Cult Movie Flashback: Demons (1985, Dir. Lamberto Bava)


When I was young my mum took me to school and stopped me at the gates and said ‘Richard we have no money to buy you birthday presents son, but I promise we will rent a video and I’ll make us a nice tea.’

I’ve never forgotten that moment or the film we rented. At the time, Demons was the most talked about movie in my small town. All my friends had seen it and marveled in its over the top scares and gore. It’s odd that this little horror movie means so much to me, but it honestly does. And when I watch it I remember watching it with my mother and wish we could watch it together again…

A group of strangers are invited to the premier of a movie at the Metropol cinema by a masked man handing out tickets. The lead heroine, Cheryl (Natasha Hovey), and her friend Kathy decide to skip their college class and attend the film, hoping it won’t be a horror movie. But, of course it is.

At the cinema we discover a mask on display, similar to that of the mysterious ticket giver. It doesn’t take long before someone tries on the mask, and that someone is the fabulous Rosemary (Geretta Geretta) who, along with her pimp Tony (Bobby Rhodes), adds some lightheartedness to the opening of the movie. However, once Rosemary has worn the mask she’s left with a small cut to her face and you can tell that things aren’t going to be looking good for the red lycra-wearing prostitute.

Although the tickets have been given away for free, for a nameless film, the screening has attracted a strange mix of characters. Along with Tony the Pimp and his lady friends, we have a couple consisting of an old woman and an old man who has serious anger issues, a blind man, a loner pervert who steals the blind man’s niece for a game of hide the sausage, and the typical snogging teenagers. But the film mainly focuses on Cheryl and Kathy, who have been joined by two handsome young guys named George and Ken. Very Italian names.

It doesn’t take long before the events shown on screen in the nameless horror begin to transpire in the cinema as well. The mask appears to be a gateway to bring about demons, and when a character in the film being watched by the audience puts it on as well, it is soon revealed that he too has a scratch in the same place as poor Rosemary.

Rosemary decides that this would be a good time to go to the bathroom and sort out her bleeding scratch. Luckily, she makes it to the bathroom in time before her face explodes into a custardy mess, transforming her into a demon. For those that haven’t seen Demons, imagine the possessed in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, only slightly more pissed off.

And now we have a movie that goes straight for the scares and gore, all set to a soundtrack of some wonderful eighties heavy metal.

Demons is fast paced and suspenseful. All the occupants of the theater, including the cinema workers, have been bricked in. Machines are running the film and everything is scarily premeditated. Bobby Rhodes soon becomes a cool, larger than life Bruce Campbell type character. You will be forgiven for assuming that he is the hero of the movie, with his one liners and raging phrases (‘Smash Everything!’). All the while, George (Urbano Barberini) seems much too awkward and nervous to be in control. That is, until the shit really hits the fan. In one scene, perfectly encapsulating every teenagers dream – George blasts through the cinema on a motorbike, wielding a ninja sword, with a chick on the back, and heavy metal pumping.

The gore in Demons is over the top in an Evil Dead sort of way, and impressively done. This goes especially for a scene where the camera is close up inside a victim’s torn flesh and we can see bubbles of puss filled spots exploding… nice. Dario Argento produced this epic and you can tell as the lighting is phenomenal, lit in places with deep reds and blues. But this is Lamberto’s movie, and I think it’s this film where he finally transgressed into cult horror status, away from the shadows of his father Mario.

Demons is like an AC/DC record. Once it starts, there’s no letting up and no slowing down. It just gets deeper and deeper in frightfulness and intensity, taking itself completely seriously and never looking cheap or losing pace. With Bava and with Argento on board, this was a collaboration that couldn’t go wrong. Even the not-as-good sequel had some wonderful moments, and like its predecessor, went on to inspire a host of horror movies, including REC.

If you want to buy Demons, I recommend the Arrow Video release which comes lovingly with booklets, comics, and extras. Or if you can pick up the dvd2000 release. In this, you will also find a stunning print of a truly one of a kind movie. They really don’t make them like Demons anymore, which is such a shame.

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