BR: Demons / Dèmoni (1985)

January 2, 2015 | By


Demons_BRFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Standard

Label: Synapse Films

Region: A

Released:  November 11, 2014

Genre:  Horror / Supernatural

Synopsis: After accepting free tickets to a secret film screening, cinemagoers find themselves trapped with demons – the first step in transforming Berlin into a vast wasteland!

Special Features:  Theatrical Trailer.




Not unlike Steven Spielberg, during the 1980s Dario Argento lent his ideas, resources, and producing arm to present movies to audiences interested in the genres in which he specialized, and while Lamberto Bava wasn’t a protégé, there’s no doubt the son of Mario Bava – a director / cinematographer whose work influenced Argento as equally as Alfred Hitchcock – benefited from this particular association with Argento.

It seems unlikely Demons was designed as a two-part series – the second film has two starting points before it fuses them into something quite insane – but it’s endured as a classic apocalyptic series where innocents are trapped in locked-down locations, fending off infected group members determined to take chunks from their bodies.

The Demons diptych is also a clever play on movies-within-movies, because characters in both films soon realize the horrific creatures within the films they’re watching have erupted from the cinema screen / TV sets with the same fervour to maim and feed.

Based on a story by Fulci collaborator Dardano Sacchetto (Manhattan Baby, The Beyond, Zombi) and co-developed with Bava, Argento, and Franco Ferrini (Once Upon a Time in America, The Church), Demons has a group of completely disparate people gathering at an old Berlin cinema after accepting fancy large tickets from a disfigured, masked stranger (played by The Church director Michele Soavi).

Spanning an old couple, a blind man, a teen couple (including Argento’s daughter, Fiore Argento), a pimp (boisterous Bobby Rhodes) + two bimbos, and two hotties (lovely Natasha Hovey and Fabiola Toledo) seemingly destined to be seated beside a pair of eager studs (including Opera’s Urbano Barberini), the small audience watch a horror film in which a group of youths sneak into the foreboding grounds of an old church where the opening of a tomb reveals the cadaver of Nostradamus.

Finding an ancient ceremonial mask and trying it on for fun, one of the youths (Soavi again) cuts himself, seeds an infection that culminates in a bursting boil, and transforms super-fast into a demon – really a zombie substitute by the filmmakers that need only take a bite out of a human before they too join the team in search of more victims.

This plague-like ascension allows the demons to take over the group, with the original pricked victim housing the spirit of the mask, and it isn’t long before a bimbo in the audience (Geretta Geretta) realizes the shiny mask she donned in the cinema’s lobby inflicted the same runny prick, potentially dooming her to a similar fate. Indeed, a hasty retreat to the loo allows the transformation to complete, turning the long-haired raven into a rabid punk demon, and within minutes whole sections of the group are transformed into demons, which Bava showcases in a few lengthy sequences undoubtedly inspired by the epic scenes in John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London and Joe Dante’s The Howling, two lycanthropy tales which stopped cold purely to showcase the painful physical transformation from human to wolf.

Bava’s demons remain humanoid, but there’s grisly emphasis on feral teeth pushing out clean dental work, vomitus, and other facial changes, and while less all-encompassing than the body transformations in the two Hollywood films, they’re more gross and wet. (Since the humans will never return to their natural form, the body trauma is more severe, especially a demon bursting full-sized from the back of its host!)

The early cross-cutting between the film-within-a-film, audience reactions, and parallel events are tightly interconnected, and the film maintains a fast momentum in spite of taking place within the cinema. The lone device the screenwriters use to ‘open up’ the story – a group of punks trolling the streets of Berlin – really adds nothing to the film except a handful of sleazy vignettes. Before the group enters the cinema, most of the scenes consist of the coke-snorting punks being loud and boorish, and a spikey-haired moll who likes having her nipples teased with a razor blade.

