by Steve Habrat
In 1985, Italian horror gurus Lamberto Bava and Dario Argento decided to collaborate on a little cult horror film known as Demons, a funky, funny, and freaky European hybrid of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. While it may be flawed, Demons is still an absolutely awesome roller coaster ride through a funhouse of violence, action, green blood, Fu Manchu pimps, and macho heroes. It’s the ultimate horror party set to a heavy metal soundtrack that will have you head banging for days after viewing it. In 1986, Bava and Argento would reunite for Demons 2, a sporadically fun but largely unremarkable follow-up party that would attempt to go much bigger than the predecessor. Well, folks, it seems that bigger isn’t always better. Demons 2 is essentially the same film as Demons and outside of a location change, there is very little that feels fresh or exciting. Sure, Demons 2 is atmospheric enough, the early scenes within the walled-off ruins will keep you tense, and when the action kicks in, it is greeted by a big slice of cheese, but the film hits way too many lulls to really hold our interest. To make things worse, Demons 2 has one of the most anti-climatic endings that you may ever see. It doesn’t even really have an ending. Everything just sort of stops and the viewer is left scratching their head and saying, “that’s it?!”
Demons 2 picks up several years after the events of the first film, with the infected area of the city walled-off and left abandoned by the government. It appears that the rampaging ghouls have died off and rotted away with the dilapidated buildings. Outside the wall, life has gone on and the horrifying events that occurred are beginning to fade from memory. A local television station decides to run a late night documentary about the incident and in an attempt to gather some information, the station sends a group of amateur journalists over the wall to investigate the ruins. It doesn’t take long for the crew to stumble upon the body of a dead demon, which they inadvertently bring back from the dead. Meanwhile, the residents of a local high-rise apartment complex are glued to the drama playing out on their television screens. Among the residents watching is sixteen-year-old Sally (played by Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni), who is currently throwing herself a rocking birthday bash. While watching the documentary, Sally becomes possessed by the demon and she proceeds to then tear through her party guests, infecting each and every one of them. As the teenage demons spill into the rest of the high-rise and infect even more residents, it is up to young couple George (played by David Edwin Knight) and Hannah (played by Nancy Brilli) to band together with juiced-up gym trainer Hank (played by Bobby Rhodes) to fend off the ghouls.
While it may not offer much in the plot department, you’re watching Demons 2 for the gooey gore and sweaty action. If you’re looking for deep explanation or clarity, don’t hold your breath. One of the moments that reigned supreme in the original Demons was an especially striking transformation scene complete with teeth dropping out of one character’s mouth only to be replaced by crooked fangs. The terrible transformation didn’t stop there. There were the discolored veins, green slime pouring from the mouth, and glowing yellow eyes. Bava and Argento seem to understand that the transformation was the highlight moment of the original film and the duo deliver even more graphic transformation sequences here. The make up and effects on the demons are breathtaking and they really hold up for a film that was released in 1986. Bava and Argento also decided to include a pint sized demon creature that crawls out of the body of a small child. There is a fun chase between Hannah and the little critter, but this Venus flytrap-looking creature is far from terrifying. Dare I say that he is actually kind of cute? I think cute is the proper description, especially when he starts squeaking like a baby.
One of the biggest problems with Demons 2 is the sluggish first twenty minutes of the film, where Bava and Argento introduce us to a handful of bland characters that will undoubtedly become demon chow. Knight’s George is the typical macho hero with very little personality and Brilli’s Hannah is the typical shrieking chick who constantly needs to be saved. The only reason we really care about Hannah is because she is pregnant and we live in fear that one of the ghouls will get ahold of her. Cataldi-Tassoni is pretty good as the demonic Sally but she is incredibly annoying as plain old party Sally. As a normal human, she throws hissy fit after hissy fit but when she transforms into a satanic cannibal, things really get fun. Hilariously, Bobby Rhodes, the Fu Manchu pimp from the original Demons, shows up again as a roid-raging gym instructor who will stop at nothing to cut down the demonic menace. Fear not, folks, he is just as intense as he was in the first film. Horror fans should also keep their eyes peeled for Argento’s young daughter, Asia, who at first is glued to the midnight documentary. Near the end of the film, she comes face to face with a pack of snarling beasts looking to tear her limb from limb.
