"The very definition of geek show cinema, Demons is nothing more than 90 minutes of mindless, gut wrenching mayhem..." - DVDTalk
Lamberto Bava's Demons is a film that is so easy to misread as 'mindless, gut-wrenching mayhem.' There's nothing wrong with mindless, gut-wrenching mayhem at all. I voted for it in the last election. But Demons just isn't that. Demons blasts you with wild, gory horror action, oozing demonic sores, pounding heavy metal music, and terrible dubbing. It's so successful at this that you barely notice how carefully constructed this film is.
Demons begins with a little prologue set in the subway. The first shot is the lights of the train shining out of the darkness at we the audience, like the light of a projector. An attractive girl on the subway suspects a mysterious punk with a chrome mask covering half his face is stalking her. She gets off the train at her stop and finds the man is still behind her. She runs up the stairs toward the light of day. She feels safe, until the punk steps out in front of her. He hands her an invitation to a movie at the MetroPol, then silently walks away. She's relieved. He's in a costume, promoting the movie, right? He doesn't answer. But she gets a second invitation for her friend.
What's interesting about this scene is that we, and the girl, are both conditioned to expect movie events to happen in real life. In real life, men in metallic masks don't stalk you on the subway then slay you with a gleaming knife. In real life, this is just some weirdo. But in a movie, he'd be a black-gloved murderer. Or he'd become one at the end of the chase sequence. Movie reality has saturated real reality through our imaginations. We're prepared for movie events to happen to us. This girl has seen her horror movies.
This scene also introduces us to our main female protagonists, Cheryl and Carmen, and the central setting of the movie, the MetroPol. Most of the movie will take place in the MetroPol and will center around the movie they are being invited to watch. End of prologue.
We then plunge into the first act by meeting our main characters: the MetroPol and its stylish usher, Tony the pimp and his two whores, the blind man and his slutty amanuensis, and our leading men, George and his preppy friend. There doesn't appear to be any discerning characteristic in who the chrome-masked punk chooses to invite. They're just people. The wide variety of very different people who can all come together and enjoy the same movie.
In the lobby with them are props from the movie they are about to see. Again, film reality is intruding into real reality. Most patrons regard the memorabilia as museum pieces. But Tony's uncouth whores are quick to try on the strange mask. This contact between the audience and the film's substance is what opens the gates of hell. She is infected, so to speak.
The audience is seated. The lights dim. The light of the projector shines into the darkness. Then the film within the film starts much as the real film, with two lights shining out of the darkness. This time the lights of motorcycles. A group of college students are driving into a cemetery to explore the crypt of Nostradamus. The man on one of the motorcycles is recognizably the same man who wore the chrome mask. As these students point their flashlights in the movie, the usher points her flashlight at individual groups in the audience. It's as though the movie were looking at them, one-by-one. In the Nostradamus movie, the actor from the subway puts on the mask of Nostradamus. He receives a cut on his face and we see, at the same time, the cut on the whore's face.
The whore runs to the bathroom to tend to the cut, but it blisters and explodes as she transforms into a demon, just as the man in the movie. Cross-cutting juxtaposes the action in the movie of the infected man trying to kill a woman with the whore trying to kill the other whore, who came to check on her. She's gashed just as the girl on screen is murdered. Trying to hide, the second whore finds herself behind the movie screen. As the killer in the movie slices an opening into a tent to get at another girl, the whore rips through the film screen in just that spot, as though the movie itself were exploding out into the real world the way the demon puss explodes out of the gash in her neck.
As the patrons all rush to check on the whore, Cheryl and Carmen realize it's all happening "just like in the movie." As they do so, in the background we see the possessed man in the movie (the same man who gave the girls the invitations on the subway), his face filling the screen, regard them/us with a sinister smile. The second whore begins to demonize. So ends the first act.
