CULT CORNER: Demons (Demoni, 1985)

Dylan gets demonic via Lamberto Bava’s claim to fame, with a little help from Dario Argento.

Who made it?: Lamberto Bava (Director/Co-Writer), Dario Argento (Producer/Co-Writer), Dardano Sacchetti, Franco Ferrini (Co-Writers), DACFILM Rome.

Who’s in it?: Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Natasha Hovey, Fiore Argento, Paola Cozzo.

Tagline: “Their Evil Becomes an Orgy of Bloodshed.”

IMDb rating: 6.5/10.

After our article on Cannibal Holocaust (1980), I thought it would be nice to look at another facet in the madness that is seventies and eighties Italian horror. Demons is one that stands out from the crowd, and is a movie that is both scary, preposterous and a lot of fun.

The plot follows a group who have been given tickets by a strange masked man to attend a special cinema screening. The event itself soon turns to madness as one is infected and transformed into a demon. Others soon follow, and it becomes a matter of survival and escape for those left.

Demons is going to switch a lot of people off from the start. It is achingly, screamingly dated, with some of the locations and clothing looking out-of-place for 1985, let alone the present day. The soundtrack is, in my opinion, brilliant, but so over-the-top synth that it will make you smirk rather than jump. It is gory, but not in the grim, realist way of Holocaust; this is all neon pus and demon juice. The acting is not fantastic as many of the characters are there simply for fodder. Does a pimp fighting supernatural creatures sound like a good movie to you? If not, probably look away now.

Equally, I would place money on this being the favourite film of many people out there. It’s surprisingly high-budget, with the cinema location not just there to reign the action in, but to amplify and frame the horror. Towards the end, we have helicopters, gun battles and even a motorbike chase (of sorts). Writer and Italian cinema legend Dario Argento used to be a safe pair of horror hands, especially for this type of material. However, director Lamberto Bava more than stands on his own – the film is nicely-shot, and the lighting and general tidiness of the piece makes it an easy watch.

And despite the more ridiculous elements, I contest that there is some very serious and effective horror going on here. Before the final bloodbath, the demons are a terrifying force. There is something about their glowing eyes and teeth in human faces that places them apart from many a low-budget monster. They are seemingly unstoppable, and the fact that they are birthed from infection only adds to this terror. Whilst there are clear parallels to the zombie genre, where it pulls away from that is in the intelligence of the monsters. Survival becomes not just a case of holding out, but outwitting the creatures of the title. This is a move called Demons, and it’s clear Bava and Argento were focused on their terrors, not their victims.

Even the way the possession is first transmitted in uncomfortable. A character cuts herself on the mask that occurs throughout. It’s a proper wince moment, and the fact that it leads to such a gruesome infection carries the first twenty minutes before the chaos erupts. The transformation itself is disgusting and naturally unrealistic. The final bloodbath is such a long way from the weird, creepy opening, and takes one scene from earlier to truly ridiculous levels.

Tied into this is the undercurrent of why it is happening in the first place. Why did a masked man handout cinema tickets? Why is the mask in the film they watch? Is this really the best way to start a mass demon invasion? It all adds an element of mysticism and sadism to the proceedings that is uncomfortable to think too much about. It’s actually pretty nihilistic, as well as nostalgic. Despite this genre becoming so popular these days, they really don’t make them like this anymore, at least with this kind of budget. The filmmakers make you wish they had made a sequel that directly related to the movie.

It can be easy to regard Demons as just another piece of Italian horror, camping it up with buckets of gore and silly monsters. And, of course, this is a big part of it, but I am loathe to call it comedy-horror. Whilst it is a genre with a lot of strong points, it does suggest a lampooning that this movie doesn’t contain. Instead, it is more of a horror with ridiculous elements; how ridiculous you regard those elements will determine how much you enjoy the movie. But, for me, Demons is surprisingly chilling fun.

The film has gone on to become a cult favourite, though it is more remembered for the involvement of Argento than anyone else. Reviews were also mixed. On a side note, those who have played Silent Hill will not only find a cinema called the Metropole, but posters of the movie attached. The same team produced, wrote and directed Demons 2 a year later. Several  other movies have used the Demons name as alternate titles in an attempt to cash-in, but they are not directly related. Stick with the original.

Best Scene

That’s how you come to a rescue…

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • A poster for Four Flies on Grey Velvet is visible in the lobby of the cinema: it’s the title of Dario Argento’s third film.
  • The building used for the exteriors of the Metropol theater still stands in Berlin. It’s a club called Goya that’s been host to several horror conventions thanks to its appearance in this film.
  • In Germany, this was released as sequel (“Dämonen 2″) to the second film which was released as the first part (“Dämonen”).
  • The scene where the cocaine is dropped inside the car, where the characters are picking it back up, has been quite a subject of controversy, which led to the scene being censored almost all over the world.
  • Lamberto Bava cites this as his personal favorite of the films he has directed.

Dylan Spicer

Dylan graduated from Brighton Film School and and went on to complete an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. He has worked on award-winning short and feature films. He is currently experimenting with Narradu Memories, and his online audio drama giantcannibals.co.uk.

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