Jean Rollin's oddball blend of art, horror and eroticism in fantastic cinema is not for all tastes. Many viewers are alienated by his work, many find it tedious, dull, and hard to follow, sometimes making no sense at all. For some people, however, it doesn't get much better than a Jean Rollin film. If you're able to connect on whatever label Rollin is speaking on, and you're able to look past the preconceived notions of what a horror movie should or should not be, you'll find a world of gorgeous compositions, gothic atmosphere thick enough that you'll need a chainsaw to cut through it, plenty of interesting characters and some truly memorable set pieces. A prime example of how all of that can come together in some of Rollin's films is his 1973 'evil pirates versus ghosts' film, Les Demoniaques (which Redemption has re-titled Demoniacs for some reason).
The movie begins by introducing us to a gang of evil pirates consisting of the Captain (John Rico), and his three accomplices, Bosco (Willy Braque of Lips Of Blood), Paul (Paul Bisciglia of The Grapes Of Death) and the lovely but suspicious female of the group, Tina (Joelle Couer of Bacchanales Sexualles and Seven Women For Satan). They make their living by coercing ships into the shore where the inevitably crash upon the rocks, at which point they move in and steal the cargo for themselves. They're pretty despicable people and the locals in the small town they call home don't particularly care for them much at all.
One of the boats that the pirates coerced into crashing produces two survivors in the form of a pair of beautiful young women without any names played by Lieva Lone and Patricia Hermenier. They show up on the beach, having been washed up on the sand after the wreck, and before they get a chance to go to the town for help, the pirates rape them, torture them, and kill them, leaving their bodies in the surf to be carried out to sea. With that over and done with, they head into town for a couple of drinks at the local tavern, and who should the Captain see but the two girls that he and his crew just killed. If this were a one time thing you could chalk it up to some bad booze, but no, he keeps seeing the two girls and starts to believe that they're haunting him from beyond the grave.
As the girls, or possibly the ghosts of the girls, wander around unsure of themselves they eventually make their way to a decrepit old castle where they meet up with a man who will help them get the revenge they want, but not without something from them in return.
The word most often used to describe Rollin's work is dreamlike, and it's quite a fitting way to sum up the sometimes abstract and often times surrealist nature of the man's work. Les Demoniaques is no exception, it gives us plenty of strange imagery to wrap our heads around and while the narrative itself is deceptively simple, there is actually quite a bit going on in the film, even if most of it is in the Captain's head (or is it?). Performance wise, Lieva Lone and Patricia Hermenier are great as the two drop dead gorgeous spectral leads. They don't have to say much here, and as is typical of a lot of Rollin's work there are long stretches without any dialogue. The certainly look the part though, and the way that their innocence is contrasted with the events that take place in the film makes things all the more interesting. Rico and Couer are also completely easy to hate as the antagonists, they're miserable and reprehensible people, taking advantage of anyone and everyone, even their own crew at one point in time. Neither can be trusted in the least, which proves to be to their own discredit later in the storyline.
The real reason to watch the film, however, is the visuals. Rollin shot the film on a small island off the coast of France and he makes excellent use of the exotic locations and strange small town atmosphere in this film. The whole thing is just dripping with atmosphere and mood, from the ragged but beautiful beach where the girls meet their end at the hands of the villains to the small, dirty tavern where the pirates spend a lot of their spare time. Everything is very well lit and there's an obvious amount of care and attention to detail evident in each frame of the film. The compositions are gorgeous and while parts of it are certainly influenced by the swashbuckling adventure films of the forties, the movie has a look all its own.
Most of the small touches that make Rollin's work as interesting as it are easy to spot here. A clown plays a fairly important role in the movie and there's plenty of time spent on the beach in the dark. The two blond female leads are also very much a staple of his work, as is the gothic and creepy old castle and the desolate small town setting. It all feels very much like a dark fairy tale, albeit one for adults of an open mind.
Les Demoniaques looks very good despite some mild compression artifacts present in a couple of the darker scenes and the fact that the transfer is interlaced. The 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen image, transferred from the original negative, boasts great color reproduction and a very clean, colorful picture with a nice amount of both foreground and background detail present throughout. You'll probably pick up on some softness here and there but the film had the same issues on the Image/Redemption release that came out in North America years back as well (though that disc was non-anamorphic and didn't look nearly as sharp or clean as this one does). Skin tones look nice and natural, black levels are strong and deep, and there aren't any serious problems with edge enhancement or heavy aliasing present during playback.
For a film more than three decades old that was low budget to begin with, the French language Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track sounds pretty solid on this release. There is some mild background hiss in one or two scenes and if you listen for them you'll pick out the occasional pop here and there but for the most past, things sound alright. Dialogue is fairly clean and pretty consistent even if sometimes the levels fluctuate just a little bit. It's not a perfect track, but it's pretty decent none the less and it suits the film just fine. Optional English subtitles are also included.
The extras start off with a collection of deleted scenes. These four scenes, with a combined running time of just under eighteen minutes in length, are almost all of the carnal variety. In the first scene, a sailor gets into a scrap with Bosco and Paul before going upstairs to meet with a bar maid who shows him exactly what he wants to see - everything! The second scene is simply a longer version of the copulation that occurs between the Captain and Tina when they're alone in the room together that we see in the version of the film on the DVD - this one is just a little more graphic and a bit longer. The third scene shows Tina letting her fingers do the walking while the two ghostly girls are bound and tied, being held hostage in the room that the pirates have taken over. We see some of this in the movie but this version is considerably more graphic in its depiction of Tina's endeavors. The final scene is an extended sex scene involving Tina and the girls that includes a brief close up with some hardcore action. These scenes are in French only but there's very little dialogue in any of them and you won't have any trouble following what is essentially a collection of sex scenes. Each of the four scenes is in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen and while it isn't in as good a shape as the feature is, they still look pretty decent. Some of this material is pretty jarring so it's not surprising that Rollin didn't want them included in his preferred version of the film, and the director himself states that they were shot because the producer basically insisted they be there for export to certain markets.
Rounding out the extras are the film's theatrical trailer, trailers for a few other Redemption releases, a still gallery, some animated menus and chapter selection.
While it would have been nice to see all of the extras from the R2 Encore special edition release ported over (that disc included a commentary, a short film, and other supplements that are not included here), this is still a decent presentation of one of Rollin's finest moments. His style may not be for everyone but fans of surrealist Euro-Horror can definitely consider this release recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.