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Demoniaques, Les

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    Ian Jane
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  • Demoniaques, Les

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    Released by: Encore Entertainment
    Released in: 2005
    Director: Jean Rollin
    Cast: John Rico, Willy Braque, Paul Bisciglia, Joelle Couer, Lieve Lone, Patricia Hermenier
    Year: 1973
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    The Movie:

    Jean Rollin's oddball blend of art, horror and eroticism in fantastic cinema is not for all tastes. Many viewers are alienated by his work, many find it tedious, dull, and hard to follow, sometimes making no sense at all. For some people, however, it doesn't get much better than a Jean Rollin film. If you're able to connect on whatever label Rollin is speaking on, and you're able to look past the preconceived notions of what a horror movie should or should not be, you'll find a world of gorgeous compositions, gothic atmosphere thick enough that you'll need a chainsaw to cut through it, plenty of interetsing characters and some truly memorable set pieces. A prime example of how all of that can come together in some of Rollin's films is his 1973 'evil pirates versus ghosts' film, Les Demoniaques.

    The movie begins by introducing us to a gang of evil pirates consisting of the Captain (John Rico), and his three accomplises, Bosco (Willy Braque of Lips Of Blood), Paul (Paul Bisciglia of The Grapes Of Death) and the lovely but suspicious female of the group, Tina (Joelle Couer of Bacchanales Sexualles and Seven Women For Satan). They make their living by coercing ships into the shore where the inevitibly crash upon the rocks, at which point they move in and steal the cargo for themselves. They're pretty dispicable people and the locals in the small town they call home don't particularly care for them much at all.

    One of the boats that the pirates coerced into crashing produces two survivors in the form of a pair of beautiful young women without any names played by Lieva Lone and Patricia Hermenier. They show up on the beach, having been washed up on the sand after the wreck, and before they get a chance to go to the town for help, the pirates rape them, torture them, and kill them, leaving their bodies in the surf to be carried out to sea. With that over and done with, they head into town for a couple of drinks at the local tavern, and who should the Captain see but the two girls that he and his crew just killed. If this were a one time thing you could chalk it up to some bad booze, but no, he keeps seeing the two girls and starts to believe that they're haunting him from beyond the grave.

    As the girls, or possibly the ghosts of the girls, wander around unsure of themselves they eventually make their way to a decrepit old castle where they meet up with a man who will help them get the revenge they want, but not without something from them in return.

    The word most often used to describe Rollin's work is dreamlike, and it's quite a fitting way to sum up the sometimes abstract and often times surrealist nature of the man's work. Les Demoniaques is no exception, it gives us plenty of strange imagery to wrap our heads around and while the narrative itself is deceptively simple, there is actually quite a bit going on in the film, even if most of it is in the Captain's head (or is it?). Performance wise, Lieva Lone and Patricia Hermenier are great as the two drop dead gorgeous spectral leads. They don't have to say much here, and as is typical of a lot of Rollin's work there are long stretches without any dialogue. The certainly look the part though, and the way that their innocence is contrasted with the events that take place in the film makes things all the more interesting. Rico and Couer are also completely easy to hate as the antagonists, they're miserable and reprehensible people, taking advantage of anyone and everyone, even their own crew at one point in time. Neither can be trusted in the least, which proves to be to their own discredit later in the storyline.

    The real reason to watch the film, however, are the visuals. Rollin shot the film on a small island off the coast of France and he makes excellent use of the exotic locations and strange small town atmosphere in this film. The whole thing is just dripping with atmosphere and mood, from the ragged but beautiful beach where the girls meet their end at the hands of the villains to the small, dirty tavern where the pirates spend a lot of their spare time. Everything is very well lit and there's an obvious amount of care and attention to detail evident in each frame of the film. The compositions are gorgeous and while parts of it are certainly influenced by the swashbuckling adventure films of the forties, the movie has a look all its own.

    Most of the small touches that make Rollin's work as interesting as it is are easy to spot here. A clown plays a fairly important role in the movie and there's plenty of time spent on the beach in the dark. The two blond female leads are also very much a staple of his work, as is the gothic and creepy old castle and the desolate small town setting. It all feels very much like a dark fairy tale, albeit one for adults of an open mind.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Les Demoniaques looks very good despite some mild compression artifacts present in a couple of the darker scenes (putting the disc on a DVD-9 might have fixed this). The 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen image, transferred from the original negative, boasts great color reproduction and a very clean, colorful picture with a nice amount of both foreground and background detail present throughout. You'll probably pick up on some softness here and there but the film had the same issues on the Image/Redemption release that came out in North America as well (though that disc was non-anamorphic and didn't look nearly as sharp or clean as this one does). Skin tones look nice and natural, black levels are strong and deep, and there aren't any serious problems with edge enhancement or heavy aliasing present during playback.

