The Demoniacs (1974) – By Cary Conley

After four straight vampire films, Jean Rollin took an extended break from his favorite subect to explore other fantastic themes as well as to direct two erotic films before returning to the vampire genre. The Demoniacs was the last of this group of films and immediately preceded his return to vampires in Lips of Blood. The Demoniacs may be one of Rollin’s most lyrical and personal films. Filled with typical Rollin-isms such as infuriatingly obtuse plot lines that go nowhere and unexplained sequences that lend a general confusion to the proceedings, The Demoniacs is nevertheless an exercise in poetic beauty.

Filmed in the north of France near Normandy, the film is filled with the gothic beauty of ancient cathedral ruins and seaweed-strewn,fog-shrouded beaches. The story concerns a group of evil "wreckers", or pirates, that lure ships onto the rocks in order to plunder them. Two young, mute maidens are the sole survivors of the latest wreck and are raped and physically abused by the pirates. The two young girls make their way to a mysterious island most locals believe is cursed. There they meet a strange monk and a clown who guard the island, keeping no less than the Devil himself locked away in the cathedral ruins. The devil appears to the girls and injects them with his evil power through sexual intercourse, thereby allowing the girls to exact revenge on the pirates. As mentioned before, this may be one of Rollin’s most personal films, and he fills the film with homage after homage from his beloved serials. Not only do we have swashbuckling pirates, but each main character is introduced by a framing device and a voiceover narrative akin to the serials of old.

Although Rollin also described this film as his most expressionistic, it isn’t filled with the typical chiaroscuro lighting and skewed sets one thinks of when using the term "expressionism". However, there are plenty of severely-angled shots and the costumes, acting and character movements are highly stylized, the latter especially during the many soft-core sex scenes. Lieva Lone and Patricia Hermenier star as the mute sisters and, while pretty in a mysterious sort of way, Joelle Coeur as Tina the Wrecker is perhaps the sexiest and most gorgeous of all of Rollin’s women. She steams across the screen, oozing sexuality as she moves, and removing her clothes at every opportunity. She exudes pure evil as well, as she pleasures herself while watching the wreckers rape the two girls.

Typical of Rollin films, there are also plot points that lead to nowhere such as the psychic bar owner who predicts the pirates’ demise. Other than playing an occasional piano tune in the bar and making mysterious predictions based on her psychic abilities, the woman–played by Louise Dhour who also co-starred in Requiem for a Vampire–has no real reason to be in the film. Likewise the jarring sight of a clown in full makeup, dancing amongst the ruins of the medieval cathedral, played by Mireille Dargent, who specialized in clown characters for Rollin. There is no real explanation as to why a clown would appear in the film other than the fact that Rollin enjoyed inserting these surreal types of visions into his films. For some, these characters lend nothing but confusion to the story. But for Rollin fans, these loose storylines and crazy characters are part of the charm of his films.

Along with Requiem for a Vampire, The Demoniacs is one of Rollin’s most overtly sexual films. The film contains plenty of full-frontal female nudity as well as numerous soft core couplings, including several rape scenes (although these scenes are not nearly as mean-spirited as in many other films of the time). Typical of Rollin, the natural scenery is gorgeous and both the beach and the ruins exude a classic Gothic atmosphere. Pierre Raph’s musical score is a highlight and suits the film well.

Kino-Lorber and Redemption have again teamed up to present The Demoniacs in an extended, uncut version that is available as standard DVD or Blu-Ray. It is loaded with special features that include an introduction by Rollin, several interviews and trailers, and deleted scenes including two sex scenes that collectively run 10 minutes. Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog has written an essay that is printed as a 16-page insert as well. The Demoniacs is being released on May 29. For more information, see www.kino.com.