Title: Demons (aka Demoni)
Year of Release: 1985
Director: Lamberto Bava
Length: 88 mins
Starring: Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey
This film is 1985 to the bone. You can tell the moment the awful tinkly synth pop soundtrack kicks in over the opening credits. You don’t even need the long, lingering shots of shoulder padded, pink-haired punks riding the Berlin subway but you get that anyway, just in case you were in any doubt. Cheryl, a pretty college student (Hovey), disembarks the train, and is pursued down the platform by a mysterious masked man. Not really what you want. But when Strange Dude catches up with her, instead of assaulting her he gives her free tickets to a film showing that evening at a local cinema. Crisis avoided. You would think. Cheryl then meets her friend Cathy, persuades her to cut class, and off they go to the cinema together. Little do they know they are setting themselves up for a whole lot of freakish, bloodthirsty fun and games.
In one of those cool film-within-a-film sequences, the film they are watching is revealed to be a gross-out horror about a group of teens who go in search of the tomb of Nostradamus and end up turning into demons and butchering each other. As we find out the teenagers fate, the cinema is revealed to contain a cast of colourful characters including two guys who hit on Cheryl and her friend (one of them being George, played by Barberini, who turns out to be the star of the show), an elderly couple, a blind man, and a pimp with some prostitutes. One of the prostitutes tries on a mask in the cinema lobby and scratches her face, mirroring what happens in the movie they are all watching. A short while later she breaks into full-on demon mode and bursts through the cinema screen sparking a stampede for the exit as the cinema-goers begin to realise that somewhere along the way, the movie has morphed into reality.
To make matters worse, when they try to flee the cinema they find the exits blocked, meaning that the punters are all trapped inside with the demon, which goes around ripping off faces, slashing throats, and infecting them with the demon-virus.
That would perhaps explain why the tickets were free.
Those infected with the demon-virus also turn into bloodthirsty thugs, and pretty soon George and Cheryl find themselves locked in a mortal battle for survival as all hell breaks loose around them. A perfect first date this isn’t. As the demons run amok, the face melting, scalping, and flesh-chewing is relentless, subsiding only long enough to cut to a bunch of muscle-vested Latino punks at irregular intervals who are driving around Berlin off their tits on coke (which they hilariously snort out of a Coke can) and listening to Go West. Really. At one point they drop their stash and then have to painstakingly pick it all up again. Luckily enough, some of it falls over the girl of the gang’s exposed breasts. She even gets some inside her knickers, apparently. Bizarre. Predictably enough, the horny, drug-addled punks eventually come to a suitably sticky end. Keep your eye open for the reappearance of the masked man from the subway station, tying things up nicely. But the final shock is kept for the last few frames. I bet you didn’t see that one coming. And that’s AFTER a massive helicopter crashes through the roof.
Overlooking the Go West abomination, elsewhere Demons benefits from a thumping metal-oriented soundtrack featuring choice cuts from Motley Crue, Saxon, Billy Idol and Accept. It is a rare English/Italian production, spawned no less than seven sequels (though few have any relation to the original, sharing the same name only as a tediously transparent marketing strategy) and is widely regarded as horror writer/producer extraordinaire Dario Argento’s tour de force. However, 30-plus years on, the sad truth is it hasn’t aged very well. The writing still holds up, just, and the cinematography should be applauded. There are also some inventive and gore-tastic kills, as you would expect from one of the masters of horror. Let’s not forget this is the guy who will always be remembered for THAT scene in Zombi 2 where he has a woman’s eyeball slowly impaled on a thick wooden splinter. Ouch. But by the mid-way point of Demons the camp, OTT acting gets a bit tiresome and it is further let down by some truly awful special effects. Given that the budget was a measly $1.8 million (compared to the $28 million shelled out on Rocky IV, which came out the same year) that’s understandable I guess. It would be interesting to see what a large American studio with some hefty backing would be able to do with this. If any movie deserves a remake, it’s Demons.
Between leaving his job at a newspaper and making his name in the horror biz, Argento worked with Sergio Leone as a scriptwriter on the classic spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in the West (1969).