Blu-Ray Review: Demons & Demons 2

NOVEMBER 2, 2021


Technically I saw Phenomena (as Creepers) and Zombie (as "Zombie 2" aka "Dawn of the Dead 2") first, but Lamberto Bava's Demons was the first time I watched a movie specifically to watch "an Italian horror movie", borrowed on VHS from a friend who was a little more cultured than I was at that point in my life (16 or 17?). So hundreds of gialli and zombie and whatever the hell those "La Casa" sequels are later, it's fun to go back to what more or less started my affinity for their brand of horror. Synapse has remastered the first film along with Demons 2 and packaged them as one, with lots of bonus features old and new, giving me a fine excuse to revisit them for a rare home viewing. Since they both tend to show relatively often around here, I can't even remember the last time I watched the first one at home - it might have been the Anchor Bay DVD sometime in college? And Demons 2 was a HMAD review from the first few months!

Needless to say the films look the best I've seen. There's a 4K UHD release as well, which is what I requested for review, but they sent me the standard Blu-ray set, which doesn't have as many bonus features and, obviously, lacks the Ultra High Def image I was looking forward to. But suffice to say even the regular Blu looks pretty great for both films, minus the occasional damage to the master print that isn't any fault of theirs (a few exterior shots in Demons 2 look like they are... vibrating? I don't know how to describe it), allowing Sergio Stivaletti's makeup effects to truly shine. The man loves having teeth fall out and get replaced with bigger, gnarlier teeth, and those shots display his practical mastery in all their glory. Italian and English audio is available for both films as well, so long story short it's safe to say these will be the definitive editions for these oft-released films.

And they hold up well! It's been a while since I've seen either of them, and I was pleased to discover that after all these years, Demons remains a favorite when it comes to Italian horror, placing only under a couple of Argento's films if I were to rank the whole lot of them. The opening sequence on the subway still plays great, the pacing is strong, the supporting cast is entertaining... everything is pretty entertaining even before the damn demons show up. And yes, I know I called it a zombie movie when they're demons, but as with 28 Days Later, they function the same way (get bitten and change, swarms attacking, etc) so I feel the label is fair. The key difference is that the more overt supernatural elements allow Bava, Stivaletti, etc. to have a little more fun and imagination with their gore/horror scenes - there's a sort of Evil Dead-esque kitchen sink attitude to the proceedings that keeps you on your toes.

This is even more evident in the second film, where a demon literally comes out of the TV (in an effect that looks like CGI before they had access to such a thing! They figured it out!) and another little Gremlin-y kinda puppet demon runs around for a while. Plus there's an evil dog out of The Thing for good measure. The sequel as a whole isn't as good as the first, and I don't recommend watching them back to back due to the sameyness (it's amusing that of the two returning cast members, one seems like he's playing the same guy while the other is a total 180 from his previous character), but it's good fun all the same, and (spoiler for 35 year old movie ahead) I like that it ends hopefully, instead of the out of nowhere downer end of the first in which our heroine suddenly becomes a demon and is nonchalantly dispatched in a world being overrun. The do-over approach in the sequel doesn't extend to its denouement; our survivors walk out into a bright sunny day and there's no indication that things are about to get worse. Yay!

As mentioned, the Blu-ray version doesn't have as many bonus features as the 4K set, but based on my research it seems everything that got left out are legacy bonus features a fan might have on previous releases anyway. The handful of new features are present on both versions, including a historian commentary for each film. The first movie is blessed with the usually fun track from Kat Ellinger, who is joined by Heather Drain, and the pair do the usual historian stuff but frequently pause their own insightful observations or history lesson by noting a particularly amusing gore effect or line reading, keeping things from getting too dry. This is sadly not the case for the second film, which is a solo track by Travis Crawford that can be a bit of a snoozer at times, as he rarely addresses the film at all and occasionally even seems to be forgetting he's doing the sequel, as he gives a history of movie-theater set horror films that seems ill-fitting for a film that does not take place in a movie theater. He also bizarrely ends it on a downer note about Asia Argento (who made her debut here), discussing her assault by Harvey W, her own sexual assault accusations from a younger actor, and the suicide of her partner - all over scenes long after her character had exited! It's weird, and once again had me thinking that these things need two people conversing over them to stay engaging.

