Sunday, March 10, 2024

Dèmoni 2... l'incubo ritorna (1986)

... aka: Dämonen
... aka: Dance of the Demons 2
... aka: Demonen 2 huiveringwekkend leuk (Demons 2: Chilling Fun)
... aka: Demons 2
... aka: Demons 2: The Nightmare Is Back
... aka: Demons 2: The Nightmare Returns
... aka: Meng gui fan sheng (The Devil's Reincarnation)

Directed by:
Lamberto Bava

The original DEMONS (1985) was such a hit with Italian audiences that this sequel was immediately rushed into production, began filming a mere seven months later and was already in theaters nearly a year to the day of the first film's debut. Clearly not aspiring to do anything other than give fans a second helping of what they loved the first time out, director / co-writer Bava, producer / co-writer Dario Argento, additional writers Franco Ferrini and Dardano Sacchetti and special effects man Sergio Stivaletti repeat pretty much the exact same formula here. We're talking a very simple plot of trapped people fighting for their lives as a demonic contagion quickly spreads (with a nearly nonexistent explanation behind these events), a loud rock music soundtrack, a very high body count, identical looking ugly, green, veiny-faced demon designs, a lengthy film-within-the-film that somehow unleashes the evil and plenty of bloodshed, gruesome make-ups and elaborate special effects.

This at least makes one very good decision to alter the location. Instead of being set inside an old, dark, dingy, comparatively small flea pit movie theater, this one takes place inside an expansive, modern luxury high rise apartment building, giving it kind of a sleeker, more industrial feel that's accentuated with a consistent steely blue color palette. It also means we get a much larger playground for the demons to do their thing in. Not only are there various apartments with personalized art direction to reflect the occupants, but this building also has a gym, sauna, tanning salon, large parking garage, elevators, stairwells and more for all of the horror scenes to play out in. Sure this idea was likely cribbed from Cronenberg's Shivers (1975), which also features an outbreak inside a hi-tech apartment building, but the location change actually does make a big difference here.

As far as the characters are concerned, it's the usual assortment of thinly-defined fodder just as it was before. The closest thing to heroes we got in the first time out were hunky George and pretty music student Cheryl. Here we get another hunky student named George (David Edwin Knight) and his pretty wife, Hannah (Nancy Brilli). This does add a few slight details in that George is an extremely busy student who's also working a full-time job while his wife is 9 months pregnant and about to pop at any moment, but otherwise it's about the same routine. The more colorful and entertaining folks in the original film were those in smaller supporting parts, which is, again, mimicked here.

There's Mary (Virginia Bryant), a claustrophobic high priced call girl who's there visiting a john. There's the Haller family, including young daughter Ingrid (10-year-old Asia Argento in her feature film debut), who loves horror movies much to her father's (Antonio Cantafora) chagrin. Nearby is an even younger boy named Tommy (Marco Vivio), who's scared because he's been left all along by his mother (who's out on a date), and there's a spinster (Anita Bartolucci) and her beloved pet pooch in another unit. A number of actors return from the first film, though they're all playing different roles here. Fan favorite Bobby Rhodes (Tony the pimp from the original) is cast as drill instructor-like personal trainer Hank, while Lino Salemme (Ripper the punk from the original) is front desk security guard Frank and Eliana Miglio, featured in the film-within-a-film segment in the first, also turns up in the film-within-a-film segment here.

Early on, quite a bit of focus is placed on an incredibly shrill and irritating teen girl named Sally (Coralina Cataldi Tassoni), who is made even more annoying via the extremely whiny voice given to her in the English version. Sally is hosting her own birthday party but refuses to leave her bedroom for, hmm, reasons. When a friend complements her, she loudly shrieks "Not true! My hair stinks! This dress stinks!" She then has a meltdown over her "disgusting" shoulder pads and sleeves. Why? Well, because they "go back and forth" (?) And then when she finds out a boy she doesn't like has accidentally been invited, she has another screaming meltdown ("GET OUT!!!") and runs back into her bedroom to pout. I'm not sure if they were intentionally trying to make her unbearable so that audiences would be cheering on her demise or it just turned out that way, but spending ten minutes listening to this chick scream and complain is eleven minutes too long.

