Demonoid: Messenger of Death (Alfredo Zacarias, 1981)
Jennifer Baines (Samantha Eggar) and her fellow explorer husband Mark (Roy Jensen) find a mummified hand in a casket, which, to their regret, they discover is capable of possessing the left hand of whoever it wants, causing the hand to turn super strong and violent. Lots of (left) hand-ripping, severing and burning (as well as a face-ripping) ensues, as the spirit jumps from one hand to the next, with Jennifer eventually teaming up with the initially disbelieving Father Cunningham (with Stuart Whitman playing the Los Angeles priest inexplicably with an Irish brogue) to somehow stop this evil force.
Seeing Demonoid released on Blu ray by those naughty wonder kids over at Vinegar Syndrome (I say ‘kids’, but, truth be told, they could be lascivious and sweaty hand-wringing child molesters as far as I actually know) brought me fondly back in my memories to those distant times when there were once laws in place (long dismantled by the political power of many corporate dollars) disallowing the studio conglomerates from owning every arm of theatrical distribution and little wacky no-budget dubbed genre movies from places like Mexico and Italy were still occasionally showing up at my local suburban movie theater, with unabashedly lurid poster art starring second tier performers like the hot but seriously crazy-eyed Samantha Eggar and way past their prime, still hustling actors such as Stuart Whitman, doing their best to remain convincing against the sometimes cheesy (or just insanely lingeringly lurid, if it was an Italian effort) effects and often meagre production values. While I wouldn’t argue all of these films were great (though many of the Fulci ones certainly are, and ones such as Demonoid certainly have their eye-opening moments), I will always appreciate how they wore their sensationalistic exploitation intentions on their sleeves against the blatant hypocrisy of the big studio fare, which glosses over their ultimately consumer, status quo intentions with a sheen of do-gooder moralism (in the form of the preservation of the State, of course). So while Demonoid was one I missed during its theatrical day, I did remember it and was happy to finally get a chance to catch up with it.
The film starts off in fast dazzling style, introducing a violent satanic cult, a set of impressive naked breasts (proving the careful casting wasn’t just focused on the leads), flashes to a Pazuzu style demon statue (the titular messenger of death – though I don’t remember anyone ever using that exact moniker, or the Demonoid one anywhere in the film) and the bloody severing of an arm that’s supposed to release said “Exorcist” demon. The first third of the film is centered around the mineshaft that dug up the location of the opening Satanic act (three hundred years later – gotta give that Pazuzu vengeance spirit time to fester, after all) and the underground catacombs are really quite impressive. I highly doubt the film’s budget allowed them to build sets, so I can only imagine the filmmakers either used existing ones from other bigger budgeted films or shot in real below ground labyrinths, which seems both potentially treacherous and uncomfortably hot, especially when considering the addition of film lights. Either way, it definitely works for the film and helps cover up some of the obvious silliness going on.
After that opening third (with the narrative startlingly jumping to Las Vegas with no announcement), the film continues to rapidly move along (if becoming a tad repetitive) with the possessed hand causing some enjoyable carnage along the way, gathering enough momentum to help one not pay too much attention to the confusion of exactly what’s going on (Is the demon in the hand or is the demon controlling the hand? What exactly is the goal of this thing anyway, other than just mucking things up?).
As with the memorable opening of the film, the ending is also a doozy of inspired, if convoluted, lunacy, as the once presumed dead hand suddenly returns… to really awkward yet brilliantly violent effect (I’m not giving anything away here – anyone who doesn’t realize that the hand isn’t actually dead near the end has either never seen a horror film or is just dense). It also makes me grow nostalgic for that brief killer hand horror movie period in the early 80’s. Why, it might even be time to take another look back at Oliver Stone’s first studio effort, The Hand, whether the director wants us to or not.