Horror Bites - Theatre of Blood

DEMONS (1985)


The dubbing of foreign language films is a contentious issue which can often change the meaning or general cadence of dialogue. However there are always going to be those types of movies which seem to fit a cheesy, over done sound because it just seems to fit more with the tone. It's probably no surprise that this is something I often apply to guilty pleasures, and Lamberto Bava's cinema nightmare is a good example of this. Credible Italian speakers are not going to help a story which includes vomiting zombies and motorbike action sequences. The plot is minimal, the splatter effects are overflowing and the levels of '80s schlock are all the way up to 11.

A group of unwitting movie goers arrive at a mystery screening after being handed free tickets in the street by a masked man. Perhaps this is all about getting what you pay for, or maybe they are trying to make fun of those who label horror films as video nasties that are socially dangerous. Maybe it has no subtext at all. The viewers are an amusing array of characters including a woman who has taken her blind father to the show so she can have an affair, an angry husband who keeps telling his wife to shut up in every scene, and a couple of students who skipped their lecture. A medallion wearing pimp taking two prostitutes out is noticeably more cartoonish than the others but these aren't characters with any depth. Most of them are just entertaining fodder for the incoming bloodshed.

The story, as it is, has something to do with the film they're watching. A group of teenagers unearth a tomb and awaken an evil force. Like The Evil Dead it possesses them through physical injuries. They find a sinister mask which cuts the face of a guy who looks suspiciously like the fellow who was handing out the tickets. In the theatre the same thing begins to happen after a similar mask in the lobby display was worn by one of the spectators. Is the movie bleeding out into reality? Is the building itself evil? It's not clear. The projection is automated and the exits are all suddenly plastered over when the audience tries to get out. Soon enough the mayhem begins, so it doesn't really matter.

The make-up and model work offers a lot of weird and grotesque moments, from demonic teeth and claws growing from existing ones, or the pulsating wounds that are inflicted on their victims. There's a lot of coloured lighting and smoke as well as some great glowing eye effects for wider shots. Blood flows frequently as the survivors try and escape but find their numbers dwindling fast. All the while Claudio Simonetti's sampler heavy music plays a mixture of keyboard beats mixed with what sounds like ... a Grieg riff? Sure why not. Licensed '80s music also adds a certain sense of madness to the action as people make failed escape attempts and get themselves into some pretty sticky situations.

It's all totally absurd, particularly when a random subplot appears to show a group of cocaine addled punks riding around Berlin listening to Billy Idol. It cuts to them pretty frequently, as if to say meanwhile in the sleazy car trip... and their eventual arrival at the cinema hilariously does nothing to forward the plot. It seems to be there just for fun and to boost the band names on the soundtrack. But there are a lot of moments that make you sit back and think... well this is happening. The off-road bike stood in the box office fitted with a katana wielding mannequin is not there by accident, offering one of the zanier set pieces in the third act. Eyes are gouged, creatures are spawned and heads are chopped by helicopter blades. It's a gaudy, slime filled, ridiculous take on the zombie and demonic possession genres. Too nonsensical to be a real classic, too entertaining to ever be overlooked, it's an obvious choice for fans of this era.

3/5