A pirate movie is not quite what you expect from Jean Rollin, but Demoniacs (Les Démoniaques) is definitely not your typical pirate movie. There are no thrilling adventures or heroic deeds. These pirates (well actually they’re wreckers, luring ships to their doom with false lights) are vicious cowardly thugs, raping and murdering any survivors before making off with the loot. The gang includes a female pirate who is perhaps even more depraved than the men, getting off on watching the violence of the men and joining in herself. Things start to go wrong when they murder two young women from the latest wreck, and the two women turn up again alive. Or possibly not alive. But definitely wandering about. The stage seems set for a fairly typical revenge story, but this is a Jean Rollin movie, and things start to get weird very quickly, especially when the girls visit the old ruin and encounter the odd characters there, one of whom promises to give the girls the magical powers they need to take their vengeance.
Plot isn’t the essential ingredient of a Jean Rollin movie though. It’s the surreal imagery that matters, and the unsettling atmosphere, and the generally enigmatic quality of the whole movie. And Demoniacs has those qualities of mystery and weirdness. There’s the stuffed seagull for instance. And there are naturally two girls, since Rollin’s movies generally feature pairs of young women who appear to be twins, or doubles. The relationship between the two women is always ambiguous. Are they sisters? Lovers? Or really just one woman? Are they even real? And in this case, if they’re real are they alive or dead? Demoniacs also features a female clown, another typical Rollin touch. And of course, being a 70s Rollin film, lots of nudity and sex. The movie is like a surreal erotic horror fairy tale. Apart from the pirates, there’s considerable doubt about the nature and even the reality of all the other characters. It’s not my favourite Rollin film by a long way (I think his best movies are The Iron Rose and Shiver of the Vampires), and it’s probably not the ideal starting place for anyone unfamiliar with his work (The Living Dead Girl would be a better choice), but if you’re a fan it’s most certainly worth seeing. The Redemption DVD looks terrific.