CINE-WEEN: Attack of the Demons is a splattery animated ode to Italian horror

Director Eric Power’s Attack of the Demons (out October 30 from Dark Star Pictures in virtual theaters and on DVD and VOD on November 3), will certainly draw comparisons to vintage South Park with its cut-paper animation, but the mix of demonic rites and splattery violence during a rock festival on Halloween night is vintage Italian horror.

“The year is 1994 – For centuries, a demonic cult has been plotting the destruction of mankind. When a small Colorado town is overrun by a legion of mutating demons, three non-demon hunter friends must use every skill their minds can fathom to stave off the demon apocalypse.”

Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Lucio Fulci, and Mario Bava come together in Attack of the Demons to create an absurd and messy – and gloriously fun – horror treat. Animated horror is nothing new, with gems like Monster House, Coraline, and more finding their way into Halloween rotation. As the recent Nightstream festival’s Animation Domination block demonstrated with aplomb, grown up horror cartoons are out there as well. But a feature-length blast of animated gore? That’s a rare gem, indeed.

The colors are amazing. As an artistic achievement, Attack of the Demons is impressive as hell, considering the thousands of hand cut pieces of paper used to animate the film—but it’s all the more considerable given the fact that the imagery isn’t stuck in a dark, moody pallet. It’s bright and vibrant, really leaning into the cinematic history of Italian horror from which it pulls.

The score is dope as hell, too, but the audio sounds a little hollow, unfortunately coming across as very flat. Maybe it’s a little obvious a point to make, but it’s astonishingly cartoonish, with a distinctly echo-y tone to everything. It’s not so bad as to be distracting, but given that every setting has the same room feel, and only the slightest changes are made for television, cinema, or concert audio, the sense of place never really grabs hold.

After a while though, the action really kicks in, and you cease to notice. The scope of Attack of the Demons isn’t just a bunch of static shots of people talking. There are overheard shots, wide shots, closeups—and thanks to the solid animation, everything looks seamless. There are no awkward transitions, so even a body-less head pulling itself along a hillside fits right in. (trust me, you’ll know it when you see it.)

The acting is a little flat, with everyone seemingly taking their cues from Winona Rider’s initial voiceover from Beetlejuice. It’s a little too disaffected, and while I understand that everyone’s supposed to be too cool for school at the film’s outset, it would have been really nice if someone had managed to freak out at some point, in order to provide a little contrast. Because of the lack of heightened response to some really massive terrors, the end of everything doesn’t quite have the impact it might have otherwise, and had it not been for a last scene tag, I think I would’ve been blindsided by the fact that the film was over.

All that said, these are really minor quibbles. Attack of the Demons moves along at a quick clip, and sets things up from the very opening moments. There’s no wasted space, and even the scenes where characters are chatting in mini marts and diners do a great job of developing who each of these people are. The monsters and creatures look fantastic, and the animation is charming, but also really well done. As I said earlier, it’s a real joy to watch, and with its 75-minute runtime, I have a feeling this will make a great first half of a double feature that’s very diverse in possibilities.

Attack of the Demons screens as part of Panic Fest’s Tricks & Treats this weekend, as well as in virtual theaters in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Columbus.

The score, by composer John Dixon, is now up for pre-order at Ship to Shore PhonoCo.

Nick Spacek
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