Friday, April 14, 2006


Demonia

(Italy, 1988, 88 min.)

Starring Brett Halsey, Meg Register, Lino Salemme, Al Cliver, Lucio Fulci, Christina Englehardt, Pascal Druant, Grady Thomas Clarkson, Ettori Comi, Carla Cassola, Michael Aronin.

Written by Lucio Fulci and Piero Regnoli, from an uncredited story by Antonio Tentori.

Directed by Lucio Fulci.

We know we’re in trouble when Fulci rips himself off – twice – within the first seven minutes of the film, and does it poorly at that.

We begin with a scene set in 15th Century Sicily where a bunch of revolting peasants (ba duh dum) are crucifying a handful of nuns. Shades of The Beyond, anyone? Except that scene had atmosphere and a nice helping of suspense, whereas this one is so rote, it could have been lifted from Horror Moviemaking for Dummies.

Flash forward to the present where we meet Liza (Register), indulging her yen for the paranormal by attending a séance, during which she has a vision of the crucified nuns, freaks out and faints. Funny, this scene seems to remind me of something [cough]City of the Living Dead[cough], though the sheer cliché of it is only surpassed by the careless, rush-job laziness with which it’s presented.

As it turns out Liza is part of an archeological dig in Sicily looking at Greek ruins, only she’s more interested in a dilapidated convent nearby. Her patronizing superior Malcolm (Halsey) doesn’t want her poking around there. Neither, to no great surprise, do the locals because the place has a history and some time a while back Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing, to whit, the aforementioned plank-and-nails party. Liza decides she has to find out what the secret is and why she feels such a personal connection to a place she’s never been before. Meanwhile Marxo decides he has to seriously consider what made him want to watch this film to begin with, and why he feels that he’d even rather be watching Fulci’s repulsive New York Ripper at the moment.

My esteemed colleague smokeyxdigger was kind enough to send me this with a note attached saying that he thought the film should be re-titled Demoni-argh, as that was the sound that came out of him repeatedly while watching it. I am hard pressed to disagree. There’s barely a plot in sight and while admittedly there is a smidge more than in, say, City of the Living Dead, this has little of the overly theatrical style that redeems that film. Nor is there even all that much gore to keep one interested, except for two scenes near the end: one that continues Fulci’s fixations on eyeball violence and cats (or cat puppets, depending on the shot), and another that’s memorably gruesome, but which still fails because it’s so illogical and nonsensical, and because it just feels so gratuitous, even for a Fulci film.

As I implied earlier, when Fulci’s at his most stylish, it’s easier to forgive the lack of coherence, the ludicrous dialogue, the disregard for basic storytelling conventions, but here there’s little to distract us from those things and the maddening gaffes leap out at you. There are killings of course, but the story seems unwilling to come to a concrete decision as to who or what is responsible. Genre fave Cliver (billed in the closing credits as Al ‘Clever’, though on the other hand ‘Cliver’ isn’t his real name either, so maybe it doesn’t matter after all) is menaced by a ghost –which then shoots him with a harpoon. Explain that one. We get a scene with the town’s mayor, who coughs incessantly, and when Liza goes to see the local records keeper, he too begins to cough. Seems like maybe we have a story angle being developed here, but no dice. And yet Fulci has plenty of time to give us not one, but two interminable campfire scenes where a guy with a guitar strums two chords over and over again while a bunch of people dance drunkenly around.

Now, and here I go again, it’s not all bad. The director, who, by the way, shows up in a role slightly larger than his usual dubbed cameo, gives us an effectively creepy dream sequence in which Liza sees herself standing in the middle of the arena structure they’re studying, while Malcolm cries out to her from on top of a hill. The script meanders by a potentially intriguing idea at one point when Malcolm snobbishly dismisses Liza’s interest in the monastery by saying that they’re there to study the enlightened Greeks, not the dark ages, only to abandon the concept the second the sentence leaves his lips. And there’s a (presumably intentional) joke involving one of the townspeople accosting Liza and loudly proclaiming himself “The Butcher of Santa Rosalia!” – only for it to be revealed later that he is the actual butcher of Santa Rosalia, as in pork chops, sausages and top round cut thin for braciole. Most people use raisins in the stuffing, but I tried substituting dried cranberries and let me tell you…sorry, drifted there for a moment.

But any good parts can’t make up for the whole, which includes a pace that’s positively sleep-inducing (Demoni-yawn?), clumsy plotting, and, as I mentioned, a good deal of rehashing of other films, both Fulci’s and others’ (and while I’ll let him slide on a wall-smashing scene that is faintly reminiscent of Deep Red, he cancels that good will out with the above-mentioned cat attack, which seems a riff on the Emily’s dog scene from The Beyond – itself a rip-off of a scene from Suspiria. Madon'!).

To sum up, let me leave you with this little fact: the same day I watched this for the first time I also took a walk down by the East River, and I got more genuine chills sitting and looking across the water at the spooky abandoned mental asylum on Roosevelt Island than I did from this entire movie. ‘Nuff said.


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