Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Demons (1985)

During the horror boom of the 1980's, many film makers and producers tried to out-do each other by coming up with the most interesting and original concepts to present to the movie-going public. Because of this, there are many different sub-classes in the horror genre, ranging from the basic slasher, to the zombie epic, to the holiday-themed scare fest. All in all, the 80's produced some of the strangest, best, and worst films that to this day, cannot be matched.

This first time I heard of this film, it was 1985. I was running around in my parent's living room playing with my brother and the advert for this suddenly appears on the television screen. I instantly stop in my tracks and become glued to the set, unbeknown st to what was to follow. I can still remember it clearly, the scene with the helicopter, the scene with Rosemary in the bathroom, and the announcer's stern warning that no one under 17 will be admitted! I'd heard that warning before, but this time, it sounded real. There was a real tone in the announcer's voice that was pleading with me to heed the words coming through the television set. I stood there for a few seconds after the screen faded out to black. My heart was racing. Those mere 30 seconds had infiltrated my mind more than I would have ever imagined. It took a few days, but I got it out of my system and forgot about it.

That was, until 2002 when I rented this from a small mom and pop store in Knob Noster, Missouri one day and snuck it home to my sister's house. I put it on when everyone was finally down for the night and sat down with a couple of Pepsi's and a plate of barbecue chicken in front of me and proceeded, with caution, mind you. I remembered that TV commercial as the opening scene began and I'll be honest and say that I was a bit nervous. First I have to say that this ended up being one the most entertaining horror films I'd ever set eyes on. Sure, I was frightened and even shocked by some of the fantastic gore scenes, but I loved every second of it. The plot is one of the most simple and straight-forward in the Italian-Shock group: A mysterious man in a silver mask approaches a young girl named Cheryl (Natasha Hovey) and silently slips her a pass for the local movie theater, she convinces her best friend Kathy (Paola Cozzo) to ditch that day's classes and sneak off to the Metropol. Let me stop and say that the building that houses the Metropol is just phenomenal to look at and it was photographed in such a loving way that I'm surprised no one has written a book on just the theater itself. It stands hovering above the Berlin skyline and its blue neon letters are so beautifully painted across the face of the building that you have to pause the film and just marvel for a while at this piece of architecture. Inside, the white fluorescent-lights hum as the poster for Dario Argento's "Four Flies on Grey Velvet" hangs in the lobby (which was a hilarious tongue-in-cheek reference as he is the producer of this entry) while a silver demon mask dangles from a strategically placed (and very much random) motorcycle. In the group of patrons all there to see the film's premiere is a group of three street-savvy individuals: Ruth (Nicole Tessier), the rebel and free spirit Rosemary (Geretta Giancarlo), both led by the ultra-smooth talking Tony (Bobby Rhodes). Horse playing in the foyer, Rosemary picks up the mask and tries it on for shits and gigs and cuts her face in the process. Exasperated, Tony takes the girls and leads them into the theater.

A word on the inside of the theatre: If you've read my review of Nightmare, I mention how I imagined the grindhouses and theatres of Monterrey, Mexico would have maybe looked back in the 80's and the images of the inside of the Metropol gives life to those musings. The concrete floors, the wooden seats in rows of ten or twenty, the dirty and simple lavatories with cinder block as partitions, the dark corridors and stairways. It gives me chills just thinking about it.

As Cheryl and Kathy try to grab a quick snack from a non-functioning vending machine, they are approached by a pair of friends, George (the ultra-gorgeous Urbano Barberini) and Ken (Karl Zinny) who try to swoop in and woo the girls. The lights go down and the film begins, which, much to Kathy's vocal disapproval, ends up being a horror film about a group of kids who stumble upon the tomb of Nostrodamous. As this happens, Tony and his girls come walking in and sit toward the back of the theater, lighting cigarettes and causing trouble. As the movie continues and the boys try to put the move on the now-vulnerable girls, one of the guys on-screen finds a silver mask in the tomb much resembling both the one in the lobby and the one worn by the mysterious ticket-man (who, by the way is played by Argento protege and future Stage Fright director Michele Soavi). When the guy tries to scare the others, he, too, cuts his face on the mask, just as Rosemary had before. She immediately notices that her wound is still bleeding and excuses herself to the ladies room.
I don't want to give the entire plot away but all I will say is that as the guy on screen begins to turn into a demon, so does poor Rosemary. And when Ruth goes looking for her, the spreading of the evil begins. And so does the action! 

This film is so dated, it's almost laughable but, surprisingly, that's one of its charms. The decor, the set pieces, the soundtrack, the costumes, it all screams, no, it howls mid 1980's. The gore is amazing and it's no wonder this film is so held and cherished by horror fans all over the world. And when you really focus on the center core of the plot, that it's a horror film within a horror film and you imagine yourself in that scenario, it's quite terrifying. Take just one quick moment and close your eyes. Imagine yourself at your local movie theater and you're sitting with your boy/girlfriend and the most recent horror film is playing in front of you. Now, imagine that someone in the theater with you is actually possessed and you are trapped in the theater with no way out. How would you react? How would you really handle a situation like that? Imagine what you would hear, what you'd feel, and the thoughts that would be running through your mind. If you think about it long enough, it should run a chill up and down your spine. That's something that this film portrays, although in a very hyperbolic fashion, but it's something to think about. Imagine having to kill your own best friend because they were slowly becoming one of them? Imagine your past, everything you've been through, every moment you've ever shared and having to end their lives. It's pretty macabre, but hey, if there is one thing I've learned in this life is that anything can happen.

With that said, this film is a fun entry in the list of films from Italy and Europe. It seriously provided an entertaining look at a concept that has never been duplicated since. It is as original today as it was when it premiered and it still packs the horror punch the film makers wanted to present. Anchor Bay just re-released this on DVD and I've seen it for a really good price. I own the special edition double-bill set of Demons and Demons 2 released as an entry in the "Dario Argento Collection" series from AB and from what I hear, the set is now really hard to come by. It sill remains in my top 5 only because I can't resist a film that reeks of 80's like this one does. From the outright gorgeous camera shots of downtown Berlin to the fantastic make up, this is one you can't pass up. You'll thank me the first time Bobby Rhodes screams out, "What the hell happened to Rosemary?!" and you'll watch it again and again.

P.S. Did I mention that I'm completely head-over-heels for Urbano Barberini? 


Ross Horsley said...

Hi Linus. Sorry this doesn't exactly relate to your (excellent) Demons post, but I wanted to pass on a Premio Dardo award to you because I love your blog: http://anchorwomaninperil.blogspot.com/2009/02/dardo-talks.html

LeonelB said...

Wow! Thank you SO much! I just got this message today and I'm really honored that you would even THINK of sharing an award with my little blog! Thank YOU for being a follower (the first one, actually) and being the only one (so far) to ever post comments! I didn't think anyone was reading but now I guess I need to be more attentive to my little baby, here. Again, wow, thank you! XO....seriously, WOW! =)