• Demons I & Demons II (Synapse Films) UHD Review



    Released by: Synapse Films
    Released on: October 19th, 2021.
    Director: Lamberto Bava
    Cast: Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Karl Zinny, Paolo Cozzo, Geretta Geretta, David Edwin Knight, Nancy Brilli, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, Asia Argento
    Year: 1985/1986
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    Demons I & Demons II – Movie Review:

    Previously released on standard Blu-ray by Synapse Films back in 2013, Lamberto Bava’s Demons and Demons II make their North American 4k UHD debut with this new special edition two-disc collection (which is limited to six thousand pieces).

    Demons:

    Directed by Lamberto Bava in 1985, Demons is set in Berlin where a beautiful young woman named Cheryl (Natasha Hovey) is approached by a strange man (Michele Soavi) with a metal mask covering half of his face. He gives her a free ticket to a show happening at the new Metropol Theater, a massive building with a neon sign that lights up like a beacon in the night. She takes the flyer and goes on her way and then meets up with her friend, Kathy (Paolo Cozzo). Since they don’t have anything else going on, they decide they’ll skip their night class and take in that show. Innocently enough, they head off to the theater for an evening’s entertainment.

    As the two girls and the rest of the attendees enter the theater, it becomes apparent that there’s a weird mix of people out for this mystery movie. An old man named Werner (Alex Serra) and his young wife Liz (Sally Day) are here as is a surly pimp (Bobby Rhodes) and two of his prostitutes. Some teenagers are in the audience, as are a few older couples, and then there are George (Urbano Barberini) and Ken (Karl Zinny), two college guys who see Cheryl and Kathy as prospects for a good time.

    On her way into the theater, one of the prostitutes, Rosemary (Geretta Geretta), walks up to a display where he sees a silver mask. She puts it on and cuts herself, but it’s just a little nick, surely nothing to worry about. As everyone gets seated in the auditorium the movie begins and wouldn’t you know, it’s a movie about a horde of bloodthirsty demons. As our cut victim gets up and heads to the restroom, noticing that her wound is still bleeding, it bursts into a nasty boil as she transforms into a demon that looks an awful lot like the monsters the audience is seeing up there on the screen. Her friend comes looking for her but gets bit and she too turns. From here on out, the two demons head into the theater and begin slowly but surely slaughtering their way through the crowd. The action in the theater mixes with the action on the screen and those who soon realize what’s actually happening find themselves locked inside the theater in a fight to survive. Meanwhile, a quartet of punks is driving around in a car doing coke. When the cops stop them, they split and head for the nearest hiding spot... which just so happens to be the Metropol.

    Demons takes about twenty to twenty-five minutes to get going, pretty much using everything up to Rosemary’s trip to the bathroom is setup and once her boil lets loose a shower of disgusting yellow goop? Game on. This is not a deep movie nor is it particularly thought provoking. It’s not even really all that scary – but it is gory and it is gross and it is a lot of fun. To the picture’s credit, it’s quite nicely shot. There are some moments of decent atmosphere and the makeup effects on display, courtesy of Sergio Stivaletti, are top notch. As Rosemary infects her friend and they in turn infect a whole bunch of other attendees, what happens in the theater more and more mimics the ‘movie within a movie’ showing on the screen.

    Everything happens very quickly here. There’s little in the way of character development as most of the cast are introduced quickly enough really just to serve as cannon fodder but the cast are fun here. Logic is thrown out the window in favor of splatter but if you go into this one with the right expectations, it’s fun. Very much a product of its time, the score (composed by Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti) suits the insanity well and there are some impressive moments that show off great stunt choreography. The fancy theater makes for a great setting for a horror movie so architecture buffs will appreciate the little details in the décor used as the backdrop for the carnage. At times it feels a little bit like Night Of The Living Dead, what with a group of survivors stuck in a singular location and surrounded by hordes of monsters, but where Romero goes for tension and smart scares, Bava opts for splatter. It’s a fine approach, just not as clever an approach. At the same time, you never get the impression that Bava’s trying to do much more than take us on the tried and true ‘cinematic roller coaster ride’ and if you approach the movie on that level, it works. This is, after all, a movie where a man rides a motorcycle through a movie theater, upstairs and over chairs, wielding a sword with a hot chick hanging onto his back. And that's a very good thing indeed.

    Note that Synapse has included two versions of the film on this disc: the full-length original cut in English and Italian, and the shorter U.S. version featuring alternate dubbing and sound effects. It’s great to have both versions here.

