Lamberto Bava's "Demons" (1985)
Starring: Natasha Hovey, Geretta Giancarlo, Paola Cozzo, Urbano Barberini
Directed by Lamberto Bava
October is the magical month where your humble narrator (that would be me) celebrates the Halloween season by overdosing on as many cheap horror movies as I can cram into a single 31-day span.
I kicked off my personal "Schlock-Tober" marathon this year with the classic 1985 Italian gorefest Demons (aka Demoni). Produced by the legendary Dario Argento of Suspiria, Inferno, and Phenomena fame and directed by Lamberto Bava—son of Mario Bava (Twitch of the Death Nerve and Shock)—Demons is a collaboration between two of Italy's most celebrated terror titans. However, like most Italian horror movies of the era, Demons has its share of faults. The inexperienced cast can barely act, the script is full of plot holes, the English dialogue (which was obviously written by someone whose native language is not English) is stilted and awkward, and the dubbing sucks. However, Demons' production values were higher than your average Euro-grindhouse schlock fest, which resulted in better-than-usual makeup and special effects, and the gore flows hot and heavy throughout the film. In other words, it's got pretty much everything a horror freak needs to have a good time. Let's press 'play,' crack open a few beers and see how well (or not) this vintage terror tale holds up.
At the beginning of the film, collegiate cutie Cheryl (Natasha Hovey) is pursued through a West Berlin subway station by a creepy guy in a metallic mask. She thinks he's out to do something terrible to her, of course, but when he catches up with her he silently hands her a free pass to a sneak preview of a new horror movie happening later that day. Cheryl convinces her pal Kathy (Paola Cozzo) to cut class and come to the screening with her, which is obviously a decision they will come to regret. Soon they're seated in the dark, Gothic looking "Metropol" theater with an odd assortment of stock characters including horny teenage dudes George and Ken, who immediately try to make time with our heroines, and tough-guy pimp Tony and two of his "working girls." On their way into the theatre, one of Tony's girls had joked around with a demonic mask on a statue in the lobby and was dismayed when it accidentally scratched her face. (Cue the foreboding music.)
In the film-within-the-film that begins unspooling for the assembled crowd, a gang of teenagers in an old cathedral unearth a demonic mask just like the one in the theater lobby, and when one of them puts it on... boogedy boogedy boogedy, it scratches 'em and turns 'em into a bloodthirsty Demon!! Gee, ya think the same thing will happen to the hooker in the "real" world who just tried on the same mask a few minutes ago? Of course it does. One gooey, green-pus-and-blood spitting transformation later, Hooker Girl is tearing her way through her fellow audience members, transforming all of them into Demons as she goes. The terrified movie-goers barricade themselves in the balcony to ward off the assault, but their numbers quickly dwindle. Where do the Demons come from? A totally random blind man (?) in the audience tells us "It's the theater!" before he's gorily dispatched, which doesn't help clear things up at all. Soon we're down to just Cheryl and George, who battle their way outside thanks to a crashed helicopter which comes through the roof of the auditorium (don't ask) ... only to find that the Demons have found their way into the outside world (and are setting things up for the inevitable sequel (of which there several, but we'll get to those in a moment).
"Demons" theme song by Claudio (Goblin) Simonetti
I might have missed it because I was shot-gunning beers for most of this movie, but I'm pretty sure that the cause of the Demonic outbreak is never truly explained by the time the movie ends, which is just one of several nagging questions I had when the end credits came up. Who and what are the Demons? Where do they come from? What's the deal with the silver masks? Who's the guy with the metal face? Was the sinister-looking Usherette in the movie theater "in" on the whole Demonic outbreak thing? Why does this movie waste a good ten to fifteen minutes of run time following a bunch of punk rockers (who have nothing to do with the rest of the story) as they drive around Berlin snorting cocaine and insulting each other? Who the hell brings a blind guy to a movie theater? What are the odds that a helicopter will crash through the roof of a movie theater in the midst of a Demon attack? So many questions, and no answers. Sigh.
The soundtrack to Demons is a cool mix of foreboding, pulsating new-wave music (hey, it was the '80s) performed by Claudio Simonetti, formerly of the Italian rock band "Goblin," who had provided the musical score for several of Dario Argento's films (most famously Suspiria and Deep Red). As an added bonus for heavy metal nerds, some now-classic tracks from '80s rockers like Motley Crue, Accept, Saxon, and Pretty Maids are heard during pivotal scenes throughout the film.
Demons was successful enough to warrant a sequel. Demons 2 - directed once again by Lamberto Bava, and produced by Dario Argento - was released a year after the original and moved the Demonic action out of the movie theater and into a high-rise apartment building full of fresh new victims.
In 1988, Bava directed a made-for-Italian-TV Demons III (also known as The Ogre), which apparently had little, if any, connection to the prior two films. Just to confuse the issue even further, several other movies have been released under the Demons banner in certain parts of the world, even though they had no connections to the first two films. These include Michele Soavi's The Church (aka La Chiesa, 1989), Umberto Lenzi's Black Demons (1991) and even Soavi's critical favorite Cemetery Man (1994), which was released as Demons '95 in some territories.
Summing Things Up
I expected schlock when I sat down to watch Demons and brother, I got it in spades. This is one hilariously random hoot of a monster movie! Don't watch it expecting a great story, watch it for the goo, the grue, and the non-stop, over-the-top violence. This is Italian grind house Euro-trash cinema at its bloody finest, and it was a great start to this year's Halloween horror hootenanny. Give it a spin!