As a director, Dario Argento is an unsurpassed maestro of horror. His legacy includes legitimate classics like Profondo Rosso, Suspiria, Inferno, and Opera. Even his less successful endeavors - a Phantom of the Opera remake, the recent The Card Player - can be seen as merely facets of a fascinating cinematic artist. Yet as a producer, his track record is also worth noting. He helped out buddy George Romero, aiding in getting Dawn of the Dead made. He also supported upstart Michele Soavi with his projects The Church and The Sect. Yet his most interesting endeavor may be as guiding light for Lamberto Bava's splatter classics Demons and Demons 2. Son of famed Mediterranean macabre master Mario Bava, Argento formulated a fetid little franchise centering on a cursed movie that turns audiences into blood thirsty ghouls. Thanks to its ample arterial spray, and overabundance of gore-drenched set pieces, the first of these films became notorious in the mid '80s as an entertaining example of excess. The sequel, unfortunately, seemed like a letdown. After a long and troubled tech history on DVD, Anchor Bay and Starz Home offer up a surprisingly successful digital update - at least from an audio/video approach.
On the night of her birthday, Sally appears distraught. Unlike the other happy people living in the her high rise luxury apartment complex, this gal is apparently angry over everything. She hates her dress. She hates her guests. The only thing that interests here is a horror film on TV. The odd movie features a storyline about the resurrection of a demon. Before we know it, our gloomy girl is accosted by an imp, and has turned into a fiend. She proceeds to massacre everyone at her shindig. They too turn into creatures, and scour the building looking for more victims. They eventually find them in the health club and in the lobby, as well as up and down the stairwell. Soon, the situation is dire and divided in half. On one side are the Demons. On the other, the victims. With the entire structure secured in lockdown, it's clear that no one may be left alive. No one HUMAN, that is.
Less gory, more goofy, and overflowing with unnecessary exposition and action, Demons 2 is like a blood engorged tick that just won't pop. It's all premise and only a minor amount of payoff. It oozes when it should flow, sputters when it should splatter. Almost overnight, it appears Argento and Bava have completely forgotten what made the first film so fun, and in its place they've substituted '80s fashion, half-naked men, zombie dogs, and the most unconvincing demonic horror creature since Ghoulies, Troll, and Hobgoblins combined. The setting promises plenty of possibilities - a prison like apartment complex where evil gets in, and nothing gets out - but the script is so stagy and underdeveloped that we get to know people based on illustrative (pregnant, kid, angry) vs. individual cues. Not that a movie like this requires three dimensional characterization and lots of psychological backstory. But if you're holding off on the spatter, you've got to have something in its place. For their part, our dynamic duo chose stunts and strategy as their substitutes - not the combination most vivisection lovers enjoy. And when you add in that last act showdown between an expectant mother and ET's impossibly puppet like evil twin, you either have to laugh, cry, or wonder what exactly went wrong.
The lack of bile cannot be stressed enough. The first film wallowed in it, with talons tearing flesh and teeth gnawing bone. The demon transformations, while clunky and unconvincing, still had a hearty, tactile quality that made them enjoyable as vomit covered eye candy. And then there were the killings: soaked in sluice, fluids pulsating through pierced bodies. If it all sounds very fetishist and freaky, it is. It's what makes gorehounds so demanding. Since Demons 2 pulls back, it literally shoots itself in its cloven hoof. Take, for instance, when Sally slaughters people at her birthday party, thus starting the movie's mayhem. Instead of seeing the destruction, Bava pulls plenty of filmic fast ones. Characters run toward camera, get their unseen back swiped, and fall forward, revealing a perfectly placed prosthetic claw piece. Gunshot wounds offer little spray, and the transformations are handled in a plain, perfunctory manner (people go from normal to nasty in the casting of some gratuitous green light). Bava still shows some intriguing directorial flare, especially when our featured fiends are walking through dimly lit, shadowy building corridors. But there are elements here that will definitely test your post-modern terror tendencies.
Chief among them is the aforementioned imp. While it does add a level of unintentional humor (unless Argento and Bava realized how dopey it was and decided to actually go for laughs), it's more distracting than delightful. Similarly, when a little boy who we've followed for the entire film decides to go demon, the switch between child and creature is achieved through the use of a dwarf. While it's an understandable option, considering the amount of physical falling and brawling required for the scene, the end result feels like a snaggle toothed Herve Villechaize on a wowie sauce bender. But it's not just the missed opportunities, under-explored options, and lack of grue. Because of their accomplishments both individually and together, we expect more from Argento and Bava. Both men can create notoriously nasty works, and proved with the original Demons that they make a heady horror combination. But for some reason, they didn't take this follow up seriously. When the film within a film element is more compelling than the scare story proper, when last act standoffs supply very little in the way of red stuff relief, when a long simmer subplot (involving a car full of creeps) ends with one of the worst examples of cinematic premature ejaculation in the history of the artform, it's hard to call the overall presentation a success. Demons 2 is more a curiosity than a classic. It can barely stand up to the insidious original.
The problem with previous releases of this title can be summed up in one word - non-anamorphic. Anchor Bay was raked over the coals six year ago when they decided to release this, and the original Demons, in letterbox only versions. Now, Starz Entertainment (who bought the sailboat logo-ed business) has fixed that problem, delivering a 16x9 transfer that's just terrific. The 1.66:1 aspect ratio is preserved, and the color correction and attention to detail are just terrific.
As with the previous DVD release, there are two English only audio tracks. One is in a very effective Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, while the other is standard 2.0 Stereo. Since the score is made up mostly of noted heavy metal and '80s rock tracks, the speakers get quite the workout. And those looking for an Italian version of the film need to remember that Argento and his ilk typically made their movies almost exclusively for the West. Therefore, the dialogue was dubbed into the appropriate language, without a native tongue version available.
Those with the original DVD release will probably be displeased to know that the bonus features offered before have simply been ported over to this disc. They consist of a decent commentary featuring director Bava, make-up artist Sergio Stivaletti, and reporter Loris Curci, and a selection of trailers. The alternative narrative discussion is good, since it goes into a lot of detail about the development of the storyline and the working of the effects. Overall, it's not the widest selection of added content, but until another company buys this title and offers up a revamp, it's what we have.
It's hard to say what finally derails Demons 2. Is it the pissed off puppet? The lack of excessive grue? The decision to turn the setting into an inescapable penitentiary of pain, and then keep the violence to a bare minimum? Maybe it's all those muscled Mediterranean men in their Speedos (Ewww!) battling green faced goons. Whatever the case, the result is not bad, just wildly underwhelming. It can only earn a Recommended rating, even with its slick '80s sense of shoulder padded style and outrageous faux fashion pedigree. If you think this sequel is nothing more than the first film reconfigured to a building full of stock stereotypes, you've got a slight goofy wake-up call coming. While there is still a lot here to like, there's very little for the true funk lover to lap up. As word trickles down from the Toronto Film Festival that the final installment of Argento's long dormant Three Mothers trilogy (Mother of Tears) is a return to form, here's a chance to remember when he ruled the non-digital domain. For all its faults, this is still the reason his imprint on the genre remains undeniable and important.