    Demons II:

    Once again directed by Lamberto Bava, the second Demons film takes the chaos and carnage out of the theater and into a fancy apartment building just as a TV station airs a film in which a group of intrepid teenagers head into a walled off area. Behind these walls are what’s left of the location that was the basis of the first movie, and while they simply want to poke around and look for remnants and maybe take a few photographs, some spilt blood soon awakens the evil that still haunts the grounds.

    As the movie plays out on TV, the inhabitants of the building are all doing their own thing. In one apartment a young woman named Sally (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni) is having a birthday party with her friends. They’re eating cake and dancing around to The Smiths and having a great time. Nearby a pregnant woman named Hannah (Nancy Billi) and her husband George (David Edwin Knight) are relaxing and getting ready for their new arrival. A boy named Tommy (Davide Moretta) watches TV while he waits for his parents to come home while in yet another apartment a woman (Anita Bartolucci) just wants to relax with her dog. A prostitute (Virginia Byrant) services her client (Michele Mirabella) after being let in by the security guard (Lino Salemme) while next door a young woman named Ingrid (Asia Argento) watches TV with her mother and father (Luisa Passega and Antonio Cantafora). If that weren’t enough, on the lower level there’s a gym/fitness club where a trainer named Hank (Bobby Rhodes) is whipping his clients into shape.

    It’s safe to say that this building, equipped with bullet proof glass windows that won’t open, is a pretty busy place. So when a demon comes out of the TV and possesses birthday girl Sally and she attacks a bunch of her guests, things start to spread pretty quickly. Before you know it, the various groups of survivors are doing what they can to make it out of the building alive but soon enough all of the exits are barred and a whole lot of people are turning into otherworldly creatures with a penchant for blood, death and mayhem.

    Just as gooey and gory as the first entry, this one takes some sillier turns and, without wanting to head into spoiler territory, in one scene feels more like a Ghoulies movie (the first Ghoulies came out in 1985) or maybe even a Gremlins knock off than a Demons movie but with that said, this one holds up better than its reputation would have you believe. While it’s not as good as the first picture, it’s very well-paced and Bava does a pretty good job of creating some tension in a few scenes, maximizing the claustrophobic environment that the apartment building setting can provide. There are a few decent action and stunt sequences here, highlighted by a sequence in which a series of demons leap through a roaring fire in front of a door they’re trying to enter in order to catch their prey. It may not be realistic or particularly plausible but it makes for fun popcorn movie style entertainment.

    The cast are fun, the standout once again being Bobby Rhodes. He was great as the pimp in the first movie and here he’s just as good as the fitness trainer, belting out orders to his customers and taking charge like a drill sergeant as he and the survivors wind up trapped in the underground parking garage. He might not have a whole lot of range but he sure is fun to watch. Cataldi-Tassoni as Sally is a little irritating at first but once she turns, she’s good in her part, moving in a way that seems appropriately unnatural and doing a good job with the physicality required of her role. Nancy Billi is good as the pregnant woman seemingly in distress throughout pretty much the entire role and it’s fun to see a young Asia Argento make her acting debut here. Even if all she really does is run around and look terrified, at least she does it well. It’s also amusing to see Lino Salemme, who played Ripper in the first movie, return as a security guard this time around.

    This second film eschews the heavy metal that was used on the soundtrack for the first movie in favor of some (at the time) modern British pop music, so expect to hear The Smiths, Love And Rockets, Peter Murphy and a few others throughout the film. The actual score, composed by Simon Boswell, isn’t as good as Claudio Simonetti’s work on the original film but it suits the trashy eighties vibe that Bava has created for this sequel fittingly enough. Though the film goes for a crazier and more humorous approach than the noticeably darker original, Demons 2, while the lesser of the two pictures, is still a lot of fun.

    Demons I & Demons II – UHD Review:

    This UHD 4k upgrade of Demons I & Demons II, from Synapse Films Video, arrives with each film on its own 100GB disc in an HEVC encoded 2160p high definition transfer with HDR framed at 1.66.1 widescreen. Picture quality is very strong, with those garish eighties colors reproduced beautifully. Detail is considerably improved here when compared to the Blu-ray releases, not just in close up shots but in medium and long distance shots as well. This is noticeable even in the many darker scenes that are in each movie. Skin tones look nice and natural except when they look intentionally sickly and gooey, and black levels are pretty much perfect. There aren’t any obvious issues with noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression problems here. Synapse has done their typically excellent work bringing these two movies to the format, really taking advantage of the HDR, the larger disc space and the higher resolution to provide what is pretty much a perfect visual experience.

