Demons (1985)

a.k.a. - Dèmoni (ITA)

Dario Argento presents Lamberto Bava's incredibly gory Italian horror film. Anchor Bay US R0 DVD.

The Film

Cheryl and Hannah decide to skip an afternoon of college to attend a film screening for which they have been given free tickets. They arrive at the Metropol cinema where they catch the eye of Ken and Frank who sit next to them as they watch what turns out to be a horror film. In the film, a man who puts on a demon mask becomes infected with evil when he cuts himself, in the cinema a woman who cut herself on a similar demon mask in the lobby starts to turn into a demon and attacks her friend, infecting her too with the demonic evil - the audience desperately try and find a way out but find themselves sealed into the cinema and as the body count starts to rise only a few survivors are left to fight the demons...

Demons is based on an idea from Dardano Sacchetti, one of the best known writers of the Euro-cult era (he was behind Lucio Fulci's Lo squartatore di New York (1982) and Zombi 2 (1979) and Mario Bava's Reazione a catena (1971) and Schock (1977)) and adapted for the screen by director Lamberto Bava and producer Dario Argento. In an era dominated by endlessly derivative slasher films, it certainly has an original concept that is an evolution of the already over-saturated zombie film genre, but this is the only real saving factor for a film that suffers from incredibly erratic pacing throughout.

Throughout its brief (88 minute) running time, Demons feels under-written, as though there was simply not enough plot to fill out the required duration - the result is numerous scenes which feel like padding. On their own a lot of these sequences would probably not seem particularly slow, but when compared to the frenetic pace of the demonic attacks they are quite flow destroying. A lengthy sub-plot involving a car-load of coke addicts adds nothing more to the plot than a couple of extra kills, yet its built up for over several minutes of screentime, while the survivors' attempts to barracade themselves onto a balcony provides us with several long scenes of them piling up chairs. The spare time could certainly have been better spent developing characterisation - most of the cinema audience are barely developed beyond stereotype and as a result their deaths have no emotion attached - even the main quartet are simply bland, which combined with their tendancy towards stupid actions makes them hard to symphathise with, even in what could have been a key later scene when one of them has to kill their best friend.

At the same time, the script does very little with its key ideas - in particular, no explanation is ever given for the origin of the demons or what part the film and its mysterious promoter play, nor is there any attempt to add depth to the demons themselves and their abilities. The only really interesting hint of clever ideas that emerge from the script come in the opening cinema scenes where many of the characters recoil from the violence on the screen in-front of them, a theme that Argento would explore several times in his later films such as Terror at the Opera (1987) and The Card Player (2004).

The highlight of the film is obviously the gory attack scenes and these are fortunately plentiful and vivid enough to keep the film enjoyable, however the script again seems to waste the potentially scary nature of its setting - considering the storyline it could have gone down two routes, either playing as a Dawn of the Dead (1978) style 'siege' horror, with the characters being slowly picked off and general tension being built up throughout, or more along the lines of a slasher film with the scares coming from jump shocks as the demons appear. Unfortunately the requisite characterisation is not present for the first style of scares and the script simply chooses not to play up the jump shocks, with at most a trio of good jump scares throughout the entire film. The end result is a very lightly plotted film that moves briskly through some enjoyable (although not particularly scary) horror scenes only to falter on extended filler sequences. The ending is a particular let down with several particularly effective ending moments being wasted in favour of a rather bizarre coda and an unnecessary epilogue.

Behind the camera, Lamberto Bava is assisted by Michele Soavi (who would go on to direct Dellamorte Dellamore (1994)) and the film comes across as a surprisingly successful blend of the visually elaborate stylings of producer Dario Argento and the cartoonishly over-the-top gore of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series. The Argento debt is most evident in the lighting cues, with many of the horror scenes bathed in red and blue lights. The gory effects are the real highlight of the film and the creations of Sergio Stivaletti are certainly some of the very best of the 1980s with some incredibly inventive ideas that would impress Stan Winston (The Thing (1982)), although the emphasis on the fantastical does prevent the gory scenes from ever being particularly shocking. Bava works well with the effects and keeps the camera moving so that any flaws in the make-up are not evident (many other Italian directors, most notably Lucio Fulci, would keep the camera on the effects for so long that it was easy to see how they were achieved, destroying a lot of the atmosphere). Claudio Simonetti, of Goblins fame, provides a heavy metal soundtrack including a strong theme and several contemporary tracks that suit the film perfectly.

The cast of Demons was deliberately selected from auditions of amateur and little known actors to give the film a 'raw' edge - the result is rather unspectacular, none of the cast is particularly effective, although the script never gives many of them too much to do. The only recognisable names among the lot are Fiore Argento (daughter of Dario Argento) who made surprisingly few films and Michele Soavi in one of his last acting appearances before he focused entirely on film-making.

With some enjoyable elaborate gory effects, a heavy metal soundtrack and an original plot, Demons should be highly enjoyable - however the extensive padding is obvious to even a casual viewer and detracts heavily from the the film's flow - still it comes partly recommended and is certainly one of the best Italian horror films from the mid to late 1980s.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? No-one of note
Directed by anyone interesting? Lamberto Bava - son of the legendary Italian horror director Mario Bava, Lamberto made his directoral debut with Macabre (1981) and went on to helm a number of horror films including Shark: Rosso nell'oceano (1984)
Who else was involved? Producer Dario Argento is best known for his elaborate grand guignol horror films including Suspiria (1977).
Assistant director Michele Soavi would go on to make a number of acclaimed films including La setta (1991)
Any gore or violence? Numerous extremely gory effects, although these are incredibly elaborate and over-the-top so never really disturbing.
Any sex or nudity? A very brief topless shot.
Is it scary? A couple of jump shocks, but never achieves enough atmosphere to be really scary.
Who is it for? Of interest to fans of the 1980s Italian horrors, not the best entry but a long way from most of the rubbish being turned out.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour
The print is consistently strong with good colours and detail.
Audio English - stereo and 5.1 remix, both sound fine although the remix is rather unnecessary.
Subtitles None.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Audio commentary with Lamberto Bava, special effects designer Sergio Stivaletti and moderator Loris Curei. Some interesting discussion, but none of the participants sound particularly comfortable speaking English, might have been better in Italian with subtitles, the audio quality is rather inconsistent with the speech often being very hard to hear.
  • A brief featurette (probably from Italian television) that includes a shot of one of the impressive special effects heads used in the film). Italian with burnt-on English subs. (1m 19s).
  • English language theatrical trailer.
  • Bonus trailers for Demons 2, Tenebre, Phenomena, Re-Animator and Phantasm.
Region Region 1 (USA) - NTSC
Other regions? Numerous releases worldwide, this US release is generally considered the best. The UK release from Platinum Media includes a lengthy (50 minute) interview with Bava and Argento but a non-anamorphic print.
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. The print used is English language.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 5th Feb 2011.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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