Collins’ Crypt: Most Of The DEMONS “Sequels” Don’t Have Any Demons

Some Japanese horror fans are pretty sure there are seven entries in the (two film) Demons series.

I can never decide if the availability of the internet is a good or bad thing when it comes to that strange blend of joy and frustration that I experienced several times as a kid after renting (or buying!) a "sequel" only to discover it was unrelated to the original. Even though I bought Lucio Fulci's Zombie from a US distributor, it was titled "Zombi 2" and the VHS art touted its connection (pfft) to Dawn of the Dead, exciting 14 or 15 year old me who didn't have the means to know better. That night when I watched the film I continually wondered how it connected to Dawn even in the usual (read: loose) Romero fashion - the zombies looked different and it didn't seem like the world was aware of their existence yet, so how could this be a sequel? Nowadays I'd just consult IMDB on my phone to find the explanation, in the unlikely event that I hadn't been aware of it beforehand, but back then I was in the dark - at least until I was able to hit up a bookstore and find the answers in one of those horror guide books I could never afford because I'd always spend my allowance on the movies themselves. That's when I learned that Dawn had been retitled Zombi in Italy and this "sequel" was greenlit and produced to cash in on it, a practice that was common/legal due to different copyright laws.

This happened to me a couple other times, and not always just horror (don't ever buy a movie called Killers Two; it has Chow Yun Fat and Danny Lee, but it is not related - in fact it's eleven years older than the "original"), but thankfully by the time I had more income to buy movies from conventions and (probably not legal, I now realize) mail-order companies I also had a sweet dial-up internet connection, where answers to any confusion could be found at the click of a button and a prayer that my parents wouldn't pick up the phone and disconnect me. Sometimes I'd go ahead and watch the movies anyway, but at least I knew what I was in for, and don't think I've been duped again. But it's kind of a charming memory in retrospect, and a part of my overall lament that it's so much more difficult to "discover" a movie the way we used to - even if the movie turned out to be unrelated, the odds are pretty slim that I would have seen Zombie as early as I did (and in turn, learn who Fulci was and start tracking down other movies he made) if not for that little marketing stunt.

The Zombie series would continue in ways too numerous (and frankly, confusing) to mention here, but to sum up there are other "sequels" floating around, going at least as far as Zombies 5: Killing Birds, and there were other "franchises" made up out of random movies being retitled for this or that market. I ran down the history of Evil Dead/"La Casa" movies a while back, but I am equally amused by the similar path taken by the Demons series, which ended up with at least seven "sequels", only one of which was an actual followup. Japan seemed to be the biggest offender with this particular brand, extending the series at least as far as the mid-1990s (wait til you see what movie got the honor), but some of the others were released as sequels in places like Hungary and even the US. Two of the films that ended up being referred to as sequels, 1989's The Church and 1991's The Sect, both directed by Michele Soavi and produced/co-written by Dario Argento, are now hitting Blu-ray from Doppelgänger and Scorpio, with their original titles intact - their Demons status has been revoked for good.

Not that Soavi should have been embarrassed by the connection. In fact, the first Demons remains one of my favorite Italian horror films; it's faster paced than most of their zombie flicks, and has that great '80s soundtrack featuring the likes of Motley Crue and Billy Idol (plus a typically great Claudio Simonetti score in between). The plot is also inspired: an assorted group of twenty or so people are watching a free screening of a new horror movie (most of them given a ticket by none other than a young Michele Soavi!) when someone is possessed, seemingly by the same entity that haunts the characters in the film they're watching. That possessed person bites another, and so on, and sooner or later there is a very small group of survivors trying to survive against their undead fellow moviegoers, all within a giant and gothic old movie theater. The ending is a downer that sets itself up easily for a sequel (namely, the outbreak has spread beyond the cinema building) but the first sequel, 1986's simply named Demons 2, basically hits the reset button and functions as something closer to remake than traditional followup. This time the action is in an apartment building, where a number of people are watching a movie on TV that's almost identical to the one the people in the first Demons were watching. Once again an outbreak starts, leaving lots of people (including the awesome Bobby Rhodes, who was in the first film as a pimp, playing a gym trainer here) dead before the night is through. It's not as good as the original, in my opinion, but it's a perfectly enjoyable flick that seemed to prove the Demons series could continue, changing the locales and letting the curse infect a new group of people each time. Maybe a proper Demons 3 could have been set in a drive-in?

Alas, there are at least three films that have been known as "Demons 3" depending on where you are in the world, but none of them are related, or even about the same kind of thing. The closest any of them come to "fitting" in the series is Michele Soavi's The Church, which is probably due to the fact that it was indeed written (by Dario Argento and Franco Ferrini, part of the team that wrote the legit entries) as a proper sequel, intended to end the series. Soavi, however, wasn't interested in making another Demons, and thus the film was rewritten to remove any connection to its narrative and mythology, though you can certainly spot a few remnants of its original form, such as the church-full of random people (an old couple, a wedding party, etc.) that you can assume would have been turned into demon zombies. But that doesn't happen (doesn't mean they walk away happily ever after, however), and instead we get a more atmospheric film that almost feels like an Italian update of the Spanish Tombs of the Blind Dead series, and it's unsurprisingly the best of the "Demons 3" lot by a wide margin. The abrupt ending hurts it some, but even as is it stands as one of the last must-see Italian horror films of that period, before the decline of the industry sent most of its talent off to television with much lower budgets. It takes a bit to get going, so you gotta be patient with it, but it's loaded with atmosphere and some incredibly grotesque visuals, plus a young Asia Argento for good measure. 

