1985, Italy, Directed by Lamberto Bava
Colour, Running Time: 88 minutes
Review Source: DVD, R1, Anchor Bay; Video: Letterbox 1.66:1, Audio: DD 5.1
If you want artistic intellectualism, cultured dialogue, or existential relevance in your movies, don’t come to Lamberto Bava. Despite his dad being a bit of an auteur in the cult genres, a flamboyant technician with a great sense of aesthetics along with the raw talent to innovate in his efforts in the creation of unique shots, Lamberto took up the directorial reigns to knock out bloodshed movies that would appeal almost exclusively to the lower cerebral functions. That’s not a bad thing. Demons begins with a young woman (who’s on her way home from work or university presumably) receiving a complementary ticket to see a movie. Tagging her friend along they both head off to the cinema where a reasonable size audience has gathered to watch the mysterious film, which turns out to be a horror story about Nostradamus’s apparent prediction of a demonic plague becoming a reality. Some of the viewers are perplexed when certain events in the movie begin to mirror what’s happening in the theatre and suddenly there is an outbreak of demonic possession outside of the film. All hell breaks loose in the cinema as people are ripped apart, subsequently transforming into the very monsters that killed them, while others flee in panic only to find that the exits have been blocked - as death and mayhem escalate it would appear that there is no escape for the survivors.
Young Bava had made a small but noticeable mark on the genre world already with the macabre Macabre and the moderately stylish (if overlong) modern giallo Blade in the Dark in the early eighties, and Demons (or Dèmoni) would pretty much sledgehammer his presence on the scene: whilst it is minimalist in terms of plot development and characterisations (though there are a few feeble attempts at the latter) the movie delivers profoundly on violence, gore, suitably ghastly demons, sheer ruthlessness, etc. Taking a good half hour to get going (where the spectators are generally sitting around watching the onscreen action unfold while telling each other to shut up, or generally attempting to mate), once the action does kick off it’s like the gates of hell have opened up. What gives the scenario some impact is the setting: everyone being inexplicably trapped within in a labyrinthine cinema has a cool vibe about it, and one that brings a little bit of a sinister edge with it too. Periodic injections of humour also elevate the darker elements of the story, usually in the form of some of the characters’ oddball lines (the black guy has some of the best of these). Of course the film’s crew did boast some respectable talent working alongside Lamberto: acclaimed director (at the time!) Dario Argento both produced the film and wrote the screenplay (with Lamberto and Franco Ferrini) based on a story by Dardano Sacchetti (writer of most of Lucio Fulci’s best films, amongst many others), and Claudio Simonetti wrote a significant portion of the soundtrack, he of course being famous as one of the collaborators and originators of Italian prog-instrumentalists Goblin. Aside from Simonetti’s typically distinctive contributions there’s a great choice of metal tracks granting the bloody action with some bite, making the movie almost a cinematic celebration of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal era that had reached its summit by the time Demons was released. Saxon’s Everybody Up and Accept’s Fast as a Shark are notable highlights though of course this choice of music won’t suit everyone, however I think it makes good accompaniment to some of the crazy antics of the characters. Stripping genre cinema down to its fundamental constituents Demons is basically a kick-ass, rock n’ roll, gory roller coaster ride.
Still unsurpassed as far as I’m aware this Anchor Bay disc was released in the US some time around 1999. The dull, non-enhanced transfer is reasonable though nothing more. The accurate aspect ratio is welcome while a dated attempt at creating a 5.1 surround track from antiquated elements does bring some weight to the soundtrack, even if the audio is still a little centred at the front side of the soundstage. A commentary from the director (among other people), a featurette and trailer round out the DVD package.