GORE IN THE STORE
DEMONS / DEMONS 2
(Limited Edition 4k UHD Blu-ray) ****
Directed by Lamberto Bava.
Starring Natasha Hovey, Urbano Barberini, Bobby Rhodes, Nancy Brilli, Asia Argento.
Italy 1985 / 1986 Certificate: 18 88 / 92 mins.
Limited Edition 4k UHD and Blu-Ray released by Arrow Video on February 22nd, 2021.
Back in 1987 when Lamberto Bava’s DEMONS was released (and censored) in the UK, “4K” was the form at junior school overseen by Mr. Knight, who blatantly picked his nose in class and rested his feet on his cluttered teacher’s desk. “Blue Ray” was your Dad’s morbid, Nuclear War-fixated work mate. How things change.
It was a great time to be a horror fan: genre giants in their prime and their work ever more accessible. The name of one such giant, Dario Argento, dominated DEMONS’ publicity to the point where you would be forgiven for thinking he directed it and supervised the catering. Argento’s status as a marketable commodity had grown throughout the 1970s: while fortunate enough, as the son of a successful producer, to secure consistent funding for his own projects, he had also expanded his public persona via TV’s DOOR INTO DARKNESS and followed Hitchcock in positioning his name above his movie titles. After SUSPIRIA’s international success, he began producing himself, to either assist other filmmakers he admired (putting up half the budget, with brother Claudio and Alfredo Cuomo, for DAWN OF THE DEAD) or simply propelling the projects he wanted to make. By the 1980s, via his production company DAC, he evolved into the triple-hyphenate of writer-producer-director, making more obviously personal films like PHENOMENA that proved more self-indulgent and divisive than his more streamlined giallo hits. DEMONS was the first of his ‘Dario Argento Presents…’ offerings, promoting his collaborator Lamberto Bavo (an assistant director on INFERNO and TENEBRAE) to his most commercial directing job to date while allowing Argento to be a major influence on set and reunite with other former collaborators.
In their excellent, lockdown-recorded commentary on the DEMONS disc, ‘Hell’s Bells’ podcasters Kat Ellinger and Heather Drain enthusiastically praise the undervalued Bava Jr., who fell victim to the Tobe Hooper / POLTERGEIST curse of having his biggest hit overshadowed by a powerful producer in a very different marketplace to that in which his father Mario operated. Either way, the two of them crafted - for the UK at least - a fabulously timed “Video Nasty”- era splatter movie about a horror movie that turns its audience into bitey, bile-oozing demons. The dialogue is amusingly on the nose for censorious times (and Argento had endured his fair share of censorship): “The movie’s to blame for all this!” / “We gotta stop the movie!” Long before the smug wave of knowing late-90’s American horror, DEMONS extends the self-aware commentary of earlier cinema-set horror sequences (THE BLOB, HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE etc.) into a wonderfully 80s compendium of ‘Greatest Gore Hits’ – all styled and backlit like a contemporary rock video and with a peerless time-capsule soundtrack comprising Claudio Simonetti’s grooviest solo theme alongside Motley Crue, Saxon and Billy Idol.
Arrow’s new 4k transfer, inevitably, wipes away the (fond) memories of that Avatar VHS from our youth. Priceless visuals of colourfully attired post-punk Berlin commuters on a bright yellow subway train immediately set the time and place – along with the beautifully designed ‘Metropol’ theatre – blanketed with posters from Argento’s own FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET and CREEPSHOW. Nicoletta Elmi, a child actor for Mario Bava, Paul Morrissey and Argento himself (DEEP RED), adds to the mixtape feel as an usher in a glorious lime-green dress with long red curls. The ravishing new visual gleam does not diminish the 35-year-old practical gore FX: Sergio Stivaletti works overtime to deliver Rick Baker-inspired metamorphoses, Fulci-style lingering throat rips / eyeball pokes and the extend-o-tongue / technicolour spewing of THE EXORCIST and THE EVIL DEAD. If anything, in the era of instantly dated CGI blood and rubbish digital monsters, these look better than ever. DEMONS is so eager to please, gore and all, that it uses gratuitous product placement to have characters snorting coke from Coke cans and literally throws in a crashing helicopter when the pace flags. It’s the last glorious gasp of popular Italian splatter.
Rushed into production and released just a year later in Italy, DEMONS 2 toned down the gore for a more commercial lower-rating in its native country. It’s retrospectively interesting for its place in the cycle of 80s horror films using television as an instrument of terror (POLTERGEIST, THE VIDEO DEAD, etc.) and for a stand-out sequence anticipating the most iconic moment from Hideo Nakata’s RING. The setting is switched to a SHIVERS-inspired modern apartment building, where the key ingredients of DEMONS are reworked, with novelty additions including dogs / kids in peril, GREMLINS-style mini-demons and an amusing gaggle of bodybuilders showcasing DEMONS’ pimp Bobby Rhodes in an all-new role. It’s fun and boosted by another show-stopping soundtrack accommodating Dead Can Dance, The Smiths and Fields of the Nephilim – but, like other sequels of the period, is content to swiftly cash in on its predecessor before audience engagement wanes. In 4k, the colourful party buffets, bright blue gym shorts and rippling pecs of the muscle men really pop.
EXTRAS - The Ellinger / Drain talk track is the stand-out commentary (other archival tracks feature Bava, Stivalletti and Simonetti), with the witty duo tracing the trajectory of 80s Italian horror, the cycle’s foreshadowing of trends to come and highlighting the familiar faces (on Elmi: “It’s like seeing Macaulay Culkin as a grown up!”) Three featurettes are ported over from earlier DEMONS editions, with Argento and Simonetti reflecting on the marketing, the swift turnaround of DEMONS 2 and Bava’s on-set temperament, while Luigi Cozzi picks his favourite Italian horrors. Michael Mackenzie’s “Produced by Dario Argento” is an insightful exploration of his career path, accommodating the popularity of the DEMONS films, his hands-off approach to Michele Soavi’s early features and the erratic nature of later ventures, from the tortured production of WAX MASK to the patchwork of international backers that led to director-for-hire gigs like DRACULA 3-D and no final cut on the famously awful GIALLO.
Archival features on the DEMONS 2 disc include an engaging Stivaletti waxing lyrical about his influences (Baker, Savini, Bosch) and the array of bladder FX, gore and animatronics in the films. Critic Travis Crawford’s new commentary track shows affection for what he calls “one of the strangest horror sequels ever made”, usefully highlighting its nods to Mario Bava classics. Also new is “Together and Apart”, an excellent visual essay from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, analysing space and technology in the DEMONS films and their themes of spectatorship and self-reflexivity. She, along with Roberto Curti and Rachael Nisbet, contributes to the set’s 60-page booklet.