Demon Fighter is the third film I’ve reviewed by writer/director David J. Espinosa after The Crumbs and The Evil Down the Street and his fourth film overall. And, just as each of those films is different from the one before, Demon Fighter goes off in its own direction as well, mixing martial arts and demonic horror in what looks like an American take on the Korean film Divine Fury as well as any number of Shaw Brothers and more recent Chinese films.
At first, it’s actually hard to tell what’s going on as the opening scenes of Demon Fighter follow Father Michael Martinez (John Ozuna, Cabal, Cry Havoc) around as he rescues some women from muggings, or worse, takes part in an underground fight in a warehouse, etc. He also smokes large amounts of either crack or weed and has nightmares. The man obviously has issues.
The first act is meant to introduce us to Demon Fighter’s title character and explain his troubled existence. A lot of that takes the form of flashbacks to his childhood where we see the young Michael played by Erik Cortez in some scenes and Brandon Tyler in others, dealing with his junkie mother, getting beaten by her clients and getting taken in by the church. It’s a backstory we’ve seen plenty of times and unfortunately, there’s nothing new done with it here.
Eventually, after a couple of attempts, Hank Jefferson (Robert Crow, Space: Above and Beyond, Love N Quarantine) convinces him to listen to Avalon (Anastasia Katarina, Washed Ashore, Tales from Middleton High) the daughter of one of his friends. It seems her father Nicolas (Jeff Hatch, Blackmark, Mega Shark vs. Kolossus) has been acting very odd since he inherited some ancient relics.
It’s not until the half-hour mark that Demon Fighter actually gives us anything scarier than somebody changing their religion away from Christianity which we’re apparently supposed to find terrifying and defacto proof of demonic involvement. Apart from that one brief effect though Demon Fighter is a massive talkfest. I understand it’s an extremely low-budget film. But if that’s the case don’t make a film that runs over two hours and buries its few scares and effects in dull conversations.
A film like this also needs a cast that can keep the viewers hooked between those scenes. The last thing you want is a lead actor who can’t act and that’s what this film has. I said it when I reviewed Cabal, Ozuna has fighting skills but he has no charisma. He can’t act at all and watching him in Demon Fighter is probably more painful than getting hit by him. Speaking of hitting, he actually does very little fighting in the film after the first few minutes, making the decision to cast him extremely puzzling.
Eventually, we do get some familiar demonic tropes such as Avalon’s mother (Jeanne Young, The Infinity Project, The Woods of Purgatory) possessed by Abadon and saying nasty things about Michael’s mother. But “Your mother spread her legs for a nickel bag” lacks the punch of “Your mother sucks cock in hell!”. Demon Fighter’s most frightening moment is probably when the neighbour (NJ Brown, Freshman Year, First Date) walks in during an exorcism and offers everyone burritos. At least we get a jump scare out of it. By the time they call in Rabbi Cohen (Bill Dietz, Captive Audience, Unlucky Stars) to help exorcise the father I just wanted it to end.
I went into Demon Fighter hoping for a film with a hero that could literally kick some demonic ass. Instead, I got two hours of talk and an actor who was so stiff and wooden it’s a wonder he’s not part of someone’s deck. Whatever Espinosa does next I hope it’s a return to the level of The Crumbs because this wasn’t just a step down from it, it was a step down from his first film as well. In the meantime, if you want an exorcist who’s willing to brawl with Beelzebub there’s always Exorcist Vengeance.
Indie Rights has released Demon Fighter on Amazon Prime. It will also be available free via their YouTube Channel on Sep 30th. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more details.