Directed By: Jean Rollin
Starring: Joëlle Coeur, John Rico, Willy Braque
Other Titles: This film was also released as Curse of the Living Dead
Trivia: The BBFC cut 54 seconds from this film to remove images they felt eroticized the sexual violence
“An expressionist film by Jean Rollin”
That’s what it says in the opening credits of The Demoniacs, and sure enough this 1974 movie features plenty of European-style surrealism to go along with the nudity and violence we’ve come to expect from its director.
It’s the late 1700s, and a band of pirates known as the “Wreckers” roams the coast of France, luring ships at sea into rocky terrain, then murdering the crew and stealing their cargo. The leader of the Wreckers is the Captain (John Rico), a madman who is haunted by the ghosts of his victims, and his second-in-command is Le Bosco (Willy Braque), who despises taking orders and is waiting patiently for his chance to kill the captain. Paul (Paul Bisciglia) is strong, yet refuses to choose sides, and, to ensure he remains in favor aligns himself with both the Captain and Le Bosco, while Tina (Joëlle Cœur), a bloodthirsty nymphomaniac and the Captain’s main squeeze, is the most vicious of the bunch, a psychopath who gets a sexual thrill out of torturing the innocent.
One night, while on a beach splitting up the loot from their most recent endeavor, the Wreckers encounter a pair of young women (Lieva Lone and Patricia Hermenier), who, stumbling out of the sea, call for help (they were passengers on the ship that the Wreckers just looted). Instead, Le Bosco and Paul beat and rape the two unfortunate girls, then leave them to die. But they somehow survive, and make their way to a nearby island, where, in the ruins of a cathedral, the girls meet an Exorcist (Ben Zimet) who informs them that a demon (Miletic Zivomir) is imprisoned below. An all-powerful being, this demon can help the girls get their revenge on the Captain and his crew, but his assistance is not free of charge, and the young women may be forced to pay the ultimate price for the vengeance they seek.
The opening moments of The Demoniacs, which feature the rape of the two women, are incredibly brutal, and are followed by an unsettling scene set in a nearby pub, where the Captain, drunk and in a rage, experiences visions of the two girls, their bodies beaten and bloodied, as if they were haunting his mind. After being told by a soothsayer named Louise (Louise Dhour) that the girls are still alive, the Wreckers track them to a ship graveyard, where a chase ensues, ending with the Captain and the others trying to force the girls out of hiding by setting fire to the wrecked ships. With sequences that are both exciting and intensely creepy, The Demoniacs, unlike other Rollin films, gets off to a fast start.
Once the two victims make their way to the cathedral ruins, however, The Demoniacs changes pace, transforming into a supernatural tale of revenge. Some scenes are downright bizarre (after walking out of the water, the girls are greeted by a woman in clown make-up played by Mireille Dargent, who, after guiding them to the Exorcist, tends to their wounds), and while there’s still plenty of sex and blood to be found in these later sequences (when released, the Demon passes his powers on to the two girls by making love to them), the story itself takes on a mystical quality, and becomes more peculiar as the movie draws to a close.
It’s an odd mixture, combining a visceral, action-packed first half with a paranormal-fueled finale, but then Jean Rollin was a master of the unusual, and with The Demoniacs he provides yet another fine example of his unique take on the horror genre