“The past stays dead – the dead must rest in peace.” Good advice, or it would be if it wasn’t in a horror film, specifically the great Lucio Fulci’s Demonia from 1990. Fulci is known as the godfather of gore for good reason, and Demonia is yet another surreal journey into the bowels of hell, with more claret than a lockdown party at 10 Downing Street.
Demonia wastes no time at all getting into it. The film is about an archaeological dig in Sicily, where Liza (Meg Register) is being overseen by her boss, Professor Evans (Brett Halsey). The dig is overlooked by a creepy monastery that held the crucifixion of five nuns in the 1500s, which is shown in a fairly nasty prologue sequence, and the locals aren’t happy, as they all believe that Liza is going to disturb what man was not meant to uncover. Cue a healthy dose of eerie music and supernatural shenanigans.
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For a Fulci movie, Demonia is pretty disappointing. The director’s films are usually known for having a wild sense of almost blood-hedonism that gives way to audacious sequences, but there’s little of that here. Frankly, and I hate to say this, Demonia is boring. It doesn’t help that it has a fairly lacklustre cast. Lead Register has very little emotion to show and often just walks around like she’s in a Bonnie Tyler music video, and Halsey has a non-presence. Funnily enough, the most interesting performance comes from the director himself, who plays Interpol inspector Carter with a little bit of urgency and fun.
There are interesting themes at play here that have figured into Fulci’s films in the past, namely the idea of religion and cults and sex, with the backstory of the nunnery in old Sicily. But they’re not explored in any kind of depth apart from the usual flashback where Liza is told the whole tale by the local strange woman, and what happens is similar to the scene in The Beyond where the architect is killed, only with cats instead of spiders. The film has its fair share of gruesome sequences as you’d imagine from Fulci, and there are a couple of quite disturbing moments related to the true tale of the nuns from hell.
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The film also looks fairly boring, with very little visual spark compared to previous productions, although Fulci’s eye obsession is there as usual. Giovanni Cristiani’s incongruous score does nothing for the film and just makes you wish for the doom grooves of Fabio Frizzi. Overall, it’s a disappointment from such a creative filmmaker that is only really elevated by some gnarly gore moments.
However, Arrow Video has done a fantastic job with the transfer of the film, with a 4K restoration from the original 35mm negative. It looks and sounds great, and together with this, the label has collected a number of fascinating bonus features on the film. Author Stephen Thrower, who wrote the book Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci, provides an interesting audio commentary, while there are interviews with uncredited co-writer/assistant director Antonio Tentori and camera operator Sandro Grossi. There’s also footage from the film’s set and the original trailer.
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Perhaps the biggest bonus on the disc, maybe more valuable than the film, is Fulci Talks. A feature-length documentary from 2021, Fulci Talks takes an extended interview with Lucio Fulci as conducted by filmmaker Antonietta De Lillo and critic Marcello Garofolo in 1993, and presents an intimate, thoughtful, and brutally honest portrait of the great director.
Demonia is not anywhere near one of Lucio Fulci’s best films, but it has some decent gore moments and the people at Arrow have done their best to make it look as good as it probably ever has been, along with the usual thoughtful supplements. The inclusion of Fulci Talks is a great carrot and that may well be a tipping point for many people. Along with murderous cats, obviously.
Demonia is out on Blu-ray on 6th June from Arrow Video.