As 'The Demoniacs' (aka 'Les Demoniaques') opens, we're introduced to the four key players in the tale, and we're told instantly that we're not supposed to like them. The quintet of ill-doers is lead by the Captain (John Rico), a cruel and simply evil man, who maintains control over his crew through brute force and the unrivaled depths of his insanity. At his left and right are two henchmen, the nefarious, calculating Le Bosco (Willy Braque), a man likely to backstab anyone on his way to the top, and Paul (Paul Bisciglia), a hefty former sailor whose allegiances inside the group belong to whoever benefits him the most. Finally, and perhaps most prominently is Tina (Joelle Coeur), a cruel seductress who acts much like a siren, duping the lost with her alluring sexuality. These four regularly rig lighthouses to dupe passing ships into crashing onto the rocky shores of the cursed island they call home, basking in treasures and killing survivors as if it were sport.
In short, our main characters are all a bunch of no good bastards, so far gone from humanity that they're borderline bestial creatures. In no time at all, we witness another wreck caused by these four, leaving behind two young women (lieva Lone, Patricia Hermenier), whose cries for help are greeted by merciless violence and rape. Lots and lots of rape. This single act proves to be the undoing on the cursed wreckers on the undisclosed cursed land.
Jean Rollin's trademark in cinema is twofold: vampires and virgins, and in 'The Demoniacs,' one of those beings doesn't show up at all; the only chance of the other is taken away as soon as the flick has its first scenes. A departure from directorial norm, this supernatural flick is part journey of discovery, part descent into the abyss, and part softcore porno. It's basically a horno flick, with minimal amounts of sets, yet amazing locations filling our wildest dreams. It's a flick where base instinct rules, where mankind is reduced to singular actions, with nary a complex character in sight. It's perhaps one of the most bizarre, yet fulfilling film experiences a shlock horror fan will have, what with the random paths the "plot" takes, out of the blue.
'The Demoniacs' is simple, yet complex. The two girls are never named. Aside from their cries for help, and a few moments where their images haunt The Captain (again with the same pleas), they never speak. After a life-changing event, where their dependence on the kindness of strangers is horribly abused, they're born again, in flame, delving deep into human nature to become monsters on the same par of those who assaulted them. We're to empathize with these hunted women in their quest for vengeance, though the lines between right and wrong blur, as their plight and desire for revenge leads them to unleash the Devil (Miletic Zivomir) upon the world, being granted powers by said being after fornicating with him. Innocence obliterated.
What makes 'The Demoniacs' a fascinating viewing experience lies in the Captain. While Le Bosco is seemingly a bad-ass of bad-asses, and Tina is a master manipulator whose sex drive essentially defines her, it's their leader who makes the entire film work. Haunted by his actions, the gruff and burly old man finds himself staring into nothingness, seeing those who don't exist, his sanity disintegrating at a rapid pace. It is this unraveling that is the only true constant in the film, and much like the back cover of this release teases, is very Poe like in its cruel mockery.
Of course, 'The Demoniacs' has its share of sheer insanity, from a bar owner who is blessed with "second sight," enabling her to not only know the ill actions of her clientele, but also allowing her to bridge the gaps in the film with sometimes unnecessary and unwanted exposition. The other patrons at the bar have their minor fleshing out, though the deleted scenes on this disc prove that was only so they could have a lurid sex scene for some reason or another. Heck, even one of the four baddies, Paul, is somewhat lost in the entire mess, his identity and purpose redundant.
If you like your horror films full of 1970's era rape, bizarre female clowns, and bizarre finales, 'The Demoniacs' may be right up your alley. Chock full of ridiculous over-the-top sexuality, this flick may be one of the standouts in a noted exploitation career solely for the way it doesn't fit in with the other titles in a vampire-heavy filmography. You may find yourself laughing at the wrong things, or incapable of taking the sometimes silly plot devices seriously, but if you can get into the film, it's definitely a treat.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'The Demoniacs' arrives on Blu-ray from Kino as a part of the Jean Rollin "Redemption" collection, with spine number 12. There are no packaging gimmicks, nor disc navigation gimmicks, while the disc itself is a BD50 with no region markings. This set includes a booklet with an essay on the films of Rollin.
I don't have any of the other Kino "Redemption" titles to compare 'The Demoniacs' to, so you can imagine my surprise when it came to this particular disc. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode has its moments of greatness, and its moments of utter failure, rolled together in a hit and miss package so sporadic that it's absolutely perfect for such an out there film.
The first act in this flick is utterly bombarded with dirt and debris, some can be considerable in size, along with a few scratches and wandering vertical lines. As the film rolls on, the dirt does clear up (it isn't just one getting used to the constant shelling), to the point that the final act is almost entirely free from the random damaging bits. Picture quality is so-so for the era. Details can be solid, even in darker shots, but crush becomes more troublesome as the film rolls one, while textures are regularly flat and uninviting, to the point sometimes of feeling like they are painted on. Colors aren't bold, but they remain true, with only a few flat shots draining skin tones and the varying attire hues. While the picture has a few bits of waviness in it, it is mostly straight and free from wobble. Edges can be a concern, and some issues in this regard can be inherent in the film, to create some effects, but there are more than a few awkward moments where characters seem cut out of the picture. Grain, however, is entirely uninterrupted.
The video on 'The Demoniacs' isn't exactly impressive, even if it's passable. The audio? Well...let's just say Kino's Linear PCM 2.0 track has very little to work with. Throughout the entire feature, even in silent moments, there is nonstop hiss, occasional crackles and pops joining the onslaught. There may be a total of two to three seconds in the feature free from whining, annoying aging and debris in this regard. Separation in the track is light, and volume spikes do bring plenty of power, surprisingly. Sadly, any shrieks or even light shocked laughter come through as horribly shrill and concerning. Through in dialogue that is frequently blunt, as though every damn line were yelled at you, and this track just is not a winner.
'The Demoniacs' is a strange, borderline schizophrenic, yet mostly enjoyable revenge feature. It isn't so much for the faint of heart or the impatient horror hounds, but those into psychological torment will get a real kick out of the devolution of the Captain character. Kino's Blu-ray release is passable for the material, but nothing to write home about, and the extras include ten minutes more of random sex scenes, just in case the main film wasn't pervy enough for you.