Demons (Italy, 1985):
(Dèmoni; Dance of the Demons)

The movie house as the cinephile's cathedral and crypt, predicted by Nostradamus and devised by Dario Argento. Self-reflexive down to its fangs and claws, it starts with the heroine (Natasha Hovey) positioned between gray matrons and teen punkettes in the subway, noticing a figure decked in metallic half-mask; the stalker is only a pitchman for a film preview, Hovey grabs free tickets for her and pal Paola Cozzo. The theatre is dubbed Metropol and designed after Suspiria's ballet school, in its lobby is a medieval jouster with a katana propped atop a dirt bike, the mechanized projector appears to be operated by HAL -- heavy-petting couples and one Tony the Pimp (Bobby Rhodes) fill the aisles, Nicoletta Elmi is their usherette, grown-up yet still the evil little sprite of Twitch of the Death Nerve and Flesh for Frankenstein. The movie-within-a-movie unspools, some Evil Dead-ish thriller with spelunking teens, and the two sides of the screen rapidly are blurred as an audience member rips through it, bleeding and possessed. Foamy goblins proliferate and devour, the patrons are walled-in: "It's not the movie, it's the theatre," declares the blind man, oozing from the sockets like Oedipus. Argento's screenplay is grounded in the concept of artistic malevolence and the awareness of cinematic language, keyed specifically to the charge of mid-'80s punk rock -- Mötley Crüe and Rick Springfield have become the inheritors of the Bartók composition Hovey presses to her bosom in the opening, "White Wedding" trumpets the charge of the "cavalry," a carload of stompers cruising and, in the movie's bluntest gag, snorting coke from a Coke can via straw. The direction has been left to Lamberto Bava, however, so only about half of the audacious ideas makes it past the pedestrian staging and imitations of Argento colors and Papa Bava's opulent Gothic. Happily, the image of the rampaging demons backlit by shafts of projected light lies in that half, a veritable pathway from Targets to Scream. With Karl Zinny, Fiore Argento, Fabiola Toledo, Geretta Giancarlo, and Michele Soavi.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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