    For the first film, we're given 24-bit DTS-HD English and Italian 5.1 and 2.0 options taken from the original archival audio masters as well as a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 version of the U.S. Theatrical Mono mix newly remastered in 2021 by Synapse Films, with SDH subtitles for the English version and separate subtitles for the Italian version. For the second film, we get 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 options in English and Italian taken from the original archival audio masters as well as a new English 2.0 true stereo theatrical mix remastered in 2021 by Synapse Films, again with SDH subtitles for the English version and separate subtitles for the Italian version. No complaints here, the 5.1 tracks do a great job of spreading out the effects and the score for those who want that (it does create for some pretty immersive set pieces) while the original 2.0 tracks give purists what they want. There aren’t any issues here with any hiss or distortion, everything sounds crisp, clean and properly balanced.

    Extra features are spread out across the two discs in the set as follows:

    Demons:

    Extras on the first disc start off with a new audio commentary by critics Kat Ellinger and Heather Drain, co-hosts of the Hell’s Belles podcast. These two have a great rapport and seem to have a good time dissecting the movie, going over Bava’s career, Argento’s involvement in the production of the movie, the score, the effects work, the various performances and lots more. Along the way they offer up plenty of opinion and insight into aspects of the films that they appreciate, it’s quite a good natured and very listenable talk.

    Carried over from the Blu-ray is an audio commentary courtesy of moderators Mike Baronas (of Paura Productions), Art Ettinger (of Ultra-Violent Magazine) and Mark Murray (of Cult Collectibles) who lead a chat with director Lamberto Bava, make-up effects artist Sergio Stivaletti, musician/composer Claudio Simonetti and actress Geretta Geretta. This track, presented in Italian with English subtitles, is pretty informative. Bava has a bit more to say than the rest of the participants, no surprise there, as he covers Argento’s involvement in the film, the contributions of his cast and crew and what it was like working on the picture. Stivaletti and Simonetti obviously cover their contributions, effects and music respectively, while Geretta, who stars as Rosemary, is the lone participant to have worked in front of the camera, offering up some insight into what it was like acting in the production. They talk about the use of heavy metal music in the movie and how that came to be and also discuss what was shot in Berlin verus what was shot on a sound stage in Rome. Interestingly enough, Geretta notes that her charcter actually doesn't die and could be brought back for a sequel. At one point Bava mentions that the movie could take place in any decade, only the cars featured outside indicating that this is an eighties film. The fashions on display and the music used would probably disagree with him but he makes an interesting point. They also go into some detail about how the helicopter scene towards the end was shot using a real helicopter without any engine equipped with a fake blade. It's a fairly busy track, some good information is here and it's a fun listen.

    Up next is a new piece called Produced By Dario Argento, which is a new twenty-seven minute visual essay by author and critic Michael Mackenzie that goes over the man’s career as a producer. His work as a director has been very well covered over the years but his work as a producer, not as much. This gives Mackenzie quite a bit of ground to cover, as he explores how Argento got into producing films, why he produced rather than directed a few pictures, how he came to work with a few specific directors on the pictures he produced and quite a bit more.

    Also new to this release is a Sergio Stivaletti Q & A that was recorded live at the at the 2019 UK ‘Festival of Fantastic Films’ in Manchester. This piece runs thirty-six minutes and it sees the man in fine form, answering questions about his work on the picture and his career in general with a pretty enthusiastic crowd.

    Synapse has also ported over a few of the featurettes that weren’t included on their Blu-ray release (but which were on the Arrow UK Blu-ray release). Dario’s Demon Days is an eleven minute interview with writer/producer Dario Argento who talks about how he came to work on the project, the story ideas, working with Lamberto Bava and more. Defining An Era In Music interviews Claudio Simonetti for ten minutes about his work on the picture and the film’s soundtrack. Splatter Spaghetti Styleis an eleven minute interview with Argento collaborator and filmmaker Luigi Cozzi about his love of certain Italian gore pictures, Demons included.

    The rest of the extras are from the past Synapse Blu-ray release. Director Lamberto Bava is interviewed in the half hour Carnage At The Cinema: Lamberto Bava And His Splatter Masterpiece featurette. Here the man behind the movie talks about where the inspiration for the story came from, how Argento came onboard as producer, and how an idea that was originally shopped to Luciano Martino wound up turning into this project. He discusses the involvement of Dardano Sachetti, how they tried to give the demons in the movie some humanity, the complexities of shooting a movie in a then divided Berlin, and how sometimes you need to have a certain drive to make a really gruesome horror movie. He also talks about Argento brought Stivaletti on to do the effects, the importance of getting the right lighting and about the reception that the movie got when it played theatrically.

