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The Demoniacs (Les Démoniaques, 1974)

Jean Rollin

France

95 mins, color, French (English subtitles)

Review © 2002 Branislav L. Slantchev

This film is a very non-typical Rollin fare. For starters, there are no vampires; there also aren't any virgins (well, there may or may not have been two but these definitely were not virgins after the first 2 minutes of the feature). Wait! A Rollin without vampires and virgins? Yes, and this is one of the very few. It also happens to be one of his better films. The mood is elegiac, the pace is deliberate, and even the most brutal scenes are rendered as poetry or at least as bad vaudeville.

On some unspecified shore, a band of four "wreckers" lure ships to the rocks and rob the empty carcasses once they wreck. The film begins with an introduction of the four main dramatis personae, the Captain (John Rico), his two henchmen Le Bosco and Paul, and the gorgeous Tina (JoŽlle Cúur). The narrative misleadingly characterizes them setting up the stage for nonexistent conflicts. Very funny. One night, as they pillage the wreckage of the latest unfortunate ship, the four stumble across two survivors, Demoniac #1 (Lieva Lone) and Demoniac #2 (Patricia Hermenier). The wreckers quickly wreck them also, and ineptly try to murder them. There's so much gratuitous nudity by Tina that one cannot concentrate on the supposedly wicked goings on.

This is where agreement about the story ends. Most reviewers say that the wreckers actually murder the girls, who then reappear as vengeful ghosts to wreak havoc and seek revenge. I disagree (the plot makes absolutely no sense with this interpretation). The four, drunk as usual, fail to murder the girls, who manage to escape to an abandoned tomb. The tomb turns out to be inhabited by some creature, who may or may not be the devil. Actually, I am almost positive he's not the devil because although he's incarcerated, he is attended by a hippie priest and a hippie clown (that's redundant), and he then proceeds to do many charitable things. Anyway, one thing is for certain: he has supernatural powers, albeit curiously circumscribed. The two Demoniacs sleep with the guy to get one night of his magic powers and go to the village to seek out their rapists and attempted murderers. Before you start envying the guy, remember that he's been locked up for a hundred years, so this comes up to one lay per fifty years, which makes him about average, I guess.

In a typical Rollin fashion, the encounter is nonsensical. After a brief stare-down, everybody gets away, and the two returns to the cemetery to find that the wreckers have killed the priest and mortally wounded the clown. Too bad. In one of the best sequences of the film, Tina appears from nowhere and then statues start falling until eventually she succumbs under a marble Jesus in a wonderfully subversive way. There's little doubt that the image of Jesus fucking Tina is no accident. The powerless Devil shows up and tells the Demoniacs that unless they relinquish their powers, the priest-clown duo will die. Being the good girls, the two can't do that, so they give up on the revenge idea, save the two nobodies, and are predictably killed (this time for real) by the wreckers. Then some shenanigans later, everyone dies.

Well, Rollin films never quite made much sense, and this one is no exception. In fact, most of the development is centered on Tina, who skilfully loses every article of clothing that gets near her body. She does not shave, but I don't hear this stopping anyone. She happens to be the liveliest person in the film also. The director has always been fascinated with naked chicks, which explains much of his dedicated following. This softcore expressionist porno suffused with surreal elements also explains the art-house appeal of what otherwise would have been an incredibly dull film.

As usual, there is not much dialogue, the two main leads are mute, and the others mostly grunt. The acting, with the exception of Tina, is overdone and amateurish, as becomes a Rollin film. However, if one is into theatrics, the exaggerated motions will hold some appeal. On the other hand, Jean-Jacques Renon is responsible for some of the most impressive scenery in the film, in particular the last five minutes, which are simply unforgettable. The scene on the beach, about to be overrun by the rising tide, is beautifully shot, and manages to conceal the low-budget horror of the proceedings. Rollin always tries to end his films with rolling waves, but this one is the most successful.

Rollin followers have already seen this film. For the indiscriminating fan, it may be a little too much, although the rampant full frontal nudity and the delicious Tina will certainly keep men and lesbians glued to their seats. There isn't much to recommend otherwise. I happen to like Rollin, and this is one of his better films. You have been warned. Unrated. Fun for the whole family.

The Redemption DVD (distributed by Image in the US) is impressive. The transfer from Rollin's own 35mm inter-negatives is absolutely stunning. The colors are vibrant, the blacks are deep, and there is no pixelation whatsoever. The sound track is also very clean, although the minimalist dialogue and music make this less compelling. The extras include the original theatrical trailer (which gives away the ending), and some publicity stills, along with several behind-the-scenes shots of Rollin pushing statues around. If you are going to own this film, this DVD is definitely the way to go.

April 22, 2001. BLS