What a mean little movie. Completely nihilistic and misanthropic, full of double-crosses, betrayals, and unsentimental violence. No one in the movie (sans the ridiculous singing campfire hippies) has a good thing to say or do.
Basically, this is pyschological kidnap horror movie. Franco Nero is brilliant as the boozed up loser, bruised by life. He is miserably married to the gorgeous Corrine Clery. The opening scene has Clery in Nero’s rifle sight, when he shoots a deer falls. This sort of twisty bait’n’switch defines the meanness of this movie.
Nero spends the first third of the movie spitting heavily accented insults and humiliations upon his wife. As they drive down the supposedly southwest American freeway, they are already trapped in a claustrophobic world, surrounded by anger, sweat, and a filthy windshield.
So by the time the couple stumble upon the hitchhiking, David Hess they are already doomed. The plot is somewhat contrived, Hess is on the lam from a major heist. Pursued by cops, whom he dispatches with perfect aim, and his remaining accomplices – a gay couple, who makes manifest a underlying tension of homophobia.
Nero’s climatic speech at the campfire lays it out – “Only the homosexuals know what real love is anymore. I’m not joking. They’re building a new society. A homosexual one. Men on one side and women on the other. Haven’t you noticed? You don’t understand. Do you? It’s true.”
The trio plays a game of two cats and a mouse, basically taking turns torturing Clery or using Clery against one another. Hess looks itchy in his skin, working raw nerves back and forth between calm psychosis and vulnerability. His ego is pathological and he teeters on the edge of his unhinged psyche. He attempts to seduce Nero while forcing himself upon Clery, but can only perform the rape while Nero helplessly watches. In other circumstances, Nero would have subjected Clery to the same fate, one suspects. His tears are less for the horror of the event and more about the lack of power to inflict the humiliating power.
Clery is perfect as the abused and lost woman trapped in this horror show. The twists and turns are Jim Thompson-esque – especially the ending which is so heartless, it resolves the movie perfectly.
Catriona MacColl’s third film with Fulci which is some sort of trilogy, maybe? I don’t know. Sometimes the extras are confusing. Regardless, this is a near masterpiece of schlock.
First the flick opens with a murder in a dusty, near abandoned looking house. In fact, I was convinced these were some of that subspecies of teenagers who always sneak into creepy and disgusting places to make it, only to end up victims of the movie’s monster. I guess these were more important characters, but, I am not entirely sure. Anyway, the notable thing about this opening scene is really the dragging. Fulci delights in the bloody mop hair of the victim dragged along the dusty floor. Its effective. So effective, the film does it twice.
There is some premise about an academic finishing his dead colleague’s research in a creepy small town. Before the family departs for the woods, the little boy (Land of the Lost’s Chaka look-a-like Giovanni Frezza!) starts talking to a little girl, trapped in the photograph, who is warning him not to come to the house. So there is this overlay of ghost story, which is only really there to explain the child killing ending.
A bunch of stuff happens, mainly there is a secret concerning the house, that derails and obsesses the professor. There is a locked basement door, a possessed nannyish girl, a tomb in the middle of the breakfast nook, and a lot of creaky floors. Eventually, the horror that lives in the basement escapes, sort of, but mainly lures various characters into the dark, earthen floor depths. The door slams and then the decapitations, tears, and suspense all happen. There is considerable time spent at the basement door during the last part of the movie, as the monster sneaks – incredibly slowly – toward whomever is pounding on it.
The basement horror does provide the most brutal and bloody bat kill in the history of cinema. Having ventured into the basement with his wife to prove that there is nothing down there to worry about, the professor and his wife are attacked by a vicious bat. Landing on his hand, the professor is unable to get it off, so he grabs and large kitchen knife and stabs it the mechanical puppet SO HARD, that bat explodes in blood, splattering everywhere – especially the shocked face of his young son. Its brilliant.
