Friday, February 19

More French WTF: Devil Story (Il était une fois...le diable) (1985)

A perpetually grunting man-freak-beast dressed in Nazi-garb semi-terrorizes the French countryside. Meanwhile, a vacationing couple take shelter in an ominous, gothic chateau for the night. The elderly keepers of the grand castle (this place) tell a tale of a galleon running aground from five pillagers setting a huge bonfire on a nearby beach to lure the ship in. This prompts the old drunkard owner to take a shotgun with unlimited ammo out to murder a wild black stallion for ten continuous hours. The ghostly galleon then erupts from a cake doubling as a mountainside as its contents of barrels and an Egyptian casket spill forth. A mummy emerges with a thunder clap (not kidding) and the young vacationing woman ends up in the middle of it all in a fight for survival after leaving the safety of the medieval fortress.

That sounds freaking awesome as all hell, right? Well, Bernard Launois's baffling Devil Story (Il était une fois...le diable / Once Upon a Time...The Devil) can best be summed up as a puffy and pointless French arthouse snoozer...only featuring copious yet completely left field horror elements. That might be an insult to arthouse selections, since this is very crudely made, but it's like the dawn of sound in cinema compared to Ogroff. Still, I'd peg Moutier's shoebox cheap feature as the superior of the two because it feels made by a horror fan despite its many failings. Devil Story, Launois's only horror flick and last career film, is best mildly enjoyed for certain individual aspects and not its amazingly incoherent, rice cake hollow whole.

The Nazi man-freak-beast with no name is the main attraction here. He looks as if Troma was commissioned to create the Pillsbury Doughboy's moldy great-grandfather complete with an SS officer's jacket, knife, shotty, and spiked glove. Grunting and groaning through the woods; he's a bit of a bitch to his gypsy mother's shouting. In one hilarious and astonishingly sloppily edited sequence, he's seen trying to take on a wildly bucking black horse whilst getting kicked in the teeth for his efforts. After coughing up a jumbo-size Slurpee cup of blood and scream-groaning for several minutes, he's back to it and is swiftly kicked in the head. He rises up with large chunk of bloody flesh dangling from his forehead for the remainder of his time on-screen. This is pretty much the creature's finest hour. There's a hint of hunchback sympathy to his pathetic mouth noises, but the landslide of stupidity to Devil Story negates all of that.

Then we have the old guy in camo aimlessly trying to shoot the annoyingly loud black horse (shut the fuck up, you mass of prancing McDonald's burgers), which he believes is the source of this evil, literally all night and day in the same field without reloading and said equine mere feet away. He eventually succeeds only to meet his end at the feet of the mummy stumbling around with a big-haired wench summoned from the grave. Yes, there's really an old style, cheapjack Karloff mummy within the confines of this mess. Not to mention a black cat, slo-mo, body burns, panties, coffin moving, a synth piano score, a repeated ad nauseum stock thunder clap sound effect familiar to Coast to Coast AM listeners, and rough stock footage. It all sounds so damn right, yet it's quite disappointing in total. At least there's some surprisingly pleasant displays of blood and an existence of only seventy-two minutes. It's sadly more enjoyable to look at stills and write about this somewhat-thankful French obscurity.

Midnight Video's DVD-R is sourced from a pan-and-scan full screen Greek VHS. Unfortunate, you can readily see the picture cropping from 1.85:1 widescreen, but it is dubbed in English with small Greek subtitles. The last reel has super blown out contrast; however, this might be inherent to the film source or a flaw with the VHS's video master. The only other releases are tapes from France (on Ogroff's "American Video" label), Japan (Pack-In-Video), and a mysterious English-dubbed tape that might be Canadian or some kind of French NTSC import.


DrunkethWizerd said...

At least it's only 72 minutes. But as a lover of horrible films, you've got my interest in this one. Too bad about the 'transfer' and picture quality. What was with Midnight Video claiming they've got the best sourced stuff around... truth?

Jayson Kennedy said...

Yeah, I dunno, I expected better too, the Japanese VHS is in widescreen but in French. Though it doesn't seem like it would be impossible to marry the Japanese VHS with the English soundtrack to create the best version available.

Midnight even has the Japanese tape for sale:

That price is ridiculous...

DrunkethWizerd said...

Even aside from their 350$ pre records, the prices of the DVDrs are off the charts. They could have at least made this a double disc set with a copy of the Japanese version for the same price... but you know that would never happen.

Jayson Kennedy said...

Also here's the beginning on YouTube (in widescreen):

The Nazi birth defect struggling with the horse (in widescreen):

Anonymous said...

Hi, there is also a German VHS release existing, check this out:

Nachthymnen said...

Devil Story will be released on dvd in France. For the moment peoples works on the bonus, and there is still no release date, but it's a great news ! More informations will be available here :

Anonymous said...

An happy news for all of you French WTF movie lovers, Nanarland (translate this as "campyland"), the French site dedicated to "loveable bad movies" is bringing out the movie on DVD on September 12th. Pricetag: 14.9 EUR. Okay, it's in French, but I wouldn't say that a lot of the "story" is being lost...(^0^)

It seems the whole duration will be 160 minutes, hence the bonuses are longer than the actual movie! you dare tread upon the staircase?

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