Sunday, 6 May 2012

Demons 2

1988, Italy, Directed by Lamberto Bava
Colour, Running Time: 92 minutes
Review Source: Blu-ray, Region B, Arrow; Video: 1.66:1 1080p 24fps, Audio: LPCM Stereo

Rather than continue the story exactly where Demons left off, the writers of the sequel adopted the novel idea of retelling a very similar story that occurs elsewhere, and using a number of the same actors too. Instead of watching a movie in a theatre the eventual victims of the demon plague here inhabit a high-rise apartment block and whilst passing their time away with various inoffensive activities such has having parties, training in the onsite gym, and keeping the prostitution industry afloat, they have their TVs on in the background whereby an apparently fictitious film portrays the coming of a demon plague… Before long one of the creatures of the onscreen story has supernaturally escaped (almost Videodrome-style) from the TV of an apartment where a crazy party is underway and, as in the first movie, hell breaks loose and the slaughtered partygoers are soon transformed into the bloodthirsty undead. Thus a rampage through the apartment block takes place as its innocent dwellers fall victim to the relentlessly violent monsters.

I’m not sure if choosing to follow the path that the sequel does - almost remaking the first movie - is a good or bad idea. Demons 2 doesn’t work as well as its predecessor, that much is sure, but I don’t think its failings are specifically attributable to the notion of telling almost exactly the same story. It’s certainly fun spotting a couple of the original cast (who were horribly murdered in the first outing, but you can forget logic with these films) show up again to reprise different roles - amusingly with almost identical personalities - and the pace of the story is built up from relaxed to frantic levels, then maintained in a similar fashion. A number of the same crew are also present: Lamberto takes up directorial reins again, Dario Argento returns to produce and write (with Franco Ferrini and Dardano Sacchetti), Gianlorenzo Battaglia is once again responsible for functional cinematography, and special effects maestro Sergio Stivaletti helps out with prosthetics and mechanised creations as before. So why doesn’t Dèmoni 2: L’incubo Ritorna (the subheading translating as The Nightmare Returns) quite do the trick? On first seeing this film around 1991/2 I was fooled into thinking the film works just as well, but multiple viewings bring about the realisation that there are disadvanted areas: Simon Boswell replaces Claudio Simonetti in the music department and whilst his contributions are adequately executed the deliberately non-metal soundtrack choices don’t inject the proceedings with the same energy and chaotic drive (I remember reading an interview with Boswell where he stated that he wanted to move away from metal for the sequel; I think this was a misjudgement on his part personally though I know not all will agree with this point!). Next is the overall gruesomeness, which is substantially reduced compared to Demons. I understand that it was originally intended to be just as gory but was cut down prior to release - again this stripped down violence makes the film feel somewhat anaemic after sitting through the first film, particularly noticeable if watching them in the same evening. If a ‘special edition’ of some kind was to reinstate the excised footage we could be in for a more satisfactory thrill ride. Having said all that there is still a consistent flavour underlying the story that makes it watchable for fans of the first, the special effects that have remained are pretty visceral, and, despite the music itself not lending itself so well to the material, I love the way The Cult’s Rain plays as a backing track to the aftermath of the party massacre. Demons 2 is at least a little bit disappointing, but I guess I still wouldn't be without it (it does make a nice double bill with the first movie, usually as the alcohol has kicked in by the second one).

Whilst I never owned the Anchor Bay (2001) and Starz (2007) issues of Demons 2, the old UK Divid2000 DVD looked smooth enough despite a low bitrate and some digital problems but the audio was one of the worst transfer jobs I’ve ever heard: levels were all over the place and sounds frequently so muffled even a sudden and aggravated swivel of the volume knob barely helped - I don’t think the film sounded that bad on videotape. So aside from a surprisingly comprehensive presence of extras the presentation of the film itself was a major letdown. Thankfully Arrow have issued a new HD transfer blowing all this out of the stratosphere - resolution of detail and colour are way superior, while the audio tracks (English or Italian language, with English subtitles as an option) are much more balanced. Clearly the English track was not the best on a technical level (indeed, the Italian segment I sampled was a touch sharper), however, there is no rushing for the volume knob as was the case with the UK DVD. It does make the film somewhat more enjoyable. Extras on the new Blu-ray include an audio commentary of sorts, a history of Italian horror (with Luigi Cozzi - really quite limited if you know even a reasonable amount about the sub-genre, although a nice introduction for newcomers), and a featurette on the special effects magician Sergio Stivaletti. As with the first film, you can buy this in a beautiful steelbook containing both films on Blu-ray, a booklet, and a postcard, or you can buy them individually in standard packaging that contains a poster and mini comic. Either way it's an essential buy for Italian horror lovers.

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