The secret horror that lives in the basement is a maggot-riddled monster, the Dr. Freudstein. Beside having sawdust, maggots, and black goop for blood, the good doctor needs fresh blood, I guess, to keep plodding about in the basement. The terrible secret that drives professor’s insane is the fact that Dr. Freudstein experimented on his own children! GASP! Which explains the ghostly ending, where Giovanni joins his little ghostly girlfriend and her mother as a true Freudstein now.
Franco Nero is best when he is playing losers or loners bent upon their own destruction. Part of this is that directors seem to have a sadistic urge to torture the pretty boy actor, bloodying his face or casting him as unsympathetic heroes who’s downfall is just as enjoyable to watch as his, ultimate, successes. Fifth Cord is no exception. Nero plays the loser alcoholic newspaper man implicated in a twisted set of murders.
He’s got an icy relationship with his baby mamma, he has a fleshy mistress with a sexy swinging causality, and a blistering headache from a bender that never seems to let up. The best part of the movie is the fact that Nero’s hangover is a relatable character.
The worst part of the flick is the pacing. Months are passing between murders, a fact that is central to the stupid Zodiac excuse for a motive, but a fact that is never communicated to the audience. What I thought was happening over the course of a few days, maybe a week, might have been due to the inattention I sometimes give the movies I am watching; or more likely is the fault of the movie’s plot which suddenly needed to be resolved at some point.
The murders are fairly tame by giallo standards. There is another bathtub drowning – this one mainly an excuse for nudity, there is a prostitute throat cut, and a heart attack. The center piece of the movie is Rosella Frank’s very creepy murder. The bedridden Doctor’s wife crawls along the floor, toward objects of potential rescue (phone, wheelchair) that suddenly disappear as the killer mocks and plays with her before she is strangled and dumped over the railing onto the stairs that mocked her effective getaway.
Aside from that scene, which is effectively staged, creepily shot, and soundtracked to increase the suspense and frustration, the only other truly interesting aspect of this fun little piece of trash is the Nietzsche-inspired voice over of the Gemini Killer. Its particularly nasty monologue about power and killing and the power of killing. You know standard stuff that should have ended up sampled by some hardcore band in the 1990s.
Pretty par for the course – womanizing hero solves the crime the cops can’t get their heads around because the killer is a sexual deviant jerk.
Demons is a silly treatise on the corrupting power of horror movies are accused of having on the audience. Exploiting conservative commentator’s incessant refrain that movies have the power to influence and dictate violent behavior to the audience. Susceptible audience members are inspired to copy what they see on the screen.
Of course, these arguments are always going to be with us, in part, because we have an innate fear of political propaganda and advertising’s effectiveness. But instead of attacking those engines of our socio-economic system, it is far easier (and safer) to attack a minority genre of entertainment – the weak gazelle in the pack as seen as niche market.
So is it surprising that the movie takes place in West Berlin – the divided Cold War city always on the verge, a symbol of Capitalist excess pounding at the wall of Communist drab poverty, etc? Is it just by chance that the movie’s movie goers are trapped by a large concrete wall where the doors once were? By the time, the demons have overrun the city and doomed free society, the metaphor is heavy handed and gloved by the otherwise terribleness of schlock.
The story starts with the lure of a free movie tickets. The tickets embody the double fold here – first playing on themes of the test audience of market research. Those influential cross section demographics that drive the desecration of so many genre films (how many happy endings have been re-filmed based on audience comment cards? Notice, too, all the shocking ground breaking film posters in the lobby). Second, free tickets threaten the Capitalist purpose of movie making, the commodification of narrative and star-making vehicles, not to mention the restoration of the old movie theater, are all subverted by the profitlessness of the evening.
As the audience moves into the theater, there is the allure of a shiny fetish object – the demon mask. Again, as a strictly horror convention, it functions as the prime mover, the object of evil, that needs to be activated by blood. Pretty standard. But it, also, operates as a commodity fetish object. First it is a lobby display, extending the reach of the film, by producing prop-like 3-d advertising. Second, by actuating the contagion of the Demon curse, the nick on the face creates patient zero of the infection (not surprisingly it is a prostitute that grabs the item and sets off the infection!), the mask operates as a metaphor for the desirability of the commodity object. By being a singular item, on display in the lobby, the mask functions as highly alluring and rarefied, therefore increasingly its power as a metaphor for the panic of consumption (the idea that there are not enough objects for everyone who wants one, thereby creating the need of possession which spreads like a virus).
