directed by Lamberto Bava
starring Asia Argento, Bobby Rhodes, Geretta Geretta, Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Michele Soavi, Nicoletta Elmi, Lino Salemme, Coralina Cataldi-Tasson
If there ever were any responsible adults involved in Italian genre cinema, the zombie movie trend of the ’80s saw them replaced by a couple of middle schoolers with a Fangoria subscription. These movies tended to be loosely plotted excuses to get a group of people on an island, abandoned factory, or infected city where zombies could commit all sorts of atrocities upon them, gleefully focusing on gore, eyeball gouging, and various colored bodily fluids. After the financial success of Lucio Fulci’s Zombi (featuring “We are going to eat you,” – possibly the greatest tagline of all time) where among other things, an eyeball gets impaled and a zombie fights a shark underwater, the Italian film industry realized it had a profitable genre to exploit, and set about doing just that.
These movies were wildly popular to a certain market in the United States, generally teens and young adults who had graduated from theNightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th series and were searching for more gore, more blood, and more disgusting special effects. For the most part, story and plot were secondary concerns, and audiences (especially home video audiences) were more impressed by a good gut chomping or head explosion than getting hung up on why exactly the people on screen didn’t just leave at the first sign of trouble.
While Lamberto Bava’s 1985 Demonsisn’t technically a zombie movie, the demons follow the cinematic rules of zombies, and the film deals with a diverse group of people trapped in a location while they fight each other and the gory supernatural threat preying on them, so it’s close enough to blur the lines.
Demons opens with a masked Phantom of the Opera/Terminator figure handing out free movie passes in the Berlin subway. In a nice post-modern twist, we get to observe an audience watching the movie in a theater, as well as the movie they are watching, a bloody horror flick about some teens stealing the mask of Nostradamus. This same mask is on display in the theater lobby and draws blood from one of the audience members before our movie-within-a-movie, which is never a good sign. From there, the action on the screen parallels the action in the theater as the audience tries to escape and fight the rabid demons/zombies inside as the blood and gore flies to a contemporary metal soundtrack.
The audience is an interesting lot – there’s a blind man with his assistant, an older couple, a pimp with his prostitutes, along with some regular teens. You’re not going to get nuanced character studies here, but you do get someone saying, “I tell you one thing, that’s the last complimentary ticket I’ll ever accept.” The special effects are gloriously over the top and bloody, and still effective today. Demons was a financial success, which quickly led to a sequel, next year’s Demons 2.
Demons 2 takes place in an apartment building where residents watch a horror movie based on the aftermath of the demon/zombie plague of the first film. This time, the demons launch their attack by coming straight through the TV, not bothering with infected scratches. We get little kid zombies, dog zombies, and a zombie creature bursting out of an unfortunate woman. While a gang of punks tried to save the day in the first film, here a group of bodybuilders rise to the challenge over a new wave soundtrack. While it might be splitting hairs, Demons 2might be bloodier and a bit more over the top than the original Zombies, which is saying quite a bit.
Synapse Films has done an outstanding job with these releases – the colors are crisp and vibrant and these movies have probably never looked better – the bright neon colors in Demons 2 especially pop. For anyone who grew up watching fuzzy videotapes, Demons/Demons 2 will be a revelation. This release also comes packed with a Demons poster, as well as a reproduction of the golden theater ticket from the first movie and a birthday party invitation from the second. The extras are informative and worth a watch, covering everything from the creature effects, music selection, and a smart little exploration into exploring spaces and viewpoints in the movies.
Synapse’s packaging and restoration for these classic ’80s films will make them a must purchase for gorehounds, as well as viewers interested in just how over the top the Italian zombie movies could get.