The metaphysics of Demons raises some questions, of course. The Nostradamus film had to have been made prior to the patrons being invited to the theater. So if the film is evil, were the actors infected in the making? And then how are they functioning in society? Or is it produced through supernatural means? Or is it really just a movie and the theater is the sinister force? This is a Dardano Sarccheti penned movie. It meddles with the notion of reality, but has little regard for logic. My point thus far has been just how carefully the film is crafted to decay your sense of what constitutes reality, what distinguishes the barrier between a film and an actual experience.
As the demons, their numbers growing, wreak havoc in the theater, the survivors flee to the doors to find they've been walled in. The event's organizer is most industrious. Tony the Pimp and the preppy guys who have been hitting on Cheryl and Carmon team up to lock a demon in using a vending machine. They then try to stop the madness by trashing the projection room. They find no projectionist, but just a computer, not unlike the mechanical autodialer in 976-EVIL, running the film. Smashing up the machines does nothing to stop the horror already unleashed, however. They conclude that it's not the movie that's evil, but the theater itself. They don't know, as we do, that there are serious links between the theater and the movie.
So here's a good time to stop and ask, "What the hell's the point?" Sure, maybe the movie is actually well-constructed and does break down the barriers between film and reality. But it's still just Motorhead and gore effects, right? Demons was made in 1985. The Video Recordings Act had just taken effect in Britain, creating the "video nasty" by banning obscenely violent or erotic movies. This was part of a wider discussion about the influence of violent movies on individuals and society, whether these movies weren't creating violence. The same discussion we have about video games today. I think Sacchetti was playing with this idea, that these movies are a corruptive force. But Sacchetti is not a subtle guy. That's why I love him. He's giving us a reductio ad absurdum. Look at how corruptive these movies and the theaters that show them are--it's not just spurring a few nutjobs to mass-murders, it's transforming the whole of society into demonic killing machines. It's apocalyptic. Hence the use of everyone's favorite apocalyptic poet, Nostradamus.
This is why he starts the movie with a girl afraid of a man on the subway. She's afraid of him because she's conditioned to expect movie violence in reality. She's fearful, like the people who signed the Video Recordings Act. When she lets her guard down and accepts the invitation to the movie, she finds the corruption of the movie spilling out all around her, threatening her with grievous harm.
In what follows, a hideous hag demon emerges out of Carmen's arched back, a group of coke-snorting punks break into the theater, a demon escapes at the same time, our preppy leading man, George, steals a motorcycle and sword prop from the lobby, and a helicopter crashes through the roof of the theater. On the roof, Cheryl and George are assaulted by the man with the chrome mask. They slowly jam his head onto some nails, escape the theater, and flee with some well-armed jeep-drivers. Cheryl begins to transform and is quickly shot.
All of these events are over-the-top, full of guts and mayhem, and lacking much logic. They chronicle the spill of the violence from the movie into the rest of society from just one ill-advised screening. As for the narrative, the man in the chrome mask, who appears to be some sort of cyborg, is the only link between the theater and the film, so it's a safe bet that he's behind the whole scenario. Why or how is never explained. Logical or not, any or all of these events could be read into the theme I argued for. I don't think it's of much value to treat the whole movie as a meditation on the influence of violent movies on society, or to view every event as symbolic. The use of movie props to defend oneself show the positive power of immersion into horror movies. The violent punks breaking in and releasing a demon can show that it is our own flawed society that's at fault, not movies. But then, in this movie, the movie IS to blame! The punks are innocent blunderers. Again, it's a reductio ad absurdum for these kinds of statements about horror movies.
Demons is a film whose logic is really in the editing. Like the scene in the ducts, where the young man keeps hearing demon claws approaching. We see the shots of the claws. His face. His girlfriend's face. Only after he lets her take the lead do we realize the missing information: those were her hands. Demons is a triumph of film language over conventional logic to tell its story and make its point. This, more than "mindless, gutwrenching mayhem" and heavy metal, is why it remains a relevant and exciting movie thirty years after release. Demons is not just a wild ride; it's an expertly-crafted wild ride.
