“What the Hell happened to Rosemary?”
— Tony The Pimp (Bobby Rhodes) in Demons (1985)
A lot of what you need to know about Demons, an Italian horror film from 1985, can be summed up by the fact that one of the leading characters is named Tony the Pimp. Demons is a very self-aware film, one that is not only over-the-top and ludicrous but which is cheerfully aware that it’s over-the-top and ludicrous. Considering that Demons is an apocalyptic film that ends with nearly the entire cast dead, Demons is a surprisingly good-natured horror film.
The film opens in Berlin. There’s a mysterious man hanging out at a subway station. He’s wearing a silver half-mask and, from what we can see of his face, he appears to be heavily scarred. Interestingly enough, the man is played by Michele Soavi. (Though Soavi is now best remembered as the director of Dellamorte Dellamore, he was an actor and assistant to Dario Argento when Demons was produced.) The man doesn’t speak. Instead, he hands out flyers to random people, inviting them to attend the premiere of a new horror film.
The man obviously does a very good because a truly diverse group of characters show up for the premiere. There’s a wealthy blind man who comes with his assistant. (The assistant is played by Dario Argento’s oldest daughter, Fiore.) There’s an older couple who keep shushing everyone in the audience. There’s Cheryl (Natasha Hovey), who ends up sitting next to the handsome George (Urbano Barberini, who would later co-star in Dario Argento’s Opera). And, of course, there’s Tony the Pimp (Bobby Rhoades) who shows up wearing a white suit and with two prostitutes.
The film-within-the-film is a horror film that plays out like an homage to every Italian horror film released in the 1980s. It deals with four teenagers who stumble across the grave of Nostradamus and end up transforming into blood-thirsty demons. One of the teenagers is played by Michele Soavi, though it’s never clear whether the teenager and the man in the mask are supposed to be the same person.
As they watch the movie, something strange starts to happen in the audience. One of the prostitutes scratched her face when she put on a prop mask. When the same mask appears in the movie, the cut on her face starts to throb. Soon, she is transformed into a … DEMON!
JUST LIKE IN THE MOVIE!
Needless to say, the arrival of a real-life demon leads to a panic in the theater but guess what? The doors are locked! There’s no way out! When Tony the Pimp breaks into the projection booth, he discovers that there’s no projectionist and the movie cannot be stopped! On top of that, getting scratched by a demon means that you transform into a demon yourself!
In other words — remember the debate about whether or not horror movies can turn their viewers into murderous monsters? Well, Demons says that they definitely can…
Demons was directed by Lamberto Bava, son of the famous Mario Bava, and it remains one of the most popular Italian horror films of all time. With a script that was co-written by Dario Argento (who also produced), Demons is a fun and exciting horror film that cheerfully dares you to take it too seriously. Watching this energetic film, you can tell that Bava was having a lot of fun with the idea that the world could end as a result of watching just one horror movie.
Demons was a huge box office hit so, naturally, there were hundreds of unofficial sequels. Though Michele Soavi’s The Church was a Demons film in every way but name, the only official sequel was Demons 2. We’ll look at that film tomorrow.