‘Demons’ is a ridiculously entertaining piece of atmospheric gory schlock with a cheesy B movie charm and a very smart premise making it impossible for most hardened horror fans to ignore. Many of that said fandom hail the film as Lamberto Bava’s masterpiece, which really is not saying much looking over the director’s body of work. However, credit is due where credit is due and this is the one the son of legendary auteur Mario Bava will be remembered for - a somewhat bright spot that shines out of his filmography that is eclipsed by his late great father’s shadow. While by far no way the great example of genre cinema that its fanbase would have you believe, it is easy to see why it has garnered such a loyal strong following that has given it its cult classic status.
Randomly chosen a load of people is invited to a free movie screening at a newly renovated theatre. The film turns out to be a horror about people becoming demons and just as this happens onscreen, the audience starts to turn into horrifying demonic creatures themselves.
Set in Germany the movie opens on a moving underground train in Berlin where we are introduced to one of the story’s protagonists female lead Cheryl (Natasha Hovey). Seeing the reflection of a half metal masked man (Michele Soavi) staring at her from the window opposite her seat as the train goes through a tunnel she becomes understandably agitated especially considering he is nowhere on board. Getting off at her destination, she finds that the mysterious man with the half mask indeed exists and is seemingly stalking her. When Cheryl gets to the top of the escalator, he meets her but to her relief he hands her a complementary cinema ticket for a showing that very night at a recently renovated theatre The Metropol. After getting another ticket off him assuming that his costume is part of the film’s promotion she meets her friend Kathy (Paola Cozzo) outside the station and the two students decide to ditch the class they were due to attend to go to the free screening.
When they get there, we meet the rest of the audience in the theatre’s lobby that are a diverse assortment of characters. There is a tough guy pimp accompanied by two of his prostitutes, a blind man and his niece, an emotionally abusive husband and his suffering wife, a pair of young lovers and Cheryal and Kathy meet George and Ken (Urbano Barberini & Karl Zinny respectively). George is the male lead here taking a liking to Cheryl with his friend Ken keen on Kathy.
There is testament to some shoddy writing here and during the following sequence depicting the screening of the movie, as emphasis is put upon the theatre’s suspicious looking usherette (Nicoletta Elmi). It is obvious that the screenplay written by Bava Jr., Dario Argento (also the producer here), Franco Ferrini and Dardano Sacchetti was setting up this character to be a major antagonist in being behind it all with the camera focusing on her knowing facial expressions in her reactions to the unsuspecting cinemagoers. Although after her appearance during the film’s showing this is all immediately forgotten about. It could perhaps be a possible red herring to give the viewer something to think about but in the end, it is just pointless and adds nothing of worth to the screen time.
One of the pimp’s lady workers Rosemary (Geretta Geretta) takes off the lobby’s display of props a similar but whole metal mask to that of Cheryl’s train stalker which is hanging off the foot of a suit of armour sitting on a motorcycle. Trying it on something inside the mask scratches her face when she takes it off. Inside the darkened auditorium, the movie shown is a horror feature itself telling the story of the misfortunes of two young couples that discover the grave of the prophet Nostradamus after breaking into a cemetery. The grave is actually empty though except for a book written by the seer himself and the exact same mask that Rosemary had put on. As one of the young men (Soavi again) tries on the mask the other man of the group reads from the book about whoever puts on the mask becomes a demon. As Michele Soavi’s character takes off the mask he cuts himself just as Rosemary did and just as this happens on screen her own cut begins to bleed.
Feeling ill, she goes out back to the ladies room where the scratch bursts and out comes horrible green pus and she transforms into a ghastly fanged demon. When her friend fellow hooker Carman (Fabiola Toledo) comes in to see if she is okay Rosemary attacks her and affects her as well. Eventually getting away from Rosemary, Carmen rips through the cinema screen transforming into a demonic creature before the very eyes of everyone. So begins a night of bloodthirsty terror as many more become infected and the uninfected try to find a way out now that suddenly all the exits have been bricked up. There is a sub-plot injected into the proceedings as a gang of punks run into a bit of bother with police outside. Coming across The Metropol, they break in to escape and unknowingly let out one of the infected after they go inside only to become infected themselves. These scenes only serve the purpose to set up the ending.
‘Demons’ was an obvious attempt to break into the American horror film market with its on sleeve influence of Sam Raimi’s superior ‘The Evil Dead’ and its ill-fitting 80’s rock soundtrack with a touch of the questionable choice of Go West added into the mix. Yet Lamberto Bava opts for an unknown badly dubbed Italian cast instead of known American actors portraying characters about as deep as a kiddies swimming pool delivering lines of clunky dialogue that either falls into the groan inducing category or the so bad it is good cheesefest kind that makes us unintentionally laugh out loud. The pimp Tony (Bobby Rhodes) has a bunch of gold nuggets including -
“Come on grab her legs and help me throw her over the stall! Come on what you waiting for?”
George replies: “I won't give you a hand! Christ she's dead... Leave her alone!”
Tony comes back with: “You ain't worth shit! How do you know she's really dead?”
Although these expected Italian horror shortcomings are heavily on display - bad acting, wafer thin characterization, dialogue so bad that it becomes hilarious with the equally poor dubbing, the usual lack of logic - it is very hard not to like Bava Jr.’s most famous directorial achievement. It is the signature stamp of horror from the boot shaped country to favour atmosphere and gore over everything else. Lamberto Bava might not be the masterful executer of stylistic mood as his father was but he still manages to build an effective dreaded atmosphere to emphasize upon the helplessness of the survivors’ plight against the horde of the demonised.
It also lacks the soul that went into making ‘The Evil Dead’ but the movie has a clever life imitating art premise aided by Bava Jr. showing off dynamic techniques behind the camera harking back to his giallo roots with fast cutting between the filtered cinematography of inspired camera angles. Of course, the main showcase here is the gallons of gore expertly poured out by the excellent SFX work. I will leave these set-pieces spoiler free for anybody who has yet to see the film but I will just say that ‘Demons’ is one of the ultimate experiences in fulfilling gorehound’s fantasises. Claudio Simonetti’s infectious musical score, which starts out upbeat but descends into eeriness by the end of the movie makes up for the lousy rock soundtrack to which we are also subjected to. Although to be fair these songs of 80’s tackiness just add to the party mood of the film but just seem out of place in certain scenes.
Despite its flaws ‘Demons’ is a delightful beer n' pizza flick and its DVD case should make for a permanent beer mat at the end of your well-worn in sofa.
*** out of ****
Dave J. Wilson
©2012 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.