Demons (1985)

Director: Lamberto Bava

Starring: Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Paola Cozzo, Karl Zinny, Fiore Argento, Geretta Giancarlo, Michele Soavi, Nicoletta Elmi

Nobody with a rational mind ever places the blame for society’s problems on entertainment. Our fantasies are the places we go to in order to escape the bullshit of the real world. Anyone who uses them as an excuse for heinous crimes is already working with a few screws loose. Inevitably when these tragedies occur, music, video games, comic books, novels and movies have all taken the kind of hit that should be reserved for the source. Here’s where that theory falls apart: If a movie could really be held responsible for death and destruction, there’s really nothing to limit the chaos to a single location.

Cheryl (Natasha Hovey), a university student, is scared out of her wits by a masked man in a Berlin subway. Turns out the guy isn’t interested in assaulting her, handing her a free movie pass without a word. He hands her a second one when she asks politely to have one for her friend, Kathy (Paola Cozzo), whom she is late in meeting. They’re supposed to go to class, but decide to blow it off in favor of the movie, which Kathy hopes isn’t a horror film. It is. In the movie, four teenagers find and dig up the tomb of Nostradamus, unwittingly unleashing demonic forces in the process. Slowly, the same begins to happen inside the movie theater. It all starts when one of the patrons notices a scratch on her cheek from the prop mask she’d tried on earlier in the lobby, just like one of the characters in the movie (who bears a rather striking resemblance to the masked man who gave Cheryl her ticket). In the restroom, the wound erupts and the woman transforms, attacking a friend who herself transforms while hiding behind the movie screen. Tearing through it, she begins a panic which results in many gruesome deaths and further transmutations.

The few remaining uninfected in the theater set up a barricade as they fight to stay alive and find a way out of the building, now mysteriously sealed to keep them in. On the outside, a group of carjackers manages to undo their efforts, breaking into the movie theater to elude police. Unseen by anyone at first, the punks let one of the demons loose out onto the streets. The four of them are quickly dispatched and turned, and soon it’s down to just Cheryl and George (Urbano Barberini). Making use of a motorcycle and a katana sword, both of which for some reason are not just props, they escape, though not before a confrontation with the masked man. Once on the outside, they find that everything’s gone straight to Hell. The demon who got out has spread the virus like wildfire.

An often frustrating movie, it’s nevertheless hard to argue with the collective talent of the people working behind the camera. The director is Lamberto Bava, son of the famous Italian horror director Mario Bava and a reputable filmmaker in his own right. Co-writing “Demons” is Dario Argento, another among the giants of Italian horror and a personal favorite of mine. And, where Argento goes, so does composer Claudio Simonetti of the band Goblin. Simonetti’s contributions, especially the main track entitled “Demon,” compliment the action far better than does most of the American rock soundtrack. One exception to this might be Billy Idol’s “White Wedding,” which is perfect as the intro theme for the group of punks. I also like how they use a can of Coca-Cola as a container for one of that drink’s former ingredients, which each of them snorts through a straw. Probably not the way Coke, which took cocaine out of its formula in 1903, wanted to see its image promoted.

Among the cast of characters, other than the punks, I also liked the redheaded ticket manager (Nicoletta Elmi). Keeping in mind that this was a Dario Argento co-written script, I had come to expect that there would be at least one sultry, potentially dangerous character whom the heroes come across. Predictably, she does stare into the camera in a most suspicious manner, but then it’s later revealed that she’s as much a victim as everyone else. She’s simply been duped into facilitating the evil that’s about to reveal itself. I also happily recognize the actress from two other, better Italian horror movies in which she appeared as a child: Mario Bava’s “Twitch of the Death Nerve” (1971) and Dario Argento’s “Deep Red” (1975).

The movie itself is something of a disappointment. The initial outbreak is fantastic, but then it’s as though no one could figure out what to do with it afterwards, as much of the rest of the film feels padded. Even stranger is the abrupt ending. I can’t stand it when a horror movie gives our surviving protagonist(s) a whole new set of obstacles, and then ends before they have time to deal with them. “Demons” is especially cruel in this area, as (unless I missed something) it even changes its rules to eliminate one of the survivors for the sake of shock value. You string us along for an hour and a half, and THIS is how you finish? Just unnecessary. The outrageous method by which the heroes are able to escape from the theater is so out of left field that it’s funny, especially if you accidentally call it like I did (The only way they can get out is if this happens…”)! Not to mention that it’s just as miraculous as Samurai swords and gas-filled motorcycles being at the ready. Do you see what we’re dealing with here? This movie seems designed to drive me crazy… but at least not demonic.

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