Kino Lorber // 1974 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Daryl Loomis // June 15th, 2012
They were called wreckers.
The movies of Jean Rollin (Fascination) are lumped into the horror genre, but few elements of his work actually belong there. There are vampires all over the place and, sure, he did make a Nazi zombie movie, but the dreamscapes are far less scary than they are strange. Rollin, himself, didn't even refer to his movies as horror, and specifically called them melodramas. Whatever thoughts that word bring to individuals, it is a lot more apt a description that what they're normally called. He's not for everybody; most people I've sat down to watch a Rollin movie with leave more bored than impressed, but I love his movies dearly and am thrilled that Image Entertainment and Redemption have reissued his unique works on Blu-ray. The Demoniacs isn't my favorite of his movies, but it is one of his more sadistic and it looks great in Hi-Def.
A group of diabolical pirates force the wreck of a ship off a rocky coast. The only survivors are a pair of young blondes (Lieva Lone and Patricia Hermenier) who have the bad luck of coming ashore and getting murdered (maybe) by the villains. Soon, though, they have met up with a clown on an island and sold their souls to the devil for the power of revenge over their attackers. That's just about it.
Jean Rollin never once concerned himself with story or characters and, though The Demoniacs actually does explain its players and situations, it still makes no sense. It flows with a crazy person's logic and a complete lack of coherent thought, but that's exactly where its charm sits. Nobody before or since made movies like him, though, and that counts for something in my book. It isn't just novelty, either; The Demoniacs, like most of his work, is beautifully weird and full of moments that don't really exist elsewhere.
The problem, though, is that The Demoniacs, also like many of his movies, is a little bit boring. There is a lot to sit through between those moments, and not everybody finds that very palatable. Add to that some fairly rough acting and a cheap budget, and sometimes it seems there's little to like. With patience and an open mind, though, it comes out in the gorgeous natural sets (not to mention the gorgeous natural actresses) and inexplicable, almost giddy, weirdness.
This is the most sadistic and overtly violent of Rollins early movies, as well as the most like an actual horror film. Though he calls it a melodrama, the story has more than a few tinges of Poe and other gothic writers. It presents a pair of silent heroines (another sure link to his larger body of work) who may or may not be mute, but we do learn of their psychic powers or, if not that, their spectral powers that cause great strain on the pirates...poor pirates. Are they dead or alive? It doesn't really matter, and what's the deal with the feathered-coiffed devil? On a certain level, The Demoniacs is a senseless and kind of bad movie, but it's a charming spectacle with great sets, hot stars, and enough striped shirts to satisfy the most strident Francophile.
Fans will be happy that that The Demoniacs on Blu-ray from Image Entertainment and Redemption looks and sounds as good as it ever has. It's still far from perfect, and while the 1.85:1 print has been remastered in 1080p high-definition, there was not much restoration done on it at all. There are plenty of blemishes and scratches on the print and the increased detail makes some of them more pronounced than they once were. The same detail is what makes the disc worth the purchase, though, because it is as crisp I could want, with detail that didn't exist in previous editions. Colors have never been brighter and black levels have never been deeper. The sound is more disappointing. The simple PCM 2-channel track doesn't have anything going for it that the standard definition releases didn't.
Most of the extra features have been ported over from Redemption's previous release, but a couple of additional entries add some extra value. In addition to the four pieces of deleted footage, two completely pointless and two additional sex scenes, and trailer's for the other Redemption releases of Rollin's films, we have an introduction from the director, which is fairly enlightening about some of the film's backstory and interviews with stars Jean Bouyxou and Natalie Perrey. Finally, an essay from the ever-reliable Tim Lucas fills out a very good Blu-ray release.
Fans of Jean Rollin should already know whether a new edition of The Demoniacs is worth their time, but Redemption has done a pretty good job with their Blu-ray release of the film. It isn't the upgrade people might hope, but its easily good enough to warrant a recommendation.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes