DOUBLE FEATURE: Demons (1985)/Demons 2 (1986)
DEMONS (DEMONI) (1985)
Director: Lamberto Bava
Writers: Dardano Sacchetti (Original Story/Screenplay), Dario Argento (Screenplay), Lamberto Bava (Screenplay), Dardano Sacchetti (Screenplay), Franco Ferrini (Screenplay)
Cast: Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Karl Zinny
Running time: 88 minutes
A group of people are invited to a screening of a mysterious horror film playing at a new theatre – a renovated gothic building in West Berlin – called the ‘Metropol’. Whilst there, they soon begin to realise that what is playing before them is no ordinary horror film, and, as reality starts echoing the events on screen, bloodthirsty demons begin to rage amongst them. Now trapped inside the theatre, they must do whatever it takes to escape before they too are infected!
Directed by Lamberto Bava, and produced and written by Dario Argento, Demons is a movie that doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. It hasn’t the social commentary of Romero’s zombie films, nor the artistic and technical beauty of Dario’s own directorial work (or for that matter, Bava’s own father, the late great Mario). What it does have, however, is all the ingredients necessary for a Friday night popcorn movie; a great premise, a Claudio Simmonette score mixed with an 80’s metal soundtrack, and lashings upon lashings of violent gore. And really, that’s all that’s needed for Demons to be successful. Of course, that isn’t to say that the film is badly made; not by any means. In fact, visually it is rather impressive for the type of film it aims to be. It’s clearly evident that Dario lends a hand visually, with the otherwise standard setting of a dark cinema interestingly lit with bursts of blues and reds. In Demons, the environment becomes a mysterious and almost gothic throwback for the horror to take place in.
The film focuses primarily on two sets of characters. The first is a double-duo that includes the film’s heroine, Cheryl, her friend, Kathy, and their two new male acquaintances, George and Ken. The other; a black pimp, Tony (Bobby Rhodes playing a character straight out of any high octane blaxploitation movie) and the two ladies he brings along for the evening’s performance. Whilst in the foyer, audience members walk past a promotional set-up for the film they are about to see; a mysterious mask sits on a motorcycle, alongside a sword. The mask is metallic, and made to look like a satanic artefact (a nod to Mario Bava’s masterpiece, Mask of Satan, maybe?). When Rosemary (Gereta Giancarlo), one of Tony’s girls, tries on the mask for laughs, she scratches her face; thinking nothing of it Tony and the girls get seated for the film, unaware that the event is the start of something very ugly. Before you know it, Rosemary’s scratch becomes a throbbing boil of pus and slime, that soon transforms into a violently rampant demonic creature.
Coinciding with all of this, the events in the horror film that the audience is watching are strangely similar to the events goings on in the theatre; before long the boundaries between fiction and real life are merged, as demonic creatures from the film rage amongst the watching audience, and all out mayhem ensues. What we get from here is effectively an entertaining siege movie which sustains enough threat throughout to work as just that. It‘s not without its crazy outlandish moments either; in one particularly awesome scene, George roars down the aisles of the theatre on the promotional motorbike, wielding the sword and taking down any demonic lady or gent that steps in his way!
Despite its otherwise successful attributes as a movie, one thing that separates Demons from other genre efforts is, without a doubt, the special practical effects that remain the film’s highest achievement. Created and designed by SFX artist Sergio Stivilati (whose previous work includes Phenomenon, and later on, stepping in to direct Lucio Fulci’s film The Wax Mask after he died in 1996), the effects in Demons are great, and terrorise us with a deliciously nasty onslaught of pus, slime and blood that spurts across the screen in all its gory splendour. The prosthetic work is also something to be admired, delivering a ferociously savage look to the demons themselves who, at times, are genuinely effective in the scares department. The transformation sequences are technically well-crafted, accomplished with such a violent unpleasantness that, for this type of movie, you can only relish in; human teeth are pushed out from the bloody gums by newly acquired fangs, and long demonic finger nails sprout from the fingers of the poor soul who is no longer the person he once was!
Outside everything that Demons has to offer as a mindless piece of popcorn horror, there is one interesting element (and perhaps the only layer of depth the film has to offer), in that it’s incredibly self-aware, meta almost, in what it says about horror as a genre, and particularly that of zombie films. It works almost with a similar approach to that which Argento once took with his post-modern giallo, Tenebre, albeit not as defined or well crafted. It is nevertheless interesting that the themes of audience and safety seem to lay prevalent in much of Argento’s work, whether it’s witnessing a horrific act, a murder or, in this instance, a film. Argento always makes the audience aware of their own wellbeing, and I imagine for those lucky enough to see Demons on the big screen back in ’85, this point would be ticking somewhere in their sub-conscious.
