Black Demons (1991)

AUGUST 28, 2011


The last thing you can usually accuse an Italian zombie movie of is being boring. Add insane director Umberto Lenzi to the mix, and Black Demons (one of the many films sometimes known as Demons 3) should have been a pretty great time, intentionally or not. But no, it’s a major snoozer, as they opt for a Fog style “They need x amount of victims to finish their curse” plot that limits the action, which makes it feel more like one of the Blind Dead films, but without the atmosphere or cool ass knight costumes.

Right off the bat I knew it would be trouble (actually even earlier, my friend Matt all but told me not to watch it and he has a stronger affinity for this area of horror than I do), as we meet a guy who is obsessed with voodoo and blacks out while watching a bunch of voodoo types do their thing (drum circles, chanting, fire-dances, etc). Not that I don’t like voodoo based zombies (I prefer the Romero style, however), but in order for one of those to work well you need a strong director with a keen eye for atmosphere, and Lenzi does not fit that description. Indeed, he can’t even get basic action sequences right – when the heroes’ car needs to break down he just has one of them randomly swerve into a ditch, without placing as much as a squirrel in the road to provide the cause for the erratic action. So yeah, good luck with the slow-moving zombies who have a purpose.

And that purpose is claiming the lives of six white people in order to satisfy their revenge for how they died in the first place (the title isn’t just casually racist, their race actually plays a role in the plot). Again, this is the type of plot where a strong sense of atmosphere is required, or at least a very big selection for the zombies to choose from. But this is the most under-populated zombie movie in history, offering us only six real characters and almost no supporting cast at all. And there are only a few zombies, so there’s no swarm or big attack scenes, nor do they turn anyone when they kill them in order to change the balance. Worse, they all use weapons! It’s fine if one random zombie kills one guy in the middle of a zombie movie with a weapon, to give it a little dose of humor, but they all brandish garden hoes and axes throughout the film (no biting!). They even kill most of their victims the same way, gouging an eye out with one of the garden tools. Come on guys, if nothing else at least come up with some cool deaths.

It also commits the cardinal sin of zombie movies – stretching out the time period. I could almost forgive the boring first half if they kept up the pace from the moment that the zombies first began rising from their graves (which occurs at the halfway mark of the movie), but no! The zombies rise, kill one or two, and then it’s morning and we have to be bored again for a while before they start doing anything again. Almost the entire movie is set inside the one house (a big, crumbling estate – actually a plantation and thus not a bad place to set a horror movie in theory), which just brings Night of the Living Dead to mind anyway – it’s totally unacceptable to manage to have a slower pace and less action than a movie made for 40 grand or whatever it was nearly 25 years earlier. And there are no notable setpieces either. Fulci’s Zombie is kind of slow too, but at least there’s Zombie vs. Shark, the New York/boat sequence, etc. This has... uh... six shackled zombies wandering around every now and then.

Hell it barely even has any unintentionally funny moments; this wouldn’t even work as the B feature on Grindhouse night at the New Bev. Besides the aforementioned “accident”, the only time I felt compelled to laugh and yell WHAT? at the TV is when two of our heroes know that one of their friends is dead because they find two pairs of her shoes and “She only has two pairs”. And even that wouldn’t work at the Grindhouse because we’d all be drunk or half-asleep and thus not have the brain power to work out that there is no such thing as a woman who only owns two pairs of shoes.

Perhaps out of spite, Shriek Show has included a few extras, including the trailer. Oddly enough, it’s a fairly accurate trailer – instead of loading up on the movie’s few money shots and thus making it look exciting, it’s just as dull as the movie itself, and also barely makes sense unless you’ve seen the movie as half of it is comprised of shots from the back-story sans the context that would explain what you were looking at (no dialogue whatsoever in the trailer). It also spoils one character’s fate and another’s hidden agenda in one shot, so it’s perhaps the one trailer in the world that is only recommended for those who have seen the movie.

Then we get the trailers for all four Zombi “sequels” (including Killing Birds, which is sometimes known as Zombi 5), starting with Fulci’s (a “sequel” to Dawn of the Dead which was retitled Zombi in Italy, remember), for some reason – wouldn’t the Demons movie trailers make more sense? Killing Birds is the only one I haven’t seen yet, gotta get on that (I didn’t watch the trailer just in case it was as spoiler-y as the others). Finally, the only relevant extra are a pair of interviews with Lenzi and co-writer Olga Pehar (joined by Lenzi). That one is so brief I wondered why they didn’t just lump it in with the solo Lenzi one, but his is definitely worth watching as it’s the only truly entertaining part of the disc. As with many of his peers, Lenzi doesn’t bother to sugar-coat his thoughts on the film or his actors, so even when the discussion turns to something a little less exciting (such as why he never made any other full blown zombie movies) he turns it into a rant about one of the actors. Hell he even goes above and beyond the necessary “ouch” point; after explaining that the lead actress was a last minute replacement that he didn’t care for, he adds in that she was “short and not very attractive”, but in a manner of fact tone that doesn’t seem petty or mean, he’s just saying it like it is, the way absolutely no one in Hollywood ever does. He also dismisses the guy playing the lead (he has to look at the VHS box in order to recall his name) and scoffs at the Demons connection, claiming he hadn’t even seen Bava’s films. Well, he should, they’re a lot better than this thing.

What say you?

P.S. I have a note that says “F.F.” I don’t know if this is supposed to be for “The only way to watch this movie is to Fast Forward through the whole thing”, or “Hopefully I don’t see anything this bad at Fantastic Fest”, which I will be attending for my first time this coming September. Austin readers – welcome me with open arms and/or a beer!

1 comment:

  1. A boring UL movie? Could it be? Could it really be? The man who gave us Nightmare City, Ghosthouse and that one silly ass spring break electrocutioner beach movie with pervert cop John Saxon?

    And yet I totally believe it because that's just how big a fucking hack Umberto is. Glad you fell for it though and in turn fell on the sword for me. Of course, I've read enough unflattering reviews of this one even before yours to know better. Zombi 3 is about as shitty as I can stand my zombie/demon movies to be. This apparently falls well below that low mark.


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