Late in March of 2016, Italian special effects legend Sergio Stivaletti intimated to Dark Universe: Horror Database that he and two other production principals were musing a 3-D re-do of the Italian horror classic Demons. For those of you who’ve yet to delve into Italian horror, you’re probably asking yourselves, “Why the heck should I care about a European movie from the ’80s?”
In order to fully appreciate the magnitude of Stivaletti’s tease, one must also understand a bit about the history of Italian horror cinema. Demons falls into the category of films referred to as giallo. The Italian word giallo, when used in English as a descriptor of Italian cinema, is specifically referring to Italian-produced thriller/horror/mystery films which pre-dated and inspired American slasher flicks. The use of the color yellow is due to the association with a series of cheap yellow paperback mystery novels that were popular in post-fascist Italy. Anne Billson’s article “Violence, mystery and magic: how to spot a giallo movie” does a fantastic job of describing the genre in detail. Just think psychos, inventive murders, mystery, hot babes, lots of gore, a bit of trippiness, and you’re there.
A word of caution, however: although these are largely thrillers with an emphasis on getting down to the bottom of who the crazy bad guy is, you’ve got to remember that European horror in general is a lot less concerned with sensical plots. Although I could probably take a few guesses as to what it is about European (and in particular Italian) culture that lends itself to an emphasis on mood and style over plot in cinema, let’s just take it as an algebraic given and roll with it. It’s a good thing, really! Because style and mood with lots of fake blood can make for a, well, bloody good time. And honestly, if you’re the type of movie fan that requires that every cinematic detail ticks and ties, then horror from any country really isn’t the right genre for you (and you’re probably not reading this article anyway).
Having covered the style of film, let’s now turn to the players, who are critical to the discussion. The original Demons movie was directed by the historically significant (not to be confused with consistently awesome) Lamberto Bava, and it was created from a screenplay co-written by universally regarded (yet also at times uneven) Dario Argento, who also produced. The aforementioned Sergio Stivaletti also lent his abilities to the production. While Stivaletti certainly has an impressive resume both with special effects and direction, the two internationally known names here are Bava and Argento.
Lamberto Bava is the son of Mario Bava (Black Sunday, Planet of the Vampires, Lisa and the Devil, Kill, Baby, Kill), the latter of whom had an amazing and well regarded career of more than thirty years working in cinematography, special effects and directing both sci fi and horror movies. If you’d like to consider yourself a horror fan with chops, this guys work is worth serious exploration. Hmm, future article?
In honesty, Lamberto Bava (Macabre, Delirium, Body Puzzle, Ghost Son) has not enjoyed the same degree of respect that his father did. Most of Lamberto’s work has been in TV movies, but hey, it’s good work if you can get it. After working for and with his father on several productions, Demons was one of Lamberto’s first fledgling film efforts independent of his father.
It’s safe to say that Dario Argento (Suspiria, Deep Red, Bird with Crystal Plumage, Tenebrae), on the other hand, is probably on par with Mario Bava, both with regard to international renown and quality of work. I mentioned earlier that Argento’s has been uneven, but that’s been a more recent development, say within the last ten or so years. Okay, like pretty not good in the last decade. But when you look at a career that’s been active since the mid-’60s, that’s still pretty impressive, and not too dissimilar from the career of American director Brain De Palma, who created some amazing films (Body Double, Dressed to Kill, Scarface, The Untouchables) that have impacted American culture.
So with all the history and context put out there, let’s talk about the old Demons itself. In the film, a group of movie-goers are trapped in a large theater in West Berlin by ravenous demons who chow down on, kill, mangle and possess said movie-goers one-by-one and quickly multiply. This movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is so completely a product of that awesome ‘8os decade of excess: super cheesy special effects, shlocky gore-fest, and a glorious rock sound track (which includes Motley Crue and Billy Idol). It was such a product of the time, in the best possible of ways.
So what do all these random musings really mean? In my assessment, if another director and production crew were to decide to re-do Demons — that is, to update the effects with today’s technology and the soundtrack to something more in line with what today’s audience expects — I would have a hard time believing there would be enough spirit left of the first version to make the view worth the watch. But if we get the original film-makers, these filmmakers with such an amazing history and impact … and IF they’ve still got what it takes … and IF they’re able to re-create that Gestaltian camaraderie that was apparently present between them the first time around, then we stand a really good chance of getting a film that contains some of the lustiness from the first version with a more modern sensibility. It’s a pretty big IF, but still something worth taking the chance on. We’re a brave lot, after all.
We’ll let you know if this thing gets legs, so check in with us from time to time (or heck, daily, we won’t tell), and we’ll let you know what we know, when we know it.