Demons of Ludlow (1983)
DEMONS OF LUDLOW
WRITERS: William Arthur & Alan Ross
DIRECTOR: Bill Rebane
STARRING: Paul Van Hausen as the Preacher
Stephanie Cushna as Debra
James R. Robinson as Winifred
Carol Perry as Ann Schultz
C. Dave Davis as Mayor Sam Donaldson
Debra Dulman as Sybill
Angailica as Ludlow's daughter
QUICK CUT: The New England town of Ludlow is celebrating its bicentenial, and as part of the celebration, the descendant of the town's founder has sent an antique ivory piano as a gift. Oh, and the piano contains murderous pilgrim demons. Murderous. Pilgrim. Demons.
Preacher - Our...our hero. He tries to get the piano destroyed, and the truth out, but is to hip deep in the conspiracy to really get anything done until it's too late.
Debra - Our heroine. A former resident of the town, she escaped to become a big city repoter but got dragged back in to cover the town's bicentenial. She's trying to get the truth, but no one will speak to her until it's too late.
Mayor Sam - One of the villains, as he's perfectly happy to let the piano sit around and let the pilgrim ghosts pillage his town because they deserve it. He doesn't come around to trying to stop the piano until it's too late.
Ephram Ludlow - The ghost of the founder of the town. He's the mastermind behind the overly elaborate plot, but mostly stays out of affairs. He does finally enter the movie to terrorise the citizens, but not until it's too late.
THE GUTS: Well, it's a fair guess to say this movie is set in winter. It opens up with some very white establishing shots of a small, New England town buried in snow. Yes, I mean the snow with regards to whiteness. Although, the ethnicity is also appropriate.
We see a shaggy guy that is trying to look like Brian Blessed and failing terribly, enter one of the homes where his wife is waiting. He enters a house, then we see her play with clothes for awhile, and next it cuts away. This scene means absolutely nothing.
Since that was going nowhere, the movie jumps to the celebration of Ludlow's bicentenial, complete with banjos and square dancing. Isn't this supposed to be New England and not the deep south?
And the movie jumps again after a whole five seconds of that. Come on! Pick a scene and stick with it!
For now, it's back to Shaggy, I guess. He chides his wife Sybill for getting drunk before the party starts. Damn right, it's no fair that she gets a head start on everyone.
At least that scene actually did something before jumping back to the hoe down. The dancing winds down and the mayor gets up and congratulates the town for lasting 200 years, and thanking the founder of the town for bringing all of them together.
The guy has a sheet wheeled out, and underneath he reveals an ivory white piano inlaid with gold, a gift from the founder's deceased grandson, Ephram Ludlow III. The townspeople marvel at it and wonder how much its worth. Probably more than any of you will make in a year, if I know my small town people.
Next we get a voiceover tour of the town, and how lots of strange, unexplained things have happened there, like one house where accidents kept happening. Could be worse, could be a Maine town created by Stephen King.
The piano has been moved to either a meeting hall or a church, from the barn...which is a great place to show off an expensive gift shipped overseas now that I think about it. Father Chris gives a brief speech, and steps aside to allow for the piano to be played for the first time.
I don't think the music we hear could possibly come out of the piano. Either that, or the pianist is amazingly good. So good she can play an organ with her toes, it seems.
The townsfolk look suitably unimpressed, as they would be at a lame town hall piano recital. If they were hearing the music I was hearing, they might be more excited. Instead, the room is filled with yawns, and a young couple actually duck out early because young couples have better things to do, like each other.
They sneak back to the barn and up to the hay loft, and you can still hear the piano music. That's not piano music.
While the town gets bored in unison, the couple continue to make out, until they hear noises. The woman freaks out, but the guy is only interested in one thing, until she insists he goes look.
She uses the alone time to strip, and just as she's settling down and getting calm, a strangely glowing hand bursts through the floor of the loft. Her boyfriend comes running and gets shot in the back for his troubles.
The hand grabs the girl, or touches her gently, and smears crap all over her stomach. Somehow, this kills her. Or was that supposed to be blood?
Debra and Winnie - *snickers* The poor guy is named Winifred - are sitting in the local restaurant discussing the piano, and she recognises it as being in the town before. The mayor never mentioned that, and it's a bit odd to celebrate the new piano when it's actually just been returned.
Preacher McBeard and his wife retire for the night. He stands in a dark room for a few minutes, while she gets sloshed, and I get bored. He's not there for long before heading back to the town hall to look for his keys.
