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November 03, 2014

Lamberto Bava's Demons

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Demons / Demoni
Lamberto Bava - 1985

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Demons 2 / Demoni 2 . . . l'incubo ritorna
Lamberto Bava - 1986
both Synapse Films Region 1 DVD

I have had a recurring dream that I recall twice, each time taking place in a different location, but the same story. I am wandering in nature, a path in the foothills or a desert region. Tucked away where there a no other buildings is a movie theater. The movie is something so rare, so difficult to see, and might possibly be a film by an esteemed director that doesn't actually exist. I wake up convinced that I had actually been to this movie theater in my dreams, although I the closest I get to watching a movie is the sound from the lobby.

I thought about that dream because Demons is suppose to take place in a theater that supposedly no one knew existed. That "Metropol" theater is pretty hard to miss. Maybe more difficult to believe is that a theater showing a free movie wouldn't be packed to the rafters, even if the tickets are being given out by a tall guy with metal pieces covering parts of his face. The theater is kind of snazzy, with posters for Metropolis, Four Flies on Gray Velvet and, um, No Nukes, and there's a motorcycle and a samurai sword exhibited in the middle of the floor for no particular reason other than to be used later in the movie. Even though the rules of exhibiting memorabilia are that you look but don't touch, it doesn't stop one woman from temporarily donning a gold mask with the face of a demon. No sooner that you can yell, Onibaba, the woman finds herself with a small bloody cut.

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While the woman is in the bathroom, turning into some kind of demon with sharp teeth, frothing green foam from her mouth, the audience is watching a horror movie where some dumb teens find the grave of Nostradamus and of course have to open it. There is cutting between the demons in the theater and the demons on screen until the story concentrates on the kids trapped in the theater.

There are a couple of moments of visual wit going on here. The opening shot is if the headlights of a bus in the dark. That shot is almost duplicated in the film within the film, where the two headlights turn out to belong to two motorcycles. The demons' eyes light up in the dark like headlights as well. The opening scene on the bus nicely sets up the sense of disorientation experienced by the character, Cheryl, both a sense of uncertainty where she is traveling as well as in a seemingly deserted station. There is also one very funny visual joke involving coke and Coke.

Like the first film, Demons 2 bogs down to a humans versus demons battle, with most of the best scenes taking place in the first twenty minutes or so. The film begins with some visual humor when we see the explanation for what appears to be a very bloody knife. The narrative alternates between residents of a high rise apartment building, several whom are watching the same television show about demons. The television show is suppose to be a documentary, but it looks more like actors similar to those of the first film, trespassing on a grave where a demon is buried. One of the residents is played by ten year old Asia Argento, cute, but hardly giving evidence that she would grow up to be a respected filmmaker and prize winning actress. There is also a youngish woman named Sally, having a birthday, who would rather watch television than show up at her own party. Somehow, the televised demon pops out of the TV set, and turns Sally into a demon. Sally would rather chew on her guests than the specially prepared birthday cake.

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The television show of the demon hunters features a moment that pays homage to Lamberto's father, Mario Bava. The photographer of the crew accidentally cuts herself. Some blood drips on the dead demon, bringing him back to life. The scene is lifted from the elder Bava's Black Sunday, when the vampire played by Barbara Steele is brought back to life in similar fashion. Shots of demon Sally, running in slow motion towards the camera, against a cyclorama depicting dawn, has a dreamlike quality also reminiscent of Mario Bava.

Both DVDs are gorgeous looking, and the image and sound are probably better than when the films first appeared at local multiplexes. If Demons 2 has the edge for me, it is because of the very nice establishing scenes of the apartment residents, divided by walls, but all watching the same television show, as well as scenes with a little, shaggy terrier becoming a demon dog, and the emergence of a flying baby demon. With four screenwriters, including producer Dario Argento, on both films, one would wish that there would have been a few more inspired moments to carry the nuttiness from beginning to the final fade out. To get an idea of what the Demon films could have been, had the filmmakers been more unhinged, I would encourage those who haven't seen it, to check out the Thai horror comedy SARS War. Both films take place in a high rise, as well as sharing flying baby monsters. Sometimes you have to take the ridiculous to extremes in order to be sublime.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 3, 2014 09:35 AM