"DEVIL STORY”: A French Nightmare! 

By Dr. Abner Mality

Bon soir, mes amis! Docteur Malite here to join you on this cloudy night. We’re here in rural France…or so it seems…to look at a very different kind of French cheese. I guarantee you have never sampled a fromage like this before…it was aged in the bowels of Hell itself.

The films of France are famous for many things, but cheap absurd horror is not among them. Arty New Wave Cinema, ornate period films, gritty crime dramas, silly sex farces…these are known quantities. And yes, you could make a strong case that the horror film genre got its start in France with the twisted silent shorts of Georges Melies. But never has there been anything from Gaul as deliriously demented and nonsensically gory as the obscure 1985 film “Devil Story”.

“Devil Story” is indeed the cheese we will be slicing up in this article…we will serve it with a goblet of nice blood-red wine to match the gore that flows within. At this late period of my life, I did not think there were many films of the Western world that could make my jaw drop in sheer disbelief and my brain explode into confetti anymore. But I was wrong. I have to rank “Devil Story” with the craziest films that have been reviewed here at Wormwood, such as “The Godmonster of Indian Flats”, the 1934 “Maniac” and “The Beast of Yucca Flats”. This proudly stands with any of them. Whether it is genius or an affront to God, I cannot say. As with the best cult films, the line between awful and awesome is obliterated.

I tried to delve into the history of the film and could make little headway. It was directed and masterminded by one Bernard Launois, who was active with the Eurocine company in a number of capacities during the 70’s, including as an actor. Eurocine was the home of many a trashy European exploitation film, but their lewd fare looks like MGM quality productions next to the unrestrained cheapness and absurdity of “Devil Story”. It was like Launois wanted his own film to be on an even lower level than most Euro-trash He succeeded! As for the cast of “Devil Story”, most names would unknown even to fans of French exploitation. Beautiful blonde Veronique Renaud had some notoriety as a model, but the serious acting offers certainly didn’t come pouring in after this crazy film.

“Devil Story” was released in 1985 during the height of the worldwide VHS horror craze and no doubt this is where most people encountered it. In the original French, its title was “Il etait une fois le Diable”…a tale of the Devil. The more compact “Devil Story” stuck better. The curious thing is, the Devil doesn’t seem to make an appearance in the movie. Unless he was that horse. Or maybe the cat. The mummy? The old man? The mutant? That’s for the viewer to decide…if they can make any sense at all out of the film.

Well, friends, let us take a blow by blow look at the plot of “Devil Story”…such as it is. I warn you now, full spoilers will be divulged here. But that may be of little import, since very little here makes logical sense and the whole movie itself may be an illusion…

The movie opens with a shot of a campsite in the French woods. Peaceful…pastoral…until a roar breaks the silence. Erupting from a blue tent is a lumpy-headed freak of nature dressed in what seems to be a Nazi SS uniform gone to seed. A grumpy sleeper awakened by a loud bird? The freak tears apart the flimsy blue tent and we see the body of a camper on the ground. In the first of many such shots, we get a loving, long closeup of the gore shooting out of his chest. A quick look around the camp shows other bodies. This is the site of a massacre!

Our freakish ghoul  snorts and slobbers in anger as he limps into the forest. In a surreal scene, his foot has become tangled in a tent rope and he is dragging the tent behind him. Roaring in best Karloff tradition, the Freak struggles to get the rope off his foot and stumbles into the forest. This scene really announces that we are in a movie like no other. Did director Launois deliberately include that scene in the movie for some reason? Or did it just happen and he was too cheap or lazy to redo the scene? That’s something we’ll never know but it sure fits the insane tone of “Devil Story”.

The Freak is the closest thing we get to a protagonist in this film unless we count The Girl who shows up later. The first 15 minutes of the movie are devoted to The Freak’s mindless killing spree in the French countryside. He next hides behind a tree until a teenage girl with a basket literally skips through the forest like Red Riding Hood. For no reason other than gore and murder, he leaps out from behind the tree and slashes the girl’s throat with a knife. We get another long close up of blood gushing from this unfortunate girl’s wound. 8 minutes into the movie and no sign of a plot yet.

