Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

La maschera del demonio (1989)

... aka: Black Sabbath
... aka: Demons 5
... aka: Demons V: The Devil's Veil
... aka: Mascara del Satano, La
... aka: Mask of Satan
... aka: Masque de Satan, Le

Directed by:
Lamberto Bava

Confused about the "Demons" series of films? Well you ain't the only one. This French / German / Italian / Portuguese / Spanish co-production from the director of Demons (1985), Demons 2 (1986) and The Ogre: Demons 3 (1987) was based on the same Nikolai Gogol story ("Vij") that was the basis for BLACK SUNDAY (1960), a film that's now considered a Gothic horror classic and was made by Lamberto's very talented father, Mario. Both Sunday and Demons 5 share the same original filming title and also have the spiked mask and resurrected witch story aspects in common, but this still isn't really a remake of the earlier film. The sequel title comes from Japan, where it was re-titled to follow Lamberto Bava's first two movies, Demons 3 (better known as The Church) and Demons 4 (better known as either The Sect or The Devil's Daughter). It was never English-dubbed or officially released in America. In fact, the only known version with English subs was released by bootleggers Video Search of Miami, who put out a very dark, very washed-out looking print of the film derived from a broadcast on Spanish TV.

Eight young people; four guys and four girls, manage to all fall into a deep ice cavern while skiing down a mountain. One of the girls - Sabina (Deborah Caprioglio, Klaus Kinski's buxom and much younger ex-wife) - injurs her leg, while another of the guys finds a frozen corpse with a steel mask over the face. A few of the boys decides to chip away at the ice until they can remove the mask. The Earth shakes, a guy is impaled with a giant icicle, Sabina's leg miraculously heals itself and they locate the backside of a church. They go inside, exit out the front door and find themselves in a deserted, snow-covered town populated only by a superstitious albino priest (Stanko Molnar) and his pet wolf. The priest informs them that they made a grave mistake removing the mask because it will awaken evil witch Anibas (Eva Grimaldi), whose fate is shown to us through flashback. Immediately six of the "teens" are possessed, start behaving strangely and attempt to kill Sabina and David (Giovanni Guidelli), apparently the only two virgins in the group. Even stranger, the names of the six possessed - Alexandra (Mary Sellers), Nora (Alessandra Bonarotta), Irma (Laura Devoti), Bebo (Michele Soavi), Andrea (Stefano Molinari) and Sergio (Ron Williams) - spell out "Anibas." There's another clumsy clue mirrored in the witch's name that I probably don't even need to reveal.

The premise itself is great. The discoveries at the beginning of the film with the cavern and that snowy ghost town are fascinating, and the art direction and sets that bring these locations to life is top notch. Unfortunately, once the possession portion sets in after about half an hour, the film becomes bland. Fans of the first Demons films will notice a considerable lack of action and gore. There are no hideous-looking, rotten demon-people running amuck that claw and infect the others. Instead, the possessions happen instantaneously and those possessed are not given any kind of makeup application to make them look intimidating. It seems like they saved up their fx budget for the witch when she finally materializes.

It's also difficult to really get swept up in the atmosphere since the characters are pretty much all obnoxious, annoying and stupid. I don't know about you, but under the circumstances (one girl injured, one guy dead and trapped underground in a freezing-cold ice crevice) I wouldn't be laughing and cracking jokes. A few girls lose their tops and there's a demon sex scene, but that's about it. Simon Boswell provided the disappointing and forgettable score.


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