A group of Canadian archaeologists are sent to a small town in Sicily, as part of a survey team meant to study some ancient Greek ruins. But team member Liza is far more captivated by the nearby ruins of an abandoned medieval monastery that sits on a hill right outside their dig sight. But the superstitious locals aren’t too happy about her apparent interest. Turns out that around 500 years ago, the monastery once housed a convent of Satan worshiping nuns, and the villagers went in and crucified them all in the basement, blocking off the entrance and leaving their bodies strung-up where they died. Naturally, the locals don’t want this information getting out, and they especially don’t want anyone nosing around, because they’re convinced that opening up the nun’s impromptu crypt will release the evil inside. Since this is a horror movie, of course their fears end up being absolutely justified, because as soon as Liza breaks into the tomb, several people mysteriously wind up dead in increasingly brutal fashion.
Demonia is an Italian horror film from 1990, and is one of the last films directed by Lucio Fulci before his death in 1996. Fulci is known for his striking visuals and graphic violence and, most notably, usually including some kind of grisly close-up of an injury to the eye. Fulci fans will be pleased to know that Demonia contains all of the above. But it’s also important to note that this is a film from Fulci’s later career, a period where his films weren’t necessarily known for being very… Well, good. And, sadly, Demonia really does nothing to break that expectation.
Not that I’m some kind of picky, Fulci fanatic, mind you. I mean, I’ve liked most of the films of his I’ve seen well enough, but I’m not some kind of devotee, so I feel I can be at least marginally unbiased. Granted, the last film of his I watched was Aenigma, which I wasn’t terribly impressed with either, thanks mostly to its very confusing plot, muddled visuals and lackluster gore. But even considering that, at least Aenigma still managed to be fairly engaging thanks to its weird visuals that would pop up sporadically throughout the movie. Sure, they didn’t make any sense, but at least they kept the film from getting too boring. Demonia, bless its evil, surely well intentioned little heart, doesn’t even have that going for it. The idea behind the plot is great (Evil, sexy nuns out to seek bloody revenge for their brutal deaths? Sign me up!), but the potential of the movie’s premise never manages to fully manifest, and the film’s absolutely glacial pacing completely bogs down whatever good ideas it might have had going for it. It just takes freaking FOREVER for anything of substance to happen in this film. And then, even when anything of interest does happen, it’s often peppered through so sparingly that it again takes FOREVER for anything of interest to happen again. And that’s pretty much how the whole movie goes, at least until the last 10 minutes-or-so when EVERYTHING happens all at once. And yet despite even that, thanks to the jumbled narrative, the film still never even comes close to reaching the same level of engagement that the opening crucifixion scene delivered, causing the movie to go out with a confusing whimper instead of the bang I’m sure it was hoping for. I daresay, it might be the most boring Fulci film I’ve seen.
Wake me when something good happens…Zzzzzzzz…
It probably would have helped if the plot for this thing had at least been more focused…. Or hell, even semi-coherent. It’s trying to be a horror and a mystery and a nunsploitation all at once, but none of the elements really meld together properly, so nothing really works the way it should, and nothing comes close to getting resolved. The exploitation parts are there, yeah, but they’re so scarce that if they hadn’t intentionally woven them into the plot you could almost forget them. The pacing is too plodding to make it feel like a horror movie, so there are no real scares to speak of. The mystery angle comes closest to working, but ultimately falters too, because the opening scene pretty much tells the viewer what’s going on long before the characters figure it out. Though, like a lot of Italian horror films, the real mystery really lies in some of the bizarro story decisions made. Like, the nuns are supposedly out for ‘revenge’, but then they attack people who seemingly had nothing to do with their death, so they just seem to be killing sporadically. Which, I guess is fine, cause, you know, they’re evil, but still. And one victim apparently ends up being so unworthy of their precious time that they just sic her cats on her and have them maul her to death. Trained archeologists walk around crypts and seem surprised at finding something shocking like BONES in coffins (I was more surprised that the coffin’s seemed to be lined with wallpaper…). There’s also a very odd focus on these (again, Canadian) archeologists getting drunk at night and singing drunken Irish folk songs. But maybe my favorite WTF moment is a running plot point that involves one of the archeologists running around trying to wrangle her son, and admonishing him for constantly being covered in dirt, as if she herself is not also covered in the same substance, being as that they’re literally all at a bloody, fucking dig sight. I mean seriously lady, WTF? Is this supposed to be a joke, cause if it is, it’s a bad one.
LET THE BOY DIG, YOU HYPOCRITE!
How the hell did you get this far in your career without seeing a skeleton?
One would hope that, you know, this being a Fulci film and all, that at least the visuals and the gore/death scenes would be decent. And you would be at least partially right. The film does have some nice atmosphere, especially when they’re in the big, creepy monastery. But the film quality is also so bad at times that it looks like some kind of degraded grindhouse flick from the mid 70’s, and not something that had been produced in the 1990s. And though there is some gore, the effects they used honestly weren’t all that great. Skin tones don’t match, the prosthetics don’t really fit the actors, the blood looks a little off…. It’s just disappointing. The ONE exception is a very impressive shot where a guy literally gets ripped in half, and you can tell they spent money on… Well, what was clearly the money shot. But that comes right at the end, and as cool as it looks, it is NOT going to be worth it for most people to have to sit through 99% of an otherwise boring movie just to see it.
Here, I just saved you 80+ minutes of your life. You’re welcome.
I’m not familiar enough with all of Fulci’s films to think Demonia is the worst one he’s ever made, but I’m pretty confident in saying it’s definitely gotta be somewhere near the bottom. I like the premise and the buildup of atmosphere well enough (also, the surrounding countryside is lovely), but good gracious is everything else a mess. The story is jumbled, things barely make sense, the effects kinda suck, and the plodding plot is so atrocious I almost dozed off. If you’re already a Fulci fan or an Italian horror buff, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this to some extent. But casual viewers may want to avoid it… Or at least maybe take a heavy shot of espresso before watching it.
Demonia is available on a variety of streaming services.
Demonia is also available on DVD and Bluray.
2 thoughts on “Demonia (1990)”
The poster at the very top is alluring and calling for me. The guy ripped in half looks good and wants me to watch this. But I really don’t know about this one..
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Yeah… I’m not gonna lie, it’s got a few interesting bits of imagery I really liked, but sitting through the rest of the film just to see them is… pretty rough.
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