“DEMONS” and “DEMONS 2” (Blu-ray Reviews)
Lamberto Bava’s DEMONS and DEMONS 2 are about monsters that can emerge from screens to attack you, and on the new Blu-rays issued by Synapse Films, they look like they actually can. These two Limited Edition Steelbook Blu-ray/DVD combo editions are gore-gous, inside and out.
The ne plus ultra of Italian splatter, the Dario Argento-produced DEMONS takes a simple premise and runs (and at one point roars on a motorcycle) with it, spewing blood and other bodily fluids every which way. Prefiguring the meta-horrors of Wes Craven’s NEW NIGHTMARE and SCREAM series, it’s set in a cavernous Berlin movie theater called the Metropol, where assorted folks who have been given free tickets by a metal-masked man (played by future filmmaker Michele Soavi) assemble for a late-night horror screening. The movie-within-the-movie is about an ancient mask that passes on a highly infectious, transformative curse, and wouldn’t you know it, one of the patrons has cut herself on a silver replica on display in the lobby. Soon the messy demonic action has jumped from the film to its audience, and our young heroines Cheryl (Natasha Hovey) and Kathy (Paola Cozzo), along with new boyfriends George (Urbano Barberini) and Ken (Karl Zinny), are fighting to stay alive and intact as everyone around them becomes a slavering, fanged beast.
Characterizations are negligible and the plot takes some questionable turns, but what matters in DEMONS is the speed and energy of Bava’s filmmaking, and he delivers in spades. The director and editor Franco Fraticelli pace the demon attacks and eruptions of Sergio Stivaletti’s hideous makeup FX with great vigor, and if the people are mostly stock types, the setpieces are varied and vivid, propelled by one of Claudio Simonetti’s most aggressive electronic scores and a nostalgia-making selection of ’80s hard rock songs.
DEMONS 2, made by almost the same entire team, similarly anticipated future trends in horror, having one of its fiends (who resembles a demonic Alex Winter) emerge from a TV screen years before Sadako jumpstarted the J-horror trend with a similar trick in RINGU. Beyond the change in medium, the sequel’s scenario is pretty much identical to that of its forebear: The demon infection leaps from a video fright flick to reality, first afflicting petulant birthday-party girl Sally (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni) and then threatening a disparate group trapped within a building’s walls (an apartment house this time). Once again, Bobby Rhodes turns up to lead the demon-fighting charge (a pimp in the first film, he’s a bodybuilder in the second), and Argento’s daughter Asia has a supporting role just as her sister Fiore did the first time around; DEMONS 2 even duplicates its predecessor’s subplot of a carload of punks driving around outside—only this time, that thread never leads anywhere.
Still, there are a number of scenes where Bava also duplicates the edgy tension or claustrophobia he evoked the first time around, and DEMONS 2 isn’t lacking for gorehound-pleasing gross-out moments. Particularly well-staged is a lengthy sequence set in a parking garage, with plenty of car and fire stunts, and there’s a striking shot looking up a demon-infested stairwell—though someone should have rethought the Muppetlike critter that pursues pregnant heroine Hannah (Nancy Billi).
Synapse put a lot of effort into making this terrible twosome look their best, and that’s exactly how they appear, both in 1080p 1.66:1 widescreen. DEMONS is absolutely stunning in hi-def, a vibrant tapestry of full-blooded colors, abyssal blacks and a razor-sharp image. It has been oft-noted that DEMONS 2 was shot on a film stock that emphasized grain (a circumstance that also dogged ALIENS), but the Synapse team have done an impressive job of making that picture similarly sharp and colorful, with just a bit of image jitter here and there stemming from the negative. DEMONS comes with three separate soundtracks: the original Italian-language stereo, English “International Version” stereo and U.S. mono, the latter of which is not appreciably weaker than the other two. Hardcore fans will have fun comparing and contrasting the two English tracks, which generally sport the same dialogue but delivered by different voices (though Rhodes, God bless him, sounds the same on both). There are notable discrepancies between the English dubs and the subtitle translations of the Italian lines, however; for one thing, everyone’s more foul-mouthed in the former than the latter. DEMONS 2 offers the original Italian and English audio, and both deliver the goods.