While he's gone, she calls out for him every few seconds, until he actually does come home. They finally head to bed, and are brutally murdered in their sleep...no wait, nothing happens. More boredom. What was the point of that?
Debra then wanders the town, listening to dueling narration as she gathers information on Ludlow. Or tries to, but all the real info was lost in a church fire, and every time she asks about the piano, people clam up. Nice.
Chris McBeardy visits the mayor, and they discuss getting rid of the piano. The mayor is against it, because there is no influx of young people, and the town is slowly dying off because everyone is just plain old. I don't think a piano will draw in the kids. Even in 1983.
Debra investigates the town hall in the dark, ignoring the whsipering voices as best she can. She pokes at the piano, and with each note struck, a picture of the town's previous residents shakes and eventually falls.
She gets interupted when Chris arrives, and they talk about the piano for a bit. Not that anything of interest is said, of course. She leaves, and we see something creeping up through the floorboards behind Chris. Nothing we ever see again, or learn what it is, but it happened.
Before that can get interesting, we jump to another family with a troubled young girl who doesn't say much and just plays with her food. I want to see her mold a mesa out of potatoes. She eventually gets bored and almost stabs her mother in the hand with her fork.
As the girl moans about her dolls, we jump back to Chris where his fire poker is rising up and his figurine collection is getting angry.
He almost takes notice of these things, but instead he just stares off blankly as the ghosts of Ludlow's past tries to conk him on the head. Tries, and misses! Worst ghost ever.
Meanwhile, the pianist is tapping away on the thing some more, and the piano springs a ketchup leak. I only note it because hey, bleeding piano! But how long does she play this damned thing?
The stabby girl is playing with her dolls, and in a scene straight out of nightmares, the clown puppet doll behind her briefly stands up and cackles before settling down. And there goes my hope for sleep any time soon.
She tries to find out who laughed, and the fact that she's seriously asking it worries me. She finally leaves the room and we see a small girl in period clothes in a rocking chair for a few seconds before she's badly edited out in a jump cut.
Downstairs, the non ghostly girl finds a bunch of people in period clothes and white wigs devouring food, and if there wasn't already weirdness in this movie, I'd just call her crazy and be done with it.
They urge her to come closer, which she does, and mistake the doll she's holding for a real baby. First off, when the ghosts or hallucinations are playing with knives and beckon you over, run. Even if you are crazy. Second, if they don't know the difference between doll and baby...well, they may just be from Corpse Grinders.
The spectres all rise from the table, advancing on the poor, clueless girl and her child. Er, doll. See? Even I'm confused now on which is which.
They argue over who gets the girl and come closer and closer, hands covered in blood. The last thing we see is her top being pulled off for no good reason other than the movie needed boobies.
Debra is busy getting her write on, as she tries to research the town. Again. She repeats a lot of information she already gave us in an earlier voiceover, and is amazed and frustrated at the bare facts on the town, when every other town she knows of has tons of information on them. Lady, the town has a population of 47. Not much is gonna happen there.
Well, less than that now. The two kids in the barn, and then the crazy girl brings us down to 44.
Debra drops an infobomb on us when she recounts how the founder of the town was booted out and deported back to England, swearing to get revenge. This isn't a little known fact, if she's heard it. Other, older people likely know it too, and so they gladly accept his piano? Not the brightest folk.
The reverend's wife gets paid a visit by the ghosts, and she gets blood all over her hands. We see the little girl ghost watching her as she leaves to wash up. Unfortunately, the faucets stopped working, and I don't think plumbers do ghost removal. Who you gonna call?
She just stands there as the ghost strips off her clothes, and then she falls to the ground. We don't know yet what happened to her, but it's revealed later on when we see her sleeping that she must have just passed out. So, the ghosts like to laugh, tear off clothes, and sneak behind people. That's not a ghost, that's a stalker.
At the wake for Emily, the townsfolk discuss what to do, and calling in outside help. They all seem to know full well what's going on, which makes bringing back the piano all the stranger. If they saw this coming, they could have stopped the bloodbath.
Oh, and I'm not sure if Emily is the horny girl, or the crazy girl.
Winnie, heehee, is deveoping his pictures, and discovers something interesting on one of them. He checks it out with a magnifying glass, which the movie chooses to not pull focus on.
The reverend tries to assuage his guilty conscience at long last and contact Debra, but she's out, so he just has his beard and God to talk to until she returns.
