Friday, April 12, 2013

Demoniac (French, 1975)

This Jess Franco flick, like most of the dearly departed director's films, is available under assorted names (for example, L'éventreur de Notre-Dame and/or Exorcism) and versions; Demoniac is the cut that was made for the American audience, in as much as there ever was an American audience for a Jess Franco movie. At our weekly bad film night, we ended up screening it more or less by fluke: tired of watching disappointing recent big budget crap — Prometheus (2012 / trailer), Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012 / trailer) and John Carter of Mars (2012 / trailer) being the last three films we had the displeasure of watching — the desire was expressed by one of the group for some good ol' low budget Eurotrash. Whereupon this flick, the only Franco film in our pile of still-unscreened trash DVDs, was popped into the player and our eyeballs were raped as selected massive groans and snorts of derision often drowned out the extremely stilted dialogue. Most of the group that evening was not exactly all that much more pleased by the film that unfolded than they were by the Hollywood crap of the weeks before.
Unlike our compatriots that evening, however, we here of A Wasted Life — although of the opinion that not only is Demoniac one of those rare films that screams to be remade but that indeed any attempt to do so would probably be an improvement — actually rather liked the film. Still, we would be hard pressed to bother watching either the longer version now easily available or the hardcore version supposedly circulating somewhere out there in the big, bad world. Sometimes, no matter what Jacqueline Susann may have said, once is enough.
Actually, seeing how un-erotic the sex scenes are, and how ugly most of the players are — some of the women are passable, but the men are uniformly repulsive, and not just due to bad 70s polyester Euro-fashion — the concept of a hardcore version of the film is somewhat nauseating. Oddly enough, however, though the Demoniac-entitled version is said to be heavily edited, our Dutch (English-language) DVD nevertheless included a massive amount of nudity and bush as well as the oft-missing knifing scene in which the blonde and curly-haired Countess (France Nicolas) has her entrails pulled from the initially overly vaginal-shaped slit cut into her stomach.
According to imdb, Demoniac required a full four people to write, including Marius Lesoeur (as "A.L. Mariaux"), one of the owners Eurociné, the famed craptastic French production company that brought us this baby here as well as many other unique cinematic specimens like Zombie Lake (1981) and Oasis of the Zombies (1982). For that, the film looks, sounds, feels like 100% Jess Franco — which, depending on one's proclivities, can be taken as either a reason to watch the film or a reason to avoid it like the plague.
Cheaply made, poorly acted, atrociously dubbed, occasionally almost narratively incoherent and so languidly paced that one could almost call the film lethargic, Demoniac is likewise enjoyably sleazy and often oddly mesmerizing. It is also often rather funny, though all the humor is obviously unintentional: Franco was trying hard to make a serious film, if not an art film, and while he succeeds in snippets the overall product stands out far more as further evidence of his lackadaisical disposition and general disregard for logic or continuity — Is that at all surprising? — and total independence as a filmmaker, one who makes what he wants and is not subject to the lowly tastes and generic expectations of the masses.
More so than in many of his films, however, the voyeuristic tendencies of the director come to the forefront in Demoniac. Aside from the fact that the main character, the insane and homicidal defrocked priest Mathis Vogel (played by the director himself), spends more of his time watching others having sex or doing nasty things than he does do anything else (other than murder, perhaps), the camerawork is almost obsessive in its focused attention on the sordid sex scenes that are far less erotic in any way than oddly illicit. Often, the viewer almost ends up feeling like a peeping Tom spying on the cellulite-heavy next-door neighbor having sex with the ugly guy with the bad toupee from down the street. And like a true voyeuristic eye, the camera sometimes remains focused on the soft-core fleshy action much longer than it really should — especially seeing that the real horror of this horror film is all the un-attractive European Joe and Jane Schmoes that get naked. In this regard, the film has two highpoints: an orgy scene that is as repulsive as it is unconvincing, and an intriguingly filmed stabbing death of one woman shot from a vantage point that literally fixes the viewer's gaze on her naked posterior. (Had Franco placed the camera closer and a bit to the right, it would have been an extended brown-eye and camel-toe shot.)
The plot of Demoniac involves the homicidal actions of the previously mentioned defrocked priest within the circles of the decidedly jaded and decadent Parisian upper-crust and its hanger-ons, a circle that Franco has cast his eye upon in many a film, including his far less flesh-heavy but more infamous and surreal film Succubus (1968) in which, as is the case with Demoniac and many another Franco film, such as the jaw-dropper Vampiros Lesbos (1971 / trailer / soundtrack / full film in German), arty S&M performances are essential to the narrative. And, as is typical of many Franco films, Demoniac even opens with one such never-ending S&M performance, this time one in which a young, nude and tied-to-a-cross Anne (a young Lina Romay — easily the most attractive person in the whole movie) is tortured and smeared with dove blood by Martine (Catherine Lafferière). Such performances, under the guise of "Black Masses", are held at regular intervals throughout the film and seem to function as a form of visual Viagra for the listless and degenerate well-heeled Parisians. Unluckily, the former priest and escaped mental patient Vogel, who writes "factual" S&M stories for Venus Magazine, the publisher of which (Pierre Taylou as "Pierre de Franval") also runs the nightclub where the masses are held, takes the Black Masses as the real thing and decides to save the souls of various participants by torturing and killing them. (Being an obvious hetero, he might kill an occasional man but he never tortures one.) Along the way, he also falls in love with Anne...
Now that is indeed the perfect narrative for some prime grindhouse sleaze, or? And Franco takes full advantage of it to find continual grounds for yet another gratuitous sex scene or more casual nakedness — interspersed with an occasional scene of flagellation and/or torture and murder as behooves a film about a mad priest who obviously prefers sticking a knife into women more than sticking his weenie. When it comes to verbal exposition, Franco's acting is on par with that of almost everyone else in the film (as in — with the exception of Romay — "miserable"), but when needed he does exude a highly effective greasy depravity that fits both his character and the overall aura of the film like a silken glove. For all Vogel's protestations about saving souls and releasing the devil, there is little doubt that more than anything else he is simply getting his rocks off.
As is often the case with Franco's films, the soundtrack, by his long-time musical collaborator Daniel White and, supposedly, Andre "Jazz Guitar Bach" Benichou, swerves back and forth between totally insipid to truly inspired — but always perfect for the movie. Demoniac does sort of lose steam towards the end, less due to the narrative than the increasingly weak direction and filmic laziness. About the point when Vogel commits his last murder and the publisher runs after Vogel and out of the blue has a fur coat suddenly hanging over his arm, the film suddenly begins to seem oddly rushed. Of no help in this regard is the final, unbelievably incompetent car-chase scene that is literally a sleeping pill and a resolution, complete with a cap gun, that is incoherently staged.
Sleazy and stupid, languid and arty, sordid and inspired, Demoniac is hardly the worst of Franco's films; be what it may, it could well be one of his better ones — but as is the case with all his films, the terms "good" and "bad" are as relative as they are irrelevant. If you are one of the many who has never seen a Franco film that you have liked, it is doubtful that you will like this one. In turn, if you like the films of his that you have seen to date, you probably will like this one. And if you are a newbie, an innocent, a virgin amongst the living dead that make up the masses of this earth — well, there are worse (and better) Franco films to start with than Demoniac. Who knows, you might actually like it. We did. And it is truly sad to think that as of 2 April 2013, the great Outsider filmmaker of Europe (if not the world) will never make another film again.
But really, someone else should do a remake of this flick...

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