Demons (1985)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:



Zombie Lake


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Our rating: two LAVA® motion lamps.

Really Scary Spice.
Demons posits the question: Is going to the movies bad for you?

No doubt about it, theater-going has many hazards. You've got the high prices, that near poisonous grease that you put on your popcorn in order to make it taste like something other than the Styrofoam by-product it really is, and there's a chance you will get stuck to the theater floor by years of built-up snack substances and eventually become prey for a wandering pack of wolves. And of course, there is the very real possibility that you will be seated next to a couple of idiots who, despite the fact that The Phantom Menace has been out for four months, will only figure out halfway through the film that Ewan McGregor is playing the same character Alec Guinness did in Star Wars, and will spend the rest of the film loudly trying to figure out who Anakin Skywalker is even though you shush them constantly. Then you will be forced to strangle them to death with a primitive garrote that you fashion out of Twizzlers, which will inevitably result in your being sentenced to die in the electric chair.

Demons suggests that there is an additional hazard -- you might get comp tickets to the theater from Hell. At least that's what happens to a bunch of people in this movie.

"Oh no! John Tesh was just joined
onstage by Kenny G and Yanni!"
That group of people seems impossibly diverse considering that this theater is in Berlin, Germany. How many ethnic groups are there in Germany anyway, and what are the chances that all of them would show up in one theater? There are other unanswered questions, too: Did college students in 1980s Germany dress like college students did in the US seventy years ago? And why would a blind man go the movies in the first place?

All of these people are in the theater because they received tickets from a mysterious metal-masked man. Nobody thinks that's all that unusual, apparently. Nor does anyone think it is strange that the theater, the Metropol, didn't seem to exist the week before. But those aren't the kinds of thing the characters in horror movies ever care about, so let's not dwell on them.

Amongst the people in attendance are two college women, two college guys who immediately start hitting on the two girls, a pimp and two of his (ahem) employees, the blind guy and his daughter, and an older couple celebrating their wedding anniversary. They're all completely unpleasant. The married couple bickers through the beginning of the show, the pimp and his girls start smoking pot (which fails to make them any more pleasant), and the blind guy's daughter starts making out with her lover in the next seat without disturbing her dad, who doesn't seem to mind that he can't see anything on screen.

"Hey guys? You're supposed to
play 'suck and blow'
with a deck of cards! Guys?"
The movie they're all watching involves our old friend Nostradamus, who apparently predicted that, at the end of the world, demons would build cities in our cemeteries. Or something like that. At any rate, the teenagers on screen go looking for Nostradamus' grave in a grand old crypt. Inside a convenient sarcophagus, they discover a very scary looking mask, which they promptly try on. Faster than you can say "Jim Carrey ain't in this movie, buster," one of them transforms into a demon and begins to slaughter the others.

Similarly, one of the hookers in the theater develops a similar problem, and our great movie house massacre has begun. The hooker-demon slaughters the blind guy's daughter and her lover and then goes after the rest of the audience. The horrified moviegoers run for the exits, only to find that all of the doors and windows have disappeared. Holding the growing numbers of demons at bay, the surviving inhabitants of the theater band together to survive the night. Why exactly it is they think the ordeal will end at sunrise isn't clear, but that's what they do.

There's not much to synopsize past this point; there's a lot of running and screaming and fighting going on, all to no good end. For reasons that we could not fathom, we are introduced to four thieves about halfway through the film, and we follow them as they drive around Berlin. Eventually they find their way into the theater and they all die before they can intereact with any of the established characters. Why waste the time by introducing us to them at all? The only thing they add is even more 1980's color, which this film wasn't lacking in the first place.

"Boy, who knew that making an espresso
was so complicated?"
There are, however, two high compliments we can give to this film. First, Demons has some striking images: the scene in which one of our heroes rockets down the theater aisles on a motorcycle, brandishing a samurai sword and lopping the heads off of demons, and the helicopter that mysteriously crashes through the theater ceiling. If this sounds pretty stupid to you, you're right -- but parts of it look great. There are also some neat shots of backlit demons with glowing eyes. We attribute most of this kind of stuff to the film's assistant director, Michele Soavi (Cemetery Man).

Secondly, we were quite taken with Nicoletta Elmi, who plays the theater's usherette. She looks great in a green dress. But since she works for the theater, you would think that when she gets holed up with survivors, they might ask her who hired her. It doesn't happen, because this movie is ardently working against all rules of common sense.

If you've bothered to see this film, it was probably on the strength of the words "Dario Argento Presents." Argento, a well-known and loved master of Italian horror, spent a lot of time in the Eighties producing films that were acted, directed and/or written by his friends, family, and protégés. This is one of those movies, and director Lamberto Bava doesn't quite know what to do with this unholy mess of a non-story. The characters have no personalities (other than to complain), and even when they manage to decide on some course of action, they become discouraged at the first sign of failure. Somehow we weren't convinced that they were fighting for their lives.

The biggest disappointment in Demons is the inconsistency of the demon mythology. We're never told exactly how the movie started the transformation of the humans into demons, and none of the characters ventures a guess beyond "The movie did it!" The theater's lone female usher (who looks a bit menacing in the opening scenes) turns out to be clueless, which only made us wonder what kind of an idiot takes a job in a mysterious demonic movie theater without knowing anything about her employers.

Humans are supposedly transformed by being wounded by a demon -- the wound eventually kills you and you rise again as a monster. But as in so many of these movies, it takes less and less time for the transformation to occur in each victim, and the advance warning signs disappear in favor of "shock" transformation scenes. If you're looking for the usual Italian gorefest, Demons will probably satisfy, but there's nothing here that any halfway serious horror fan hasn't seen a dozen times before.

Own it!

Review date: 10/29/1999

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