    Additionally, be sure to check out Dario And His Demons: Producing Monster Mayhem, which is an all new never before seen sixteen minute interview with Demons’ producer, Dario Argento. He notes that it was tough getting the screen play right but once he did that Bava worked ‘like he was in a trance.’ He then discusses the importance of giving the directors of the films that he produces their freedom so that their personalities come through, how he started initially working with some of the people involved in this project, his personal passion for horror movies, shooting in Germany, the worldwide success of the movie and the importance of the money that Italian TV companies can offer filmmakers.

    Luigi Cozzi also gets a half an hour in the spotlight here with a segment entitled Monstrous Memories. Here he shares some stories about Dario’s producing style, the costs involved in making films in Italy around this time, the trust that both director and producer had in Sachetti as a screenwriter, and the different sequels that were spun off of the success of the original Demons film (ie. The Black Cat becomes Demons 6 in Japan). He also spends some time sharing his thoughts on the film as well as on Demons 2, formulas in horror films, Soavi’s film The Church and quite a bit more.

    After that, there’s a seventeen minute piece called Profondo Jones: The Critical Perspective, which is an interview with film scholar Alan Jones. Here the author of the book Profondo Argento offers up some basic history of the first two movies, his thoughts on Lamberto Bava as a director, and the influence that Argento had on this picture by being on set the entire time it was being made. From there he offers up some comments on what he likes about the movie and what he feels is successful about the picture, calling out the quality of the effects in the film and more.

    Also quite interesting is the last interview which is a nine minute interview with Stunt Man Ottaviano Dell’Acqua entitled Splatter Stunt Rock. He starts off by talking about how he got into working in films and then goes on to note the importance of the Italian cop/action movies of the seventies and eighties. He then talks about his work on Demons, working with Freddy Unger, and some of the challenges that arose shooting inside an old theater late into the night. He notes his appreciation of Argento but also states that he could be ‘quite demanding’ and he talks about working with Bava and Stivaletti as well before finishing up with some thoughts on the boom years of Italian genre cinema.

    Rounding out the extras on the first disc are the original Italian and English international theatrical trailers, the U.S. theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection options.

    Demons II:

    Again, we get a new audio commentary for the feature, this time with film critic Travis Crawford. His talk is pretty interesting as he explores the many and obvious differences between this sequel and the first film while also going over where both Bava and Argento’s respective careers were at this point in their lives. There’s also plenty of talk about who did want in front of and behind the camera, the effects, the score and plenty more.

    Together And Apart is a new visual essay on the space and technology in Demons and Demons 2 courtesy of author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas that clocks in at twenty-seven minutes. It’s quite perceptive, as most of her work tends to be, and as such, worth checking out. It ties into some pretty heady themes and ideas involving the use of urban space, modern technology’s place in society and how all of this collides with the ideas explored in the movies.

    Also new to this release is The New Blood of Italian Horror, a sixteen minute featurette with Stivaletti where he goes over his collaborations with Michael Soavi. He notes how they collaborated on a few different films, how Soavi always had a pretty specific look in mind for the effects work, how he pushed him as a craftsman to create more original work, what Soavi is like as a director and how Stivaletti went about making all of this work.

    Again, we see some featurettes that originated on the Arrow UK Blu-ray release from a few years back, starting with Bava To Bava, which is an interview with Luigi Cozzi on the history of Italian horror that clocks in at seventeen minutes and uses the careers of Mario Bava and Lamberto Bava as bookends. It isn’t really ‘Demons 2’ specific but Cozzi is both likeable and knowledgeable so it’s worth checking out. Creating Creature Carnage is an interview with Sergio Stivaletti that runs for twenty-one minutes and covers the effects work, gore scenes and creature effects that he was responsible for creating for this movie.

    From there, check out the archival featurettes from the older Synapse release, starting with the twenty-seven minute A Soundtrack For Splatter: An Interview With Composer Simon Boswell. Here he speaks about how he got involved in the production business in Italy which inevitably lead to him scoring this film after playing live in a band called Livewire that Dario Argento had seen play in Rome. He shares some stories about his thoughts on working with Argento and Bava on the picture, how he was keen on steering Argento and Bava to using ‘a sort of British goth thing’ in place of the heavy metal used in the first Demons film and his thoughts on the movie itself. He also describes the process he had while working on this picture, how it’s important for European pictures not to try too hard to appeal to Americans or English speaking people in general, and how he wound up later working with Richard Stanley on Hardware and Dust Devil and how he was eventually contacted to work on From Dusk Till Dawn, which ‘didn’t work out for a number of reasons.’

