Demons 2 (1986)
Directed by: Lamberto Bava
Written by: Dardano Sacchetti, Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini, Lamberto Bava
Starring: Bobby Rhodes, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, David Edwin Knight, Nancy Brilli
AKA DEMONI 2: L’INCUBO RITORNA, DEMONS 2: THE NIGHTMARE RETURNS
AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 86 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A film is shown on TV about a group of teens who investigate the legendary Forbidden Zone, a place where a Demon infestation once took place. When finding the lifeless corpse of a Demon, one of the teens accidentally causes its resurrection. Elsewhere, Sally Day locks herself in her bedroom when her boyfriend doesn’t attend her 16th birthday party. She watches part of the film on TV, but suddenly the demon notices her, climbs put through the TV and attacks her, transforming her into a Demon. Soon the whole tower block in which she leaves is under threat from a Demon plague….
In the last paragraph of my review of Demons I mentioned that quite a few questions were left unanswered. Where did the mask come from? Why does the usherette appear to know more than she’s letting on? What was the point of the showing of the film? Who made the film? Who locked them in? Who let ‘Ripper’ and his mates in? Who or what is the man in the mask, and how is he connected to the Demons? Questions, questions, questions. Now obviously a sequel to a film can go in several different directions. However, I think that one could reasonably expect that a second Demons film might answer some of these questions. But instead it explains absolutely nothing and instead comes up with a whole new set of mysteries. I can’t really describe how much this frustrated me when I first watched Demons 2. Surely writer/director Lamberto Bava was just taking the piss? Nor could I work out what on earth was going on in much of the first 20 minutes, and after that all I got what was a basically a close remake but with less gore, meaning that I didn’t revisit it nearly as often as I did its predecessor. But seeing as I’ve just reviewed Demons, that Quentin Taratino prefers this one to the first, and that Demons 3 finally seems to be getting off the ground [the Demons 3 and 4 that did come out in the ‘80s were totally unrelated films given new titles to cash in on the commercial success of Bava’s films], I decided to check out Demons 2 again for the first time in ages, hoping that, with expectations lowered, it would be a better experience than I remembered it to be.
So we open with a narrator telling us that a Demon epidemic began in a cinema but was quelled. It remains a bit disappointing that we don’t follow on from where the first film left off, with a few humans trying to survive this plague of Demons. Still, I like the idea of there being a sealed off ‘Forbidden Zone’ where the terror once took place. Cut to a close-up of blood dripping on to a large knife, then close-ups of someone’s feet, shots of a person in silhouette and similarly forbidding things that give the impression that we’re seeing evil at work – but then a pan across a table full of cakes reveals that we are actually in the company of a cake maker. It’s a delicious bit of cheeky misdirection, though sadly there’s nothing else in the film like it. We’re in a tower block, post Shivers but before Poltergeist 3 and Critters 3, and are introduced to the likes of couple George and the pregnant Hannah, prostitute Mary with a client who wants to “do it with the TV switched on”, the ‘Woman with Dog’[not everybody is given proper names], a young boy left alone at home by his parents, and Sally who’s about go to her 16th birthday party but who raises hell when she doesn’t like her dress in a [probably unintentionally] funny moment,, virtually screaming, “My hair stinks! This dress stinks! Look, this whole thing is disgusting! These sleeves on this go back and forth! What am I gonna do?”. Oh – and there’s Hank, a gymnasium instructor played by no less than Bobby Rhodes, the immortal Tony from Demons! In fact one of the punks in that reappears here too, as a security guard. The birthday party is soon happening, and no attempt seems to have been made to make it look like the teenagers are actually dancing to the music that’s playing – nobody’s moving in time! Meanwhile most others in the block seem to be watching TV or at least have it on.
Right – so let’s get this straight. The thing on TV is something called ‘The Producers: Life In TV’ which may or may not be meant to translate as ‘Live On TV’. “Can it happen again? Will we be ready next time? What’s being done to prevent it”? warns the narrator before we begin to follow four teenagers foolishly walking towards the Forbidden Zone. They easily get over the wall topped with barbed wire and explore the ruins they find in some quite atmospheric footage, while we learn something new about the Demons – that the plague is spread by their fingernails. Now the initial impression is that this is indeed a documentary, but then if it is, why the hell does nobody in the film ‘proper’ refer to a previous infestation of Demons if it actually did happen? And why is it still shot like a movie, rather than having a fifth teenager filming everyone else in Found Footage style, something which I feel could have worked quite well? So maybe this is an actual motion picture that folk are watching, half-heartedly done in the style of a documentary, but then it still doesn’t explain why in the ‘real world’ the events from the first film have seemingly never happened. Bava and his co-writers Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini and Dardano Sacchetti probably thought they were being clever here, even ‘meta’ way before that word was a thing. They actually could have helped themselves considerably if this stuff had been referred to elsewhere, with characters wondering and trying to find out how the Demons arrived, but instead, all this just seems like a hurriedly thought up way to get the Demon rampage going in a way which parallels the cinema of the first film but isn’t quite the same. Saying all that, the way the first Demon, after being resurrected by dripping blood Hammer Dracula-style, comes out of the TV screen looks really impressive considering it was done just by having somebody in a mask press his face against a latex screen. Sometimes lo-fi special effects still work just fine.
