This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.
Italian horror cinema had a funny old journey in the 20th Century. After returning from the dead in the 1950s, when the Fascist-era ban was repealed, it didn’t really catch fire until Mario Bava gave it a welcome shot in the arm in the 1960s. Then a new generation of Bava-inspired auteurs (and utterly shameless ripoff merchants) rose in the 1970s, with Dario Argento reigning as the decade’s dark overlord. However, by the time the 1980s got into full swing the wheels were beginning to come off. Older hands were slowing down or becoming regrettably inconsistent, and the balance between stylish, artsy originals and schlocky formula material – the two types of movie the scene was best known for – started to swing dangerously towards the “disposable bullshit” side of the coin.
The Demons series seems to have been Dario Argento’s attempt to mentor the next generation of Italian horror directors. Enjoying a break from directing after wrapping up his Phenomena, Argento took on the role of producer and co-writer, with Lamberto Bava (son of Mario Bava) in the director’s chair. Perhaps the most important thing Argento brought to the table was his name, since it was one of a select few with genuine gravitas outside of the Italian horror bubble and it allowed him as producer to secure a budget for the movies that was well in excess of Lamberto’s earlier efforts.
Another protegee of Argento’s, Michele Soavi, acted as assistant director on the first movie and performed a couple of cameos in it, having collaborated with Lamberto in a similar capacity in his earlier A Blade In the Dark. In the long run, Lamberto Bava’s reputation has tended to be overshadowed in horror critic circles by his father’s, and he seems to have had most success outside of horror with his Fantaghiro series of fantasy TV movies. Conversely, Soavi seems to have done rather better out of the deal, with Argento giving him the same producer-and-cowriter help to produce his subsequent movies The Church and The Sect; moreover, Soavi’s final horror movie, Dellamorte Dellamore, is widely seen as the best Italian horror release of the 1990s, if not the final movement of Italian horror’s golden age. And Soavi… well, he doesn’t look back on the Demons films too fondly, writing them off as “pizza schlock”. Is he being unfair or ungrateful, or does he have a point? Best way to find out is to crack open the two-disc Arrow Video rerelease of the movies and see for ourselves…
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