Synopsis: They will make cemeteries their cathedrals and the cities will be your tombs! In 1985, Italian horror masters Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava unleashed this landmark splatter shocker about a group of strangers invited to a sneak preview at a mysterious movie theater, only to be trapped inside and transformed one-by-one into carnage-crazed monsters. It’s a one-of-a-kind combination of creepy terror and relentless gore-orgy, featuring a pounding soundtrack of ’80s metal, a throbbing score by Claudio Simonetti (Suspiria), and gut-churning special effects by Sergio Stivaletti (Cemetery Man, Phenomena). This is Demons as you’ve never seen it before, with every blood-drenched fame now fully remastered for the ultimate in ooze-spewing, flesh-flaying, spine-ripping madness!
eyelights: Paola Cozzo. the creative use of make-up effects. the atmospheric synthesizer tracks.
eyesores: the “script” (or what passes for one). the cheapness of the special effects.
Night of the Living Dead x Troll 2 = Dèmoni
I’ve been stumbling on the movies ‘Demons’ and ‘Demons 2’ in stores for years. However, even at a cheap price, I couldn’t be bothered with them: there was the smell of low budget Hell to them and I despised that they were being packaged as Dario Argento films even though he only produced them – it seemed dishonest to me, and I didn’t want to be supportive of some crummy marketing ploy.
Recently, though, for reasons unknown, it suddenly dawned on me that they were made by Lamberto Bava, Mario Bava’s son. I can’t say that I am a huge fan of ‘Macabro’ and ‘La casa con la scala nel buio’, so I was in no hurry to see any of his other films – based on what I’d read on imdb, they were mostly a shoddy bunch. But, having just watched a couple of his father’s films, and given that I am planning to watch a few Argento pictures in coming weeks, I was suddenly intrigued by ‘Dèmoni’.
The problem with these Italian films is that they are co-productions and frequently use English-speaking actors as well as Italian-speaking ones. The consequence of this is overdubbing. This means that many of the voices don’t match the actors, let alone their lip movements – and it’s inevitable, irrespective which language you watch the movie in. The trick is to find out which language it was intended to be seen in and get a copy that has this language track on it (along with subtitles, if needed).
So I researched the picture, as well as its sequel. I wanted to ensure that the copies that the local HMV was selling had the proper tracks, so that I could enjoy the films as it was conceived – there’s nothing I hate more than films being altered to suit a fussy but ignorant public, like cropping the picture to fit a TV screen, or colourizing a black and white picture. Or over-dubbing a soundtrack when subtitles are perfectly acceptable (and preferable, as the original language is more natural-sounding, contextually, anyway).
Thankfully, it turned out that the North American releases were as good as it’s ever going to get: the picture was shot in both languages and appears to have been made with both markets in mind. Plus which, given that the soundtrack features English-speaking rock and metal artists, it seemed normal to go with the English dub – especially since a bunch of the actors spoke English in the first place. I mean, I know that it’s impossible to polish a turd, but if you’re going to watch crap, you don’t want it to stink too much, right?
Well, it was kind of a moot point: Lamberto Bava’s ‘Dèmoni’ is essentially a poor-man’s version of ‘Night of the Living Dead‘, with an accent on the gore more so than the characters, the interpersonal dynamics and the script. Dario Argento worked with George Romero on ‘Dawn of the Dead’, so I wonder if he wasn’t tempted to make his own version of ‘NOTLD’ – ultimately hiring his protégé, Lamberto Bava, to helm the piece.
I didn’t find anything to this effect, but it seems likely to me. After all, ‘Dèmoni’ is a thinly-veiled zombie picture: it has “demons” that infect human beings with their evil mojo by scratching or cutting them. And then those infected people slowly turn into “demons” and attack the normal people. And, as with ‘Night of the Living Dead’, it mostly takes place in only one location – which the characters are unable to escape. Plus it features a black alpha male in it – something that is only worth mentioning because everyone in the whole film (except one of his hos) are Caucasian. Coincidence? I think not. This was premeditated.
