‘Demons’ and ‘Demons 2’ Blu-ray reviewed

❉ Tom Lee Rutter revisits Lamberto Bava’s ‘80s spaghetti splatteramas, newly remastered in 4K!

“Demons, it has to be said, is still an ‘80s horror classic. Sure, it doesn’t have the class or the finesse of other well-regarded horror numbers. Italian horror cinema did take a bit of a quality drop come the mid 1980s but wasn’t without its gems. Demons sits atop of them all and is probably the most successful film of that period. It is a bombastic rainbow of gore effects, questionable dubbing and a juke-box of 80s new wave records set to an onslaught of carnage – but bloody hell it is still effective in delivering the thrills and the chills.”

After the release of Arrow’s limited-edition double pack of Lamberto Bava’s ‘80s spaghetti splatteramas Demons and Demons 2 in HD on Blu-ray back in February, they return individually with spanking UHD+BD dual format single editions of each film.

The Demons pair have always been a well distributed duo of films – the Avatar VHS releases back in the day were very well circulated and you would be hard pressed to go without finding a copy of either in the wilderness. They were pretty much carbon copied onto disc for a DVD release back in the early days of the format on the ‘DVD 2000’ label and have since seen countless re-releases on disc – and that was before Blu-ray came along…

Demons (1985) reviewed:

I think because of its hard-to-miss presence on the shelves of your local viddy shop or picnic blanket of every car-boot sale Demons has easily shot into the consciousness and even list of favourites for even the more passing horror fan through-out the years.

My first experience of the films was on the fuzzy old Avatar ex-rentals at my nanna Ivy’s house (a keen horror fan herself). It took me years to realise how much had been cut from the original film on this release, but it didn’t prevent the fact that it freaked me out with its bleak, uncompromising tone and a downbeat ending that I just couldn’t reconcile with for years. As a result, my little brother and I always favoured the second film; set in the tower block of apartments run ravaged by the bile-spewing zombie-like hellions where the good guys saw some sort of resolve. They are films I revisit every few years to see if they still carry the black magic that spellbound us so many years before. I watched them again in the most cleaned up of formats I have ever experienced them in to see if it was still the case.

Demons, it has to be said, is still an ‘80s horror classic. Sure, it doesn’t have the class of Italian horror cinema of the late ‘60s/ early ‘70s or the finesse of other well-regarded horror numbers. Italian horror cinema did take a bit of a quality drop come the mid 1980s but wasn’t without its gems. Demons sits atop of them all and is probably the most successful film of that period. It is a bombastic rainbow of gore effects, questionable dubbing and a juke-box of 80s new wave records set to an onslaught of carnage – but bloody hell it is still effective in delivering the thrills and the chills. The setup is enigmatic in its withholding of certain details which sits well with Italian horror’s abandonment of logic. In the case of Demons it is the bricking up of all the entrances to the mysterious Metropol cinema (still standing under the same name in Berlin today) which is hosting a screening of a film that depicts an ancient mask that turns it’s wearer into a demon should they be scratched by it. Who has bricked up the entrances? It doesn’t really matter. What matters is there is an ensemble of victims-to-be trapped inside along with the actual mask from the film on display in the foyer. It is only a matter of time until someone fools around with it and becomes a puss-infested demon who will then go on to turn the others into demons too.

Demons is effective in serving up a diverse range of characters who are sympathetic, likeable and vulnerable as well as some who are outright scumbags who deserve to become demon fodder. This gives us some effective scares when we see certain characters in jeopardy and the film’s dark cinema setting with all its dimly lit side corridors create a real sense of claustrophobic terror – something they push even further with a scene set in the air-vents.  It begins with a college student Natasha Hovey riding the S-Bahn of Berlin to meet her friend Kathy (Paola Cozzo) and is given two free tickets to the ill-fated cinema screening by a strange man in a mask (celebrated Italian horror maestro Michele Soavi). Naturally they decide to attend and are swept into the ghoulish proceedings that the night has in store for them. The film is full of impressive set pieces and moments that will appease the thirst of gore hound viewers and makes great use of its setting – even to the point of throwing in a motorbike chase within the theatre and a having a helicopter come crashing through the ceiling.

