Last November Synapse Films brought us some limited edition steelbooks of both Demons and Demons 2; they came at a price, and they were only given one pressing, so if you missed it you were out of luck. Thankfully, Synapse has decided that a release of both films on separate discs is in order, bringing us the regular anamorphic widescreen transfers from the original films with color correction and two different audio options. They don’t include all of the special features of the steelbooks, but at least those that missed out can pick up the Blu-Ray or DVD version to enjoy the film with Synapse’s corrections and transfer.
I’ll take a great transfer of Demons any day, because even though it’s not a cinematic masterpiece, it is a damn fun film. Lamberto Bava’s gory movie theater romp is Evil Dead for the Italians, a horror movie that isn’t afraid to drop the seriousness of its peers for a violent mixture of comedy and cringe-inducing bodily transformations. At its core is a film that is really not much bigger than its plot summary: a group of theater-goers get a mysterious invite to a screening at a new movie theater, they get trapped inside, and then they start to become demons.
Bava and Dario Argento’s script takes advantage of the film genre in general, infusing Demons with a metacritical take on moviemaking and how people view horror in general. There are nods to other horror gems, there are not-so-subtle appearances of posters for other Argento works (Four Flies on Grey Velvet), and Bava includes a film-within-a-film for good measure. The theater is a place where strangers come together to share in something, whether good or bad, and Demons latches onto that idea and perverts it.
The thing that all of the characters share in the film is a necessity to survive after Rosemary (Geretta Geretta) becomes one of the neon-puking undead, scratching her friends’ faces and literally tongue-tying lovers. Demons picks up quickly, introducing George (Urbano Barberini) as our hunky male protagonist and Chery (Natasha Hovey) as our paranoid but capable female heroine.
Bava spends quite a bit of time working with the architecture of the theater; it becomes an important piece of the film, because it has to feel like all of the characters are trapped. There are moments of tension when Bava focuses on numerous stalking sequences. And yet Demons never feels particularly scary, in part because there is so much intercutting of random car cruising with the punks Ripper (Lino Salemme), Baby Pig (Peter Pitsch), and Nina (Bettina Ciampolini) that it breaks the suspense considerably.
But it’s also not entirely taking itself seriously. Geretta Geretta hams it up in demon form, as do most of the other actors in their death sequences. Bava revels in the guts and grue of each demon scene, whether it’s a blind man having his eyes pushed in or the surprise demon transformation at the end of the film. It helps that Demons has such fantastic effects; they’re bloody and all across the board, from scalpings to pulsing pustules.
Demons isn’t perfect despite its boisterous entertainment value. Bava’s sequences can be quite slow, deliberately so but at the same time painfully plodding. His film-within-a-film technique is the most noticeable, taking a long time to really get rolling. The heavy metal score can feel out of place, or it can bring back fond memories for the ’80s. Don’t even get me started on the blatant Coca-Cola advertising.
However you want to watch Demons, whether as a comedy or a traditional horror film, it’s hard to deny the lasting impact it has had on horror. Many people don’t cite it, and in a way it does sit in the shadow of The Evil Dead or Night of the Demons. But Lamberto Bava’s film was never really meant to electrify the genre – it was meant to make people laugh, and to make them feel grossed out. In both ways, it succeeds, especially with Synapse’s transfer and color correction. The green pus and vomit never looked so vibrant.