The script is utter nonsense anyway, so there’s no point in trying to figure out the filmmakers’ intentions. Basically, the film is about a bunch of people who go to a movie screening in a place that no one is familiar with, not knowing what the event is in advance, and who end up trapped in the building, chased by undead “demons”. We don’t even know how the contagion begins, what evil is lurking in this cinema, but it’s related to a girl getting a scratch on her face. You read right: demons will seep into your scratches. Wait til you get a paper cut!
The only back history that we’re given on these “demons” is in the form of the movie that is showing on the cinema screen. In some ways, I found this device relatively clever. Or, it would have been if it had been used properly. Alas, what little we get from the picture playing in our picture barely explains what is going on, let alone makes any sense of it. It certainly doesn’t explain why people are being victimized in this specific cinema and at that particular time. Or how, really. It merely adds a layer of feeble exposition we would otherwise not have had.
I don’t know who is to blame for the jumbled mess that follows, but ‘Dèmoni’ looks like it was cobbled together by teenage boys with little flair for storytelling (“So… what would be cool now?” “I don’t know… let’s have someone ride around on a motorcycle!” “Yeah! F-in’ A! Let’s do that!”). It defies logic at every turn: the helicopter coming down from the ceiling for no reason other than to give the duo an escape route, the guy driving around in circles in the cinema on a motorcycle and chopping up demons with a samurai sword (and driving over the seats, somehow!), the “demon” climbing out of a woman on all fours, …etc.
Well, for what it’s worth, one would be hard-pressed to say that ‘Dèmoni’ is a predictable film. After all, it makes so little sense that it’s difficult to assess the situation and guess what’s coming next: anything could happen. In some ways it makes the picture amusing because it doesn’t follow conventions. It tries, as evidenced by hard rock soundtrack, the “cool” punks, the gore, the sex, …etc. But it’s like watching a bad American horror film made by people without a total grasp on the genre – the clichés are there, but they’re thrown together in unusual ways.
The film even attempts to recreate the look of Tom Savini’s gore effects and also tries to push the limits on a few occasions. However, whoever got the gig evidently isn’t in the same league as Savini: whether subdued or trying to be innovative, everything looks fake. Furthermore, the gross-outs exist only for their own sake – they don’t actually serve the story. It appears that the purpose of these make-up effects was simply to show how extreme or clever the special effects crew could be. But without the appropriate skill to truly make it work.
Part of the problem might be in the editing. Normally, when something doesn’t work 100% percent, you don’t keep the camera on it – you cut away or go to a different angle. Not here. It could also be a directorial issue. I found that the montage and pacing was quite shoddy: some sequences don’t connect cohesively and the film jumps from one bit to the next somewhat erratically. So, either ‘Dèmoni’ suffered at the hands of a terrible editor, or Lamberto Bava failed to inherit most of his father’s talent. I already had reservations, but now I’m starting to believe that it’s the latter.
The thing that stunned me the most was the picture’s soundtrack, which features a bunch of popular hard rock artists such as Accept, Billy Idol, Mötley Crüe and Saxon. Um… and Rick Springfield (who, unexpectedly, pens the best number of them all: an eerie, atmospheric instrumental that is excellent enough that it is re-used a few times throughout). Claudio Simonetti, of Goblin fame, also throws in a few synthesizer pieces to assist the picture, and does so as dependably as ever.
I don’t know how to explain it, but, strangely enough, I enjoyed this film in spite of its many weaknesses. Granted, it’s a moronic, dopey ’80s horror flick with an accent on style over substance and cheap thrills over method; it’s exactly the kind of production that gives the horror genre a bad reputation. And yet, having said that, I have no doubt that horrorphiles and bad movie buffs will find something to enjoy if they conjure up ‘Dèmoni’ from their video purveyor. Others, however, should beware.
Date of viewing: October 9, 2012