The other new features are visual essays. On Demons 2, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas contributes "Together and Apart", a look at both films and how they use space and their respect locations (and mediums) to tell their stories, noting things like Cheryl going from a crowded subway car to an empty, gothic looking subway station, and how the climax of Demons 2 has the heroes have their final showdown in a television studio, a fitting visual metaphor since TV was the source of all the carnage in the film. If you're not a fan of the films you'll find it ludicrous that anyone involved put that much thought into it, but Alexandra makes a strong case that the films are smarter than they appear on the surface. On the first film, Michael Mackenzie runs through Argento's career as a producer, which naturally means it's not particularly Demons-centric (if anything he seems to have more to say about everything else, in particular Michele Soavi's later Church and Sect films) but if you're an Argento fan you won't mind much; it's not often you get to hear anyone exploring his work outside of his own directorial efforts.

That said, it would have been nice to hear more about the films' actual director, Lamberto Bava. The UHD version has an interview with Bava ("Carnage at the Cinema") but it didn't make the cut for this stripped down release. Instead we get TWO interviews with Argento himself where he says a lot of the same things, though amusingly he says in one he probably won't work with Bava again and in the other says he would love to do that, plus a lengthy chat with Claudio Simonetti (in English; Argento's are in Italian) where he talks about his work on this film and, of course, his other collaborations with the maestro, and an interview with stuntman Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, which is fun until he depressingly notes that Italy only produces about 25 films a year now, down from hundreds as was the case at the time of these films.

Bava thankfully gets to pop up on Demons 2's own set of bonus features, a lengthy chat (also in Italian) where he notes some of the story issues and also that most of the script for The Church (which began life as Demons 3) is his, even if his name was removed from the credits. This is backed up by his son Roy (aka Fabrizio) Bava, who offers his own look back at the work he did with his father over the years, even alluding to being jealous of his relationship with Soavi at one point. Stivaletti also gets to discuss his work on the two films, and finally composer Simon Boswell talks about HIS unintentional career as a composer (he basically fell into it and never really left), which kicked off with Demons 2. It's curious that none of the actors from either film are on hand; I've seen a couple of them at conventions and screenings, so it's not like they're not willing to discuss them (or hard to find), but based on what I can tell from the listing on the 4K UHD version, they don't show up on there either. Also, not surprising, but worth noting - the original commentary for Demons that was on the Anchor Bay DVD remains MIA, as it has for a while now. I was hoping to hear it again because the moderator asks Bava what is happening when the helicopter crashes through the roof, prompting Bava to say "I don't know" - so good. Alas, as with a lot of AB bonus features, it seems to be unavailable for other labels to include, which is a shame.

These remasters are only available together, which might be frustrating for fans who only want the original and have to pay extra for the unwanted sequel, but for those who enjoy both, I really can't see them ever being improved (beyond somehow acquiring those legacy features). Yes, it's a shame that only the 4HD set includes all of the bonus features (on the UHD disc itself; there's none of that obnoxious "movie only and the supplements are on a separate blu-ray" here), but even the stripped down 1080p set has hours of extras in addition to the excellent transfers, so you can't really go wrong with either of them (my guess is that anyone who truly cares about bonus features anymore is also the kind of person who will have upgraded to 4K by now). And if you've somehow never seen the films, there's no better time than the present to enjoy a film about someone who hesitantly goes to a movie theater only for some kind of awful disease to spread throughout the crowd! Wait.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. I always wondered in the first film why no one suggested checking the film that was running to see how it ended. Maybe it would be a depressing ending, but it couldn't hurt. Maybe they found a way to stop the demons.


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