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Saturday, 8 February 2014

Steelbook Review: DEMONS 2

N.B. This post has been ever-so-slightly-altered since its original posting. Thanks!

Welcome Back!

DEMONS 2 is a troubled-sequel. How could Argento and Bava possibly top the sheer balls-out mayhem of the first? Well, he couldn't. However, that's not to say DEMONS 2 is a bad film. It's not. It's just not as good as the first. With that said, there's still much to enjoy in this sequel.

As less people have seen the sequel, I will give you a brief synopsis. Set in a newly-built (modern) Italian tower block, we meet heavily-pregnant Hannah (Nancy Brilli), and her husband George (David Edwin Knight). They have been invited to a party at a fellow tenant's apartment. The birthday girl, Sally Day, played by Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, is frustrated, because she wants everything (and everyone) to be perfect for her perfect birthday party. As she gets ready, she is watching a documentary on TV, about several teenagers who trespass into a deserted town, due to an outbreak of demonic possession running rife. When they discover the dessicated remains of a demon, it becomes revived, when one of the youngsters places a demonic mask (as featured in the original DEMONS film) on their face, and scratches themselves with it. The resulting blood then helps to revive one Demon, who goes on to resurrect a hellish plague on the world, and infest it with further demons of the nastiest sort. Alongside Sally, several other tenants in the building are also watching the same documentary. But the documentary, is causing some of the tenants headaches and pain. They are being slowly hypnotised, and Demons are wanting to traverse from their world, into the real-world. When one Demon successfully makes it, havoc ensues.

That's pretty much the nub of it. DEMONS 2 is nowhere near as enjoyable as the first one, but I still think it's a fun, silly gonzo flick, and Synapse's new restored Steelbook is certainly an improvement on all other previous versions, which helps increase the viewer's pleasure.

First-off, those of you who know anything about anything about DEMONS 2, know... Well, we'll let Don May Jnr himself explain:
"DEMONS 2 was filmed on the very controversial Kodak 5294 (T400) film stock. This film stock was notorious for being extremely problematic and was discontinued not long after it was introduced. The film stock produced images that were extremely dense, dark and very, very grainy. [snip] The DEMONS 2 grain structure is heavy, for sure, but it is no fault of ours… it’s inherent in the negative. Those more familiar with DEMONS 2 are also aware of the few brief shots in the film (maybe four or five) where the picture jumps and “vibrates” during the film. This issue is also in the original negative and we tried to fix it.
The problem is that fixing the “vibrating” frames just caused additional errors and problems in other areas of the shots. We did send a sample scene to Lowry/Reliance and we tried using digital tools to see if we could do anything to minimise or alleviate the issue. The fixes were just as problematic, so we also had to leave these sections alone. DEMONS 2’s original negative had these issues printed in and it is frustrating. It will continue to be frustrating for all future versions of DEMONS 2. When we contacted DEMONS 2’s director of photography, Gianlorenzo Battaglia, with questions about the film itself and the film stock, he replied by telling us the entire film used Kodak 5294, with the exception of the very final scene of the film with the two actors outside in the morning."
The brief shots, Don May refers to, occur at the following point in the film:
1) During the restaurant outing, between 28m 16s to 28m 24s.
2) When the couple cross the bridge, between 52m 49s to 53m 26s.
3) During the car journey, between 59m 32s to 59m 45s.

In the Arrow release, there was a warning notice about these inherent errors in the film-stock, at the beginning of the film, and an apology, with a hope that "this will not ruin your enjoyment of the film". On Synapse's release, no such note exists, which is fine by me. And to be fair to them, most people who purchase this film, will be fully aware of the problems, and their history. So the lack of notice, is not an issue for me.

For those who don't know, at the three points in the film mentioned above, the image will shake or vibrate, or go slightly blurry. Synapse have certainly tried to correct these errors, and they are less "shocking" than in the Arrow release, where no attempt was made to correct them at all. However, you will notice them. There's no two ways of saying this. The errors are quite blatant, and obvious, but as Don May mentions, there's nothing they (or we) can do about it. With that all said, you either accept them as inherent flaws, or you can wind yourself up bitching about it, and get nowhere fast.

