Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; running out of jokes since early this morning. Every week I wax geeky over my favorite movies that earn few to no marks for quality but never fail to please at least one insane fan: me. While you just lie there and take it, I gush about my favorite aspects of the film as well as make a few concessions as to the film’s chief problems. Now I know what you are thinking, and yes I am a genius. But the other thing you are probably thinking is, “how can I read this column AND gain a bunch of weight?” As the Billy Mays of bad film (too soon?) I have the solution waiting right behind this podium. Each week I will pair the showcased film with the kind of snack food items that would gravely upset your mother.
Of the sundry genres in existence, I find that the horror genre has no shortage of titles well suited for this column. The horror industry has been an unchecked schlock faucet for decades and I have more than a few terrible slashers and hackneyed monster films to satisfy my baser cravings. But if you think America has the market cornered on bad horror films, I direct your attention to a peninsula quite familiar to Junkfood Cinema. As it turns out, in the 1980’s, Italy wasn’t solely concerned with creating laughably awful action films but laughably awful horror films as well. Today, we sink our venomous fangs into Demons. Demons sits high upon my shelf of trash. It is the story of a movie theater full of people who, one by one, get infected by a mysterious plague that transforms them into zombies…..or demons I guess. Despite their best efforts to curb the rise of the horde, almost all of them succumb. In the end it takes a motorbike, a sword, a downed helicopter, and a fistful of heavy metal to save the last pair of uncontaminated patrons.
What Makes It Bad?
Mario Bava is a well-respected name in horror. He is often credited with creating the first giallo film in The Girl Who Knew Too Much. His films are usually gorgeously shot and have a distinct color scheme and composition; a testament to his career as a cinematographer prior to being a director. He is a distinguished member of the elite three Italian horror directors (Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci rounding out that list). His son Lamberto Bava, on the other hand, made Demons. If I had to frame in the form of an S.A.T question: Lamberto Bava is to Mario Bava as Jake Scott is to Ridley Scott. These offspring of great directors proved themselves as also being able to direct, I suppose. But inferior as he continually proved himself, I am as much a fan of Lamberto as I am Mario (I also enjoy Devil Fish, Blastfighter, and Demons 2).
The acting is rigid and stale by almost every character. Now a certain amount of slack must be tendered in that most of the lines are dubbed. But in true form of Italian horror, the lines subsequently dubbed are not words any person from any country would utter in these situations. But you could seriously leave massive marks on your face from the number of times the line deliveries make you slap your forehead. You know there’s a problem when the only likable character in the whole film is the one established to be the biggest asshole. I think what makes Demons seem to exist in its own galaxy is a cast full of people saying ridiculous things at inappropriate moments. “Wait until I get near your prick, piggy” and “it’s the coke in your ears” are among my favorites.
There are bizarre, inexplicable plot points at every turn. I’m not saying there isn’t a certain degree of disbelief that I can’t suspend, but there are events that come to pass in this theater that still have me scratching my head after a dozen or so viewings. And the craziest part is that the really strange stuff isn’t reserved for after the onset of the demons. The moment I really can’t wrap my mind around is the incredibly homely, balding gentleman who, within seconds of sitting down next to a very attractive young woman, is scoring some serious lip action and groping with her in the back of the theater. There is also the fact that people become cognizant of the connection between the movie they’re watching and the events around them way too quickly and no one questions the truly fantastical notion of the film being to blame for the carnage. But the most insane plot point has to be the deus ex machina helicopter that provides a convenient exit…but not a reason for its existence.
Demons is easily one of the most disgusting films you will ever see. If you would catagorize yourself as having a weak stomach, I might not even read any further. The splatter effects of Demons were enough to earn it high regard as a cult horror film because it truly is vile. There are parts of the human anatomy ripped open that I was not even aware could be ripped open and people loose chunks of flesh as if they were made of Play-Doh. The filmmakers clearly entrusted the gore to carry the dead weight of the half-baked story and dull-as-dishwater characters. I mean until the gory stuff commences, what do we have? A movie wherein we watch people watching a movie…about people walking around aimlessly. Entertainment! There are transformation scenes that are basically just people becoming viscera fountains. Funny, I didn’t know humans bled in technicolor.
Why I Love It!
Demons is a testament to everything I love about Italian cinema. There is a gorgeous apathy for concrete story structure or performances that enhance plot. In a movie like Demons, the sheer quantity of eye-gouging, scalping, and bad rock music leaves little room for pretension. I mean for crying out loud, there’s a scene where the “hero” rides through a movie theater on a motorcycle killing monsters with a goddamn samurai sword. I defy you to construct a cooler cinematic Cobb salad. I also like the helicopter moment and the fact that somehow the entire world outside the theater has gone to shit in the span of an hour. And if you don’t think the ending of the film is ballsy…well just believe me, it’s ballsy.
I for one love the sticky, messy hell out of the gore in this film. That sentiment makes me sound crass and possibly bordering on psychotic, but that would only be half true. The gore is so over-the-top and silly that it loses footing on traumatic and slips wonderfully into hilarious. Sure it’s gross, but I don’t think I need to explain to you how that is often half the fun of watching bad horror films. What the lack of reserve in terms of violence provides is a bevvy of memorable, and thoroughly entertaining, kill sequences to be raucously revisited over a bucket of beers at your next movie geek gathering. There are too many winners to list, but I’d have to say one of my favorites has to be the helicopter blades that spring to life and divorce demons from various portions of their physicality. Or, in an obvious nod to Lucio Fulci, the mysterious masked man being slowly lowered eye-first onto a metal spike is pretty freaking phenomenal as well. Oh, and movie, thanks for never explaining who or what that guy was before he was killed; nice work.
There are few instances when I could point to a singular element in a movie like this, a veritable buffet of greatness, and honestly attest that, where it not for that element, I would not have enjoyed the film as much. With Demons, that element goes by the name of Bobby Rhodes. Bobby is the actor that plays the boisterous, fowl-mouthed pimp Tony; the undeniably likable asshole to which I referred. He is hysterically ham-fisted and says things that will blow your mind. Bobby Rhodes is essentially the greatest project manager in cinema history and takes charge of any and all bad situations. My favorite moment is when he silences the screaming masses as they are clawing at the sealed exits and after struggling to get their attention yells, “let’s find the emergency exit!” Great, thanks for that priceless piece of advice Napoleon. Rhodes is so cool in this film, and so integral to the film’s awesomeness, that Lamberto brought him back for the sequel as a completely different character; as his death in this film is one of the greatest ever recorded.
Throw all of this together with some sinfully terrible music and you’ve got yourself a movie night. And I make jokes about Lamberto but one cannot ignore the greatness of Dario Argento who produced/co-wrote the film. There is also a meta angle to the film that is way smarter than the film itself. The whole idea that horror movies in a movie theater could incite events of inexplicable terror in real life is appealing. It’s the kind of thing Wes Craven would play with years later with New Nightmare and Scream. Just saying.
Junkfood Pairing: Ice Cream Soup
What is ice cream soup?!! It’s basically the end result of a power outage and a freezer full of ice cream. I suggest buying several flavors of ice cream, leaving them on the counter for an hour, and then pouring the liquefied remains of the various cartons into one bowl. When you mindlessly shovel spoonful after spoonful into your face, you may notice globs of multicolored ooze cascading from your lips. In doing so, you have successfully recreated the numerous transformation scenes in the film.