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October 26th, 2015


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10:33 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: Demons
Nobody has been recommending Demons to me, but I've been seeing references to it since it started showing up at video rentals when I was a kid. I've always found the poster to be a striking image, though I can't say why. After a few decades, it might just be that I remember remembering how I used to remember it.

I can't decide how I want to tackle Demons. Did I like it? Absolutely. Is it a good movie? Um... Hard to say. What I can tell you is that it's an Italian film from 1985, directed by Lamberto Bava (son of the classic horror filmmaker, Mario Bava), and written and produced by Dario Argento, who is (probably recognized by most people as) the best giallo filmmaker of all time. Another thing I can tell you is that it's absolutely incomprehensibly insane, and that it's like that on purpose.

The film opens on Cheryl, a student riding the subway at night. In the station, she realizes that she is being pursued by a masked stranger. She does her best to lose him, only to literally bump into him. She cowers in fear as he explains that he is passing out free passes to the premier of a new film. She accepts them, and the stranger goes off to unnecessarily frighten someone else.

At the theater, Cheryl meets up with a friend and some boys. "I hope it's not a horror movie," one of them says. No such luck. Also in attendence: a blind man who expects his date to narrate the action, and a pimp who has set up an outing with two of his favorite employees. In the lobby, one of the prostitutes tries on a mask which is part of the marketing for the movie, and it scratches her face. The movie begins, and it's about a bunch of teenagers who discover an old tomb and decide to exhume the body interred within. Somebody mentions Nostradamus, and moments later, they unearth the inscription: this is the final resting place of Nostradamus. The grave turns out to be unoccupied, except for a mask which one of the characters puts on. It scratches his face, and a few moments later he turns into a monster.

The prostitute gets up and leaves her seat, heads for the bathroom, and notices that the scratch has become a pulsing, infected sore, which explodes. Then she turns into a monster. The other prostitute comes in looking for her, and a chase ensues, ending with prostitute #1 attacking prostitute #2, who crashes through the movie screen, turns into a demon, and starts attacking moviegoers, causing pandemonium. Up in the balcony, the blind guy's date is making out with somebody else, but apparently he hasn't noticed.

At this point, things begin to get weird. The theater is invaded by Coke-snorting punks (this is the '80s, after all). I don't mean that they're cocaine addicts--I mean that they're literally using a straw to inhale Coca-Cola through their noses. Everybody turns into monsters. Everybody dies, including the characters you expect to make it. Eventually, a helicopter crashes into the theater.

This is the most coherent plot summary I could come up with. Demons plays like a nightmare in that it doesn't seem to play by any sort of rules, it just throws one strange event at the audience after another. There's no logic to it, just adrenaline, mucus, and blood presented in candy colors, because that's the way Argento does things. I'm not complaining--this is mindless entertainment whose sole purpose is to be mindlessly entertaining. There are some genuinely good horror movie moments here (consider the terrified characters trying to move away from the scraping sound of claws as they crawl their way through the ventilation system), but for the most part it's just deliberately crazy and strange in a way that makes it hard discuss. All of the cinematic excesses of the '80s (big hair, hard rock, dripping slime, rubber monsters and unrealistic ultraviolence) are present here in such thick layers that Demons looks like a parody. Weirdly, some of the actors are obviously speaking English while others are dubbed (though I can't tell if they've been dubbed to obscure thick accents, or straight Italian dialogue). It's almost like this movie was aimed squarely at the sort of people who ten years later would be renting it just to laugh at it. The critics were not kind to Demons, but it's almost as though this movie was created on a spectrum where the extremes are something other than "good" and "bad". I can almost imagine Bava and Argento shrugging and saying, "You had a good time? Then whatsamatta?"

The whole movie is on YouTube right now, but I doubt it'll stay up for long:

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31 Days of Halloween: Demons - Garmonbozia for the soul.

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