Demons (Lamberto Bava, 1985)

by Douglas Buck January 25, 2020 4 minutes (936 words) 35 mm New Beverly Cinema

A random group of patrons invited to a mysterious screening in a Berlin theater find themselves not only locked in with a vicious (and delicious) uber-violent movie they can’t turn off, but slowly turning — one infectious bite at a time (you get the idea) — into pus-spewing (and I mean a lot of pus – one thing is for sure is the film doesn’t go light in the grossly flowing bodily juices department – I mean that eye-opening moment of poor Dario Argento’s daughter Fiore getting an endless faceful of demon gook – yucchhh!), sharp-clawed savage killer demons that look just like… the one in the film!

There’s the bloody knife endlessly plunging into flesh in the movie-within-the-movie where four partying teens out for a thrill find themselves stumbling across that old sage oracle Nostramadus’ empty coffin and an old Necronomicon-like tome (fortunately, one of them is fluent in Latin so can provide the clues to what’s behind the bloody chaos in the theater and what that scary silver mask that’s both in the film and in the theater itself that caused the first ‘scratch and demon’ is all about), that is until one of the demon-victims crashes through from behind the screen (playing out the amusingly over-the-top meta-conceit of the film). The drooling demons hurrying in packs before artificially 80’s lit hallways (looking so fucking cool I don’t even mind the obviously stenciled-on veins), with their enjoyably gooey transformations from human to demon playing out as a sort of a low rent (yet still inspired!) version of the cinematically revolutionary lupine one in An American Werewolf in London. The sudden full-blown ‘next gen’ demon bursting forth (full grown!) from one of our heroine’s backs (with little explanation as to… why exactly?)… everyone running around shrieking, crazed out of their minds, all set against the positively throbbing, operatic Italo-horror metal synth score brought to us by the legendary Claudio Simonetti (with that opening theme something I simply can’t stop bobbing around my home for weeks after each time I’ve seen the film, a near annual event at this point). And let’s not forget those nasty 80’s punk kids (who genuinely look like dangerous street kids, so props to that), looking for trouble on the Berlin streets, snorting cocaine out of a coke bottle (until it spills and one has to collect it with a razor blade off the sneering street girl’s nipple).

One of the best one sheets ever!

What can I say. I just simply can never get enough of this assaultive (and I mean that in the most indulgently entertaining of a way possible), adrenaline-driven, wildly anti-social experience called Demons. It’s a gloriously perverse, (pus- and gore-)filled wet dream of an adolescent fantasy that just keeps the momentum, never misses an opportunity to go all out with a gore gag, and is fun-going right up until the end, with a helicopter inexplicably crashing right through the ceiling into the theater.

The characters are all wonderfully colorful (and oft-perversely drawn, as per the dictate of the entire film), from the blind man (I mean, why is he going to a movie?) with his daughter who abandons him to go fuck some stranger in the rafters (you can imagine how that ends), to pimp Tony and his randy girls (with the dubbed English voice for the black pimp so blatantly stereotypical with guttural menace it’s hilarious in its wrong-headedness, and likely, in today’s climate, would have been substituted with an equally as absurd, though far less amusing, Ivy League linguist speaking only proper English… of indeterminate racial make-up, naturally) and on to the striking red-headed model type who is pegged early on in the film (through menacing glances and ominous musical chords) as almost assuredly having some clandestine evil connection with the hellish proceedings… that is, until all that’s dropped, and she’s suddenly doing nothing more than running hysterically about with the rest of them, trying not to get munched.

I probably don’t wanna look to deep into what it says about my taste (or me in general – as certainly my mate next to me who kept gawking at me in slack-jawed astonishment every few minutes has likely been doing since sitting through what he likely experienced as an assault on his very ability to process the world – well, hey, fuck his trauma, I didn’t tell him he had to come), but the exuberantly fun, hyper-violent, effects-driven ride of Demons feels as if it’s almost personally speaking to me… certainly as no other film made by Lamberto Bava (son of that pioneering, beloved genre filmmaker Mario and a filmmaker who, let’s be honest, has mostly produced second-rate fair in comparison with the Italo-exploitation greats around him) has made before or since, and that includes his disappointing follow-up the next year, Demons 2 (which I now feel I should revisit as well to give my final assessment on).

Perhaps some of the success can also be attributed to the fact that it was produced by another maestro, Dario Argento himself, who along with his own now-legendary (if terribly long spiralling) directing career, has also had a pretty good go at guiding from behind the scenes (including both Demons and Michael Soavi’s The Church).

Hell, considering the out-of-control momentum and sheer indulgent nature of the film. I wouldn’t be surprised if there had been real coke in that can… and all the guiding creative forces were taking turns grabbing a sniff, having a glorious old time making a crazed movie about dripping demons.

Demons (Lamberto Bava, 1985)

Douglas Buck. Filmmaker. Full-time cinephile. Part-time electrical engineer. You can also follow Buck on “Buck a Review,” his film column of smart, snappy, at times irreverent reviews.

Buck A Review   dario argento   italian horror   lamberto bava