I think what really freaked us out about Demons as kids was the subversion of protagonist expectations. Those who you think will live and those who actually do live aren’t what you expect. Also; the demons themselves. They are truly terrifying servants of satan in humanoid form and they only have one thing on their mind – to rip apart the flesh of the living and have them join the army of the demonic legion. They have bulging red or yellow eyes with veins throbbing up their faces and green goo oozing from their mouths or down their faces. Effects maestro Sergio Stivaletti is having a ball here and uses every colour of the paint box to Pollock the human form and doesn’t hold back on the gore. He has created a truly indelible creature of the horror silver screen which serves to baffle me and many other Demons fans why they only stopped at two films.

Demons 2 (1986) reviewed:

I think the answer to that might partially show itself as we dive into Demons 2 which arrived a year later in 1986. The film went into development pretty much immediately after Demons proved to be a financial success. They chose to relocate the setting – as mentioned earlier – to an apartment block and have the ensemble of characters come in the form of its various tenants. The incorporation of the demons? Well it’s an odd one to say the least! If the original was an anarchic comment on violence in the movies literally bursting out of the silver screen then Demons 2 looked at commenting the same of television. Dario even comments in an archive interview provided on the disc to Demons that ”television is demonic” – and so it made sense to have them emerge from a TV set.

Another film-within-a-film is playing on TV and from it the Demons literally come through the TV screen to attack an over emotional girl called Sally (Coralina Cataldi Tassoni) who is having a super sweet 16 birthday bash in her parent’s apartment while they are away (the father played by Lamberto Bava himself). Why pick on Sally and none of the other viewers? Well, that would be the Italian-style abandonment of logic rearing its head once again but you know what? It works – and from the attack Sally is suddenly a puss-ridden demon and turns her party of guests into demons too and so it goes on through-out the building. It reminds me of Cronenberg’s Shivers but without the psycho-sexual intelligence and instead full throttle fantasy horror. It also reminded me for some strange reason of Gremlins 2 (though D2 predates it) and has some faint similarities such as its tamer tone and elements of pseudo-meta but not enough to waste your time with, though If you find more of them do let me know!

Demons 2 used to be the pick of the two for me and my brother but in watching it again recently it sadly doesn’t hold up like its predecessor. It lacks the visceral bite (or is it scratch?) for one thing – and that would be because producer Dario Argento and director Bava toned down the violence this time round to achieve a lower age rating. It took me a few years to see the original Demons in its uncut form and it amazed me at how many gory bits were initially cut out. Demons 2 remained intact, however, and seeing it again I realised how tame in comparison it really was. It also lacked the interesting characters of the first. Bobby Rhodes who played Tony the pimp in the original returns here but is totally wasted in his role as a bodybuilder. There are some fun times to be had with it, but even the inclusion of the strange demon glove puppet that bursts out of the demon kid’s stomach provided more comic relief than terror (I think that’s the Gremlins 2 thing I was referring to). It does boast another great goth and new wave soundtrack much like the first with tracks from the likes of The Smiths, Dead Can Dance, The Cult and Gene Loves Jezebel in the mix among original pieces by the amazing Simon Boswell.

The demons themselves also have their fair share of scary moments just by their very being but despite this the whole affair sadly doesn’t really add up to much and leaves us thinking there was so much more to explore with the Demons mythology. It is a shame they rebooted the idea to make a new film for the sequel rather than continue the events of the first film. The end of Demons saw the city ravaged by the demon plague and a post-apocalyptic survival scenario would have been a most amazing Demons 2. It also surprised me that they didn’t go further than two films either and the possibilities that the franchise could have explored could have easily been meted out in at least two more offerings. Alas, it was not to be. There were attempts however, but they morphed into other films such as the Argento-produced Michele Soavi flick The Church (1989) – an admittedly much more artful and interesting film than what Demons 3 could have been. It also saw unrelated films get retitled Demons 3 such as Umberto Lenzi’s Black Demons (1991) and the Lamberto Bava directed TV movie The Ogre (1989) which would only lead to disappointment. In this age of digging out old properties for revival I’m very surprised that Demons hasn’t seen a new life yet. They did it with The Blind Dead so why not Demons? Maybe I should be careful what I wish for!

