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They Sure Don’t Make Movies Like ‘Demons’ and ‘Demons 2’ Anymore

By  · Published on November 5th, 2014


The ’80s marked the waning days of Italian cinema’s mastery over the genre film, but there were still quite a few gems released during the decade. Lucio Fulci (The Beyond, City of the Living Dead) and Dario Argento (Tenebre, Phenomena) each managed to direct some memorable titles, but overall the quality of the output was decreasing even as the quantity raced in the other direction.

One of the most popular Italian horror films of the ’80s – Lamberto Bava’s Demons – embraced both Argento’s color schemes and Fulci’s gore addiction and combined them with an anything goes narrative and a rock and roll soundtrack. It was followed a year later by an underwhelming sequel, but even that film manages a few fun surprises.

Synapse Films released both movies to Blu-ray last year in limited run steelbooks loaded with extras, but next week they’re putting out standalone Blu-rays for folks whose sole interest is the movies themselves. Both films received brand new HD transfers, color correction and additional work, and they look spectacular. I watched a double feature of both films last night – it was my fifth or so viewing of Demons and my first of the sequel.

Demons (1985)

A haunted man in a mask hands out free passes to a secret screening at an old theater in Berlin, and dozens of people show up for the evening’s entertainment. A young couple, a blind man and his assistant, two friends, a pimp with two of his employees – your usual Saturday night at the movies kind of crowd – and while one of the ladies of the evening scratches her face on a strange, silver mask in the lobby everyone settles in peacefully for the movie. A horror film unfolds onscreen involving demons and death, and as if on a supernatural cue the woman who was scratched turns into something evil attacks her friend. They quickly begin infecting the rest of the theater-goers who discover the doors have all been locked and they’re trapped inside with the fast-growing demonic horde.

Director Lamberto Bava (and co-writer/producer Dario Argento) offer the barest of setups before the bloodletting begins, but it’s clear from the outset that they’re uninterested in presenting a world of logic or answers. Instead they simply throw a bunch of people into a confined space and let loose a clawed demon intent on ripping flesh into the mix. Honestly, what else do you need?

And before you say “a hero riding a motorcycle inside the theater while wielding a sword” let me assure you that the movie has you covered.

Characters are unimportant as not only will you not care about any of them but the gleefully bad dubbing prevents any of them from truly growing on you. Okay, that’s only partly true as Tony the pissed off pimp (Bobby Rhodes) is an absolute blast who knows how to take charge of a situation just like he does his ladies. The script does him and everyone else few favors as it saddles them with terrifically bad dialogue and behaviors. One guy tells his friend “I don’t like you to see me like this!” as he’s turning into a demon, a girl escaping through a vent exclaims “We’re gonna make it! This was a great idea!” right before she gets it and another pauses to say aloud “There has to be an explanation!” There isn’t of course, but there really isn’t one needed.

This is ’80s horror complete with songs by Motley Crue, Rick Springfield, Scorpions and others – Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” accompanies a young thug scraping cocaine off of a teenage girl’s exposed breast – paired with a driving score by Claudio Simonetti. It’s a movie that not only features the guy slicing and dicing demons with a sword while riding his motorcycle inside, but that then follows up that scene with a helicopter crashing through the roof because why the hell not. And yes, of course there’s a grappling-hook gun in the chopper, I can’t believe you ever would have thought otherwise.

All of that fun aside though this is a movie that made its name on the back of its gory practical effects – throats are ripped, a woman is scalped, wounds bubble up and burst, flesh is chewed, a demon claws its way out of a woman’s back and a blind guy has his eyeballs gouged and squished. And that’s just a small sampling of the joys within. It’s the kind of excessively gory, supernaturally-tinged sequences that most horror movies avoid outside of comedy/horror hybrids.

Synapse Films’ Blu-ray offers a vibrant and sharp picture with colors that pop, and while few of the shots are designed to be all that impressive-looking some (including the one teased with the image above) are truly impressive and memorable in HD. This is the uncut version with scenes trimmed from previous American releases showing a very obvious Coke can being used to snort coke out of restored here. As previously mentioned, this is a barebones release with only the theatrical trailer as a special feature.


Demons 2 (1986)

A high rise apartment building complete with luxury apartments, a full service gym and sketchy elevator service becomes a bloody battleground when the TVs begin showing a film about demons. Sally leaves her own birthday party in a bitchy huff and retires to her room to watch the movie, but when one of the creatures on the TV actually comes out of the screen (pre-dating The Ring by several years) she in turn infects the party goers with bites and scratches. Soon the gaggle of demon-ized preppies are marauding through the building spreading their evil everywhere they go.

As with most sequels, the premise here remains the same – confined space, demonic infection – but the bigger setting opens up more opportunities for fun and exciting set pieces. Bava (once again co-writing with Argento) doesn’t really take full advantage of the space though, and ultimately the film feels smaller than the original. The bigger issue though is that minus a couple exceptions the gore and bloodletting are fairly limited for some reason. Blood is spilled, but there’s little gore to speak of as Bava apparently decided to go a somewhat different route.

Puppets. Puppets are that route.

The practical effects folks who previously gave us bodies being torn and ripped and otherwise abused are here tasked with creating a dog demon and a pint-sized little devil who erupts from a boy’s stomach. Obviously that last part deserves some kudos, but the little demon is a barely limber puppet whose entire set piece against a pregnant lady plays like a less fun homage to Gremlins. His antics are just goofy, and he makes the most annoying noises too that are more obnoxious than unsettling. The dog gets the puppet treatment too, but at least the mutt has a ridiculous introduction as his owner sees him through the peephole in her door – like at eye level – and then lets him in as if that isn’t nuts.

The other big change from the original is actually for the better as the soundtrack shifts from ’80s hair rock to a more alternative direction. The Smiths, Peter Murphy, The Cult and others play across the mayhem and feel like even better pairings to the onscreen shenanigans. The script still offers up some dialogue gems – “I want to get out of here! I don’t want the demons to get me!” – and Bava wisely brings back Rhodes to play a different but similarly-minded character. His pimp days behind him, he’s now a trainer at the building’s gym, and once the demons attack he takes charge of his squad of shirtless and oily bodybuilders to fight back. It ends about the same for him though.

Demons 2 is a far lesser film than its predecessor, but there’s fun to be had. As with the first film, Synapse Films’ Blu-ray offers a fantastic picture and a theatrical trailer.

Demons and Demons 2 release next Tuesday, 11/11, from Synapse Films and are available at Amazon.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.