The wait horror fans had been enduring for a proper glimpse at the latest entry in the Evil Dead franchise, Evil Dead Rise, had been torturous, but a first-look image was finally unleashed this week. We also have an official synopsis, and it sounds like a good time. Essentially, the Necronomicon unleashes the Deadites for some mayhem in an apartment complex.
Now, without even so much as a teaser for the film by the writing of this article, we don’t know what the “Evil Dead in an apartment building” idea will look like. Going by the synopsis alone, I can’t help but feel that the upcoming Lee Cronin film may have taken some inspiration from an Italian cult classic – Lamberto Bava’s Demons 2 – in which demons invade a high rise apartment building and quickly start turning everyone they come across into one of their horde. What for? Well, what else? To take over the world!
Son of legendary filmmaker Mario Bava, Lamberto’s Demons is one of the most well known and beloved Italian horror films of the 80s. Demons 2, released less than a year after the original, never received as much adoration as its predecessor. It has been looked at more favorably in recent years, however—and with good reason. It’s a rock solid sequel that takes the concept of the first one and reinterprets it in a new way – kinda like how Evil Dead 2 is a quasi-remake of the first film. Hmm, the Evil Dead comparison doesn’t just stop at the general premise. Movies are awesome.
In Demons, the invasion takes place in a movie theater. It utilizes the film-within-a-film concept where, in the world of Demons, the characters are watching a horror film about the release of a plague of, you guessed it, demons upon the Earth. The film within a film acts as a conduit into our world for evil to break through.
In Demons 2, the theater is replaced by television. The first film ends with the realization that the invasion was not contained to the movie theater, but is indeed an apocalyptic event. Demons 2 establishes that Demons was just a movie and the sequel to that movie is what’s airing on television which many of the characters in Demons 2 are watching.
Still following? Good.
You could say that Demons 2 is actually kind of meta before being meta was the cool and hip thing to do in horror. These meta aspects are mild, though. I don’t think Bava is commenting on the tropes of horror cinema so much as he is making a comment on the isolation modern living can bring and the reliance on the television screen to pass the time or comfort us.
The high-rise apartment that the entire film takes place in is modern (well, 80s modern), sleek, and comes with perky amenities of higher end apartments. There is a spa, expansive gym, and even in-house catering. Various characters we follow are all watching the Demons film on TV. One such character is Sally. It’s Sally’s birthday and she’ll cry if she wants to. What’s the most central component of a birthday? Why, it’s the cake!
Sally’s cake is the key to understanding the subtext of Demons 2. The film opens with close-up shots slowly moving over bloody kitchen utensils. But ah-ha! It’s not blood, silly! It’s red preserves! We’re seeing the finishing touches being put on Sally’s cake. Luscious red berries are gently placed on the perimeter, dripping their juices down the sides. It looks an awful lot like blood and it’s the one detail that interrupts the perfection of the confection.
The cake represents the high-rise as well as Sally. It’s rich and pretty. The berries are Sally’s guests. They surround Sally and emphasize her luxury. Sally is an unpleasant person. She is quick to anger, thus making her most vulnerable as the host for the demonic evil. One of the most iconic shots of the film features the cake in the foreground. Sally, newly possessed, opens her bedroom door and is shrouded in darkness, backlit by eerie lighting as she approaches her cake.
All hell quickly breaks loose as she “demons out” and attacks all of her guests and friends, infecting them in turn. Just like the red juices from the berries that adorn the cake, Sally’s demon blood runs from her body and through the interior of the high-rise. Sally and her guests are now disrupting the surface level perfection of the chic apartment building.
Demons 2 isn’t quite as perfectly paced as the first film, nor does it have the same amount of Grand Guignol showmanship, but it’s hardly a dry affair. Blood flows aplenty, and once the horde is running about the building, the film is one fun set piece after another. It’s also an incredibly well shot film, with cinematographer Gianlorenzo Battaglia bathing it in a cool, industrial aesthetic. He and Bava are even able to recapture the magical shot of the demons walking up the steps in the first film with an equally awesome shot of the demons, eyes aglow, walking down a hallway.
Fan favorite actor, Bobby Rhodes, returns in Demons 2 as a new character. This time he is trading out his shady pimp character for the more heroic bodybuilder, Hank. Bava gets in on the “tiny terror” trend by tossing a rubber puppet demon that is an obvious play on Gremlins and Asia Argento also makes her feature film debut as Ingrid.
Demons 2 is an utter delight of a sequel. It’s stylish as hell and still retains the same anarchistic glee of the original, even if it’s not quite as gory. There is also some fun subtext to dig into if you want to look for it.
Italian horror is often discussed for how out there and seemingly nonsensical it is, which does a disservice to the real stories the filmmakers are telling. Just because these films don’t adhere to more traditional narrative trappings doesn’t mean they aren’t about anything but the blood and guts.
Demons 2 is not like Sally’s birthday cake; there is more to it than the frosting.