976-EVIL is a movie about a premium-rate horoscope hotline that either
kills or corrupts its callers. Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys), the nerdy
hero-villain, uses the hotline to escape his reality of not-having-sex
and getting beaten in the graffiti-covered bathroom by high school ruffians. The hotline starts giving him advice, but soon it gives him claws, long, stringy hair,
and a desire to kill his busty Spanish teacher.
A lot of movies simply do not profit from the passage of time. Quite the opposite, their relevance seems to evaporate as they're left in the wake of the "whirlwind of progress." These are movies that have capitalized on fleeting fads and unfulfilled promises. One might expect 976-EVIL to be amongst those. But, the strangest thing, this movie seems immensely enhanced by the otherwordliness of its obsolescence. It now evokes hidden, disconnected pockets of virtual space only accessed through antique rituals. Allow me to explain.
In 1971 the 976/1-900 number was first created. Nobody used it for six years, until good ol' Jimmy Carter came along and created the "Ask Uncle Jimmy" hotline. I'm not kidding. Of course, you couldn't have phone sex with Jimmy Carter--that was coming later. Not with Jimmy Carter, but with fat women with seductive voices. The 976 number had the unique property of being monitored and screened at local levels, which gave it a lot of versatility when it came to use as a premium, pay-per-call number. And since we live in America, that's exactly what happened.
In the '80s, the popularity of the 976 number, and later the 1-900 number, surged. All sorts of stupid shit was out there for you to call and waste money on. You could call the Two Coreys if you'd finally worn out that Lost Boys (1987) VHS tape. You could call the Warrant hotline and found out if she really is his cherry pie. You could call a joke hotline and get a cheap, vaudeville joke for $0.99/minute. There was an insult hotline that would, yes, just insult you. Another one would try to make you cry. Video game hints, various types of phone sex, KISS, Bill and Ted, Freddy Kreuger, He-Man--you name it, and there was a premium-rate number for it.
What's really interesting about these lines is that they were such an analog means of networking. The internet generation has grown up with a form of databasing virtual space that is easily accessible with a click. The 1-900 number craze was an attempt to carve out that virtual space, but when there was nothing but phone lines, tape reels, radio waves, and paper. The closest thing to databasing the space was a local TV ad you'd see once after an episode of SNL and never see again, or simply cheap, paper ads distributed by an old man in a greasy coat.
The idea that there could be lots of strange, obscure niches of this virtual space that you'd never know anything about was a really high probability. You'd just have to stumble upon the ad to know it's there. And so it wasn't implausible that something like the 976-EVIL number could exist. A goofy, occult horoscope number for whatever small audience would be interested. (Most of these numbers that were not aimed at children were, after all, aimed at lonely nerds with odd tastes.) That there could be sinister, rather than capitalistic purposes to such a line is not so difficult to imagine.
Something about that old, analog technology seems more feasibly malign. A mysterious website seems like a very twee sort of notion, as does a mysterious HDMI signal. A mysterious phone line or radio signal, perhaps because they have a more elemental nature than their human-coded digital cousins, just feel more genuinely frightening. Or perhaps because, on the internet, you can "navigate away". It's a distant, nebulous connection. A "cold connection," to steal one of McLuhan's notions. A phone line or radio wave seems to be a physical connection, present in your home, your ear, near your body: it's a "hot connection." You call someone and you're bringing them into proximity with you. You don't always know who or what you're calling, what you're letting in.
When I first watched 976-EVIL, I was perhaps ten years old. There was no internet--not as it is today, anyway. 1-900 numbers were still advertised on late-night TV and the scariest thing about them was the phone bill. Game tip hotlines were part of my world. The notion of a mysterious phone line like the one depicted in the movie was still evocative, I suppose, because stumbling upon that ad could actually happen. Really, what I identified with was the beaten-down protagonist. The narrative was current for me.
