Color, 1990, 88 mins. 38 secs.
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring Brett Halsey, Meg Register, Lino Salemme, Christina Engelhardt, Pascal Druant, Grady Clarkson, Al Cliver
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Shriek Show (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1)

The Demoniahorror community was abuzz in Demoniathe late '80s when word got around that Lucio Fulci, who had been suffering severe health setbacks that had stalled his usual prolific output, was back in the saddle and helming gory genre films again. Alternating between TV and theatrical features at the time, Fulci was indeed splashing stage blood around with wild abandon, particularly in films like A Cat in the Brain and Touch of Death, though fans had to resort to the gray market at the time to see them since U.S. distributors weren't biting. One film that earned particularly breathless descriptions was Demonia, with reports of outrageous sequences involving crucifixion, human wishboning, and a human tongue nailed to a table. That all turned out to be accurate, but the film itself is a strangely subdued and whacked-out attempt to recapture the mood of Fulci's gore-drenched gothic masterpieces from the 1980s. In the end, Demonia is arguably the most confounding of the director's attempts to recharge the rapidly deteriorating Italian horror industry, and it's still an odd footnote in its creator's career with enough eccentric touches to make it an essential entry.

Our supernatural yarn begins appropriately with an extended historical flashback in which a group of Sicilian nuns ends up crucified and burned by locals in a cave underneath their convent. The ordeal is relived as a dream by Liza (Register), an archaeologist who goes on a dig in the same area with Professor Evans (Fulci mascot Halsey). Liza discovers the walled in Demoniaskeletal remains of the nuns, which leads to a series of inexplicable and gruesome deaths. A fellow researcher (Cliver) winds up harpooned and decapitated, a spike Demoniatrap wipes out a pair of Irish diggers, and Liza becomes pulled deeper into a centuries old mystery which has now returned to take its toll on the present.

The structure of Demonia closely follows the models of such favorites as The Beyond and City of the Living Dead right down to its corpse-laden crypt and opening seance, but the sense of irrationality and foreboding which characterized those masterpieces is very muted here. The dazed performances and sun-blasted cinematography are a long way from the usual Fulci approach, but he still does cut loose with a few anarchic gore scenes to goose viewers in the second half. The most extended death finds a poor soul impaled through the neck with a meat hook followed by that notorious tongue nailing, but the effects keep these set pieces from reaching the delirious heights reached by the likes of FX maestro Giannetto De Rossi. Oddly, the most shocking and memorable moments comes during a mid-film flashback, in which a simple knife to the throat during the throes of lovemaking is filmed in a very unexpected fashion. If the film has a significant failing, it's easily the drowsy, New Age-y score by Giovanni Cristiani, which just lays there and never does much to enhance any of the mayhem on screen.

DemoniaMedia DemoniaBlasters, a company best known at the time for its Japanese anime and fantasy film releases, made a committed attempt at entering the Eurohorror DVD sweepstakes in 2001 with the first North American video release of Demonia following its wide circulation on the bootleg market from a Japanese VHS. The non-anamorphic, interlaced DVD finally offered fans the chance to appraise the film in reasonably decent quality, and overall it fared well here apart from some grain and flickering dirt during the opening sequence and a few mist-laden moments in the crypt that defeat the compression standards of the time. Unfortunately (as was the case with far too many Shriek Show titles), it's taken from a PAL master without time conversion so it runs too fast at 84m59s. Considering the budget, the film may have been shot in mono originally (though the lack of official video releases makes this hard to verify); assuming it was originally mixed in single channel sound, the audio is fine apart from the painful dubbing. The disc comes with as many extras as one could expect for an essentially unreleased film. "Fulci Lives!" is a 4m29s camcorder documentation of the director at work on the tree scene, as he stands around answering questions about his recent work. Interestingly, he pegs Aenigma, House of Clocks, and Sweet House of Horrors as his favorites. A print interview offers a chat with Brett Halsey (who also appeared in several other Fulci films around the same time like The Devil's Honey), and the disc is rounded out with a Fulci biography and, printed on the back of the chapter listing, a Fulci filmography.

After a long hiatus, Fulci's film finally came back into circulation in 2020 from Severin Films as a Blu-ray edition including a limited slipcover. Needless to say, technological advances have Demoniaallowed this one to shine a lot more brightly here than before with the foggy scenes in particular looking a Demonialot more legible. The stronger color timing and far sharper detail make it more pleasurable to watch as well. Both the usual English track and the Italian version are included (with respective English SDH and English translated subtitles); both sound fine but the English track is by far the superior mix with a much more layered sound mix and heftier presence for the music. A new audio commentary by the always excellent Stephen Thrower, author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci, offers a nice balance of production history and insight into related topics like Sicilian inquisition history, literary allusions in the script, the real deconsecrated church that wasn't exactly handled with TLC, the cameo by Fulci's own boat (the "Perversion") recognizable from Cat in the Brain, and aesthetic callbacks to previous Fulci films. In "Holy Demons" (33m17s), uncredited co-writer and assistant director Antonio Tentori chats over Skype about his first exposure to Fulci's cinema, his various gigs on his films, the state of the Italian film industry at the time, his gig as a film-crazy radio host, the sparse plot outline for this film, and the issues of shooting in Sicily including some hostility from the locals. Then "Of Skulls and Bones" (14m59s) features camera operator Sandro Grossi going into his work on Fulci's low budget TV films, the "rather odd" nature of this film, the various production issues with that church and its more grisly little secrets, Fulci's slovenly appearance and tough guy personality, and some odd thoughts on watching films in HD. The archival "Fulci Lives!!!" is ported over here from the DVD, and the English theatrical trailer is included in glorious HD.

Severin Films (Blu-ray)

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Shriek Show (DVD)

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Updated review on June 26, 2020