There is a scene nearing the end of the 1985 masterpiece of dumb but really fun horror “Demons” in which a helicopter crashes through the ceiling of the movie theater it’s protagonists are trapped in. It’s at this moment that many seeing it for the first time say “why and how is this happening?” Little about it really makes any sense, though to be honest, little of what happened beforehand makes sense. What is with the creepy dude in the steel mask? How is it that the blind guy all the sudden seems to know so much? Why is a demon coming out of that guys body?
The movies best answer: why not?
Directed by the son of Italian horror king Mario Bava Lambardo and co-produced/co-written by the one and only Dario Argento, “Demons” (and it’s sequel) is the cinematic equivalent of “hey, why not?” Little if any of what happens is all that coherent and logical, and the movie doesn’t care about things like narrative cohesion, character development or cinematic rules. All they care about is if you have fun with them. Thank God for that too, because that is exactly what these movies are-ridiculously fun popcorn movies.
The plot to “Demons” is among other things, surprisingly clever and meta in it’s development. A group of people are going to a theater to see a preview screening of a movie they really don’t know anything about. Outside of the theater, a woman puts on a metallic demon mask and oops, scratches her face on it. When everyone is in the theater, they see that it’s a horror film involving some dumb kids who end up turning into zombie like demons. Suddenly, in the movie they are watching, someone puts on a metal demon mask who then just happens to scratch his face.
The woman who scratched her face begins to feel sick, so she goes to the bathroom to see what’s up. Her friend, worried, decides to check on her, and lo and behold, the woman has turned into something just like the creatures in the movie! She attacks said friend, infecting her and turning her into a demon, and the infection spreads. All hell then breaks loose, with gallons of gore, the best worst product placement of all time (snorting cocaine out of empty Coca-Cola cans) and someone riding a motorcycle whilst wielding a katana and taking out demons. And so much more. It’s a smorgasbord of awesomeness.
“Demons” mostly works because 1.) it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and 2.) it rarely if ever slows down. If you ever watched a horror movie and thought “You know, I wish more was happening” then this is the one for you. There isn’t a moment in the movie in which something gory, insane and all around awesome or amusing isn’t happening on the screen. That and it has a great score by Claudio Simonetti (the theme in particular is catchy, and must have been popular in alternative dance clubs back in the day), lively direction by Bava (complete with some great cinematography and color schemes), a heavy metal soundtrack with bands like Saxon and Accept and some impressive make-up and gore effects by Sergio Stivalletti. All in all, you’ve got yourself a hit.
Not as good but still a lot of fun is the 1987 sequel, which is somehow even more illogical and insane (not to mention episodic). This time taking place in a high rise apartment complex, this one involves what looks like a remake/sequel to the movie the audience was watching in the first one, only this time playing on TV instead of in a theater. It is here that birthday girl Sally sees one of the demons in the movie walking towards the screen-and then escaping said screen and attacking her. No explanation as to why or how any of this happened is given, but such is the nature of a film like this. Of course, she gets infected and soon turns the people at her party into demon zombie things, and it soon spreads throughout the complex.
If there is anything that hurts “Demons 2” in comparison to the original, it’s the make-up effects and gore. Stivalletti returns, but the creations this time around look less convincing or menacing. This is especially apparent in a sequence that essentially remakes the “demon coming out of someone” scene in the original. Whilst the one in that movie looked creepy and disturbing as hell, this one looks more like the producers had just watched “Gremlins” and “The Dark Crystal” back to back and thought “Hey, we should have a creature that looks like that!” Also, whilst the first one was an unrelenting splatter film, this one is pretty tame in comparison. Sure, there’s a few bloody moments here and there, but this one is more restrained, which kinda hurts it IMO. Once of the reasons you want to watch a sequel to “Demons” is the gore factor, and this one seems afraid to go that far, instead maybe thinking that less splatter will appeal more to the teen market. That and the Alt-Rock soundtrack featuring the likes of The Smiths and Art of Noise, though that is pretty awesome.
Outside of that, this is still a pretty fun time. Like “Demons”, this movie rarely if ever bothers to slow down, instead deciding to hit the viewer with scenes that are totally nonsensical and kinda awesome because of it. Not many movies have a cute dog turn into a zombie/mutant hybrid that attacks it’s owner, greased up weight lifters or shockingly creepy scenes of demons running in slow motion to the music of Dead Can Dance. However, “Demons 2” is not most movies. Or even most horror movies for that matter. This is a goofy as hell B-Horror movie that makes up for sheer creativity and insanity what it lacks in interesting characters and over the top bloodshed. In a way, it’s a shame that a lot of horror sequels don’t try to outdo the original as far as craziness is concerned, even when the end result is weaker than the prior installment.
Having revisited both movies (available on Amazon and in limited steel box editions packed with bonus features), I can’t help but feel that they are Dario Argento being a bit reflective. Sure, they are very much Lamberto Bava’s films, but the film that affects people in reality subplots of these movies seems to be-for my eyes at least-like the director of such classics as “Deep Red” and “Suspiria” is looking at his own reputation as Italy’s premier director of horror with a sense of amusement and celebration. Granted, I’m most likely over thinking this. These are movies that don’t tend to stimulate your brain or set out to make serious social statements. They are dumb, head banging horror (especially fitting considering the heavy metal soundtrack of the original) that answer questions of “why is this happening” with “why not?” Why not indeed. If you are going to be illogical, at least have the same level of fun, creative energy these movies have.