Why Wasn’t My Demon Lover (1987) Directed by Ate de Jong?


There’s something a little off about My Demon Lover director Charlie Loventhal’s filmography as listed on IMDb. Loventhal seems to have a small string of slightly-edgy rom-coms that fit in with half of My Demon Lover‘s basic appeal but what about the magical, demonic half that makes My Demon Lover unique within that genre? There’s no element of fantasy or mysticism immediately detectable in the rest of Loventhal’s work, which makes My Demon Lover feel like something of an outlier in his catalog. I feel like I have encountered a director before who was working well withing My Demon Lover’s wheelhouse, though, and oddly enough it was someone we’ve covered here for a previous Movie of the Month.

Last summer Britnee presented the straight-to-VHS action fantasy Highway to Hell as a Movie of the Month selection. Everything about Highway to Hell, from the creature design to the sex obsession to the cartoon humor to the general sense of where it belongs in the VHS era, fits right in line with My Demon Lover‘s lighthearted approach to demonic black magic. The only thing missing from the film’s formula is Bugs Bunny charm of My Demon Lover‘s titular heartthrob Beelzebub, Kaz (played by Family Ties‘s Scott Valentine). However, the same year he released Highway to Hell, director Ate de Jong also unleashed his most noteworthy contribution to cult cinema: Drop Dead Fred. In Drop Dead Fred deceased funnyman Rik Mayall plays a child’s obnoxious imaginary friend that’s downright demonic in his pure id sense of humor & anarchy, a perfect mirror to My Demon Lover‘s Kaz, right down to the oversized blazer. There’s even a rom-com structure to Drop Dead Fred not too dissimilar to the schleppy lady protagonist Denny’s in My Demon Lover. In Loventhal’s catalog My Demon Lover feels almost entirely out of place. Among Ate de Jong’s releases in just the year of 1991, it fits just like a glove.

I’m not sure exactly how to think about this connection. It’s tempting to assume that because My Demon Lover was released a few years ahead of its Ate de Jong counterparts that the film served as some sort of inspiration for what was to follow. That feels unlikely, though. My Demon Lover, Highway to Hell, and Drop Dead Fred all feel like the kinds of films made purely for their supposed marketability, not necessarily with any specific artistic merit in mind. These are not the works of highfalutin auteurs. What I can say for sure, though, is if you enjoyed My Demon Lover & are searching for similar works centered on the same kind of VHS-specific, goofy demonic aesthetic, looking to director Loventhal’s other titles is a step in the wrong direction. I’d suggest instead that you start with de Jong’s 1991 output in Drop Dead Fred & Highway to Hell. If you had told me de Jong directed My Demon Lover I would’ve shrugged  & said “Duh.” based on those two films alone. Together as a trio, they seem to complete a picture crafted by a single artistic mind (in the trashiest sense of that phrase), even though they truthfully have very little to do with one another.

For more on April’s Movie of the Month, the 1987 romantic horror comedy My Demon Lover, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film.

-Brandon Ledet

The Same Year Ate de Jong Directed the Would-Be Cult Classic Highway to Hell (1991), He Also Directed the Actual Cult Classic Drop Dead Fred (1991)


During our discussion of July’s Movie of the Month, the straight-to-cable oddity Highway to Hell, Britnee pointed me to the director Ate de Jong’s IMDb page to take note of his long list of wartime melodramas, which all seemed really out of place considering the movie we were discussing at the time. While I was browsing his catalog, I discovered something even stranger. The very same year de Jong directed Highway to Hell, he also released his only other American title, the rambunctious Rik Mayall imaginary friend comedy Drop Dead Fred. Although I had yet to see Drop Dead Fred at the time, I knew it had a fairly positive reputation among people in my age range, so it was strange to discover that the closest that film’s director ever got to striking gold twice was with Highway to Hell. 1991 must’ve been a very strange year for de Jong, emotionally & professionally.

Having now actually watched Drop Dead Fred, it’s fairly easy to see traces of Highway to Hell‘s aesthetic lurking in the film. The protagonist, played by the always-lovely Phoebe Cates, is an overgrown child who, after losing her job, her car, and her marriage in a single afternoon, reunites with her childhood imaginary friend, the titular Fred. Fred is pure id. He subscribes to a Looney Tunes sense of physics, calls his non-imaginary friend “Snot Face” & her overbearing mother “Mega Bitch”, and generally has a five year old’s sense of impulse control & desire to destroy everything in his path. A lot of the visual goofery that makes Highway to Hell a fascinating fiasco is present here in Fred’s antics & in the morally criminal hellscape that surrounds Phoebe Cate’s childlike protagonist. Just like with the pure-of-heart pizza delivery boy who saves the day in Highway to Hell, Fred’s friend-in-need is too good for this wicked world of evil ex-husbands & Mega Bitch mothers. The difference is that she has a little bit of destructive mischief on her side, trying to get her to stand up for herself, while Highway to Hell‘s protagonist just had that little kid who refused to turn heel (to borrow a pro wrestling term) & misbehave.

In addition to a general sense of melancholy & helplessness, that’s something about childhood that Drop Dead Fred gets right that Highway to Hell misses out on completely. Children are destructive little shits, at least occasionally, so it was frustrating to watch the little moppet in Highway to Hell to keep his cool & show no signs of evil, despite his pedigree as a literal Hell Child. Drop Dead Fred is smart to acknowledge the mischievous (as well as the gloomy) side of children as soon as the first seen. When the protagonist is introduced as a small child she responds to a bedtime story meant to teach her the value of being “a good little girl” with the retort “What a pile of shit!” She’s not wrong.

Both Highway to Hell & Drop Dead Fred have a childlike way of looking at the world & both have an endearing way of mixing slapstick silliness with pitch-black humor. The differences in their achievements (besides the sublimely silly performance by much-missed Rik Mayall as Fred) can be attributed almost entirely to the writing. If Highway to Hell were a little more thoughtful, a little more nuanced in its dialogue the way it was in its set design, Ate de Jong could’ve had two resounding successes on his hands in 1991. Hell, he could’ve probably kept making silly black comedies forever, instead of fading into wartime melodrama obscurity. I know I’d still be watching, at least.

For more on July’s Movie of the Month, Ate De Jong’s 1991 action comedy Highway to Hell, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film.

-Brandon Ledet