Demonoid Is Bad-Ass! A Halloween Homerun By Vinegar Syndrome

I don't do many blind buys anymore, so it's nice to be really pleased with one when I make it. I mean, I did check out the trailer before-hand, but I was also told Demonoid really doesn't live up to its trailer and awesome cover. And to be fair, in a big way, it doesn't. It kinda sets you up for that wild devil monster to be running around taking heads like Rawhead Rex with a giant sword at least part of the time, but nope. That sword-wielding devil is an image you see in the film, but that's all. Still, it's a pretty fun early 80s horror flick with fairly high production values.

Demonoid is a Mexican film, but don't let that put you off. It's English language, has British/ American stars and mostly set and filmed in America. Director Alfredo Zacarías (The Bees) talks in the extras about he finally had a big budget for this one and it shows. Impressive locations in Mexico, Las Vegas and California, nice sets, big stunts, and star power with Oscar nominees Samantha Eggar and Stuart Whitman. It's also tightly paced and relatively smartly written.
Eggar comes to Mexico to be with her husband who owns a silver mine. Deep inside, she uncovers a hidden chamber that once belonged to Satanic cultists who worship the hand of the devil, which they kept in a convenient, hand-sized little coffin. Of course the brash foreigners ignore the locals' superstitious and set the hand free. It runs around from time to time in classic crawling hand fashion, but spends most of its time becoming other peoples' left hand, giving them power but turning them evil. The good guys want to destroy the hand, the possessed have their own plans for the hand, and the hand has plans of its own. This leads to great scenes like one where a cop throws a handcuffed Eggar into a plastic surgeon's office, pulls his gun on the nurse and demands, "cut my hand off or I'll kill you!" Good times.
Or he just says "I want you to cut my hand off," depending which version you watch. Yes, there's two distinct versions of this film; and thankfully, Vinegar Syndrome has included both. Let's break it down.

The "main" version, in that it's the one that plays if you just press Play Film at the start menu, is the US version with the onscreen title Demonoid. It's 80 minutes long. But if you go to the Special Features menu, there's the option to play the International version with the onscreen title Macabra. That one's 90 minutes. So that's the uncut version, right? Oh, it's more complicated than that. It's sort of like Re-Animator, where the shorter version is the bloodier one, and the softer cut has a bunch of extra content. And these versions are quite different, more so than the two Re-Animator cuts.
A scene and character that only appear in Macabra.
For example, here's how the opening scene plays out after Eggar meets her husband's assistant:

"He's sorry he couldn't pick you up at the airport, but uh, he couldn't leave the mine. Mines are very jealous, like most females."
"Is a mine a female, Pepe?"
"Yes.
That's why men risk their lives to have them. And no matter how hard you try, a mine won't surrender its treasure... if you're not lucky."
"Has Mark had any luck yet?"
"Mr. Baines is a good miner and knows the trade will. But, uh... in Lacemada..."
"What about Lacemada?"
"It's cursed."
"Come on, Pepe. Come on, let's go to the mine right away."

...The bolded text is how the scene plays out in Demonoid, while all of the text is how it goes in Macabra. That kind of thing happens all throughout the film, but that's only one kind of change on hand here. Another is that the film has alternate takes. So it's not about missing or included footage, but scenes played different ways. Most notably, the most violent scenes are played differently between the two versions. In Demonoid, a guy uses the hand to grab a woman's face and crush her skull. In Macabra, he does a traditional Hollywood neck snap move.
Another big difference is the pre-credits sequence. Macabra doesn't have one, but Demonoid has a whole, involved scene where ancient cultists fight and kill each other over the hand. It has the only nudity in the movie (a female cultist has her shirt torn open) and is the only scene that takes place in this time period. Also, if you think about it, this adds 3-4 minutes to Demonoid, meaning Macabra doesn't have 10 minutes of additional footage, but 13-14.
In Macabra, the zombie (yeah, there's a zombie in this, too) slowly digs and pulls himself out of his grave. In Demonoid, he flies out of his grave in a brilliant explosion! The final, climatic shot of Demonoid isn't even in Macabra. In Demonoid, every time the devil exerts his influence (which is often), the screen flashes an image of the devil with his sword aloft; in Macabra, the scenes just play normally. The entire soundtrack is different. Macabra has a bombastic soundtrack with a vocal chorus, while Demonoid has a mellower, key-heavy soundtrack. They're so different.

But which is better? It's hard to say; they both have pros and cons. VS probably made the right choice in making Demonoid the default version. First of all, horror fans usually want the bloodier versions. Demonoid is also faster paced, has the nudity, and some cooler moments. On the other hand, Macabra isn't just all excess exposition. There's some fun severed hand high jinx with it crawling up Eggar's shower drain(!), and a creepy scene where someone with the hand pets and talks to the bodies he's got tied up in his office. And even when it is extra exposition, it kinda helps the story make more sense. I also prefer Macabra's soundtrack (it's the one VS used for the menu screen). But then again, there are at least two points I noticed where the Macabra scenes seemed edited incorrectly, so the scenes made a little less sense. Minor details, but still noticeable. So I can't really declare one better than the other; it kinda makes me want to whip out the editing software and make an "Integral Cut." But they're different enough that you can just watch both.
Vinegar Syndrome's new blu-ray/ DVD combo pack isn't quite Demonoid's debut on DVD. There was an uncut, widescreen DVD from Laser Paradise, but it only had German audio. And there's a Spanish audio-only DVD from Laguna. Both of those were the Macabra version, for the record. So this is its HD debut, the complete debut of the Demonoid cut, and most importantly it's the film's English language debut, so this is going to be most American's introduction to this film, and it's a first rate presentation.
Demonoid blu on top' Macabra blu 2nd, Demonoid DVD 3rd, Macabra DVD 4th.
When I read that Macabra was being included like an extra, I was expecting a cheap "VHS rip" type transfer, like some other discs have done (Retribution comes to mind) when they could only find proper film elements for the cut version. So I was delighted to see that both versions of the film are proper 2k restoration from the 35mm original camera negative. I can't even really tell them apart if it weren't for the fact that I labeled them. And since this is a blu-ray/ DVD combo pack, we've got four transfers to look at. All are 1.78:1 and look fantastic. Grain comes and goes depending on the shot, but I put that down entirely to how the film was shot, not the transfer. Besides the obvious compression splotchiness on the DVD versions, there's not much to point out. It's a top notch transfer all around.

Both versions of the film have DTS-HD audio and optional/ removable subtitles. Macabra also has a French dub, which I guess also makes this Demonoid's French debut.
Extras-wise, this isn't a splashy special edition, but it does have some good stuff. Besides Macabra, which I'd say is more than an extra, the main thing is a 15 minute interview with the director. He's pretty interesting, enthusiastic and answers most of the questions you're likely to have after watching the picture. So I'm really glad to have it. There's also two trailers, one for Demonoid and one for Macabra, each with very different narration. There's also a very short TV spot and a stills gallery of some cool promotional artwork. This release also features reversible artwork with the Macabra title, but the Demonoid cover is just too sweet to ever flip around.
Mind you, this isn't likely to be anyone's favorite horror film. And while this is technically an 80s horror, it's 1981 and foreign, so it retains a lot of that 70s atmosphere. Don't come in expecting a Hellraiser or Nightmare On Elm St.; but this is a pretty well-crafted, fun horror film that keeps things entertaining, without getting juvenile or cheap. In other words, a perfect little package for Halloween.

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