"It's like The Evil Dead." Well, that's the plot summarised.
Demons is very 1980s, but made by Italians. This doesn't necessarily make it good, but it does make it a bit different from what America was giving us. If nothing else, at least the soundtrack is noteworthy. Billy Idol, Accept, Motley Crue, Claudio Simonetti, Rick Springfield, Pretty Maids, Go West, The Adventures and Saxon. Even if you don't like hard rock, it's distinctive. I do like what the Italians often do with their horror film soundtracks and what we have here is rather refreshing, giving the film its own distinctive energy. The opening sequence in particular (starring the lovely and underused Natasha Hovey) would have been bland with more conventional music. She sits on a train. That's about it. However here it's kinda fun.
The film can boast some famous names, but only approximately. Dario Argento was the main producer and one of the scriptwriters. Mario Bava was the director's father. Lamberto Bava apparently calls this his favourite of all the films he's directed, but maybe that's why he's not his dad. Like its sequel, the film also stars one of Dario's daughters, but it's only the lesser-known Fiore rather than the rather successful Asia.
As for the film itself, it's silly and dumb, with little to offer the viewer but its own demented energy. Produced in the hopes of making it big across the Atlantic, it was filmed entirely in Europe but dubbed by Americans and convinced me at any rate that it was set in some American inner city. The redubbing is done quite well, considering, but this merely means I was only cringing sometimes instead of non-stop. Well, maybe I'm over-sensitive. It also did well enough to get a sequel the following year, which sounds as if it was basically more of the same but also some kind of holy grail for fans of stupidity in horror films. If a corrosive liquid comes through your ceiling and then burns through your floor, touch it with your fingers! If you have no success breaking a window with a large metal bar, try throwing a flowerpot instead! "Put that fire out! If not, we'll suffocate!" However I haven't seen this sequel myself though and am unlikely to do so, having owned the DVD at one point but eventually throwing it out unwatched.
Coming back to the original and less wildly retarded Demons (1), we have a narrative that's simple to the point of being simplistic, but at least has the virtue of always being ready to throw more ideas at the audience. I enjoyed its imagination. The "wow, what next?" factor was one of the main reasons I kept watching, even if the results couldn't always be taken seriously. They had a couple of transformation effects I'd never seen before, one apparently inspired by Murnau's 1922 Nosferatu. Note that a poster for that film is visible at one point. Then there's a scene with a naked breast and a razor blade, which probably sounds more lurid than it is but still had me cringing at nothing at all. Razor blades, eeeeewww.
The cast are okay, but this was never going to be the kind of film you watch for the characters. I liked the dried-up old blind cinema-goer (I guess it takes all sorts), while it's also nice to see that sometimes you actually want to be next to a misogynistic knife-flashing pimp. However there's a laughable transformation of nice guy into badass hero, which didn't have to be a problem but ended up being one after thanks to Bava's direction and Urbano Barberini's performance. Something went astray there. This film isn't a bad Euro-substitute for The Evil Dead if you don't feel like watching the real thing again, but Barberini definitely isn't Bruce Campbell.
There's a hidden moral dimension, as you'll often get in horror. A character's life expectancy is linked to their moral rectitude. Pimps, whores and gangsters can't expect to hang around too long, while the nice guys will secretly turn out to have been kick-ass biker dudes in disguise. This is unintentionally funny and apparently continues in Demons 2.
In fairness the movie has a big idea, which is that its characters are trapped in a cinema watching a horror movie. Other films have done things which on the face of it might sound similar, e.g. the Scream trilogy, Wes Craven's New Nightmare, but this manages to be different by not being post-modern at all. The results can hardly be called deep, but I rather liked it. For a start, it had me regretting the fact that I was only watching it on DVD. We get a decent look at the cinema-going experience, down to the couples who are more interested in each other than in anything on-screen. Naturally the events of the film-within-the-film are soon echoed in the main narrative, except that the "real" version is dafter.
This film is a loud, exuberant exercise in gore and silliness. In fairness, it's having fun. The story moves along nice and fast and they certainly don't waste much time getting down to the apocalypse. Possibly best watched drunk.