Demons was originally conceived by Lamberto Bava and Dardano Sacchetti as a segment of a three-part anthology film, in a similar vein to Lamberto’s father Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath. The story, which saw creatures come out of a cinema screen to kill the audience, seemed much stronger than the other two segments, so Bava and Sacchetti decided to flesh that out into its own feature instead.

After shopping a treatment around, they eventually approached Italian horror maestro Dario Argento, who had hired Bava as an assistant director in the past and had recently moved into producing not just his own work but that of others, starting with Dawn on the Dead in 1978. Argento agreed to take on the production, co-writing the screenplay and plastering his name all over the promotional material too, in a bid to help boost sales.

Whether or not his name helped is debatable, but Demons was a hit both in Italy and overseas. It was a big enough hit, in fact, to spawn a sequel, Demons 2, which was produced soon after. The series was due to expand further but, though another 7 films have ‘borrowed’ the ‘Demons’ name in some territories, Demons 2 was the only official follow-up. The Church was produced by Argento and originally conceived as ‘Demons 3’, but director Michele Soavi (who was an assistant director on Demons as well as having a dual acting role in the film) wanted to distance his project from the series, so went his own way, even if in Japan it was titled Demons 3.

Arrow Video have previously released Demons and Demons 2 on DVD and Blu-ray but, now they’ve entered the UHD market, they’ve upgraded the release to the new format, packaging the two films together in a box set. A newly remastered Blu-ray set is also available. I’m a fan of the first film and haven’t seen the second, so I got hold of a set to review.

Demons

Director: Lamberto Bava
Screenplay: Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Dardano Sacchetti, Franco Ferrini
Based on an Original Story by: Dardano Sacchetti
Starring: Natasha Hovey, Urbano Barberini, Karl Zinny, Fiore Argento, Paola Cozzo, Fabiola Toledo, Nicoletta Elmi, Geretta Geretta, Bobby Rhodes, Michele Soavi
Country: Italy
Running Time: 88 min
Year: 1985

Demons is set in Berlin and opens with Cheryl (Natasha Hovey) being offered a free ticket to a special film screening by a mysterious masked man (Michele Soavi) who she first thinks is stalking her. Cheryl asks for a second ticket and she and her friend Kathy (Paola Cozzo) head to The Metropol for the screening.

The newly renovated old cinema attracts a mishmash of audience members all there to watch this mystery film. As it goes on, however, some of the actions of the characters on screen are mirrored by the audience members, most notably a facial scratch caused by a demon mask. Rosemary (Geretta Geretta) is the one who gets nicked in the ‘real’ world and the initially minor injury makes her feel ill before mutating into a pulsating sore that explodes and turns her into a demon herself.

The demon Rosemary proceeds to go on a rampage, turning anyone she injures into a demon. The exits to the cinema also get inexplicably blocked off, leaving the few survivors in the theatre (as well as some coked-up punk-rockers that arrive later) to try and stay alive whilst they’re hunted by these bloodthirsty creatures.

Demons is a huge amount of fun. It’s not a horror-comedy as such, but it’s so wildly over-the-top it has that kind of feel. Most notably going to extremes are the gore effects. As one of the contributors to the extra features puts it, Demons is more of a “splatter” film than a horror. In a similar vein to Evil Dead 2 and Braindead, the violence is ramped up to such a level it becomes ludicrously entertaining rather than disturbing or necessarily realistic.

The gore effects are really good too. Sergio Stivaletti did the special effects makeup and he goes that extra mile to deliver some impressively gross sequences. The nail and teeth growing shots are particularly nasty and there’s a standout scene where a demon bursts its way out of a woman’s stomach.

Demons is also incredibly stylish. Bava does his best to outdo his father, aided by DOP Gianlorenzo Battaglia in delivering a boldly colourful, atmospherically lit film. Like the effects work, the cinematography isn’t naturalistic, but it looks fantastic.

