From the Gothic to giallo, Italy’s produced some of the most unique horror films in history. During the 1960s to 1980s, Italian horror became one of the biggest European markets for the genre, producing unusual yet thrilling entertainment. Often crossing genres from murder-mystery to slashers, these films were eclectic, erotic, and violent—sometimes all at once! Plenty of influential directors emerged from this period, but perhaps none as well known as Dario Argento, who made Suspiria (1977), Deep Red, (1975), and Tenebrae (1982).
Although best known as a director, Argento was involved in filmmaking on many fronts as a writer, actor, and producer. In fact, his foray into producing was motivated by his desire to bring his fellow filmmaker’s visions to life. While Argento found success quickly, directors such as Lucio Fulci and Michele Soavi had a harder time funding their passion projects. This was also the case for Lamberto Bava, a third-generation Italian, as the son of horror maestro Mario Bava and grandson of silent film cinematographer Eugenio Bava. Despite his impressive heritage and growing filmography, it took Argento’s collaboration and supervision for Bava to find his international breakout hit with Demons (1985), quickly followed by Demons 2 (1986).
A group of people are invited to a screening of a mysterious movie, only to find themselves trapped in the cinema with ravenous demons.
Demons remains one of the best Italian horrors of all time, exemplifying everything that made the genre so great during the ’80s. It tells the bizarre story of movie patrons invited to a premiere at the Metropol, a cinema in Berlin, by a man with a metal plate on his face. Amongst them are two university girls and two preppy boys, a pimp and two sex workers, a bickering middle-aged couple, and a blind man and his guide daughter. They witness a strange horror movie about teenagers uncovering a demon and, crazily enough, an evil infestation starts to take place within the auditorium in reality… as they fall prey to blood-thirsty creatures. It’s incredibly ‘80s in every way, from the hair metal soundtrack featuring Mötley Crüe, to the hammy acting. Throw in some impressive gore and questionable dubbing, and you have one damned entertaining film.
Although their styles are distinctly different, Lamberto Bava inherited his father’s sensibility for bold and colourful cinematic storytelling. Gianlorenzo Battaglia’s cinematography is rich and striking without ever detracting from the nastiness. Through Bava’s direction, he creates some highly atmospheric imagery: the deep red of the cinema becomes smothering to heighten a sense of claustrophobia; a wounded girl screams and mimics the dying actions of the actress on-screen; and there are genuinely frightening shots where the dark silhouettes of the demons are contrasted with their glowing eyes.
Furthermore, Demons speaks to the power of practical SFX and their longevity in film. The prosthetics by Sergio Stivaletti are excellent and help sell the extremely fun and inventive kills. For example, one poor woman has a miniature demon emerge from her own back, and an earlier scene has two lovers strangled by a piece of theatre rope whilst still entwined together.
Additionally, the design of the titular demons is particularly creepy and gruesome. Covered in blood, viscera, and radioactive green puke, they transform the cinema into a hell-pit. The stand-out entity has to be Rosemary (Geretta Geretta), a sex worker going to the cinema with her pimp before getting transformed by a metal demonic mask (yes, really). Geretta’s clearly having the time of her life tearing people apart, and that sadistic grin of hers is the stuff of real nightmares. It’s a shame her name isn’t brought up more with other black horror icons, as Rosemary’s one of the most memorable parts of Demons.
Demons is so consistently enjoyable it’s easy to overlook its flaws, even in regard to its patently silly story. Scatterbrained plots were often a feature of Italian horror and, while Demons isn’t the worst example of its era, it’s still pretty nonsensical. For example, it’s never explained why the premiere film predicts the demonic outbreak, or why a group of coked-up punks are introduced halfway through.
In fact, it’s momentarily baffling when the focus shifts to some delinquents enjoying a joyride outside the cinema, who have no connection to anyone trapped inside. The funniest example of the film’s illogical nature comes when a helicopter randomly crashes through the building’s ceiling, which is something the characters just accept at face value. For fans of this sub-genre, none of that will really matter: the chaotic nature of Demons is part of its appeal, and there are certainly dumber plots around. Those less familiar with this kind of trashy cinema, however, may find it frustrating.
Demons understands its purpose is to entertain and scare audiences, and it pursues those goals in the most ridiculous manner possible. That isn’t to downplay the labour of love that went into making the film, however, as Bava and his crew fully committed to creating a gorgeously visceral picture that has brought joy to horror fans everywhere. It’s the kind of film that demands to be seen on stormy nights with good company and cold beer, making everyone reminiscent for a time when horror wasn’t so self-conscious.