The other two movies that have at one point or another been given the "Demons 3" name are 1989's The Ogre and 1991's Black Demons, neither of which are worth tracking down. The Ogre is actually directed by Lamberto Bava, yet it's an incredibly egregious use of the franchise brand, as it has no demons or even possession, just the titular ogre haunting a family swiped from Fulci's House by the Cemetery (literally in some cases; the guy playing the dad is the same actor from Fulci's film and the son's name is Bob). It's a TV movie, so we can't expect it to have the same production value or excess of the theatrical films, but there's no excuse for how dull it is, making it the weakest of your three "Demons 3" options, which is ironic considering Bava's attachment would seem to suggest it's the only legitimate entry of the trio. The other one, Black Demons, is a voodoo-themed zombie revenge film from the notorious (and notoriously inconsistent) Umberto Lenzi, but it's also a snooze - the only reason it's worth tracking down is to enjoy Lenzi's hilariously candid interview on the DVD, where he mocks the actors (the male lead's name he can't even remember; he has to consult the VHS box) and scoffs at the idea of the film being connected to the Demons franchise, adding that he's never even seen them. He should, the two legit entries and all of the "sequels" directed by Soavi are pretty good!

Yes, Soavi would "return" to the series with his next film, The Sect aka The Devil's Daughter aka, you guessed it, Demons 4. Starring Kelly Curtis (Jamie Lee's sister, equally charming) and once again bearing zero relation to anything remotely resembling the first two films, it's actually a solid horror thriller about a woman whose life is torn asunder after she almost hits a man with her car. As he is rattled but unhurt, she takes him home to let him rest up, and before long he's doing weird things like putting insects in her nose and performing rituals in the surprisingly spacious cavern underneath her home. Could he be connected to the satanic cult we saw in the opening sequence? Was their meeting fate, or something planned in advance? The film takes a bit too long to get to the unsurprising answer to these questions (it runs just under two hours), but if you ever wanted to see what Rosemary's Baby might be like after being filtered through typically nutty Italian screenwriting (personal favorite "Huh?" moment - a rabbit channel surfing) then look no further than this. Had it been a bit tighter it would be as good as The Church in my opinion, but watching them more or less back to back confirmed that Soavi was a man of bigger ideas than some of his peers, and it's a shame he has never gotten as much appreciation as Bava (either of them) or Argento among that group; hopefully these new Blu releases will start to change that.

The fifth Demons is from Bava again, and is a mix between a Demons-style plot (possession is involved, at least) and Mario Bava's Black Sunday. In fact its actual title is La maschera del demonio, which was the original title of the elder Bava's landmark classic, and deals with witchcraft as opposed to the more all-purpose supernatural origins of the proper Demons films. I've never actually seen this one, but the user comments on IMDb make it sound fairly insane - one reviewer includes the line "for some reason she turns into a rotten zombie/giant chicken" as part of his synopsis. Unfortunately the only copy I can find is a blurry bootleg on Youtube so hopefully Scorpion or one of their peers will find it in their hearts to release it properly someday. I HAVE however seen Demons 6: De Profundis, which is actually 1989's The Black Cat, directed by Luigi Cozzi (not to be confused with Lucio Fulci's Black Cat, from 1981), and it might very well be the worst of this whole lot due to the fact that it spends its entire runtime alternating between being confusing and being painfully dull, with its occasional makeup effects shots made even more unforgivable when you consider that they don't look particularly good either. It's like they had the choice between quantity or quality and opted for neither, and I pity whoever paid to watch it under any title.

That ended the numbered series (as far as I can tell anyway) but the Japanese market, god bless 'em, saw fit to bring poor Soavi back into the fold by retitling his classic Dellamorte Dellamore (aka Cemetery Man) as Demons '95, which is inspired enough to forgive the fact that a. it's 100% traditional zombie, not demon, and b. it's from 1994 anyway. Given its comic book origins it's kind of insane that the Japanese market felt it would be more successful if it was tied into a series that had been dead for a few years, but thankfully by then we had better access to movie information and thus I am willing to bet almost no one was fooled. Then again, if just one lucky Japanese kid who loved the Demons series got to see one of the few good zombie movies from the '90s as a result, I guess it was worth it. The film has endured more than any other Demons "sequel" has (perhaps even more than the original; it certainly has more critical acclaim) and was one of the last Italian horror films to receive a theatrical release in the US; I was actually kind of shocked to see it included in the list of faux Demons sequels, figuring it was more likely to have fake sequels of its own than to be considered a "Part 7" of something.

But I appreciate that the Japanese market was trying to keep the brand alive in their own wonky way; I think it's a shame that we were never given a proper third film, and by now any actual new Demons would just be a remake. But the unscrupulous actions of those late '80s/early '90s producers was not without value, as the made-up connection almost certainly helped The Church and The Sect reach a wider audience (and stick out a bit from a cluttered marketplace), and now that it's been nearly thirty years I think anyone who got tricked into thinking they were Demons sequels has gotten over it by now. Instead, now we can thank this now-dead practice for helping put these films on some of our radars, and add another thing to the growing pile of traditions that actually did a disservice to these movies (which includes pan & scan VHS transfers) that our nostalgia glasses occasionally have us missing. I can only hope that somewhere in the world, my Japanese or Hungarian equivalent is now laughing at the time he rented the new Demons film only to discover it was a demon-free movie from an entirely different set of people, and equally kind of sad that it's something that's not likely to ever happen again.