcade before the chaos begins, just as we accompany Kevin to a local theater showing some obscure Italian horror film no one's ever heard of (this involves an excellent gag involving the cashier at the theater's box office). The comedy that's to be had in these early sections isn't uproarious or anything, but it is well-observed and pointed. 

Now, with all of that said, let's address this film's biggest selling point: the insanely gory demolition of Barrington. Bodies get torn apart. Heads get ripped in half. The dead become demons who walk the earth, and they ruthlessly murder anyone who gets in their way. Flesh is transformed, bones are broken, even infected animals start turning one another into absolute nightmares. All of this is rendered with the same attention to detail Power and company used in the film's earliest sequences, which means you're gonna see those bones splinter, veins dangling from severed limbs, and infected, uh, juice exploding out of, say, a rat that's been torn in half by an owl. I really cannot overstate how enjoyable all of this is (I also take a minute to single out ATTACK OF THE DEMONS' score, which rules. Arranged by John Dixon, it definitely has the feel of a score from the Carpenter era, and works to elevates Power's film whenever it comes to the forefront. If this score were available to purchase on vinyl, I'd probably buy it).

There's more to ATTACK OF THE DEMONS' story, including a cabin in the woods and the deranged survivalist who lives there, a dude named Stuart Combs (get it?) who may or may not have the solution to defeating the demons, and more, but this is the kind of movie where the how, what, and why are best left for you to discover upon first viewing. I'm not entirely sure when or where Power's film will be available, but I had a low-key blast watching it, and recommend keeping an eye peeled for its arrival. I suspect the BMD crowd will be as charmed by it as I was.