The great thing about genre is that classics and VHS bargain bin staples are often one and the same. Demons is such a film; a “Spaghetti Splatter” cult favourite about a zombie outbreak in a cinema. I’m not saying it’s exactly the same but I did once see someone get punched in the face for talking during the Evil Dead trilogy.
It’s ironic that a film exploiting the moviegoing experience would proliferate on home video, demonstrating the enduring appeal and simple glee of its ghoulies-at-the-movies premise. What this Italian horror movie lacks in story, character and general competence it makes up for in eccentric gore, with a similar self-aware punk aesthetic to Return of the Living Dead (also from 1985).
Around this time, producer Dario Argento seemed interested in (and critical of) the moral panic surrounding the genre; the film starts out as commentary before unravelling like celluloid, turning into a theatre of blood, guts and heavy metal. The cinemagoing characters experience the same horror as befalls the victims in the film-within-a-film, which even has the same opening shot as Demons.
This attention to detail flies out the window once the projection booth is smashed to pieces (the projectors working on their own is slightly less scary in the digital age), unleashing an onslaught of samurai swords, motorbikes and (for some reason) a helicopter. Having cut his teeth working with his father Mario Bava and Argento, director Lamberto Bava knows his gore if nothing else.
But the movie peaks early, beating Scream 2 to the meta cinema attack by over a decade with its victim tearing through the screen into the audience and its “The movie’s to blame for all this!” screaming. Bava’s greatest image is that of an undulating movie screen shot from behind, as though about to tear a hole in our reality. Demons is the best escape from a cinema since I finished Cats.