There are times when I feel like (even though I’ve just begun) I should just stop being a critic. I’ve done a lot of other writings and in those writings I find a lot of professional hate, just because I’m a critic. No one really deserves to be taken down, especially if the work in question has one’s heart in it—if it’s something that for the creator brought humanity and light into a life. I have no right to take that and spit on it and stomp on it, and sometimes I question whether or not one has the right to even recommend such things to people, and in doing so deprive an experience. It’s complicated, I’ll admit that. I love writing and I love movies, and I love mixing both of them, but sometimes I just wonder if I’m doing the right thing. So I guess I owe a lot to Demon Lover Diary.
What is about being human that makes us human? Is it the state of being? Is it a state of reference? Is it neither? We cannot know, we have only questions. In a way, we have created our own suffering, questioning ourselves. That’s what art is for. Art is to get an answer to the question of existence. Writing is an art, and every time I put words on a blank document I find something about myself. We are blessed to be able now to record ourselves in many ways; in writing, in painting, and ultimately in film. Documentaries are great ways to find out things about humans. We get to look at an old image of someone’s eyes, and that is wonderful. Everything is as it was in the past. We are so lucky.
Demon Lover, aka The Devil Master, was a 1977 shot-on-video messterpiece directed by Don Jackson, about a cultist named Levall who kills a bunch of teenagers with magic. Demon Lover Diary was a 1980 shot-on-video documentary by Joel DeMott (a girlfriend of one of the crew members) about the production of the former film. Both are crude. In present form, the mucky print is barely visible, and the audio is muddled from the cheap microphones used to record it. No attempts have been made to clean either film, and currently both films are unavailable on anything aside from bootleg DVD-Rs and VHS tapes. Demon Lover Diary actually only exists on the master tape and a couple of copies, which I’ve heard can be purchased from DeMott, assuming one can get ahold of her. My copy is from a torrent made from one of these copies.
When I said that Demon Lover Diary was about the production of Devil Master (a title I prefer), I was being very literal. Little else happens save for the production of the movie. But still, the story found therein is one of the most gripping I have ever discovered. It is possibly a madcap fairy tale that has escaped the bonds of fiction. Either that or it is a tale of completely insane despair that touched the lives of over fifty men and women who were involved.
Joel narrates infrequently, preferring to go with the fly-on-the-wall methods of cinema verite. The tension that forms is little more than the back-and-forth bickering of the crew, which usually goes between the stars and Don or the cameraman and Don. Early on, we hear a story of how one of the producers cut off his own finger for the insurance money to get the budget, after Don fires one of the actors for being late. Don is one of those people who wants to be professional and perhaps very much is. Unfortunately, Don is also terrifying. He rehires said actor, but he makes some vague threats towards him if he screws up again. And, he seems to be a person who would be very good at delivering those threats. The film is already on a bad start.
Bad events plague production. All the actors involved pretty much suck at acting; a whipped cream fight threatens to ruin equipment; tension rises over failed relationships and marital infidelity. Of course, money is always an issue. Having been involved with the making of a number of no-budget films, I was quite surprised at the amounts that were needed for the production of Devil Master—a movie which, in practice, appears to be little better than any of my backyard endeavors. I’ll review Devil Master at some point—it’s actually entered the Mudman Book of Favorites, a little volume that I’ll publish sometime in the 30th Century. It’s still remarkable that this little-known thing cost so much.
Demon Lover Diary is not a little-train-that-could type of story. In fact, it’s more like the proverbial train wreck—horrifying, but impossible to turn away from. The ending will haunt me for a while. Don brings the crew to shoot at Ted Nugent’s house. (Nugent is quite possibly the most annoying human being I’ve ever seen on film.) They happen to borrow some of Nugent’s guns for the filming, full of live ammunition. After this, the crew draws up a contract for Jackson, at their wit’s end; he must deliver on some of the promises he made (mostly monetary in nature) or they will never finish the movie. And, Don seems fine with it. Still, the audience can get a sense of urgency—and horror.
What happens next involves fast-paced shots of screaming, gunfire, and a brief but chilling shot of a bleeding crewmember being hauled off in an ambulance. Don’s uber-Christian mother has a voiceover: “I’m proud that it’s over. I hate this movie, I hate it. I don’t know where Don is, but I’m proud that this is finally over, and that is it. I hate this, and I’m scared.” Then, Joel and the two other men from the beginning—a guy named Mark and Joel’s boyfriend, Jeff—stop outside a gas station. Joel tells us that they are actually, physically on the run from Don, who apparently wants to kill them. As an aside, when I was fourteen, a man pulled a gun on me once—this was at a Halloween party, when I made fun of his car. (The story goes longer than that, but asides aren’t supposed to last long.) The way Joel speaks of it (“We can’t stay here long. There’s another car pulling up, I really hope it’s not Don.”) reminds me of that incident. It’s personal, now. And it’s so human.
I said that art is a way into self-discovery. And when we go to the ends of sanity—when we go to the end of human compassion and find the ape inside the angel—I find it remarkable that people will still keep going to the kingdom that lies outside of sanity; to spread one last message, to warn people to hang on to what makes them into human beings. That’s heroism; going to the dark side and coming back to the light with a simple warning.
Demon Lover Diary is one of those stories. And it’s a story that has struck me in its purely artistic way in the fashion that no other film has done before. It’s a trumpeting call saying that I can never doubt myself again; that straying from the path of art for art’s sake, art as a beacon, as a call, as a warning, is the ultimate deviance.
I will never forget.