By the time the movie within the movie has started, the audience watches the audience watching, as well as watches essential parts of the internal movie. Though the movie interrupts the internal movie to glance at the various doomed characters in the audience to instill a sense of connection and identification that will deepen the ensuant horror. There are our teens on the make sitting behind the unhappily married couple out for their anniversary, there are the lovebirds, the blind theorist and his seeing eye girl, and the pimp with his two hoes. All are poorly defined and stiffly acted and overdubbed in post-production.
What is interesting about the group, though, is the inclusion of the criminals – the pimp and his two prostitutes. The fact that the two ladies-for-hire are the first two to succumb to the demon transformation is not surprising. They are the logical choice to embody the evil since they are vanguards of morality and outside the social structure of the responsible economy. There is, also at work, the aspect of body modification. Since prostitutes transform their body into specific commodities ,whose access can be purchased for increasing prices, it makes sense to have them the assume the most graphic and visual transformations. Their bodies are overtaken and transformed by a blood borne contagion – the demon inside. The metaphor is one of consumption, consuming. By acting on the desire for a commodity, the actor is changed into a creature of need, a singular purpose to extend and support the commodity base. The prostitutes make this physical, drawing forth the allusion.
To have the second victim (the other prostitute) attacked and then fall through the screen of the movie being shown is a brilliant, if a bit contrived, touch of flippancy. Here we see the critique of art influencing life, literally, plow through the fourth wall. The movie scene that the morphing prostitute falls out of, is a scene where a demon is attacking a young woman in a tent. As the screen knife tears into the tent, the possessed prostitute uses her long, slutty nails to rip at the movie screen. The disorientation on the movie audience is profound, they are confused to hear actual ripping in concert with the soundtrack of what they are watching. The effect is meant to he horrifying.
After the initial transformation and the famous fangs pushing teeth out effect, DEMONS cuts to a speeding car of petty thugs. Punks, in every sense of the word. They are snorting coke out of a straw stuck in an actual Coca-Cola soda can. The visual pun may have deeper importance. The drug addict car thieves represent the other side of criminality. As opposed to the prostitutes, the drug addict car thieves commit crimes against commodities. They steal and destroy, unproductively, other people’s items. Yet, they, too, are damned to brand loyalty and a crass sort of consumption that moves Capitalism forward. As simple cannon fodder, these idiots offer no resistance, being chomped up quickly and effectively by the hive of Demons, unleashed by violent media depictions. They are solely a consumer group, swayed by the basest and most obvious forms of manipulation. Their snorting cocaine out of the Coke can implies a critique that is void because of the vacancy left by their nihilism. While they scoop up of the spilled powder they are shown as slaves to the very consumption they seek to rebel against.
Once the movie has tipped the balance between survivors and demons, the action takes on a near-slapstick absurdity that is indicative of schlocky horror flicks. We are treated to some nasty effects, such as the mini-demon emerging from a woman’s back, as well as some touching transformations of supposed friends or lovers. Demons reaches deep to provide us with some truly stupid moments – take the motorcross battle scene, where our hero and his best girl zoom around the theater as possessed bounce and wail and move their bad rubber glove hands in windmills. Our hero impossibly drives over the seats, then uses a ninja sword to cut down the baddies with slice, stab, slice. The whole time the soundtrack is completely overtaken by Udo’s ACCEPT blaring out. And that is not even mentioning the stupidity of a helicopter crashing down from the roof.
