“They will make cemeteries their cathedrals and the cities will be your tombs.”
We all have those moods where we want to sit down and watch a film that offers little more than some cool visuals and a lot of gore. Well, straight from the minds of Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava (yep, that’s Mario’s son) we are presented with a film that does just that. Demons is simply an excuse to stylishly slaughter a group of people trapped in a movie theatre, and really, that’s all it needs to be. It has about as much use for a plot as audiences do for another Saw sequel, but the nature of the film is so completely ridiculous that it works.
Set in Berlin, the film begins with college student Cheryl (Natasha Hovey) on the subway attempting to elude an ominous ‘Phantom of the Opera’ character who has been following her. She eventually does bump into him only to find that he’s giving out tickets to a free screening of an unnamed movie. She gets a second ticket for her friend Kathy (Paola Cozzo), whose response is “I hope it’s not a horror movie.” The two girls decide to skip class to go see the movie at the new ‘Metropol’ theatre. The venue itself offers no hints as to what movie they’ll be watching, the only thing in the lobby is a medieval suit of armor riding a dirt bike holding a samurai sword and a demon mask. I wonder if those items will come into play later in the film..
In the lobby, our diverse group of moviegoers start to trickle in which, among others, include: two strapping young college boys, a blind man and his assistant, a young couple looking to make out, an older couple, and Tony the Pimp (Bobby Rhodes) with his two hoes. On the way in one of the hookers decides that it’d be fun to try on the demon mask, which cuts her face when she takes it off. “That will teach you to touch things.”
Once the movie begins it is, in fact, a horror movie. An obviously low budget Italian film about two couples that go in search of the tomb of Nostradamus. This film includes the very same mask from the lobby and when one of the characters cuts himself in the same way, we know that something isn’t right. Things start to parallel what is happening on screen and when the hooker goes to the bathroom, her face pulsates and bursts with green gooey goodness turning her into a demon. Well, “demon” isn’t really right in this situation since these things are more like zombies in every way, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there. All hell breaks loose when the demons, literally, burst through the screen merging the two worlds into one chaotic bloodbath.
One by one the theater patrons are attacked and mutilated in incredibly entertaining ways. There is enough biting, slashing, gouging, and decapitating to satisfy most any gore hound. The filmmakers have some fun with the different demon metamorphoses and one of the best moments has to be the teeth transformation, where the demon’s gnarly teeth protrude out from its gums. After the first wave of demons have spawned, a small group of survivors band together to try and stay alive. As you can imagine, that goes really well, and things only get worse after a bunch of coke-heads show up (and leave the door open).
There really is no reason Demons should be as good as it is. Aside from the absurdity of it all, the dubbing is bad, the acting is worse, it has about as much interest in story as it does in logic, and it has the most random deus ex machina you will ever see. And yet, it is pure awesome. Basically going from set piece to set piece, the film is brimming with atmosphere. With Bava’s love of long shadows and the combination of 80’s metal and a synth score from Claudio Simonetti (Suspiria and Tenebre) the hyper-stylized experience is complete. Right about the time they gouge the eyes out of a blind man, you know you’re watching something special.
It’s hard to describe the appeal of a film like this, it’s something you have to experience for yourself. I’m not sure how big of a part Argento played in production, but his influence is definitely here. Although, it’s Bava who really steps up and makes this one his own, it’s hard to even compare it to another horror film (save the sequel Bava directed in 1986). Sure, there are other films that are just as silly (Evil Dead) and equally as gory (Braindead), but I think Demons is playing on a whole other level because of the pure lunacy of it all. It’s not a great film by any means, but I would easily put it in my top 10 Italian horror films.