The city of Berlin appears only in a series of exterior shots (including the face of the Metropol cinema, which now exists as the Goya club), with sets in Italy doubling for dim streets and interiors. (The disused single screen movie house used for the Metropol interior was reportedly transformed soon after into a bank.)

Cinematographer Gianlorenzo Battaglia (whose career began as a camera assistant under the elder Bava) emphasizes classic eighties primary colours – lots of reds and blues dominate the palette – and while not an elaborate set, there’s some interesting use of the cinema’s various seen and hidden areas. The most novel idea are the demons’ glow-in-the-dark eye slits, which are eerie and stylish, especially when the silhouetted figures ascending staircases are backlit with fog and mist. (The glowing eyes also recall Attack the Block! suggesting director Joe Cornish may have borrowed the idea from Bava’s film.)

Claudio Simonetti’s score is really just a handful of cues written around several source songs, but they’re great tracks based around a title theme with an addictive chorus. (It’s pretty guaranteed anyone who watches the film will forever refer to it with a slight rap, as ‘Deh-monz, Deh-monz, De-De-De Deh-monz!’)

Previously released by Anchor Bay as a special edition, Synapse Films licensed a new HD transfer from Italy featuring the uncut version, including scenes with Coke cans (apparently licensing issues prevented its appearance in the U.S.), and in addition to their own quality control adjustments, Synapse included both the English mono dub track and a stereo dub track with reportedly slightly different English dubbing.

As the Blu-ray’s insert card describes, the Dolby 2.0 stereo mix isn’t great – the highs are a rather shrill – but the source music has distortion in both stereo and mono mixes, meaning whoever transferred the music to stems that were later edited into the film by the original production editors did a lousy job from day one. The stereo mix is still preferable, simply because it has that extra bass oomph which makes Simonetti’s music and synth drones so fun.

Besides a trailer, there are no other bonus features. In what seems like a pilot project, both Demons films are being released by Synapse as bare bones BR editions, and in steelbook editions (limited to 3000 copies) featuring a bevy of extras, including commentary track, interviews, and varioys featurettes. The Demons steelbook extras sound great, but budget-minded fans will have to weigh their options, which also include Arrow Films’ own limited U.K. edition, which contains a series of interviews. The price gap between Synapse’s bare bones and loaded steelbook is $24.95 and 45.95, respectively – rather steep considering most Argento and Bava fans would prefer a single special edition that not only meets the needs of all, and doesn’t feed the speculator market once the limited editions have gone OOP.

Argento fans will note the various behind the camera talent and cast with whom he’s worked. Daughter Fiore Argento, playing one of the doomed teen lovers, also loses her head at the beginning of Phenomena (1985), has an tiny role in Trauma (1993), and is a kidnap victim in The Card Player (2004). The statuesque usherette at the Metropol is Nicoletta Elmi, the sharp-eyed, redhead child who appeared in a string of classic Italian genre films, including Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood (1971) and Baron Blood (1971), Aldo Lado’s Who Saw Her Die? (1972), Paul Morrissey’s Flesh for Frankenstein (1973), and as the lizard torturing brat in Dario Argento’s Deep Red (1975).

Co-writer Franco Ferrini would also collaborate on several of Argento’s subsequent films, including Sleepless (2001) and the clever and underrated tongue-in-cheek meta giallo Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005).

Much of the behind-the-camera talent would reunite for Demons 2 (1986), a weaker and more derivative film that at least maintained a high gore and goo factor. For whatever reason, the Demons brand was applied to unrelated films, trying to further a franchise that existed in name only, or at least with stories involving malevolent spirits. Soavi’s The Chruch (1989) and The Sect (1994) were respectively branded Demons 3 and Demons 4; Bava’s sort-of remake of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday / The Devil’s Veil (1989) was also known as Demons 5; and Cozzi himself directed The Black Cat (1989), aka Demons 6. The Japanese video release of Dark Tower (1989) as Demons 7: Inferno seems to have been a straight cash-in maneuver to give relevance to an irrelevant film.

Also available: a podcast interview with composer Claudio Simonetti.



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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