Special Features reviewed:

These Arrow editions allow us to see Demons in every available cut – the international one, US theatrical and the Italian edition. No great differences in either cut to be honest, though whilst listening to the fun audio commentary track from Bava, Sergio Stivaletti, Claudio Simonetti and Geretta Giancarlo I noticed that it sounds as though the scene where Paola Cozzo’s Kathy slowly turns into a Demon has a score that doesn’t appear on any of the versions provided – so maybe there is another variation that is unaccounted for? Or was I just hearing things? There is also some alternative dubbing in the US version – for some reason the punk chick Bettina Ciampolini is redubbed completely which I found jarring being used to the voice used in the international version. There are other noticeable differences in sound effects such as extra demonic grunts and atmospherics.

The aforementioned commentary track is lighthearted, informative and worth the experience of the creators watching the film for the first time in years. There isn’t so much in the way of supplementary material for Demons 2 – save for an archival commentary with Lamberto Bava and Sergio Stivaletti but there newly commissioned commentaries on both films from film writers Travis Crawford, Kat Ellinger and Heather Drain for those who are inclined, as well as archival features of Italian horror film director and all-round cinephile Luigi Cozzi talking us through the Italian horror films you need to see. The films still show their wear despite being the cleanest they can possibly be, but this no criticism from me – it is nice for them to retain some character, but even Bava comments during Demons at one point that some scenes are even lighter than they were when shown at the cinema which perhaps shows a little too much at times. I really struggled to see certain moments of Demons on video way back when so it was nice for me to get some clarity out of seeing those bits again – even if they did alter the atmospherics slightly.

Once again Arrow have released the most definitive editions of these two films imaginable – I’m not sure how much further they could stretch any future Demons releases beyond this point and for a label that cares for it’s content and their fans it can be a fine line of milking at times, but this is also a question of survival. These new singular editions come after deluxe double set which is in keeping with their runs of chunky boxset releases that are proving ever popular and fighting through the struggling world of physical media with great enthusiasm and undying fandom.

DEMONS: SPECIAL FEATURES

❉ Two versions of the film: the full-length original cut in Italian and English, and the slightly trimmed US cut, featuring alternate dubbing and sound effects
❉ Brand new lossless English and Italian 5.1 audio tracks on the original cut
❉ Original lossless English and Italian 2.0 stereo audio tracks on the original cut
❉ Original lossless English 1.0 mono audio track on the US cut
❉ Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
❉ Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for both English soundtracks
❉ New audio commentary by critics Kat Ellinger and Heather Drain, co-hosts of the Hell’s Bells podcast
❉ Archival audio commentary by director Lamberto Bava and special makeup effects artist Sergio Stivaletti, moderated by journalist Loris Curci
❉ Archival audio commentary by Lamberto Bava, Sergio Stivaletti, composer Claudio Simonetti and actress Geretta Geretta
❉ Produced by Dario Argento, a new visual essay by author and critic Michael Mackenzie exploring the legendary filmmaker’s career as a producer
❉ Dario’s Demon Days, an archival interview with writer/producer Dario Argento
❉ Defining an Era in Music, an archival interview with Claudio Simonetti
❉ Splatter Spaghetti Style, an archival interview with long-time Argento collaborator Luigi Cozzi
❉ Italian theatrical trailer
❉ International English theatrical trailer
❉ US theatrical trailer

DEMONS 2: SPECIAL FEATURES

Brand new lossless English and Italian 5.1 audio tracks
❉ Original lossless English and Italian 2.0 stereo audio tracks
❉ Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
❉ Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
❉ New audio commentary by critic Travis Crawford
❉ Archival audio commentary by director Lamberto Bava and special makeup effects artist Sergio Stivaletti, moderated by journalist Loris Curci
❉ Together and Apart, a new visual essay on space and technology in Demons and Demons 2 by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
❉ Creating Creature Carnage, an archival interview with Sergio Stivaletti
❉ Bava to Bava, an archival interview with Luigi Cozzi on the history of Italian horror
❉ Italian theatrical trailer
❉ English theatrical trailer


❉  Arrow Video release ‘Demons’ (FCD2155) and ‘Demons 2’  (FCD2156) are available on UHD + Blu-ray Dual Format from Arrow Video on 5th July 2021. RRP £29.99 each. 

 Thomas Lee Rutter is a director and editor, and creator of Carnie Films folk horror short Bella InThe Wych Elm (2017), acid western Day of the Stranger (2019) and upcoming feature The Pocket Film of Superstitions (2021).

 

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