Les démoniaques AKA The Demoniacs (1974)

director: Jean Rollin
release-year: 1974
genres: horror, sexploitation
countries: France, Belgium
languages: French
fests: Sexploitation Horror Fest (2022)

French sexploitation horror about a gang of pirates in "Northern Europe", "the wreckers", who lure ships to crash on shore and then murder, rape, and plunder the survivors and their ships. One pirate wears a The Life Aquatic hat, while the others have leather Village People hats.

The story begins at night, with two blonde ladies in tattered, though strangely dry, clothing wandering out of the ocean, right into the pirate camp, where they are unduly raped by two pirates while the captain and the lady pirate have their own consensual sex. We can take this time to appreciate that these are dark, late-night beach shots with great dynamic range, from the deepest blacks among the cavernous rocks to the perfectly exposed spotlit action. The source of lighting doesn't make any sense, of course... the moon? But it's nice lighting, regardless. We have to appreciate the lighting, because this intro scene is way too long and nothing of note happens except breasts existing. The lady pirate strips completely naked and dances on a rock for no reason whatsoever, and the subsequent pirate sex is so explicit and long-lived that we start to wonder if this is "sexploitation horror," or merely porn with costumes.

The scene changes to a tavern, where finally a story might start, but instead the pirates tear the clothes off of a barmaid and the porn continues. The first word is finally spoken nearly 20 minutes in, and we get confirmation that this film is, in fact, a "talkie." And suddenly: the captain hallucinates dead bodies everywhere! The dead bodies of those women from the first scene. We might just be in for a story after all! All of the blood looks like Clamato.

There are several instances of people monologuing at the camera dramatically and yelling about ghosts, a knife fight for no reason at all, and an amazing life-sized papier-mâché statue of a woman with a giant vagina on the wall. Everyone has crazy mood swings, and a boy runs in and screams that the town is cursed with ghosts, before monologuing into the camera (also about ghosts).

The ghost girls are seen running into "the ship graveyard" (which is on land), and the pirates give chase. This gives them an excellent reason to set all of the boats on fire, and we get further proof that this cinematographer definitely knows how to shoot dynamically-lit night scenes. The lady pirate gets in a slap fight with the ghost girls and everyone's boobs pop out, while the men run around entirely uselessly. It's a nice reversal of the traditional gender roles in old horror movies. Briefly, until she faints, topless, and the men carry her around, still topless.

Daylight comes, and they're shooting in "the golden hour" with a radiant orange sun and strong shadows, once again suggesting that whoever was in charge of lighting was the only professional involved.

And then... and then there's a clown. An actual clown. The clown lady guides the half-naked ghost girls through "the haunted ruins" to meet some hippy priest, where the clown asks for permission to take care of them. It's entirely unclear what is going on, but the next shot of the priest from behind the bars of a jail cell is flawless. There is some important man in the jail cell (who we will soon learn is a demon who can only be released by innocent victims). The priest monologues into the camera. The clown gets the ghosts some new clothes, but apparently only has shirts, so they just wear some billowy 60s hippy shirts and nothing else.

The pirate captain rages about ghost girls while the pirate girl tries hard to seduce him. It's unsuccessful, thus showing us precisely how concerned he is about the ghosts. He hugs a stuffed seagull, and it becomes a real seagull, so he rips off its head. Lady pirate is just trying on a variety of lingerie while he does this. They yell more about ghosts, and then have angry-about-ghosts sex.

The ghost girls have to be naked to release the demon, of course, so they remove the hippy shirts they just got. The soundtrack goes bonkers during his release, alternating between loud music and abrupt silence. The transitions are so jarring that I keep thinking the speakers broke. The night shots of the ruins are flawlessly lit once more, and nicely cast in red light when the demon is doing demonic things (sleeping with the ghost girls). What's truly evil is how long this scene lasts.

The now-demonic girls go to the tavern, where they are invulnerable and full of deadly magical powers. The barkeep has an entirely nonsensical monologue, as does the pirate girl, who is inexplicably standing naked on a bed for hers. The ghost girls assault the pirate girl with dozens of religious statues, and ultimately she is crushed in slow motion by a small, marble Jesus. The clown stumbles in and dies. I don't know what it is about these 70s horror films, but once they get close to the end they just give up on trying to make sense.

The last scene has some exciting upbeat vaudeville piano music, completely unfitting of the mood, as the pirates capture the ghost girls in one final attempt to murder them. They start with some pre-murder rape, but the camera mostly focuses on the pirate girl masturbating for much too long. Suddenly the captain goes mad and kills all of the other pirates, presumably cursed by the demonic power in the ghost loins. Or something. All I know for certain by the end is that it should have ended 20 minutes ago.

Dies irae plays on on the flute as the pirate captain cries, and still they have not cut to credits yet. Five more unnecessary landscape shots before the credits roll.

It oddly reminded me of, but was better than, Robert Altman's Popeye. It is not similar to Popeye in any conceivable way.