ITALY | 1985 | 88 MINUTES | 1.66:1 | COLOUR | ITALIAN
Demons 2 (1986)
A group of tenants and visitors become trapped in a high-rise apartment building infested with demons.
High-rise buildings are such great settings for horror that it’s a mystery why they’re not used more often. Demons 2 changes the setting to exactly that, following another demonic outbreak where zombified residents hunt the surviving humans with relentless determination. There’s once again a real mix of characters to follow: a heavily pregnant woman and her husband, a visiting sex worker, a group of gym nuts, and a birthday girl and her party guests. And they’re just some of the unfortunate folks caught up in all the chaos. Whilst not as great as Demons, the sequel is still an amusing movie that delivers enough cheap thrills to be worthwhile.
In Demons, real life began to reflect the fictional film shown at the Metropol as a demonic infection spread throughout the cinema. This time, the possession actually spreads from a late-night movie shown throughout the apartment building, which is a technophobic element reminiscent of Videodrome (1983). Unfortunately, it isn’t as effective as David Cronenberg’s techno horror classic and, for some reason, the beginning’s filled with far too much footage from the fictional movie. This is especially confusing when audiences have barely been introduced to the actual characters. Still, there’s an exceptionally chilling sequence where a demon crawls through the TV set of leading character Sally (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni), infecting her on the night of her birthday party. It makes any celebration spent in lockdown look like the best party ever!
Thankfully, the transformations are just as strong as before, with the welcome addition of acidic blood and demonic dogs. SFX expert Sergio Stivaletti returned for this sequel and that’s clear from the quality of gore on display. Claws emerge painfully from nails, blood froths from mouths, and a dog grows an extra mouth in a scene evoking the horrifying canine transformation in John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).
It should be noted that Demons 2 is unfortunately not as violent or as action-packed as the original, and again features distracting subplots. Dumb partygoers on their way to Sally’s birthday take the place of Demons’ idiot punks, and run into a couple on a night out who leave their son alone in the building. These events build as if leading to something but never pay off and are instead abandoned about halfway through.
Despite its flaws, it’s a much funnier film, which mostly makes up for its transgressions. It’s hard not to laugh at the sight of gym buffs fighting demons with weights, or a pregnant woman being chased around her apartment by a mini-demon straight out of Gremlins (1984). Bobby Rhodes, who played Rosemary’s pimp in the first Demons, also makes a welcome reappearance as gym instructor Hank, chewing scenery as he flings molotov cocktails at the infected creatures. Bava’s more than happy to ramp up the silliness and not take it too seriously.
Thankfully, the sense of macabre the original delivered is still present. Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni is a fearsome presence as the possessed Sally, frequently letting out blood-curdling screams as she runs with claws outstretched. The film certainly doesn’t pull any punches in regard to its more innocent victims, either, as there’s an especially unsettling scene where a young boy desperately tries to hide by himself before a demon catches him. Unfortunately, a lot of this good work is lessened by the surprisingly sentimental ending, which feels at odds with the unsavoury content beforehand.
Demons 2 might not be a classic but it packs enough scares and laughs to hold its own. The cheesier elements soften its edges, such as the hilarity of gym goers fighting in lycra, but it benefits from a change of setting and retaining much of the original’s crew. It refreshes the formula just enough to keep audiences entertained. Demons 2 is a worthy companion piece that ends a wonderful late-night double bill of demented Italian horror.
ITALY | 1986 | 88 MINUTES • 92 MINUTES (UNRATED) • 78 MINUTES (CUT) | COLOUR | ENGLISH • ITALIAN
Limited Edition 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Special Features:
Arrow’s Ultra HD Blu-ray releases have been a joy so far, restoring and enhancing cult classics with a great deal of care. Demons 1 & 2 both look fantastic on this high-end format, and as someone who remembers watching the grainy originals, it’s a remarkable improvement. Considering how both films take place at night and are shot in shadowy settings, the lighting’s been well-adjusted and there are no concerns about missing any of the action due to darkness. There’s a lack of noise too, allowing the bold cinematography and SFX to shine. Demons especially benefits from a new 5:1 mix, which improves the great rock soundtrack, although some of the dialogue’s a little subdued in places. The variety of audio options is a lovely addition for both films, and Simon Boswell’s score sounds impressively booming in Demons 2.
