Directed by Lamberto Bava.
Screenplay by Massimo De Rita and Giorgio Stegani.
Review By Goat Scrote
According to the marketing, this movie is “Demons 5: The Devil’s Veil”. According to the cheap-ass credits onscreen I am watching a film called “La mascara del demonio”, literally “The Mascara of the Devil”. Will the demons work their corrupting influence through the eyelashes of their victims? Am I about to enter some unfamiliar subgenre of Italian “evil cosmetics” films? Is this a typographic error that nobody noticed? Is the title in Spanish for some reason? Or is somebody having a little joke on us? I’m pretty sure I’m watching “Lamaschera del demonio", “The Mask of the Devil”.
That’s the original title of Mario Bava’s “Black Sunday”, too. This movie is a reimagining of “Black Sunday” done by Mario’s son, Lamberto. Both movies draw inspiration from the 1835 short story “The Viy” by Nikolai Gogol (http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/gogol/nikolai/g61v/) about a dead witch who torments a brandy-swilling seminarian. (That’s a student at a religious school, you dirty buggers, nothing to do with bodily fluids.) It is not a direct remake of “Black Sunday”, since virtually everything about the two stories is different except for the origin of the witch and her desire to return from the dead at any cost. The name of the character is Anibas, not Asa, and it seems to be about an entirely different villain who met a similar fate. It could be considered “Black Sunday 2” but it’s a poor fit for the “Dèmoni” series. Possession by an evil force is a feature of the story, but it’s the undead Anibas doing the possessing. These are not the homicidally whacked-out contagious slime-creatures we know and love from “Demons” and “Demons 2” (also directed by Lamberto Bava) or “The Church” (directed by Michele “mee-KEH-leh” Soavi, who also plays the first victim here in “La maschera del demonio”).
|Don't blame me for all this confusion, I just played the victim|
This movie is somewhere in the middle compared to other L. Bava movies I’ve seen –- pretty entertaining, but he’s done much better. There’s not much here for splatter-hounds except a bit of slime and one bloody death, but it’s still a pretty decent low-budget fantasy-horror movie thanks to the imaginative monstrous special effects that start showing up in the final act. The movie is at its strongest when the witch’s magical powers are on display. This is a made-for-TV movie, I believe, so it’s light on blood… yet it lays on the insectoid date-rape fairly thick. Different TV-censorship standards than the United States, I suppose! For some wild monster makeup (and/or disturbing monster sex) be sure to tune in to the best effects sequence which starts at 58 minutes and the climactic confrontation starting at 75 minutes.
|The Original Demons 5?|
The first half is mainly interesting for the “Black Sunday” connections. The details of the story don’t make a heap of sense but the overall plotline is pretty straightforward: An undead witch is trying to return from the dead and she kills or psychically controls everyone but the hero, who must figure out how to stop the witch and save his beloved. Almost none of the characters has a distinct individual identity or a purpose in the plot. With a trivial change to the story the number of cast-members could have been cut in half. The score by talented Simon Boswell is uninspired and has some outstandingly weak spots, definitely not his best work. Parts of it sound like he fell asleep with the tape still rolling. During an otherwise pretty good fistfighting scene, for example, the keyboard goes on autopilot as a single spooky chord is sustained with no accompaniment for about 87 seconds. (Yes, I fucking timed it just so I could complain about it, you wanna make somethin’ of it? I do these things for the sake of advancing human knowledge!)
The movie begins with a swarm of skiers who take a helicopter up into some remote mountains. Supposedly there are eight thrill-seekers but I never bothered to count them because it just seemed like too much math. The happy horde is swallowed by a deep hidden crevasse. Sabina (Debora Caprioglio) breaks her leg. The skiers notices something man-made sticking out of a big block of ice nearby and chip away at the ice around an ancient metal mask. The mask resembles an alien facehugger (which should be a warning right there) and it has spikes inside, but only a couple of skiers are observant enough to notice that there is a human face impaled underneath. The rest are all much too distracted by Michele Soavi clowning around with the metal mask (a little nod to his super-creepy nameless character in “Demons”).
|Lookout! Here comes an Italian Wampa|
The entombed face seems to rejuvenate partway, the ice block starts shaking, and the cave starts coming apart. Sabina’s broken leg has mysteriously healed, which is lucky since now she has to run for her life. The skiers comment on this but soon forget all about it. Soavi’s character Bebo is impaled during the collapse, still clutching the mask. His friends soon forget all about that too, so I guess I don’t have to care either. They really are a pretty unsympathetic bunch right from the beginning.
