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John’s Horror Corner: Demons (1985; aka, Demoni), a deliciously cheesy Italian zombie-like outbreak of chunky gore and green goop.

January 23, 2021

MY CALL: Outrageously cheesy and rich in well-paced gore, this is an Italian treasure. You can’t call yourself a gorehound if you haven’t seen this yet. MORE MOVIES LIKE Demons: The Return of the Living Dead (1985) and Night of the Demons 1-2 (1988, 1994) offer comparably cheesy fun with similar but more clearly told demon contagion stories. Fans of wacky Italian cheesy gorefests would likely enjoy 80s Fulcian gore in the form of City of the Living Dead (1980; aka Paura nella città dei morti viventi, The Gates of Hell), The Beyond (1981) and The House by the Cemetery (1981), which form Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy; and then Zombie (1979).

This Italian treasure opens with a mildly meta scenario. A menacing figure in a partial steel Phantom-esque mask hands out tickets to a special event to whatever strangers pass by. Invited to this mysterious screening of a secret movie, our cast of victims convene upon the theater for a horror movie whose events parallel events transpiring in the theater, much to everyone’s horrible detriment.

Our cast of characters include: George (Urbano Barberini; The Black Cat), Hannah (Fiore Argento; Phenomena), Kathy (Paola Cozzo; Demonia, A Cat in the Brain), Ingrid (Nicoletta Elmi; Deep Red, Baron Blood), Carmen (Fabiola Toledo; A Blade in the Dark), Rosemary (Geretta Geretta; Shocking Dark) and Tony (Bobby Rhodes; Screamers, Demons 2), among others.

After trying on a demonic metal mask displayed in the theater lobby, a woman (Rosemary) cuts herself  and transforms into a monstrous, green goo-spewing demon with gnarly claws. She gashes someone else who, after a bout of running and screaming, likewise suffers a disgusting bursting pustule, talons emerge slowly dislodging her fingernails, fangs force out her bloody human teeth, and she becomes the next afflicted “demon.” Although, however “demonic” they appear, they behave much more like faster, smarter zombies.

Every bit as contagious as a zombie outbreak, our movie patrons are inexplicably trapped in the movie theater and must fight to survive. Tony (our obvious ‘heavy’) leads the scrambling patrons but all too soon they encounter yet more infected demons! And with each new victim, another demon… in deliciously cheesy fashion.

One of the coolest things about this movie (except, of course, all the chonk-tastic gore) is that we recognize the different demons for reasons more than the actors’ faces. Each victim that dies in a certain way is now a demon that looks that way, much like we loved recognizing the Hare Krishna zombie in Dawn of the Dead (1978).

This bonkers movie starts out strong. Despite a lull in the middle, the pacing has good frenetic energy. Whenever a scene calls for blood, there’s a lot of it. The pulsating pustule bursts are really gross and graphic and gooey, as are the lacerated flesh effects. Throats are ripped open, eyes are gorily gouged into chunky refuse, a woman is brutally scalped by hand, a stabbed demon douses a woman in its gooey gobbledygook gore, and a demon even tears its way out from inside anotherinfected person’s back! From there, we wander into a zany katana-dirt bike slashaganza.

This movie ends much like Return of the Living Dead (1985), with implications of the beginning of the Armageddon welcoming sequels. I had a blast from start to finish, so I’m happy to report at least one good sequel (1986). Director Lamberto Bava (Shock, Demons 2-3) and co-writer Dario Argento (Suspiria, Inferno, The Mother of Tears, The Church) are experts in gory Italian fare. If that’s your flavor, you’ll love Demons.

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