Thursday, November 29, 2012

REVIEW: Black Demons

Black Demons
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Year 1991

Black Demons is a low budget zombie film that actually benefits from its low key origins and amateurish acting, resulting in a voodoo-centric tale that relies heavily on its atmosphere and creature effects to carry it along in the most stupendous of ways. Filmed on location in Brazil and directed by cult Italian filmmaker Umberto Lenzi, the movie is a mishmash of genre archetypes, infused with that nasty European horror flair which swept cinemas from the mid 70’s through the late 80’s in a trail of gore and guts. Shocking, surreal and sometimes embarrassing, Black Demons is a unique entry in the zombie genre, one in which missed the boat on the undead craze that was first started when Fulci’s Zombie came onto the scene, but still manages to replicate that movie’s potent atmosphere and creepy aura to great effect.

The film follows three college students, Kevin, Dick, and Jessica, as they travel through Brazil on vacation. Dick wanders off from the rest of the group and gets mixed up in a voodoo ceremony, in which he captures with his audio recorder while partaking in the bizarre ritual. After the ceremony, the group meets up and continues their travels into the country only to end up stranded after having car trouble. Lost in the middle of nowhere with no clue on what to do, the group is unexpectedly visited by a young local couple who offer to have them stay at their plantation. Once at the plantation, Dick decides to explore an old graveyard on the grounds, where he, in ritualistic fashion, begins playing his audio recording from the ceremony. Mysteriously, Dick’s recording brings six dead slaves to life, men who were executed almost 150 years ago during a slave rebellion. Armed with scythes, pitchforks, and knives, the six zombie slaves seek revenge for their deaths and deem the inhabitants of the plantation as the culprits to their plight.

When it comes to the acting of the film, Black Demons is sorely lacking and pathetically dry, but that doesn’t mean that there still isn’t a huge amount of entertainment to garner from this enthusiastic zombie effort. Joe Balogh takes on the role of the curious traveler named Dick, the one who accidentally or purposely raises the dead and sets this whole bloody affair into motion. As an amateur actor, Balogh does a good enough job, and even though you’ll find yourself laughing throughout his performance, there still is a great deal of fun to be had with his over the top descent into madness. Sonia Curtis plays the role of Jessica, Dick’s sister, and she ends up being the heroine of the piece. Always in danger and falling into every cliché in the book, Curtis does a commendable job with the material she’s given and I appreciate the effort that she gives on screen. Rounding out the group of travelers is Keith Van Hoven who plays the role of Kevin, Jessica’s boyfriend. In more than one occasion, Keith’s purpose in the film is to move the story along as he takes a more physical and proactive approach in the story. Out of all of the actors of the film, I’d say that his performance is the most solid.

Of course we can’t have a zombie movie without at least a few more people to be zombie chow and the cast is filled out by the presence of Philip Murray as Jose, Juliana Teixeira as Sonia, and Maria Alves as Maria the housekeeper and voodoo practitioner. Each of these lesser characters are a hoot, especially the awkward performance by the fro wonder himself, Murray, and the scared shitless portrayal of Maria Alves. Maria’s character is a one note pony as she stays in a constant state of shock throughout the entire proceedings, only veering off course a handful of times to dabble in some voodoo for the good of the group. Her character’s connections with witchcraft is one of the film’s most interesting sort of twists, because she often at times gets herself into hot water with the rest of the cast as they think that she is behind the raising of the dead, even though she is trying to protect them. All in all, there is no one performance that really stands out from the bunch as outstanding, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a great deal of fun to be had with the over the top acting that we are given in this film.

Now where the film really thrives is in its remarkable atmosphere and unsettling creature make-up. With the film being centralized within a secluded plantation and its surrounding properties, there is a tremendous opportunity for the movie to dwell on not just the visual aspects of the location, but on the storied events of the grounds past. With the back story of the slave rebellion some 150 years ago, the movie gives the location an unsavory creepiness that saturates the proceedings from the get go and only cultivates as the undead corpses begin to rise and terrorize our lead characters. Another thing about the plantation location that is so damn effective is that the place is like a tomb. Even though there are six people living inside its walls, the estate always seems void of life, especially during the night time scenes. Add on top of that the aged look of the place and you’ve got yourself an ideal setting for a fabulously grim zombie film.

