French arthouse horror king Jean Rollin really went off the rails with this 1974 head-scratcher. Not only does the director ignore his standard story, (childlike pair of girls finds enclave of vampires) but he also makes a movie to which you need to pay attention if you want to understand it. (All of his other films are impossible to understand whether you pay attention or not.) Rollin's palette full of style is still in effect, however, and most of his favorite tropes are along for the ride. The Demoniacs, over time, has become rather comic, so if you're in the mood for some campy, sexy, macabre fun - or you're a Rollin fanatic - his creepy girls will give you a run for your money.
Hailed by Video Watchdog honcho Tim Lucas as "a Poe-like study of guilt and revenge" The Demoniacs can undeniably fit into that comparison. A small band of lazy, landlubber pirates lure ships onto the rocky shore, after which they plunder the wreckage. These 'wreckers' - in an avaricious frenzy - rape and murder the two cutie-patooties who survived the crash. Their innocence destroyed, (a no-no for Rollin) the girls rise from the dead to torment the pirates with the aid of a priest, the Devil, an off-market Ronald McDonald, and very little clothing.
Rollin manages to subvert any real throughput in what is for him a startlingly linear plot, by wantonly throwing symbolic imagery at the screen, and otherwise adapting a torpid pace that makes 100 minutes seem overlong. He's so in love with his compositions this time around, that the mere act of leaving the camera running becomes a thematic element. To wit, if it's worth showing to you, Rollin's gonna take about a half-hour to do it: and that includes watching the two chicks walk slowly across a courtyard. (At least the girls are semi-nude.) Dark, portentous shots of the abandoned cathedral linger too long, as a mysterious clown leads the revenants to the only one who can help them exact revenge on the pirates. That would be the Devil himself, who's gonna give the girls sex-power or something. Evil sex-power.
Throughout the picture, but especially as the girls begin to haunt the leader of the wreckers, half-baked performances, hysteria, and all other types of camp lunacy will at least provide you with the amusement needed to keep you awake through the less successful scenes. The pirate captain sweats and screams in the local pub. His raping crewmembers look like extras from an Old Navy commercial, Portlandia edition, lolling about the pub with insouciance. The captain's main squeeze (played by hottie Joelle Coeur) constantly strips naked, rubbing on herself at the most inappropriate times, and generally delivers a performance of clumsy mania. This parade of flesh is, of course, pleasing to the eye, yet the sex scenes are in large part mechanical and awkward.
Rollin's The Demoniacs is a mash-up at war with itself. Subversion of both fear and arousal is the norm this time out, while your need to simply drop off to sleepy land is hampered by things that shouldn't make you laugh. Rollin's visual mastery seems also to have been given too long a leash, though there is still plenty of striking imagery and there are numerous lovely, lusty ladies to ogle. Rollin's a hard nut to crack, and sometimes you just have to go along with the ride. The Demoniacs is just one of those rides, mad and nonsensical, but consistently entertaining.
Mastered in HD from the 35mm negative, this transfer of The Demoniacs comes in an anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen ratio, and looks darn good. I noticed one or two small instances of wobble in the image, and occasional dust and damage at reel-change points, but those are the only negatives to be found. Colors are vibrant, yet natural, and black levels are fairly healthy - good for a pretty dark film. Grain is minimal and appropriate, detail levels are nice, and other compression problems aren't apparent.
French Digital Mono Audio (with optional English subtitles) treats listeners to clarity and a decent mix between dialog and music levels. The DVD doesn't disappoint, without much of anything in the way of damage or distortion. The score is mixed at a nice level with dialog, too, meaning that for an otherwise unimpressive overall effect, the end result is perfectly fine anyway.
Redemption treats this release like the others in its roster of Rollin releases. (You ever notice how Internet hacks like to get alliterative?) (We've even been known to copy and paste when appropriate.) That means a nice sampling of modest extras is included, starting with a great 16 page Liner Notes booklet with an essay by Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog. (The booklet is the same for all of Redemption's Rollin DVDs.) The movie comes with a short Introduction by Jean Rollin, the Original Theatrical Trailer, and seven other Rollin Trailers. Two Deleted Sex Scenes abscond with ten of your minutes, and I've got to say, there are few phrases that encompass a null-set quite like the phrase 'deleted sex scene'. Two more minutes of Additional Deleted Footage are there for you, as well as Interviews with both Jean Bouyxou and Natalie Perrey, which will satisfy the needs of serious Rollin fans.
Rollin's The Demoniacs is a mash-up at war with itself. Subversion of both fear and arousal is the norm this time out, with Rollin's unusual sex-and-revenge motif over time delivering things that shouldn't make you laugh, rather than his usual ravishing imagery and wistful text. Rollin's visual mastery in The Demoniacs tends toward the prosaic, plot-dependent, and melodramatic side, though there is still plenty of strikingly surreal, symbolic imagery, and numerous lovely, lusty ladies to ogle. Rollin's a hard nut to crack, and sometimes you just have to go along with the ride. The Demoniacs is just one of those rides, mad, nonsensical, but consistently entertaining. Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke
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