Demons / Demons 2
by Troy Howarth
Directed by Lamberto Bava
Starring Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Karl Zinny, Paola Cozzo, Fiore Argento, Bobby Rhodes, Nicoletta Elmi
Demons 2 (1986)
Directed by Lamberto Bava
Starring David Knight, Nancy Brilli, Coralina Cataldi Tassoni, Asia Argento, Bobby Rhodes
Patrons at a movie theatre get more than they bargained for when the horror film they are watching spills over into reality, unleashing a hoarde of bloodthirsty monsters….
The Italian horror boom was on its last legs in the 1980s, but nobody really knew that at the time. Dario Argento had usurped the crown of “King of Italian horror” from the late Mario Bava, forging a career as a major celebrity and auteur figure, when he decided to branch out into producing. His former assistant, and son to the late Italian horror icon, Lamberto Bava had devised a concept for a horror anthology with his friend, screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti, and Argento saw it as a perfect vehicle for his first major “homegrown” Italian horror production. Argento worked closely with Bava and Sacchetti, refining the concept as a stand-alone exercise in splattery special effects. The end result, Demons, would become a major hit across the globe.
Lamberto Bava would seize the opportunity to pay tribute to the history of the Italian horror film by working in nods to the works of his father (the mask of the demon can’t help but remind one of Black Sunday) and producer Argento (a poster for Four Flies on Grey Velvet is seen hanging in the theatre lobby), but the style of the film is aggressively modern. In many respects, it’s a representative horror film of its era, from its emphasis on splatter to its use of heavy metal blarring on the soundtrack. The central concept is very clever but anybody looking for a cerebral exploration in meta-cinema will be disappointed: this is balls-to-the-wall horror from beginning to end, and there’s no room for subtlety.
Bava came to the film having made several films in the horror and action genres, but at the time of filming his career had yet to catch fire. Mario had attempted to push Lamberto into directing much sooner, but it would take him until 1980 when he finally made the leap from assistant director to full-time feature film director. The younger Bava attempted to involve his father in his debut, Macabre, but Mario was adamant that he should proceed without his influence. The end result was a morbid gem, based in part on a real life horror story, and he would proceed to direct the giallo A Blade in the Dark and the action film Blastfighter. His work had shown plenty of flair and promise, but it would take the success of Demons to put him into the upper echelon of Italian genre filmmakers. The film moves at a tremendous clip and delivers on its promise for extreme gore and shocks. Characterization is nil, however, making it difficult to become emotionally involved in the action. Much of the acting is also broad and the English dubbing threatens to push the film into out-right parody. Still, it succeeds where it should – but the end result is not necessarily among Bava’s finest work.
Even so, the film’s excess and abandon ensured that it would become a box office hit – thus necessitating a sequel. Argento, for his part, was not necessarily keen on sequels, but he wasn’t about to miss out on an opportunity to infuse his production company with a stronger cash flow. And thus it came to be that a sequel was rushed into production, with much the same production personnel… and one or two of the same cast members, albeit in different roles….
Demons 2 is set an indeterminate length of time after the events of part one; here, the contagion spreads via TV, as inhabitants of a high rise apartment building are beset by a new plague of demons….
Demons 2 bears all the signs of having been a hastily assembled production. Though graced with above average production values, the film has an overall cheap air which manifests itself in the highly uneven special effects work. Sergio Stivaletti had risen to the challenge of making Demons one of the most memorably “wet” horror films of the 80s, but here his work feels half-finished, even amateurish at times. The little imp demon which terrorizes one character can best be described as looking cute, and as for that dog demon… well, perhaps the less said, the better. There’s also a serious issue with the tone of the film – on the one hand it feels a bit light, even camp, yet there’s every indication that this is meant to be taken pretty darn seriously. It could be that Bava was having a bit of fun with the material – this is borne out by the opening shot of what appears to be blood dripping on a knife, which turns out to be jelly – but the end result is schizophrenic and doesn’t carry nearly the same charge as the original.
