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 level 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 Kino/Redemption have re-titled The Demoniacs, in keeping with previous domestic DVD releases of the movie).
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 onto 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 vampire 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. As to Joelle Couer's work, she's as sinister and sadistic as she is drop dead gorgeous and she does a great job playing the manipulative Tina.
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, leading our ladies to their destiny, 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.
Some notes (MINOR SPOILERS): This version of the movie runs a bit longer than the past Redemption DVD release which omitted a short dialogue scene that took place in the Abbey, no reinserted into the movie where it belongs. More interesting is that there's a lot more footage towards the end of the movie where Joelle Couer's character masturbates as the two nameless female leads are being raped by her cohorts. This footage was included as an extra deleted scene on the Encore PAL DVD release but works quite well put back into the movie as it makes an already dark and disturbing finale even more twisted. Given that this disc was created using a transfer taken from the original 35mm negative, it could very well be that it was Rollin's intent to have this footage included all along.
The Demoniacs looks very good on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Presented in 1.78.1 widescreen and mastered from the original 35mm negative, there are some minor specks here and there but no seriously distracting print damage. Kino doesn't mess around with noise reduction or heavy image processing, so there aren't any issues with edge enhancement or noise reduction here, the grain structure is wholly intact and the movie is all the better for it. A bit more cleanup work might have made some happy but the image is, overall, in very good shape here. Close up shots show loads more detail than previous DVD releases have, while medium and long distance shots are also quite improved. Skin looks nice and natural and black levels remain strong throughout. Texture is good, you'll notice this in the frayed gowns worn by our two female leads and also in the fancy outfits worn by the flamboyant vampire they encounter. All in all, the movie holds up very well in high definition.
The only audio option for the feature is a French language LPCM 2.0 Mono track with optional subtitles provided in English only. There aren't any issues here, the dialogue is clean and clear and any hiss that works its way into the mix is minimal and will likely go unnoticed unless you're specifically listening for it. The score sounds quite good, the levels are well balanced and the subtitles are easy to read and free of any typographical errors.
Extra features kick off with the two interviews, the first of which is with Natalie Perrey and which runs just under two minutes. Here she talks about her involvement with this particular film but it's fairly brief. More interesting is the interview with Jean Bouyxou who played one of the sailors in the tavern and who worked with Rollin quite extensively throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s as well, not just as an actor but frequently behind the camera in various capacities as well. He shares some fond memories of Rollin and provides us with some interesting stories about his work on this picture and others.
There are also two deleted sex scenes included on the disc, presented in high definition and in widescreen. 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 disc - this one is just a little more graphic and a bit longer. There are no subtitles for the brief French dialogue featured in these scenes. Also included here is just under two minutes worth of deleted footage showing the boat burning at night on the beach - there's no dialogue here at all to subtitle and it's fairly minor stuff, but nicely shot never the less and a welcome inclusion.
Rounding out the extras for the feature are a trailer for the feature and trailers for the other Rollin films that Kino/Redemption have offered up on Blu-ray so far - all in high definition. Rollin himself provides a quick HD video introduction for the film and inside the keepcase is a booklet of liner notes from Video Watchdog editor in chief Tim Lucas, which provide some welcome background information on this picture as well as for Requiem for A Vampire and The Rape Of The Vampire. The PAL encore release included a commentary track, an interview with Willy Braque and the short film Les Pays Loins (with a director's commentary) in addition to a different insert booklet and a slideshow. Those extras are not included on this release, though Les Pays Loins was included on the Blu-ray release for The Rape Of The Vampire (sadly, without the commentary).
The Demoniacs, one of Rollin's finest efforts, receives quite an impressive Blu-ray release from Kino who offer up the film in great shape and who provide some quality supplements to accompany the feature. Highly 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.