- Brand new 4K restoration of both films by Arrow Films from the original camera negatives.
- 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray presentations of both films in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible).
- Limited edition packaging featuring newly commissioned artwork by Adam Rabalais.
- Limited edition 60-page booklet featuring new writing by Roberto Curti, Rachael Nisbet and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas.
- Double-sided fold-out poster.
- Exclusive mystery sneak preview movie ticket (admits one to the Metropol Theatre).
- Two versions of the film: the full-length original cut in Italian and English, and the slightly trimmed US cut, featuring alternate dubbing and sound effects. There’s plenty of variety with this boxset and it’s a delight to view this cult classic in so many different formats. The original English cut works best, as strange English dubs are really part of the charm when it comes to watching Italian horrors.
- Brand new lossless English and Italian 5.1 audio tracks on the original cut.
- Original lossless English and Italian 2.0 stereo audio tracks on the original cut.
- Original lossless English 1.0 mono audio track on the US cut.
- Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack.
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for both English soundtracks.
- New audio commentary by critics Kat Ellinger and Heather Drain, co-hosts of the Hell’s Bells podcast. This feels more like a podcast episode than film commentary but it is nonetheless engaging. Ellinger and Drain have great knowledge of the era and work well as commentators.
- Archival audio commentary by director Lamberto Bava and special makeup effects artist Sergio Stivaletti, moderated by journalist Loris Curci. The audio on this is hit-and-miss in quality, as is the commentary.
- Archival audio commentary by Lamberto Bava, Sergio Stivaletti, composer Claudio Simonetti and actress Geretta Geretta. A fun roundtable discussion that offers behind-the-scenes insights and interesting conversation between the crew.
- Produced by Dario Argento, a new visual essay by author and critic Michael Mackenzie exploring the legendary filmmaker’s career as a producer. This is a fascinating half-hour essay on how Argento used his industry power to back original and daring projects, and how this ultimately shaped the Italian horror industry.
- Dario’s Demon Days, an archival interview with writer-producer Dario Argento. Dario reflects on the creation of Demons and Demons 2, visiting the Berlin Wall with Bava and his daughter’s casting in Demons 2.
- Defining an Era in Music, an archival interview with Claudio Simonetti. Composer Claudio Simonetti discusses the new wave and rock influences on the soundtracks, which capture the 1980s feel of both films incredibly well.
- Splatter Spaghetti Style, an archival interview with long-time Argento collaborator Luigi Cozzi. A list of great giallo film recommendations from this sci-fi director. Those interested in discovering more about the world of Italian horror will find this especially helpful.
- Italian theatrical trailer.
- International English theatrical trailer.
- US theatrical trailer.
Disc 2—Demons 2:
- Brand new lossless English and Italian 5.1 audio tracks.
- Original lossless English and Italian 2.0 stereo audio tracks.
- Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack.
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack.
- New audio commentary by critic Travis Crawford. An in-depth analysis from Crawford that provides background on the film. However, the critic tends to ramble in his commentary and it can be distracting at times.
- Archival audio commentary by director Lamberto Bava and special makeup effects artist Sergio Stivaletti, moderated by journalist Loris Curci. This is a more sparse commentary than Crawford’s and better-suited to casual viewing.
- Together and Apart, a new visual essay on space and technology in Demons and Demons 2 by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. This essay presents an interesting angle but the concept failed to keep my interest, as these story elements were personally the least engaging parts of the films.
- Creating Creature Carnage, an archival interview with Sergio Stivaletti. It is a shame that this doesn’t feature a more thorough breakdown of how the effects were created. Still, Stivaletti is an interesting subject.
- Bava to Bava, an archival interview with Luigi Cozzi on the history of Italian horror. This is similar to Cozzi’s feature on the first disc, again acting as a primer for those looking to explore Italian horror further.
- Italian theatrical trailer.
- English theatrical trailer.
Cast & Crew
director: Lamberto Bava.
writers: Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Franco Ferrini, Dardano Sacchetti (story by Dardano Sacchetti) (Demons) • Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Franco Ferrini, Dardano Sacchetti & Sergio Stivaletti (story by Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Franco Ferrini, Dardano Sacchetti & Sergio Stivaletti) (Demons 2)
starring: Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Geretta Giancarlo, Karl Zinny & Paola Cozzo (Demons) • David Kight, Nancy Brilli, Coralina Cataldi Tassoni, Asia Argento & Dario Casalini (Demons 2).