    Demonic Influences: Federico Zampaglione Speaks is a ten minute piece in which the writer/director of 2012’s Tulpa - Perdizioni Mortali, who had a cameo in the movie, shares his thoughts on the two Demons movies, seeing the original in a packed theater with a good audience and how he thinks that Lamberto Bava’s personality comes through. He then talks about a project he and Lamberto had discussed in which they would attempt to recreate Mario Bava’s Danger! Diabolik and how they wound up making a parody video with a similar atmosphere. From there he talks about other film projects that he’s been involved with and offers up some commentary as to the quality of the effects work seen in the pictures and more.

    Screaming For A Sequel: The Delirious Legacy Of Demons 2 is a sixteen minute piece in which we hear from Lamberto Bava about the ‘how’ and ‘why of the existence of this second picture. He notes the influence of his father preparing him for life as a filmmaker first by encouraging him to read and then later by other more obvious methods, like having him work on pictures like Planet Of The Vampires. After talking about his father for a bit he discusses the making of this particular picture, noting that Argento said, correctly ‘you don’t change a winning team!’ which is why some of the same people are involved in this film as were involved in the first (though not all of the ones that he wanted are). He talks about using the television as a device in the film, alliances that were formed with Soavi on this and other pictures, and how he would wind up working with Argento and he also discusses his thoughts on The Church (the Soavi film, not the theological institution!) and what he liked about that particular picture.

    The Demons Generation: Roy Bava Discusses A Legacy In Lacerations is a thirty-five minute interview with the assistant director of the film. He speaks about his thoughts on the first movie, expressing his admiration for the use of heavy metal in the first Demons and what he thinks works so well about that film and his experiences working on it, noting that he was fully immersed in the making of that picture. He then talks about the involvement or Argento, the acting in the picture and the visual atmosphere of Berlin at the time that movie was made. From there he talks about Demons 2 and the casting and set decoration that was involved in getting that off and running. He had a more direct involvement with Lamberto this time around, and he note how passionate the effects crew were on this picture. He closes things off by talking about the difficulties of shooting the garage scenes due to the low ceiling, the film industry’s state when this movie was made and how things have changed since then.

    The New Blood Of Italian Horror: Sergio Stivaletti And Michele Soavi – From Demons To Dellamorte Dellamore lets the effects maestro spend sixteen minutes talking about his relationship with the enigmatic Soavi. He starts by talking about the differences in styles between Lamberto and Mario Bava and how Michele Soavi sort of fit into all of this, discussing his work with Argento and noting similarities more specifically to Mario Bava than to Lamberto. He shares some stories about working with him on Demons, his thoughts on Tim Savini’s work in Dawn Of The Dead compared to Soavi’s ideas in Dellamorte Dellamore and how this sort of trickled down into Stagefright and The Church. He then talks about some of the effects set pieces that he was involved in staging, the atmosphere that is so important to Dellamorte Dellamore and how he was able to create a more surreal atmosphere than either Lamberto Bava or Dario Argento. He closes things out by talking about the state of Italian horror cinema now as compared to the era in which these films were made and why it has gone that way.

    The original Italian and English trailers are also included as are animated menus and chapter selection.

    It’s also worth pointing out the packaging for this release, as Synapse has done a nice job with it. This release comes with a slipcover featuring newly created art on the front, as well as a reversible cover sleeve with that same art on one side and the original poster art for the two films on the reverse. Tucked away inside the clear plastic keepcase, alongside a thick catalogue of Synapse releases, is an insert card make up to look like a ticket for the Metropol and a second insert made up to look like an invite for Sally Day’s birthday party, both of which include technical details on the presentations on the reverse side. There’s also a folded up poster reproducing the first film’s art included in here as well. These may be minor things compared to the discs themselves, but they’re the type of nice little touches that collectors tend to appreciate.

    Demons I & Demons II - The Final Word:

    Demons I & Demons II both remain a lot of crazy, gory fun, each film really going for the jugular! This UHD set from Synapse Films presents both films in gorgeous presentations with really strong audio and a great selection of extra features both old and new, all wrapped up in a very nice package. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Demons I & Demons II Blu-ray screen caps (taken from the original release) that don’t look as nearly good as the UHD reviewed above (but reviews without screen caps are boring)!