Les Demoniaques (1973) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) (and Tuna)

This is Jean Rollin's Pirate classic!

Two young innocents wash up as shipwreck survivors, and they are raped and killed by some particularly inept pirates while the captain's girlfriend watches and masturbates. So you can see right away it's gonna be a classy movie.

Of course, dying in a Jean Rollin plot doesn't really have the impact it might in real life. The innocents simply make a deal with the devil in order to come back and get revenge on their rapists.

Turns out you don't deal immediately with the devil. He has an advance scout, a woman who wears clown make-up. Well she cuts a deal, and all the devil wants in return for restoring their flesh is to have some hot monkey love with the little muffins in their rebuilt bodies, before sending them back into the world. His Supreme Unholiness, the Prince of Darkness, looks like Antonio Banderas in tights, which is consistent with what I always imagined, especially since seeing The 13th Warrior.


Joelle Coeur and the two demoniacs are naked throughout much of the movie, including frontals
It could actually be a pretty good horror/gore movie except for a few things.
  • Rollin doesn't use those quick surprise cuts so necessary to tension, so all the danger and mystery comes walking up to the camera languidly from a ways off. He isn't exactly Hitchcock in this regard.
  • The acting in this movie is even worse than usual. The two demoniac girls never acted in anything but this movie. One of them was a local Belgian girl that they had to hire as a precondition for getting some good Belgian locations they wanted. The pirate captain is an American, if I remember right, and turns in possibly the silliest performance ever. I guess it was intentional, I don't know, but he exaggerates every gesture and facial expression like those old silent movie actors. Imagine Captain Kirk in pain. The whole movie is worth watching just to see him and his cohorts mug and cavort.
  • Later there is a great scene in a churchyard where the girls use their new satanic powers to make the statues fall on the captain's girlfriend. One of the largest falls on her, and it looks sorta like the statue is screwing her, but she somehow escapes. They had no special effects, so she had to make it look like she was wrestling with the statue, ala Lugosi and the rubber octopus. It's hard not to laugh out loud.
  • Rollin starts out the movie with the old cliche of showing some action backdrop while each character's face comes on the screen (mugging away, of course), and the narrator tells us about them, kind of like when Dr Evil goes around the table and introduces all his evil cohorts.

Tuna likes Rollin's films rather more than I do. Rollin's films are filled with great plusses and minuses, and I often feel too overwhelmed by the minuses to enjoy the overall experience. Tuna has a different sense of balance between the elements, especially loves some of Rollin's visuals, and noted the following plusses in this film:

  • Superb transfer from film to DVD, and the most risque version ever released.
  • Rollin savors each moment instead of rushing through the film.
  • Beautiful colors and framing.
  • Beautifully lit night scenes. I agree. The story is absurd and uninteresting, and the acting is bizarre, but I challenge anyone to come up with a better looking zero-budget movie. (According to the stories circulated after the filming, the actors not only were unpaid, but had nothing to eat during the filming except the fish and crustaceans they managed to wrangle from local fishermen!) The cinematography has a professional look and feel, not just in the clarity of the images, but in the artistry as well.
  • The two little demoniac girls are cute, and Joelle Coeur is one helluva sexy woman.
  • Rollin came up with some tremendous locales to give this a spooky and artistic look. Some scenes were filmed in a ship graveyard, others in an old abandoned cathedral overgrown with vines. The tavern where the pirates hang out was decorated with all types of bizarre artifacts like stuffed bats and monkeys with exaggerated genitals.

The career of Jean Rollin is one of the most interesting in the history of cinema.

A truly odd man with a preference for counter-cultural presentation, he combined his own obsessions into a sometimes effective, sometimes dreadful, but always unique style of filmmaking. He, in fact, invented an entire genre, and the French call it the Rollinade - a cheap, Gothic horror romance, usually with lesbians and gore, expressionistic acting styles, and artistic aspirations in the visuals and dialogue.

In a way, you can think of him as kind of the French Ed Wood.