Watching it today, when 1-900 numbers, while extant in some countries, are very archaic, it is much more evocative. These mysterious, old virtual spaces are like sorcery; dialing in is a dark art not to be tangled with. Like slumbering gods, these spaces could still be out there, no longer advertised, far from any database, but waiting to be awakened. These lines were housed in physical locations and, as in this movie, could be automated by very clunky, analog machines with magnetic tape. These machines could still be out there. While most were not just innocuous, but even downright silly, there could, just maybe, be some with sinister purposes. Waiting.
As a narrative on its own, 976-EVIL is decent. The real tension in the movie is between Hoax and his studly, popular cousin Spike. They have a close relationship, despite being so different. Hoax turns to the phone line instead of his cousin when he's feeling particularly resentful and abandoned. He shoulda went with the sex line. If there's any major flaw in this movie, it's in how quickly Hoax turns to the darkside. It's not like he gradually gets addicted to the number. One or two calls, and he's already a-murderin'. A quirky detective is on the trail and actually visits the hotline's headquarters in a scene I particularly enjoyed. It's in this scene that we meet the machine behind the eponymous number.
976-EVIL is not such an amazing movie in itself, but it latched onto this strange artifact in such an evocative way. In 1988, the premium-rate hotline was a novelty, like internet cafes in 1998. Perhaps the farther we get from the reality of such analog hotlines, the more strange and mysterious 976-EVIL will seem. And the more strange and mysterious it seems, the better it will come off. At least this movie, and its Wynorski-directed sequel, stand as the only 1-900-themed horror movies out there.
For the first time since I started writing these Notes from the
Turkeyground four years ago, we're doing something different. The Turkey
Challenge, to inform those not in-the-know, is an annual competition in
which visitors of the IMDb Horror Board can watch horror movies rated below 5.0 and gain
points based on their score. In previous years, additional points were
earned by watching multiple 'turkeys' by a single director, five points for every three, or "trifecta." This was
very successful and led to a lot of fantastic discoveries. This year,
we've opened the doors to earning points from watching multiple turkeys, trifectas again,
with a single actor. And I am very pleased with the results.
There are two kinds of actors who appear in multiple 'turkeys,' generally. Those that do b-movies as a rule. Actors like Tony Todd, Jeffrey Combs, Michael Ironside, Tiffany Shepis, Debbie Rochon, Linnea Quigley--they're all committed to the b-movie industry. Maybe they have or had dreams of making it big, but they seem content to stay in the world of horror conventions, gratuitous nudity, artificial blood and guts, and monsters. And we love them for it. The others are the actors who had already made it into the upper echelons and, for whatever reason, ended up with little A-list work. They took to b-movies to ply their trade and pay their bills.
My wife and I decided to start our challenge with some of the latter, Corin Nemec and Eric Roberts (no relation). Y'know, we often take our less successful actors for granted. We find it funny or ridiculous to see C. Thomas Howell in cheap b-movie after cheap b-movie, Eric Roberts in made-for-SyFy movies, and the same for Corin Nemec, Michael Madsen, Casper van Dien, Sean Patrick Flannery, amongst others. I'm sure these actors are not where they wanted or expected to be in their careers. They've either made bad choices in life or in agents and have found it harder to grasp roles in A-list movies. Or it may simply have happened with no particular reason standing out.
The thing we forget is that these actors really are professionals. The screenplays they're given are not always fantastic, the dialogue often foolish, their screen partners are bimbos and CGI monsters--but they're pros and they're often really good at what they do. They try to make these silly lines and roles work, and they often succeed. They take the time to put in an actual performance. They don't just draw in a crowd from name recognition. They actually do elevate these movies with their talents and professionalism.
First up was Endangered Species (2003), a fantastic blend of cop action, sci-fi, comedy, and horror. Of course, it's written and directed by one of the greatest b-movie directors of all time, Kevin Tenney. That helps. It also stars Eric Roberts in a role where he can shine--the kind of role with lots of snide remarks and glib comraderie. Arnold Vosloo and John Rhys Davies only add to the entertainment. A movie of sweet tatas, lots of alien killin', explosions, car chases, and tons of Tenney's jokes. This is how the Turkey Challenge is meant to start and what it's all about. Finding movies like this.
