Demoni AKA Demons (1985)
Directed by: Lamberto Bava
Starring: Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Karl Zinny, Fiore Argento, Paola Cozzo, Fabiola Toledo, Nicoletta Elmi, Stelio Candelli, Nicole Tessier, Geretta Geretta, Bobby Rhodes, Guido Baldi, Bettina Ciampolini, Michele Soavi
1/2 (out of 4)
Getting off the West Berlin subway, Cheryl encounters a strange, vaguely threatening man wearing half of a metallic mask on his face (played by Michele Soavi, director of The Church and Cemetery Man). The man hands her tickets to see an unknown movie at a newly renovated theater called the Metropol (you may know it as the Neues Schauspielhaus – done in Art Nouveau style, recently the location of the Goya Nightclub), and she asks for a second ticket so she can bring her friend Kathy (Paola Cozzo). Skipping class to attend the movie (I assume music class since she’s carrying around Bartók’s Mikrokosmos), the pair are obviously being set up for a very important after-school special on the dangers of truancy. At the theater, they bump into the usual cast of characters – George (Urbano Barberini, who would later play the lead in the infamous Gor movies) and Ken (Karl Zinny), who take a liking to the girls; the required blind guy (Alex Serra); a pimp named Tony (Bobby Rhodes, Italy’s answer to Ken Foree?) with his two “girls” Rosemary (Geretta Geretta) and Ruth (Nicole Tessier). Before the night is out, we will be witness to extreme gore alongside bad dubbing and a plot that is nonsensical and borders on incoherence, but as we have all come to expect this kind of thing from Italian gore flicks, I wouldn’t exactly call it a negative. After all, if you are asking what a blind man is doing at a movie theater, this isn’t the film for you.
Things start off weird when our protagonists enter the lobby. There is an odd display consisting of a suit of armor, a motorbike, a samurai sword, and a demon mask. Fascinated with this post-modern piece of art, Rosemary tries the mask on, only to cut her cheek on it. The usherette (Nicoletta Elmi, from Profundo Rosso, Who Saw Her Die?, Bay Of Blood, and the very weird Le orme) watches from a distance with a menacing glance and a slight smirk. Does the usherette know something? Does she work for the scary masked ticket man? Don’t hold your breath waiting for the answers – you’re not going to get them. Before long, the movie-within-the-movie begins, and it’s about the prophecies of Nostradamus, specifically his prognostication about the coming demon apocalypse (yes, really). After two couples discover his burial site, they find an old book and a demon mask. The book warns of monsters who “will make cemeteries their cathedrals and tombs, your cities.” A character tries on the mask (“an instrument of evil”) and cuts himself accidentally. The cut soon develops into a full blown case of demonic-possession. But hey – it’s only a movie-within-a-movie.
Or is it? Rosemary undergoes the same transformation (complete with exploding pustules) while in the bathroom and goes on the loose, killing audience members who wander out of the theater. (In one scene, two necking patrons are choked to death with the same rope, their lips still locked together). When Ruth goes to look for her friend, she is attacked and also infected with the demon-virus. As the characters on the movie screen are violently killed, Ruth crashes through it, triggering all sorts of bloody mayhem. The rest of the movie becomes a fight for survival as the audience members band together to escape the demon menace as well as the confines of the cinema, which has now somehow trapped them inside.
As I said, there are plot points that hit walls not unlike the supernatural one which covers the entrance to the Metropol. Early hints about the nature of a character go nowhere, reducing her to a cipher. The mystery of the man in the mask remains a mystery; no motives are given for his actions. The dialogue is rather hilarious in spots (Cheryl: I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s the movie that’s making this happen! Tony the Pimp: She’s right, she put on that mask and scratched herself, get it? Because of that scratch, she became a demon. An instrument of evil, like they said in the damn movie, you heard it. We got to stop it I tell you, we got to stop the movie!). However, inside that bit of dialogue lies, I think, writer Dardano Sacchetti’s intentions, which were to poke fun at the theories of the day suggesting that movies, music, and television cause violence in society. On second thought, maybe he’s advocating such theories – it’s hard to tell. Take the scene where the movie screen feature shows a knife ripping through something as a demon rips through the screen itself – violence jumping off the screen and right into our living rooms. Look at the last third of the film, as the demonic menace escapes the theater and turns into a citywide plague. Here’s the effects of sex, drugs, and violence spilling out of the cinema and infiltrating the whole of society in sinister fashion – 1980s conservatives probably would have loved this movie.
Demons is a variation of the Dawn of the Dead scenario with nods to Onibaba and The Evil Dead, but it also has punk aspirations, as the soundtrack suggests (Motley Crue, Billy Idol, Accept). That, and the addition of four punk characters (one who snorts cocaine out of a Coke can) instantly date the picture, but the musical choices work fairly well for the chaos that ensues. It also may have likely influenced later work, like Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn and Raimi’s Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness. There’s a scene towards the end which is rather joyous to behold, as our knight in shining armor George mounts the lobby motorcycle and rides it around the theater, slashing through demons with his sword and saving his fair lady Cheryl. I saw so much of Bruce Campbell’s Ash in this one sequence.
There’s probably a lot that can be mined from this material, but Lamberto Bava (A Blade in the Dark, Devilfish) doesn’t pull it off with the skill that daddy Mario might have done. While the Neues Schauspielhaus makes for an awesome setting in the Art Nouveau/Modern/Art Deco mold, his utilization of it, along with framing and editing of shots, does not reach full potential. In addition, the fate of our two main heroes at the very end is a shock tactic that seems decided on a mere coin flip. However, there are enough nifty old-school gore effects and transformation sequences (courtesy of Sergio Stivaletti; the bit where a victim’s human teeth are slowly pushed out to make way for demon teeth is rather effective) to keep interest, and the movie moves along at a brisk pace once the first monster makes an appearance. Given its flaws, Demons is better than one would expect, and if you follow the unspoken agreement to not ask questions (Like, “Hey, where did that helicopter come from?”) you’ll get some enjoyment out of it. Bava would follow up later with Demons 2.
- Bill Gordon