Deb finally returns to photography lad's place, and they compare notes. He's discovered a heavily marred inscription on the piano, so not much of a discovery there, and Deborah has found out nothing she didn't already know before. She once again tells us how Ephram was kicked out of town, took everything with him, and sent the piano back 185 years later. Thanks for going in circles, movie!
Winnie says Ephram's family must have been willing to forgive and forget, but no. That would make too much sense. Instead, the piano was sent back to Ludlow as a plot to get even! Yes, sending an expensive gift is the best way to show your revenge! And these jokes at how absurd that sounds fall flat when that's the actual plot, doesn't it?
She keeps asking the same questions; why no one will answer questions about the town's history, why there's no historical data, and why people keep leaving. Hey, lady, I just so happen to have spent large portions of my life in a town called Ludlow in New England. I know full well why people want to get the hell out.
And right after saying there's no history about Ludlow she can find, she then tells us all about Ephram's 10 year old daughter whose death he blamed on the townspeople. How can there be no info and then lots of info at the same time? Sigh. There's no history until it is convenient for the plot. Not an old trick, but very annoying in this movie. Debra doesn't know anything, but once the movie needs to move forward she just magically knows the facts she needs.
Not to mention the sheer impossibility of wiping every town record and every single fact from every single book, but it's a small town, so I can probably let that slide.
Mayor Sam is visiting Chris, and they're yelling more about the revenge and piano. Chris outright says everyone knew this was coming, which begs the question, once again, of why accept the piano? If the Trojans knew what was in the horse, they wouldn't have opened their doors. That's more than a plot hole.
We learn there's a list of names, and those are likely the people being attacked, descendants of those responsible for the executional of Ephramette. Chris urges Sam to warn people so that they can leave if they want, but that would make too much sense. We also learn that those two are on the list as well.
While Sybill sleeps and hears voices, Beardy heads BACK out into the cold, night air with a crowbar to make some smashy time with the piano.
Fortunately for the pianist, the piano is busily plinking away all on its own, and Chris digs at what I presume are the foundations of the town hall, probably directly beneath the cursed object.
His wife has meanwhile woken up and looks for her husband. While she's out of the bedroom, the ghosts float a glass onto her nightstand. I think. They used a very wide shot to show us a tiny, clear object floating through the air. Good move.
She returns and takes some pills, and then has a drink from the glass. Ok, I can roll with her assuming her husband left it there, fine. But where did the ghosts get the glass? The contents inside it? And whatever they put into it? Since I presume it isn't just a glass of scotch. Even if it was, then where is still a question!
We finally see Chris pull something out of the hole he's been digging into a wall, and it's still unclear just what it is. But as he leaves, the ghosts handilly close the cellar door behind him.
He takes his crowbar and package up to the piano, and is just about to smash the thing when whatever he's carrying around bursts into flames. He stomps on it to try and put it out, but that just spreads the fire. Won't the spreading fire be just as bad for the piano as a crowbar? If he didn't put it out, that is.
As he's trying to smash the piano, the ghosts are lifting a chair to try and smash his wife. She wakes up screaming for no readily apparent reason, at least not until the room fills with light like she's being abducted by aliens. NOW is when you scream.
And then the movie gets weird. No really.
Suddenly, the reverend's wife is dressed in a bonnet and old timey clothes at her makeup mirror, with a man riding a horse coming into her bedroom, and when she stands up to greet him, he shoots her in the chest. (43!!) She flies back through the air and lands on her bed, just as she was beforehand, clothes returned to normal and everything. Um, what?
Deb and, heehee, Winnie stop by the town hall to get better pictures of the inscription, and just miss Chris. Winnie notes that the town is dead. Is that really a difficult achievement with a population of 43?
As they're driving back to wherever it is they're staying, they almost hit the little ghost girl. Yeah, give her more reasons to destroy the town. At least Fred is smart enough to snap some pictures.
Of course, when he develops the film, there's nothing there. If it wasn't clearly a ghost, I'd mock him for being a bad photographer.
They look over the inscription, which makes about as much sense as anything in this movie. Which leads them back to the brilliant deduction that the piano is the key! They must go back and examine the piano! AGAIN! This movie likes running in circles and chasing its own tail.
Emily's mother, I believe, is all alone save for the voices and scampering outside her bedroom. The door explodes open in light and fog, and rather than Spinal Tap, a pair of pilgrim ghosts come out carrying baskets.
