Sunday, October 10, 2021

DEMONS I & II (Synapse Films Special Limited Edition Blu-ray Review/Comparison)

Special Limited Edition 2-Disc Blu-ray

Label: Synapse Films
Duration: D1: 89 Minutes D2: 92 Minutes
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo with Optional English SDH Subtitles
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.66:1)
Director: Lamberto Bava
Cast: D1: Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Geretta Geretta, Bobby Rhodes D2: David Edwin Knight, Nancy Brilli, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, Asia Argento

It's starting to look like like Demons 1 & II films are Synapse's version of what the Evil Dead franchise was to Anchor Bay and now Lionsgate, and I say that in a loving way, because I have owned at one time or another every fucking version of the Evil Dead trilogy on digital home video, and was pleased as punch to buy every one of 'em! First Synapse have us the limited edition Blu-ray steelbooks, then we had the bare-bones standard version, now they are offering remastered Blu-ray and Ultra HD releases of both films!

DEMONS (1985)
In the splatter-tastic Demons (1985) a young woman named Cheryl (Natasha Hovey) is approached by a menacing looking guy (Michele Soavi, City of the Living Dead) wearing a metal mask in the Berlin subway she attempts flee but it turns out he's only trying to give her free passes to a movie screening at the Metropol Cinema. That night she is joined by her friend Kathy (Paola Cozzo, Demonia) and the teens arrive at the cinema where they meet two young flirtatious men; George (Urbano Barberini, The Black Cat) and Ken (Karl Zinny, Delirium).

Also in attendance are a bad-ass pimp (Bobby Rhodes, Demons 2) and two of his prostitutes, one of which is named Rosemary, played by Garetta Garetta (Rats: Night of Terror). In the lobby of the theater there is a movie prop of a samurai riding a motorcycle wielding a samurai sword and wearing creepy look kabuki metal mask. Rosemary pulls the mask off the mannequin and wears it for a second, but when taking it off it scratches her only slightly but somehow draws blood. I love it when the pimps reprimands here with "That's what you get for touching stuff"!, and the English-dubbing of the pimp is awesome.

As the movie begins we see that movie they're attending is a demonic horror film involving a group of teens and the prophecies of Nostradamus. It's a fun movie-with-a-movie device, as the story line in the movie unfolds it seems to mirror what is happening in the theater at the same time. The hooker that was scratched by the mask starts to feel ill and heads to the bathroom where she discovers the scratch has become grotesquely infected, the pulsating boil erupts in a spray of demonic jizz as she transforms into a gnarly toothed, green slime drooling demon with a fierce set of claws.

As the movie goers slowly become aware that something terrifying is happening in the theater they're helpless to escape as the doors have been barred. The pimp played by Bobby Rhodes takes charge of the situation hollering a barrage of quotable gems as they attempt to thwart the demonic siege that is well underway. The gruesome make-up effects from Sergio Stivaletti are plenty of fun with loads of torn flesh and gouged-eyes with an excess of blood and gore. A scene of a demon being birthed from the back of one of the infected is quite violent and fun - definitely a film that does not disappoint with a steady barrage of squirm inducing practical in-camera special effects.

Demons is directed by Lamberto Bava (Delirium) and produced and co-written by Dario Argento (Four Flies On Grey Velvet) and the great Italian screenwriter Dardano Sachetti (The Beyond). The film has a distinct Argento flavor about it with some great moody lighting and stylistic choices - this is a very vibrant film with some fantastic colors throughout. Away from the Argento influence it should be noted that Bava (son of the legendary Mario Bava, A Bay of Blood) is quite a good director in his own right with the films A Blade In The Dark (1983) and Macabre (1980) under his belt, that said it's the Demons movies he's probably most known for but I recommend digging into his other films to discover a few fun late-era Giallo entries.

The film has a few storytelling hiccups along the way such as the introduction of a group of coked-up punk rockers forty-minutes into the film whom add very little to the story other than some appreciated nudity. At time it does feel like a series of gore skits patched together and the pacing suffers at points but not enough to suck out the fun, because this is a party movie, a blast from start to finish. The onscreen action comes at you fast and furious with a fun sword-swinging spin on a motorcycle through the theater and a helicopter which crashes through the ceiling of the theater all set to a fun metal-infused soundtrack, this is a damn fun party film with an apocalyptic ending.

Demons (1985) is a classic Italian splatter film and a Hell of a fun watch, while it can be a bit disjointed at times - like so many Italian horror films, it earns high marks for the sweet gore and fist-pumping soundtrack. Demons is one of the best rock n' roll horror films out there, right up there with The Return of the Living Dead and Trick Or Treat, it never fails to deliver the demonic goods.

