Sunday, October 24, 2010

Horror of the 80s: Demons (1985)

A subway in West Berlin.  New Wave styles abound.  A young student, Cheryl (Natasha Hovey), is stalked by a mysterious figure (Michele Soavi) with a metallic half-mask (or is it – his face?).  It turns out that he is only handing out tickets to a movie at a recently renovated theater, the Metropol.  Cheryl and her friend Kathy (Paola Cozzo) cut class to go. 

“You don’t think it’s going to be a horror movie, do you?” asks Kathy.

The theater contains a creepy usherette (Nicoletta Elmi, of Dario Argento’s Deep Red  and several of Mario Bava’s films, in a cameo of sorts) and some odd audience members, including two young men, George (Urbano Barbarini) and Ken (Karl Zinny), who make friends with Cheryl and Kathy.  They begin to watch the horror movie-within-the-horror movie.  The characters on screen find an ancient book “something about- demons!” and a strange mask.  Whoever wears the mask will become a demon – oddly enough, such a mask was in the theater lobby, and one of the audience members tried it on before the show…

Soon the demonic infection is spreading, both onscreen and throughout the audience.  They realize they’ve been bricked in to the theater, and the body count begins to rise, to the tune of bouncy 80s synth-pop.

Co-written by director Lamberto Bava (son of Mario) and Dario Argento, who produced it, Demons  is a mixed bag.  The highlights include some good special effects, mostly demonic transformations in which long claws grow, air bladders are used effectively, and teeth pop out to be replaced with fangs.  There are a few inspired touches, most notably when the actress in the onscreen horror flick is being menaced by a knife making long gashes in her tent, and suddenly the theater screen itself gashes open and one of the infected audience members falls through.

There’s a lot of Argento-like playing around with lighting effects, some of which is quite nice – although sometimes you get the feeling that the filmmakers went through the script and randomly said “this scene will be blue.  This scene will be red.”

The theater setting is sometimes used to good effect (the darkened row of seats, the innumerable red curtains through which victims claw their way), but could be better utilized. 

The low points:  there’s a lot of primary color demon-vomit and cheesy makeup.  The demons themselves are rather generic monsters – basically zombies with fangs and glowing eyes.  The acting is miserable and the lousy English dubbing doesn’t help.  Wait for the laughable sequence in which the hero rides around the theater on a dirt bike which has mysteriously appeared from somewhere, swatting at demons with a samurai sword.  Things get even more random with a deus-ex-flying-machina towards the end.

Still, Demons was popular enough to spawn a sequel, Demons II, the following year.  For the most part it’s an average 80s horror flick, entertaining enough but easily forgettable.

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