‘Demons’ (1985) Review

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“They will make cemeteries their cathedrals and the cities will be your tombs”

Demons is an old favorite of mine, a film from my early horror watching days. Something I picked up once I belatedly realized that Italian horror films could be kinda cool. At that point my experience was limited to Argento and Fulci and I had no idea who Mario Bava was, nor that he had a son that followed in his footsteps.  I’m sure I watched Demons originally because of Argento’s name on the cover.

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I enjoyed the hell out of it. It was a purely 80’s creation, a gory mess of nonsense story with a ton of gore, a rocking soundtrack and the most ridiculous action sequences I’d seen in a horror movie. I mean, there’s a guy who tears around a movie theater on a dirtbike hacking off demon heads with a samurai sword! A demon tears its way out of a woman’s back! A freakin’ helicopter crashes through the ceiling! I must have thought I hit the horror movie jackpot. No, it doesn’t make sense – but for horror movies in the 80’s, particularly Italian ones, making sense always seemed to take a back seat to special effects, gore and loud guitar riffs. (And usually some gratuitous nudity – though there’s not much of that in Demons.)

It’s often the first film I think of when I’m in the mood for something flashy and gory and Italian. There are better movies, there are stranger movies, there are more horrifying movies, but Demons manages to be loud, crass and – most importantly – entertaining in a way that hits me just right.

The Medium
Demons and the equally bizarre sequel Demons 2 are both on Shudder. The ‘totally not a sequel’ movie, The Church, is available on Prime. Demons was in HD and looked – well, it was the best I’ve ever seen it. Sharp and clear. I’m guessing it’s due to the recent transfer from Synapse films.

The Movie
Demons starts off by introducing us to ‘good girl’ Cheryl on a West Berlin subway. Cheryl is given passes a new film by a strange scarred man with a metal half-mask that she initially thinks is stalking her. (The masked man is played by Michael Soavi, who would go on to direct Cemetary Man in 1991.) She talks her friend Kathy into skipping music class to go see the new film. Something they’ll both come to regret.

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At the theater they’re joined by a number of other characters – a pimp named Tony (Bobby Rhodes) and two of his girls, an older married couple out for their anniversary, a young couple, a blind man and his wife, and two young men, George and Ken, who are more interested in Cheryl and Kathy than they are in the movie.

After we get a few moments of introduction to the characters – in which one of Tony’s girls, scratches herself with a prop mask from the film, everyone settles into their seats to watch the premiere. It’s a horror movie. “I knew it!” says Kathy, who is definitely not a fan.

There’s not a lot of meat to the plot of Demons. People go to see a movie and end up possessed or murdered by demons – that’s the long and short of it. The fun is to be had in both HOW they die and the meta nature of the movie within a movie setup. Because the movie the characters are watching is about a group of people who find a mask that ends up scratching a character who is then possessed by a demon.

Guess what happens to Rosemary?

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Things degenerate pretty quickly once the monster contact lenses are in place. Anyone cut by a demon becomes a demon and before long people are hammering at the doors, trying to get out, while monsters vomiting green goop stalk the halls. The demon are great and disgusting, with plenty of blood, puss and shredded flesh, but things really get WTF when the crowd tears down the doors to reveal blank concrete walls.

Convinced (and not without reason) that the movie they’ve been watching has somehow trapped them, Tony leads a group to the projection booth to stop the film. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to work, and the survivors end up barricading themselves on the balcony while a few poor souls attempt to hide in the seats below.

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Meanwhile, a bunch of drugged out punks drive around Berlin and snort coke. (The white powder is coming out of a can of Coca Cola, in case you miss it.) They’re a bit of a distraction, but they allow for a few more rock tunes on the soundtrack and eventually become more bodies for the demons when they flee from cops into the theater.

Except for the punks, Demons doesn’t really let up on the gas or the weird. There’s a sequence where the group breaks through a wall into series of corridors and basements that seem to go nowhere. There’s a scene of people crawling through blue lit air ducts, which seemed to be required in 80’s movies. There’s the aforementioned scene with George driving around the theater with as word, slicing demons right and left with Cheryl holding on for dear life.

And then a helicopter falls through the ceiling.

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The ending is full of great promise for a sequel, with a long survivor making it out only to find a world that is overrun by the same demons. Unfortunately budget considerations would limit the scope of the sequel – but it’s still a good time as well.

The Bottom Line
Demons is crazy, gory, stupid loud and a ton of fun. Yeah, it makes no sense and the dubbing is occasionally distracting – but it’s so entertaining that it doesn’t matter. If you haven’t seen it, you should remedy that and if you have… well, it’s been a long time right? You should probably see it again!