I thought that after Bloody Knuckles, I’d have my fill of killer disembodied hand flicks for 2015, but then came Vinegar Syndrome’s release of 1980’s Mexico/USA co-production Demonoid: Messenger of Death. And I could not have been less prepared for it. Where Bloody Knuckles attempted some sort of social commentary via its splatter punk ethos, Demonoid is through and through exploitation genre cinema with little interest in anything outside of excess and/or genre conventions. Which is for the best since that’s exactly what it has going for it.
Demonoid is a weird, weird flick. 1980 was no slouch of a year for the horror genre – Friday the 13th, The Shining, Maniac, The Fog, – and Demonoid manages to be the anti-everything-else genre flick for the year, existing as some sort of slapdash, defiant triumph of trash cinema aesthetics melding with AIP-esque B-movie schlock. The result is a sort of genre/mode of production/country of origin amalgam that – though not always successful – is infinitely fascinating, especially when one starts to compare the rather different cuts of the film that were released. The title Demonoid – which is represented on the initial packaging cover for the Blu-ray, with alternate art on the reverse side for the other title – is for the domestic US release and runs just under 80 minutes. This is the quicker, nastier version that also has licensed music. The international cut, Macabra, runs a longer 90 minutes and allows for more character material and less (or at least toned down) violence and contains a legitimate score. The two are different enough that they should both be watched and compared and will likely appeal to different viewers for different reasons. It’s one of the rare instances of a film existing in two rather different iterations and both being welcome.
Regardless of which version you go with, the movie itself is a unique oddity that is ripe for rediscovery. It plays out sort of like Idle Hands by way of Jason Goes to Hell, if that makes sense, with various people having a possessed hand (always the left one!) and then chopping it off. And, naturally, this is the result of an ancient evil that is unleashed by an American (Samantha Eggar) who just happens to be in a cave/mine that is used for satanic worship and can’t help touching shit that she shouldn’t. The film jumps from Mexico to Las Vegas with all sorts of chaos ensuing, including plenty of chopped off hands that need to kill. It’s all rather silly – though no more so than something like The Hand – but the hand/gore effects are impressively competent and the whole ordeal has some weird aura to it that’s hard to shake. But maybe that’s just all of those quick cuts to the sword wielding demon appearing on the cover art that are burned into my brain. Either way, Demonoid is something special (as is Macabra) and is a good example of the type of marginalized genre cinema that needs rescuing. More, please!
Vinegar Syndrome have brought Demonoid to Blu-ray for the first time and the result is really astounding. I had never seen the film before so I can’t speak to any other home video versions, but this is as good – if not much better – a transfer of a film from this era that I can think of. The transfer is from the original negative and in 2K resolution with striking colors, solid blacks and a nice thick layer of film grain. Damage exists but it’s fairly minimal for something this vintage and fringe, with small scratches being the most consistent detriment. I don’t remember the last time that I vocally said “wow” when a disc started playing, but it’s that good. The bar – which had already been raised really high by VS – is now set. Audio is 1.0 DTS HD for both versions and they sound solid albeit not exactly dynamic, but we shouldn’t be expecting that here anyway. The tracks are void of any obvious distortion or hissing and balance is even all over. Top notch presentation as usual.
In addition to both versions of the film, VS have included a couple supplements as well. The main attraction here is a 14 minute interview with writer and director Alfredo Zacarias. It’s a great piece with Zacarias offering a lot of information in a little time, including bits on the different versions, working with Roger Corman and the cast and difficulties with the production. At times, it feels kind of sad, but Zacarias seems to be in good spirits. It would have been great to have a commentary track with him. Following that is trailers for both cuts as well as a gallery of posters and lobby cards.
Demonoid may not be “great” cinema, but it – along with its international cut, Macabra – is a fascinating entry in the “killer hand” sub-genre as well as a decidedly unique international co-production working through various genre conventions and aesthetics. It’s wildly uneven – perhaps evinced by its drastically different cuts – yet always manages to intrigue. Vinegar Syndrome have gifted it with an AV presentation that is nothing short of exemplary and have offered some quality supplements to go with it. I hope that it becomes your new favorite movie, because it just became mine. Highly recommended.