Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Demons
I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s the movie that’s making this happen!
Scream 2 has basically one scene to recommend it: the opening in the cinema. This sequence is so good that it buys the film a lot of credit that it basically doesn’t deserve. Knowing what I know about the Scream films, and Kevin Williamson’s writing in general, it may come as absolutely no surprise to discover that the best scene in Scream 2 has been done before, and done better. I’m sure it was probably done before Demons, but Lamberto Bava’s 1985 zombie/ demon schlockfest is a hugely entertaining little movie that makes the most out of a very simple premise, and I would not be at all surprised to discover that he ripped this film off for his opening.
Set in West Berlin, Demons is a very simple little film. A group of disparate individuals attend a screening of a silly horror movie. As the events on screen play out, they begin to be replicated within the cinema with the audience becoming infected with demonitis and turning into slavering monsters. As the infection spreads, our cast of characters gets whittled down until the surviving two break out of the building to see that the entire city has been invaded and humanity is now completely doomed.
Simple, eh? Well, this is film is more of a ride than most little schlock efforts out there. Dario Argento was producing, and while this is light on plot it’s heavy on grade-A lunacy. Seriously, the plot is so threadbare, and the character work almost completely non-existent, that the film has earned a place as a minor classic is down to the sheer carnage that Bava launches at the screen. Every time the film hits the buffers, he pulls something almost totally absurd out of his ass and it just lights up again. Take, for example, the sequence about 2/3 of the way through. By now the slaughter of the endless and relentless demonic hordes has become a bit tiresome, so Bava ups the ante by having a helicopter crash through the roof of the cinema. It’s completely out of the blue as well, and genuinely hilarious when it comes.
This, apparently, is in the tradition of Italian Horror. Fulci, allegedly one of the masters even if I have a low opinion of his films, once said this about The Beyond:
“In Italy we make films based on pure themes…my idea was to make an absolute film, with all the horrors of the world. It’s a plotless film, there’s no logic to it, just a succession of images…which must be received without any reflection.”
and this does, in my opinion explain a hell of a lot about Italian horror in general and his films in particular. They’re inevitably almost totally incomprehensible, because they’re designed to be totally incomprehensible, the important thing for the Italians is the nightmare that they are creating. While I have no idea what endless close ups of eyes have to do with this (the twat), the end result, and, in my opinion, archetype of the genre must be this little film. There is almost literally no plot, just an unsubtle” movies are bad” metaphor (albeit far more restrained than the TV is bad metaphor of the sequel) and a whole shit load of nastiness.
There are a few outstanding scenes in the film, but arguably the most famous is the “birthing” scene. One of our disposable pieces of cannon fodder is infected. She drops to all fours and begins to go into simulated labour. Yuck, thinks I, but Bava isn’t going to hold back, and so we have a fully formed adult demon burst out of her spinal column. This is a great piece of practical effects work, and it is truly horrible to watch, but I can’t think of a scene that encapsulates Fulci’s statement more than this one. There’s no rhyme or reason for the woman to be giving birth, and even less for it to explode out of her spine, but it is a downright nightmare inducing image, one of the genuine horrors that he must have been talking about.
To be fair, part of the reason why it’s so effective is that it’s well performed by the actress in question, and to be fair the cast do work hard to sell the film to the audience. Featuring Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Fiore Argento in the key roles and Geretta Geretta as Rosemary (the first victim), everyone puts in a fair old shift. They’re, actually, a likeable bunch of actors, and although this is probably one of the silliest B-movies out there, it’s their presence and effort that goes a long way to the success of the film. Imagine it with a typical American plank of wood such as Tara Reid in the role, and I bet you it would not be anywhere near as entertaining, much as it wasn’t anywhere near as entertaining when Shannon Elizabeth donned Amelia Kinkade’s suspenders for the Night of the Demons remake.
The other big strength of the film is the direction. Usually an assistant on horrible films from the likes of Deodato, Amato, and Fulci, Bava was a relative novice behind the camera. Still, he’s been around the block for a bit so knows full well to just take the throttle off and whip the film along as fast as he possibly can. He’s got a freak show to show the audience, and is aware that the longer you look at something the more mundane it becomes. As a result, Demons runs at almost breakneck pace, and from the first moment until the insane motorbike and samurai sword charge (this really is inordinately entertaining) at the climax, not a single scene has more time than it absolutely needs. There’s nothing indulgent here, and the fact that he hasn’t allowed it the crap that the likes of Fulci insist on jamming into his films is all to the benefit of the audience.
Overall, this is great fun. Totally and obviously insane, and lacking in even the slightest bit of restraint, Demons is a gory, gross and magically entertaining film. Yes, to even say it has a plot is a bit of an insult to films with actual plots, but the gore is good, the acting is solid, and the film is just so enthusiastic in its lunacy that it’s almost impossible to hate on. I’m approving this one, and I would even go as far as giving it a definite recommendation, particularly as a late night double bill with its equally nutty sequel.
Bava didn’t make anything worth a toss outside of Demons, and he rates it as his best film. Demons is not just his best film, though, it’s arguably the best Italian Horror not called Suspiria. And the score is great fun as well.
Until next time,