28 August 2007

(Review) "Demons 2": 20th Anniversary Screening

Lamberto Bava's lively 1985 breakthrough shocker Demons remains a fan favorite and probably the defining work of his uneven but efficient filmography. After an eerie setup in which various Berlin transit riders accept an invitation to the Metropol theatre from a strange figure in a metal mask, the film stumbles into a series of poorly-dubbed, 80s-metal-scored gore set pieces, but climaxing in a thrilling, apocalyptic ending that makes its soft second act worth plodding through. If you believe Roger Corman’s credo that if the first and the third acts are solid, then “what you do in the middle doesn’t matter”, then by generous accounts Demons is a success.

Demons 2, produced less than a year later, offers a near-identical concept, except here, the transmission device is a television signal and the location a high-rise apartment building. It more than satisfies Joe Bob Briggs’ patented rule that a sequel should be the exact same movie all over again, and should appeal to afficionados of The Twonky and Jerry Manders' "Four Arguments For The Elimination Of Television".

In the first Demons' film with the film (keeping up?) the titular nogoodnicks entered our world—and human bodies—via the sharp prongs of a cursed mask that was unearthed in Nostradamus' tomb. In Demons 2, the fwtf features another group of clueless teens who have entered a quarantined disaster area where presumably the invasion was contained and eradicated. They happen upon a demon’s ashen remains where blood from one of their wounds triggers its resurrection. The creature then comes towards the screen, and out of it, entering its first victim’s body.

Several parallel plots—such as they are—collide throughout the ten floors of the apartment building “The Tower”: in one suite, there’s a birthday party in full swing for Sally (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni) and her senior classmates, who, without the distractions of the Internet, iPods, and Second Life, must entertain themselves by robot-dancing to some 80s alternative hits on the boom box while swilling down booze in paper cups, careful not to spill any on their feathered ‘dos and shoulder pads.

Sally’s a shrill one, and while her dialogue from screenwriters Bava, Dario Argento, Franco Ferrinni, and Dardano Sachetti is less than Hughesian (“My hair stinks! This dress stinks. This whole thing is disgusting! These sleeves on this go back and forth--what am I gonna do?”), the actress has an endearing presence reminiscent of her American teen scream queen counterpart of the time, Jill Schoelen. As the first to be possessed, Sally quickly mutates into a fanged, milky-eyed harpy who spreads the demon virus throughout the complex ala Cronenberg’s Shivers/Frissons/They Came From Within.

In neighbouring apartments, bookish George (David Edwin Knight) is concerned for the safety of his expectant wife Hannah (Nancy Brilli), a family with two young children (one of them a prepubescent Asia Argento) try to escape, a latch-key kid and his dog become possessed, and some truly dedicated fitness addicts, who under the tutelage of a returning Bobby Rhodes (who memorably played a pimp in the first Demons) enact a Howard Hawksian standoff in the underground parking garage.

First beastie to exit through Sally’s cathode ray tube makes for an impressive effect (more or less replicated in Ringu), albeit once based heavily on Rick Baker’s pioneering work on Cronenberg’s Videodrome, which was likely an unacknowledged influence here.

Lots of gloppy monsters follow, more akin to zombies really, all pustules and razor teeth and bloodshot orbs, anticipating “the infected” of the later biohazard-themed 28 Days Later than anything genuinely supernatural (there’s no internal story logic to these nasties, where they come from, what they want, what they do--other than to cause a lot of icky havoc—is left for the theatre of the mind…). Serious horror buffs will strain to find a metaphor in the television angle—perhaps Bava aspires to cheekily paraphrase McLuhan in that here, the medium is the massacre? (a reach, I admit...).

The momentum is dulled, somewhat, by the third-act emergence of a gawd-awful rubber puppet--of the John Carl Beuchler variety ala Ghoulies and laughably unconvincing even by 80s standards (and we all bought into “Yoda”, ET, and the Gelflings, didn’t we?).

Those of us of a certain age (read: those of us who first consumed Douglas Coupland and tingled: "that's me!") will enjoy the soundtrack: alt-rock staples The Smiths, The Cult, The Dead Can Dance, Art Of Noise, Gene Loves Jezebel, Peter Murphy underscore the KY jelly and karo syrup free-for-all that occupies much of what passes for plot in Act Two. It all oozes and splats to the requisite “the end?” coda that, to no one’s surprise, segued to a Demons 3 and a Demons 4.

Following the screening, presented by Rue Morgue Magazine and London, Ontario’s Vagrancy Films, the jazzed audience was treated to a Q&A with “Sally” herself, actress Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, who currently resides in New York (her home town, actually), and was in the GTA for Rue Morgue magazine's annual Festival Of Fear blow-out at the FanExpo convention.

The 36-year old actress, not looking a day older than she appears in the film, was clearly moved by the enthusiastic reception, and admitted she still feels a kinship with her character, who she says “makes her sad”.

Demons 2, like its preceding chapter, was shot in Munich. She recalled that the makeup took hours to apply, and that her contact lenses were quite painful—obviously, FX technology has come a long way. Bava, who cameos in the film as her father, didn’t give her a lot of direction, and hired her without an audition, based upon her other film work.

Cataldi-Tassoni went on to become something of a Italian scream queen, appearing in Dario Argento’s Opera, Phantom Of The Opera remake (as a child, she grew up in the opera scene, performing in “La Boheme” at the age of three!), as well as Andreas Marfori’s “Il Bosco/Horror Clutch, and Bava’s recent Ghost Son. When asked to compare the directing styles of Bava and Argento, she demurred “quantum physics…completely different universes…” and left it at that.

Extending warm regards from Lamberto Bava and FX supervisor Sergio Stivaletti, Cataldi-Tassondi was off to the Gladstone Hotel to perform numbers from her debut music CD “Limbo Balloon” accompanied by Maurizio Guarini of the prog-rock band (and frequent Argento collaborators) Goblin.

Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni will next be seen in Dario Argento’s Mother Of Tears, the long-awaited sequel to Suspiria and Inferno, debuting in just a little more than a week at The 32nd Annual Toronto International Film Festival.

© Robert J. Lewis 2007