Monday, September 8, 2014

The Demoniacs (1974)

AKA Curse of the Living Dead

Jean Rollin’s name may be synonymous with vampires however anyone with a knowledge of Rollin’s entire body of work knows the man was far from a one trick pony. Rollin had a signature directorial style that was not only almost instantly identifiable but he had the ability to bring that style to basically any subgenre within the realm of horror and the fantastic and make it work. Not too many filmmakers would even think of approaching a zombie film the way Rollin approached The Grapes of Death (1978) or The Living Dead Girl (1982). While obviously influenced by early Cronenberg, Night of the Hunted (1980) is an emotional piece of surrealist sci-fi that is quintessentially Rollin in execution, and even a film like The Escapees (1981) which on the surface may seem a bit atypical at first glance has Rollin’s fingerprints all over it. By 1974 Rollin had essentially found and perfected his style with films like Shiver of the Vampires (1970) and Requiem for a Vampire (1971) under his belt so it was interesting (albeit in true maverick fashion) that he decided to try something different after those films which resulted in the minimal masterpiece The Iron Rose (1973), and Rollin’s return to the horror genre following two erotic films, 1974’s The Demoniacs, one of the oddest and most original revenge films from the 70’s was again something different yet unmistakably Rollin.

After looting the contents of a crashed ship which they purposefully lured into rocks, a gang of pirates or “wreckers” brutally rape and leave for dead the two young girls who were the only survivors of the wreck. Wracked by the nervousness of having their crime discovered and with the Captain seeing visions of the girls, the gang set out to find the girls and finish them off for good however they escape again, finding they way to some ruins on the edge of the village where the girls encounter the guardians who inform them of a powerful demonic entity imprisoned in the ruins. The girls release the demon who in turn rewards them with the powers needed for one night to exact their vengeance on the pirates.  

Technically, The Demoniacs (Les démoniaques) could be seen as a rape/revenge film however with this being a Rollin film it is unlike any other rape/revenge film to come before or after it. What could have been a fairly straightforward tale of revenge becomes something else entirely with Rollin throwing in various random ingredients including superstition, cursed villages, guardian clowns and prostitutes with second sights. Not much back story is given regarding the demon jailed in the ruins or just how or why the village is cursed so the film probably won’t make much sense to those not familiar with Rollin from a narrative perspective, however it doesn’t need to as like all Rollin films, subconsciously it all resonates with no explanation needed. Obviously given the subject matter it doesn’t take much to make the two girls (one of Rollin’s most recognizable motifs) who’s names are never revealed easy to sympathize with and root for, and the two actresses portraying the protagonists both have incredible screen presence, especially Lieva Lone in sadly her only known film role. The same can be said of the pirates with John Rico as the lunatic Capitan and Joëlle Coeur who easily steals the show as the Tina, the one female in the group who is perhaps the most sadistic out of the four who really goes for it during the films gut punch of a finale, defiantly one of Rollin’s most stinging climaxes which is only made more so by the morose piano music courtesy of Pierre Raph.

Interesting to point out that actress Mireille Dargent who plays the clown in the ruins also played the graveyard clown in The Iron Rose. Other Rollin regulars are also featured in the film, most notably Louise Dhour as the all knowing prostitute conveniently named Louise and Paul Bisciglia in the role of one of the pirates should be a familiar face to Rollin fans as well. Another interesting fact regarding the film was the 1st AD was Miletic Zivomir, the actor playing the demon and was apparently quite useless in the role of 1st AD, so writer and friend of Rollin’s Jean-Pierre Bouyxou who was originally to be just an extra in the film basically took over 1st AD duties. Its also worth noting that the film was Rollin’s first to have decent budget and the money did come in handy giving the film a much “larger” or “grand” feeling. Still, even with the budget it still didn’t prevent the production of the film from being prosecuted by Murphy’s Law as detailed by Tim Lucas in the liner notes to Redemption’s remastered DVD. Even still, the finished product is one of the most unique entries in Rollin’s already unique body of work and a film that Rollin fans who’ve yet to see the film would benefit from checking out as it’s a prime example of Rollin’s unmistakable style as well as his versatility.

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