While the make-up effects are great and the gore is top notch, Demons 2 takes way too long to find its groove. While the early scenes of all the high-rise residents will most certainly bore you to tears, the action taking place inside the walled-off ruins will certainly send chills. When the action in the high-rise kicks in, there are plenty of cool shoots of yellow-eyed demons sprinting up and down the stairs like marathon runners. The showdown between the bodybuilders and the demons in a parking garage is absolutely outrageous, but would you expect anything less from a sequence like this? The biggest problem with the film is the anti-climatic ending, which doesn’t even feel like it should really be the ending. You’d swear that the film had at least another fifteen minutes to go. Another disappointment is the absence of the heavy metal score, which has been replaced by a much more conventional horror score that would have sounded right at home in one of Lucio Fulci’s efforts. Overall, Demons 2 has plenty of satisfying action in the middle of the film, but the beginning is a chore to get through and the climax just falls to pieces. Furthermore, it would have been nice to get a bit more explanation about the demons but this just isn’t that type of movie. Demons 2 is only for those people who love the first film and even those individuals will be disappointed.
Demons 2 is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
It only took twenty years and a lot of coaxing by fans to lure George Romero back to the genre that he created. Twenty long years for him to whip out his camera and take a snapshot of an era. With 2005’s Land of the Dead, he certainly takes an ugly picture. He also apparently does not like George W. Bush, which comes as no surprise really considering his creeping liberalism in his previous work. In comparison to Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead is much more pulpy than it’s predecessors. Many were disgusted by the film, both by its violence and the fact that the film seems too silly for the Dead series. Romero claimed that Dawn of the Dead was his comic book film, but Land of the Dead seems to be the true embodiment of that claim. Armed with a budget this time around, Romero makes his grandest zombie oeuvre and boy does it look pretty. He also sprays the audience with his most ornate death sequences of his career. Even as the runt of the original Dead litter, I still have a soft spot for this film despite the negative views from many I have showed it to. I hoped for several years that Romero would return to the zombie genre and he kept threatening he would. I was delighted when I saw the gallant trailer for this movie. I wanted to burst into applause in the theater. The master was FINALLY back.
In the opening moments of Land, the geek in me was sold on the movie. It wasn’t even fifteen minutes in. The opening credits establish that this is a direct sequel to Night of the Living Dead. Shot in black in white, the sputtering footage set against radio broadcasts that come through on an old Zenith radio are macabre and will give any Dead fan the excited chills. Strung through the credits, Romero keeps showing us autopsy like footage of a zombie rotting away, establishing that it has probably been years since the events of Night. These credits stick with you just like the ones from Zach Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. They flaunt themselves as real news footage and boy is it an effective start to what is somewhat of a disappointing film. I have really tried to put my fanboy tendencies to the side for this review, mostly because I want to give an honest evaluation of the film. The original three Dead films are masterpieces in their own right, legendary in horror history. Land is well known, but I feel that many weren’t hip to what Romero brings to the table. You really have to know the man and understand that he isn’t just blood-and-guts spectacle. There is quite a bit more going on to this film, mainly the idea that the middle class was fading under the Bush administration and that capitalism was king. Romero came back to unleash his zombie hoards on the issue. All it took for the fan in me, however, was to see those credits.
