Some movies attempt to craft an elegant narrative filled with well-rounded characters that foster a connection with the audience in order to leave a lasting impression. Then there are those films that only come up with a plot as a vehicle to show images that will leave an imprint.
The streaming service Shudder has plenty of both, but the abundance of those in the latter camp make it a go-to for genre fans. Now, with Lamberto Bava’s Demons it has another film that may lack substance, but more than makes up for it with style.
The film wastes little time with preamble. The audience is quickly introduced to our protagonist Cheryl (Natasha Hovey) who is being hunted by a man desperately yearning for her to know about the grand opening of a new theater in town. Somehow not dissuaded by the man’s haunting silence and menacing metal mask, she accepts the invite and convinces her friend to accompany her to the show. What starts out as an honest midday matinee soon spirals into a nightmare as the real world begins to mirror the events of those on screen trapping the #filmfans with demonic forces looking to multiply.
There’s no way around it, Demons has a thin narrative. Outside of the initial setup to get our characters into the theater there isn’t much going on. In fact, there is more of a foundation in the made-up movie playing in the theater than Demons itself, the former is the only one willing to provide an explanation for its demonic uprising.
Yet this disinterest in a narrative story line allows it to focus on what Bava clearly was more excited to bring to the screen – gore, chaos, and rock and roll. Once he gets the necessary setup out of the way Bava and his team let it rip. The demons bring with them beautifully distressing practical effects. Watching a woman’s fingernails and teeth split and fall out to make way for replacements more suitable for tearing flesh is a visual that will be burned in my brain for weeks to come.
The camera and effects team work in perfect tandem to showcase the brutality of the titular characters. Numerous scenes delight in showcasing the severing of flesh and the pulsating and popping of boils. As Nickelodeon-green pus oozes out to mix with each victim’s blood it’s difficult not to feel equal parts grossed out and elated.
Demons embraces that notion every step of the way attempting to spark joy just as often as it seeks to frighten. Its characters are all amped up and playing to the rafters. There’s Tony (Bobby Rhodes), a pimp accompanied to the theater by his two working girls, who shouts his lines with an enthusiasm hinting that he’s aware of the film’s exploitative aims, and a greased up group of punks who snort cocaine out of a Coke can while Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” blasts from their speakers. Many of the theatergoers are given moments to shine, even the milquetoast bros of the film leave their mark with a samurai sword (in two very different ways).
All of this is contained in the isolated cinema called the Metropol. Cinematographer Gianlorenzo Battaglia pulls a lot of beauty out of a small theater that could have otherwise felt repetitive. Gorgeous, smokey color hues are put on display bouncing off of the theater halls and bathroom stalls, and the lobby of the place would fit right in at a modern day fashion show. A lot of effort was put in to deliver a memorable vibe, and it comes through.
Demons leans into the desires of its director Lamberto Bava, son of famed cinematographer Mario Bava, who has a taste for the aesthetic and vibe of a movie. Sure the film lacks a bit in the logic department, but once the Metropol has been overrun and Bava and his team lean into the chaos logic will be the last thing on your mind.