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Take one part Night of the Living Dead, then add any element found in The Evil Dead not already taken from George Romeo’s film. Now set it in a German movie theatre. Mix in some definitively ‘80s Euro-trash youth, some dated heavy metal music, and a rouge’s gallery of archetypal horror characters. Bring to a boil and slather with ooey-gooey make-up effects, and what have you got? Demons.

Demons
Demons has got to be one of the silliest successful horror films ever made. It’s almost depressing to think that anyone involved took the production seriously. The plot is an undisguised attempt to connect the dots between outrageous splatter moments, the acting talent is brutally ill-equipped, and the director spends most of his time recycling images made famous by his more talented father, but somehow the 90 minute debacle ends up a breezy and entertaining gore-fest, and a fine way to waste an evening with friends.

Italian wunderkind Dario Argento took a short break from directing increasingly silly and violent horror features to try his hand at upper management in the mid-‘80s. He had been successful in a production capacity when he worked with George Romero on Dawn of the Dead, and had produced some Italian television as well, but Demons was his first attempt at Spielbergian or Lucas-esque creative oversight.

Argento’s victim, or rather director would be Lamberto Bava, son of Italian horror cinema’s Godfather, and Argento’s constant source of inspiration, Mario Bava. Lamberto started his career in 1980 with a low-key and atmospheric thriller called Macabro (or Macabre, depending on release company), but soon lost all artistic credentials with bland clones of more talented director’s work (these include Argento, Lucas, and Spielberg). Argento had been using Bava (and the much more talented Michelle Soavi) as a second unit director for some time (since Inferno, which Bava Sr. also worked on), and it seems only logical that he would be utilized as a cipher for Dario’s latest experiment in terror.

Demons
Demons’ most obvious problem is a case of too many hands in the pot. Argento had officially earned the label of ‘control freak’, and the inexperienced (and frankly barely middling) Bava found his movements dictated and his opinions overruled. Most accounts state that Argento the producer was even more a tyrant that Argento the director. Add to this the fact that it somehow took four people to write such a thin script, a short filming schedule, and meddling studio, and you have a sure fire recipe for disaster.

Even as a compulsive and fervent lover of Italian horror cinema, and gore for gore’s sake, I’m shocked at the generally positive opinion concerning Demons. When it was released Fangoria called it the best horror film of the year, and recently the Bravo cable station named it the number fifty-three scariest moment in horror film history (meaning the fifty-third best horror film really, the title of the list was flawed), above Deliverance, The Beyond, Candyman, Re-Animator, Poltergeist, The Tenant, The Birds, and Night of the Hunter. My mind boggles.

I can understand loving the film as a referential work, as it’s filled with nods to other Italian horror staples, and is a bit like Kill Bill in terms of loving homage. Demons is a kind of greatest hits package of Italian splatter, though it never achieves the level of genuine disgust found in Fulci’s best work, or the level of empathetic pain found in Argento’s best work. There is no mistaking the star of the show, however, and his name is Sergio Stivaletti. Considering the fact that Bava was firmly implanted under Argento’s thumb, and that both men seemed content to recycle old images, Stivaletti should probably be credited as co-director. His effects are the only invigorating or original thing in the film.

Demons
But I’m too harsh, Demons is a fun time, and could’ve made an excellent short (it originated as part one of a three part anthology). Things only really fall apart when Bava cuts to four extraneous punk rockers, or when motorcycle joyrides go on for a bit too long, but the final thirty minutes are the most interesting, and lead into what might’ve been a more compelling sequel. More on that later.

Video


Fans of foamy green drool and glowing yellow eyes will be happy to know that Demons has at last been remastered into anamorphic video. Every previous release, in every region, has been marred with a non-anamorphic transfer. I never owned the film on DVD before so I’m unable to compare the transfers on other levels, but will say that this release is probably as good as the film will ever look. The neon glow of Bava and Argento’s Berlin is bright, with minimal compression noise and bleeding. Blacks are deep and rich. Highlights are a little too bright in a few cases, and a closer look reveals some slight blocking on white edges, but edge-enhancement is minimal without losing too much detail.

Demons
Audio
Again, I never owned the previous Anchor Bay release, but based on the sound of other Argento films released at the same time ( Phenomena and Tenebre) I don’t think the audio on this new release has been at all altered. Like older Anchor Bay Dolby Digital 5.1 remixes, the sound is clean, but the general volume level is pretty low. Stereo and surround effects are rare, and the centring of dialogue is sometimes awkward. The film’s score is made up of part Claudio Simonetti electronic work, part then modern Heavy Metal and Pop, including Mötley Crüe, Billy Idol, and Accept. The electronic elements sound better than the rock elements, which are too bassy and often have an artificial echo quality.

Extras


Anchor Bay/Starz and Blue Underground haven’t been doing much to update these back catalogue re-releases, and Demons is no exception. The only real extra is a commentary track with Lamberto Bava, Sergio Stivaletti, a translator, and a mediator. The track is pretty painful, due mostly to Bava and Stivaletti’s problems with English, not to mention their general lack of interest. The mediator winds up ruling the track and coaxing people into answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a series of questions he already knows the answer to. Had the track been recorded in Italian and offered up with subtitles it may’ve been livelier.

The behind the scenes footage lasts a rousing minute and a half, and achieves next to nothing. Most of the footage is taken from Michelle Soavi’s Argento documentary ‘World of Horror’, which is a more advisable watch. A series of Anchor Bay trailers finishes things off.

Demons

Overall


I like to think of Demons as ‘My First Italian Horror Film’. It’s a good stepping-stone into the surreal, often plotless, and often grotesque world of Mario Bava, Dario Argento, and Lucio Fulci’s best work. I don’t recommend it whole-heartedly, unless it’s to those just looking into the era and genre. This DVD re-release is anamorphically enhanced, but otherwise no different from the original Anchor Bay release. Those that already own the DVD will have to decide if it’s worth re-buying based on the video credentials alone.


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