Directed by Lucio Fulci.
Starring Brett Halsey, Meg Register, Christina Engelhardt, Lino Salemme, Lucio Fulci, Al Cliver.
Horror, Italy, 88 mins, cert 18.
Released in the UK on Limited Edition Blu-ray via Arrow Video on 6th June 2022.
As with many notable genre directors whose glory days were behind them, Lucio Fulci spent the final few years of his career making mediocre movies that occasionally had moments that reminded you why they were held in such high regard in the first place. 1990s DEMONIA is one such movie, combining elements of Fulci’s gory late ‘70s/early ‘80s heyday and the more surreal and ethereal tone of his mid-‘80s output, but somehow not hitting the same highs as either period.
The movie begins in 15th century Sicily, where some nuns who worship Satan get crucified by a mob of angry locals. Fast forward to the (then) present day and Liza (Meg Register) attends a séance and has premonitions that cause her to faint. However, that doesn’t stop her from going to Sicily with Professor Paul Evans (Brett Halsey) to join an archaeological dig in the same area where said nuns were killed but those old folk stories and the weird locals don’t stop her messing around in the old monastery, where the ghosts of the past come back to haunt young Liza, much to the displeasure of the locals.
So, on the surface it appears DEMONIA has very little to offer apart from a bit of an atmosphere, a few crazy gore scenes and director Lucio Fulci giving one of his most endearing screen performances as the investigating detective, but if you can get past that base-level crowd-pleasing stuff and really dig into the material you’ll discover that yes, that really is all DEMONIA has to offer. To some that may be enough – after all, this is the man that gave us such memorable horror classics as ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS, THE BEYOND and NEW YORK RIPPER so scenes of a woman being attacked by cat puppets on sticks or a man with a shopping bag full of offal glued to his torso and made to look like his belly being pulled apart like a wishbone are most welcome – but those moments are few and far between, and what is in between them is, quite frankly, not very interesting.
But despite the basic nature of the plot, DEMONIA does at least look nice, thanks to cinematographer Luigi Ciccarese, who takes in quite a bit of the rural Italian countryside and really gives the movie a sense of place. The dreamy look of much of the movie also adds a creepy atmosphere that harks back to the Gothic chill of Fulci’s CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, which is more enticing than the less-than-engaging script.
But whereas CITY OF THE LIVNG DEAD had some of the most wonderful gore of any movie of its time – after all, where else could you see somebody vomit up their own intestines? – DEMONIA tries and fails to capture the same glorious splatter, although some of that must be blamed on the curse of the HD upgrade, where every piece of tape and every join in the latex are there for all to see. That said, if the latex had at least been a similar colour to the skin tone of the actors it was applied to that would have helped, as the hands that are trying to shoo away the crazy cats during the aforementioned attack scene are a completely different colour to the fake head that is leaking blood out of all of its holes. Still, such things do add a little humour to proceedings, albeit unintentionally.
Coming housed in a fold-out crucifix-shaped box, the set contains two discs, the first being the movie accompanied by a thoroughly knowledgeable audio commentary by author and Fulci expert Stephen Thrower, interviews with co-writer/assistant director Antonio Tentori and camera operator Sandro Grossi, archival interview with Lucio Fulci and camcorder footage from the DEMONIA set. However, on disc two is Antonietta De Lillo’s FULCI TALKS, a feature-length documentary which is essentially one long interview with Lucio Fulci shortly before his death. Still clearly sound of mind and with plenty to say, the filmmaker gives his thoughts on horror movies, tells stories of his early career and the legendary directors he worked with on his way up, and what he really thinks of his contemporaries Mario Bava and Dario Argento. Definitely one for the hardcore Fulci fans, the film does give a fascinating insight into the director’s approach to filmmaking and will probably be worth the price of the set on its own to some.
Overall, this is an excellent edition of a very average movie that does have fleeting glimpses of its creator’s earlier anarchic style and attitude but is far too bland and unexciting to really stand up against the established classics. However, if you were having a Satanic nun movie festival it wouldn’t be the worst title you could probably add to the roster, and the hilarious gore scenes played totally straight are worth sitting through the tedious setup for. With the interesting extras and magnificent packaging, this set is worth picking up so it can look splendid on your shelf but, depending on how often you want to see cat puppets being rubbed over a fake head that resembles a cake, the shelf is possibly where it will stay.