If you’ve never heard the name Dario Argento, then let’s get some introductions out-of-the-way first.
Regarded by some as the ‘Italian Hitchcock,’ Argento was born in Rome in 1940. The son of film producer Salvatore Argento, Dario would rise to prominence in international film circles as a writer, director, and producer of what many would say are (ahem!) sometimes bloody, sometimes gory suspense thrillers. While it would be accurate to suggest that the filmmaker’s body of work revolves around depiction of violence both real and surreal, I think far too many critics have dismissed his efforts as ‘cheap’ because it’s easy to complain about excesses when a particular title may not have been your cup of tea from the outset: Argento’s audiences tend to know what they’re getting into, and they’ve returned for repeat engagements again and again for the visceral delights the storyteller provided.
Typically, Argento was regarded as a master purveyor of Giallo-style films. (Again – for the uniformed – Giallo films are identified as features which revolved around a mystery – often times a murder or series of them – and the story is punctuated with heavy graphic detail, uncharacteristic camera angles, and bizarre musical arrangements.) These tales could be dramatic in construction, or they could lean heavily on the suspense, but they usually had a stiff backbone of horror and a steady outpouring of narrative twists that all inevitably lead to the spilling of (you guessed it) blood. Giallo flicks generally distinguish themselves by employing buckets and buckets of that crucial bodily fluid, and no expense was spared in putting plenty of it up on the silver screen.
That said, I think it easy to conclude that Argento’s films are an acquired taste: having seen a good handful of Italian horror films, I’ve no problem admitting that while I’m no fan I can appreciate the amount of work that (at times) went into bringing some of the most bizarre carnage imaginable to flickering life. So when I was offered the chance to review a screener for the filmmaker’s kinda/sorta signature franchise – Demons (a two-film entity) – I really couldn’t pass it up. I knew what I was getting into, and though I found the affair a bit uneven I’m still glad for the opportunity.
Below are my thoughts on Demons 2 (1986). The short skinny is that I enjoyed it more than I did the first installment, but that’s not without a few reservations on how these two films – presented as sequels – really work better as independent properties as opposed to the presented continuation. For that to have worked effectively … well, you’ll understand in a moment …
(Second NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging:
“A televised horror film spells doom for the residents of a luxury high-rise apartment, as demons are unleashed through the TV screen at a young girl’s birthday party. As more and more residents are infected and transformed into blood-thirsty demons, a young couple fights to survive as they try to escape Hell on Earth.”
Honestly, films like Demons 2 aren’t really designed for folks to make all that much of.
In many cases, Horror films from the 1980’s were meant to be carnival attractions – enjoyed while you were trapped in the moment – and then pretty much discarded … until the next time you decided you were in the mood for another round. You’d put this in the VCR (ask your parents, kids); you’d pretty much have forgotten many of the big and little moments; and it would seem anew for the purposes of scaring you back “in the moment” you had previously enjoyed. As I’ve mentioned in reviews before, films like this were shown endlessly in fraternity and sorority houses; and I can remember a solid handful of them even getting screenings with me and my friends in high school. Such was the nature of disposable filmmaking.
Still, there were some pictures that were obviously produced better than others, and Argento’s two-fer Demons 1 and Demons 2 certainly deserves to be rediscovered if not from time-to-time then certainly by fans of 80’s cinema, Horror, and Fantasy. While the plots are admittedly threadbare, there’s an obvious love of what they’ve captured by the creatives and the artisans who pieced this together. Much of what I said in my review of Demons 1 regarding the franchise’s technical prowess is just as true here: the practical special effects and make-up craftsmen achieve some incredible work here, giving the flick a look maybe not quite “all of its own” but one worthy of study.
My gripes with the sequel aren’t all that groundbreaking, but they’re worthy of mention.
However, Demons 2 makes better use of its characters and its high-rise setting.
George (played by David Edwin Knight) and Hannah (the fetching Nancy Brilli) are residents of the film’s exclusive property, and circumstances gone awry separate the young man from his expectant wife when all Hell breaks loose. They’re both trapped within the building – she within her apartment and he stranded in an elevator – and they spend the time apart both fighting for their lives and trying to get back together. It’s precisely this added character detail – small but convincingly crafted – that made Demons 2 mean more for me. While the first film was populated with characters thrown together and trying to make the best of their Apocalypse, this installment had a tad more foundation with people already in a shared relationship – both the couple as well as with other tenants – so I found it easier to connect with them.
This isn’t to excuse any problems that Demons 2 creates along the way, and there are plenty. We’re constantly treated to folks transforming into monsters and yet we never saw the bite or the scratch; and we just have to accept it and move along. Furthermore, a few of the cast from the first film returned for the second; but they’re cast in entirely different roles, having (ahem) formerly died in this particular cinematic universe! Sure, I get that maybe these folks were already contracted, but seeing a familiar face I recognized as dead pulled me out of the moment on more than one occasion. It was a calculated risk, and I can’t help but wonder if this cinematic world would’ve been better served with finding other actors and actresses.
But as for the usual buckets of blood?
Yes. Demons 2 delivers … and it even created a Gremlin-style addition (with no explanation as to how the demon evolved) that served a nice, bloody distraction.
Demons 2 (1986) is produced by DACFILM Rome. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by Synapse Films. As for the technical specifications? This 1986 shocker looks and sounds incredible; no expense has been spared in bringing this to glorious life for an all-new generation of horror fans. As for the special features? Wow! This 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray boasts a jaw-dropping assortment of behind-the-scenes goodness including multiple versions (not all that uncommon to the era for international releases), a bevy of (short) retrospective documentaries, and a few nifty artworks that fans of the feature will likely treasure if not frame and hang on the wall … namely a replica of the Metropol ticket from the film itself. Nice touch, Synapse! Nice touch, indeed
Recommended. Truth be told, I enjoyed Demons 2 more than I did its original, and that’s probably owed to the fact that – despite being the same functional set-up – there was just a bit more story associated to the characters, drama, and setting. This made it easier for me to appreciate their dire circumstances, as well as ‘stay in the moment’ for the thrills, chills, and spills. Was there a modicum of less emphasis on gore? Could be. Still, it’s all about the scares, and the Argento-produced feature served up enough.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Synapse Films provided me with a 4K UltraHD Blu-ray Special Limited Edition of Demons I & II by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.