Demons 2 (1986)
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.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
by Steve Habrat
To say that you have no idea what you are in for in The Cabin in the Woods is a complete understatement. You can’t even fathom the twist that is waiting to be sprung on you half way through this monster of a horror movie. That, my friends, is something you need to be excited about. I’ve said it multiple times, horror has hit rock bottom, from countless remakes, sequels, and retreads, leaving us only a handful of notable films to celebrate. It is truly hard to believe that there is such a shocking lack of vision and creativity working in Hollywood. I can’t believe they are paid millions to repackage and resell recycled garbage that we have already seen before and much better at that. The Cabin in the Woods lays waste to that approach; at first giving us the same weary old setup and then suddenly launching a shock and awe campaign that you will be truly unprepared for. It’s the first real crowd pleaser horror movie to come around in a long time, one that demands you see it in a packed house with tons of other unsuspecting viewers. You will be in for one wild night at the movies.
The Cabin in the Woods follows five college students, virgin Dana (Played by Kristen Connolly), slutty Jules (Played by Anna Hutchison), athletic Curt (Played by Chris Hemsworth), polite Holden (Played by Jesse Williams), and stoner Marty (Played by Fran Kranz), who head to an isolated cabin in the woods for a weekend of debauchery. After exploring the eerie basement, the group finds a worn out diary that they proceed to read from, conjuring up a bloodthirsty force in the woods that slowly descends upon the cabin. Meanwhile, a strange organization watches the kids from hidden cameras placed strategically around the cabin. It turns out that this organization has an agenda all their own and they are hiding a horrifying secret that threatens the world.
Considered a “loving hate letter” to horror by its director Drew Goddard and producer Joss Whedon, The Cabin in the Woods adoringly tips its hat to the classics every chance it gets. Keep an eye out for a hilarious nod to Evil Dead II, a siege on the cabin that is evocative of Night of the Living Dead, and a sequence that would have felt right at home in the calmer moments of the original Friday the 13th. It also helps that the early premise is loosely based on the original 1981 The Evil Dead. When the twist is revealed, The Cabin in the Woods evolves into a new breed of horror movie that embraces every single subgenre you can possibly think of. I hesitate to say anymore about it other than it does go for broke and it comes up a winner because of it. Fans of the genre will be left beside themselves and at times it was almost overload, so much to take in that you will be flirting with heading back to the theater to experience it again. It’s absolutely exhilarating.
The Cabin in the Woods does have a talented cast behind the wheel, not a weak link in the bunch and then springing a surprise guest on us in the final moments. I loved Chris Hemsworth as the jock Curt, the overly confident hero who uses his strength in some of the most hysterical ways possible. Wait for the scene where he comes face to face with a zombie girl. Fran Kranz also shines as the squinty-eyed stoner Marty who begins to suspect there is more going on than meets the eye. And then we have Richard Jenkins as Steve Hadley and Bradley Whitford as Richard Sitterson, who are members of the mysterious organization who steal every scene they are in. A good majority of the laughs come from their end, especially in a gambling sequence and in their deadpan observations while they watch the kids.
My one minor complaint with The Cabin in the Woods is that I wished it had been scarier than it turned out to be. Sure, it is loaded with jump scares that will have the easy targets filling the jeans, but I wish it had really freaked me out. The audience I saw the film with had a ball with the fake out scares, gasping every time that music blasted over the speakers. I did enjoy the campy melody that The Cabin in the Woods carries, right down to the self-aware chucklers like “We should split up!” In fact, the film is often times more of a comedy than it is a horror movie, but I think that is precisely the point of The Cabin in the Woods. Nothing really scares us anymore, never sending us home from the theater with a handful of sleepless nights. The Cabin in the Woods points out that horror isn’t just failing in America, but is crumbling all over the world, and simply not doing the job that it is responsible for.
The Cabin in the Woods turns out to be a blood soaked, anything goes party that takes absolutely no prisoners. It opts to wipe all the prisoners it could take off the map and then firebomb the map. As an evaluation of the sorry state of horror, it is spot on and leaves you itching to see more horror films like it. In a way it gives horror fans hope, that there is still some individuals out there in the industry who posses creativity and will take a few risks. It baffles me why the film has been shelved for so long and why the studio was so iffy about it. Well written, directed, acted, and featuring the mother of all horror movie finales, The Cabin in the Woods is an adrenaline shot jabbed right into the feeble heart of the horror genre.
