Judge Joel Pearce is waiting for the sequel, a movie about watching horror movies on DVD.
The legendary splatter classic—now uncut, uncensored, and remastered.
It was the early '80s. The Italians had spent the last decade redefining horror with films like Suspiria and The Beyond. Lamberto Bava, the son of legendary Italian horror director Mario Bava (Diabolik), created his masterpiece, Demons. For us, though, Demons was just another Italian gore-fest that didn't reach American shores intact. It's been a long time since 1984, and it's now easier to get a hold of these films uncut. Unfortunately, Demons no longer has the impact it would have had upon its original release. A true product of the '80s, it fails to live up to its underground reputation.
Facts of the Case
A number of people are handed free tickets to the unadvertised reopening of a movie theater. To pulse-pounding synth music, they all arrive, and sit down to what turns out to be a horror movie about people who turn into demons. To their shock, it isn't long before some of them also begin to transform into the hideous monsters. Inexplicably unable to escape the building, they find themselves in a savage battle for survival—and souls.
Demons is a horror movie about horror movies, and could have been a clever postmodern play on horror conventions. After all, the tragic group of victims begins the film watching a cheesy horror movie, and it doesn't take long to realize that's what we're watching as well. The film could have winked at us about this fact, and had fun with its premise. The real failure of Demons is that it treats us like complete idiots. About every three minutes, one of the characters shrieks that their horrible experiences are just like the film they've been watching. Even the freshest of horror movie recruits will get this fact instantly, and the film then pisses away its greatest source of potential.
Once the clever premise is neutered, Demons is really just another low-budget European bloodbath. It lacks the gleeful artistry of Dario Argento's films, and it doesn't come close to George Romero's mythic transcendence of the genre. After all, when you get right down to it, the story of Demons makes it simply a zombie film, but with faster monsters that use claws as well as teeth. In zombie movies, the suspense comes from wondering when the characters will make fatal mistakes, but here death simply seems inevitable for most of them. In the commentary, Bava tries to explain the difference between the zombie and demon mythologies, but it doesn't make much sense. Yes, demons are fast and act differently, but the result is pretty much the same, without any real resonance.
Of course, in the Italian tradition, Bava gets wildly inventive with the gore effects once the film gets rolling about halfway through. There are some viciously gooey moments, slathered on with all the cheese that we've come to expect from the genre. What the film sorely lacks is suspense and subtlety, the two horror ingredients that maintain interest between the geysers of blood and demon goo.
Should we expect great acting from a movie like Demons? I suppose not, but I was still a little let down by the performances here. The pacing of the dialogue is consistently off, perhaps the result of an Italian crew filming an English-speaking cast. The wild '80s hair is far more dynamic than any of the performances. Although there's ample setup time, it only succeeds in introducing a never-ending flow of stereotypes to get killed off. Since the film in the film is also filled with stereotypes, so it would have been a good chance to turn those expectations upside down. All we really get to do here, though, is wait it out, guess who will die next, and eat more popcorn. There aren't many scares, and not many surprises—just plenty of bad acting, followed by plenty of gore.
I realize that Demons has lots of loyal fans, and they won't be disappointed by the solid transfer on this release. It's presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, and has been enhanced for widescreen televisions. The colors are vibrant, and the details are sharp and clear. The sound hasn't aged quite as well, though it has been remixed into 5.1. It obviously comes from a mono source, and the original track has also been included for purists (it does sound less canned). In terms of extras, we get a commentary track from Lamberto Bava, a translator, and a couple other members of the crew. It's a fairly slow track, though it's probably as direct an insight into the film that we will ever get. There is also some behind-the-scenes footage, but it's barely a minute long.
Moral of the story? If a demon hands you a theatre ticket, pass it up—even if it is free. Most of you can pass up a chance to see this one as well, unless you are already a fan of Italian horror or love the film and want to check out the new transfer. Demons has a big following, but I think its time has long passed.
Is Demons guilty? Absolutely, but I'm not sure it belongs in a contemporary court. This one would have played a lot better 20 years ago.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Starz Home Entertainment
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