"Demons" starts off as a wickedly clever meta-movie. While Wes Craven's "Scream" discusses the rules of horror films and then applies them to its own story, the Dario Argento produced "Demons" goes a few steps further by setting the film in an old movie theater. "Demons" puts the audience and the characters in the film in the same place-reveling in a garish, violent movie with a dense premise. When the film's inter-movie starts turning its characters on each other, the same violence starts to leak into the theater, turning audience members into savage, goo-spewing demons. The movie-within-a-movie interplay ends early on in "Demons," which seems a shame considering how well it reflects its own audience's blood lust, but what the second half lacks in post-modern wit, it makes up for in being unapologetically over-the-top.
The film's big moment involves the hero hopping on a motorcycle and driving through the theater while slicing up demons with a samurai sword. As the blood flies and heavy metal blares on the soundtrack, a helicopter crashes through the roof and mangles demons with its twisted rotor. "Rad" is the only word that adequately describes the scene.
Movies like "Saw," "Hostel" and "The Devil's Rejects" often get the phrase "torture porn" thrown at them by mainstream critics. Critics claim that the films glorify the mutilation and torture of others, and revel in its disgusting aftermath. When the French film "Martyrs" was released last year, horror critics claimed the movie transcended "torture porn," and brought meaning and depth to its depiction of the callous torture of a young girl. After watching the film, it's safe to report that horror critics are an easy to please bunch. "Martyrs'" goofy, poorly executed metaphysical ending hardly makes an artistic statement out of the preceding 30 or 40 minutes of a woman being savagely beaten by a gigantic Frenchman. It's a senselessly subjects viewers to a woman's suffering, and then tries to cover-up its exploitive nature with a mass of under-explained transcendental rubbish.
"Martyrs" is part of a new wave of horror movies in France, a region whose filmmakers never traditionally dabbled in the genre. For the most part they are an extremely graphic fair, that start off well (like "Martyrs" and an earlier French horror "High Tension") but then falter once an ill advised twist or two enters the picture. "Martyrs" is definitely a gear shift movie, starting off as a "Last House on the Left"-like revenge picture, then on to a standard J-Horror, and then, for the hell of it, a torture fest. (Spoilers) Near the end, after the main character has had all of her skin surgically removed, I actually considered shutting the movie off when they wheeled her under what I thought was a heat lamp. Thankfully it wasn't, and all the transcendental mumbo jumbo saved me from having to see a skinless woman burn under a hot light.
The horror movie host is as important to the horror genre as zombies, gore and pointless plot twists. By the early 80s, these hosts had mostly fallen to they wayside. Sensing a gap in popular culture, ginger haired Cassandra Peterson created Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Adapting Vampira's act for modern sensibilities, Elvira pushed boundaries with her constant stream of innuendo and pushed censors with her astoundingly low neckline. By the late 80s, Elvira had become a national phenomenon, a talk show favorite, and with "Elvira: Mistress of the Dark" a movie star.
Elvira's Groundlings roots, and ties to Paul Reubens, are apparent in "Mistress of the Dark," which is surprisingly funny considering it amounts to pretty much 90 minutes of hooter jokes. It's a silly movie that heavily relies on the retro 50s surfer chic that was prominent in the 1980s. For the most part, the comedy and the shtick are both dull and have trouble filling out the film's running time, but Elvira's ability to turn a terrible pun on its head with a wink and a smile somehow remains endearing. The whole movie leads up to a gratuitous burlesque show, that's nothing more than a pay-off to the film's predominately 13-year-old audience. Elvira, in many ways a populist character, offers up cheap laughs, big boobs and long legs at a decent price and like Pee Wee and Ernest P. Worrell, is an icon of lowbrow humor.