Oct 6, 2010

The Plot: In West Berlin a man wearing a metallic half-mask approaches random strangers on the streets and in the subway. He is handing out tickets to a special screening of an unknown film at the Metropol theater. Many ultimately show up and this theater seems more than a little bizarre. It is highly decorative and there is even a motorbike in the center lobby holding a mannequin who wears a chrome mask. This mask eventually shows up in the movie that is being premiered. The film in question turns out to be a horror title and takes place around a group of teenagers who find said mask. One of the teens is given a small scratch upon wearing the mask and is transformed into a demonic zombie-like creature. As it turns out, one of the movie-goers in the audience actually tried on the mask while in the lobby and now they are facing the same circumstance as they too were scratched and are slowly turning into one of these creatures of the night. With the doors all mysteriously locked up and with the demonic infection being passed from one person to the next, who will survive this night?

The Review
You know, I have continually expressed my love for Lamberto Bava’s work on this website time and again but Demons is just one movie that I never really “got”. This is strange since so many people I know and trust are legitimate diehards when it comes to this movie. I was introduced to the film extremely early on in my genre film explorations however and ultimately it remained one of those movies that I felt sort of left in the dark on. So, with Halloween Horrors I decided to once again tackle a slightly more mainstream film than I normally would on Varied Celluloid and delve into a classic of the horror genre. Demons certainly has its detractors who stand firmly in line with a great deal of my initial reactions to the movie. I’ll put it boldly: this movie makes no sense. Logic is thrown completely out the window with Demons, in only that way that the Italians could do. Lucio Fulci was often criticized for his lack of actual plot direction, but Lamberto Bava’s Demons is certainly a high contender with City of the Living Dead for the most bizarre and utterly ridiculous excuse for logical storytelling. Whether that makes this a good or bad movie will depend entirely on the viewer. With my first viewing, I have to admit I didn’t see what all the fuss was about but after years of Italian trash I have developed a high tolerance for cinematic stupidity and I’ve certainly found more enjoyment in the insanity that Demons provides.

At the time of my introduction, I didn’t really know what to expect from Italian horror cinema other than a lot of gore. Demons along with Dario Argento’s Trauma were essentially the first two films I had seen of Italian horror. When you diet strictly on slashers and general American horror, you grow to expect very conventional plot devices and most of all you expect a very logical plot that only deviates from reality in the stupid decisions that the teenagers tend to make. With Demons you get those things but you also get this feeling that no one actually proofread this script! There is a very infamous moment towards the end of the movie that involves a helicopter and shows the clearest and most obvious example of Deus ex Machina as I have ever seen. So much of the idiocy that I lambast the film for comes specifically from what happens during this sequence and the following moments. Everything we have learned throughout the course of the movie is ultimately abandoned as Bava seems to turn his project from a haunted theater story into a post apocalyptic zombie story. During my first viewing I felt angered and betrayed at this sudden switch in logic. What made the filmmakers think that this was a feasible option? You need to establish plot twists! You can’t simply throw curveballs without actually establishing the rules of the game first. Lacking any experience with this, it really put me off from the movie.

During my re-visit, knowing what to expect, I was able to put aside all of the logistic errors and simply enjoy the movie for its ridiculousness in a way that I had never thought I would. I can not say that Demons is a good film by conventional standards and I won’t even consider it Lamberto Bava’s best work. However, it is so entertaining in a mindless sort of way that you can’t help but feel some affection for it. It’s like that mentally slow kid who runs around the neighborhood shooting his neighbors with a stick. Sure, he’s not the brightest lightbulb in the house but he is earnest in his playtime fun and you just can’t help but root for the guy! Demons like watching a glam metal eighties music video only injected with horse steroids! The story establishes just enough for us to get inside of this theater setting and then the drugs, gore and insanity ensues! Many ridiculous characters are introduced and the violence is simply on another level. There’s some tremendous gore throughout that puts this movie on level with some of Lucio Fulci’s best work, which is pretty high honors and is something I find of interest due to Lamberto Bava’s statements in interviews generally disapproving of onscreen violence. The violence is gratuitous, but this is a movie that defies all acts of subtle nuance. Every character is broadly drawn, the heavy metal soundtrack is loud and stupidity is the number one creative quality that Demons delivers on – but that just makes it more fun!

Although it is a bad film in terms of plot development, continuity and general storytelling skills – Demons is certainly a technically beautiful looking achievement. The awesome theater design is actually pretty amazing. There are the marble floors, the red carpets and the strange neon lighting that bathes everything, these are great touches that help give the movie its own personality. Even though it is braindead in many ways, perhaps that simply speaks towards the time and this particular demographic that the film was ultimately trying to speak to? There are other little things that I love about Demons. The movie posters in the theater were a nice touch, I even spotted one for Dario Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet! The costumes are so overtly eighties and I loved how broadly the caricatures were drawn simply based upon their clothes. You’ve got a sweater tied around the neck of our jock character, pearl earrings and conservative clothing on the leading lady, you’ve got your general slut characters, the pimp wearing a white suit and his hookers who look like backup dancers from a Paula Abdul video… How can you not have fun with this one?

The Conclusion
It has taken well over a decade for Demons to really grow on me as a viewer. These days I don’t like it for the reasons that I love something like Phantasm, The Evil Dead or Halloween but the ridiculousness of the movie has really made me a fan. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, it is clunky and over the top but for every one of these points there are two or three scenes that are either uninentionally funny or legitimately entertaining. I give the film a four out of five stars now. There are others out there who would give it a five star rating, but I think those are people who genuinely love the movie for being “good”. If you haven’t seen the movie, definitely search it out but I would recommend getting a few pieces of Italian trash under your belt first in order to fully appreciate this Italian silliness.