As mentioned in previous posts, 1985 saw the release of several very good horror films. I recently reviewed Tobe Hooper’s 1985 space vampire epic, Lifeforce. The same year, Italian horror super-duo Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava teamed up to release Demons.
Because the Internet was still not widely available, the best way to get information was through print. I eagerly awaited the delivery of Fangoria magazine. When that magazine showcased Demons my mind was blown. The full color stills of the gore sequences blew my mind. I could not wait to get to my local video store to score this movie.
Most serious horror fans recognize Dario Argento as the the brilliant director Susperia. The horror community largely regards Susperia (1977) as a seminal work in Italian horror cinema. Dario Argento also directed classics such Deep Red and Opera. Slightly lesser know, Bava also collaborated with Argento on the film Tenebrae (1982). Lamberto Bava served as Assistant Director duties on the controversial Cannibal Holocaust (1980). The point is that these two men command respects as progenitors of Italian horror.
Horror Lies In the Eyes of the Beholder
Labeling something as a great horror film does not always mean that it is a great film. As a horror fan, I have several triggers. If any one of those triggers is sufficiently caressed, it could make a great horror movie out of trash. Demons is not trash, but it also isn’t a great film. However, the film succeeds greatly in being a totally implausible, thoroughly bloody and a totally fun descent into gore-laden horror mayhem.
The movie lacks a real plot. It clumsily employs several plot mechanics to get the story going, but everything exists solely to drive the first demonic possession. Once that occurs the lid is off and film morphs into a bloody demon fest. Overall, the acting in this film fails to impress. Likewise the English dialog is strained and cumbersome, as if English was the writers distant second language. As in many Italian horror films, the overdubs synchronize poorly with the action.
Great horror lies in the eyes of the beholder. If any one of these ailments poses a deal-breaker for the viewer, they may not enjoy the film. Those of us that have developed a tolerance for these shortcomings will find pure Italian horror goodness.
The Plot is… There is No Plot
The movie begins with a student named Cheryl riding the subway. A mysterious man wearing a metal face-plate that covers half of his face offers her a ticket to a movie premier at the Metropol and walks away. Cheryl recoils at first, but her concerns let up when she see the man handing the tickets to other people in the station. She supposes that the mask he wears is just a movie prop. Cheryl requests another ticket for her friend Kathy. Subsequently, Cheryl convinces Kathy to have a night out and check out the film.
The girls arrive at the theater. Conspicuously, a full face metal mask taking design queues from that of the subway lurker sits on display in the lobby of the theater. Moments later, one of the guests, Rosemary, puts the mask on as a joke. The mask leaves a small nick on her face. Can you see where this is going?
The guests now seated, the movie within a movie begins. Its plot is even thinner than the one before it. Four people set out to investigate Nostradamus’ tomb. The group discovers his grave. When they open Nostradamus’ crypt, they find a strange book and mask just like the one in the theater lobby. One of the amateur tomb raiders tries the mask on. Likewise, the mask scrapes his face. Predictably, he turns into a demon and murders his crew. The audience unwittingly watches their ultimate their fate play on film.
Demons Running Wild
Argento and Bava represent the best in Italian horror. Accordingly, they intentionally plowed through a thin plot to get to the action. Once the action starts, it explodes and the gore fest begins. I want to be careful with this metaphor, but I liken it to Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive. The Sumatran Rat Monkey serves only as a catalyst to an explosion of gore. Demons is not quite as exuberant as Dead Alive, but a scrape or a bite from a demon spreads the infection, and the infection spreads fast. Once it starts, there is plenty of gore to go around.
Making Demons – Special Effects
Sergio Stivaletti leads the special effect department. Clearly, Lamberto Bava gave Sergio the directive to disgust the audience at all costs. The practical effects and makeup are middle grade, but they succeed greatly in achieving the goal of grossing out the audience.
Exploding pustules of green and white pus are the hallmark of this film. Demon claws splitting human fingernails and demon teeth pushing their human counterparts from the gums makes the skin crawl. The monsters look both fake and terrifying at the same time. The best part is that the demons waste no time talking, they only attack.
Not All Demons are Created Equal
Some demon designs look better than others. The demon that erupts from Kathy’s back is different for a few reasons. First, this demon is a real creature, Independent from a human host. Also, this demons bears a striking resemblance to the metal demon mask. The film never explicitly states that this demon is the king, but that is my suspicion.