The film has its flaws. The performances and writing aren’t much to write home about. The female characters are particularly weak, with many of them simply screaming hysterically throughout. The story often doesn’t make a lot of sense either, but like with a lot of Italian horror movies, the director is more concerned with atmosphere and thrills over plot and I don’t mind this, to an extent. Hollywood movies often overcompensate, explaining too much, leading to overlong films with too much exposition and unnecessary backstories. Sometimes allowing the audience to suspend disbelief and just go along with things is enough. It works in Demons by keeping the film very lean and fast-paced.

The idea of the film causing the demon outbreak is a fun one too and leads to satire about horror movies being the downfall of civilization. There are lots of nods to other films in it too. The cinema lobby has several notable posters up, for instance, and I thought the film-within-a-film had a bit of a gothic Mario Bava vibe to it.

Though you could dig into the themes of the film and see it as a comment on going to the cinema and such, really this just feels like a good time at the movies. Stylish, gory and intense, it’s a wild ride any horror fan will enjoy taking.

Demons 2

Director: Lamberto Bava
Screenplay: Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Dardano Sacchetti, Franco Ferrini
Starring: David Edwin Knight, Nancy Brilli, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, Bobby Rhodes, Asia Argento, Virginia Bryant, Marco Vivio
Country: Italy
Running Time: 92 min
Year: 1986

Demons 2 makes a surprising and unusual twist on the idea of a sequel, with the events of the first film being alluded to in a film-within-a-film rather than in the world of the actual film itself. So, there has been no real demon outbreak and life continues as normal back in Germany (assumedly Berlin again). A variety of people living in a large, up-market apartment block are watching the aforementioned film, whilst another group of them are gearing up for a big birthday party for Sally (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni), who also lives there.

Sally isn’t happy though, particularly after finding out that someone at the party has invited a man named Jacob (Bruno Bilotta) without her permission. She storms off into her room and continues to watch the scary movie. After a short while though, when, like in the first film, actions in the film-within-a-film are reflected in real life, one of the demons in the film-within-a-film comes out of the TV and attacks Sally, turning her into a demon too.

As you might expect then, demon Sally rampages through the tower block, turning dozens of its inhabitants into demons. The residents battling for survival include a husband and wife (David Edwin Knight and Nancy Brilli) who are expecting a baby any day now, a group of gym members who lock themselves up in the garage basement, a young ‘latchkey kid’ (Marco Vivio) left by himself and a wholesome family with a young daughter (Asia Argento, in her debut acting role).

So, as you can see from the synopsis above, Demons 2 follows the same general idea as its predecessor. They’re both basically about demons coming out of a film and causing a demon ‘infection’ in an enclosed space. However, Demons 2 does put its own spin on things. In an obvious but welcome twist on the demon-spawning film-within-a-film, it’s being watched on a TV this time around. This leads to the film being a comment on TV rather than cinema, but more importantly in creating a different dynamic, it leads to characters that are more isolated from each other, despite the shared overall setting. This idea is explored in more detail in one of the special features on the disc, but the nature of watching TV on your own (or at least with your own small group) rather than in a large shared setting like a cinema is reflected in how characters are trapped in their apartments (or lifts, car parks or gyms) in this film.

This isolation means Demons 2 has more scenes that play on the tense killer-victim cat and mouse chases of slasher movies rather than the wild, over-the-top explosions of violence you get in the first film. This is mirrored in the gore effects, which are scaled-down quite a lot here.

This reduction of splatter, which could also be attributed to the fact the producers wanted to aim for a lower rating in Italy (Demons was a VM18, whereas they made sure Demons 2 was a VM14), might disappoint fans of the first film. I, for one, felt it wasn’t quite as bold and deliriously entertaining.

However, I still enjoyed the film quite a lot. Though less over-the-top, Demons 2 has more tension than the first film and the characters are better established. It’s once again stylishly shot and looks fantastic too. I was also impressed by the fact they weren’t afraid of breaking the ‘kids and dogs must survive’ unwritten rule of horror movies.

I wasn’t a fan of the film’s finale though, which felt rather weak in comparison to the bonkers and bleak conclusion of the first film.

Overall then, though largely a retread of the first film, there are just enough changes in setting, characters and tone in Demons 2 to give it its own voice. With less extreme gore and less of an over-the-top style in general, it might leave fans of its predecessor a little short-changed, but it’s still a well-paced, enjoyable horror romp with bags of style.

