One of the keys to great schlock is integrity, and sincerity. Schlock that works cannot ever let the audience know that it knows it’s schlock. And it has to carry that schlockiness through to its rational (and hopefully goofy) conclusion. Schlock that makes fun of itself destroys the fun. If it doesn’t take its stupid ideas seriously, then there is no fun for the audience in finding those ideas stupid. Evil Dead II is a perfect example of great schlock. It’s funny and over the top, but the hapless Ash is never playing around. He’s in the worst experience of his life, fighting against demons.
Lamberto Bava’s pair of movies, Demons (1985) and Demons 2 (1986), owe a hell of a lot to Evil Dead. Both are about the summoning of an evil spirit that will possess the bodies of the living and kill those around them. Demons’ evil spirits are more like a zombie infection, creating more demons as they scratch and bite. Eventually, they’ve taken over so many of the nearby prey the movies become more like Dawn of the Dead homages, with less social commentary and more screaming. And both Demons films take place in enclosed spaces, cut off from the world around them.
Demons setting is in a hip movie theater, where a cross-section of Berlin dwellers have been invited to a special screening of a horror film. Props from the movie are in the lobby, including a mask that, in the movie and in the movie-in-the-movie, causes the first infection. There’s an array of characters, if not an array of characterization, who are stalked and killed by demons.
The story eventually focuses on two girls who are skipping school and the boys who are hitting on them. Once the demons start arriving, and the movie theater proves inexplicably impossible to escape, they work together to try and survive the night of terror.
What follows cannot except in the most charitable sense be called a story. Demons attack, and people scream and either get hurt or run away. They hide, make plans, and more demons attack. There’s a side “plot” about a group of movie punks driving around town snorting cocaine from a Coke can. I believe this part exists solely to pad out the film’s soundtrack with whatever the punks are playing on their tape deck.
The demon scares and actions of the characters are rarely too imaginative… until the film’s final act when only two humans are left. Then it tips over from mildly entertaining to pure schlock insanity. It would be telling to describe it in full, but the last act involves a theater full of demons, a motorcycle, and a samurai sword. Glorious stupidity ensues, topped off with a helicopter inexplicably crashing through the roof. And that’s not even the climax.
The film’s director is Lamberto Bava, son of the famous Italian genre master Mario Bava. Lamberto doesn’t have his father’s sense of economy or suspense, and definitely none of his taste. But he does have a certain flair for images, and he’s free with colored lights and surreal compositions. The film was produced and co-written by Dario Argento, and some of the visuals look similar to what Argento would do in his heyday.
Demons 2 is a direct sequel to the first, but instead of following through on that film’s near apocalyptic ending, it instead seeks to retread the same ground in a different location. This time, it’s an immense hyper modern apartment complex, filled with hyper modern ’80s people. The production design of the film looks like it was created by an artificial intelligence trained exclusively on Miami Vice episodes.
One of these ’80s people is Sally, who ruins her birthday party by locking herself in her bedroom, and then further ruins it by watching a TV movie about the demon invasion that happened the year before. Of course, a demon hops through the TV and gets her, beginning a new spread of the infection through the entire apartment building.
Events play out similarly to the previous film, albeit with more variety. There’s an abnormally large exercise class going on at night, and when the demons attack they immediately organize and begin using weights and exercise equipment to fight back. And there is another sub-“plot” about someone driving to the scene, again almost exclusively so different bands can be played on their car radio and fill out the film’s soundtrack.
The demonic mayhem is bigger in scope though duller in execution than in the first film. Demons 2 picks up more in the last act, when the number of uninfected is again down to only a few. There’s a fine suspense/gore sequence where a pregnant woman is being stalked by a demon-child, whom she unceremoniously kills only to have a new demon rip out of his back. There’s several eerie images of the demons stalking through the building, with only their silhouettes and shining eyes visible.
Overall, though, Demons 2 is let down by a couple of factors. The ending never quite lets loose like the first film does. The final act here becomes a more serious and suspenseful horror film, but that’s not these film’s strong point. And second is a mistake of casting.
The Sally character who is first infected becomes essentially the main antagonist, showing up with groups of demons wherever they go and leading them to massacre. But the actress, Coralina Cataldi Tassoni, is simply terrible at physical acting. Her stalking is stiff, her movements awkward. Her makeup is scary, but her body posture never is. When she hold her claws up, it looks less like she’s threatening violence and more like she’s trying to hurry her nail polish to dry. Every time she’s on screen in demon form, she’s more irritating than frightening.
But both Demons films score high marks on the fun scale. The soundtracks are wall to wall tunes, with punk and metal in the first film and more new wave and goth rock in the second. They’re both unusually beautifully shot for this kind of horror movie, with stylish and expressive lighting and camera work. There’s no real characters, no plot or reasoning behind the horror, so the only reason to watch either film is the spectacle. And though Demons has Demons 2 beat for audacity, both serve up horror and gore spectacle in spades.
Demons I & II has been released on Blu-ray by Synapse films. There is also a limited edition 4K release. Each disc is loaded with extras. For Demons, there are two versions of the film: the original Italian, and a shorter U.S. release with an alternate dub. The original Italian also has an English dubbed track. It also features two commentary tracks: a new one by Kat Ellinger and Heather Drain, and an archive commentary by Lamberto Bava, FX artist Sergio Stivaletti, compose Claudio Simonetti and actress Geretta Geretta. Video extras include “Produced by Dario Argento” (28 min) a visual essay about Dario Argento’s producing career; “Dario’s Demon Days” (11 min) an interview with Dario Argento; “Defining an Era in Music” (10 min) an interview with composer Claudio Simonetti, “Dario and the Demons: Producing Monster Mayhem” (16 min), a second interview with Dario Argento, and “Splatter Stunt Rock” (10 min) an interview with stuntman Ottaviano Dell’Acqua. Demons 2 includes a new audio commentary by critic Travis Crawford. Video content includes “Creating Creature Carnage” (21 min) an interview with special makeup artist Sergio Stivaletti; “The Demons Generation” (35 min) where Roy Bava, the son of Lamberto Bava discusses the films;” Screaming for a Sequel” (16 min) an interview with director Lamberto Bava; “A Soundtrack for Splatter” (27 min) an interview with composer Simon Boswell; and “Together and Apart” (27 min) a visual essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. Both discs also include trailers for the films.