I recently renewed my acquaintance with Lamberto Bava’s deliriously silly 1985 gore film Demons/Demoni. It made me pine for the days in the late 1980s and early 1990s when me and my friends actively sought the worst VHS rental films to laugh at, be bewildered by, bitch about, quip at and get drunk with. For those who have missed out on this kind of wonderful experience– maybe you have mostly dullards for friends, or your partner affects only to enjoy good films or something, I don’t know– I recommend Red Letter Media’s Best of the Worst videos to give you an idea of how much fun you can have with a couple of atrocious films, a few (or a lot of) beers and some witty pals.
If my memory serves me correctly, during that long ago session Demons may even have been part of a double bill with the colossus of crap that is Showgirls, for some reason. Possibly one person bargained that they’d watch Demons if they could also rent Showgirls, or vice versa. In any case there are probably more similarities between the two than one might think. For one thing, both of them are well-made and good looking films even though this fine craftsmanship is in the service of scripts that are absolute trash and never make a lick of sense. Both were (perhaps excessively) sincere attempts at appealing to a mainstream audience, although they went about doing so in such an absurdly maladroit manner that with hindsight they couldn’t be more ripe for cult status instead of mass appeal. The primary difference between the two film makers is that I don’t think even Paul Verhoeven himself ever knows at any given time whether he’s got his tongue in his cheek or if he’s unironically revelling in gratuitous smut and violence, whereas Lamberto Bava seems to be quite firmly in the latter camp. I think gratuitous smut and violence can be glorious, by the way. I’m not knocking them. I mean, has anyone ever made ultraviolence more satisfying and cathartic than Verhoeven does in Robocop?
I’m on the record about the fact that I could hardly care less about spoilers, but for what it’s worth nothing here is going to give away anything major about the film. That’s mainly because there’s virtually no plot to spoil anyway. Some randoms get trapped in a cinema, some of them become possessed by demons and savagely attack the dwindling group of survivors, the end. Characters in the film have hairstyles and outfits in lieu of personalities. We learn virtually nothing about them as individuals either before or after they get ripped apart, gnawed, squished or stabbed.
You’ll be amazed at this listicle about the top 13 reasons why you should watch one of the top ten 1980s horror films about people becoming homicidal demons in a cinema you have to see before you get your scalp torn off by a homicidal demon in a cinema and die horribly
- Berlin apparently has no German people living there.
- Tearaway punk car thieves love listening to Go West and Billy Idol. Of course they do.
- Minty green pus.
- The cinemagoers in the film are watching a horror film about people becoming possessed and turning into demons, which is so desperately knowing and blatantly meta it’s sort of endearing.
- An instance of “Coke” product placement that its manufacturers would definitely find inappropriate.
- As with many Italian films and their entirely post hoc dialogue dubbing, you can make a game of working out if the actors were originally a) speaking English b) speaking something resembling English c) not speaking English at all.
- Two prostitutes receive excessively harsh retribution for smoking in the cinema, as do a pair who sneak off for a sly snog behind the curtains. A fellow cineaste remarks, apropos of nothing in particular, that there are “fucking hookers everywhere.” There are only two in the film as far as I can tell, but perhaps he knows something we don’t.
- As the crisis develops, another gentleman displays such sterling leadership skills that it seems rather a waste to see him languishing in so undistinguished an occupation as being a pimp. The actor is apparently also under the delusion that he’s performing in an entirely unrelated blacksploitation film of ten years earlier. This pimp takes his girls out on jolly works outings to the pictures (see above), as I’m sure all real pimps do.
- A man is gleefully enucleated by a demon, even though he is already blind. Talk about adding injury to insult.
- If you’ve also seen John Carpenter’s 1987 film Prince of Darkness, it will become clear where Carpenter got the idea for the vomit and pus-spewing viral, biological transmission of supernatural evil, although this aspect of Demons in turn owes something to David Cronenberg’s horror/borderline softcore films, especially Shivers and Rabid. The exact same concept and (non) plot is ripped off, or ripped off one generation removed via Carpenter, in the Spanish found footage horror film Rec, in Rec‘s obligatory pointless, insipid American remakes and cash grab sequels, in the TV series Helix, and many other places. Unlike Demons, Prince of Darkness at least appears to make some kind of sense until you stop watching and your rational brain reboots itself. The latter film’s bizarre miscasting is offputting, though, including Alice Cooper for some reason, and a protagonist who looks like he recently suffered a concussion on the set of a gay porno then amnesiacally wandered into a different film. There are a few excellent actors in Prince of Darkness. There are no excellent actors in Demons. Urbano Barberini, who we’ll call Demon‘s male lead for lack of a better phrase, also has some of that blandly handsome, wooden, gay porn star quality although unlike his counterpart in Prince of Darkness, Barberini doesn’t have a pornstache to seal the deal. Both films, despite their daftness, have images and scenes in them that have stuck with me for decades… and there aren’t many films I can say that about.
- Chekhov’s motocross bike and katana.
- Sinister usherette is… we don’t really know. They just sort of forget about her.
- Near the end, there’s a deus ex machina plot device that is almost literally a machina ex deus too. Bravo, especially since the DVD commentary makes it clear that the director and his collaborator Dario Argento weren’t really being as clever as I may be making them seem. It really is just a crude plot device, but what a magnificently random and silly one.