The mayhem continues! Now an idiotically bickering couple have their trip through the countryside interrupted when their puttering subcompact car wheezes to a halt. The two then have an asinine verbal battle that will have you hoping for their death. You won’t have long to wait. The male motorist decides to look for help…who better to ask than the malformed freak in the Nazi uniform hunkering behind a large rock? Soon enough, we have another body gushing gallons of blood in the French countryside. Now the Freak shows he has a new trick up his sleeve…he brandishes a rifle (where he got it from, I have no idea) and uses it to fill the stranded female motorist full of gaping bloody holes. So far, Ed Wood’s “Glen or Glenda?” looks like a paragon of intricate plot construction compared to “Devil Story”. The Freak shambles off into the countryside again. Will the whole movie be nothing more than his murder spree?

No, indeed. Some new players  enter the game. Another younger couple driving along the same lonely stretch of road that the previous unlucky victims were. Apparently, any form of internal combustion vehicle shuts down in this cursed spot. These two newlyweds are among the most vapid characters I have ever seen in a film. The Man is listless and dull as a mental patient on thorazine…he plays virtually no major role in the movie. The Girl at least is pretty dang HAWT to look at…a blonde French beauty, perfectly designed to run screaming from monsters while dressed in lingerie. Which is something you will see plenty of here!

The Girl is real bitchy and wants to be left alone while The Man tries to fix the car. She is drawn to the rugged rock outcroppings by some mysterious force. We hear a massive crunching sound and she seems to go into a trance (although it’s hard to tell). All this time, she is being relentlessly watched by a very evil looking black cat. This cat is obviously the vessel for some demonic force, but we never find out exactly what, although it might be related to the Mummy in the boat buried in the mountain. Whaaa? At any rate, this diabolical kitty flies through the air to viciously attack the Girl, who becomes unconscious. 

In one of many jarring scene cuts, we switch from a dry brightly lit day to a stormy night of pouring rain. The Man has managed to get the car going but needs somebody to take care of his new bride, who is still sulking and bitching as certain females are wont to do. The pair stop at a magnificent French chateau, a truly impressive building, and knock on the door to beg for aid. While this is going on, the soundtrack breaks into a rendition of the most clichéd horror theme music ever, “Don Juan Trimphant”, played on resonant church organ. It’s an oldie but a goodie and I can’t help but smile when I hear it playing over a scene of the gloomy chateau bathed in rain and lightning.

I half expected the Freak himself to open the door, but instead the two tired fugitives are welcomed in by a rather normal and non-threatening elderly couple. The interior of the chateau seems quite modern and cozy, not menacing at all. Although one notes that the old man is dressed for what looks like a hunting expedition. Drinks are poured and The Man asks his hosts if the area is cursed.

The old man notes that many strange things have happened in the vicinity but he laughs it all off. The old woman scolds him and asks what about all the murders in the area? What about the crazy old woman who lives next door, her ugly deformed son and the daughter that nobody ever sees? Again, the old man doesn’t seem to take it seriously, but he relates a legend of something that happened centuries ago that many blamed for starting the evil occurences. During the times of the Napoleonic Wars, this bleak part of the coast was inhabited by “wreckers” who scavenged many ships that sank nearby. Five brothers took things a step further and set out lights to lure ships onto the rocks, killing their crews and taking their treasure.

This leads to an amazingly incoherent flashback featuring some guys dressed in dime store rental costumes running around during an earthquake. We learn that the ship they lured to destruction was apparently carrying an Egyptian mummy as cargo. The old man mentions that the ship was never found and the brothers were never seen again. Legend has it that the ship is trapped inside the nearby mountain and is the source of all the trouble in the area. But at the end of his tale, the old duffer again laughs as if there’s nothing wrong. The only thing that really seems to disturb him is that damn black horse that is running around the neighborhood. Just how much the horse bothers him, we will later see.

