On the street I grew up on, there was an apartment complex that lined the back of our houses. I remember going there to look at these marquee-style movie posters that each stairwell of the complex would change monthly. A pretty neat idea, when you think about it, even though they usually ended up caked with graffiti. There were two I distinctly remember staring at, what it seemed like,were for hours.There was the laughable 1988 “killer electricity” film PULSE (starring SHOCK TREATMENT‘s Cliff De Young) and Lamberto Bava’s 1986 gorefest, DEMONS 2. The latter especially featured some really terrifying images on its glossy surface. In it’s center, was a green-faced boy baring a full mouth of gnarly jagged fangs and sporting glowing orange eyes like hot embers, the daunting silhouette of a zombified figure in an open doorway which illuminates a distorted image of a creature  that is literally stretching out of a television screen. To top it all off, there’s a frightening demon with claws like a bear and, showing similar teeth to the boy, with blood spilling down its face. I remember thinking, “This movie looks f#@king scary!”

Fast forward to about one week ago, where I am suddenly reminded of the sequel after watching Bava’s DEMONS months before. I don’t know why the two never clicked for me. It’s quite embarrassing really, but I never associated the name to the poster. Color me thick, however, I vaguely remember seeing the film as a child but not realizing it til recently. Perhaps I couldn’t handle it because I was scared silly by undead hordes of anything and I blocked it out. After watching it again, I am pleased to say that, although not very scary, DEMONS 2 is a helluva lot of fun and it surpasses the original in nearly every way imaginable (which is a rarity in the horror genre, as we all know). Not only do I recommend it but I almost want to suggest you skip the first completely.

It opens with a quick narrative wrap-up of DEMONS: years earlier, an auditorium of people in Berlin turned into bloodthirsty monsters, one by one, like a spreading disease. Now we arrive in 1986, a film based on the original events has been made (who says SCREAM is the first metahorror?). We see, what appears to be, blood dripping onto a butcher’s knife. A man covered in red gore, with the kind of limp that horror films teach us usually belongs to a maniacal killer, enters into the kitchen and grabs the knife. As the camera pulls back we see the dripping blood is actually the sauce from a jar of cherries and the once ominous man is actually just a baker who delicately adds two final cherries to a birthday cake. It’s here that you realize this film has a sense of humor and that’s something that really works to its advantage. He writes on the cake: Happy Birthday Sally.
Next, a woman is checking in with security to the entrance of a high rise. She’s a tad overtly flirtatious in her body language as he gives her the room number. Our hero enters the building in Clark Kent glasses with his large hair and larger shoulder pads. And what would an 80s horror film be without obnoxious yuppie kids (who, for some unknown reason, are tampering with the controls of the elevator while they ride it)? If all this isn’t a sign of the times enough, there’s a pregnant woman in a spandex jazzercise getup doing yoga. It’s so many cliches that it could almost be taken as satire. We’re also introduced to a boy who looks strikingly like a young Lawrence Brother, the debut role of giallo fave Asia Argento, a gym full of sweaty men and women in small shorts/leotards and a few minor, throwaway characters. They’re all leading up to Sally, who will become, the film’s main antagonist and demon.

As we’ve gathered from the opening scene, it’s Sally’s birthday, but it doesn’t seem to be going that well. She’s quite a brat, sniveling over how her hair looks stupid and her dress is disgusting. Her friend convinces her to just have fun and, for about five minutes, she actually enjoys the party. I have to say, I never thought I’d hear a song by The Smiths in a horror film. All is well until a friend picks up Sally’s phone and invites over her recent ex-boyfriend. After a bit of an overreaction, Sally storms off and locks herself in her bedroom. But hey, no worries, the party continues on.
Now Sally, with a fair amount of the building tenants, is watching the demon-metafilm on television and, as I’m sure many horror fans can relate, she seems to relish in the bloodshed and gore. This is one aspect of the film that I really enjoy–the introduction of the demons into the plot. In the metafilm, the corpse of a demon is resurrected from the blood of a young woman’s cut hand. Once the youths in the film scatter off, the demon looks to the camera. It stares right out and into Sally’s eyes. At first, she isn’t alarmed, it’s like she’s under an evil spell of the violence she’s witnessed onscreen. As the demon slowly approaches the screen,  it steps out (taking a visual cue from VIDEODROME) and attacks Sally.
Back at the party, her friends light the candles on the cake and call her out into the darkened room. It’s here, when she opens the door,where the poster’s ominous image comes from. She enters acting a tad weakened, as though she’s about to be sick, but she doesn’t look any different. It isn’t until she places her arms on the table that we realize the demonic infection is coursing through her veins : they pulse so heavily that they are bulging out. It’s a much more subtle cue than the original, where the demon bites/scratches burst open like egg sacs full of custard. It appears that she may vomit but, to our surprise, she blows the candles out. While her friends cheer, she grasps the arm of the nearest guest and begins digging her now growing claws into his arm. He screams and everyone goes into a panicked uproar.

The transformation’s spec effects aren’t astounding but they are still impressive for being practical.When it comes to horror fans, most seem to prefer practical effects to CGI. I’ve never been completely fond of the switch over to computers because once the eye recognizes a generated image, your mind instantly pulls out of the fantasy. Watching the blood gush from Sally’s gums, as her teeth are pushed out to make way for a mouthful of crooked alligator-like ones, wouldn’t have the same effect if it were CG. Fake blood, especially, looks unrealistic when it’s not physically pumping out of a hidden tube. I will always have fond memories of the practical zombie makeup of the 70s and 80s and since Demons 2 is structured the same as a zombie movie, the special effects, even though they can be cheesy, are another cool aspect to the film.

I won’t divulge too many more key plot points, it should be kept a surprise to those who wish to revisit or have never seen it. What I will say is, it gets more ludicrous and exciting as it continues. In particular, you’ll notice one sequence that is reminiscent of GREMLINS or you’ll surely find the way the fitness junkies, fighting off the demons with flower pots,equally entertaining. Putting its (accidental) comedic elements aside, there are a some surprisingly tense situations that play out really well like an entire sequence following the little boy (who looks like a Lawrence Brother) hiding in an air duct to escape the horde of monsters. Then, there’s 10 yr old Asia Argento, who’s locked in a car as the demons swarm around it, completely helpless. They’re some classic scenarios and they help balance the films tone. While the silly elements do outweigh the serious, I still found them much more compelling than the original’s.

I know I am probably reaching here, but it almost felt like they were trying to make a social statement on how blindly we accept that we’re safe from danger in our high rise apartments, surrounded by our peers and our possessions. We believe that a locked door is enough to keep harm away, that evil can’t possibly exist somewhere so safe and perfect. I’m curious why demon Sally groans like she’s enduring constant torment while the rest of the lot aren’t. More than likely, they didn’t intend any of it but it’s fun to theorize.  Whatever the case may be, Demons 2 is a lot more entertaining than its predecessor and it now makes sense why this is a favorite among foreign horror enthusiasts.

They don’t make horror films like this anymore, most are straight forward and don’t derail too much from their structure. These kind of films were more popular in the 1980s and so many of us are nostalgic towards them. Like it or not, some real classics came out of the decade. If only all sequels were as ballsy and awesome as this one. What I once thought was a turkey, ends up being one of the few sequels that truly delivers–and then some. Even though it’s plot has little to do with the previous two, the sequel, Michele Soavi’s 1989 horror THE CHURCH is just as out of control and highly recommended. I guess Italians really DO do it better.

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