Let’s get meta fiends!
To be fair, today’s Cineray double feature is not entirely about being meta. These movies are also focused on crazy gore, blood puking, and 80’s hair metal soundtracks. Why? Well, because when Italians make horror movies, they like all those things and if they can do it with trapped victims they create cinematic magic. If you have not guessed it yet, today’s Cineray recommendations are the sequels Demons and Demons 2.
The first thing to know is it does not matter what order you watch these two. The smallest throwaway lines in the sequel tie it to the same universe as the first, but it’s also in a super meta sequence, so it’s questionable if it is the same universe. For the sake of ease and to be logical, let’s go ahead and say watch Demons and Demons 2. Either way, you are going to get similar effects and tones just set in different locales. And you also know you are getting great horror movies because both featuring the directing of Lamberto Bava and Dario Argento’s writing.
Demons is an entertaining gory film with an excellent meta twist. The film follows a college student who receives two free tickets for a movie screening from a creepy man in a silver mask. She convinces her roommate to come with her, and when they arrive, they discover everyone in attendance has received a free ticket.
Shortly after arriving, the girls meet two young men, and the four decide to sit together. Director Lamberto Bava introduces us to other characters in the audience as well. However, these four are the most important ones, followed closely by a man and his two female companions. It’s one of these other two women, Rosemary, who, while admiring props from the film on display in the lobby, breaks the rules and touches a silver demon mask. When she does, she scratches herself on the horrific metal face, and it is this transgression that leads to her becoming the first of the characters to turn into one of the demons from the film.
So just what is this movie all these unsuspecting people have been lured to this theatre to watch? We never learn the film’s name, but from what we see of it, the narrative follows four people who discover the tomb of Nostradamus. While exploring the crypt, they unearth a similar silver mask, and in perhaps the most Meta moments of the film, the two undergo the same transformation almost simultaneously.
From this point, Rosemary begins to attack the people around her, and everyone she bites or scratches likewise becomes a demon. As the theatergoers find themselves trapped, they have to fight to survive the growing demon horde.
Demons 2 follows in a similar vein. Here we have a couple who live in a towering apartment complex. We meet several of the occupants, most of whom are all watching a tv program that, in another highly meta moment for the series, appears to depict the first film’s events. We learn that years have passed from the show since that first demon outbreak, and the city where it took place has been abandoned. Cue the obligatory group of teenagers who break into this deserted city, and we have our initial transgression.
Once inside the dead metropolis, the teens find the corpse of a demon and accidentally revive it by when – you guessed it – one of them accidentally cuts himself and bleeds onto the body. Meanwhile, one of the girls watching this on tv also changes, and what follows is the same siege horror plot, this time transposed from a theatre to the apartment complex.
Both of these files are so similar I figured it was best to get summaries out of the way because, honestly, what makes them great is the same for both films. The meta aspect of the first film hinges on people viewing Demons in a theater, whereas the sequel caters to the VHS craze of its era. The whole concept of the demons coming from whatever medium the characters on screen are watching is a clever way to evoke fear from its audience. Certainly, almost everyone has had the idea that the horrors onscreen in a movie might escape and ensnare them in reality. This device in Demons 1 and 2 also eschews the common admonishment from the films’ era that Horror movies can make their viewers violent or sadistic. In this case, the characters quite literally become the monsters they’re watching.
In both films, when the characters transform, the FX are outstanding. Gory, gooey, bloody, fangs, claws, and jagged teeth with eyes that glow in the dark make for terrifying demons. They spurt blood and bile, and when they transform, they often emerge from bodies half transformed. Watch especially for the child-turned-demon’s attack in the sequel, as it’s one of the highlights, in my opinion.
Finally, there is the absurdity of the characters themselves to be enjoyed. The contrived characters and setups are so exaggerated they feel contrived in a way that enhances the film. For instance, there is a blind man whose wife accompanies him to the theatre solely as a way to hook up with her lover. Or the coked-out punks who find refuge in the theater from the trouble they have started. The sequel features a pregnant woman trapped in her apartment while her husband fights his way back to her and a child whose parents slowly turn into demons. I mean, how much peril can you try to incite in two films? Sure this may sound like a negative, but it’s not. Neither is the dialogue dubbing, which, if you’re familiar with 70s and 80s Italian Horror, only adds to the insane atmosphere of these films.
Oh yeah, both films have fantastic 80s soundtracks, the first leaning toward Hair Metal, the sequel into the likes of The Cult, Dead Can Dance, Peter Murphy, to name a few.
In closing, there are a lot of Italian Horror movies, with many revered names populating the subgenre, but these two are among my favorites. They just possess (yeah, it’s a pun; I don’t care) such a sense of fun and urgency that I feel other Italian Horror lacks. Both Demons films are simple in their plot, which means there are never moments where you have to wonder why a character is important or what is happening. Both of these films are available to stream on Shudder, and additionally, Demons is available as part of the Last Drive-In marathon, which is worth watching for Joe Bob Briggs’ breakdown of the Demons series and its convoluted history.