The first person infected is Sally who’s annoyed that her ex isn’t at the party so she retreats to her room to be attacked. She comes back out of her room and the others sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to her, but suddenly her nails grow, her teeth fall out to be replaced by deadly new ones, and she claws a guy’s arm. Everyone in the room flees except for Demon Sally, who dances to the still playing music. Demon blood now seems to be acidic Xenomorth-style seeing as, when it seeps through the building, it burns through the ceiling and into other apartments and conveniently shorts out the electrical system, leaving many trapped in their apartments except for George and the prostitute who are trapped in a lift, something especially frightening for the prostitute seeing as she’s lift-phobic. Meanwhile, a group of bodybuilders led by Hank [Rhodes taking charge even more than before!], have barricaded themselves in the underground car park, along with a group of tenants. Unable to break down the garage doors, they attempt to stand their ground and defend themselves with shotguns and makeshift weapons, such as Molotov cocktails. A few moments carry a mild charge of terror, and I’m surprised that I’d forgotten the scene where the boy sees the shadow of a Demon in his room and hides in a cupboard; it’s scary and really well set up. Here we bravely get both the boy and a dog become Demons; the boy sadly looks just silly, but the bits with the dog, who partly grows a small Demon head out of his mouth, aren’t badly done. Things soon become a series of fights and escapes, some good such as a rather well staged struggle while trying to scale lift cables, some not so. And then we get a frankly baffling conclusion which may give us a happier ending for two of the characters than we might expect [in fact the nasty thing you think will happen was initially intended to take place but Bava and Argento changed their minds], and may vaguely connect with material from near the beginning, but which also raises even more bloody questions.
The template of Demons is always close, right down to suddenly introducing four youths driving along Frankfurt [instead of Berlin] streets with plenty of shots of the shops at night. In terms of blood, there’s still a lot, but we don’t see any particularly gruesome kills this time around, something that was intended to get the film a lower rating in Italy. Scenes like when somebody is in a sun bed and has the lid closed on them are just cut away from, which is disappointing at first but one gets used to it. Sergio Stivaletti still gets the chance to provide lots of makeup and practical effects work, which usually looks fine except for iffy models of heads – though to be honest convincing models of heads always seem hard to pull off. The Demon ‘birth’ is reprised, but this time the ‘third stage’ Demon is more fully developed [it even has wings] and doesn’t just bugger off, it terrorises one of the main character. Well, ‘terrorise’ is probably the wrong term, because it’s almost cute looking with almost cute noises despite obviously modeled on the demons you often find in medieval art. Seeing as there are several bits where Demons just glare into the camera, one senses that Bava and Argento had their tongue a bit more in their check with this one, something that’s an almost a shame, seeing as certain moments prove that they were willing to really try to frighten. Bava and his cinematographer Gianlorenzo Battagli are very good at making the corridors inside and outside the apartments look ominous, with lots of wide shots. And there’s a really impressive fall. Remember how rubbish scenes of people falling from even small heights often look in older movies? Not in this one. A Demon falls through the middle of four flights of stairs and the camera remains fixed on him from above as the stunt person clearly hits the floor at the bottom Hong Kong movie style!
The cast, again mostly speaking English though dubbed by others, is mostly average and top billed David Edwin Knight is deplorably lacking in charisma, though we do get a very young Asia Argento, plus Bava himself in two scenes as Sally’s father, grumpy because he’s had to go out while his daughter has her party even though he’s at a very nice restaurant. Unfortunately you keep expecting him and his wife to show up at the tower block and they never do. This time Simon Boswell does the score and it’s provides decent backing if not much more; his main theme hardly being distinctive and the same synthesiser note waves being employed over and over again. They obviously decided to go for a different slant with the songs this time around too; less heavy-metal, more pop. Tracks from the likes of The Smiths, The Cult and The Art Of Noise don’t sound like they belong as much in the world of Demons, though to be fair they tend to be used more as source music rather than helping to propel the action forward. I still can’t help but have some things in the opening section nag at me, something which is probably ridiculous really seeing as this is Italian horror and narrative sense should not be expected. But overall Demons 2 came across a bit better than it did before; it’s a fun, cheesy-in-a-mostly-good-way watch, feeling in some ways more like an American horror movie of the time which of course has its plus and minus points, as if an American producer set out to remake the first film for an American audience but keeping some of the Italian cast and crew. But it still doesn’t come close to the first one. Sorry Quentin.