Demons 2 Blu-ray Review (originally published 2014)
There’s a scary movie on television and the residents of a luxury high-rise building have their eyes glued to their sets. Unfortunately for a young birthday girl, an eternal demonic evil is released through her TV and partygoers soon find themselves fighting an army of murderous monsters! Acid blood, demonic dogs, possessed children and rampaging zombies wreak havoc for the trapped tenants! (From Synapse’s official synopsis)
Demons (Italian: Demoni; aka: Dance of the Demons, 1985) was designed to please the widest horror audience possible and its monumental success in theaters and home video propelled producer Dario Argento and director Lamberto Bava to new levels of international fame. Obviously, they had to make a sequel and that sequel had to be even more commercially viable. Appropriately titled Demons 2 (Italian: Demoni 2; aka: Demons 2: The Nightmare Returns), this second film in the (sort of) ongoing franchise was quickly thrown together in a haze and released almost exactly one year after the original. Given the lack of time and care put into any part of the production process, the results are predictably slapdash and fans have long resented the sequel for essentially retelling the first film’s story in a different location, instead of expanding upon its apocalyptic finale, in which the demon plague overtook Italy while victims were trapped in the theater. The TV movie within this movie, the one that unleashes the curse this time around, is a docudrama about the post-demon apocalypse, assuming that’s any consolation. Critics and audiences lamented the lack of originality and continuing dependence on rubbery special effects and Demons 2 was left on the wayside as a forgotten curiosity. However, in the years since, the two Demons movies have been coupled so often that they’ve become nearly inseparable for a generation of home video viewers. With the MPAA-mandated cuts to its violence finally eradicated for its first DVD release (Demons was never censored, but, for some reason Demons 2 was submitted for an R-rating when released stateside) fans are perhaps able to enjoy what Bava did with this thankless, cash-in project. Personally, I’ve grown to slightly prefer the sequel to the original.
Demons 2 is an even purer practice in exploitation than its predecessor in that an exploitation movie exploiting the popularity of another exploitation movie is a pretty spectacular equation (the math definitely checks out). Bereft of originality, half the fun is playing its ongoing game of “spot the reference.” Demons already owed a substantial debt to George Romero and Lucio Fulci’s zombie movies (the demons are basically a shape-shifting variation on the contagious living dead trope) and both the concept and aggressive energy levels were inspired by Sam Raimi’s spook-a-blast Evil Dead (1981). In fact, if Argento hadn’t been involved, Demons probably would’ve been sold as a sequel to Evil Dead in Italy (five unrelated films were retitled so they’d appear to be sequels to Raimi’s film – entitled La casa in Italy – though, funnily enough 1993’s Army of Darkness wasn’t one of them). Demons 2 recycles the basic premise of its predecessor, as well as all the movies it was already mimicking, then adds an additional pile of allusions to the Alien movies (the demons now have acid blood) and Joe Dante’s Gremlins (1984 – a gremlin-like puppet demon menaces a pregnant woman for a large portion of the climax).
Beyond this are unlikely homages to the work of David Cronenberg. The basic concept – a state-of-the-art high-rise that traps tenants during a contagious monster outbreak – is swiped directly from David Cronenberg’s Shivers (aka: They Came From Within and The Parasite Murders, 1975) and a scene of a demon pushing his way out of a television is lifted from Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983). Unlike the postmodern horrors that followed, from Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) to Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods (2012), Bava and his cohorts didn’t acknowledge these associations in any metatextual way. They intended the references as tribute, but pre-Tarantino mainstream cinema audiences weren’t used to the idea of tribute in genre movies and Demons 2 was dismissed as a rip-off. In retrospect, it seems unwise to find Bava’s mimicry offensive, though, given the grand Italian horror tradition of ripping off popular concepts.
Demons 2 is a slicker movie as well, though I can understand how fans of the original’s grotty violence could object to the prettier photography, larger canvas, and flashy editing. The MTV sensibilities barely touched upon in Demons are ratcheted to eleven, including more rhythmic cutting, extreme camera angles, and strobing neon lights to match the louder, more pop-infused musical soundtrack. As in the case of the first film, the excesses grow numbing going into the final act. All of the scenes that take place outside of the high-rise are superfluous to the point that they drag down the otherwise speedy momentum. Even the best scenes, such as the pregnant woman’s endless battle with a screeching demon Muppet (I attributed this to being a Gremlins reference, but realize it might also be a nod to Dan Curtis’ 1975 TV movie, Trilogy of Terror), tend to overstay their welcome. In the end, Demons 2 is simply more of everything – more (though not necessarily gorier) effects, more locations, more action, more fire, more crashing cars, more gunshots, more nonsense, more dumb dialogue, and more fun. Your mileage may vary.
Synapse’s remastered 1080p, 1.66:1 transfer’s details are significantly sharper than their fuzzy, compression-noise clobbered SD counterpart and the major changes in color timing and gamma are, generally speaking, an improvement. The screen caps don’t do justice to the clarity improvements or the fact that the darker images are more discernible in motion. That said, it is arguable that Synapse got better results from the first film. Demons 2’s palette is more eclectic and the intensification of blues and reds does overwhelm some of the more subtle hue differentiations. The Anchor Bay DVD (the first availability of the unrated cut) was kind of dingy, but definitely more varied in terms of oranges, yellows, and greens. Though the boosted blacks give the moodier sequences depth and punch (the DVD’s blacks are pretty muddy and brown), the crush effects occasionally overwhelm small details. At worst, some of the gore and transformation scenes – the images that really define the film – are now obscured. Still, this is generally a substantial improvement. Demons 2 might be a bit grainier than its predecessor, though this may be an effect of the harsher contrast, which could be pumping up the intensity of the tiny black dots. This applies most commonly to the outdoor establishing shots. Speaking of outdoor shots, Demons 2 has some particularly problematic outdoor location scenes. In at least three instances – once while establishing the Oktoberfest location (where Bava himself cameos as the birthday girl’s father), once during a scene where extras are followed along a boardwalk, and again during the car crash sequence – the film begins to shutter and shake vertically. The shake appears on both Synapse’s Blu-ray and Anchor Bay’s DVD during the same scenes. Since each release was mastered from a different source, I assume something went wrong during filming or postproduction. The effect is amplified in HD.
If, like the original movie, Demons 2 was redubbed for its US release (via Artists Entertainment Group), that dub would’ve only applied to the edited, R-rated version. So, even if such a thing exists (and I have no idea if it does) there’d be little reason to include it here. Synapse has fitted their Blu-ray with a solo DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English soundtrack. Again, most of what I said in the Demons review applies here – the ghost center channel separates the dialogue better than some mixes with supposedly discrete 5.1 mixes. The stereo channels have more to do outside of music this time as well, both in terms of layering noise for the action scenes and inserting directional effects for the sake of atmosphere. The demon growls/screams are also stereo enhanced to give them a more dramatic, otherworldly impact. The horrible screeching of the mini-demon occasionally fuzzes-out at the highest volume levels, but I believe this is an intended extreme quality. The music, including Simon Boswell’s electronic score and another collection of ‘80s metal and pop entries, is, once again, the primary audio element and sounds fantastic.
There are no extras included with this Standard Edition disc.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.