It’s word association time! Play along with me!
Japanese horror = supernatural spooky kids. British horror = Hammer films with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Italian horror = cannibals and zombies. French horror = um, er, Jerry Lewis?
The proper response to “French horror” is Jean Rollin, just about the only director hailing from the land of brie and baguettes that I’ve seen represented in horror movie guides. I’ve not a clue if The Demoniacs (aka; Curse of the Living Dead) is a good example of Rollin’s work. As horror, it doesn’t work, but as a strange little tale with copious nudity, a bit of surrealism, and a dollop of eroticism, it manages to be both dull and fascinating at the same time.
Set in a lonely coastal town, Demoniacs opens on a not-too-promising note, with lengthy introductions to four wreckers – modern-day pirates who lure ships onto the rocks and then take the treasure for themselves. We get a lot of character background on these wreckers, almost none of which is relevant to the story, and besides, the only wrecker you’ll remember is Tina (Joelle Coeur), who I’ll refer to hereafter as Tits Ahoy because she spends the entire film either topless or entirely nude.
One stormy moonlit night (continuity is not this film’s strong suit), Tits Ahoy and her friends, while scavenging treasure from their latest wreck, happen upon two shipwrecked survivors – blonde girls dressed in white, whose names we never learn. Tits Ahoy’s friends beat and rape the girls, then leave them for dead. Later, in a local tavern, one of the wreckers sees visions of the girls as bloody ghosts. The girls, not quite as dead as the wreckers had hoped, make their way to the town’s haunted ruins, where they find a guy who looks like Rasputin, a woman dressed up like a clown, and a guy who looks a lot like David Copperfield and is, I think, the devil. This latter fellow offers to help the girls take revenge on their tormentors.
The Demoniacs is not a good movie, strictly speaking. The acting is nothing to speak of, the story is weak, and while Rollin clearly sympathizes with his traumatized blondes, he doesn’t give their revenge a satisfying payoff. Yet there’s a strange fascination about it – you’re never quite where any given scene is going, and there are enough surreal touches and imagery to keep interest from flagging. As a horror film it’s a failure – there’s little onscreen violence, the blood looks like orange Kool-Aid. But the plentiful nudity makes up for that, since most of the people involved are quite attractive – Coeur can’t act but you certainly won’t forget her nude cavorting, nor the way she gets a bit too into the raping and pillaging.
There’s plenty about The Demoniacs that I don’t get. Why does the David Copperfield devil’s lovemaking technique include interpretive dance? What happened with that guy with the giant glass bottle? How did the tide come in so fast? Why did those monks show up?
And then I remember – it’s French!
Extras on the Redemption DVD are a trailer, photo gallery, and Rollin’s filmography
This unrated extended cut of The Demoniacs comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber and Redemption Films, as part of their ever-expanding Jean Rollin collection. As with previous releases, the films have been mastered in 1080p from the original 35mm negatives and the results are impressive. The image manages to look sharp while still retaining the director’s gauzy, dreamy aesthetic. Fine details in faces and fabric textures really stand out when viewed up close in the frame, while a welcome sheen of cinematic grain lends the image an organically retro quality. There are a few instances where the grain becomes somewhat overabundant, like in especially dark scenes or in Rollin’s numerous wide shots where the overcast sky eats up three quarters of the screen, but there’s simply no way around this without excessive use of digital noise reduction, and I’ll take the occasionally grainy image over that artificial, over processed look any day.
The accompanying Linear PCM 2.0 audio track exhibits the expected amount hiss, crackle, and touch of harshness one would expect from a 1974 cheapie, but, like the video transfer, it represents a substantial upgrade over previous DVD releases. The film’s score, in particular, sounds much fuller and more expressive than ever, while dialogue isn’t quite as hollow sounding as it was on the DVD.
Extras include an “Introduction by Jean Rollin”, a collection of deleted scenes (including two sex scenes), interviews with writer, Jean Bouyxou, and frequent Rollin collaborator, Natalie Perrey. Also featured are several trailers for this and other Jean Rollin Blu-ray releases (HD). As with other films in this numbered collection, a 16-page booklet by Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas is also included.