Ken W. Hanley
If someone were to ask you to define Italian horror cinema, chances are that you might be at a loss for words. While some may immediately gravitate towards giallo or the various Italian Cannibal films of the ‘70s and ‘80s, the answer might be a bit more complicated than we’d like to admit. However, what can be said about Italian horror cinema in a universal sense is that punches were never pulled: whether it’s Mario Bava, Ruggero Deodato, Lucio Fulcio, Dario Argento or any of the myrid Italian shockmeisters, there was nothing off limits or too absurd in their attempts to scare and shock. And perhaps few movies demonstrate this go-for-broke attitude towards Italian horror better than Lamberto Bava’s DEMONS, with Dario Argento guiding the filmmaker’s utterly insane vision to reality.
Bava, the son of Mario, and Argento make a dangerous pair as the filmmakers behind DEMONS, blending two frenzied sensibilities to create something nightmarish yet crazy in a bold, unapologetic fashion. DEMONS isn’t just a horror movie, it’s a horror movie that decides to abandon all hope for character development and double down on its cast size so that more characters than you can keep track of can face a terrible, practical FX-driven fate. But perhaps the only thing as jaw-dropping as DEMONS brash treatment of its characters are the places that the film takes our protagonists, with a mix between fantastical frights, bloody carnage and a last-stand sequence that must be seen to be believed.
For those who have yet to see DEMONS, the film follows a group of moviegoers who are enticed by a free ticket giveaway to a newly built theater. However, when the action off-screen begins to mirror the demonic brutality on screen, the theater is thrown into utter chaos. Soon, these moviegoers must fight to survive the onslaught of these seemingly unstoppable demons and learn the truth behind their petrifying predicament.
As one might be able to tell, DEMONS is one hell of a ride, with Lamberto using a bigger budget and Argento’s good will to his advantage. The film carries the hallmarks of ‘80s horror cinema, including color-heavy lighting (though not as portrait-esque as Argento’s work), complex and revolting practical FX and a score that blends Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin-inspired synth beats with a timely heavy metal soundtrack. And while those who are looking for complex acting and brilliant storytelling will be left wanting, DEMONS is entertaining from the opening frame to the closing credits, and is guaranteed to please those who like their horror bizarre and brutal.
However, DEMONS truly keeps its reputation among horror hounds these days by jumping headfirst into absurdity over and over again, which honestly benefits the film more than it detracts. One might point to the seemingly irrelevant subplot about four cokehead punks who spend way too much time driving around and doing drugs out of a Coca-Cola can than contributing to the plot in any way. Others might point to the excruciating long shots of teeth and nails being mutilated in demonic transformation sequences. And, of course, almost everyone will point to a man on a motorcycle wielding a sword as he drives through a movie theater full of monsters.
While DEMONS will never quite be SUSPIRIA or BLACK SABBATH, the film’s fright-filled fun will always have an audience of appreciative Italian horror lovers willing to champion it throughout the years. DEMONS is among the macabre movies of its time to warrant ‘midnight movie’ status, and absolutely plays better with a bigger audience to laugh, gasp and cheer through every depraved development. It’s a gory good time, and for those who want to give THE EVIL DEAD a break on their Halloween rotation, Lamberto Bava & Dario Argento will have you covered… in blood!!!
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