MUBI is showing Lamberto Bava's Demons (1985) from February 26 to March 28 and Demons 2 (1986) from February 27 to March 29, 2017 in the United States as part of the series Due Demoni
Horror movie viewing as societal disease in Lamberto Bava's Demons (left) and Demons 2 (right)
The opening shots of Lamberto Bava’s Demons contrast the film’s adorably ingenuous protagonist with the ragged punk hordes of the subway car she’s riding. She stares at them with equal parts fascination and doe-in-headlights dread. It’s a concise visualization of the simple social commentary driving Bava the Younger’s trashterpiece diptych, Demons and Demons 2. The two make an excellent double feature of midnight flicks about the perils of daring to dip even passingly into the lower depths of subculture and the, well, demons that society risks releasing when willing to dabble in The Weird. But cautionary tales are rarely this batshit and never this fun, and the gleefully anarchic madness of Demons’ mannered metropolis unraveling into a hellgate dystopia has to (and should) be seen to be believed. A righteous heavy metal soundtrack doesn’t hurt either.
The entropy level rapidly ratchets up to 11 after a conservative conservatory student decides to stray from her routine, bailing on class “just this once” to attend a promotional horror movie screening that she’s received free tickets for from a mysteriously masked and disconcertingly reticent hawker. And what a doozy she’s been invited to. Born of a decade renowned for excess, Demons trumps (sorry) most other film within a film conceits by having a Super-80s-Movie-Within-A-Super-80s-Movie. Not only is the flick that our heroine ends up at filled with amazing hairstyles and fashion, but it also turns out that the mere act of beholding this Pandora’s Box irrationally unleashes an ancient evil. The cursed bite of the demon within the preview movie proves to be a trans-narrative contagion so virulent that it somehow leaps from on-screen victims to test-audience members. After the ensuing havoc runs its course through the cinema for a good chunk Demons’ runtime, it escapes to inevitably infect the outer world, zombie-like.
If you have the stomach for Demons, definitely continue with its immediate sequel also directed by Bava. It shamelessly mimics the first film’s notion of movie-viewing supernaturally triggering a demon apocalypse, but it’s all the more tenuous because the unwitting victims initiate their doom this time around by tuning into a made-for-TV investigation into society’s recovery from the hellacious events of part 1. Uncannily similar pandemonium is grafted onto the new locus of a high-rise apartment complex rather than a movie theater just to mix things up a little. Notably, the practical effects used to depict each victim’s painful transformation from human to nether-beast seem more detailed and more imaginative than in the predecessor, enough so that Demons 2 arrives into its own as a respectable contender in the body-horror pantheon. If Demons pairs well with the likes of Bigas Luna’s metacinetraumatic Anguish, Jan Svankmajer’s Faust, or even The Purple Rose of Cairo in some sick, twisted way, its sequel lavishes more attention on the decay of all flesh that rots at the core of John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing, Jim Muro’s consummately goopy Street Trash, Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves, and almost all David Cronenberg (especially his early “zombie” films).
Gore-hounds, rejoice. Fans of narrative logic, beware.