Jean Rollin’s surreal pirate film takes place on land amidst the skeletons of beached and plundered ships, the legacy of a cutthroat band of “wreckers” who lure ships into the shallows. When a pair of survivors, young girls glowing in white nightgowns, wander through the shallows seeking help from the merry quartet, they are summarily molested, beaten, and left for dead. Like in many of Rollin’s films, the story doesn’t make much narrative sense–the girls escape to the haunted ruins where a woman in clown makeup cares for them and a mysterious magician gives them the power to take their revenge in return for sex–but the logic takes on a dreamlike quality appropriate to the gorgeous and bizarre imagery. In a strange tavern adorned with skeletons (and a man playing with a Dracula doll!), the Captain is haunted by visions of the girls as white-faced specters. A search for the girls amidst the rotting hulls of old ships culminates in a fiery inferno that burns spectacularly against the night sky. Meanwhile well-endowed costar Joëlle Coeur strips at the slightest suggestion, frolics and bounces on a bed, and runs around the beach topless while hunting the girls. Rollin’s strange little film, a ghost story without ghosts, rambles on a little too long before it culminates in a self-destructive frenzy and ends on a sad, serene note.
Following La Rose De Fer’s lead of abandoning the Vampire genre he was most known for, The Demoniacs tells a simple but effective tale of a band of rogue pirates who are haunted by a couple of lost young girls they raped and murdered in the film’s opening scenes. Part ghost story, part erotic adventure with bits of dark comedy thrown in for good measure, the self proclaimed ‘Expressionist’ film The Demoniacs is quite unlike anything else in Rollin’s filmography, and yet it is undeniably a Jean Rollin movie.
A failure at the time, The Demoniacs has become one of Jean Rollin’s most popular films, with several images of lead actress Joëlle Coeur taken from the work becoming some of the most representative of Rollin’s career. Truthfully though, The Demoniacs was a plagued production (that Rollin would mention in Encore’s booklet actually caused him to go into the hospital due to exhaustion for a two week stay after shooting wrapped) and the fact that it came out so well is a tribute to Rollin’s vision and artistic merit more than anything else.