Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Demons 2 (The Nightmare Returns) - review

1986 (Italy)

Contains mild spoilers.

I rarely see any mention of Lamberto Bava and Dario Argento Demons duology in zombie film discussions. It's as if horns and bad teeth are enough to cement the notion demons can't be zombies and zombies most definitely don't originate from the fiery pits of hell. Me? I'm more relaxed on the subject. Global viral pandemic, mad scientist, interstellar parasitical space moss, I don't care, take away the person who once had control and replace him, or her, with a drive and will they have no command over, whether that's rabid and instinctual or as the puppet of an actual master, and I'll call zombie. I know this leads me into deep waters, and at some point I'll have to actually think about drug addiction, mental health, economic slavery etc, but for now, all I'll say after watching the maniacal flesh hungry monsters of Demons 2 torment and rampage the occupants of a high rise apartment block, is I've never watched anything more zombie in my life.

The cinema screen this time is replaced by the television but the story is the same as number one. A group of intrepid, albeit naive kids stumbling around ancient ruins (this time the cityscape, it is narrated, which was ruined as a direct consequence of the outbreak and subsequent demon war of the first film), entirely avoidably set in motion a new demon resurrection which then somehow metaphysically spills into the real world of those watching. Ok, I'll acknowledge this meta-narrative-pre-amble that's copied from the first doesn't quite work as well; I mean who would either watch a quite lame demonic horror film at the dinner table or leave their young kid home alone with the remote and the permission to watch what they like, but I will acknowledge it's at least trying to continue the same esoteric duel narrative, and the first demon pushing itself out of screen is at least dark and eerie to watch.

The first victim is an angst ridden prima-donna sulking in her bedroom and ignoring all those party-goers I don't believe for one second would have actually turned up for her birthday party, Sally Day (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni). A scratch, a bite and as she stumbles shocked back into the party to blow out her candles (yes, we're honestly supposed to believe that 18 year-olds of the eighties thought partying involved dancing and balloons and not getting utterly shit-faced) her veins start pumping, her teeth and nails start extending and she's ready to spread the fun. It's all cliché, tried and tested single location zombie horror without any character development or deep narrative but honestly Demons 2 is one of the best zombie films I've seen. There, I've said it. It has everything you'd want from the sort of film it's set out to be. There's claustrophobic scares, desperate survival horror, brilliantly gruesome choreographed murders and it's all done at break-neck speed to a fantastic eighties British new wave soundtrack which includes The Smiths and The Cult. I said watching crazed zombie-demons savagely torment the cinema-goers to 'Fast As A Shark' was good, well it was just as much fun with 'Power' by Fields of Nephilim.

Bava and Argento know what they're doing. The script doesn't stray, the tension, pressure and deaths intensify perfectly and the whole film flows with from scene to scene with ease. For the quantity of visitors and residence screaming and running about the film concentrates focus on a surprisingly few number. Hannah (Nancy Brilli), a pregnant woman after some of the reveller's cake, her husband  George (David Edwin Knight), who gets trapped in the elevator with working girl Mary (Virginia Bryant) and the star of the show the returning Bobby Rhodes as Hank the over exuberant body building grand-pedagogue who takes leadership of the panicking lycra wearing, shirtless eighties survivors in the underground car park. They're all competently portrayed caricatures you never particularly care about, but they play their roles as inevitable cannon fodder as well as required allowing the unquestionable star of the show to shine.

Sergio Stivaletti is again a make-up and effects wizard coming up trumps with zombie demons that appear and act with equal authenticity and fantasticalness. The first demon is brought back to life, or reanimated, it's never clear, by inadvertent drops of blood to its mouth and fangs and it's all very vampirish. Once through the veil and into our world it spreads the infection via bites, a scratch or if anyone is particularly unlucky to ingest any of the blood which corrodes and burns between floors like possessed acid. Turning zombie is pretty fast and once toothed to max it would appear all self is gone and the only desire is to rabidly hunt and attack anyone in sight. Like I said, in appearance and behaviour it's all zombie; there's no references to the devil, there's no magical abilities (other than the glowing eyes) and they're very much of our world limited to sight, hearing and being shot. If it wasn't for the mutations these films would appear on every zombie buff's film list and their fast pace and acrobatic movements along with high rate of infection might be even be referred to as the catalyst for the change in zombie pace we now see, rather than Boyle's imaginings which came sixteen years later. Talking of mutations I will mention both Toto the demon dog and the impish rubber demon that rips itself out of the young Tommy (Marco Vivio & Davide Marotta), which are quite frankly laughably appalling even by eighties standards. These aside there's really nothing production wise to gripe about though; it's authentic, sumptuously shot and stitched together with some quite beautiful lighting, and has the perfect amount of blood and death to satisfy any gore-hounds cravings.

Gripping from start to finish Demons 2 may be more of the same, retro derivative nonsense, with a confusing back story and forgettable acting , but when it's fashioned this well that's fine by me. I've noted it doesn't have many fans and I know it's not perfect but I genuinely enjoyed every minute of it recognising the many zombie tropes which crop up and admiring the artistry in the way it was all captured. Fast, action packed, gory and fun, Demons 2 might not quite reach the heights as its predecessor but taken together they're probably my favourite horror pairing. I also couldn't help but think a third (official) entry in the series, called Demons 3D with the demons popping through as the only thing with depth could be truly amazing; albeit I'll admit, a tad gimmicky. Maybe I'll drop Lamberto a line, 8/10.



  1. Awwwww... Now I'm going to end up ordering this one! Great review. Using the TV allows them to do so much more with the basic premise. I can't wait to see this one now.