Arrow Films delves once again into the treasure trove of cult genre favourites from the video shop era, bringing their restoration process to the Dario Argento-produced 1985 horror Demons and its sequel from the following year, Demons 2.
On a subway train, a student named Cheryl is offered free cinema tickets by a mysterious masked stranger. Instead of discarding them as any sane person would, she decides instead to take her friend along to the screening. The film in question is a teens-in-peril horror where one of the characters manages to scratch his face on a demonic-looking mask, echoing what happens earlier to a patron playing with that very prop in the cinema’s lobby.
The scratch appears to unleash some kind of infection, turning the audience member into green, gunk-spewing creatures. Before long, there’s carnage on and off screen as the cinema turns into a battleground between the living and undead. To everyone’s horror, the exits have been boarded up from outside, and Cheryl, her friend and two other surviving male cinemagoers battle to escape and avoid being turned.
Featuring a soundtrack comprised of 80’s rock favourites like Motley Crue, Billy Idol and (bizarrely) Go West, Demons is a gloriously OTT gorefest. Placing the action within the confines of a cinema offers director Lamberto Bava (son of celebrated Italian cinematographer/director Mario) the chance to orchestrate some imaginative and thoroughly disgusting set-pieces.
He certainly makes sure he gets his money’s worth from the location and like producer/mentor Argento, he knows how to use bold colours and lighting to create a unique look and feel.
As the film progresses, it gets more ridiculous and outlandish (using both a motorcycle and samurai sword prop from the lobby, two of the surviving teens ride through the auditorium slicing down the remaining demons) but that’s a large part of the fun to be had here, and many horror fan will be delighted at seeing an old favourite given the Blu-ray treatment.
Presumably due to the success of the first film, Demons 2 was hurried into production soon afterwards, and it bears all the hallmarks of those rushed, hastily put together sequels which fail to capture what made the original such fun.
In another early meta touch, the apocalyptic aftermath of the Demons is played out via a bizarre televised reconstruction within the actual film itself, which many of the inhabitants of a tower block are watching intently (including a ten-year-old Asia Argento). Another is spoilt teen Sally, who is throwing a hissy fit in the middle of her 16th birthday party. Holed up in her bedroom, she watches the events unfold on TV just as a demon is being reanimated. In an early precursor to The Ring, said demon manages to escape out of Sally’s TV and promptly possesses her.
As her teen guests find themselves on the receiving end of her demonic state, her blood (like those deadly xenomorphs) is highly corrosive, eating through each floor of the building and infecting other residents. As all hell breaks loose, buff Hugh Grant/Clark Kent lookalike George struggles to save both himself and pregnant wife Hannah from growing a nasty set of pointed, Austin Powers-like fangs and developing a pea-green complexion.
Demons 2 shares some of the issues which hinder the first film. That same use of stilted US voice-over dubbing, delivering often peculiar, always perfunctory dialogue is very much evident. There’s also little in the way of plot once again (or cohesion, for that matter) but where the first film’s shortcomings are somewhat masked by its wonderful setting, this time around there’s a distinct lack of imagination in that area.
The tower block has been used to good effect in other horrors, but returning director Bava and his editor fail to establish any real momentum as they cut between each besieged floor. His human/demon battles here are slipshod and lack the darkened claustrophobia of the first film. The effects budget appears to have been seriously scaled back this time around too, and apart from the aforementioned 3D demon attack, the make-up and animatronics look cheaper, rendering them less effective. There’s also a thoroughly rubbish gargoyle puppet (which a young demon boy gives birth to) that is perhaps the least frightening creature ever to grace the screen.
Still, there’s some laughs to be had (the sight of a bunch of sweaty, scantly-clad and ridiculously-muscular gym patrons fighting off the demon horde is a treat) and there’s enough genuine WTF moments to keep connoisseurs of trash cinema entertained throughout (at one point, Sally’s parents make their only appearance as they walk around a German-themed winter market, wrestling with the decision of allowing their daughter to have a house party).
Demons 2 (2/5)
As to be expected from Arrow, both films have been lovingly restored. Demons has two commentaries (both featuring Bava), as well as interviews with Dario Argento and composer Claudio Simonetti. There’s a look at the history of Italian horror on both discs too.
The package is completed by a brand new, two-part Demons 3 comic (a panel of which you can see below) and the usual generous Arrow Video packaging – reversible sleeve, fold-out poster and collectible booklet.