Drag Me To Hell (2009)
by Steve Habrat
If Sam Raimi failed to properly mesh campy humor with horror in Evil Dead II, he more than gets it right with 2009’s superb horror outing Drag Me To Hell. It was nice to see Raimi return to horror, a genre he happens to do quite well, after his trio of big budget Spider-Man films that seemed to be wearing out by the third installment. Scaled back and armed with a smaller scope, Raimi’s return to the genre is triumphant, as he makes a film that is bursting with sheer terror all while retaining an old school aura. It helps that he uses the Universal Studios logo from the 1980’s and uses a retro looking Ghost House logo to begin the whole experience. Then, Raimi dives head first into a bottomless pit of body fluids and demonic torture, filling his frames with tributes to his Evil Dead series and putting his star Allison Lohman through a truly arduous experience that had to have left her covered from head to toe in bruises. I can only imagine what the stunt double looked like after the shoot was complete.
Drag Me To Hell introduces us to bank loan officer Christine Brown (Played by Allison Lohman), a sweet girl who seems to have everything going for her. She is up for a promotion at work, favored by her boss Jim Jacks (Played by David Paymer), and is in a relationship with successful young professor Clay Dalton (Played by Justin Long), who also happens to come from money. It doesn’t appear that Christine has a nasty bone in her body until she has to put up with her competition at work, the kiss-ass Stu Rubin (Played by Reggie Lee), who is also trying to snag the coveted promotion that Christine so desperately wants. That nasty bone also pops up when an elderly woman named Sylvia Ganush (Played by Lorna Raver) shows up at her desk hacking phlegm into a handkerchief and begging for a third extension on her mortgage payments. To prove herself worthy for the promotion, Christine denies Sylvia another extension, meaning that Sylvia will loose her home. Sylvia unleashes a violent attack on Christine and then proceeds to put the curse of the Lamia on Christine, meaning she will be ferociously tormented for three days by a demonic force and on the third day will be drug to the fiery depths of Hell.
After the sweeping Hollywood productions that were the Spider-Man films, Raimi once again seems back at home with a smaller film. Drag Me To Hell is filled with techniques that he applied so skillfully in 1981’s The Evil Dead. Raimi resorts to his old restrained moments that are broken by tantrums of horror that are maxed out. Every demonic attack in Drag Me To Hell is presented as a grand finale, making the audience ask, “What can Raimi possible do to this poor girl by the end?” It turns out, quite a lot, and you better believe he comes armed with a final second twist that is wickedly delicious. It’s also quite coincidental that Raimi sets his sights to demonic haunting and loose possession after swinging around New York with your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. He terrorizes Christine much like he did Ash in The Evil Dead, Christine always by herself when the Lamia lashes out against her, usually resulting in Christine being knock around a room or terrorized by guttural growls and clanking, mocking inanimate objects. I don’t want to ruin all the fun in spotting all the references to The Evil Dead in Drag Me To Hell, but during a sequence where Christine enters a shed in her backyard, keep an eye out for a very cool nod to his masterpiece.
Much like Bruce Campbell in The Evil Dead, Allison Lohman is up for the beating that Raimi dishes out, making her a worthy successor to Ash. Christine retains the glowing persona that Ash had at the beginning of both The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, a seemingly sincere person who is always trying to do the right thing. Yet when she cuts someone down to get ahead, she faces forces beyond her comprehension. She barely stands a chance to overcome the relentless Lamia. It helps that with a B-movie premise such as this; the actors are all game to approach the material on the material’s terms. No one here is going for Oscar gold, which actually makes everything more fun than it already is. Long is having a blast as a concerned boyfriend who is skeptical of everything happening to Christine. Raver’s Sylvia is sublimely hellish, popping up like a rotten jack-in-the-box to rip out a handful of Christine’s blonde hair. Lee is hysterical as the kiss-ass Stu and I would have loved to see more of him. Paymer plays his role straight, a bit left out of the schlocky events, although he does get a good one-liner when he is showered with blood spraying from Christine’s nose. Dileep Rao shows up as an overly mysterious fortune teller and Adriana Barraza shows up as a damaged medium that does battle with the wicked beast that is the Lamia, a sequence that is the standout of a film that is packed from beginning to end with standout moments.
A smart burst of nostalgia from a man that helped shape the horror genre way back in 1981, establishing himself as a low budget master of horror, Drag Me To Hell is bursting with moments that will have you chewing your fingernails clean off. He crams his frames with deranged special effects that are both unspeakable and merrily creepy. It was also nice to see Raimi trade his gallons of blood and guts in for gallons of pus, vomit, and phlegm, all which are sprayed manically on the audience. Drag Me To Hell is truly awesome because Raimi finally understands how to mix black humor with drippy horror, making the moments that he wants to be creepy sequences that reduce us to quivering piles of flesh and bone. It’s evenly balanced unlike the slapstick heavy Evil Dead II, which was more concerned with the chuckles rather than the teeth chattering. Of all the recent horror films that are either comatose remakes or uninspired garbage, Drag Me To Hell ranks as one of the best horror films of recent years, wetting our appetite for more horror from Raimi, a living legend. Sometimes it takes a living legend to show these new kids how it is done and Drag Me To Hell schools the new school of horror.
Drag Me To Hell is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.