A fourth track on DEMONS contains a commentary introduced by no less than three English-speaking moderators—Paura Productions’ Mike Baronas, Ultra Violent magazine’s Art Ettinger and Cult Collectibles’ Mark Murray—who then go silent for the duration as Bava, Simonetti, Stivaletti and actress Geretta Geretta deliver the rest of the talk in subtitled Italian. Geretta winds up serving as a de facto moderator, helping to encourage a lively, wide-ranging discussion of the movie’s influences (despite all the bloodshed, early German genre cinema was a key inspiration), technical specifics, connections to the work of Bava’s father Mario and many other subjects. One trenchant point is that a conscious effort was made to distinguish these demons from the zombies of George A. Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD (which Argento also had a hand in); as such, these infected killers can also be seen as precursors to the hordes in 28 DAYS LATER and many similar recent pictures.
DEMONS also comes with a wealth of interview featurettes, crafted by Calum Waddell and Naomi Holwill of High Rising Productions. “Carnage at the Cinema” has Bava recalling the genesis of the film and its team, including how it brought the estranged Argento and screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti back together, among other topics. “Dario and His Demons” gives Argento the chance to have his say, express his zeal to support other filmmakers’ visions and tease his own return to the giallo form. “Monstrous Memories” sees Italian fantasy/horror-meister Luigi Cozzi dish some dirt on how DEMONS was spawned out of cost overruns on Argento’s PHENOMENA and address the many in-name-only DEMONS “sequels,” including his own film THE BLACK CAT, released in Japan as DEMONS 6 (and which, he notes, has little to do with its namesake Edgar Allan Poe story either).
In “Profondo Jones,” author and Argento booster Alan Jones also tells a few tales out of school: He claims Bava’s shouty directorial style led Fiore Argento to quit acting, and says that Argento had much more of a creative presence on set than the other interviewees acknowledge. Finally, stuntman Ottaviano Dell’Acqua (best known as the wormfaced ghoul from Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBIE) shares memories of his doubling work on DEMONS and other Italian-produced and German-lensed features. There’s inevitable crossover between all these supplements, but everything here is worth a watch.
Interestingly, the talking heads assembled for High Rising’s DEMONS 2 interviews don’t do much talking about that movie itself, though they find numerous other subjects to discourse on. Especially entertaining is “A Soundtrack for Splatter,” in which composer Simon Boswell traces his career in macabre movie music, admits that he loathes prog rock (the stock in trade of Simonetti and his Goblin cohorts) and notes his desire to give a more “British Gothic” flavor to DEMONS 2 through the song choices—recalling that he had to appeal to The Smiths’ devout vegetarian frontman Morrissey to get one of their tunes into this red-meat-filled flick! Bava returns in “Screaming for a Sequel,” which has less to do with DEMONS 2 than with intriguing details about how a proposed DEMONS 3 metamorphosed into Soavi’s THE CHURCH, plus more thoughts on his late father (who, he asserts, would have reveled in the opportunities presented by CGI).
The legacy of the DEMONS duo and their ilk is explored twice over in “Demonic Influences,” with SHADOW and TULPA director Federico Zampaglione, and “The DEMONS Generation,” in which Bava’s son Roy recalls his own filmmaking career. There are a number of good anecdotes in the latter, among them Roy’s childhood gig on Argento’s INFERNO, his recollections of Lamberto being “a wild beast” on the DEMONS set and his revelation that that DEMONS 2 puppet had a name (“Menelik”). Finally, “The New Blood of Italian Horror” brings back Stivaletti to talk about his collaborations with Soavi, particularly the standout DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE/CEMETERY MAN. It closes out on a subject that, sadly, recurs throughout the interviews: the weak current state of Italy’s genre-filmmaking scene, which has lost as much blood as the DEMONS pair’s onscreen victims. Both movies, along with their disc extras, are reminders of an industry that once dynamically flourished, and that hopefully will again. These packages are available exclusively on-line from Synapse; go here and here to order them.