The dense cinematic world of Italian horror is a wild and varied one, with everything from visually stunning masterpieces such as Argento’s, Suspiria, to giallos that range from the elaborately executed to the outright sleazy. However, the Italian zombie film (which, ignoring technicalities, is effectively what Demons is), is a different bag altogether. While there are certainly a handful of exceptions, the spaghetti-zombie film is a sub-genre saturated with trash; poorly shot, badly acted movies with often terrible special effects. Some can be enjoyed for their incompetency and are nevertheless entertaining; some, however, are outright dull, with neither the budget nor the talent behind them to deliver what the fantastic posters promise. Demons however, with its memorable poster art seen throughout independent video shops during the glorious days of VHS, does pay off.
Sure, Demons is a film that at times may be a little nonsensical in plot, but do you really care? For the most part, it’s there to deliver nothing but relentless violence, lashings of gore and overall non-stop entertainment. So grab a slice of pizza, crack open a can, and prepare yourself for a pretty satisfying Friday night in.
DEMONS 2 (DEMONI 2) (1986)
Director: Lamberto Bava
Writers: Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Franco Ferrini, Dardano Sacchetti
Cast: David Edwin Knight, Nancy Brilli, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni
Running time: 91 minutes
More demonic mayhem; this time the gothic cinema is swapped for the comforts of the home. Sally is having a birthday party with friends in her high rise apartment building, several floors up. As a sequel to the mysterious film from Demons plays on the television, demonic creatures begin to stretch from the TV sets of anyone that is tuned in. As you may have guessed, more chaos ensues!
Following the commercial success of the original Demons in Italy, it wasn’t long before work commenced on producing a sequel. In fact, it was almost immediately after the first film was finished. Whilst many films that cash in with a sequel deliver a sub-par, unimaginative effort, the idea for Demons 2 actually works quite well. Argento once again re-establishes the direct link between a film’s audience and their safety, but this time he employs the idea in a domestic setting, putting forward an obvious commentary on home video, which, in 1986, was at its height.
A sequel to the original horror film shown in Demons is making its television debut the same night birthday girl Sally (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni) is having a party. Her parents are out of town and she’s having a shin-dig to celebrate. Meanwhile, in other apartments, a heavily pregnant woman waits for her husband to return home, and a six year old boy watches television alone whilst his (really irresponsible) parents are out. Bobby Rhodes returns too, this time playing body-builder, Hank, who resides in a ground floor apartment that could well be the most homoerotically-charged gym ever put to film.
With the set up clearly laid out and our various characters introduced, the horror film airs and before long demons are extending out from the television sets of everyone watching (pre-dating the much more haunting image in Ringu by 12 years). Of course, what’s so convenient about the plot device of the television set, especially in a genre film such as this, is that it gives a feasible excuse to multiply the number of bloodthirsty monsters who then, in turn, infect more people and make the situation a whole lot bigger than what we saw first time around.
The bigger and more open setting lends itself nicely to more demonic set-ups, giving the film perhaps slightly more focus than the first in terms of plot. With Demons 2 we have more room to breathe, and more time to get acquainted with our characters. With the setting, it’s more of an adventure; we don’t know where the building is going to take us, and in a similar same way to Die Hard, it’s exciting and entertaining. But it’s also a quieter and less chaotic film than Demons, relying more on traditional horror conventions such as the ‘what’s lurking around the corner’ approach.
Comparing Demons and Demons 2 side-by-side presents us with a multitude of pros and cons. While the setting is certainly a great concept and, for the most part, works wonderfully, it feels less condensed than the original film. At times the action feels patchy, lacking the kinetic chaos the original film held so well within its small and contained environment. Demons 2 also feels slightly less ferocious in tone – although it does contain its fair share of satisfying unpleasantries, conducted with the same fantastic special effects – and some things here just don’t work as well as the original.
However, despite all this, there is still enough about Demons 2 to make it hugely enjoyable; we get to look around a bit more and explore our dark surroundings, and get to peek around corners, through the layout of apartments and along corridors. While it may not have the same ferociousness of Demons (and, at times, it resembles Gremlins more than it does its predecessor), it’s nevertheless a fun, solid and gory ride. If it only had the bite of the original, Demons 2 could well come close to making the jump from good movie to great one, but it remains a more than worthy candidate for that Friday night double-bill.
Arrow have done a great job on both Blu-Rays, with the two films boasting newly-restored transfers and an array of special features that include an interesting interview with Sergio Stivilati. Both films benefit from fantastic packaging, with interchangeable covers (as do most of Arrows releases), and alternatively, there is also a beautiful limited edition steel-book available which contains both movies.
Whether you’re already a fan, or coming in fresh, these two Blu-Rays are, without a doubt, the best that Bava’s films have ever looked and sounded, and they come highly recommended.