The Eric Roberts trifecta took us through Self-Storage (2013), another highly-enjoyable independent movie, starring and directed by Tom DeNucci. This one is about a stoner loser who lives and works at a self-storage facility. On his last day, he throws a party and stumbles upon his boss's more nefarious activities. Roberts is always a great, sleazy villain, because he's just so glib. He's the cold, always bemused villain. This is one of those b-movies that offers the sex, tits, and blood, but tries to have heart and romance. Sean of the Dead influenced, I guess. Then came Camp Dread (2014), an even more independent and lower-budgeted movie. Eric Roberts plays the director of some thinly disguised Sleepaway Camp movies and decides to resurrect it for a new generation using an actual camp for juvenile delinquents. Soon the kids are really getting murdered. The plotting and pacing of this movie is dead-on, showing a lot of control. I was impressed. Eric Roberts makes his wacky character work very well, putting real conviction behind some lines that just shouldn't be convince at all. It was fun just to see him at work, not just putting in a five minute cameo, like Danielle Harris does in this movie.
Corin Nemec's movies were a little more sedate. We'd enjoyed Nemec's Sand Sharks (2011) last year. Jurassic Attack (2013) was a phoned-in five-minute role with little real connection with the rest of the plot. The movie itself, however, wasn't too bad. A more exploitative approach to The Lost World involving submachine guns, CGI, and gore. Sea Beast (2008) and RoboCroc (2013) had a lot more Nemec, but he wasn't up to his goofy self. He was the responsible, hero dad in Sea Beast, fighting off amphibious monsters intent on killing his slutty daughter. RoboCroc was the best of the three, giving Nemec room to be more of a weirdo. It's what he's good at. Dee Wallace also shows up as the evil scientist. Scientists are always bad news in these movies. Her nanoprobes make a good croc go real bad. No tits or outstanding gore to remark upon, just some good monster movie fun.
We then moved onto a b-movie master, one Mr. Tony Todd. We started with Jack the Reaper (2011), because it was on Netflix. I wasn't expecting much from this. A bunch of misfit teens go into the desert and find a mysterious amusement park. Anyone with half a brain already knows this is a Reeker (2005) rip-off. But so what? I kinda like the character interactions. While nothing original, it is handled well enough to be quite fun. Tony Todd wasn't in it enough, but he was his usual, intimidating self for the four minutes he's there.
The next Todd movie was a much better hit. Dark Reel (2008), an underrated picture by Josh Eisenstadt, starring Edward Furlong and Tiffany Shepis. Just an average horror fan and nice guy, Furlong wins a competition for a non-speaking part in his favorite scream queen, Shepis, latest epic. As he arrives, someone decides to start killing everyone involved in the cheap pirate movie. Tony Todd gets one of my favorite Todd roles ever as the neurotic detective who suspects Furlong. I'd never thought of Todd as a comedy actor, but I haven't enjoyed him this much since Night of the Living Dead (1990). Very well written and shot better than most Hollywood movies, Dark Reel should be seen.
The Todd trifecta ended on a lame, British note, the found footage movie Dead of Nite [sic] (2013). Todd plays the proprietor of a supposedly haunted house. Some loser ghost hunters go in with their cameras and die. A waste of time and Todd.