Demons 1 & 2 will be released on 22nd February in Limited Edition 2-disc Blu-ray and 4K UHD sets, released by Arrow Video. I watched the Blu-ray version, and the picture quality is very impressive on both films. The bold colours are strong and details are rich and sharp. Demons 2 does suffer from harsh judder on 3 shots though. These are brief but very noticeable. Audio is first-rate on both, though I found the gap between loud music-heavy scenes and quieter dialogue scenes quite large. I have this problem with many films though, so it might be an issue with my setup or the fact I’m wary of having it turned up too loud when my kids are in bed!

There are plenty of special features included in the sets too. Here’s the list:

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

– 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)

DISC 1 (4K ULTRA-HD BLU-RAY) DEMONS

– 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
– 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
– Archival audio commentary by director Lamberto Bava and special makeup effects artist Sergio Stivaletti, moderated by journalist Loris Curci
– Archival audio commentary by Lamberto Bava, Sergio Stivaletti, composer Claudio Simonetti and actress Geretta Geretta
– Produced by Dario Argento, a new visual essay by author and critic Michael Mackenzie exploring the legendary filmmaker’s career as a producer
– Dario’s Demon Days, an archival interview with writer/producer Dario Argento
– Defining an Era in Music, an archival interview with Claudio Simonetti
– Splatter Spaghetti Style, an archival interview with long-time Argento collaborator Luigi Cozzi
– Italian theatrical trailer
– International English theatrical trailer
– US theatrical trailer

DISC 2 (4K ULTRA-HD BLU-RAY) – 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
– Archival audio commentary by director Lamberto Bava and special makeup effects artist Sergio Stivaletti, moderated by journalist Loris Curci
– Together and Apart, a new visual essay on space and technology in Demons and Demons 2 by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
– Creating Creature Carnage, an archival interview with Sergio Stivaletti
– Bava to Bava, an archival interview with Luigi Cozzi on the history of Italian horror
– Italian theatrical trailer
– English theatrical trailer

* The Blu-ray version of the set is exactly the same, though with 1080p HD Blu-ray presentations of the restorations of course.

On Demons, Kat Ellinger and Heather Drain’s commentary is excellent, filled with interesting takes on the film, discussion of related films and a general infectious passion for Demons and Italian horror.

The two archive commentaries with the crew are enjoyable too and cover different ground, looking at memories of the production. They’re not quite as essential but worth a listen.

The archive Argento and composer interviews are worth a watch too, though they’re fairly short.

Luigi Cozzi’s interview on disc 1 sees him give his top 10 Italian horror/giallo films. It’s an interesting list with some lesser-known titles mixed with more famous ones.

The new Argento essay provides a fascinating look at the legendary figure’s work as a producer. It’s made extra enjoyable by a mountain of clips from the films in question.

On Demons 2, Travis Crawford’s commentary is great. He delivers a wealth of interesting background information about the film and its creators, as well as offering some illuminating thoughts about Demons 2 itself.

The archive commentary with Bava and Sergio Stivaletti is quite interesting, allowing you to hear about the production itself, particularly how a lot of the special effects were done, but there are a lot of pauses and, with Bava’s contributions being translated by the moderator, the repetition of comments means there’s less said overall and the pace is slow.

Together and Apart is rather academic, perhaps a little too much so for such a roller coaster pair of films. Alexandra Heller-Nicholas makes some interesting observations though.

Sergio Stivaletti’s interview is decent too. Running at 20 mins, it gets into a fair amount of detail on his work on the films and a little on his other work for Argento and Bava.

Cozzi’s second piece looks at the history of Italian horror. Again, it’s an interesting watch, though it’s very Argento-heavy so isn’t quite a full history of the genre. It does bring up some current films though (at the time of recording).

So, overall it’s a fantastic set. I don’t own the previous single title releases to compare, but the transfers are impressive and the new special features are all very strong, so it’s likely worth the upgrade, particularly if you’ve got 4K.

Demons 1 & 2 - Arrow
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Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

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