The sets are very stylish. The quake reveals a passage to a tomb full of pillars, which exits into a strange hidden ghost town. They have pet dogs in Italy, don’t they? I only ask because when they meet one, the skiers seem to have no idea what the fuck they are dealing with. The barking dog frightens them, but if that’s a wolf then I am a ninja assassin. They’re even more spooked when they meet the master of the place, a pale, blind, very odd priest (Stanko Molnar). They spend the night in his creepy old church.
|Not in the face, It's Eve not Barbara Steele!|
At 21 minutes or so, the backstory is filled in as the priest reminisces about the good old days when spectral evidence was still admissible in court. We rewind to the 1600s, when the villagers led by the priest (who looked much more ordinary) condemned the witch Anibas (Eva Grimaldi) for witchcraft. They sledgehammer the spiked mask onto her face. The mask-hammering scene here doesn’t manage the same intensity as the original but it’s still a nasty fate. Before she goes, Anibas re-affirms her dedication to Satan and lays down her curse. The specifics aren’t very clear but I’m assuming one of the consequences is that the priest gets stuck as an immortal guardian over her tomb, has all his melanin drained, and gets his eyesight taken away. (Or perhaps he’s supposed to be a descendant, I wasn’t totally sure.)
|Keep your mouth closed Giada De Laurentiis|
Back in the present, the women wake up with brand new eating disorders and the men fight like drunks in a honky tonk bar. (It’s the Jerry Springer Show, Italian style!) The skiers play cruel tricks on the blind priest, cackling wickedly while they do. Only Davide (Giovanni Guidelli) seems unaffected. The priest finds out that they took the mask off the corpse and he immediately understands that the group has become possessed. Why didn’t he ask about that right away, given that the one function of his long, miserable, sexless life is to keep the mask on the witch’s face?
The possessed skiers trap the priest inside a confessional booth, join hands, and circle around chanting “Anibas”. Their impaled buddy Bebo comes back as a zombie and joins them. The confessional walls warp and bend inward, threatening to crush the priest, but the dog attacks the circle and scatters the wimpy minions. Alas, this canine hero is later assaulted by a gang of angry housecats and dies off-camera. The priest, though, turns out to be a little better at this game than expected. He ambushes and takes prisoner a couple of the skiers to try to exorcise them. Zombie-Bebo intervenes, and then the priest gets dragged down under the floorboards and there’s a short but gory scene where he is eaten by slimy monsters under the church.
Davide is befuddled by love and cannot believe Sabina is part of what is going on, and she is willing to play along. He ‘rescues’ her and they hide from the others in a stable. Sabina convinces Davide to make love to her, since she doesn’t want them both to die virgins. This leads to the creepiest special effect of the film. During the foreplay she becomes the abominable gray-skinned witch, grows giant grasshopper legs, and molests the hell out of him before he stabs her with a pitchfork. I didn’t know it was going to be a rape-revenge film!
|This ain't The Dark Crystal starring that Gilf Aughra|
He returns to his friends and they’re all cleaned up and acting disturbingly normal all of a sudden. They aren’t fazed when he reveals that he just killed Sabina. He asks for the priest and they don’t know who he’s talking about. He finds Sabina down in her room, just fine, and Davide isn’t quite sure if he’s going crazy or what. He almost kills her but flees instead, to tell his friends what he finally noticed… Sabina is Anibas spelled backward! They still act like he is nutty, and when they find Sabina again she is bearing wounds like he inflicted on the nymphomaniac witch-bug from the stable. She appears to die and they lay her in the tomb. Even as a corpse, the possessed Sabina goes on trying to seduce Davide. Oddly enough, he doesn’t seem interested in corpse fucking, even if she is still pretty fresh.
|Let me eat that donut Jeff Goldblum "Brundlefly" style|
All the stops get pulled out at this point. The magical battle here uses some of the action and other elements from the confrontations in Gogol’s “The Viy”. The camera swoops through the tomb, from the perspective of the unseen witch. Little winged monsters attack Davide. There’s a sort of confusing Obi Wan Kenobi moment where the disembodied voice of the priest utters a latin prayer, which allows Davide to use supercharged holy water to create a protective magic circle that glows around him. The crypts levitate and the frescoes on the walls swell and come to life. Sabina springs to life again, too. She begs Davide to save her from the fresco-people. He falls for it and leaves the circle, but it’s almost as if the possessed are letting him win… as if they had some other plan… and sure enough Sabina recommences trying to get it on with him. Her pickup lines are really subtle: “All I want is your flesh!” Ah, the rotting, putrid stink of romance. The witch seems to need the two virgins to make humpy humpy.
|Turn on the lights before Wham's Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go plays|
The next stage of her smooth seduction involves turning into a blue-skinned medusa-like figure with twitchy tentacle-dreadlocks on her head, glow-in-the-dark teeth, and a three-foot-long prehensile tongue. Anibas, sweetie, a bit of advice for next time you get a shot at resurrection. Unless you met the guy on the internet, he’s probably not into this shit. Try a glass of wine by the fireplace, and never, ever turn into the Overfiend before the third date.
The demons return to life, overpower Davide as a group, and try to physically force him to have sex with their evil mistress. It’s pretty much the weirdest 80’s music video ever. Davide manages to break away and grab the mask, which is still in Bebo’s hand where he was impaled… hey wait, didn’t he return as a zombie and go inside the church? And who keeps their own kryptonite lying around like that? Davide forces the mask back onto the icebound corpse and Anibas is returned to her ages-long sleep.
|somebody hand me some industrial strength witch summers eve feminine hygiene spray!|
With all her evil illusions dispelled, Davide can see that his friends are a pile of corpses still dressed in their skiing gear, frozen quite solid. It’s a pretty dark ending! I thought he would at least save his co-virgin. Even though he is half naked, Davide scrambles back out of the crevasse in a panic. Yes, he survived the witch, but without skis and warmer clothes he’ll just die out on the mountain… come to think of it, I’m okay with the idea of Davide dying before he gets a chance to enter the gene pool.