Later that night, the Girl wakes up and decides to take a stroll to the car in the pouring rain wearing a nightie, boots and a yellow raincoat. She manages to make this combination actually look appealing. While outside, she is startled by that malevolent black horse the old man spoke of. Terrified by the beast, she runs full tilt into the storm-wracked French countryside. I guess this passes for logical behavior in the world of “Devil Story”.

Her flight brings her into the property haunted by the old witch we heard about earlier. Her deformed son is none other than The Freak who was running around slaughtering everybody in the first 15 minutes of the movie. These two inhabit a dark and dreary old dwelling where they apparently spend their time digging up bodies for some nefarious purpose. The Witch has no fear of her twisted offspring and treats him rather like Moe treats Curly in The Three Stooges, slapping him and calling him “idiot” and “gargoyle”. Maybe now I can understand why he’s so ticked off all the time.  Well, folks, you better hang onto your hats, because now the movie starts to REALLY get crazy!

The Girl stumbles into a grave that the Witch and the Freak have just robbed and she watches in horror as they fumble around with the coffin. Eventually, though, she is discovered and the Freak prepares to slaughter her when he stops in his tracks and grunts bestially to his mother. After a closer look, the Witch exclaims “she looks just like her!”  Looks like who? Another coffin is opened, a coffin that has been turned into a kind of altar. Inside is a dead young woman who, except for hair color, looks just like our terrified heroine. This must be the “sister” the old man mentioned, the one nobody ever saw because, well, she was DEAD.

Some sort of ritual is going to begin where the Girl is used as a vessel for the dead sister’s essence. But before the sacrifice can take place, our buddy the Black Horse appears and gets into a hell of a fight with The Freak. How does a twisted gargoyle wearing a Nazi SS uniform fare against a raging ebony steed? Not too well. After a couple of brutal full force mule kicks in the nads, our freakish fiend starts vomiting black slime and moaning like any dude who’s been slammed in the nuts by a horse. This is a good place to mention the “Devil Story” fascination with spewing liquid and gore…the movie is full of lengthy close-ups of characters leaking fluids. First, it was the Freak’s own victims, now it is the Freak himself.

Finally, with one mighty kick of both hind legs, the Horse literally blows the Freak through a stone wall! This happens to free the screaming Girl from the Witch’s grasp. She grabs a section of iron fence with pointed posts and impales the old hag on them! More streaming gore as the Witch apparently dies. The Freak lies under a pile of rubble and the Horse has run off. Is the nightmare over? No, it’s just moving into a new phase.

We discover that the old man from the chateau has armed himself with a rifle and is stalking the countryside, hellbent on killing the Horse. “You son of a bitch!” he curses. “I’ll get you if it’s the last thing I do!” Soon the old man gets his chance as the Horse runs past him. He fires a barrage of bullets at the mystic beast to no effect. Is the crazy old man just a lousy shot? Or are the bullets of no use against this demonic nag? I would venture the latter as for what seems like an hour, the old man continues to shoot wildly at the Horse as it runs past him. He shoots…and shoots…and shoots. Apparently the gun is a magical weapon because there’s no end to the bullets, even though none of them work. This old man is still trying to kill the Horse hours later. This whole battle of man and Horse is senseless and absurd beyond belief…another mark of this movie’s audacious craziness.

As man and beast continue to face each other, the nearby hillside is wracked by crunching and groaning. Something is emerging from the very rock…or at least the cheap clay model designed to look like a mountain. It is the prow of an ancient ship! The one that was wrecked and pulled into the mountain centuries ago! While these scenes are playing, the soundtrack is alive with cheesy but cool synthesizer sound effects that were so ubiquitous in 80’s horror. The ship emerges from its resting place and on the side, a door creaks open. Staggering slowly from the door is a towering Mummy wrapped in bandages! This movie is crazier than seven tons of blazing fuck!

The Mummy slowly stalks towards the graveyard where the exhausted and shell-shocked Girl is recovering from her ordeal. As  she watches in stupefaction, the Mummy stands before the open grave of the dead woman she so resembles…the Freak’s sister. With a gesture, the Mummy raises the woman from the dead. Wow, what a massive wig Veronique Renaud is wearing here. It looks like it weighs 50 pounds! The Mummy is somehow connected to this Living Dead Girl…he takes her hand tenderly and leads her back towards the ship. I get the feeling she is the reincarnation of the Mummy’s past love. But if that’s the case, then who is The Girl, who looks just like her? One of many enigmas “Devil Story” presents us.

