While Dario Argento, the Italian maestro of murder, would rarely step outside of his comfort zone of stunningly brutal whodunnits (commonly known as the Giallo genre), he frequently would delve into the supernatural when it came to his producing career. This brings us to the magnificently eccentric Demons, a pus, gore and slime soaked explosion of chaotic survival horror
Directed by Lamberto Bava (son of the legendary Mario Bava) that rakes the brain with it’s toxic claws of awesomeness and shows that absurd 80’s excess in horror movies wasn’t solely the property of hyper-active Hollywood directors and gifted special effects technicians…
A strange man in a metal mask (a cameo by Michele Soavi, director of the spectacular spaghetti shocker Stage Fright) hands a free ticket for a mystery screening to doe eyed student Cheryl who hits upon the idea of roping in her doubtful friend Kathy into skipping class and catching this unknown flick for shits and giggles. Upon arriving at Metropol, a cinema that’s seemingly sprung up overnight, Cheryl sees that the dude with the tickets has been busy and large and disparate group of people have arrived including a bickering older couple, a blind man and his wayward daughter and a what seems to be pimp and two of his “employees”. Approached by two hopefully young men, George and Ken, Cheryl and Kathy settle down to watch the film only to find out that it’s a violently sadistic horror film and these hapless patrons are going to have more to complain about than the rising price of cinema food as the events on the big screen start to mirror real life. A scratch from a prop in the lobby causes one of the cinema goers to become a snarling, bestial creature that drools green slime and who’s sizable gnashers or substantial claws also causes their victims to change if scratched or gnawed. As the uninfected flee for their lives, they find all the entrances and exits bricked up with no explanation as to how they’ve waded so far into deep shit so fast and have to barricade themselves away from the rapid growing number of freakish, toothy bastards that desperately want to rip large chunks out of them.
As the survivors go through various individual adventures that usually ends with them screaming a lot while being torn to fucking ribbons, Cheryl, George, Kathy and Ken (gotta love those names) try to keep their heads while everyone else descends into hysteria and plan a way out, but it may be too late as the chances of a demon escaping out into the open get as terrifyingly high as the asshole punks who get in via a fire escape while trying to evade the cops…
Demons is one of those films that hugely benefits from that curious 80’s Italian trait of not giving a single fuck about holding a coherent narrative and instead goes all out in providing all the nightmarish imagery and head stretching plot twists a rabid gorehound could possibly want. Pumped full of the restless energy of a drug-fueled fever dream, the plot simply doesn’t have the time or the inclination to bother with little things like reasoning or rationality and correctly assumes things are far freakier if simply left unaddressed – for example, we never find out what the demons actually are, who made the film being screened, or even how everyone is managed to to be walled securely into the building in around 45 minutes. It gives the film a marvelous feeling of panic inducing nightmare logic that makes everything you’re watch feel gloriously over exaggerated, like a drunk is exuberantly overtelling a story that you actually witnessed in person.
Nothing is done at half-measure; the characters are all wildly over the top, a fact “helped” by some full blooded dubbing and some questionable filmmaker decisions (bask in the all consuming glory of Tony, the jive talking pimp who’s swanky suit looks like he’s caught a terminal case of Saturday Night Fever), the score is punctuated with random onslaughts of 80’s pop or thrash metal that are so out of place they end up fitting retroactively (How the fuck is We Close Our Eyes by Go West in a film about eyeball ripping monsters?) and the gore….? Jesus Christ, the gore is magnificent. The demons themselves are legitimately upsetting, with Italian effects guru Sergio Stivaletti gifting these ghastly creatures with twiglet sized teeth, popping veins and finger nails so fierce, they’d give Ru Paul a fucking coronary – they know how to use them to as the wince inducing violence leave throats ripped wide open, scalps torn off; and in one typically unexplained moment; has a, howling, full sized creature climb out of a woman’s back.
Speaking of the unexplainable, the film insists on drunkenly shifting it’s focus from the wailing prisoners of the Metropol to a random quartet of punk degenerates who are cruising the streets who engage in such wholesome activities as snorting blow from a Coke can and cutting each other nipples with razor blades. What possible reason could these punks have to be in movie you ask, not a hell of a lot, actually – but that’s the point; everything in Demons happens for no reason.
The unforgettable moment where the movie writes itself out of a dead end and handily povides an escape route for our leads by having a helicopter randomly crash through the roof apparently came to Argento in a dream (I guess it helps when your producer is also a lunatic). Similarly, the scene where George drives up and down the cinema aisles on a dirt bike, slashing up demons with a samurai sword (both of which were conveniently located in the cinema lobby) as roaring heavy metal blares over the soundtrack, is a moment that more than worth it’s weight in glorious stupidity. Demons has absolutely no interest in telling a tight story that covers it’s ass when it comes to plot holes, Demons only wants to be loud and cool and succeeds in that exaggerated way that only 80’s horror can. Modern viewers may casually dismiss all the gaudy and ludicrous bloodletting as dated or silly, but again, that’s the damn point – it’s a film that really should be put on the same, sticky, viscera dripping pedestal as The Evil Dead or Re-Animator.
Awesome score, awesome gore and an attitude that just keeps screaming more, Demons is a dollop of Eurohorror that rocks as hard as it shocks.