The little girl reaches into her basket and starts huffing rocks at the old woman's head. A normal person might, I dunno, get up and protect themselves, but she just lays there and takes blow after blow. Even if her head hurt to much to get up, she could block with her arms, or throw things back. Heck, throw the rocks back! It's not like she's helpless.
The ghosts discuss if it is time yet, and they agree, which is all that is needed for the green sparkly hand to poke through the ceiling above. They sit the woman up, who continues to offer no resistence at all as they pull a rope down out of nowhere, and put it around her neck.
Is the hand holding the noose? Is it tied to something? Won't that look weird when the police investigate, whichever way that goes? Either the rope is just connected to the ceiling, or the hand is still their holding it, or the rope is just laying next to her.
...Or maybe she'll just get pulled into the ceiling. Okay then.
The mayor visits Chris to console him on the death of his wife, and they talk about the papers he dug out of the wall. We learn that Chris's father saved them from an earlier fire at the church mentioned towards the start of the movie, and that they may be the key to stopping this.
I thought the piano was the key?
They agree that things have finally gotten bad enough that they need to warn people and destroy the piano, since we're pulling into the home stretch of the third act.
Sam concludes that Ephram is after more than just revenge, since he's had plenty of that. Why? If he can keep getting revenge...it's a powerful motivator is all I'm saying. No real reason is given for why the ghost finally decided to go for more.
We very often see the piano playing, and then hear it still in distant locations. Or at least the next house over. And it's more than just score, as it is clearly muted so the music has to be diegetic. I would expect by now that townspeople to be lining up to smash the thing since it's been playing all night.
Finally, Debra catches up with the reverend and they have an infodump session to clear up the plot. He hands her the charred pages, the original documents of Ludlow's history.
She also says she doesn't know about the Ludlow curse, which is funny since she already told us about it. Her lack of knowledge surprises Chris and he wonders why she's even there. Good question! She just stumbled upon all this, and has put all this together and not heard of the curse? That's a giant leap of faith.
Sam is busily out chasing Ludlow's spectral daughter and he comes across a stump that suddenly gets very angry and explodes in a shower of sparks. He runs away from it, and that was all a bit random and weird. And pointless.
Chris reads from the documents, which are so thorough as to include details of a woman running away from her husband and being chased down and shot by her husband. Sybill was the descendant of that woman, so that explains that, at least. Still, weird to have such in depth notes. Not that I would know from crazily in-depth notes.
We also learn that Ephram Ludlow's hands were cut off, and that he no longer could play the piano he loved so much, and that's what caused everything, his hate infusing the item.
And Deb's great grandfather is also on the list. Ok, is this the documents of the town founding, the police blotter from 1782, or Ludlow's list of revenge victims? They can't be all on that scorched piece of paper!
Mayor Sam runs in on a sudden ghostly sword fight in the town hall, and...I got nothing. Now the ghosts are just playing, for no reason.
Finally they stop goofing off and go after Sam. So, they just were killing time until someone on the list stopped by to say hi? I guess they had to do something to fill the hours.
They stop taunting the poor guy and finally get down to business by whacking off his head. But now they have a new thing to play with, and so it's soccer time.
Meanwhile, Deb is finally showing the reverend the photos of the inscription, which I guess he could do by looking at the piano itself, but this is quicker. We mostly see Chris reading off the inscription and emphasizing every other word as he tries to figure it out.
Debra says Winifred thinks some of the words may somehow signify musical notes, which makes Chris repeat Caged over and over again until he figures out that Ephram Ludlow's ghost is inside the piano, and that he wants his hands back.
...Ok, if you say so. Care to give us the outline on that one?
They head to the town hall and Chris plays some notes, which I don't know how they were in the inscription, since they don't spell out an actual word.
While Ephram tries to push his way out of the piano, the pair watches until he tries to take a sledgehammer to the keys. Where did he get that from? THe best part is after he hits it, the piano literally dances away. Jumps up into the air and bounces, like it's made of balsa wood.
The piano jumps around, exploding in a few spots, and breaking the stage floor beneath it, so Chris takes the sledgehammer to it some more. Admittedly, kinda cool, with hands pushing out of the piano, and the pyro, even if the jumping looks very hokey.
Before he can get in a good swing though, the piano thinks it's a stump and starts exploding some more, shooting smoke out its top, and blasting sparks all around the room.
