Saturday, August 9, 2014

A "Demons" Series Overview


by Goat Scrote

     Only three of the "Demons" films (Italian title “Dèmoni”) are 'real' entries in this (in)famous Italian horror series. They can be identified by their contagious slime-oozing demons and their awesome soundtracks, each one showcasing a completely different style of music. All three of the originals are worthwhile monster movies with plenty of gloopy special effects. They don't work very hard at making sense but they're lots of fun to watch.
     The films were reasonably successful internationally.  Many unrelated Italian horror movies were released or re-released in foreign home-video markets (particularly Japan and the United States) with new titles that placed them within the “Demons” series. At least nine movies have been marketed under the “Demons” flagship at one time or another, including three different flicks vying for the position of 'part 3', in the hopes of milking a few more lira, yen, dollars, and pounds out of an unsuspecting public. None of the pseudo-sequels actually features anything resembling the slime-demons from the original films. With only a couple of exceptions, the phony sequels are erupting volcanos of suck which are not fit for human consumption. This has sown confusion and a not inconsiderable amount of despair throughout the world.
     My sanity is already too far eroded by three decades of watching this kind of shit. That's why, for an especially grueling marathon project like this, we had to test the films on animals. We strapped mutated, schlock-resistant bunny rabbits into the seats in one of the environmentally-sealed theaters at TOG Laboratories, wedged open their little eyelids, and pumped the adorable fuzzy-wuzzies full of our own patented blend of psychotropic drugs. Then we wired their brains to our malevolent super-computer, Proteus. (He starred opposite Julie Christie in the 1977 film "Demon Seed", which is not the first “Dèmoni” film no matter what Proteus claims.) Proteus collated the results of the bunnies suffering to produce the following list. For you. We did it all for you. To prove that our love for you isn't 'weird' like you keep saying.
     Please observe a moment of silence and perhaps offer a prayer (to Satan, of course) on behalf of all the innocent bunnies killed or driven hopelessly mad by these films. Let us also remember all those brave humanoid explorers before us who made the mistake of delving into the murky depths of the “Dèmoni” series and never returned. We've already discussed my eroded sanity, right?
     Okay, on with the list. The movies are placed based on the position they hold in the series and/or wherever I felt like putting them. That means the pseudo-sequels are presented roughly in the order that they were re-released as a “Demons” movie, not in order of original release dates. Multiple authors are presented in alphabetical order. In these summaries I have tried to avoid any major spoilers.  If you want plot details, each of the movies has been (or soon will be) given the full review treatment here on Theater of Guts. A little internet searching will turn up the majority of them streaming for free under one of their many titles.
     There is an official authorized comic book sequel to the films which has been published, titled "Demons 3". I haven't read it but I am intrigued. Apparently it is a prequel telling a story involving Nostradamus and the demons.

The Originals

“Dèmoni” / ”Demons” (1985)

     Bunny Survival Rate: 80%
    Directed by Lamberto Bava.
     Produced by Dario Argento.
     Screenplay by Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Franco Ferrini, and Dardano Sacchetti.
     Music: METAL.  \m/

     Murderous demons possess and terrorize the audience in a movie theater. The victims are lured in by a creepy metal-masked host played by Michele Soavi, who would later direct the third film. Anyone who gets scratched becomes possessed and physically transforms into a monster. Plenty of slime and chaos. Pus spurts all over the place. One of the demons bursts open to release an even more awful demon. The hero fights back with a samurai sword while riding a dirt-bike through the theater. A helicopter crashes through the roof at exactly the right moment for no goddamned reason whatsoever. And yes, there is an eye impalement. You bet your ass this is highly recommended.

“Dèmoni 2… L’Incubo Ritorna” / ”Demons 2” (1986)

     Bunny Survival Rate: 70%
     Directed by Lamberto Bava.
     Produced by Dario Argento.
     Screenplay by Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Franco Ferrini, and Dardano Sacchetti.
     Music: 80's post-punk / New Wave

     Also known as ”Demons 2: The Nightmare Returns”, which is the literal translation of the Italian title. There's a bit of wordplay that doesn't translate into English. The Italian word for nightmare (“incubo”) comes from the name of a type of demon which was thought to create night-terrors.
     A demon comes out of a television to slaughter and infect the residents of an apartment complex. Most of the effects are solid and well-conceived but the demon-dog and a few other bits are entertainingly bad, more goofy than gross. It doesn't have the same off-the-wall, anything-goes energy as the first movie but there are plenty of demons and buckets of green ooze. The film ends with a disappointing anticlimax that was lethal to a number of the test rabbits. (I wish they had gone with the super-gory ending rumored to have been in the original script, with a demon-possessed fetus that would have ripped its way out of its mother.) Recommended, although not quite as highly as the first and third movies.

