Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 #24 My Demon Lover (1987)
Welcome to the latest entry in Control Nathan Rabin 4.0. It’s the column where I give YOU—the unbelievably generous Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place patron—an opportunity to select a movie that I must watch and then write about in exchange for a one-time, one hundred dollar pledge to this website’s Patreon account.
If you want me to cover your movie in a speedy fashion a good way to game the system, as it were, is to choose something that looks like the kind of thing I would be mildly obsessed with when I was a film and boobs-obsessed twelve-year-old boy.
Beyond providing the website with a much-needed influx of new money this column has allowed me to scratch nostalgic itches for myself and my readers alike. I’ve used this column as an excuse to revisit Robin Hood: Men in Tights and at least one Police Academy sequel and discover new cult treasures I should have seen during my wasted, movie-mad childhood, like Rad and Miami Connection.
On a similar note, I remember obsessing on the VHS box for the 1987 supernatural Scott Valentine vehicle My Demon Lover as a child and covering it for the Films That Time Forgot column over at The A.V Club.
Yes, I’ve seen and written about My Demon Lover before but that was a long, long time ago. I’ve changed tremendously since then. I experienced first extraordinary professional success, followed by a great deal of professional failure and disappointment. I fell in love. I got married. I had a baby. I had a second baby. I left the security of a staff position at The A.V Club for an uncertain future and ultimately a terrifyingly unstable but creatively and emotionally fulfilling life as a freelancer and the one man band behind Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place.
I’ve owned property and sold property and watched the world of pop culture media grow scarier and more terrifying by the day. I had the pleasure of voting for our first black President and the profound displeasure of watching helplessly as Donald Trump was elected president.
Life has humbled me. Indeed, all of these changes have affected me on a profound level. They’ve inexorably colored how I see the world and my place within it, and, by extension, how I see smutty, mean-spirited fantasy romantic comedies from the 1980s about dudes who turn into literal horny devils when they pop a boner like My Demon Lover and, well, I’m guessing that’s probably the only film that fits that description.
The world has changed as well. It’s hard to look at My Demon Lover in 2018 outside of the prism of #MeToo and Rape culture. It was asking an awful lot of audiences in 1987 to root for Kaz (Valentine), a guy who follows our weak-willed heroine Denny (Michelle Little) around like a lost puppy even after she aggressively rejects his romantic advances. Kaz “flirtatiously” shouts “Sexual attraction is a powerful thing, isn’t it?” while grabbing Denny, lifting her off the ground and then “comically” groping her, running away only when he begins to literally turn into a monster once he’s sexually aroused. In 2018, that kind of boorish behavior puts Kaz in a hole he never comes close to digging his way out of.
If nothing else, the great reckoning of the past two years has made it impossible to see male characters doggedly continuing to hit on women aggressively even after they’ve rejected them strongly in a positive light. In the romantic comedies of yesteryear, wearing down the defenses of someone who initially despises you was seen as a heroic expression of will and determination that frequently led to a happy ending and an unforgettable yarn to regale the grandkids with. These days it’s the kind of thing that seems to lead to restraining orders and decades of therapy, not marriage.
Our anti-hero Kaz begins the movie a monster. His tee-shirt looks like it hasn’t been washed since the Carter administration. He emerges from a giant pile of garbage bags on the street like a Pick-Up Artist version of Oscar the Grouch, asks Denny, the object of his desire if he can eat her food and when he discovers it’s health food, he angrily spits it out all over her dress. This is our hero, ladies and gentlemen. Our romantic leading man. Our scuzzy knight in homeless chic.
It’s a good thing our heroine is attracted to scum because boy does Kaz fit the bill. But Kaz can’t help it, you see. It turns out that many, many decades back, when he was a much younger creepy sexual predator Kaz tried to have sex with a Romanian girl while his even more terrifying and gross buddies cheered him on. Seriously. This is something that happened in this PG-13 film aimed at kids who liked Valentine as Mallory’s dumb, handsome painter boyfriend on Family Ties.
The Romanian girl’s grandmother catches them in the act and puts the devil inside the hormones-crazed young boy, cursing him to transform into a repulsive demon every time he becomes sexually aroused.
