GORE IN THE STORE
REVIEWS BY FANS FOR FANS
5 STAR FAB - 1 STAR RUBBISH
DEMONS - ****
Folks are given shiny tickets in stations and on the streets by future STAGEFRIGHT director Michele Soavi dressed as if he came 3rd in a Come-Dressed-As-The-Terminator contest. The ticket gets them into a mysterious, untitled “preview” screening of a new horror movie at Berlin’s “Metropol” theatre. The soon to be ill-fated viewers of this exclusive presentation are a grab-bag of one-dimensional, disposable disaster movie-style characters : a laughably aggressive take-charge black guy, a bickering older married couple on their anniversary, the obligatory Italian horror blind geezer (with an adulterous wife merrily shagging elsewhere in the theatre) and some air-head teenagers. They nonchalantly watch the dumb crypt-based teen horror movie, which has lots of 80’s metal (like DEMONS) and plenty of daft dialogue (like DEMONS) along the lines of “Nostradamus? Sounds like a rap group to me!” In the movie, a mask has the power to turn characters into demons; in DEMONS, a paying customer cuts her face on a promo mask in the lobby and promptly turns into a slime-oozing, sharp-clawed monster infecting her fellow patrons.
DEMONS’ self-reflexive narrative joins a minor 80’s horror trend for self-mocking film-within-a-film scenarios like the fake opening of both HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE (1980) and KILLER PARTY (1986). All three foreshadowed Bigas Luna’s excellent cinema-set slasher ANGUISH (1987), which in turn preceded the increasingly smug and irritating SCREAM movies a decade later – movies ironically hailed by some as representing some kind of innovative riff on horror conventions. The self-referencing also allows for some bittersweet dialogue given that DEMONS (heavily cut for its 80’s UK release) emerged in the wake of the “video nasty” debacle : when characters say things like “The movie’s to blame for all of this!” and “We gotta stop the movie!”, there is the grim, unintended echo of sentiments from the “ban this filth” brigade.
Bava Jr never lived up to the loopy, stylish promise of DEMONS – or, indeed, his much subtler debut, perverse psychological horror MACABRE. Today, DEMONS probably plays even better than it ever did thanks to the increased nostalgia value and the fact that (adopts voice of elegiac octogenarian) They Don’t Make ‘em Like This Any More. Old-school demon transformation scenes – with nasty details like the horrid fangs that replace the victim’s human teeth – and bladder FX alternate with rousing gross-out moments involving pus, bloody throat rippings, open flesh wounds, eyeball-pokings a la Fulci and mass-panic scenes set to inappropriately timed but still-wonderful rock music from three decades ago. Arrow’s incredible-looking Blu-ray includes featurettes in which the filmmakers suggest it could be so much better if made today with contemporary CGI ; in fact, the movie’s biggest asset is its inventive, exceptional gore FX, and the one thing that would ruin any potential remake is CGI.
DEMONS loses some energy when the plot strays outside the theatre to introduce, late in the day, some absurd coke-snorting punks just so they can take refuge in the theatre like the bikers in DAWN OF THE DEAD and add to the bodycount. Generally, however, the movie has terrific momentum and is Bava’s most visually impressive movie by far, his roaming camera capturing atmospheric images of the glowing-eyed demons emerging from mist-enshrouded, heavily stylised corridors. Even relatively routine sequences are doused in rich primary colours in the SUSPIRIA-era Argento tradition. This union of popular 80’s horror themes – particularly the EVIL DEAD-inspired demon infection angle - is played totally straight, adding another layer of pleasure for fans of hokey dialogue like “There’s an air conditioning vent…Let’s crawl inside!”. Aficionados should note that DEMONS is such a quintessential Italian splatter epic that it even has the legendary Giovanni Frezza (“Bob” from THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY to you and I) show up for an unbilled cameo during the fashionably apocalyptic ending.
DEMONS, which comes laden with a booklet by the ever-engaging Calum Wadell, reversible covers, double-sided poster and the first of a two-part exclusive comic book by Stefan Hutchinson entitled DEMONS 3, ranks among Arrow Video’s finest releases to date. The hi-def transfer is the main source of excitement for viewers accustomed to multiple viewings of a shoddy VHS copy with tracking problems during the gruesome bits you watched on a tape-stretching loop, but you also get commentaries and featurettes in which the likes of Dario and Simonetti reflect affectionately on one of their most popular movies.