Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #32
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: October 4, 1985
Sub-Genre: Zombie Horror
Country of Origin: Italy
Running Time: 88 minutes
Director: Lamberto Bava
Producer: Dario Argento
Screenplay: Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Franco Ferrini, Dardano Sacchetti
Special Effects: Rosario Prestopino
Cinematography: Gianlorenzo BattagliaScore: Claudio Simonetti
Score: Claudio Simonetti
Studio: DACFILM Rome
Stars: Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Karl Zinny, Fiore Argento, Paola Cozzo, Fabiola Toledo, Bobby Rhodes, Geretta Geretta, Michele Soavi
Suggested Audio Candy:
Claudio Simonetti Demons Theme
If you were coming of age in the seventies or eighties, then you should be more than familiar with the power of Italian horror cinema during that time. American slasher enthusiasts owe a great deal of gratitude to their European cousins for providing the giallo template that spearheaded the entire movement and their output over this period was pretty much second to none. While certain filmmakers were grabbing both the plaudits and monopoly, there are a number of others for whom the stars aligned at one time or another and Lamberto Bava is one such fellow.
Bava was rather providential with his passage into movie making. His father; the late great Mario (not the plumber, the other one) had made a massive impact in the industry, notably in the sixties and seventies, enjoying a lustrous career behind the lens before his death in 1980. Towards the end of his life, he helped ease his spawn into the scene and, for his final feature Beyond The Door II in 1977, enabled Lamberto to take the helm for the majority of the project with rather splendiferous results. Whilst not regarded as one of his better works, I wholeheartedly disagree as that film gave my nightmares nightmares for months afterwards. After his father’s sad passing, Lamberto wasted no time in picking up the reins and, whilst never likely to surpass his father’s immense output, managed to forge his own career in film.
Mario had been involved in the film industry since Dario Argento was still filling up diapers (artistically I might add) and his work is often spoken of in the same breath as Alfred Hitchcock so his were pretty massive shoes to fill. However, Lamberto hit the ground running with his first full-length feature Macabre, which was fairly well received in his native country well during the same year as being passed the baton. He then followed this up with A Blade in The Dark three years later, offering a solid stab at the giallo sub-genre that was clearly in his blood. While both films were more than worthy of merit, there was an overriding feeling that his greatest achievements still lay ahead and, in 1985, he finally hit top gear.
Demons is his tour-de-force or, at the very least, his most marketable project outside of his homeland. My primary introduction came in the form of its original teaser trailer which surfaced months before its eventual VHS release and, needless to say, it left me salivating like a deviant. Always one to be easily seduced by box art, the cover image told me everything I needed to know and guaranteed me that I was in safe hands. Said drool continued to flow freely right up to the very moment that I proudly held that rental in my clammy hands and prepared to buckle myself in for one helluva wild ride. Was it worth all the rabid expectation? Was it fuck!
Let me make this abundantly clear before we take another solitary step. Demons is trash. Pure unadulterated trash (of the highest order I might add). Bava chooses the ideal setting as milieu for his 90-odd minutes of splatter-soaked silliness, extending us an invite to an old run down West Berlin Gothic cinema for our very own private screening. He then fills his elected locale with a bouquet of clichéd caricatures, each of whom have also received a complimentary pass courtesy of a mysterious masked man (played by none other than Michele Soavi).
Amongst the VIPs are music student Cheryl (Natasha Hovey), her classmate Kathy (Paola Cazzo) and potential hook-ups George (Urbano Barberini) and Ken (Karl Zinny). They take their seat for the main presentation alongside the customary lambs to the slaughter but one dude sticks out like a sore thumb and is worthy of his own formal introduction. Sporting handlebar mustache and white twinset suit, pimp daddy Tony (Bobby Rhodes) is quite clearly the shit. This cat is the epitome of smooth and butter likely wouldn’t melt on his balls. Moreover, he comes with his own entourage of bitches, Rosemary (Geretta Geretta) and Carmen (Fabiola Toledo), so he’s evidently packing some trumpet.
One of his imprudent skanks tampers with a peculiar mask in the lobby before the performance and, while the congregation gathers to watch the main feature (a well employed film within a film featuring the identical mask from the vestibule), she is backstage spitting out teeth and beginning to lament her foolishness. From the moment that first bubble of green secretion ruptures from her cheek, Demons shifts into another gear and keeps its pedal to the metal for the entire duration. All hell literally breaks loose and, before we can catch our breath, the auditorium is overrun with unhinged fiends who proceed to whittle down the superfluous cast members with gory elation.
The viewer is then treated to a whole host of bloodthirsty brutalities compliments of our ferocious fiends. Eyes are chiseled from their cavities, throats torn out, scalps disconnected and all manner of horrendous downfalls ensue during a wonderfully bloodthirsty middle act. The bountiful carnage is extremely well handled by Rosario Prestopino who had worked on a number of Lucio Fulci’s ventures beforehand and Argento later drafted him in to provide the key effects for his stylish 1987 work Opera. On this evidence, it is easy to see why.
Speaking of Dario, he is on producer/co-writer duties and very much involved in the festivities. It appears as though he really enjoyed working on this particular venture as his own works have never veered fully into schlock territory, whereas here he gets to replace that fine-tipped paintbrush with a fire hose brimming with deep red coulis. A number of his minions also take part, including his own daughter Fiore in a minor role. The working relationship he forges with Bava yields grand results and his passion for flamboyant coloration is again evident, adding to the overall feel of the film infinitely.
Nonsensical is definitely a term that accurately conveys the on-screen lunacy as our story progresses towards its downright implausible crescendo. Motorcycles and helicopters are introduced later on and, by this point, some may have reached for the eject button. Foolish. If you want refinement then look some place else as this has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer but that is undoubtedly what the remainder of us hanker after. We don’t concern ourselves with pragmatic behaviour or plausibility; we’re just here for the outlandish grue and Demons supplies more than the necessary amount to sate our blood lust. Believable performances are surplus to requirements but the Italians are known for their magnanimous approach to bloodletting and there is enough on offer here to fill a monastery.
Rather startlingly the BBFC approved this to pass without any cuts to the original script and I can only assume that meddlesome activist Mary Whitehouse was undertaking a hip replacement when Demons was placed in her in-tray. Had this been released three years prior then it would undoubtedly have been named and shamed but it arrived on the right side of the video nasty debacle and somehow sailed under the censor’s radars. Hoorah! The result is one of the most marvelously doolally pieces of horror cinema to bleed onto the scene during the entire eighties.
Alas, despite its huge cult following and spawning a similarly batty sequel, Demons represents the peak of Bava’s prowess with regards to horror and it all went eerily quiet afterwards. Through his own choice, his work has consisted largely of TV fodder, and it saddens my soul that he selected this alternative route. A similar thing happened to stable mate Soavi whom, after gifting us the wonderful Dellamorte Dellamore in 1994, also decided that horror wasn’t the way to go. Consequently, it has been left solely to Argento to fly the Italian flag, and we’re all left wondering what if. Regardless of his unprecedented vanishing act, I will always be indebted to him for Demons. Thanks for the memories Lamberto.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 5/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Imagine placing a plump fowl into a pen of famished foxes and then firing the starter’s gun. Restraint is a word that bears no meaning in the case of Demons. Pound for pound this is easily one of the most bloodthirsty movies to emerge during the entire eighties cycle and features enough gushing grue and popping pustules to put those of a weaker disposition off their food for a full calendar month. The rest of us are in for a real grisly treat. Scalping, strangulation, gouging, devouring, it’s all here and in glorious Technicolor.
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2013 (Revised Edition 2015)