Kaz seems oblivious to the horrifying reality of his true nature until he meets a magical black hustler who explains to him that “If it’s horny you feel, you get horny for real! You can’t get down with no female when you got a mouth full of razors and a burning tail!”
In a perhaps related development, the city that Kaz stalks so menacingly with his saxophone is overrun with a series of serial killings from an apparently supernatural monster known as “The Mangler.”
Could Kaz be the mangler? Behind the abrasive, off-putting exterior, could he be someone so incapable of controlling himself and his libido that he ends up viciously murdering the objects of his lust in a blackout rage?
Or is the Mangler another awful, insistence man who will not take no for an answer, namely Charles (Robert Trebor), a milquetoast Poindexter who looks and acts like Stuart Pankin, minus the raw, animalistic sexuality?
Charles hits on Denny with nonsensical sweet nothings like, "I felt your yin reaching for my yang.” He’s a “nice guy”, the kind of girl-crazy nerd who calls and brings flowers and, like Kaz, isn’t the type to be deterred by women saying things like, “No, oh god no! Get away from me you monster! I would never, in a million years, sleep with you.”
So it’s unsurprising that Charles is, in fact, the Mangler, and in the film’s third act, takes Denny to a sinister castle so that he can sexually violate and/or murder the object of his deranged affections. Also, he’s a demon, much bigger and more impressive than Kaz.
In order to be in a position to fight off his fellow demon and save the woman he loves, as much as monster-men like him are capable of loving anything, Kaz needs to turn into a demon again in order to fly up to the castle and take on Charles in a film-ending tete a tete. To turn into a demon he must, of course, become sexually aroused.
This is where Denny’s horny, man-crazy best friend Sonia comes in. When Kaz proposes having sex with his soulmate’s best friend in order to give him the demon wings he needs she does not hesitate for a moment. Not for a second. She’s just excited to be having sexual intercourse with anyone or anything. It doesn’t particularly seem to matter that the dude she’s fucking is the boyfriend of her romantically challenged best friend. Nor does it seem to matter that he’s not exactly fully human, but rather a demon from hell with wings and horns and whatnot.
This invites the question, “Is demon-fucking bestiality?” Also, “What do these demons’ penises look like?” My Demon Lover establishes that one of the reasons our hapless, luckless heroine loves Kaz is because she loves strays and runaways and lost little puppies looking for a home and Kaz has a puppy-like quality that’s alternately endearing and a little alarming, as if it’s just more proof that Kaz is in many ways sub-human, and not just in terms of intelligence and judgment.
It is further established that Kaz has to get horny in order to save the day. He needs to get his fuck on so he can sprout wings, fly up to the top of the castle and wrestle the damsel in distress away from the only other man in the movie as gross as himself. But do both parties have to enjoy themselves so damn much? Christ, they stop just short of shooting a homemade sex tape so they can relive this curious moment of devotion mixed with sexual betrayal whenever they’re feeling horny and in need of release.
My Demon Lover introduces its titular demonic pervert as a homeless street harasser who simply won’t take no for an answer when it comes to the ladies and climaxes with him enjoying mind-blowing sex with his girlfriend’s best friend, fucking so good he feels the need to top it off with a celebratory cigarette.
While it does make Kaz somehow even less sympathetic, having our horny hero bone his girlfriend’s hot-to-trot BFF does send out an important and eternally resonant message: fucking your girlfriend’s best friend will give you magical powers and let you do amazing things.
The movie is consequently a horror comedy of sorts in that it’s about shape-shifting demons and a deranged serial killer. But the true horror at the film’s core is mankind’s monstrousness, particularly when it comes to women. It’s about how sex and lust and a deeply misogynistic society’s angry insistence that men score with as many attractive babes as possible transforms men into monsters, grotesque creatures of id and ego who care about nothing other than sex, regardless of consequences.
It’s an unusually literal, accidental look at how rape culture and our innate misogyny transform heterosexual men into demons, monsters, crazed beasts for whom nothing matters but sexual conquests.
My Demon Lover is a terrible, hateful and aggressively unfunny fantasy romantic comedy that accidentally ends up saying something sad and weirdly revealing about how sex brings out the monstrousness inside everyone. My Demon Lover has always sucked, and sucked hard, but now it sucks in a way that feels weirdly resonant, even incisive.
Would YOU like to select a film for this column? You can over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace but any amount would be