In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

Demons (1985)

The 1985 poster art for Demons

Lamberto Bava’s Demons (1985) is a much more enjoyable film than it probably has any right to be. It’s essentially an Italian knock-off of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981), except that the action is moved to a movie theater, and the zombies are unleashed upon an unsuspecting populace through a horror movie that the characters watch. Yeah, I know the title says they’re “demons,” but they’re really just zombies a la 1988’s C.H.U.D. (Instead of being the living dead per se, they’re people turned into mutant cannibals by a toxic disease of some sort). There’s not really a whole lot of story logic here – the entire film is just an excuse to throw a bunch of human spaghetti and meatballs across the screen, after all – so it’s not exactly clear how these zombies can cross into the movie from the movie-within-the-movie. (It happens through a magic chrome devil mask, if that helps.)

Once the zombie outbreak crosses into the world of the film, it continues to spread through bites, maulings, and people ingesting mutant zombie blood. That’s a lot of body fluids getting swapped around; is Lamberto Bava trying to say something AIDS? One thing’s for sure; those who first carry the plague into the “real” world are women – and specifically, they’re prostitutes. Plus, every female character dies a horrific death by the end of the film, including the one whom we’re led to think will be the “Final Girl.” There’s even a part where our heroes stumble into an empty brick room in the basement of the theater, and all the women start screaming and having fits for no discernible reason, which confuses the hell out of the menfolk. I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean, but I reckon the ladies are supposed to be more “sensitive” to the evil that’s haunting the theater somehow. So we have a horror flick that acts as an interdimensional gateway between realities, a supernatural version of AIDS running amok, and a bunch of women who are essentially punished for starting the end of the world.

I detect a close family resemblance to the Deadites!

Actually, to build off my review of Night of the Living Dead (1968), there’s another angle here that’s worth exploring. I explain in the other review how Romero’s magnum opus strikes me as a parable about Ishtar finally having enough of the patriarchy and making good on Her threat to start the zombie apocalypse. (That’s in the Epic of Gilgamesh, for anyone who doesn’t already know.) This is suggested by the explanation for the zombie outbreak that’s offered in Romero’s film: radioactive fallout from a satellite that NASA sent to Venus. In Demons, Lamberto Bava expands this Venusian link to zombie outbreaks by making it truly venereal, in that it’s first transmitted through a couple of street hookers. The only character to survive is a beefcake hero who gets to ride around on a bike and hack off zombie limbs with a katana sword at one point. He kind of reminds me of Gilgamesh, now that I think about it. It seems to me this might have been an unconscious (or deliberate) reaction to the revival of Goddess worship during the previous three decades. The Scarlet Woman was reaching down and filling ladies across the world with Her bestial witchery, driving them to bite and claw the patriarchy until the whole damn system got “infected” too. So clearly the thing to do was invoke Gilgamesh in the form of an Italian dude with a poorly dubbed American voice and have him squash the matrilineal antagonists in this movie, so that hopefully it would influence events here in our world for the “better” (just as the film’s world was influenced for the worst by events in the movie-within-the-movie).

(Are you getting all of this?)

Whatever else it might be, Demons is a wild ride.

These are the crazy thoughts I have when I watch movies like this; but despite any thealogical misgivings I might have about it, Demons is one hell of a wild ride. Both the folks in front of the camera and those behind it exhibit more than enough energy to keep things interesting. The movie makes me think of 1980s Nintendo games, actually, like it’s a live action adaptation of Splatterhouse (1988). It looks and sounds so super cool (especially with the kickin’ metal soundtrack) that its lack of story logic doesn’t matter so much. (That’s really just something one has to accept about Italian horror films of the period, anyway.) It is a little too disgusting for me at some points (I’m not much of a gorehound), but it gets major points from me for its liveliness. Even if the whole thing really was a spell concocted by Italians to somehow counteract the Goddess in our times, it failed miserably. Praise be to Ishtar, the once “apocalyptic” threat of the liberated woman has already passed into becoming an accepted norm. (There’s always room for improvement; but if I have my way at least, our next President will be a woman – so there!) Perhaps Demons can even be read as being prophetic of the Queen of Heaven in a way, since it presents Her “hostile takeover” as being certain and inevitable. There is a sequel, Demons 2 (1986), which was likewise directed by Lamberto Bava; but I haven’t seen it just yet. I wonder if it will get me thinking as much as this one did.

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