This week, Friday Night Frights tackles the tangled topic of sequels, in the form of the sublimely ridiculous Italian import Demons 2. It’s… it’s something.
Directed by: Lamberto Bava
Written by: Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Franco Ferrini, Dardano Sacchetti
George: David Edwin Knight
Hannah: Nancy Brilli
Sally Day: Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni
Hank: Bobby Rhodes
Previously, in Demons: In the first Demons, an odd assemblage of people is invited to an out-of-the-way vintage movie theater to view a one night showing of a strange film. A film so strange that merely viewing it turns some of the audience into demons. Demons who kill, and the people they kill, rise up as demons and kill. It ends with a guy riding a dirtbike through the movie theater lobby swinging a katana, followed by a helicopter crash, because… why not go for the gusto?
THE NUMBERS GAME
So far for Friday Night Frights, we’ve covered a horror-comedy and a slasher film. Now it is time to touch on another well-respected horror tradition: the sequel. And if you thought American horror sequels were excessive, they have nothing on the Italians.
Let’s take a step back. George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is regarded as one of horror’s true masterpieces. During the pre-production, Romero was contacted by noted Italian horror director Dario Argento, who ended up helping to produce the film. In return, Argento got the rights to edit Dawn for the foreign language releases. He ended up re-cutting and re-scoring the film, actually releasing it as Zombi: La Alba dei Morti Viventi in Italy several months before the US release of Dawn of the Dead. Zombi was huge in Italy, spawning many, many sequels and kicking the Italian horror industry into high gear. The most notable successor to Zombi was Zombi 2, in no small part due to the classic zombie versus shark fight scene. After that, things get fuzzy. In America, Zombi 2 was released as Zombie. The American sequel was Zombie 3, which in the UK was titled Zombie Flesh Eaters 2. If you don’t like Zombie 3, which had no plot connection whatsoever with Zombie/Zombi 2, you could also chose Zombie 3: Return of the Zombies (which had the much better Italian title La orgia de los muertos). Or there was Nightmare City, also released as Zombi 3, as well as Le notti del terrore, AKA Zombie 3, which is the same title as another movie called variously Zombie Holocaust or Doctor Butcher M.D., depending on who you trust. Are you confused yet? Because if you are not, I am severely worried about you.
Anyways, Demons. The Demons (or Demoni, if you prefer the Italian) franchise suffered similarly.
Argento employed Lamberto Bava as the director and co-writer on Demons, no doubt due to his work on such forgotten classics as Blastfighter and Monster Shark. Demoni was followed by Demoni 2, and again, things go off the rails. Demons 3 is either Demons 3: The Ogre (which is about an ogre, not a demon, but is by Lamberto Bava), Demoni 3 (also known as Black Demons, which is, naturally, about zombies) or supposedly the true sucessor, which is called La Chiesa (The Church, in English). The Church was conceived of as the actual third entry into the Demoni series, but writer/director Michael Soavi, who played the guy in the metal mask in the first Demoni film, thought the Demoni movies were dumb. The Church, of course, is about ghost witches.
This makes the simple formula of Friday the 13th (insert numeral here) positively refreshing.
Anyway, we’re here to talk about Demons 2. It takes the film-within-a-film structure of the first Demons to a new level. Demons 2 takes place almost entirely in a large apartment building, where many of the inhabitants are simultaneously watching the original Demons movie on TV. This includes a grown woman at her own birthday party, a small boy enjoying an evening home alone free from his parents (as he tells a mysterious caller; kids, please don’t do this) and a family as they eat their dinner. The narration overlying the old Demons footage seems to imply it’s a documentary (!). It also shows new footage of some dumb teens entering the Forbidden Zone, which is where the events of the first film seem to have taken place. After rummaging around some dusty backlots, they find a mummified demon, which they predictably wake up due to being dumb teens.
In true Demons style, while watching the movie, a demon pops out of the TV and bites the birthday girl, Sally Day. Sally Day, who is the only character in the film to have a last name, massacres the crap out of her party guests, and then spews acidic blood out of her head. Her guests then revive as demon-zombie thingies, as does anyone (or thing) that comes into contact with her blood as it melts its way through the apartment complex. Havoc ensues.
