Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Demons (Italy, 1985)

(Spoilers) Produced (and co-written) by Darion Argento, "the Italian Hitchcock," and directed (and co-written) by Lamberto Bava, the son of the great master of style over substance Mario Bava, Dèmoni (or, as it is known outside of Italy: Demons) is a nicely cheesy gorefest with a decidedly 80s feel that offers everything all true lovers of senseless Italo-gore or blood-drenched eurotrash know and love. A respectable hit when it came out, it went on to inspire numerous official and unofficial sequels of varying success. (Demons definitely remains the best of the bunch, but both the official sequel a year later Demoni 2... L'incubo ritorna (also directed by Bava) — which simply moved the same plot into a locked luxury high-rise — and 1989's La Chiesa/The Church — which simply moved the same basic plot into a gothic church — are also highly satisfying in their own way.)
What makes Demons (and Demons 2 and The Church) so much fun? Well, how about: a total lack of logic, bad acting, horrendous dubbing, total predictability, extremely excessive blood and guts, hilarious plot and character development (when either is even present), bad 80s music and styles, sporadically intentional black humor and a wonderfully futureless ending all served up at a relatively breakneck speed with some occasional visual verve.
Demons takes place in pre-fall-of-the-Wall West Berlin — an extra visual added attraction to me, who moved here a year after this flick was made — not that the Wall in any way features in the film. The flick starts with Cheryl (Natasha Hovey), the main heroine, seemingly joy-riding on the Berlin subway as she ganders typical scenesters of 80s Berlin as if their black clothing and proto-new-wave hairstyles are something from Mars (anyone familiar with Berlin will notice that during the opening scenes she obviously and illogically must have transferred 3 to 4 times for a ride that should have been a straight line). Some weirdo wearing a metal half-mask gives her a few free tickets to the premiere opening of a movie house (the Metropol, an Art Deco structure on Nollendorf Platz which, after innumerable changes in usage and direction, is currently once again a disco). She and her classmate Hannah (Fiore Argento) decide to skip school for the premiere, which slowly fills up with a variety of people that likewise have free passes, including a pimp with two whores, a blind man and his niece, an unhappily married couple, two young dudes and a smattering of other "types." One of the obnoxious hookers (Geretta Giancarlo as Rosemary) plays around with a mask that is part of the lobby decoration and nicks her face, an innocuous event that anyone who ever has seen a horror film knows bodes later bad tidings. Once the film preview starts, it proves to be a horror film about a group of young people that break into a cemetery and discover the grave of Nostradamus, which is empty but for a book and the very mask from the lobby display. While one of the youths tries on the mask and promptly nicks his face, the other reads from the book in which it is written that demons shall walk the earth and "They will make cemeteries their cathedrals and the cities will be your tombs." Just then Rosemary's face begins once again to bleed, so she runs off to the Lady's Room to powder the cut, but before she can actually do so it begins to pulsate and ooze and then suddenly explodes a massive zitload of green puss — even as more or less the same thing occurs in the film within the film. Transformed into a monstrous demon, she goes on a rampage and from here on the patrons of the theatre gorily get slit, bit or their eyes poked out before they too one-by-one turn into demons. (The transformation of the co-whore is particularly disgusting, with her teeth being pushed out from her slobbering mouth as fangs grow, her fingernails oozing as they change into claws — which she promptly uses to rip open the male half of the unhappily married couple.) The non-demons try to escape the theatre but the exits are suddenly all bricked shut and there is no way out; most of those that have not yet been demonized manage eventually to take refuge on the theatre's balcony where they use the seats to barricade the door. Safe they might be, but they are also trapped.
Intercut and parallel to this narrative strand is that of four thugs (3 guys and one butt-fuck ugly gal with a teased-out hairstyle that I hate to admit I also had for a few weeks in back then in Berlin, until I got tired of the daily teasing) riding through Berlin in a stolen car as they snort coke from a coke can. What seems first as an annoyingly unnecessary (though highly sleazy) interruption of the movie's limited narrative flow reveals its dramaturgic necessity when the four, on the run from some typically ineffectual German cops, manage to break into the very theatre that no one inside is able to break out of. In doing so, one of the demons manages to escape, but wimpy cop number two blows the demon away after it bites his partner.
Needless to say, the body/demon count in the theatre continues to rise and, soon after a magnificent full-scale slaughter on the balcony, Cheryl and George (Urbano Barberini — the guy that turned out to be the "surprise" murderer of Opera, Argento's fun giallo of 1987) are the last non-demonized in the theatre — but for how much longer?
After a hilarious scene of George and Cheryl vrooming around the aisles and across the seats on a motorcycle as they cut down the demons with a sword, Argento and Bava throw in one of the most hilariously enjoyable deus ex machinas ever: A helicopter crashes through the ceiling and, after using the rotary blades to cut down a few more demons, our heroes use a grappling gun conveniently found on the back seat to escape through the hole in the roof. Safe, sound and free? Not quiet: The demon-bit cop obviously turned as well, for West Berlin is now a hellish landscape of bloodthirsty demons... Can they get out of the city alive? And what about the Wall?
Obviously inspired by the original 1978 Dawn of the Dead (a film that Argento also worked on) and Evil Dead (1981), Demons is a great party film: socially irrelevant, bloody and senseless with some breath-taking gore sequences, its slender plot is milked for all it can give. And Bava, though hardly the master of mood and visuals that his father was, nonetheless even tosses in a few nice cinematic turns to complement the mostly non-stop action and nonsensical plot (the distorted track shot along a red brick wall, the glowing eyes of the demons, and the film within the film to name a few). Demons is definitely a must-see among the numerous Italo-trash classics of the last quarter of the twentieth century — Watch! It! Now!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hate it personally, the effects are really cheap, had to turn it off about 3/4 the way through. But it does remind me of a movie I love, Anguish. Another 80s euro horror movie set in a movie theater but way better if you ask me. They're remaking it but I can't imagine how they'd ever top the original. Demons could be vastly improved just by having decent special effects.

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