Jean Rollin is a name instantly recognizable to hardcore horror fans, yet meaningless to nearly everyone else. This ignorance is quite unfortunate because the French director concocted some of the sleaziest, most unusual films ever made during the 1970s and 1980s, films usually imbued with a disturbing mix of hypereroticism and bloody violence. I have often tossed Rollin's name around with aplomb in impolite company even though I had never seen even one of the man's films. You read enough plot synopses about someone and you start to feel as though you know every intimate detail about their work. What I did hear from others about this director oftentimes did not bode well. He is apparently well versed in schlock filmmaking, which in and of itself is not a problem with me, a true lover of bad cinema, but several of his films continue to draw raves from a selected minority of genre fans. Well, I finally sat down with a Jean Rollin film, his 1979 effort "Fascination," and was pleasantly surprised with the results. As I viewed the film with a growing sense of intrigue, I began mentally composing a list of other films from this director that I should watch in the near future. After watching the phenomenal "Living Dead Girl," I finally stumbled over one of the man's turkeys. It's called "The Demoniacs."
A cheesy introduction aimed at setting the background of the film introduces us to a crew of bloodthirsty pirates called Wreckers. Why the nickname? Because these dolts scavenge for treasure amongst ships washed up on the shore. This particular band of cutthroats is led by The Captain (John Rico), a sweaty buffoon who looks like he's trying to do an impression of Marty Feldman all the time. The Captain, the voice over tells us, is a ruthless leader suffering under frequent visitations from the ghosts of his myriad victims. Another crewmember is Bosco (Willy Baque), a wiry, laughable looking thug with a nasty temper. My favorite member of this comedy troupe...er, pirate gang is Tina (Joelle Coeur), a gorgeous brunette who shucks her clothes at the drop of a hat when she isn't ordering an innocent person's execution. The final member of the Wreckers is a guy whose name I forget but who looks like Mike Nesmith from The Monkees. These criminals are quite terrifying if you can stop laughing long enough. In fact, if this is the best France can offer up in the pirate department, it's no wonder their military forces lost every important war in the last two hundred years.
The biggest problem with "The Demoniacs" is that nothing of interest ever happens. Sure, you've got the Wreckers out plundering when they chance upon a pair of survivors in the form of two blonde girls in white shrifts. And you've got the Wreckers throwing the two gals around and generally acting rude. Then we see the gang in a local bar, where The Captain lurches around in one of his "I see dead people" shticks. There's also a lady at the bar whose psychic abilities often find her issuing cryptic observations to anyone who will listen. But it's just enough to raise the pulse. Then the movie shifts focus. "Ahhh," I think, "Jean Rollin will finally deliver the goods!" Yeah, right. Instead, he has the two girls discover a deserted island with some ancient ruins staffed by a girl dressed as a clown (!), a Rasputin look-alike with none of the charm of the original (!!), and what can only be Satan with a '70s bouffant wearing tacky clothing (!!!). The two young victims strike some deal with the devil that results in them receiving his powers for an evening so they can seek revenge against the Wreckers. This subsequent revenge is about as interesting as watching a coat of paint dry, laying down a second coat, and then watching that one dry as well. Jean Rollin, why hast thou forsaken me?
I suspect Jean Rollin was attempting to make a horror picture that would make the audience think, and it did--it made me think about how much I wanted to get away from the television screen! I'm almost certain the clown, the Rasputin wannabe, and Satan carried some symbolic importance, some message Rollin wished to get across to the audience, but I couldn't care less what that message is. Even the director's usual indulgences--specifically, a huge amount of nudity--failed to rescue this film from the depths of banality. The worst mistake Rollin made was leaving out the gore. I could deal a lot better with the wooden acting, the laughable dialogue, the cheesy set pieces, and the lame chase scenes if I knew I would see some sauce once in awhile. Alas, such is not to be. A guy dropping a bottle on his head? A few gunshots? Nope, not nearly exciting enough to warrant watching the picture.
The best thing about "The Demoniacs," sad to say, is the Redemption DVD intro tape at the beginning of the film. If you've seen a Redemption disc before, at least one in the Jean Rollin Collection, you know what I'm talking about. As for this disc in particular, extras include the requisite Rollin filmography, a trailer, and several different types of publicity stills. The picture transfer is excellent. While I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of Rollin's copious film history, "The Demoniacs" is the worst one I have seen, a film truly deserving of a one star review. What a disappointment after watching "Fascination," "Living Dead Girl," and to a lesser extent "Lips of Blood." I'll continue onward with my Rollin expeditions, but I hope the next few entries are vastly superior to this dead end.