Saturday, 5 May 2012


1985, Italy, Directed by Lamberto Bava
Colour, Running Time: 88 minutes
Review Source: Blu-ray, Region B, Arrow; Video: 1.66:1 1080p 24fps, Audio: LPCM Stereo

If you want artistic intellectualism, cultured dialogue, or existential relevance in your movies, don’t come to Lamberto Bava. Despite his dad being a bit of an auteur in the cult genres, a flamboyant technician with a great sense of aesthetics along with the raw talent to innovate in his efforts in the creation of unique shots, Lamberto took up the directorial reigns to knock out bloodshed movies that would appeal almost exclusively to the lower cerebral functions. That’s not (necessarily) a bad thing. Demons begins with a young woman (who’s on her way home from work or university presumably) receiving a complementary ticket to see a movie. Tagging her friend along they both head off to the cinema where a reasonable size audience has gathered to watch the mysterious film, which turns out to be a horror story about Nostradamus’ apparent prediction of a demonic plague becoming a reality. Some of the viewers are perplexed when certain events in the movie begin to mirror what’s happening in the theatre and suddenly there is an outbreak of demonic possession outside of the film. All hell breaks loose in the cinema as people are ripped apart, subsequently transforming into the very monsters that killed them, while others flee in panic only to find that the exits have been blocked - as death and mayhem escalate it would appear that there is no escape for the dwindling survivors.

Young Bava had made a small but noticeable mark on the genre world already with the macabre Macabre and the moderately stylish (if overlong) modern giallo Blade in the Dark in the early eighties, and Demons (or Dèmoni in Italy) would pretty much sledgehammer his presence on the scene: whilst it is minimalist in terms of plot development and characterisations (though there are a few feeble attempts at the latter) the movie delivers profoundly on violence, gore, suitably ghastly demons, sheer ruthlessness, etc. Taking a good half hour to get going (where the spectators are generally sitting around watching the onscreen action unfold while telling each other to shut up, or attempting to mate), once the action does kick off it’s like the gates of Hell have opened up. What gives the scenario some impact is the setting: everyone being inexplicably trapped within in a labyrinthine cinema has a cool vibe about it, and one that brings a little bit of a sinister edge with it too - this aspect is underlined in a lovely manner when the viewers realise they are trapped, lose themselves in hysterics and a wide-angled lens camera drifts around the walls: the madness of the situation becomes apparent. Periodic injections of humour also elevate the darker elements of the story, usually in the form of some of the characters’ oddball lines (the black guy has some of the best of these). Of course the film’s crew did boast some respectable talent working alongside Lamberto: acclaimed director (at the time!) Dario Argento both produced the film and wrote the screenplay (with Lamberto and Franco Ferrini) based on a story by Dardano Sacchetti (writer of most of Lucio Fulci’s best films, amongst many others), and Claudio Simonetti wrote a significant portion of the soundtrack, he of course being famous as one of the collaborators and originators of Italian prog-instrumentalists Goblin. Aside from Simonetti’s typically distinctive contributions there’s a great choice of metal tracks granting the bloody action with an enhanced dose of energy, making the movie almost a cinematic celebration of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal era that had reached its summit by the time Demons was released. Saxon’s Everybody Up and Accept’s Fast as a Shark are notable highlights though of course this choice of music won’t suit everyone, however I think it makes good accompaniment to some of the crazy antics of the characters. Stripping genre cinema down to its fundamental constituents Demons is basically a kick-ass, rock n’ roll, gory roller coaster ride.

Previously the ideal way to view the film (outside of a cinema) was via the Anchor Bay US disc, which was released some time around 1999. The dull, non-anamorphic transfer was reasonable for its time though was beginning to appear somewhat antiquated. The accurate aspect ratio was welcome while a dated attempt at creating a 5.1 surround track from old elements brought a touch of weight to the soundtrack, even if the audio was still a little centred at the front side of the soundstage. A commentary from the director (among other people), a featurette and trailer rounded out the DVD package. Jumping forward to 2012 and Arrow lavishly bring the film into the HD era with a seriously impressive Blu-ray. Again framed at 1.66:1 as it should be, image quality is a huge improvement all round - colour, brightness, detail, everything. The print used is an Italian one (i.e. Italian credits and even the original near-halfway break message that appears for about a second or two) and it looks sumptuous to be frank. Audio (choose from either English language, or Italian, with subtitles if desired) varies according to the quality of the recordings but is superior to previous home cinema incarnations. Music is very strong certainly, while the dubbed dialogue is clear enough. Notably there are a couple of small variations compared to the Anchor Bay disc, in particular the vocal dubbing of the perpetually annoyed husband. I also noticed a slight hitch in Billy Idol's White Wedding that I don't think is present in the other version. No real problems though, just be aware that this is a slight variation on what you may be used to. The disc also comes with two audio commentaries and a couple of featurettes, and can be purchased standalone with a comic and poster, or in a limited edition steelbook with Demons 2 present on a separate Blu-ray Disc. This pack also has the Calum Waddell booklet, a fairly readable piece on the two films with Lamberto Bava interview snippets throughout, plus - oddly - a postcard of Cat O' Nine Tails is also in the tin. The steelbook is the option I chose and it's a lovely set despite the couple of omissions noted above - feels like a real collector's item. Overall, Demons gets a release that makes this the worldwide definitive edition to go for, and pleasingly it's a UK release too.

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