The end of Demons is equal parts a conventional horror “gotcha” moment and a hint at survivor porn. The fact that our hero’s best girl turns into a green slime vomiting demon, and is blasted off the back of the stallion white jeep by the Aryan princess in the front seat, makes no sense considering how our hero’s mangled arm has been featured since the theater escape. It is out of sync with the rest of the movie’s silly cosmology. But that is not as contrived as the survivor porn aspect. The white jeep with the well armed motherless family, heading out to the country to see if there are any other survivors, is the wet dream of the Cold Warriors. The singularity of self-reliance, prepared and willing to defend one’s self (and implied continue the correct way of political life), became a cottage industry during the post-World War II Capitalist contract. See Geopolitics of Hibernation. As the 1980s rolled on, the survivor porn would take on a more militarized form (Rambo, Red Dawn, Day of the Dead) offering a corrective against the hopelessness of the nuclear arsenals and the mutual assured destruction gambit.
How much the movie’s successes are dependent upon the subtle undercurrents of social commentary seems overshadowed by the silliness of the genre’s snide trappings. The ultimate failing of the movie is that it was designed first as a cheap and shocking exploitation flick. A product who’s economy opens up a whole other level of critique, if one wished to explore the fundamentals of drive-in first feature productions – which would include the Contienental sensibilities of the grindhouse, the speed and inventiveness of the filmmakers, etc. et al.
Part of a trilogy, I guess, which includes the other Fulci directed movies starring Catrinoa MacColl – City of the Living Dead and The House by the Cemetery – though I think the only thing linking the movies is MacColl and a certain fatalism.
The Beyond begins with a sepia toned flashback-as-exposition. A group of 1920s dandies float along a river with burning touches and various angry mob weaponry. As the boatmen reach the shore, they are met by a Model-T driving bunch, which begs the questions as to why some of them needed to glide slowly through the swampy river to reach a hotel easily accessible by road. Maybe, there was no more room in the cars? Maybe, the boat guys came from an island up the stream? Maybe, these were two different or competing vigilante groups that just happened, through no plot of their own, to take matters into their own hands on the same dark night? The possibilities, those endless possibilities, are sadly never explored.
Nor is the fact that the angry mob takes their touches into the hotel, yet do not burn it down. What ensues is sort of gruesomely silly. There is a painter of horribly morbid pictures working in room 26 or something. The angry villagers bust in and drag this avant garde artiste down into the basement of the hotel. Then they beat him, graphically, with chains – tearing his flesh and unleashing the Fulci goopy torrents. Then they nail him to the wall. Then they take what looks like cement and throw it on him. Only instead of walling him into a secret chamber under the hotel for eternity, for his various art crimes, the plaster substance steams up on his skin and melts him down into a rubbery corpse.
By the time the movie jumps ahead to “present day” – what is this like ten minutes in? – things start to get messy and muddy and the movie’s story pretty much falls apart. Yes, the hotel is haunted. Yes, it is one of the seven doors into hell. Yes, there are strange deaths occurring – how a painter falls a half story to his death, I guess is a Southern thing. Or how a hotel is still standing with a lake in the basement. Or just what Joe The Plumber thinks he is going to do about it.
The doctor/love interest of the very unlikable MacColl, is a moron. Not only is he a piss poor doctor, but when he discovers that shooting the risen dead in the head kills them, he continues to empty his clips into their chests and stomachs. Dummy.
But really, he is needed because the movie needs the morgue he works in. Its a pivotal location for the ending’s mayhem. The morgue, also, serves as a background for the weird EKG type thing that the-glass-in-the-face-doctor hooks up to the limeaway artist corpse. Plus without the morgue, we would never see Willie Nelson’s girlchild take a shotgun blast to her head.
One thing you can say about Fulci, beside the fact that he hates eyeballs, is that he had no fear offing kids on screen. Pretty much ups any horror ante you got left to play when you show a kid’s head explode.
There is a subplot about a blind ghost woman with a ghost seeing eye dog. Which we will just pass over in silence, since the stupidity of a demoness ghost from the pit needing a seeing eye guide dog is BEYOND any logical explanation. Other than the fact, that the script called for the blind lady to get mauled by her dog-turned-demon-dog. That scene remains one of the best uses of puppetry in cinematic history.
This is the movie that ends with the two protagonists end up walking into the painting and then turning around to show there white demon eyes. I know it has been bothering you for years. Now you know.