Friday, 13 February 2015

HORRIBLE NIGHTS - Demons (1985)

"They will make cemeteries their cathedrals 
and the cities will be your tombs"








While many other sites will be talking about the Friday the 13th film franchise today, I'm going to give you an alternative. I'm going to show you a movie that is one part mondo schlock and one part metafiction in overdrive. This is a horror film about people watching a horror film. As the film-within-a-film unfolds, the audience's reality intertwines with the story's plot. Like many Italian horror films, there's an ambiguity of intention due to narrative dissonance. While American filmmakers torture themselves over details of a tightly constructed plot, Italians have often gravitated toward pure expression. For audiences trained in Hollywood storytelling, these films appear to be a confused jumble of ideas. Things just sort of happen on screen and it's on the viewer to shuffle them into order. The film might be saying that horror films make demons of their audience, or it might be saying nothing at all.

The nihilistic tendencies of the story negate any sense of meaning at all. What begins as a story about people infecting and destroying each other in a self-contained environment, ie: the Metropol movie theater, ends in an apocalyptic outbreak. There is no hope here, no moral victory and that just may be the muted point, that the violence and destruction horror fans witness desensitizes them and destroys the moral fabric of society. The horror film itself is the demon infecting those in theaters who are then unleashed upon the world. Or it might be saying nothing at all.

Demons (Dèmoni) was directed by Lamberto Bava, the son of legendary Italian director Mario Bava and produced by Dario Argento. Argento's association with the film has taken precedence and many believe that the movie was directed by him. With such a pedigree the film may be a slight disappointment aesthetically. This is sleazy camp, the story is a mess and the English overdubs are atrocious. But no matter, those are reasons to love this film.

When a second set of characters are introduced we stay with them for a while and get to know them. They do interesting if hideous things like drive while sniffing coke out of a straw sticking out from a coca-cola can, then spill the can on their ladyfriend's chest before using a razor blade to scrape up the mess. They bicker, we understand their group dynamics and the air in their car is electric with sexually charged danger and tension. Ultimately, they're there to free the demons from the barricaded theater, a simple job that might have been handled by less developed characters. Their punk rock sleaze may be symbolic of a destructive force in society. In this film, it's those racy, drug-addled punks who literally set the demons free. Then again, the film might be saying nothing at all.

Those trapped in the theater and suffering at the hands of the demons are no better. The daughter of a blind man (what's he doing at the movie theater?) who relies on her to give him 'descriptive audio' sneaks off to bump uglies with a man, as far as we know a complete stranger, without exchanging a single word with him. These are people who talk during the movie or, in other words, assholes. Then there's the even bigger asshole who incessantly shushes them. There's the pimp and his two whores. The horndogs and their all too willing prey. And when the shit hits the fan, they're just people. Leaders emerge and are dragged or thrown of balconies, replaced by new leaders. Demons could be saying that this is what people are, scratch the surface (literally, with a metal mask) and underneath you'll find the most horrific, lustfully murderous perversions.

Under the surface of this film is a kind of frame story. The same actor who appears in the film being screened at the Metropol, whose character is the first to don the fateful chrome mask, hands our heroine the complimentary pass for the theater. He doesn't say a word, he just hands her the ticket.

The storytelling in Demons seems ham-fisted, the acting is distracting and much of the plot makes little sense at first brush. But the sleaze is on point, many of the kills are highly memorable and there are some good moments on the soundtrack. Behind it all is a subtle social message, a warning gilded with fun. As if to prove the underlying point of Demons, I'd love to have seen the highly atmospheric film-within-a-film that the spectators are watching. There have been endless sequels that are only tangentially related to this film, one that ends with very little possibility for a sequel.

WATCH DEMONS HERE:

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