The mid to late 80’s going into the 90’s weren’t the easiest of times for Lucio Fulci. From 1971 to 1982 Fulci was on a serious role, with seemingly one classic after another ranging from giallos like A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971) and Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972), the brilliant spaghetti western Four of the Apocalypse (1975), and of course his string of horror masterpieces Zombie (1979), City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981), The House By the Cemetery (1981) and The New York Ripper (1982). During the mid’80’s, Fulci became seriously ill and numerous heath problems would plague him for the rest of his life and there is a prevailing opinion that just like Fulci’s health, his films from this period also began to decline. Fulci would again fall ill during the filming of Zombi 3 (1988), his intended sequel to Zombie forcing exploitation stalwart Bruno Mattei to complete the film, its disastrous reputation now legendary. 1990’s Demonia was envisioned by Fulci as a comeback film of sorts, a supernatural horror film in the vein of his early 80’s classics featuring elements of the nunsploitation subgenre. Unfortunately the film failed to connect with viewers and is often cited as being one of Fulci’s worst films. A hyperbolic statement for sure as Demonia is a much more interesting film than its critics are willing to give it credit for.
While in Sicily researching the ancient Greeks, Liza, a member of a team of archeologists finds herself drawn to an old monastery and while exploring discovers the remains of five crucified corpses. Already unwelcome by the superstitious locals, Liza faces even more hostility when inquiring about the monastery and is warned by the leader of her team to stay away. After being approached by a strange woman, Liza soon learns that the monastery was once home to five nuns who made a pact with Satan and were executed for their heresy by being crucified and burned at the stake, and Liza’s entering of the crypt has awakened their spirits who begin enacting their revenge on the current residents of the village.
If there’s one thing that’s bound to hold Demonia back in the eyes of many its that Fulci was clearly going for the same vibe found in films like City of the Living Dead and The Beyond, however the overwhelming sense of apocalypse that defined those films just isn’t present in Demonia. That’s not to say that the film is without mood. On the contrary, the film is defined by a feeling of oddness from very early on and the quintessential Fulci irrationality is ever present. Interestingly, the history of the nuns and the cursed monastery is detailed at great length yet Fulci still leaves enough room for some left over mystery. Another thing that is often mentioned as a negative is the films slow pacing with most of the “action” so to speak, involving the vengeful nuns reserved for the very end however this too works in the films favor in the sense that it plays out like a hazy, unusual sleepwalking session. The utter randomness of some of the scenarios also gives the film a feeling of surreality including a very memorable death scene involving a man being split in two halves by two trees. The films photography is also a main complaint for many, even Fulci himself claimed the film was ruined by it although the locations are stunning, particular the monastery and the interiors of the nuns crypt and Fulci adds some neat post production filtering during some dream sequences featuring Liza wandering near the monastery to hypnotizing effect.
Considering the circumstances, it’s a miracle the film was even completed at all. According to actor Grady Thomas Clarkson in an interview with horror writer Alan Jones for Eyeball, the production was bound to be a mess long before shooting began. Clarkson recounts that miscommunication was common due to none of the American actors being able to understand Fulci’s broken English and in a hilarious anecdote, Clarkson gives an example of just how low the films budget was due to the fact that the alcohol seen in the film was really ice tea and nobody was allowed to swallow it in order to avoid having to spend more money buying more tea, forcing Clarkson to ask “What sort of film are you making where you have to be fake drinking fake booze?!” In the piece Clarkson also recalls almost being killed for real during his death scene and just hammering the point home that Murphy’s law was in full effect during the shooting of the film. Still, despite all that went wrong, Demonia is far from Fulci’s worst film. Fulci fans who’ve put off seeing the film based on bad press should go in with an open mind. Let films like City of the Living Dead and The Beyond be what they are and let Demonia be what it is, which is a fun supernatural horror film with a welcome spoonful of nunsploitaion.