In the Berlin metro, a sinister-looking man in a metallic mask hands out free tickets to a unnamed film, and a mixture of people end up at the large and recently re-opened Metropol Theatre. When one character goes to the toilet feeling unwell, events in the cinema start to echo those in the horror movie being shown, as characters are turned into vicious demons and attack the others. With the exits blocked up and the demon possession spreading rapidly, how will the survivors be able to escape and survive?
Demons is a great example of an Italian horror film of the 1980s, with over-dubbed voices, high levels of violence and gore, and striking use of sound and visuals. There is an interesting use of strong primary colour filters in certain scenes, reminiscent of producer Dario Argento's earlier work, like Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980). In addition, it has a strong heavy metal/rock soundtrack, which is used to great dramatic effect. Not only the familiar commercial tracks, but also the excellent, pounding title music by Claudio Simonetti.
This film packs in a large number of creative gore sequences and set pieces, all done using practical effects, which still look surprisingly good for a film of this age. Along with the blood and guts, this includes the iconic and creepy image of the demons walking up the stairs towards the camera, strongly backlit to be almost silhouettes, apart from their glowing eyes.
The Metropol Theatre itself provides a great atmospheric setting, with a sense of brightly-lit modernism in the foyer, darkness in the auditorium and decay in the hidden rooms, and an oppressive feeling of claustrophobia when the characters realise they are trapped inside. However, the few scenes where the action is taken outside the building (the young punks snorting coke in a car, and the final scenes) felt less effective and less interesting to me.
As with many other Italian horror films of this period, it does have its moments of far-fetched silliness. But if you just go with it, it's great gory fun, lightened up with the occasional moments of cheesiness. The acting performances are acceptable, and there are some likable characters. The pace never lets you feel bored. And whatever you do, don't switch off the film when the closing credits start to roll. There is one final surprise afterwards, which completely flips the tone of the ending.
Demons is an 80s classic, and one I've loved since I first got hold of a copy on VHS as a teenager. 4.5/5