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Friday, March 25, 2016

Demons

Demons
1985
Lamberto Bava

Many Italian horror films of the 1970s and 1980s are notable for their strange narrative structures. Some would say many of them sacrifice mood for narrative coherence, it's just as easy to say that horror of exists best when it faces the viewer with the unknown, so what could be more frightening than when the world stops making sense at all?

A man with a metal mask walks the streets handing out tickets to a free showing of a film at a movie theater called the Metropol. A diverse audience slowly filters into the place. In the center hallway is a manikin carrying a metal demon mask. One woman puts it on as a lark and the mask cuts her. The film being shown is a horror movie about a mask that cuts those who wear it, turning them into the demons. The woman suffers the same fate and soon the crowd finds out they are walled inside the theater with an ever growing legion of demon possessed monsters who can infect with a single scratch.

Little know fact: This is standard decoration in all Italian movie theaters.
Many horror movies attempt to be unrelenting in their assault on the audience, only a few have ever really achieved it, Evil Dead (1980), The Texas Chain-Saw Massacre (1974), and Demons. The film has an extremely stripped down narrative that is barely concerned with why and is instead almost entirely invested in throwing ravening hordes of monsters at crowds of people and watching the carnage. The only quiet moments come at brief intervals and even then they can be so filled with tension that they are barely a relief at all.

Without having much of a story, Demons lives or dies by its horror, and the film delivers with truly gruesome effects and plenty of shocks. The transformations are disgusting and painful looking. The attacks are brutal. It's not a all visceral, there is a mounting dread as the dwindling survivors find their situation growing more and grim.

I think she likes me.
The action threatens to go over-the-top, with motorcycle stunts, large scale fights, and barely controlled chaos. Unlike a lot of Italian horror from this period, it knows when to show a little restraint. Just enough to keep things from becoming exhausting... at least until the helicopter shows up.

Aiding an already fantastic visual assault, Demons throws together the propulsive music of Italian mainstays, Goblin with a mix of heavy metal music from several acts including Saxon and Motley Crue. The combo helps really drive the mayhem at key moments.

Along with The Beyond (1981), Demons stands as one of the pillars of 1980s Italian horror. It's a nearly perfect example of this particular sub-genre. It's brutal, crazy, rule-breaking and exceptionally entertaining. While it might not be as well recognized as the Evil Dead films, it's cut from the same cloth and is very much their equal. I would highly recommend this as an entry into 1980s Italian horror, but there is almost no where to go from here but down.

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