    For a film more than three decades old that was low budget to begin with, the French language Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track sounds pretty solid on this release. There is some mild background hiss in one or two scenes and if you listen for them you'll pick out the occasional pop here and there but for the most past, things sound alright. Dialogue is fairly clean and pretty consistent even if sometimes the levels fluctuate just a little bit. It's not a perfect track, but it's pretty decent none the less and it suits the film just fine. The extensive selection of optional subtitles for the film includes choices in English, Dutch, German, Spanish, Italian, Portugeuse, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian and Polish.

    Encore has spreads the extras for this release across the second and third discs that are housed within the classy looking digipack packaging (the first disc contains the movie, chapter selections and a menu only). Here's how it all goes down…

    DISC TWO:

    First up we have an audio commentary with Rollin that covers nine specific scenes from the film that play out over just under forty-nine minutes worth of clips from the feature (puzzlingly enough, presented here in non-anamorphic widescreen). While I think it would have been preferable to get a commentary over the entire feature and up the disc to a double sided disc, this still proves to be a very interesting excursion into Rollin's head as we hear how pirate movies influenced him as a small child and how he was never really able to get some of those ideas out of his head, thus the pirates in the movie here. Rollin is in a very joviale mood on this track (recorded earlier in 2005) and has no qualms whatsoever about taking us down memory lane, plying us with anecdotes about some of the cast members and pointing out interesting little details in the movie that you might not pick up on otherwise. He covers the interference he had to deal with courtesy of the producer who put up the money for the film and who wanted more sex put into it, as well as some of the soap opera dynamics his performers brought with them to the set, whether he wanted it there or not. Although Rollin speaks in some fairly broken English rather than his native French and it does take some getting used to before his accent thins out a bit, attentive viewers should be able to follow along easily enough (which is good as there are no subtitles for the commentary, unfortunately).

    Up next is a twelve-minute interview with Bosco himself, Willy Braque that is presented in French with non-removeable English subtitles. Braque discusses his work with Rollin on the film but doesn't go into as much detail as maybe he could have. Regardless, it's a nice touch and it's interesting to see him in the present day and hear his take on how life was on the set (at times his interpretation of things differs a little from Jean's).

    Rounding out the supplements on this disc is the great original French theatrical trailer, presented in decent quality non-anamorphic widescreen and running just shy of three-minutes in length.

    DISC THREE:

    This disc starts off with a collection of deleted scenes. These four scenes, with a combined running time of just under eighteen minutes in length, are almost all of the carnal variety. In the first scene, a sailor gets into a scrap with Bosco and Paul before going upstairs to meet with a bar maid who shows him exactly what he wants to see - everything! The second scene is simply a longer version of the copulation that occurs between the Captain and Tina when they're alone in the room together that we see in the version of the film on the DVD - this one is just a little more graphic and a bit longer. The third scene shows Tina letting her fingers do the walking while the two ghostly girls are bound and tied, being held hostage in the room that the pirates have taken over. We see some of this in the movie but this version is considerably more graphic in its depiction of Tina's endeavors. The final scene is an extended sex scene involving Tina and the girls that includes a brief close up with some hardcore action. These scenes are in French only but there's very little dialogue in any of them and you won't have any trouble following what is essentially a collection of sex scenes. Each of the four scenes is in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen and while it isn't in as good a shape as the feature is, they still look pretty decent. Some of this material is pretty jarring so it's not surprising that Rollin didn't want them included in his preferred version of the film, and the director himself states that they were shot because the producer basically insisted they be there for export to certain markets.

    Disc three finishes off with a four-minute slideshow set to some music from the movie featuring images from the film that are either screen caps from the feature or promotional photos - sadly, we don't get anything in the way of original poster art, behind the scenes shots, or anything like that in here.

    Les Pays Loins is a short film that runs just under sixteen-minutes in length that Rollin directed way back when in 1965. It's presented here in black and white 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen and it tells the story of a man and a woman who find themselves in an alternate world. No one speaks their language, and they're obviously scared, wondering how they got here and how to get away. Rollin supplies an optional director's commentary for the track and he does a fine job of filling us in on what this film was all about and how it fits in with the rest of his work. It isn't difficult to pick out some of the 'Rollin touches' in the movie, as you definitely get that sense of emptiness and that other worldly look that has made his work so fascinating for so many of us.

    Rounding out the extra features is a full color sixty-four page booklet that presents an essay from Rolling that details the film as well as an interview with the man and a filmography for him as well. It's quite a lavish book, printed on heavy, glossy paper stock, and the text is all in English and although it covers some of the same information that the commentary track does, it's still quite a nice presentation and the pictures are very, very cool.

    The Final Word:

    Jean Rollin is finally starting to get the treatment he deserves on DVD. Encore's release of Les Demoniaques isn't a cheap investment and those who haven't seen the film (and therefore know what they're getting into) might want to check out the R1 disc before plunking down the coin for this set, but for seasoned fans of the director it really doesn't get a whole lot better than this. With stronger films in their catalogue yet to come, 2006 looks to be a very good year indeed for afficionados of his bizarre body of work.
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