This particular demon is noteworthy for another reason. For all of the middling effects, the back-burster scene impresses. Rather than start the scene with Kathy lying flat, it beings with her on all fours with open space clearly visible beneath her body. The initial burst occurs from this angle. Cleverly, the camera shifts to allow the rest of demon to erupt from her back.
More Meat For the Demons
Not satisfied with the slaughter of 20-30 moviegoers, Lamberto Bava found a way to inject more meat into the picture. An unlikely bundle of coke snorting proto-punk idiots manage to get cornered in an alleyway by police. Inexplicably, a door to the theater opens. The idiots go in and a single demon sneaks out. This scene sets up two things: four more lambs to the slaughter and a demonic leak to the outside world. This leak becomes relevant later. Among the plethora of poor acting, the worst comes from this crew of new-wave munsons.
Demons – La Fine
A series of WTF moments occur in quick succession. Bringing us up to speed, everyone in the theater with the exception of Cheryl and a man named George, has been converted to a demon.
George acquires a katana and a motorcycle from a display in the lobby. On the motorcycle he swoops up Cheryl and starts an unlikely rampage by simultaneously stunt riding and using the katana to dismember the demons. The scene plays out as ridiculous as it sounds. George rides the motorcycle over rows of seats, up and down stairs and make hairpin sliding 180’s within the space of an average inner-city bathroom.
Lamberto Bava follows this brilliantly laughable scene with another highly improbably event concerning a helicopter falling through the ceiling of the theater. The average horror fan may rejoice as George uses the helicopter blades to dismember the rest of the demons in a modified Dead-Alive lawnmower routine. What luck! The chopper comes equipped with grappling hook gun and a winch! They are saved! George swiftly deploys the grappling hook and lifts Cheryl through the hole in the roof.
The Return of Metalface
With no time to rejoice, Metalface from the subway awaits them on the roof. George and the man briefly battle before George is thrown into the hole. He clutches on rebar to save himself. Cheryl sneaks behind Metalface and stabs him with the grappling hook. As Metalface struggles to remove the grappling hook from his back, George pulls himself to safety. Together, Cheryl and George impale Metalface’s eyeball on a piece of rebar in a chilling visual. What is it with Italian horror movies and eyeballs?
Do George and Cheryl ride off into the sunset? Not so fast. Argento and Bava have more wacky madness up their sleeves.
The Demons are Taking Over
When the demon leaked from the theater earlier in the film, a demon festival erupted on the outside of the theater walls. Literally in a span of hours the entire city burns. George and Cheryl run hopelessly in a city full of demons run amok.
Graciously, a family picks George and Cheryl up in a Jeep. The family carries substantial munitions and plan to head for the countryside. Finally, George and Cheryl can ride off into the sunset. Again, not so fast. After a few moments of driving and blasting demons, the camera focuses on the back of Cheryl’s head. Her back heaves with deep breaths. She turn around for one last scare, completely demonoid and spewing green pus. The family wastes non time blasting her off of the back of the Jeep with a shotgun. George quickly realizes that it is better to be a live than love.
WTF Did I Just Watch?
And, why did I love it so much? The answer could not be more simple, Demons is an absolute hoot. In fact, it is so fun that the deluge of stupidity eventually becomes part of the allure. Argento and Bava do not take themselves seriously. Once the audience in one the joke, it becomes part of the charm. The result is pure Italian horror gold.
Heretofore, I have not mentioned the soundtrack. Jam packed with 80’s synth pop, hair-metal and atmospherics from Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti. Those familiar with Italian horror or George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead will recognize the name Goblin. Goblin produced the fantastic soundtrack to the Argento classic Susperia. Simonetti’s soundtrack anchors the action while entertaining the crowd, Billy Idols “White Wedding” included.
Clearly, Demons is not a Dick Smith masterwork. Nor, is Demons a Tom Savini triumph. Regardless, the effects are gross and the demons are disturbing. The best part is that there is no shortage of it. Once the madness starts, it rolls hard-core to the end.
Demons – The Verdict
If you couldn’t already tell, I love this movie. It perfectly sums up both the era that it was created and the genius minds of Lamberto Bava and Dario Argento. The running joke throughout this plot-less film is that there is not plot… by design. Any more plot development with have shaved valuable splatter time. By not posturing, it makes the bloody best of its 88 minutes. In that, the film is as honest as it is ‘bad’. Accordingly, Italian horror fans will love this film and I highly recommend it!
Demons (1985) - A Demonic Italian Bloodbath - Malevolent Dark
Director: Lamberto Bava
Date Created: 1985-01-01 00:00