DEMONS 2 (1986)
At the start of the sequel the demonic plague unleashed in the first film bleeds over into the confines of high rise when a sad birthday girl is infected by her TV screen in a scene lifted straight outta David Cronenberg's Videodrome. Now transformed into a snarling, blood-spewing demon she attacks her party guests and more demonic mayhem ensues.

We have a nice change of venue as we go from the cinema of the first film to a high rise, which sort of brought to mind Cronenberg's Shivers. Another nice change is that the demonic possession is initially transferred via the medium of a TV screen and not a movie screen or the demonic metal mask from the first film. It's definitely a sequel that takes the Gremlins 2 approach of throwing everything and the kitchen sink into the sequel with the wonderful additions of demonic dog, Alien-esque acidic blood and a demonic child that all add new levels of absurd intensity to the demonic onslaught.

There are also quite a few nods to the original, I appreciated that they brought back bad-ass Bobby Rhodes who played the pimp in the first film, this time as an ass kicking gym instructor who leads a group of shirtless muscle heads and leg warmer wearing foxy ladies who find themselves trapped in the parking garage up against a horde of the demon-possessed, but sadly he meets a nut-shredding fate.

I loved the make-up effects of the demons in this sequel even more than the first film. I don't recall the demons in the first film spewing so much blood from their face, in fact some of the blood is acidic and eats through the floor and into the level below, some of which is lapped up by a cute dog who transforms into a snarling demon beast. Plus we have an infected child thrown into the mix - a pint-sized demon who torments an expectant mother before dying, at which time a winged baby demon is spawned from it's corpse!

The most memorable demon after the child is that of the sad birthday gal named Sally (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, Opera) who is the first to be infected by her TV and the further spreads the demonic plague as she tears birthday revelers apart. She gets a sweet transformation scene with the gnarly teeth and claws popping out from her fingertips. A top-notch sequel that amps up the insanity with fun gore gags and a fun soundtrack featuring the Smiths, the Cult and Peter Murphy among others.

Demons 2 is a fun amped up sequel with nods to Cronenberg's Shivers and Videodrome plus Gremlins and Alien among others. A bit sillier than the original with a non-stop parade of awesome gore from start to finish, a sequel that in my opinion stands toe-to-toe with the original.

 Both Demons and Demons 2 are presented in
1080p HD framed in 1.66:1 widescreen, newly remastered from the new 4K restorations from the original 35mm camera negatives. For Demons 1 & 2 we get both the full-length original cut in English and Italian, plus the shorter U.S. version of Demons featuring alternate dubbing and sound effects. The new scans from the OCN looks absolutely luminescent, the new Blu-rays are an appreciable uptick in quality with lush grain present throughout, better resolved fine details and clarity, deeper more nuanced blacks levels and the colors are refreshed. Both films look gorgeous and I can only imaging the 4K UHD versions of these films must be stunning with the Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible) color-grading and increased resolution. I will definitely be upgrading to the UHD set based on the enhancements I can see on the Blu-ray.

, for Demons we have an uncompressed English and Italian DTS-HD 2.0 and 5.1 audio mixes on the original cut derived from the archival audio masters, plus English DTS-HD MA 2.0 U.S. theatrical mono audio newly remastered in 2021 by Synapse Films. Demons 2 has uncompressed DTS-HD MA English 5.1 and Italian 5.1 or 2.0 audio mixes derived from the original archival audio masters, plus uncompressed DTS-HD MA English 2.0 true stereo theatrical mix remastered in 2021 by Synapse Films. Both films feature newly translated optional English SDH subtitles for the English versions, and newly translated English subtitles for the Italian versions. The audio sounds crisp and dynamic throughout with terrific soundtrack selection, including Motley Crue, Billy Idol and Accept on the first film alongside a fantastic Claudio Simonetti (Goblin), and a more new wave/goth tinged soundtrack on the sequel with choice cuts from Dead Can Dance, The Cult and The Smiths, with a score by Simon Boswell (Hardware).

Onto the extras, I will first note that there are extras absent from the Blu-ray edition that are present on the UHD release. What we do not get are Monstrous Memories: Luigi Cozzi on Demons (29 min), Splatter Spaghetti Style: interview with long-time Argento collaborator Luigi Cozzi, Carnage at the Cinema: Lamberto Bava and His Splatter Masterpiece (34 min), and the Profondo Jones: The Critical Perspective (13 min). Absent from the Demons 2 Blu-ray are Bava to Bava: interview with Luigi Cozzi on the history of Italian horror, Demonic Influences: Federico Zampaglione Speaks (10 min), The New Blood of Italian Horror featuring Sergio Stivaletti (16 min). So if you're a bonus features nut definitely upgrade to the UHD, though it looks like some of these UHD exclusive extras do appear on the previous Synapse steelbook editions, and I have the Bava to Bava featurette on my Arrow Video Steelbook edition as well.