So, with that all said, are the audio and visual quality any good? Yes! As with DEMONS, Synapse have vastly improved the print. Not only is it sharper and clearer than all previous editions, but you can see the differences. In this version, detail previously not noticeable (e.g. different strands of hair on people's heads; skin textures, and details on buildings and in dark scenes) now appear, and can be seen by the viewers. Even on smaller large-screen TV's (those under 40-inches) will  notice the differences. Those of you lucky enough to have access to truly spectacular large-screens and/or projector's will see the difference even better.

Colours pop, and are more defined, especially on the Demons' skin, and make-up. The film looks even more vibrant than it ever has, and it feels very much like a real product of the 1980's. (The technology, the hairstyles and, in particular, the fashion-sense easily give the game away, but they can all be easily forgiven.) And yes, there are even bigger plot-holes than in the first one. However, it's still a fun film. And horror should be entertaining, even if it's not especially scary or shocking. Admittedly, the demonic possession of the child, is still quite unnerving.

Audio-wise, it's a nice DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack in Dubbed English, or Dubbed Italian with English Subtitles. Technically, neither are wholly accurate or original, because when filming was underway, many of the cast spoke different languages, and were over-dubbed at a later date. So, although the Dubbed English version is the more authentic, if you lived in or grew-up in Italy in the late-80's, then the Dubbed Italian would be your "original" soundtrack.

The score is not as impressive, though musician Simon Boswell tries hard to at least equal Claudio Simonetti's original themes - and does so to a greater or lesser degree. Yet, the rest of the 80's music, doesn't really work, for me at least. It's certainly not as entertainingly used as in DEMONS, nor is much of it stuff you'll actually recall for those of you who lived through the era. With that said, and in spite of some of these flaws, I still think DEMONS 2 is a worthy sequel. Rarely do any sequels better their predecessors, and this is no exception. But ultimately, it's a fun 85-or-so minutes. For me, Bobby Rhodes appearing again, but in a different role - this time, he's a fitness instructor, complete with camp, skin-tight vest and jock shorts - is still one of the film's many highlights. And yes, as you get nearer to the end, the plot-holes do become crater-like in size, but it's just so stupid, you can pretty much forgive it, bearing in mind the film's plot anyway!

As per DEMONS, you get one dual-layered DVD disc, and a 50gb Blu-Ray disc, and the following extras, originally seen on the UK Arrow release:
- Audio Commentary with recollections from director Lamberto Bava, mechanical creations & transformation artist Sergio Stivaletti, plus genre journalist Loris Curci
- Creating Creature Carnage, an interview with make-up and SFX guru Sergio Stivaletti, plus
- Bava To Bava, in which Luigi Cozzi tracks the history of the Italian horror film.

Synapse has also added the following, to their Steelbook:
- Screaming For A Squel: another all-new interview with Lamberto Bava
- The Demons Generations - Assistant Director Roy Bava speaks about DEMONS 2
- A Soundtrack For Splatter, in which Simon Boswell discusses his care scoring genre films, and
- Demonic Influences, an interview with Federico Zampaglione.

Rounding-off the disc, are a couple of trailers. The extras aren't quite as interesting overall as on DEMONS, but I applaud Synapse for at least including more than Arrow ever did, and attempting to give purchasers more value-for-money.

Whether you want to own this edition of DEMONS 2 will depend on several issues:
1) How much of a completist or collector are you?
2) How much money you are willing to spend?
3) How much you like (or loathe) this sequel.

In my view, it's not a must-own title, in and of itself. It's watchable, but you won't be watching it as often as its predecessor, that's for sure. Nevertheless, if you want to complete your DEMONS Steelbook collection, then the extra material, and the fact it makes a lovely two-item set with the first film, almost makes it worthwhile. Still, I know many people feel DEMONS 2 just isn't worth wasting your time or your money on, and I can certainly see why they feel that way. For me, though, it just about makes it worth owning, and if you are going to own this film, then the Synapse version smashes Arrow's release into dust!

Synapse have said that their may be a regular Blu-Ray or DVD release of both DEMONS and DEMONS 2, at some point, but this is not assured or guaranteed. For now, then, these two Steelies really are the ultimate ways of seeing the films!

I'll be back again soon, with more debate and discussion on another interesting area of extreme cinema. For now, though, thank you for reading.

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