  • Like Wood, he produced moments of such glaring incompetence that you can only laugh when you see them. Zombie Lake was filmed with a camera that wasn't working properly, and it made everybody seem to be moving in super speed. So how did he fix it? He had all the actors perform in slow motion to make the final product seem normal. I use the word normal in a very liberal sense here. Zombie Lake is far, far worse than any movie Wood ever made. It makes Glen or Glenda look like Raiders of the Lost Ark in comparison. Arguably, it is worse than any movie anybody ever made, including your Uncle Dwight in the backyard at the Fourth of July picnic. If Thomas Edison had lived to see it, he would have felt instant guilt, like the guys who invented the atomic bomb, and immediately cancelled all future rights to use his moviemaking patents.
  • Like Wood, Rollin had no concept of his own limitations. He thought he was Shakespeare, had his actors perform in a very unnatural rhetorical way. They deliver poetic pretentious speeches in stentorian tones, with broad exaggerated gestures to emphasize cheesy lines like "Dreams and life - it's the same, or it's not worth living".
  • Like Wood, he improvised with whatever inappropriate lunatic junk was available to him. In the past, I've discussed the reindeer hoods that were used in The Nude Vampire. Reindeer, of course, are herbiverous, and present more of a threat to your azeleas than to your family! "Look out, Pierre, I think he's going to graze".
  • Like Wood, he lived in a world of small numbers. He and his film family once held a mammoth celebration when they heard that one of their films would be seen in four theatres. This is not a world that Spielberg might be able to relate to.
  • Like Wood, Rollin could never be accused of using cliched concepts to produce tired formula films. Everything he dreamt up was odd and original. It might be dumb or brilliant, but you know it was his.

But there is a key difference between Rollin and Wood. Whereas Wood grew up in a grade-b culture, as far from the intellectual underground as he was from the mainstream, Rollin was well grounded in the history of literature, art, politics, and the cinema. When he was given a few francs and artistic freedom (the abominable Zombie Lake wasn't his project - he was a hired hand, and never saw the script until he was on his way to the set!), he could turn out some brilliant, if strange, stuff. He combined his Gothic romanticism, for example, with 60's new-wave surrealism. A strange combination, to be sure.

And he had some talent.

Take his reindeer-thing. Now the idea may be incredibly dumb, but the execution is excellent, given a budget of zero. The image of the reindeer horns casting a shadow into the unpaved cobblestone street creates a poetic sense of loneliness and has an eerie presence worthy of an empty Russian street in a Tarkovsky film. In fact, Rollin actually does manage to make a reindeer-man seem sort of scary, even if his shirt-sleeves are too short.

When the French Film Board reviews a movie, they are simply supposed to assign an age classification. In the case of "The Demoniacs", they not only did that, but also gratuitously tacked on "and of a complete stupidity" to the rating. Rollin was incensed, because the board consisted not just of bureaucrats, but also filmmakers, many of whom were his friends and acquaintances. He started a letter campaign to the trade papers to defend his artistic freedom against the oppressions of the moral majority. Of course, he was an eccentric, so any attempt to defend himself simply exposed more and more of his eccentricity, and drove him deeper and deeper into a ghetto of underground sex and gore filmmakers.

His only way to break out of his stereotype was to try to make a more artistic movie without vampires and sex, so he filmed "The Crystal Rose" and arranged for a premiere to showcase his new aesthetic. As you might expect, it was a disaster. When the lights came up, Rollin and his film were roundly booed, and the audience began to pelt him with handy objects. "Cinematographie" noted that it was the worst reaction ever given to a director, in their experience, and it was all the worse because the audience consisted solely of his fans and friends! Rollin never had a mainstream following, and with this flick he had lost his only audience - the crowd that liked his artistic and sexual horror interpretations. The audience laughed out loud throughout the premiere, although the film supposed to be anything but comedic. That pretty much destroyed his career for about a decade, during which he made porn films under various pseudonyms, and hired out for other people's projects, like the aforementioned Zombie Lake.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen letterbox, 1.75:1

  • no extras, but a good transfer

He came back, though, in the eighties, and as a novelist as well, with the same crazed obsessions. (I don't think any of his books are available in English).

He's still around now, working on various projects. As an example, he put together additional footage and a final cut for Emmanuelle 6, and turned a disaster into a respectable film.

Although he entered the business way back in the fifties, he was a boy at the time, and he's only 61 now, so he may have a few more surprises left in him.

The Critics Vote

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The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 4.8,
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is unrateable. It was made with a zero budget, the acting is awful, and the special effects will make you laugh out loud. Yet the movie has a rich look, haunting surreal visuals, some poetic grace, tons of T&A from beauiful woman, and a fascinating, truly demented logic. I have no idea how to score it.

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