The Girl tries to crawl away from the scene of horror but manages to run directly into the Mummy’s path. He grabs her by the throat and with a scream, she tears the bandages off his face. One thing’s for sure…a beauty contest winner he ain’t. With his ugly face revealed, the Mummy now proceeds to vomit up blue foam for the next couple of minutes. There’s that obsession with icky fluids again.

The Mummy doesn’t seem to be too concerned with chasing and killing The Girl In her flight, she manages to fall down right on top of our friend The Freak, who revives with a horrible groan and stumbles off after her. It seems one of the Horse’s flying hooves knocked a big chunk of the Freak’s scalp off. It flops around on the side of his head, exposing bone beneath. It’s enough to really ruin your day.

The chase is on in earnest now as The Freak staggers after his prey. As for the Mummy, he simply takes the Dead Girl’s hand and leads her into the countryside. Suddenly we are back in broad daylight, as the Girl flees through the rows of a cornfield. Time and space are warped in this bizarre nightmare world. Lots or scenes of our characters running through the countryside now, including some slo-mo stuff and a nice look at The Girl’s breasts heaving as she runs along. I have to say, though, I was disappointed we never got a true nude scene here.

Finally she finds the abandoned car that the bickering couple in the early minutes left behind. She tries frantically to start it as the Freak roars and jumps on the hood. The car starts and The Girl rams the Freak into a tree. This leads to a couple more minutes of grunting, groaning and vomiting. At this point, I was starting to feel sorry for the guy despite all the murders he committed earlier. Worse is to come. In a stunningly sadistic scene, the Girl douses the Freak with gasoline and sets him on fire! It looks like the end for our murderous gargoyle as he falls in a flaming heap and the Girl roars off in the car!

She doesn’t get very far. The car is out of gas…and she poured what was in the trunk on the Freak. “Damn!” she swears…the first coherent word we’ve heard in 20 minutes. And watching from the side of the road is that cursed black cat! She hears gun shots ring out! And  walking slowly up the road are the Mummy and the Dead Girl! Time to run again!

She runs into an open field, where our friend the old man is still firing random shots with his magic rifle! The son of a bitch must have been out there shooting at the Horse for ten hours at least! The Girl collapses in front of him, panting “Everything you said was true! The old woman’s son is a monster!” The old man answers, “I know But I don’t give a damn! The key to everything is that damn animal!”

“The Mummy is coming this way, please do something!” wails the Girl.

“Screw the Mummy!” snarls the old man. “All I want is that goddamn horse!” This dialogue gives Ed Wood at his loopiest a run for his money. The old man is obviously crazier than an otter on paint fumes and will be of no help while the Horse is still prancing and whinnying across the field. Even though it is now proven beyond a doubt that bullets will not harm it!

With the Girl in tow, the old man pursues the Horse and comes upon the wreckage of the old Ship jutting out of the Earth.  The sight sends him into a flight of triumph: “I knew it was there! I told you, didn’t I?” But the Ship is also the destination of the Mummy and his undead bride.  A confrontation is coming! And a pretty disgusting one, at that!

The maniacal old looney blasts the Mummy with his magical shotgun. But the bullets are no more effective than they were against the Horse. Again showing a complete lack of human logic and common sense, the man runs TOWARDS the Mummy, not away from it, as the Girl watches. “Get out of my way, I’m part of the mystery now!” he rants. “I’ll be the master of the ghost ship! You’ll be nothing but my slave!” The Mummy politely responds by breaking his neck.  If you think you’ve seen a gory death scene before, you haven’t seen anything yet. 