Land of the Dead establishes a world where the last living humans are residing in a walled-off city. It bears a strange resemblance to Pittsburgh, Romero’s beloved birthplace. The city is controlled by Kaufman (Played by the late by always awesome Dennis Hopper), who runs a high-rise apartment complex for the wealthy called Fiddler’s Green. It features fine dinning, luxury apartments, high-end shopping, and impenetrable protection for the zombie army lurking just beyond the city. The rest of the survivors are reduced to the slummy streets, where gambling, prostitution, and organized crime reign. The wealthy inhabitants of Fiddler’s Green turn their backs on the decay, hoping it will all disappear. Kaufman sends out special teams of scavengers, whose jobs require that they bring back supplies for the city. They venture into the suburban areas where they murder and maim their way around. The scavengers are lead by soft-spoken Riley (Played by Simon Baker) and his two partners, conniving Cholo (Played by John Leguizamo) and disfigured Charlie (Played by Robert Joy). Cholo believes that Kaufman is going to let him move into one of the spiffy apartments he controls, but when he is set-up and humiliated by Kaufman, he steals the cities most valuable weapon, the tank-like Dead Reackoning, and threatens to bomb the city if he is not given what he wants. Kaufman enlists Riley and Charlie to find Cholo and take back the weapon. Riley and Charlie team up with a tough-as-nails prostitute Slack (Played by horror film icon Dario Argento’s daughter Asia Argento) and soon they discover that the zombie army outside is evolving in the deadliest possible way.
Land of the Dead begins with the vintage Universal Pictures logo, the one used before such films as the Bella Lugosi Dracula and Boris Karloff Frankenstein. Romero is blatantly telling us that this is an old-fashioned monster movie at its heart. I think it also explains Romero’s approach to the film, which does have a dated feel. The zombies are the most monster-like, abandoning the monsters-are-us mentality that was applied to Night, Dawn, and Day. It also goes with the idea that in the original monster pictures, the movies almost always made us sympathize with the monsters. Romero applies this idea every time the zombies lurch onto the screen. It’s a nifty device and it will no doubt appeal to the fans of classic horror. The acting in the film is also a bit extreme and silly. It should be expected, mostly because this was toted as the final installment to the original trilogy. In this regard, it works as a Romero zombie film.
The aspect of Land that I think upset many viewers were the guileless politics that were usually discreet in a Romero zombie film. This film takes direct aim and it never flinches. Dennis Hopper’s Kaufman is a direct allusion to George W. Bush and his administration. Kaufman is presented as a buffoon that is involved with things that are way over his head. He doesn’t “negotiate with terrorists” and he comes across as crass and careless. The lack of a “middle class” within the film is also prevalent, as the ones with money flourish while the ones with nothing live in squalor. He even makes hints at an administration looking for a fight, or slaughter for that matter. While Kaufman’s troops raid the suburbs, they go on a needless and pathetic killing spree in which hundreds of zombies are riddled with bullets. The zombies do not have the number to be dangerous and due to their decay, they have been slowed down even more than they already are. In one scene, a soldier unloads a machine gun clip on a zombie that has already been electrocuted. Eliminate the enemy that seeks to destroy us at all costs, says Romero. Once the zombies make their way into Fiddler’s Green, the tables are turned and the wealthy citizens are shredded with machetes, arms ripped in half, bellybutton rings torn out, and blown up to meaty bits. Overkill is king.
Despite your political stance, Land of the Dead can still be enjoyed even if you don’t agree with Romero’s left wing commentary. He can still make a meaner horror movie than the new class of directors who are now in the driver’s seat and he appears to be out to prove he’s still “got it”. But what is “it”? Bite is what “it” is and there are still some moments that will leave your spine tingling. The film does suffer from some CGI overreliance, which seems out of place with the previous three films. The death scenes are more elaborate and at times, the film can seem a bit too cheeky. When he actually goes for an executed gag versus computerized trick, the results are like night and day. There are still the trademark feeding scenes that will please die-hard fans like myself, which was something that was very important to me when I first plunked down the money to see it in theaters. Land ultimately feels incomplete, left hanging with a rushed tone. It’s not properly paced and this flaw is distracting. It seems like Romero ran out of money so he had to quickly wrap things us as fast as he could in order to produce a film on budget. He does build upon his evolved zombie premise nicely, a plotline I will not divulge here in case you haven’t seen the film. Furthermore, some of the characters here are a bore and are just dangling zombie chow. Land of the Dead is a good, scrappy horror film, but is just inches from greatness. It’s not an ultimate masterpiece like it was promised it would be, but it finishes things off messy enough, and when I say messy, I mean entrails strewn everywhere you look. At least Romero has the good sense to display them into something substantial rather than just for effect. Grade: B+