Sunday, April 14, 2024

Demon of the Island (1983)

Original title: Le démon dans l'île

Dr Gabrielle Martin (Anny Duperey) moves to a somewhat isolated island to become the new general practitioner there. The islanders haven’t told her, but her predecessor, Dr Marshall (Jean-Claude Brialy), is still there, dwelling in the 80s idea of a high-tech mansion, and giving off a decided mad scientist vibe. Consequently, and for other reasons that will only become clear to Gabrielle much later, nobody wants to have anything to do with the guy.

At least, Gabrielle won’t have to fear a case of duelling doctors this way. She’s going to have larger problems anyway, for the island is hit by a series of curious and improbable accidents all apparently caused by objects of daily life – from razor blades to household appliances – acting out aggressively with little rhyme, reason, or respect for the actual laws of physics as we know them from the real world.

The truth behind these occurrences will be quite surprising, for our heroine as much as for the audience.

Which is the sort of surprise that’s predominantly caused by a film that builds up its mystery in so pleasantly nonsensical yet also derivative a manner, I was surprised to encounter it in something made in France during the 80s instead of Italy in the 70s.

In the case of Francis Leroi’s Demon of the Island, that’s a compliment, and certainly not an impediment to enjoyment. For what’s not to enjoy about a film that has such a good time finding improbable ways in which household appliances can mutilate people, then realizes them through decidedly not realistic but very fun effects, and finally makes them part of a story that touches on as many clichés as it can grab. I particularly enjoyed the misguided attempts at making Gabrielle’s trauma of child loss part of her motivation.

All of this is filmed by Leroi in the slick and appealing style I associate with softcore filmmakers like him doing horror for a change (or a buck). He’s not great at building suspense, but he’s certainly applying himself to it anyway, often mistiming things in ways I found charming rather than annoying.

Leroi also gets fun performances from Duperey and Brialy, the former increasingly losing her considerable cool, while the latter rants, raves and looks sinister with the best of them.

Even better, Demon of the Island finishes on a moment of genuine greatness, Marshall’s final fate being as strange as anything I’ve seen on screen.

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