Suddenly, the room is filled with dancing pilgrims, Ephram himself, and his daughter. It's like the movie is trying to bookend itself with a mockery of the square dancing.
Chris and Debra weave through the dancing ghosts to try and escape, but the little girl sees them and calls out the dogs. Which is a moot point since the doors won't open anyways.
The soundtrack record player's batteries start to run low and the music slows down as the ghosts notice the humans trying to escape and stare at them. Yeah, sorry guys, you're the ones that look like you escaped the RenFaire, you don't get to stare.
All the ghosts circle the duo and grab Chris, leading him to a chair that appeared out of nowhere. They're about to put him on trial for his ancestor's crimes, but rather than make us sit throgh that annoyance, Ephram decides to just get this over with. Thank you.
Oh yay, they actually do cut off Chris's hands! Not the best effects work here, but I am impressed they actually showed it! They cut one off, off screen, and that was a bummer, until they showed the second one being sliced off with a sword.
And that's probably the population down to 40.
Suddenly, Deborah is engulfed in fog, and her clothes now matches all the ghosts. She runs out the door which is now magically unlocked. That was weird.
Anyways, she runs around the town trying to find help, but all she finds in the homes are the pilgrim ghosts from the white piano. Which is a bizarre thing to type.
She runs and runs, calling to Winnie for help, until she runs down the road and suddenly stops as her hands burst into blue sparkles. Ok, what? Is there a ghost dome around the town now?
Deb pokes at the barrier, and makes more sparkles, but it seems like there is no escape for her from Ludlow. Boy, do I know that feeling.
While she pokes at the air, we return to the town hall, and see Ephram's hands restored. The ghosts all gather around him happily. Which makes me wonder just how that works. Why are all these ghosts pissed at the town? Why are they doing his bidding? I get why he's pissed, but where did the rest of these ghosts come from? Heck, some of them are ancestors of people he's killing, or having them kill! Some might even be victims themselves.
Back outside, Deb is still walking against the wind, as she starts to fade away. A car pulls up and almost runs her over, but instead goes through her. Oh no, is she trapped in a spectral version of Ludlow, forever doomed to walk its streets and be tormented by Ephram's ghosts?
Shoot, no. It was just Winnie driving by and through her, which somehow changed her clothes back to normal, and set her free. Why? I don't know.
And as Winnie scoops her up into his car, the credits roll, very badly they roll, being almost translucent and hard to read. Way to go.
Wait wait, that's it? The ghosts...WIN?! Ephram gets revenge on the entire town save Debra, gets his hands back, and...what? Deb only survives because she was ghostrun over? Whatever.
Video: Ouch, this is bad. This is from the same set as Murder Mansion, and since each disc is packed with several movies, and public domain ones at that, while being done as cheap as possible...yeah, not good quality.
Audio: It's a stereo mix, and not much done to it, but not bad. Everything is easy enough to hear, and the pianoish soundtrack is actually nice and atmospheric.
Best Line: Winnie says, "The town is dead," and truer words are never spoken.
First Kill: The kids in the barn about 12 minutes deep, by a spectral hand with chocolate sauce, and a shotgun.
Best Kill: Sybill's, by far. It's weird, disconcerting, and jars you when the shotgun goes off and shocks everything back to reality.
Blood Type - B: Not bad, but could be better. There's some gruesome scenes in there, but the blood is light.
Sex Appeal: A few randomly bared breasts, but that's it.
Movie Rating: Hooboy. Let's see. The acting is bad. The effects are cheap and goofy. The makeup is corny. The blood is chocolate. The pacing is awful, redundant, circular, and so little happens in so much time. The plot...oh, the plot. A town celebrating its lengthy history, with a secret dark past, whose members die off when ghosts seek revenge based on things their ancestors did, and a religious man finally stands up and takes the final hit? Yeah, just go watch "The Fog" instead. Either version is better than this. One out of five dancing pianos.
Entertainment Rating: This movie had potential. The director is responsible for two classic MST3K episodes. This is the worst of the three. It's got some good laughs from the cheese, the effects make you smile, and there's some interesting demises. But the pacing totally hoses any chance this movie had. It is seriously slow. People wander around, talk and talk, and it's even worse than that. They talk about things they already talked about! This could have become a cult classic, but you just sit there waiting for things to happen while the piano plays itself. Two out of five horses in my bedroom.
I'd throw up my hands in frustration, but Ephram might take them.