“La Chiesa” / ”The Church” (1989)

     Bunny Survival Rate: 85%
     Directed by Michele Soavi.
     Produced by Dario Argento.
     Screenplay by Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini, and Michele Soavi.
     Music: Modern classical / Prog rock / “New Age”

     Michele Soavi takes on directorial duties for the third movie. The demons ooze their way into our world again, inside a cathedral built to contain the site of an ancient outbreak. Slimy bloody mayhem ensues. A cool goat-headed boss demon, Rube-Goldberg-style deathtraps, and demon sex bring additional flair to the proceedings. The giant beast rising through the floor of the cathedral, made out of the writhing bodies of the possessed clinging to one another, is prime nightmare fuel. Highly recommended – my personal favorite of the originals.
     Some of the bunnies exploded during the demon-on-human sex scenes. I don't think that should count, but Proteus says that my thumbs-up reaction to soft-core monster porno is abnormal. He claims my perspective has been warped by years of mining video stores and the internet for the weirdest things I can find. Personally I think Proteus just feels threatened because demons are his biggest competitors in the field of unnatural human impregnation.

The Pseudo-Sequels


“Dèmoni 3” / ”Black Demons” (1991)

     Bunny Survival Rate: 30%
     Directed by Umberto Lenzi.
     Produced by Giuseppe Gargiulo.
     Screenplay by Olga Pehar.

     Director Umberto Lenzi is best known to gore fans for the iconic “Cannibal Ferox” (1981). “Dèmoni 3” bears several distinctions among the 'fake' sequels. For one thing, it was released with a “Dèmoni” sequel title from the beginning despite being a zombie movie. They were openly cashing in on the “Demons” series right from the start. Even though a third movie (“The Church”) already existed, there wasn't a movie actually titled “Demons 3”, so that left the market open. This one doesn't have any writing, directing, or production staff in common with the original three. I can respect the deliciously exploitative shamelessness of it all, but unfortunately it's not a very watchable movie.
     Vengeful voodoo-style zombies kill a few tourists after one of them plays a tape recording of a Macumba religious ritual in an old slave-plantation graveyard. They linger on the gore from time to time, but a couple of gruesome meathook eyeball-gouges can't save this one. Unless you really must see every Italian zombie movie ever made, you should flee in the other direction if you see this movie coming. Whatever you do, don't look back because it might be gaining on you.


"La casa dell'orco" / “Demons III: The Ogre” (1988)

     Bunny Survival Rate: 20%
     Directed by Lamberto Bava
     Produced by Massimo Manasse, Marco Grillo Spina.
     Screenplay by Lamberto Bava, Dardano Sacchetti.

     A silly made-for-TV movie by the director of the first two “Demons” films. Also known as “House of the Ogre” (the literal translation of the Italian title) or “The Ogre: Demons 3”. It was also released as "Ghost House II". "Ghosthouse", the first one, was directed by exploitation-master Umberto Lenzi and that movie was also called "La Casa 3". "Evil Dead 2" was marketed in Italy as "La Casa 2".  In other words, "The Ogre" has also been marketed as a fake sequel ("Ghost House 2") to a series which sprang from a fake sequel to the "Evil Dead" series ("La Casa 3"), the latter fake sequel (aka "Ghosthouse") having been made by a guy who also made a fake sequel ("Dèmoni 3") to a series created by the guy who made the former fake sequel (aka "Demons III: The Ogre").
     You follow that? Yeah, me neither.
     That is why we require the assistance of a supercomputer.
     The movie tells the story of a magical ogre with a sexual fetish for orchids, and the family vacation which he ruins. It's got a few nice visuals but it's even dumber than it sounds, has hardly any blood, and very little nudity or sexuality despite the racy premise. The characters are unlikeable and the monster is dull. The most interesting thing about it is the layer upon layer of deceptive marketing used to sell it. Most of the bunnies died of sheer boredom, and the survivors were driven mad with outrage by the lame ending. Avoid.


“La Setta” / “The Sect” (1991)

     Bunny Survival Rate: 60%
     Directed by Michele Soavi.
     Produced by Dario Argento, Mario Cecchi Gori, Vittorio Cecchi Gori, Andrea Tinnirello.
     Screenplay by Dario Argento, Giovanni Romoli, Michele Soavi.