On my own, I decided to indulge in the gift that keeps on giving that is Michelle Bauer. Of all the Big Three scream queens from the '80s, Bauer was probably the most talented overall. Linnea was the cutest, Brinke had the best body and that raven hair, but Bauer could act--and do comedy! She was also the wildest, having done hardcore. I watched my favorite Bauer films: Beverly Hills Vamp (1989), which has become one of my all time favorite movies and probably my top cheer-up movie; The Phantom Empire (1984), where she's the always nearly-naked 'cave bunny'; Evil Toons (1992), where she gets a brief cameo as Dick Miller's dildo-loving wife; Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama (1988), Witch Academy (1994), oh my! I also got some new Bauer movies under my belt, namely the zonked-out bigfoot epic, Demonwarp (1988). Vampire Vixens from Venus (1995), a movie with all of the right content and somehow just falls short of the mark--the tits, monsters, and comedy is there, but it feels wrong. And Gingerdead Man 2 (2008), a worthy entry in the annals of really weird sequels--right up there with Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) and Return to Salem's Lot (1994). Bauer appears to have had some implants in Gingerdead Man 2, but she never popped 'em out, so who can say? (If you're reading, Michelle, help me out here.)
A few more memorable experiences came from our late-in-the-month Karen Black trifecta. She was her busty, seductive self as the vampiress in the unique vampire movie, Children of the Night (1991), an unjustly forgotten movie from Fangoria back when Fangoria was still relevant. She was the TV-obsessed old lady in Ooga Booga (2013), a Full Moon killer puppet movie (it's about all Full Moon does anymore) we liked enough to rewatch. I forgot there was a huge-hootered skank in this movie, apparently played by porn star Siri. Worth watching for them melons alone. But the movie that made me miss Karen Black most was Auntie Lee's Meat Pies (1992), a crazy backwoods cannibal movie in the vein of TCM and Spider Baby, except this one has tons of sexy, big-titted girls in skimpy clothing. Auntie Lee's nieces may be worth getting cannibalized over. Also stars Mr. Miyagi.
We spent some time with our pal, Sid Haig. Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006) was nowhere near as bad as we were lead to believe. Not a remake at all, but a case of life imitating art, with a flair of modernization, humor, and some zombie titties, I thought this movie was a lot of fun. Haig was also in the NotLD-themed Mimesis (2011), another, more logical, case of life imitating art, that was another good time. Never accept a random slut's invitation at a horror convention--moral of that story. Finally, Haig's most expansive role was as the amicable shopkeeper in the Louisianan monster movie, Creature (2011), a perverse tale of incest, backwoods rituals, bunch-of-douchebags-in-the-woods, and horny monsters. I loved it. Far from flawless, but it's everything a movie called Creature should be.
We also followed Rutger Hauer through Argento's Dracula (2012), which was sexier and better than I expected, thanks to Miriam Giovanelli. And Kretschman actually makes a pretty good Dracula. But what was with the giant insect? I don't get it. Then through Dead Tone (2007), half fun slasher-movie, half anti-prank call public service announcement. The more you know. Finally, the British ripoff of graphic novel Preacher, The Reverend (2011). The best way to clean up a sleazy town filled with thugs and prostitutes? Anglican vampires. This was a surprisingly fun movie, like Walking Tall with more vampires and busty prostitutes.
We decided to end the challenge with a series, going through the Killjoy trilogy from Fullmoon. Like a turkey itself, we began with the dark meat of the first Killjoy (2000) and ended with the white meat of the third. Because the first Killjoy has an all-Black cast. A cheap film with limited inventiveness, it still manages to have some moments, as the evil clown takes revenge for a nerd's demise. The second and worst of the series, inventively titled Killjoy 2 (2002), has mostly Black teens in the woods with Debbie Rochon and a blond, hillbilly racist. Killjoy is elaborated as a revenge demon in this movie. They run with it in Killjoy 3 (2010), where Killjoy's mythology is described at length. This is probably the best movie in the series, just because it's the most inventive with the kills and has some decent writing. Strangely, there's only one Black cast member.
So that was our Turkey Challenge for 2014. We got to spend time with some old friends, like Tony Todd and Karen Black, meet some new friends like Tifany Shepis and Tom DeNucci. I learned a little more about some of them, got to appreciate them more for what they do. Best of all, I found a lot of great movies I'd never seen and rewatched some old favorites. The lowest point, Marina Monster (2008), at least was worth laughing at. A successful challenge, but we're full for now. We gorged ourselves on turkey again, and can't wait to do it again next year.