Another fine-looking release from Kino Lorber and Redemption, in their Jean Rollin series
The late French director Jean Rollin made a name for himself with a number of obscure erotic horror films, most of which are concerned with nude vampires – The Rape of the Vampire (1968), the aptly named The Nude Vampire (1969), Lips of Blood (1975), The Living Dead Girl (1982), etc. He also made a handful of dream-like, disorienting horror films not associated with vampires, such as The Iron Rose (1973), The Grapes of Death (1978), Night of the Hunted (1980) and 1974’s The Demoniacs, also known as Curse of the Living Dead.
The Demoniacs is an odd blend of rape-revenge, pirate fantasy and erotic ghost story. This is an excellent example of the French cinema fantastique, which flourished in the 1960s and 1970s, blending horror, fantasy, erotica, and low budget production values and usually placing an emphasis on mood and visuals, rather than on linear narrative. Since Rollin’s death in 2010, many of his films have fortunately been released on DVD, including the ten now available from Kino Lorber and Redemption. Though his work is not for everyone, it has languished in obscurity far too long.
A small band of pirates are looting a shipwreck when they discover two young female survivors. Encouraged by sadistic pirate Tina, the others rape and murder the two young women, who soon return to haunt them. The two speechless blonde women may still be alive, or they may be ghosts, but in order to revenge themselves against the pirates, they are temporarily given the power of a mysterious, satanic man kept prisoner in church ruins the locals believed to be cursed. They hunt down and terrorize the pirates, leading to a surprising, violent climax.
The Demoniacs’ nonsensical surrealistic plot is more melancholic than scary. Rollin refuses to answer any of the questions that arise – such as whether or not the girls are ghosts – but it benefits this odd, seaside tale of revenge. Though there is little graphic violence, there are a few murders and several rape scenes that are unpleasant, but fortunately tame compared to similar rape-revenge films from the period. There is almost constant female nudity and several softcore sex scenes, including a very lengthy scene of Tina masturbating on the beach while the two blonde girls are raped for a second time. The ending is anticlimactic, yet has an air of tragedy that suits the film. Look out for the guardian angel-like clown!
The undisputed star is Joëlle Coeur, the constantly nude, malicious female pirate. Her charisma moves this slowly paced, sometimes plodding film forward, as do the surreal set pieces. The acting is otherwise dull, or, at best, mediocre – typical of a Rollin film – and includes actors he worked with throughout his career, such as Willy Braque from Lips Of Blood and Paul Bisciglia from The Grapes Of Death. Leading lady Coeur also appeared in Rollin’s erotica films Schoolgirl Hitchhikers (1973) and Bacchanales Sexualles (1974). The Demoniacs’ lack of dialogue certainly helps this from descending into ridiculousness and is characteristic of much of Rollin’s work, which he wrote as well as directed.
The disc’s French language audio track is in LPCM 2.0 Mono with optional English subtitles. The Demoniacs’ scant dialogue sounds clean, and though there is a slight hiss throughout the film, it is not too distracting. A wonderful score from Pierre Ralph is definitely one of the highlights of The Demoniacs, and also sounds well balanced here.
The Demoniacs was mastered in high definition from the 35mm negative and is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Kino and Redemption have not done any actual restoration work, so there are some occasional damages, white flecks and scratches. Though the print is not perfect, the non-interventionist transfer preserves the “film” look of the presentation. This is certainly the best available and is a big improvement over previous releases. The film’s odd, hallucinatory set pieces are enhanced by Jean-Jacques Renon’s absolutely beautiful cinematography. The Demoniacs’ haunting beach scenes are some of the best in the film, both poetic and threatening, and emphasize Rollin’s concern with style and mood over narrative structure.
There are a number of extras, including a three-minute introduction to the film from Jean Rollin, two lengthy deleted sex scenes presented in high definition and widescreen, and two minutes of unnecessary outtake footage. There are interviews with actors and Rollin-collaborators Natalie Perry and Jean-Pierre Bouyxou, the latter of whom speaks about his years of involvement with Rollin, as both an actor and a crew member. This is completed with a collection of high definition trailers for eight different Rollin films, all of which have been released by Kino and Redemption. Also accompanying the DVD is a 16-page booklet with informative notes from Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas.
In good conscience, I can only recommend The Demoniacs to Rollin initiates or seasoned Eurohorror fans, as it is certainly an acquired taste. This fantastical, surreal blend of erotica, horror and revenge will delight some viewers, but leave others confused and frustrated, particularly during moments that opt to be willfully confusing and nonsensical. Neither the best nor worst of Rollin’s work, The Demoniacs has plenty to offer in the way of lush, dreamlike imagery, which remains the primary reason to seek out this installment in his canon.
~ By Samm Deighan