Friday, October 26, 2012
Monsterthon 2012: Demons
One of these days, I am going to find a tightly plotted Italian horror film. The laws of probability demand it. But it will be a long search, and in the meantime here's Demons, which is The Evil Dead in a movie theater. It stops making sense pretty early on, but it has a lot of energy to make up for it, and at times is almost awesome in its stupidity. That it works at all says there is something to the style-over-substance approach, as much as it may pain me to admit it.
The story ostensibly revolves around two girls who receive free passes to an unknown movie screening at the Metropol theater. A colorful cross-section of people arrive for the preview, including a bickering married couple, two handsome boys who try to hook up with the girls, and a pimp and his employees. The movie they end up seeing is a horror film about a man who puts on a demon mask, is scratched by it, and starts killing his friends; as the slashing unfolds, one of the pimp's girls (Geretta Giancarlo, who nowadays just goes by Geretta Geretta) who had put on the same mask on display in the lobby and gotten a similar cut, suddenly turns into a demonic creature herself and begins attacking her friends, who in turn become monsters, until suddenly the theatre is under attack by a veritable horde of slavering, pus-ridden monsters from Hell. The exits from the building are mysteriously blocked, leaving the humans to try and find ways to dodge the horde of monsters.
Very little explanation is given for why this is happening, which in fairness is by design. Then again that goes hand in hand with the movie's decision not to provide explanations for much of anything, or to be terribly clear about what we're seeing. The thing about movie theaters is that they tend not to be terribly labyrinthine, especially if you're not talking about a multiplex; in order to break up and draw out the action the filmmakers have to separate the characters, so they have a tendency to run back and forth from places for no readily apparent reason. I'm not gonna blame a panicked crowd for not demonstrating sound tactical reasoning, but it's pretty obvious the main motivation for any character's actions is what will lead to another setpiece. (That the teeming masses are not very well-defined doesn't help; it might be easier to divine motivations for people's actions if we knew who the Hell they were.)
Perhaps the epitome of this Cuisinart approach to plotting is when the film steps outside the theater for a solid ten or so minutes to show a gang of punks roaming around the city, doing drugs, having sex, and eventually stopping to check out the theater. There is a minor point to all this but it takes forever to get there. Digressions like this aren't without their own particular entertainment value, though, and the upside of the whole thing is that not being tethered to a logical plot enables the movie to engage in some interesting setpieces. In the lobby of the theater, alongside the demon mask, there is a motorcycle, and a samurai sword. Both see extensive use.
In a way, this film isn't really trying to tell a story. It's trying to show off cool and/or scary scenes, and it does create a few memorable visuals. There's a great shot of a horde of demons running in slow motion into the lobby, backlit by the screen, and the climax reaches the level of pretty fucking metal. The film does consistently look neat, and it's just silly enough to be consistently engaging.
So I'm giving this a passing grade. If you have to judge a movie by the standards it sets for itself, it's as unfair to judge Demons for having a loose and inconsistent story as it is to judge 8 1/2 for its dearth of zombie attacks. On the most basic level it entertains. The search for well-plotted Italian horror continues, but my standards aren't that high.
Original story by Dardano Sacchetti
Screenplay by Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Dardano Sacchetti, and Franco Ferrini
Directed by Lamberto Bava