     Also known as “The Devil's Daughter” and “Demons IV: The Sect”. This is the only pseudo-sequel also connected to Dario Argento. I like this movie. Not quite as entertaining as any of the original three “Demons” films but firmly in second place among the faux-sequels. It's pretty to look at, and maintains an oppressive dreamlike atmosphere.
     A young school-teacher's life swirls down the drain when she moves into a house over a watery Hellmouth and she is targeted to be the mother of the Evil One's baby. A convoluted story involves a worldwide network of cultists, a prehistoric species of Satanic brain-eating insect, an innocent-looking possessed rabbit, and slimy blue worms crawling through the plumbing. A woman gets her face ripped off with hooks during a black magic ritual. A deadly handkerchief/death-shroud kills a couple of victims, which sounds dumb on paper but is actually quite creepy and reminded me of a similar element in “Drag Me To Hell” (2009). Recommended, although I think the bunny test may have been biased because of the prominent role of the devil-rabbit, who racks up a couple of human kills along the way.


“La maschera del demonio” / “The Mask of the Demon” (1991)

     Bunny Survival Rate: 50%
     Directed by Lamberto Bava.
     Produced by Lamberto Bava, Renato Camarda, Federico Llano, Andrea Piazzesi.
     Screenplay by Massimo De Rita, Giorgio Stegani.

     Also released as “Demons 5: The Devil's Veil”. Director Lamberto Bava tells a tale inspired by his father Mario Bava's “Black Sunday” (1960) and Nikolai Gogol's short story “The Viy” (1835). It draws a great deal of imagery from both sources but goes off in its own direction. This is another movie that Bava made working in Italian TV, but it is superior in every way to “Demons III: The Ogre”.
     A dead witch imprisoned by an iron mask seeks resurrection through spiritual possession of a group of skiers in the Alps. She turns into a series of nasty, foul-looking creatures while trying to devirginate the hero... monster porn raises its ugly head once more. Very little blood but there are some nice visuals and the final half has some entertaining monster effects. There's even a bit of slime here and there. Slightly recommended.


“Il gatto nero” / “The Black Cat” (1989)

     Bunny Survival Rate: 25%
     Directed by Luigi Cozzi.
     Produced by Lucio Lucidi.
     Screenplay by Luigi Cozzi.

     Also known as “Demons 6: De Profundis”, originally just called “De Profundis”, meaning “From The Depths”. Reportedly, Daria Nicolodi was also involved with the writing. This was Cozzi's version of the conclusion to Argento's “Three Mothers” series ("Suspiria", "Inferno"), making it yet another instance of an unofficial entry into two different Italian film series. It was also re-titled for its initial release to make it seem like it had a link to Edgar Allen Poe. (It doesn't.) Cozzi's “Starcrash” (1978) is one of my favorite bad movies, but I dislike this one quite a bit.
     Levana, an undead genetic-mutant psychic witch tries to return to life through a movie production which features her as a villain. The witch torments the star of the production and stalks her infant child. The murky annoying story careens to a dreadful, disappointing ending. Cozzi tries to copy elements of Argento's style from "Suspiria", but mostly it doesn't work. Really quite terrible. Avoid.


“Dellamorte Dellamore” / “Cemetery Man” (1994)

     Directed by Michele Soavi
     Produced by Conchita Airoldi, Heinz Bibo, Tilde Corsi, Dino Di Donisio, Michèle Ray-Gavras, Giovanni Romoli, Michele Soavi.
     Screenplay by Giovanni Romoli.

     It's smart, macabre, gory, surreal, unpredictable, and it has a wicked sense of humor. This is the best movie on this list, bar none, and a standout among Italian horror movies in general. Has anyone ever seriously referred to it as “Demons '95”? Apparently so. The original Italian title contains rhyming wordplay, literally translating to 'Of death, of love' or 'Of death and love'. It's based on a novel by Tiziano Sclavi, author of the “Dylan Dog” comics.
     The corpses in Buffalora's town cemetery always rise a few days after burial. A gravedigger named Dellamorte and his assistant must kill their returning clients a second time, because it's easier than filling out the paperwork to report the mysterious problem to the town bureaucracy. Then things get weird.
     Highly recommended. The bunnies all died, but they spontaneously returned a few days later. Proteus and I disagreed about how to score this so I unplugged him and won the argument.
     Bunny Survival Rate: 100% undead goodness!

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