Given the film’s high rise setting, it would seem that Bava and co. were riffing on David Cronenberg’s Shivers. Any attempt at social commentary is strictly superficial, however, as the demons set their sights on a group of overly pretty yuppies, ranging from a med student and his pregnant wife to a high class hooker visiting one of her clients. Bobby Rhodes, cast as a pimp in the first film, returns as a tough talking gym trainer – and Asia Argento makes her debut as a little girl caught up in the carnage. None of the actors really get much of a chance to develop anything resembling a characterization, but Coralina Cataldi Tassoni (who would go on to play roles for Argento in Opera, Phantom of the Opera and Mother of Tears) clearly had a fun time playing the spoiled brat-turned-demon who causes much of the damage.
For all its shortcomings, Demons 2 is still a reasonably enjoyable horror film. Simon Boswell contributes a memorable main theme, and the “lighter” rock fare contrasts nicely to the use of metal on the first film’s soundtrack. Both films nevertheless fail to come to grips with the full potential of their central concept, making them relatively minor in the context of Italian horror history. Demons 2 in particular stands as arguably the weakest film Argento had his name attached to for many years – though it arguably looks a lot better today in light of such frustrating pictures as Giallo or Dracula 3D. Taken in the spirit of “just plain fun,” the films are well worth revisiting; they certainly deliver in the gore department, if nothing else.
Synapse brings these two cult favorites to region A/region 1 blu ray and DVD. The 1.66/16×9/1080p transfers blow all previous editions out of the water. Both films gain tremendously in terms of detail and nuance, with all manner of little lighting tricks and flourishes finally standing out in relief. Demons looks the best of the two films, as the second one was photographed on a temperamental film stock which resulted in far heavier grain – the second film also contains a few jittery shots which were compromised due to a camera malfunction, so don’t sweat it: it’s not your TV or playback system, nor was it a gaffe on Synapse’s part. The films are both presented fully uncut and have not been subjected to merciless DNR. The steelbook packaging for both discs is simply gorgeous. These releases are a fine example of how to do these titles up right – it’ll be interesting to see what they do with Phenonema, Tenebrae and their recently-announced Suspiria!
Audio options on Demons include the 2.0 stereo Italian track, in addition to two different English tracks – one in mono, one in stereo. The two tracks contain some differences in scoring and vocal performances, and settling on which one to listen to may well boil down to a matter of personal familiarity based on previous home video versions. The various tracks are in great shape. Synapse had to do some tweaking on the mono English track, but the changes are so artfully done as to be unnoticeable. The music and sound effects have a great deal of punch. Demons 2 includes both the Italian and English tracks, both in stereo. There are no issues to report with either track – and once again, the music and sound effects pack a real wallop. English subtitles are included for the Italian tracks, and captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are included for the English tracks.
Synapse have rounded up the same extras included in the Arrow blu ray release from the UK. The commentary track on Demons is in Italian with English subtitles: Lamberto Bava, FX artist Sergio Stivaletti, composer Claudio Simonetti and actress Geretta Rosemary Geretta occupy the track, which contains enough behind the scenes anecdotes and information to make it worthy of a listen. Demons also includes on-camera interviews with Bava, Argento, filmmaker Luigi Cozzi, journalist Alan Jones and stunt person Ottaviano Dell’Acqua. Trailers are also included. Demons 2 isn’t quite as stacked, but then again.. it’s not as interesting. On-camera interviews with Bava, his son Fabrizio, filmmaker Federico Zampaglione, FX artist Sergio Stivaletti and composer Simon Boswell are included, along with the theatrical trailer. Fans who picked the films up on laser disc back in the day or who bought the old Anchor Bay DVD editions will want to take note: the commentaries from these releases are not included here, so depending on your fondness for revisiting those old tracks (the Demons 2 track featured Lamberto and Roy Bava, with Sergio Stivaletti), you may want to hold on to the old editions for the sake of completion.
Film: ***1/2 out of ***** (Demons) **1/2 out of ***** (Demons 2)
Video: ***** out of ***** (Demons) ****1/2 out of ***** (Demons 2)
Audio: ****1/2 out of ***** (Both)
Extras: ***** out of ***** (Demons) **** out of ***** (Demons 2)