The zombie effects are also extremely disturbing as the filmmakers make an extra effort in realizing these undead mounds of flesh as believable walking corpses. They are bloody, disgusting, and oozing with a chilly presence that perfectly mimics death as it slowly stalks its prey. One of my favorite visual looks for a zombie is used in this film, and that would be the glazed over white eyes of the antagonists. Void of life and distressing to look at, these zombies are top notch and of the utmost of quality. As I mentioned above in my introduction, the movie may be of meager origins but the inclusion of both the plantation as the central location and the outstanding visual effects of the zombies, really makes this entry in the zombie genre stand out amongst its counterparts. Forget the atrocious acting and strange set-up and just relish in the otherworldly nature of the film as it tells its little tale of the macabre.

Black Demons is a sadly under-appreciated zombie flick, as it hit the scene just a tad bit too late to make an impact on the once thriving genre efforts of George Romero, Lucio Fulci, Bruno Mattei, and even Lamberto Bava’s zombie-centric series of films. Filmed in that same dire sense and drenched in a nasty disposition that Italian horror was so known for in its hay day, the production is a real treat for those that are looking to extend their zombie love into new and less glamorous territory. Umberto Lenzi does an excellent job with this little zombie yarn, and you can see that his love for the zombie genre hasn’t faltered since his last undead effort some 11 years ago in the excellent Nightmare City.

If you set aside the passable acting and just go along for the ride, Black Demons proves that it has the atmospheric punch that is needed to bring about an unsettling tale filled with gory moments, spooky locales, and expertly crafted and imaginative vengeful dead. In my opinion, that is all that is really needed in order to capture the spirit of this niche genre. It’s not a very complicated film category, but nailing that tone and capturing that look can sometimes take out even the most well-intentioned of film directors. Luckily for us, Umberto Lenzi has constructed a gem with this one. If you’re looking for a zombie film outside of the regular Romero/Fulci ilk, then give this one a go. You might just find something that tickles your fancy, your zombie fancy that is. Black Demons is an…..

The group wasn't too impressed with Jose's fabulous fro.

Someone put the coins on Maria's eyes cause she sure don't believe what she is seeing.

Only you can prevent graveyard fires.

High-five man! I'm free!

Quit making love to that voodoo doll and get back to work!

Sir you look stupendous!

Listen, the fabulous fro has got to go Jose.

I've got my eye on you.

Even this sneaky zombie is distracted by the fabulous fro.

I told you I'm turning seven this year! You forgot a candle you ass!

Maria just got one hell of a zombie beat-down.

Not only was Jose's fabulous fro distracting, but he sipped water like an asshole.

Quit hanging around and get back to work!

Look at my camel toe when I'm talking to you!

I warned you about the fabulous fro, but you wouldn't listen!

Ok Keith, just scan the area with the flashlight, but don't look directly at the camera.
Jesus Keith! What the shit did I just say!



  1. thanks for sharing.

  2. Great review as always. I may have to check this film out, I'm normally dubious of zombie flicks, as the genre's just oversaturated by this point.

  3. Thanks Iron Criterion! I'd give it a go if you haven't seen it before, you might end up digging it. Must warn you though that the acting is kind of ridiculous, but it's pretty much on par with any Italian horror movie around that time in the 90's. Still like I mentioned above, the atmosphere and story are what make it so enjoyable... at least for me. Thanks for checking out the site.

  4. In the 90's zombie movies were practically dead, so I agree with ya, this one came late in the game. Zombie flicks wouldn't come back until 28 Days Later and Resident Evil in 2004, now they are stronger than ever.

    This looks like a fun zombie flick, kind of like Hell of the Living Dead, fun to watch cause they are train wrecks. Looking forward to checking it out.

  5. That's right Connoisseur. The zombie genre was pretty silent during the 90's aside from the Night of the Living Dead remake. Thankfully the genre got kickstarted again thanks to 28 Days Later and Resident Evil, not to mention the actual video game Resident Evil which served up some rather delicious Romero-esque inspiration. I think you'll dig this flick Connoisseur. It's an enjoyable and obscure gem.