There has long been concern and commentary from the guardians of society over the corrupting influence of the media, of rock music and horror films and role playing games, of their guiding of the young and impressionable to loose morals, casual drug taking, drinking and driving and the increased susceptibility to Satanic possession, an ongoing crusade against the belief that literal demons could be let loose upon the world.

Released in October 1985 and September 1986, Lamberto Bava’s Demons (Dèmoni) and Demons 2 (Dèmoni 2… l’incubo ritorna, literally “the nightmare returns”) are not so much a film and its sequel as two versions of the same story, a modern interpretation on the classic tale of a cursed object such as an amulet or book who will visit evil upon those who come to possess it which would later reinvent itself as the cursed viral video of Ringu and its ilk.

In Demons it is possibly the horror film or possibly the venue at which the premiere is to be held, the Metropol, invitations handed out by a masked man and the foyer decorated with props from the film including a mask which Rosemary (Geretta Giancarlo) tries on, scratching her face; in the film being screened, the same mask is uncovered in the tomb of Nostradamus and a similar scratch leads to the victim becoming possessed by demons, and for Rosemary life soon imitates art.

Transferring the actions to an upmarket apartment block designed for modern living (and dying), Demons 2 introduces the discrete groups of characters in a similar way, a young couple expecting their first child, a boy home alone as his parents dine out, the lycra-clad obsessives of the basement gym, the friends at Sally’s birthday party, many of them watching the same horror film on channel twelve, drawn into the action which then pushes back into their lives and residences, Sally (Coralina Cataldi Tassoni) the first to become possessed as the screen bulges out into her bedroom.

Brought together as a limited edition box set by Arrow boasting 4K restorations from the original camera negatives, Demons is presented with three audio options, Italian, the English dub and the slightly different American version, while Demons 2 has both the Italian and English language versions, while the two films also carry two newly recorded and three archive commentary tracks across them in addition to considerable other historical interview and promotional material.

Both films produced by Dario Argento parallel to his high-profile career as a director, that role is explored by Michael Mackenzie’s visual essay while on the second disc Alexandra Heller-Nicholas discusses the technology and spaces of the films as they collapse into each other, the screen and the auditorium, the disparate groups of strangers who become one panicked crowd fleeing in terror.

The connections between the two films parallel rather than sequential, Bobby Rhodes appears as two separate characters across the two films, pimp Tony and fitness instructor Hank, while other names recur but are different characters and actors, George (hopeful singleton Urbano Barberini then dutiful husband David Knight), Hannah (girlfriend Fiore Argento, Dario’s daughter, then pregnant wife Nancy Brilli), Ingrid (usher Nicoletta Elmi then wide-eyed child Asia Argento, Dario’s other daughter), and neither film asks or expects to be taken in any way seriously.

The characters and narrative secondary to the splatter, both encounters with Demons are a showcase for the effects as fingernails split to reveal bloodied claws, teeth are forced out by emerging fangs and faces erupt in pus as survivors run screaming to fire exits only to find out they have been walled in, as accompanied by a soundtrack featuring Billy Idol, Mötley Crüe, Argento regular Claudio Simonetti and The Smiths helicopters crash through the cinema ceiling for no apparent reason and the residents of the apartment complex defend themselves with hostess trollies and umbrellas before making their escape by abseiling from the roof, praying that the breaking dawn may restore sanity and normality.

The Demons box set will be available on Blu-ray from Arrow Films from Monday 22nd February



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