Like in the first film where the initial demon is able to enter into our world through a theater screen showing a film about demons, the one here manages to pop right out of a television set showing a movie about demons. And it immediately does us all a huge favor by choosing Sally as its first victim. Her ear-piercing whines are soon replaced by the much more pleasant sounds of deep-voiced moaning, groaning and yowling as she starts shredding her party guests with her freshly-sharpened claws and fangs, transforming the entire event into a bloodbath and creating a mini-army of demons in the process. Afterward, Sally expels some acidic ooze that eats right through the floors and enters into other apartments downstairs, contaminating even more folks. The same goo melts through the wiring, cuts out the power and phones and makes it impossible to leave the building.

George and Mary both become trapped inside the elevator, the spinster is attacked by her own dog after it laps up some contaminated blood, Hannah has to face off against a demon kid and the awful Gremlins-style rubber puppet that pops out of its chest (with the silly scene made that much worse by constant strobe lighting, grating rock guitar cues and piercing shrieks and giggles from the creature) and a group of resourceful survivors (led by Rhodes) eventually congregate in the parking garage, try to find weapons, make some Molotov cocktails, barricade the doors with cars and try to stay alive. There are some goofy murder scenes, like a woman roasted alive in a tanning bed, a guy getting smooshed in gym equipment and a demon claw squashing a guy's crotch.

It's not just the plot being rehashed here, but also some of the more memorable shots from the first film (like a group of backlit, glowing-eyed demons running down a long dark corridor in slow motion) are repeated. This also seems to repeat the mistake of constantly cutting away to irrelevant activity outside of the apartment building to show Sally's parents, Tommy's mother and a quartet of obnoxious punks (AGAIN!) driving around seemingly for the sole purpose of being able to cram more rock songs onto the soundtrack. However, I'm willing to let that slide here because the director at least uses our familiarity with the events of the original to subvert expectations and uses these characters to set up an unexpected event right outside the building.

While this suffers from the same exact issues that plagued Demons 1 (bad acting, dumb dialogue, terrible dubbing, nearly nonexistent plot...) it's just as visually stylish, handsomely shot / lit, fast-paced, brainlessly entertaining and filled with fun make-up fx. One could mark it down for recycling too much material from the first, but the change of location mostly makes up for that. 

The Simon Boswell score is perhaps not as memorable as the previous one from Goblin, but it's still pretty good, while the soundtrack (featuring The Smiths, Love and Rockets, The Art of Noise, The Cult, Gene Loves Jezebel, Dead Can Dance, Peter Murphy and more) swerves away from 80s glam metal to include a more diverse sound that includes new wave, alternative, post-punk, Gothic rock and synth-pop. As for which of the Demons films is actually better, I can now officially call it a draw.

Like its predecessor, this was a big VHS hit in much of the world, which led to the development of a third film soon after. However, that ended up going through a number of abandoned story ideas before the sequel idea was scrapped altogether. Bava and Sacchetti both left the project to do other films, but it eventually took shape as Michele Soavi's La chiesa / The Church (1989), which both Argento (a producer and writer) and Ferrini (writer) were involved with.

Similar to the very loose Zombi series, there were a few other films released under the Demons banner in different countries, though none of these are really official sequels. The aforementioned The Church was called Demons 3 in Japan. La casa dell'orco / "The Ogre's House" (1988), which was made by Bava for the Italian TV series Brivido giallo, was released in certain markets (including the U.S.) as Demons III: The Ogre. Umberto Lenzi's Black Demons (1991), an Italian production filmed in Brazil, was released in many European countries as Demons 3

Soavi's La setta / The Sect (1991; U.S. title - The Devil's Daughter) was called Demons 4 in Japan. Bava's La máscara del demonio / The Mask of Satan (1989), a made-for-TV loose "remake" of Bava Sr.'s BLACK SUNDAY (1960), was released in Japan and the U.S. as Demons 5: The Devil's Veil. Luigi Cozzi's Il gatto nero / The Black Cat (1989), his unsanctioned conclusion to Argento's "Three Mothers" trilogy (which Argento would officially finish himself a few decades later), was called Demon 6, or Demons 6: De Profundis, in France, Japan and the U.S. Finally, Japanese distributors (who are the ones mostly responsible for turning these unrelated films into bogus sequels) got their hands on Soavi's Dellamorte dellamore / Cemetery Man (1994) and rechristened it Demons '95 for the home video release.

For its limited 1987 theatrical run here in America, Artists Entertainment Group had around 4 minutes of gore removed so it could secure an R rating. The same cut turned up on home video courtesy of Imperial Entertainment, which claims to run 88 minutes. To my knowledge, all later DVD and Blu-ray releases, from Anchor Bay, Synapse, etc., are the uncut version running just shy of 92 minutes.

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