Saturday Nightmares: Why Didn't Demons 2 Lead To A Franchise?
At the conclusion of Lamberto Bava's Demons a universe of possibilities had been opened, suggesting a myriad of directions for sequels. Despite their penchant for cashing in, the Italians seemed to favor ripping off Hollywood successes, rather than carving out their own franchises.
Spaghetti takes on The Exorcist, Jaws and, of course, Dawn of the Dead were produced as a means of "cutting in" on those global successes. But the Dario Argento-produced / Lamberto Bava-directed Demons had created such a stylish and energetic universe that those creators were quick to recognize the potential for more, quickly putting Demons 2 into production and throwing a bit more money behind its architecture. The creation of Demons 2 represented a rare - and surprising - instance where Italian horror attempted to capitalize on its own success with a direct sequel. And despite a somewhat mixed result, it begs the question: "why didn't they keep making Demons movies?"
Part 2 is something of a lateral move - choosing instead to copy the events of Demons with a change in locale. Gone is the darkened recess of the Metropol theater, moving into a high-tech apartment building instead. We quickly discover that the demon invasion at the end has somehow been contained and the residents of the high rise are watching some kind of documentary or dramatization (it's never made clear) on the aftermath of that chaos. Instead of watching a mysterious horror movie, it's this video that spurs the demonic resurrection. It follows four explorers into the "forbidden zone" (a ruined Berlin) to gleam answers, but it begs a bigger question: If Berlin was really destroyed by supernatural forces, why don't these people seem all that concerned about it?
But movies like Demons don't live or die by their logic, so it's unfair to criticize its sequel for coming up even shorter in this department. It's all an excuse to get to the demon invasion anyway, and Demons 2 resurrects its titular creatures in spectacular fashion: with a demon pushing itself into the real world by way of a tv set, and taking possession of a spoiled rotten teenager who really had it coming.
One of the problems with Demons 2 is that it too-often functions like a remake of the original: people trapped in a claustrophobic setting, another assortment of 80s punks driving aimlessly around a city, a baffling conclusion, etc. This wouldn't sting so badly if it didn't present a much more interesting premise in the film-within-a-film scenario. The production design for post-apocalyptic Berlin is absolutely terrific and loaded with legitimately creepy atmosphere (something the sequel largely lacks). It's a mystery as to why the filmmakers copped out on continuing from where Demons ended (considering they built devastated urban sets anyway), opting to deliver a scenario that we've already seen.
Once the proverbial hell breaks loose, the movie fails at gelling into a cohesive narrative, instead playing out like a series of self-contained vignettes. Even though Lamberto Bava has a fun sense of style on display for the duration, the film succumbs to pacing issues that create a wholly inconsistent viewing experience. One that’s not helped by some goofier choices along the way: demon dogs and creature children that look more like rejects from a Ghoulies sequel than a follow-up to Demons.
Those things aside, Sergio Stivaletti's make-up FX are largely excellent (I'd kill for a possessed Sally action figure) and the demons themselves remain superlative examples of horror villains. Bulging eyes, jagged teeth and imposing claws make them the stuff of automatic nightmares. Like the original, Stivaletti serves up another wicked transformation sequence - a shining example of 80s FX mastery. Bladder bubbles create pulsating sores, blood pours from every imaginable orifice and fingernails break apart, giving way to razor-sharp talons bursting through flesh. As far as creating a wicked, nightmarish experience, Stivaletti's FX succeeds big time.
There's also a nice sense of humor that's evidenced right off the bat. We think we're watching a deranged madman stalk the apartment's tenants with a butcher knife, only to discover we're really seeing a baker put the finishing touches on a birthday cake. It also resurrects the incredible Bobby Rhodes (Demons' Tony the Pimp) as an equally aggressive fitness instructor who tries amassing an army against the demons. Rhodes is quite a presence in both movies, and there's something spectacularly entertaining about watching him and a group of terrified workout patrons struggle against these monsters. I wouldn't want anyone else by my side in a demonic apocalypse - let's put it that way.
Another plus is the music. From an awesome opening theme by Simon Boswell (I've included it below so turn it up and check it out) to some pretty great New Wave from The Smiths, The Cult and Gene Loves Jezebel (to name a few), there's a great flavor to the movie and these songs really create a memorable juxtaposition to the ghoulish on-screen happenings.
Demons 2 is much more a mixed bag than its predecessor, but it's not without brilliant moments. The TV studio climax, for example, is still a wonderfully spooky (if nonsensical) slice of bad dream. And possessed Sally makes for one hell of a villain, even if the movie around her isn't quite as good as she is. But the Demons duo introduce a world that's so ripe with possibilities that it's hard to believe they stopped making them after this (and no, neither The Church nor The Ogre count as an official part three).
In fact, this article was in part inspired by a conversation I had with a twitter friend of mine who expressed equal bafflement that this series stopped at two. Despite never finding the same success as the original, Demons 2 sure is a lot of fun - even if it's a retread. I'd love to see a younger collection of Italian filmmakers take a stab at continuing this franchise (with Argento and Bava in ceremonial producer roles) providing they retain the "practical FX and New Wave music approach" that has sort of come to define this series thus far. These are some of my personal favorite movie monsters and they deserve more outings than this.
We've got plenty of cities, and I'd be okay with those jagged-toothed bastards making a few of them our tombs.
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