Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Black Demons (1991)


Umberto Lenzi's Black Demons was called Demoni 3 in Italy, to cash in on the success of Lamberto Bava's Demons films. It has nothing to do with those films, and neither is it to be confused with Bava's film Casa dell'Orco, released in the US as Demons III: The Ogre. Does that make sense? Anyway, Black Demons is a cheap and dull little horror flick that should be avoided like a Macumba voodoo ceremony.

Kevin (Keith Van Hoven), Jessica (Sonia Curtis) and Dick (Joe Balogh) are three idiots, trekking their way through Brazil. Two are content to do the tourist thing, but Dick has a single-minded fascination with voodoo. He manages to track down a Macumba witchdoctor and convinces the locals to let him take part in a voodoo ritual, which he records on a tape recorder. He must have gone out drinking afterwards, because he wakes up the next morning in his hotel room with a hell of a hangover and an amulet around his neck.

The next day the three of them are driving out in the middle of the rain forest when their Jeep breaks down. Luckily they are picked up by locals Jose (Phillip Murray) and Sonia (Juliana Texeira), who take them back to their deserted villa. When they arrive they are given a chilly reception by Maria, their live-in housekeeper, who mustn't be doing a very good job because the walls are crawling with spiders. Maria is also a practitioner of Macumba, and immediately senses that there are evil forces at work. In the middle of the night, Dick feels a strange compulsion to head down to the graveyard and play his recording of the voodoo ritual. Thanks to a curse placed on the villa, this causes six slaves to rise from their graves, blinded and hanged during a slave rebellion one hundred and fifty years ago. They only have one thing on their minds: KILL WHITEY!

The rest of the film plays out like a mid 80s slasher film; The jeep breaks down, the generator packs up and people are picked off one by one. Everyone takes a break every twenty minutes to dish out enormously dull chunks of exposition that are completely obvious when they aren't superfluous. In fact, the whole film has a very mid 80s look and feel, despite being released in 1991. Italian horror was in a decline at the time, and the lack of budget shows. So much so that you only hear about one of the deaths through the radio.

During the course of the film Dick goes increasingly cuckoo-nutso and by the end of it he is chasing Jessica around with an axe. Keith manages to put together some molotov cocktails to keep the zombies at bay and I don't know what kind of fuel they use in Brazil but they are some powerful shit. They explode like hand grenades, often multiple times. Anyway, Dick tastes the sharp end of a pitchfork, the zombies get toasted and Jessica and Keith drive off into the sunset. I guess they had four spares, because Dick had slashed all the tyres earlier in the film.

The cast have the double whammy of being both unattractive and unable to act. Jessica (Sonia Curtis) is the worst of the lot on both counts, apparently foisted on Lenzi at the last minute. Watching her pathetically scream and pretend to trip over in unflattering jeans is more scary than the zombies. Jose is near-indecipherable due to his accent and bored monotone, and he has most of the dialogue. You're pretty much rooting for the zombies from the get go.

The zombies look pretty cool, though. They've got nooses around their necks and each carries a different weapon (knives, hooks, scythes etc). I find it hard to believe they were buried like that, but they look pretty good for dudes who have spent a hundred and fifty years rotting in a grave, so who knows? They also have manacles and chains around their hands and feet, so their approach is accompanied by creepy chain-rattling. Except when they're sneaking around... then they're silent. Yeah, these aren't your ordinary zombies, they'll sneak up on people and duck into the shadows if they're spotted. They do a pretty good job of it, since they're blind.

The deaths are reasonably gory (eye gougings always get a thumbs up from me) but nothing to write home about (I don't know about you, but I always write home every time I see an explicitly gory horror film). Aside from the voodoo ritual, which manages to capture some measure of excitement (less so when it's repeated in flashback for the fifth time), the film is shot in a very workmanlike manner.

It's a well known fact that a movie's quality is inversely proportional to the asskickery of the box art, and it holds true here. The box art is great, even if it depicts seven zombies when the movie repeatedly states that there are only six. All in all, this film is very dull, especially considering this is the same guy who brought us the fun and fast-paced not-zombie film Nightmare City. The only thing this film did was make me appreciate that one even more.

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