Salvation Films // 1974 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // February 13th, 2009
The ludicrous costume helps keep the villagers away from the ruins.
Jean Rollin (The Grapes of Death) is unique in the world of Eurotrash cinema. His films are nearly story-free, only existing as an excuse to show off his beautiful locations and even more beautiful actresses. Though there are no lesbian vampires present, Demoniacs, one of his strangest films, falls in line with the rest of his work. Is this offering from Salvation Films worth this double dip?
A group of dastardly "wreckers," who make their living putting lights around the beach to lead ships into the rocks, are hard at work when a pair of young girls happen by. Not content to let them pass, the villains rape and kill the girls, leaving their bodies to sink into the ocean. Unfortunately for the wreckers, the girls have sold their souls to the devil to exact revenge on their attackers before they finally pass off into death.
There are a few things that director Jean Rollin really seems to love: nubile young women, lesbian vampires, brilliant locations and, most important, old-school French surrealism. Lots of exploitation filmmakers love the first three things, but that last one is what makes Rollin one of my favorite cult filmmakers. What he lacks in story capability, he makes up for in artistic design and attention to weirdness. Though Demoniacs is more preoccupied with cruelty and sexual violence than most of his work, Rollin still manages to pack the film with beautiful and surreal imagery.
The leader of the wreckers, played by Joëlle Coeur, is pure sexuality. The role is disturbing in its sadism; the hungry look in Coeur's eyes doesn't help viewers to forget how disgusting a character this is, it makes her even more villainous. The two lead actresses, Lieva Lone and Patricia Hermenier, whose characters remain unnamed, are the classic Rollin debutantes: thin and blonde, innocence in white shifts, but with more than a hint of darkness under the surface. They are mute; their vocal inflections are limited to crying and screaming. They're a sexy, appealing pair, if not the most convincing.
The men, for their part, are as non-descript as can be (though one does sport the most stereotypically French striped shirt and neckerchief combo I've ever seen) and they do little beyond grunting. They are totally in the thrall of Coeur, and none has a distinct personality. They spend most of their time drunk, leering wild-eyed at their victims before they're dead and after when the girls get their revenge. They are cannon fodder, nothing more, getting what they deserve for their transgressions.
While it's odd to have the undead as our heroines, an inversion of the normal ghostly paradigm, there is so little in the way of plotting that it's hard to care about it anyway. Sure, we want to see these beasts get what's coming to them, but it isn't as though the girls are going on to live happy lives afterward. They're already dead and have sold their souls for this offering. In the aftermath, the only people who win are the poor ship captains who no longer have to contend with fake lights; at least until the next set of wreckers come around.
All the holes, all the pointlessness of the story, however, are muted by the atmospheric locations the characters walk around in. Rollin is better than anyone in exploitation at location hunting and, while Demoniacs tends to have more cheesy interiors that many of films, there are still touches of his trademark castle and church ruins. As the climax builds, the girls have lured Coeur into one of these ruins. She stalks them through this garden while they stalk her in turn. As she nears the ruined walls, the girls telepathically make the statues of saints perched on top fall down around her, culminating in a statue of Jesus falling down on her in a compromising, blasphemous position. The statues have clearly been given a little push from behind, but the idea of smashing saints (in the name of good, no less) fits into the Rollin cannon perfectly.
This release of Demoniacs from Salvation Films is a double dip which adds nothing to the original DVD release. The only difference is a change from the horrible snapper case to the more reasonable keep case. Getting rid of these cardboard cases is always a good idea, but that is all that's different. The picture is on par with the other releases from Salvation. There is a little dirt and grain present, but it's generally very clear with strong colors and deep blacks. Some of the brighter scenes with heavy whites look dingier than the rest of the film, but it is overall very good. The sound is nothing special. It's clear enough, but Demoniacs is nearly dialogue and music free, so the mono soundtrack is more than adequate with a minimum of background noise. The French dialogue, what there is of it, is clear enough, though it looks a little weird because, like most European exploitation films of the time, the voices are dubbed in no matter what language we're hearing. The extras are scant, amounting to a trailer, a still gallery, and four deleted scenes. These sequences are wholly unnecessary to the film, adding only more explicit sex that winds up more gross than sexy. This edition of Demoniacs is worth picking up for the case replacement, but nothing more.
There is a kind of obscure poetry to Jean Rollin's films that doesn't exist with his exploitation brethren. He has a strong eye for style that helps to mask the films' low budgets as well as his shortcomings as a storyteller. Demoniacs may not have much in the way of story or acting, but it is a cruel and beautiful fever dream that is very much worth experiencing.
Guilty of its excesses, Demoniacs is nonetheless exonerated by its
many poetic and erotic virtues. Case dismissed.
Review content copyright © 2009 Daryl Loomis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Salvation Films
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Photo Gallery