The old man clutches his bleeding neck and groans in agony, falling to the ground. Now the Mummy simply STEPS on him, causing his insides to ooze out in a gooey pink mass! This scene seems to go on forever as we get a nice long look at the oozing intestines of the nutty old coot. Finally, he expires and the Girl grabs the shotgun. The Mummy and his bride are heading back to the Ship, but they can’t get away! The Girl first aims at the Mummy, but then she spies what looks like a barrel of gunpowder that has fallen from the Ship. She fires…and the whole mountain explodes!


The old lady of the chateau throws open the bedroom curtains. The Girl wakes up in bed. Was everything a dream? That would explain a lot.  It’s nice because we get a great shot of Veronique Renaud stretching out in her lingerie. Underneath that bed, a black cat is meowing and growling…

As The Girl walks outside the chateau on a beautiful sunlit day, the majestic  strains of “Don Juan Triumphant” again ring out on the soundtrack. The score is incongruous to say the least. The Girl encounters the old lady and asks where her husband is. Wow, you mean she actually remembered the guy? I sure didn’t!

“He left at the break of dawn to find a garage in town and get his tire fixed,” the old lady replies. “He should be back before noon.”

Somewhat dazed and ill at ease, the Girl goes for a walk in the countryside. And dogging her every step is that devilish black cat! She finds a spent shotgun shell on the ground. And further on, what looks like part of a weathered old ship. As she bends over to examine it, the cat leaps upon her back with a screech! 

With a cry, the Girl falls onto the ground…which opens up and swallows her whole! Then it closes behind her, as the cat meows in satisfaction!

In another jump cut we see a man with an outrageous mullet and mustache walking down the steps of the chateau towards a fancy car. There a blond girl is waiting for him. “It’s OK, darling,” the man says. “They’ve got a nice quiet room for us to stay in.”

Next we see the old man dressed in the same hunting gear we last saw him in. He is putting a sharp knife in his boot. “I guess they lost their way,”  he says. “Don Juan Trimphant” blares again on the soundtrack. We switch to a scene of the chateau at night. The Freak is grunting and pulling a cart with a coffin on it. Behind him, the old Witch is grumbling: “Pull, come on! Pull!”

The end. The credits roll.

If you make it all the way through “Devil Story”, you will be sitting with a slack-jawed and vacant look on your face for several minutes afterward. Few films have that ability to make you question your sanity. This is one for sure. Why it has flown under the radar for so long, I do not know, but surely it should be mentioned alongside “The Beast of Yucca Flats”, “The Room”, “Mesa of Lost Women” , et al. 

What exactly did we just see? An awful horror movie? On the surface, this would certainly seem to be the case. At no point does director Bernard Launois show any mastery of camera work or editing. Some of the bright daylight scenes are so overexposed, you can barely make out what’s going on. As far as the acting goes, no one has any conspicuous talent with the exception of the black horse, who is a truly magnificent animal that lets out some of the loudest neighs you will ever hear.

Questions abound. Who were the people the Freak was killing at the very beginning of the movie? Just passerby or was there something more going on? Is there a connection between the old couple at the chateau and the Witch and her son. Was it The Girl inside the coffin the Freak is dragging at the very end? The whole location where the action takes place seems isolated from the rest of the world. Never do we any kind of police despite the avalanche of murders that take place. The only cars on the road belong to the old couple that gets murdered and the Man and the Girl. What is the Girl’s connection to the Freak’s sister, who is also the Mummy’s bride? What happened to the Man, anyway?

The question is, does it matter? The whole movie has the feeling of a nightmare, but where does it begin and where does it end, if it does end?  The magical power of The Mummy might hold the key to everything. Perhaps it was he who enabled the Ship to materialize inside the mountain. Maybe it was the arrival of The Girl in the same place and time as the Dead Girl that triggered his awakening. 

I think our little corner of France is actually Hell itself. The Horse and the Cat are the same being: the Devil himself! These are all damned souls trapped in an eternal loop of horror.

Or maybe the writer just made it up out of thin air as he went along. Hell if I know…

I do know this: “Devil Story” is France’s greatest achievement of psychotronic schlock. You must watch it.

And now, I hear that damn horse raising hell outside again. Pardon me, mon ami, while I grab my shotgun and head outside…