I MEAN, TRULY RIDICULOUS NONSENSE ENSUES
For some reason, the apartment complex is also host to a late-night bodybuilding gym. These guys are the greatest. Led by Hank (brilliantly played by Bobby Rhodes, who also played Tony the Pimp in the first Demons film), the bodybuilders hole up in the parking garage and basically just die horribly. This comes after they try to break through a iron-barred security door by throwing dumbells at it, then attacking it with a barbell, their bare fists, and finally, a potted plant. Immediately after that action, it cuts to: a guy waiting for a car. The car does not arrive. Guys, these bodybuilders are so great.
Demons 2 is obviously a strange film, which, in true sequel fashion, applies the same formula as the first one with similar results. Some stuff is thrown in for no good reason. One of the charming details in the first Demons was the use of actual good heavy metal-ish music on the soundtrack – Billy Idol, Accept, Saxon, Rick Springfield. A lot of this is listened to by some coke-sniffing, joyriding punks who crash into the theater and let the demons out into the outside world. Demons 2 trades the metal for topshelf, gothy new-wave (leading to an excellent scene where brightly dressed yuppies dance furiously to The Smiths, because that’s at thing that happens), but again includes a subplot involving four ne’er-do-well punks. These guys cruise around listening to “Power” by Fields of Nephilim, which is about as pulse-pounding a track as there is, while committing such acts of savagery as making an unprotected left turn and driving at moderate speed on deserted roads. Eventually, midway through the movie, they crash their car right before they get to the apartment building and are never seen again, having had no effect on any aspect of the plot at all. Dudes probably didn’t spend enough time in the gym. Other suspicious, unnecessary similarities abound. Both male leads are named George (strong name!), although this one is a suspiciously well-muscled physics student rather than a sleazy prep. Both plots are remedied by climbing to the top of a building, and then rappelling down. What works, works. With Demons and Demons 2, what fuels the entertainment is the spectacle. All other considerations, such as original thinking, basic character work, or plot, are ultimately unnecessary. The only time Demons 2 is bad is when the pacing flags, such as an overly long fight between a pregnant woman and a flying imp demon that popped out of the chest of a possessed child. That is an insane thing to be bored by.
BOTTOM LINE: BAD CAN BE GOOD
Demons 2 is not a good film, in the sense that it is well-acted, well-written, or attempts to make basic sense. The characters have zero depth. There is no attempt at even the cursory social commentary of a Dawn of the Dead or the grade-school moralizing of a Halloween. But earlier in the day, I tried to watch World War Z and turned it off halfway through. World War Z was dumb, but worse than that, it was boring. Demons 2 is very, very dumb, but I was much more entertained by its reckless insanity than anything I saw in the basic Hollywood competency of World War Z. There’s a scene where the bodybuilders engage in a full-on melee with demons in a parking garage, while the parking garage is on fire and also cars jumping over other cars into demons. Are you going to watch that or scene after scene of Brad Pitt’s hair moping over how he never gets to see his kids due to bouts of unconvincing, CGI zombies? C’mon. Come on. What Demons 2 does have going for it is a sense of humor, a few memorable shots (the glowing eye effect was super good, and should’ve been done more), dope practical effects and a go-for-broke attitude that bulldozes any sort of rational criticism. This type of film is the kind that true horror heads love for its camp and craziness, while folks who don’t get it will (rightfully) deride it as trash. Demons 2 is true grindhouse fare, made on a cheap budget, with no redeeming social value or message, and it is glorious. Demons 2 contains too many bodies to count, too many demons to count, three catastrophic explosions, three fatal car wrecks, one chestbursting imp demon, repeated violence towards potted plants, pregnant aerobics and an unnecessary bierhaus accordion sequence. There is Claw Fu, Barbell Fu, lethal backscratching, Tanning Bed Fu, gratuitous scenes of bodybuilding, Pipe Fu, Shotgun Fu, Fire Extinguisher Fu, a demon dog, a demon kid, Towel Fu, Garden Shear Fu, Metal Grate Fu, Umbrella Fu, and my favorite, BMW Fu. Demons 2. Check it out.