Demoni (Demons) (1985)

If you look at “Demoni” from a critical point of view, then you’re not going to enjoy it too much. Who is the messenger of this whole event? Why does the main character envision him before the whole horror goes down? Why is he handing out invitations? What makes these people so special who have the invitations? Why did he pick these people? What was his goal? Who built this movie theater everyone attends? Who funded it? Was it Satan? Why choose a movie theater to take over the world? Why is this demonic movie that plays in the theater cursed? Why is the prop mask that belongs to the movie capable of turning someone in to a demon? Why, if you want to take over the world, do you hide the prop behind a glass? Is there security in this theater?

Why didn’t anyone try on the mask before the first poor bastard in the movie? Where did the demons come from? Was this an isolated incident or did they leak out from the theater and conquer the world themselves? Is there another way to kill them beside capitation? Nevertheless, none of that matters because I’m not afraid to admit that Lamberto Bava’s “Demoni” is possibly one of the most horrifying movies I’ve ever seen. Barnone. I sat through this movie once, when I was fourteen and I vowed never to see it again. In fact the movie rattled me so much that I refuse to lay eyes on the sequel. Even in my age, with my rather large build, I refuse to sit down and view the sequel.

Sure, when you break it down nothing about this movie (co-written by Dario Argento) makes a lick of sense, but none of that matters at all because Bava throws so much unmitigated carnage, and havoc, and blood, and rage, and sheer terror at the screen that it just becomes a minute flaw. In the midst of these clawed, mindless, merciless, cunning monsters mutilating and tearing their poor human victims to pieces one is either too excited or horrified at the madness ensuing on screen that you never once stop to think “Wait–where is the goddamn story?”

It doesn’t matter at all. Lamberto Bava is one of the few directors who have gotten away with creating a horror film with zero plot because the special effects and tension and mayhem are so well played and so brilliantly crafted that it becomes utterly irrelevant. For a low budget movie from the eighties, the make up is phenomenal and these monsters look absolutely bloodcurdling as if transferred from our worst nightmares and fears. The beady eyes, jagged teeth, long claws and absolutely vicious growls are just what makes this movie something worth watching. The look on the humans who become these monsters is mind blowing as all essence of their being and their soul melts away in a sea of blood and torn skin as they take on the form of this wretched evil.

What also sets this movie as a landmark in the genre is that it has one of the most interesting settings ever in a horror movie: A classic movie theater. One that looks and resembles the old fashioned movie theaters from the fifties and, like the mall in “Dawn of the Dead,” it becomes a character all on its own. What there is of the plot is paper thin but it goes like this: A bunch of people are handed invitations to a screening of “Demons” at a new local West Berlin movie theater. Basically closed off from the city and built quite solid the theater becomes a basic death trap as one of the movie goers gets daring and steals a prop mask from a display case. Trying it on the woman is cut on the face and before she realizes it transforms in to the monster.

In a state of panic she ends up behind the screen of the theater and crashes through it transforming in to a demon before the eyes of a crowd of movie goers looking on in absolute horror. Before they realize that it’s time to haul ass, the woman rips a man apart and then proceeds to infect others with the demonic possession by ripping in to them and biting them quite viciously. Soon enough the demons gain leverage taking over the humans one by one and now the remaining victims are stuck in a barricaded theater trying to figure out what to do. It also doesn’t help that all of the Exits and escapes are basically props and lead to dead ends.

Breaking free from the cliches, Bava and Argento basically take lowdown dirty thugs and turn them into the impromptu heroes of the story who are, after a long while, hopelessly outnumbered and outwitted by these beasts, but the suspense is amped up more and more as the movie progresses. What makes this film a chore to sit through is that the villains here are too smart at times. Zombies you can outrun and shoot in the head, vampires you can stake or shoot in the sunlight, but with these demons they’re fast, can leap high, and are very clever. During the famous massacre in the theater, many of the victims make moves for survival that the normal person would and they’re met with nothing but failure.

Some people try to crawl through the projectionist booth window but are pulled down, one girl tries to make her way under the seats to sneak out the doors but is punished for it badly, and in a last ditch effort, two main characters try to escape through the air vents not realizing that one of the monsters made their way behind them and soon their efforts are met with no results. Bava simply never lets these characters off the hook, and always keeps the demons one step ahead from minute one. And much like the brain munchers in “Return of the Living Dead,” it takes a lot of effort to bring them down. You have to decapitate them, and there’s very little people in Italy walking around with a Samurai sword.

Not to mention decapitation is a more intricate process than anyone actually thinks. For proof of that, watch “30 Days of Night” which strives for a realistic method of destroying vampires. The film is thirty five years old and shows no signs of aging. Sure the fashions and music are dated, but the movie in essence is just frozen in time, near perfection, and is like something out of a bad dream. Everything from the theater to the subways becomes a character and Bava immerses us in to complete darkness and dread with no hope in sight. The vision this man presents is breathtaking at times with a world that’s immediately drawn in to madness at the hands of these blood thirsty ghouls and there’s very little anyone here can do about it.

Victims suffer immensely, and the heroes all fall eventually while the demonic beings gain the upper hand at every turn. Most of all though while it doesn’t have any social commentary like Romero’s zombie films, it still manages to stand up against the horror titans of the eighties. It’s a great movie to watch with a crowd and a few beers and may even please the young horror lovers who are firm in their hatred for any horror film not possessing CGI. in spite of the low cost this was made in, Bava has flawlessly compiled a movie that still manages to be as terrifying and exciting as it was back in 1985, and it still holds some interesting tidbits from the director who inserts his own quirks and sick humor among the bloodshed; there’s the blind man going to the movies (?), and of course the surreal death of the couple making out in the balcony.

All in all there is very little hope for anyone from the very beginning of the movie and Bava makes that perfectly clear to the audience. What you sit down to watch is essentially mankind being torn to shreds by these godless beings, and you can do nothing about it. The movie within a movie becomes the ultimate gag for a depiction of the apocalypse, and by the last act where we’re treated to a surprise twist and shock during the closing credits, it becomes painfully apparent that everyone who has survived is doomed to fall at the claws of these beings and there is simply no hope.

Bava’s film is both a clever trick on the audience that emphasizes everything that’s fun about horror films and if you’ve ever seen the sequel, you’ll know that he continues this meta-movie ad infinitum and that’s just how he wins you over. This is a classic party movie that you have to watch with friends and a load of beer because you will not be bored at all. When you’re not laughing you’ll be clinging to your chair rooting for the characters, and when you’re not clinging to your chair, I guarantee you’ll be re-considering ever watching a horror movie at your local theater again. Bava’s horror film is a cinematic masterpiece, pure and simple.