Director: Lamberto Bava
Starring: Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Karl Zinny (Demons)
David Knight, Nancy Brilli, Coraline Cataldi-Tassoni (Demons 2)
Running time: 88 minutes (Demons) 91 minutes (Demons 2)
Release date: 30 April 2012
Arrow Films, who have been doing their best over the past couple of years to provide the British public with smart presentations of cult horror films, have, with their latest release, brought us sparkling new transfers of Lamberto Bava’s Demons pictures, two Italian horror films produced during the mid-1980s, a very bleak time indeed for horror in the UK, which was still reeling in the aftermath of the infamous Video Recordings Act.
In the wake of the VRA, and the swath of video censorship that ensued, Italian horror became pretty much persona non grata on these shores. Dario Argento’s long-awaited follow up to Tenebrae, Phenomena, was hacked to bits on both sides of the Atlantic, retitled Creepers, and shoved out on VHS where all but the most sympathetic of critics trashed it. Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper was given a police escort out of the country, while his other movies were available only in severely truncated pan-and-scan editions. It’s quite surprising then, in this atmosphere of EuroHorror hostility, that Demons got a VHS release (on the Avatar label) with hardly any cuts at all, especially when one considers how much over the top blood and guts it contains.
In many ways, Demons is the archetypal Italian horror film, or at least it’s archetypal of a certain subgenre its obsessive fans will be only too familiar with. The plot makes no sense whatsoever, the acting and dubbing is indifferent, and the climax is a bit silly; and yet amongst all of this there are moments of such gobsmacking genius that you find yourself rewatching the entire film just in case you missed a vital point of earth-shattering brilliance to explain all the daft bits. (Don’t worry, you didn’t). Most of the action of the first film takes place in a cinema in Berlin, where patrons, who have been given free tickets to an untitled premiere by a masked Michele Soavi, find themselves watching a horror film about the coming of demons. A bite or a scratch from one of these nasty creatures results in the victim turning into a demon themselves. Events in the film mimic events taking place in the cinema, and eventually the place is over-run with infected, clawed, fangy monsters drooling green froth. The hero and heroine escape by using a handy helicopter that crashes through the roof towards the end, only to find that the apocalypse has begun and the demons now overrun the earth.
The film is given a tremendous punch by its soundtrack, which is predominantly heavy metal based, but also features some fine synthesiser work by Claudio Simonetti, including a great main title theme that plays with riffs on Grieg and Bach.
Overall, then, Demons is an example of Italian horror cinema at its most frenzied, confusing, laughable, exhilarating, loud, intense, stylish and horrific. It does nothing by halves and takes no prisoners, laughing in the face of serious criticism just before tearing the eyes out of that face and transforming it into a green, foam-drooling, unstoppable killing machine. Whether or not you’ll enjoy it will depend on how much that previous paragraph sets your spine tingling or makes you laugh disdainfully.
Now, a word about format issues. Demons has existed on VHS & DVD in a number of forms over the years, and this reviewer has been familiar with almost all of them. It is therefore a delight to report that Arrow’s new Blu-ray transfer looks fantastic, and also appears to be the most complete version in existence. Demons aficionados who have every other version out there will also want this disc in their collection, because the print has a number of minor sound and music edits that make for a slightly different viewing experience from previous editions. The disc offers the option of either English or Italian dialogue tracks, and the opening and closing credits are in Italian as well. They’ve also managed to tidy up the end-title music that had an echo problem on previous prints. Extras consist of a commentary track between Lamberto Bava, Sergio Stivaletti and journalist Loris Curci that’s been brought over from the old Anchor Bay US disc, as well as a brand new commentary track from Bava, Stivaletti, Claudio Simonetti and actress Geretta Geretta (Rosemary in the film). Other extras include two short featurette interviews, one with Simonetti and one with Dario Argento, and Luigi Cozzi’s Top Ten Italian Horror Films, for what that’s worth.
Demons was such a huge success that the inevitable sequel surfaced a year later, with the same basic technical personnel (including the same four screenwriters!) but a change of location to an apartment block, and a change of soundtrack from heavy metal to goth. Demoni 2 L’Incubo Ritorna (as the onscreen title would have it – the credits are once more the Italian originals) isn’t a patch on the first one but there are still moments that stand out. This time the demon plague comes out of a television set and spreads through the building, with the inevitable chaos ensuing. Less appealing characters and too many moments where the film veers into the outright laughable (a demon dog and some kind of terrible demon puppet thing that’s on screen for far too long are good examples) mean that Demons 2 inevitably falls to pieces as it goes on, and it’s probably only for very forgiving Italian horror enthusiasts.
The Blu-ray, however, is another splendid presentation. There’s more picture noise in the darker scenes than in Demons but one presumes that to be a problem with the source print rather than the transfer. Extras include the old Anchor Bay US commentary with Lamberto Bava, Sergio Stivaletti and Loris Curci, a little featurette on the special effects, and Luigi Cozzi pops up again (why is he always sitting in the basement of that shop? He must have been there for ten years now) to discuss the history of Italian horror in Bava to Bava.
The Blu-ray discs are both Region B encoded and the movies are also available as Region 2 DVDs. When bought separately, the Demons and Demons 2 discs also contain parts one and two respectively of the collectors’ comic book Demons 3, which wasn’t included in the review package so it cannot be commented upon. Both Blu-ray discs are also available in a limited edition steel-book set. You don’t get the comic books if you buy that version but it does include Calum Waddell’s essays on the two films that are available in the single disc editions.
JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT
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