Nothing too deep here: A
Pastaland eighties classic with movie theater patrons getting turned into flesh
eating demons. If you like that concept (as I do), you’ll doubtless enjoy this
1985’s DEMONS (DEMONI), produced and co-scripted by
Dario Argento and directed by Lamberto Bava (the gifted son of
Mario), is widely
hailed as one of the most important Italian genre films of the decade. It was
certainly among the most financially successful, being a huge hit worldwide,
even in the US, where it was heavily cut (though thankfully restored for Anchor
Bay’s unrated DVD release). The assistant director, BTW, was future
MAN director Michele Soavi, who also has a cameo in the film-within-the-film.
Inevitably a DEMONS 2 appeared in 1987, courtesy of the
original’s creators. Essentially a rehash of the first film but set within a
high rise whose residents are menaced by television-spawned demons, it contains
some inspired moments (a demon emerging from a TV set over ten years prior to
RINGU, a dog metamorphosing into a demon canine), but is a bummer overall.
One night in Rome, a bunch of strangers are lured into seeing a movie via
free tickets given out by creepy mask-wearing guys. The nameless film turns out
to be a trashy horror flick featuring young airheads wandering around a crypt at
night, where they inadvertently unleash a plague of flesh eating demons after
desecrating Nostradamus’ grave (among the latter’s predictions was apparently
the “Coming of the Demons”). Meanwhile, the movie theater’s patrons are
undergoing their own demonic metamorphoses.
It all beings when a young woman discovers a cut on her cheek identical to
a wound sported by one of the film’s characters. The woman finds the cut
festering, and eventually growing into an ugly boil that explodes in the theater
bathroom to disgorge a load of pus. From there the gal transforms into a
bug-eyed, snaggle-toothed demon of the type seen in the movie-within-the-movie.
From there it’s an all-out slaughter fest as theater patrons are gored,
scratched or bitten by demons, causing the victims to become demons themselves.
Before long the demons outflank the non-demons, who are joined by four street
punks who stumble into the theater--and inadvertently let a demon out!
Things grow increasingly hairy in the auditorium, with the ever-dwindling
contingent of mortal humans unable to escape. They find some novel ways to
fight their tormentors, utilizing a samurai sword, a motorbike and even a
helicopter(!). What nobody realizes, however, is that the environment outside
is increasingly coming to resemble the one within the movie house...
DEMONS has an admirably simple, uncluttered narrative drive, nicely
accentuated by the compact movie theater setting. Location-wise the film only
really gets into trouble in the final ten minutes, when the characters venture
outside for a clumsy, dragged-out epilogue. Otherwise, though, it looks great,
with bold, lurid colors reminiscent of Dario Argento’s self-directed films like
DEEP RED and SUSPIRIA, and copious gore FX that are generally impressive. The
soundtrack, taken up largely with eighties heavy metal, will seem either
annoying or charmingly nostalgic depending on one’s point of view (I’m of the
The film’s biggest problems in my view are what it doesn’t contain
rather than the other way around. The movie-within-the-movie angle is
intriguing, suggesting a tricky reality-vs.-cinema psychodrama along the lines
of TARGETS (1968) or ANGUISH (1987), but Lamberto Bava abandons that conceit
around the halfway point. I also feel the proceedings would have benefited from
a more overtly surreal narrative of the type favored by Bava and Argento’s
contemporary Lucio Fulci. But still, taken as is, DEMONS delivers.
Producer: Dario Argento
Screenplay: Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Franco Ferrini
Cinematography: Gianlorenzo Battaglia
Editing: Piero Bozza, Franco Fraticelli
Cast: Urbano Berberini, Natasha Hovey, Karl Zinny, Fiore Argento, Paola Cozzo,
Fabiola Toledo, Nicoletta Elmi, Stelio Candelli, Nicole Tessier, Geretta Geretta,
Bobby Rhodes, Guido Baldi, Bettina Ciampolini, Giuseppe Cruciano, Sally Day,
Eliana Miglio, Michele Soavi