“They will make cemeteries their cathedrals and the cities will be your tombs.”
I grew up loving horror movies. My wife, not so much. So every year when the weather chills and all I want to do is watch horror movies, we sometimes struggle to find movies that we both want to watch. Starting her off with The Exorcist years ago was probably not a great idea (nor was crab-walking around the apartment in the dark while hissing later that night… probably). But over the last couple years, we struck upon a successful formula: made in the 1980s, low budget, bad writing, and possibly Italian. Demons from 1985 checks all of those boxes.
Lamberto Bava’s Demons has a great plot for about half an hour. Attractive coed Cheryl and her friend Kathy get free tickets to see a movie with no title at a movie theater they didn’t know existed from a creepy guy in a subway station. So, of course, they must skip class to attend. Also at the theater for the mysterious film are prepsters George and Ken, a man implied to be a pimp and his two special ladyfriends, a grumpy old married couple, a blind man and his daughter, a teenage couple, and a couple dozen randoms. One of special ladyfriends tries on a demonic prop mask in the lobby and gets scratched on her face. The movie begins. The people in the movie find the tomb of Nostradamus, a book, and the demon mask from the lobby. One of the friends tries on the mask and gets his face scratched. The scratch causes him to turn into a bloodthirsty demon. Meanwhile, in the movie but not in the movie within the movie, the special ladyfriend has gone to the bathroom because her scratch won’t stop bleeding… You can see where this is going. The parallel movement of the movie and the movie-within-the-movie make for some excellent editing opportunities, continually blurring the boundaries between the two until the over-the-top violence erupts.
However, once the gore really hits, the plot begins to fall apart. Random druggie punks keep getting scenes but it takes forever to actually integrate them into the plot of the film, and then they almost immediately don’t matter. The 30 or so people that were originally in the theater somehow multiply whenever more bodies are needed. Preppy George gets his sleeves torn off and transforms into ripped Action George. There is an oddly long scene involving a motorcycle and a samurai sword. A helicopter falls through the ceiling. A grappling hook gun appears. And so on. The son of giallo legend Mario Bava, Lamberto Bava has his father’s eye for color and composition, but not his dad’s storytelling skills.
My wife was bothered not by the gore, but by something that was harder to pin down. Why did the movie seem so weird to her? She pointed to the film’s pacing and I think she was right. Demons doesn’t try to provide any background for the characters, instead basing all of the characters off easily recognizable stereotypes. Despite this, however, the film still often moves at a snail’s pace. Demons works by the following motto: if cutting between the gore and the reaction twice is good, then eight times must be even better.
The soundtrack and score is exactly what I want from a movie in this genre. Most of the soundtrack is comprised of classics from the likes of Billy Idol, Mötley Crüe, and NWOBHM stalwarts, Saxon. The score is from Claudio Simonetti of Goblin fame, who also did the scores for Dawn of the Dead and Suspiria.
In the end, Demons is a good time as long as you keep your plot expectations low. Or another way to look at it, if you like Fulci films then you’ll probably enjoy Demons. We definitely did.
DJ Schuldt is an English professor, but has come to prefer terrible movies to well-written ones.