Fulci's Last Gory Hold-Out, Demonia

Well, it only took us thirty years, but we finally have a proper special edition of Lucio Fulci's Demonia, pretty much the last of Fulci's must-have horror titles.  Of course, there are still more titles awaiting HD restorations for completists and die-hard fans.  Personally, I've always had a fondness for The House of Clocks (nudge nudge, if any boutique labels are reading this).  But of the staple horror titles, the ones we all used to trades bootleg VHS tapes of before Fulci became recognized by the Image Entertainments and Anchor Bays of the world, 1990's Demonia was the final hold-out.  Until this summer, that is, as Severin has just issued it on blu - and as a special edition on any format - for the first time.
I'm not sure if the home video availability-issues has resulted in lower fan recognition for this title, or vice versa.  Probably a bit of both.  But I'm genuinely surprised there hasn't been more vocal outcry for Demonia over the years.  First of all, it's a real out and out supernatural horror, with a perfectly lurid premise.  A bunch of Satan-worshipping nuns in ancient Sicily were crucified and burned alive many years ago for holding orgies and burning babies.  But now a couple of Canadian archeologists, including Brett Halsey and sexy psychic Meg Register, have started poking around and stirring up their lust for vengeance.  I mean, if you want pure Fulci, try this scene on for size: Al Cliver comes stumbling home drunk onto his house boat when a naked nun materializes in his cabin, laughing, and shoots him point blank with a harpoon gun.  And that's not even close to the best kill in this movie.
If Demonia only had a rousing Fabio Frizzi score, I think we'd all be juggling fancy editions from Grindhouse, Blue Underground and Arrow.  Not that this score is bad, but it is fairly understated, leaving the whole film feeling a bit slow.  But it's got a supporting cast full of familiar faces, some ideal locations including a real labyrinthine tomb, gothic dream sequences, and some of the most ambitious/ goriest set pieces in Fulci's catalog.  Fulci himself also has a surprisingly substantial role, second only to his starring turn in Cat In the Brain.  Sure, it's uneven with plot threads that seem to come and go for no reason - this is still Fulci we're talkin' here; and its DTV budget and limited shooting schedule give it rougher edges than Zombie or The Beyond.  But if you love Fulci, Demonia has everything you love him for.
So it's crazy to me that this has previously only been available via a mostly barebones 2001 non-anamorphic, interlaced, Shriek Show DVD.  There should've been dozens of competing special editions of this around the world.  But only now in 2020, do we finally have our first.  Maybe there's a behind-the-scenes reason involving licensing or lost film elements, but whatever the case was, Severin has finally solved it with Demonia's first ever blu-ray release.  If you bought this direct from them during their mid-year sale, it came in an exclusive slipcover, which was limited to 2000 copies.  But that's the only thing separating it from the retail version that was just released this week.
2020 US Severin BD.
Severin pillar-boxes Demonia to its original 1.66:1, with their new 4k scan freshly taken from the original negatives.  The presentation looks nearly flawless, or at least as flawless as the original film allows itself to look.  Fulci uses a lot of light-diffusing scrim on this picture (as he famously did with Conquest), which hey, is a deliberate style choice, and sometimes rather effective.  But he kind of goes out of control with it, to the point that there are even a few shots where you can see the netting between the lens and the image!  And the inconsistency of its usage, or the differing effects indoor and outdoor lighting have on, make the film look a little troubled.  But that's an issue with the film itself, not Severin's handling of the film on home video.  You can't hold anything like that against them anymore than you can the cast's acting.  This is a healthy dual-layer disc, but there are still some compression weak points, where film grain gets a little lost.  But detail and color certainly look more alive and natural than I remember the old DVD being, and actually exceeded my expectations of how this funky little film could look.

Another nice aspect of Severin's release is that they give us both audio options, English and Italian mono tracks in DTS-HD, with optional English sub- and dub-titles.  Shriek Show only gave us the English mono with no subs.  I suggest you take advantage of this opportunity to watch with the Italian track, as the English dub gives one character the most ridiculous, exaggerated Scottish accent, straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon.  In the Italian mix, he sounds perfectly normal.  And the campfire song (if you've seen the film, you know the one) is the same performance in English either way.
Fulci Lives !!!
Now, I called Shriek Show's DVD "mostly" barebones, because strictly speaking, it did have one little extra.  A brief (under five minutes), candid interview with Fulci himself, filmed by Massimo Lavagnini on location of the film's most famous kill.  Being one of Lucio's few surviving video interviews, you've probably seen it before on a bunch of previous Fulci DVDs and laserdiscs.  But since it was filmed during Demonia, it's particularly appropriate to have it on here.  And happily, Severin includes it, too.  They also cough up substantially more.

We start with an audio commentary by Fulci's always reliable chronicler Stephen Thrower, and there's a very good on camera interview with camera operator Sandro Grossi.  But the centerpiece is unquestionably their interview with assistant director Antonio Tentori, who also wrote the original short story the film is based on.  He was involved every step of the way and remembers all the behind the scenes stories you could've wondered about.  Because Covid forced them to record it over low-quality Zoom, Freak-O-Rama - who are rapidly becoming the definitive go-to guys for Italian horror features - took the opportunity to edit the piece into a mini-documentary.  The other extras are pretty great, too, but once you've watched the Tentori piece, the others don't have too much information left to share.  Severin also throws in a brief trailer.
So go on, Fulci freaks, this one belongs in your collection!  It's not just the only viable edition of an essential Fulci horror, it's a pretty terrific release by any standard.  We've waited too long already.

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