Out of the last gaps of the heyday of Italian horror – in the mid-80s, when the bubble was beginning to burst and soon even Dario Argento would struggle to find financing for his lavish genre ideas – came DEMONS.
A balls-to-the-wall splatter fest that all but dispenses with logic from the off, the film was produced by Argento as a quick-hit with the gore-fixated American youth. But in reality it made stars out of two people in particular: director Lamberto Bava, son of Mario, and FX artist Sergio Stivaletti.
Bava had been waiting to hit the jackpot, earlier works such as MACABRE and A BLADE IN THE DARK impressing the cult circles but failing to capture the horror community’s imagination en masse. DEMONS corrected all that. As for Stivaletti, this was his crowning hour – an hour-and-a-half of non-stop gore and inventive creature effects that would forever serve as the highlight of his career.
What’s it all really about? Perhaps it’s best not to ask, as closer scrutiny reveals DEMONS to be, well, a bit shit. I love the film, don’t get me wrong. I’m elated to see it out on blu-ray. But, admit it, the first 20 minutes are made up of people with poodle perms, chinos, bad dubbing and some terrible electro music that sounds not dissimilar to the theme to "Inspector Gadget".
The story, if we must, tells of a mysterious cinema called the Metropol, which appears from out of nowhere with the promise of screening a preview of a new, untitled horror film. Tickets are handed out on the street, and people flock excitedly to see the film (although ‘flock’ may be the wrong word – the cinema looks weirdly empty in early scenes).
The film-within-a-film begins, and the audience recoil as its gory slasher premise takes effect. But then, one of the patrons tries on a promotional demon mask in the cinema’s lobby and cuts herself on its serrated metal edge. The cut infects, she retires to the bathroom to check it out, and she turns into a puss-drooling, red-eyed monster.
Once the infection spreads, there is pandemonium in the theatre and heavy metal blasts over the soundtrack – Accept, Motley Crue etc – as the audience realises they are trapped in the building.
Pure and total fucking nonsense. It is. But, once we get past the 20-minute mark and things start to heat up, Bava literally never lets the pace falter. Nor does he give Stivaletti any rest: DEMONS becomes a gorehound’s wet dream, and one of the most iconic, nostalgia-inducing schlockfests of the 1980s.
Breathless, stylish, brilliantly edited, noisy, gory as fuck, fantastical in every sense … any misgivings about dubbing, storyline and bad fashions can easily be offset by the sheer energy and spectacle offered by Bava’s uniquely EC-meets-video nasty execution.
That it spawned one official sequel and a couple of unofficial ones demonstrates how popular it was in its day (especially during its video run, when it briefly topped the UK rental charts). More than that though, the film has survived and endured to become one of the most highly regarded of its decade’s FX-obsessed horrors, and possibly the last Italian horror film to hold a cult following worthy of hailing it a "classic".
Arrow Video present DEMONS fully uncut – all eye-gouging and scenes of cocaine-covered breasts being sliced by razors are present and correct – in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio.
The 1080p HD picture is 16x9 enhanced and is presented as an MPEG4-AVC file on this 50GB blu-ray disc.
Colours are noticeably bolder and detail is much more pronounced by the enhanced clarity of brightness and definition here. There are some scenes – such as the film-within-a-film footage – that is little short of breath-taking in the new lease of life it’s been given on blu-ray. For once, we can see into the darkest corners of the film, and there’s so much more going on than viewers of previous video and DVD versions could have anticipated.
Some of the film stock does admittedly look its age. It’s not that it’s overly grainy or anything, but just has a feel of its age. By and large though, DEMONS looks nicely clean despite little evidence of unwelcome DNR usage. My biggest gripe is that blacks do look at times a little washed out.
Audio-wise, the blu-ray throws up a real hive of curiosities for hardcore fans. How many English dubs of the film were there? I don’t know, but the smart money seems to be on there having been two. Which one is this? Well, it’s apparently the American dub, but it sounds familiar to me – I never noticed a difference between the dubbing on this track, and the dubbing on Anchor Bay’s Special Edition DVD or the old UK video.
The English track is presented in DTS-HD stereo, and comes with its own easily readable optional English subtitles. It’s decent enough if a tad flat, and I did notice one glaring hiccup where the soundtrack jumps at the 46-minute mark (while the punks are in their car listening to Billy Idol’s "White Wedding").
A different set of optional English subtitles are offered for the Italian track – also a DTS-HD stereo affair. This latter track is more robust and beefy than its counterpart, though both are satisfying propositions. Look out for differing musical cues (the horns as the couple are garrotted early on; different songs during the action on occasion) on each track.
Arrow’s disc is region B encoded and opens with an inventive animated main menu page. From there, pop-up menus include a scene-selection menu which allows access to the main feature via 12 chapters.
Extras begin with two audio commentary tracks. If you’ve owned DEMONS on DVD before, you’ve probably already had the misfortune of attempting the one featuring Bava, Stivaletti and journalist Loris Curci. It’s a disjointed mess filled with pregnant pauses and badly pronounced English. It is, worst of all, boring.
The second commentary track is better, in a mixture of languages and this time blessed with subtitles. This one comes from Bava and Stivaletti again, but here they are accompanied by the likes of co-star Geretta Geretta, composer Claudio Simonetti and ‘Ultra-Violent’ editor Art Ettinger.
Argento pops up for a 10-minute interview which serves to offer a little background into the motivations behind making the film. He ends by writing off the prospect of working with Bava again, despite saying they remain close friends. In Italian with English subtitles.
"Defining an Era in Music" is a 9-minute chat, in English, with Simonetti.
"Luigi Cozzi’s Top Italian Terrors (or ‘Top Horror Films’ as it’s called on the menu page)" is a disappointingly brief run-through some of the highpoints of Spaghetti Splatter with Argento’s mate, the guy behind ALIEN CONTAMINATION. In Italian with English subtitles.
The disc is packaged in a nice set. Eschewing their customary white slipcase approach, Arrow here have opted for a black design. The original artwork on the cover is given a silver metallic sheen, while inside you’ll find a keepcase alongside a fold-out double-sided poster.
The keepcase holds a sleeve offering a choice of four different covers. Naturally, these include the most famous promotional image of the silhouettes emerging at the top of cinema stairs. We also get a 12-page booklet (confirming the West Berlin setting had no political connotations whatsoever) and a nicely produced comic book, offering part 1 of a graphic story wanting to be seen as the official ‘Demons 3’. Part 2 is featured in the individual release of DEMONS 2.*
DEMONS is preposterous. But that’s just one of the reasons it remains so endearing after all of these years. It’s a wonderfully silly, frantic, bloody proposition – and it’s also deceptively well-made once it finds its feet.
*DEMONS and DEMONS 2 have also been released by Arrow in a limited edition double-bill Steelbook. However, potential buyers should note that that release does not contain the aforementioned comic books.
Also available on DVD.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Video|
|see main review|