A character like this should make it to the end of the picture, but… well, these movies don’t always make sense.
Even before the trend to make genre fiction more like real life, most characters just didn’t have a satisfying sense of agency. In horror films they’d almost always make one boneheaded decision after another while screaming their heads off. In Demons there are a few characters who’d be perfectly willing to do just that, but then there’s always another character, like Rhodes, who’s willing to step up, slap ’em across the face, and keep the pace of the movie moving.
Click the “Read more” link below to read about the sequel.
Major spoilers for the first film follow….
I hoped (but did not expect) Demons 2 would pick up exactly where the original left off. The sword-wielding survivor of the first film was just becoming interesting by the time the credits rolled: last time we saw him he’d slayed a theater full of demons with the help of an unlikely helicopter. Although Demons 2 technically takes place after the events of the first film, it’s little more than a redo.
What worked well for Evil Dead 2 doesn’t work as well here, but it’s a pleasant surprise that Lamberto Bava cast some familiar faces, particularly Bobby Rhodes who stole the original picture. Although his new character lasts a little longer than his pimp counterpart in the other film, Rhodes isn’t quite as intense as he was the last time we saw him. Why they didn’t just make him the main character beats the shit out of me. Maybe because it’d be so awesome our puny little eyeballs would explode?
This time Bava trades the movie theater location for a high-rise apartment building in which everyone seems to be watching the same horror film on television. A narrator informs us the events of the first film “convinced the world that demons can exist.” And you think to yourself, “Hey, a world in which everybody believes in demons sounds like a pretty interesting setting for a horror movie! I wonder how they contained the outbreak from the first film…”
And you’ll keep wondering because they never explain what stopped the seemingly unstoppable spread of demons. Yeah, I know there was a lot that wasn’t explained by the first film either (Chrome-Face’s motivation, the motorcycle, the fact the owner had no idea her theater was haunted even though—literally—a blind man figured it out), but the difference is the first film was riotous good fun. When you make a movie with that level of crazy entertainment, you earn the right to take a few liberties. I don’t feel like Bava completely earned that right with this film, which is not to say it’s a bad movie, just a retread with a lot less energy.
The original film managed to set up its large cast of victims in the first thirty minutes or so. This one takes something like forty and then some. Whereas the movie playing in the predecessor’s theater had a little bit of plot and a whole lot of gore, the movie-within-the-movie here has little more to add than background noise. The characters are a little dumber, the glowing eyes of the first film aren’t as effective, and—for reasons incomprehensible to me—the demons are as scared of fire as Frankenstein’s monster, even though they, uh, presumably come from hell.
Again, it’s not a bad horror movie when you consider it on its own merit, but it’s impossible not to compare it to the original because they’re too much alike.
The Church (1989)
No spoilers for the first two films from here on out.
So here the pedigree of the series becomes a little complicated as it so often does in the world of Italian horror movies. Lamberto Bava went on to direct The Ogre, which Italian distributors tried to pass off as a sequel to Demons 2 even though it wasn’t. Meanwhile, Umberto Lenzi also made an unofficial entry to the series called Black Demons.
Dario Argento, on the other hand, intended to produce an official Demons 3, but that movie became The Church, starring Argento’s daughter, Asia. (Asia Argento briefly appeared as a child in Demons 2 during the parking lot scenes, while her older sister had a bigger role in Demons 1.) Although it shares some similarities with the first two films, The Church is such a radical departure in terms of tone you can’t even compare it to the previous entries.
That’s not a bad thing. Like I said, Demons 2 kind of disappoints because it hits so many of the same notes as the original. The Church succeeds because it takes the original premise (that demons can spread like a zombie outbreak) and scraps almost everything else, including the stale movie-within-a-movie angle. The Church is a much slower movie than its predecessors, but the film’s atmosphere keeps it captivating. The Philip Glass and Goblin music doesn’t hurt the mood, either.
In the opening act, Teutonic Knights massacre a village of cursed people, bury them in a mass grave, and build a church over it. The church’s architect installed some secret features straight out of an Indiana Jones movie, which will activate only in the event the seal to the secret tomb is broken. Fast forward to modern times and even the current clergymen are unaware of what took place on the site so many years ago.
I probably don’t even need to tell you they’re about to find out.
Par for the course, there’s a lot of stilted dialogue and nonsensical “what the fuck?” moments. The beautiful leading woman, pursued by a grotesque demon in her own home, calls the cops, dives through a window, runs across her yard, and gets trapped in a flannel blanket. Initially you think she ran through a clothesline or something, but it turns out the cops—who she called about twenty seconds ago—have already shown up to throw a blanket over her head. You couldn’t even get that kind of speedy service if you lived inside a police station.
Those kind of flaws are inherent in a movie like this. Everything else—and I really do mean everything—is practically flawless.
The Church is one of the most flavorful horror films I’ve ever seen. I know I said it can’t be compared to the original, but I’ll be damned it if I didn’t like this one a lot better. Which is saying a lot considering how good the first one is.