Synapse always go above and beyond with their releases, and since this is their third iteration of Demons 1 & 2 they have not only upgraded the picture and audio, but offer some new value-added extras to sweeten the deal, which I am appreciative of. On the Demons disc we have a brand new Audio Commentary by Kat Ellinger and Heather Drain, co-hosts of the Hell’s Belles podcast, who turn in a top-notch discussion of the splatter-classic, plus we get a new 27-minute visual essay, Produced by Dario Argento, by author and critic Michael Mackenzie exploring Argento's career as a producer. For Demons 2 we get a new Audio Commentary by film critic Travis Crawford, and another 27-minute video essay, Together and Apart on the space and technology in Demons and Demons 2 by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. Additionally we have hours of archival extras ported over from the previous Synapse steelbook editions.

The 2-disc Blu-ray release arrives in a dual-hubbed clear Scanavo keepcase with a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring slipcover packaging featuring new artwork by Juan José Saldarriaga and Chris MacGibbon. Inside we get
some cool ephemera by way of a reproduction of the original movie ticket from Demons with information about the transfer on the reverse side, plus we get a Demons 2 birthday party invitation and a fold-out poster of Demons artwork from Wes Benscoter, which is the artwork Synapse had previously used for their Demons steelbook edition. The disc themselves also have artwork, with the Demons disc featuring a cool illustration of a severed demon hand holding theater goers in it's clutches, which was also incorporated into the interior artwork of the Demons steelbook.

Special Features:
Disc One: Demons
- Two versions of the film: the full-length original cut in English and Italian, and the shorter U.S. version featuring alternate dubbing and sound effects
- Uncompressed DTS-HD MA English & Italian 5.1/2.0 audio mixes on the original cut derived from the archival audio masters
- Uncompressed DTS-HD MA English 2.0 U.S. theatrical mono audio newly remastered in 2021 by Synapse Films
- NEW! Audio commentary by critics Kat Ellinger and Heather Drain, co-hosts of the Hell’s Belles podcast
- Audio commentary with director Lamberto Bava, SPFX artist Sergio Stivaletti, composer Claudio Simonetti and actress Geretta Geretta
- NEW! Produced by Dario Argento: a new visual essay by author and critic Michael Mackenzie exploring the legendary filmmaker’s career as a producer (27 min)
- Dario’s Demon Days: interview with writer/producer Dario Argento (11 min)
- Defining an Era in Music: interview with Claudio Simonetti (9 min)
- Dario and the Demons: Producing Monster Mayhem (16 min)
- Splatter Stunt Rock: interview with Ottaviano Dell’Acqua (9 min)
- Original Italian Theatrical Trailer (2 min)
- Original English International Theatrical Trailer (2 min)
- U.S. Theatrical Trailer (2 min)
- Newly translated optional English SDH subtitles for the English version
- Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian version

Disc 2: Demons 2
- Uncompressed DTS-HD MA English 5.1 & Italian 5.1/2.0 audio mixes derived from the original archival audio masters
- Uncompressed DTS-HD MA English 2.0 true stereo theatrical mix remastered in 2021 by Synapse Films
- New audio commentary by film critic Travis Crawford.
- Creating Creature Carnage: interview with Sergio Stivaletti (20 min)
- The ‘Demons’ Generation: Roy Bava discusses a legacy in lacerations (35 min)
- Screaming for a Sequel: The Delirious Legacy of DEMONS 2 with Lamberto Bava (16 min)
- A Soundtrack for Splatter: interview with composer Simon Boswell (27 min)
- NEW! Together and Apart: a new visual essay on the space and technology in DEMONS and DEMONS 2 by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (27 min)
- Original Italian Theatrical Trailer (3 min)
- Original English Theatrical Trailer (3 min)
- Newly translated optional English SDH subtitles for the English version
- Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian version

Synapse Films 2-disc Limited Edition Blu-ray release is an outstanding upgrade for these classic 80's Italian splatter flicks, this is a terrific upgrade, and I say this as someone who already owns the Arrow Video and Synapse Steelbook Blu-ray editions, and as someone who also just ordered the Synapse UHD release because this restoration looks to good not to own on Ultra HD! That said, if you're not UHD enabled yet these Blu-ray transfers offer an appreciable upgrade that are still worth ponying up for.

Screenshot Comparison:
Top: Synapse Blu-ray (2013)
Bottom: Synapse Blu-ray (2021)

Top: Synapse Blu-ray (2013)
Bottom: Synapse Blu-ray (2021)