DEMONS was Lamberto Bava’s first international hit. The son of Italian horror maestro Mario Bava, he had made several horror and giallo films, and had collaborated with his father (on SHOCK and the television film LA VENERE DELL’ILLE) and Dario Argento (he was Assistant Director on TENEBRE) before reteaming with Argento on this film. Argento’s presence is strongly felt on this production: he produced the film and co-wrote the story, his daughter Fiore is featured, and the film’s Assistant Director (and bit part actor) was Michele Soavi, who had collaborated with Argento behind and in front of the camera several times before.
The story is minimal, yet inexplicably hard to explain: a female student obtains tickets to a special screening of a film from a mysterious, partially masked man (played by Michele Soavi; it’s unclear whether he is masked or if half his face is metal, so we’re going with masked). She and her friend attend and meet a could of boys. In the lobby of the theater, a display of a figure on a motorcycle carrying a metal mask (uncannily like the one worn by Soavi) gets the attention of a pimp (the amazing Bobby Rhodes) and his two prostitutes. One of the prostitutes puts on the mask and cuts herself removing it. In the movie being shown that night, a group of teens break into Nostradamus’ tomb where they find an identical mask. One of the teens (again, Soavi) puts on the mask, cuts himself, and turns into a demon. Right about that time, the same thing happens to the prostitute watching the film. From there, it becomes a NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD scenario in which anyone who gets attacked by a demon turns into one themselves. And for some reason, the theater has become inescapable, all of the exits sealed.
It’s insanely gory, pus-filled, skin-popping, flesh-ripping and completely without a sense of logic. It’s never clear whether the film being shown is to blame for what’s happening or the theater itself, why or how the exits were sealed, where the film came from, who’s running the show, or why these people were selected to be in attendance. And if that’s not enough of a lack of logic, for no reason whatsoever, a HELICOPTER CRASHES INTO THE THEATER. And tonally, it not only feels Argento-esque, but also has touches of Fulci’s bizarre sensibility. For example, the usherette of the theater seems to be unnecessarily sinister, and we believe that she has to be in on this. But when the shit goes down, she’s just as much in the dark as anyone else. In this, she’s a lot like THE BEYOND’s Emily: a superficially supernatural character whose motivations are unclear and who winds up being in peril alongside our heroes.
But above all, it’s just ridiculously entertaining. It’s seemingly nothing but an excuse to show off some fantastic gore effects, and its free-wheeling sense of “anything can happen at any time” keeps things constantly energetic and engaging. Just when you think that what you just saw can’t be topped, something jaw-dropping happens. It’s got a great metal and new wave soundtrack, featuring Saxon, Accept, Mötley Crüe, Rick Springfield, Go West and Billy Idol. Goblin main man Claudio Simonetti composed the score. And it’s got an ending that continues through the credits and makes no sense given what’s just happened for the entirety of the movie we’ve just watched. It’s one of those movies that I always forget is so much fun until I start watching it again. Don’t skip it this Halloween season, unless you’re weak of stomach.