I was all set to pronounce Devil Story the most confusing French movie I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something considering that I’ve watched Holy Motors at least three times. You’ve heard of the New French Extremity? Well, this is the Old French Inanity. Devil Story makes Jean Rollin look like Stanley Kubrick. But bear with me. It’s actually a very simple story. I can’t review it without telling you the “plot,” but at the end I’m going to tell you what I think this film is actually about.
Devil Story begins in media res, as a pig man in a Nazi uniform runs away from the tent where he has just butchered two campers. It looks like your standard backwoods slasher has begun, and I thought surely we would go into a good old flashback to find out who these unfortunate victims were. Maybe we would catch their campfire story about the local Pig Man which was told the night before, followed by the part where the “funny” one of the group jumps out wearing a pig mask at the climax of the story in hopes of scaring all the girls.
But no. After killing our anonymous campers, the Pig Man hides behind a stone pillar and jumps out at a motorist who happens to run out of gas right there. And does this idiot act surprised to see a Pig Man? No he does not; he calmly asks the Pig Man where he can buy some gas, and only then he is surprised when he is stabbed to death. Now you will be asking yourself the practical questions, such as: doesn’t anyone in France have a working gas gauge? Because now a Mercedes with a man and a schoolgirl has run out of gas as well. But for some reason, death in a pig mask does not come for them. What does come is lightning from a blue sky, and a weird black cat that attacks the girl’s hands. However, when the man shows back up after walking off to get gas, the cuts have healed. Then we get another minor surprise: this is not a father and daughter, despite the fact that the girl is very pouty and in a school girl uniform. This is an actual married couple, presumably on their honeymoon.
Naturally, when you get some gas in your tank, and there is a Pig Man on the loose, you have to find the creepiest hotel in all the land to book a room. This one actually has “Toccata in D Minor” playing over every establishing shot, and an innkeeper who tells stories that make about as much sense as the film we are watching. Somehow related to an equinox, he says, once a group of people lit a fire that made a ship crash into a movable cliff, then disappear. Also, there is a woman in town with a deformed son (Pig Man!?) and a daughter no one has ever seen. Did I mention there is a black horse running around outside that is the innkeeper’s enemy? He spends the rest of the night and half the next morning failing to kill the horse at close range with a shotgun that never needs reloading.
While he is doing that, the bride, who may be the protagonist, decides her best option is to run outside in a negligee. Almost immediately she encounters the Pig Man and his mom, who, in the process of trying to bury a casket, have unleashed not only an Egyptian mummy from a sarcophagus in their family tomb, but also the Pig Man’s undead sister! A sister who is the doppelganger of the bride, except with black hair instead of blonde! The mummy kicks the Pig Man in the balls, and then caves in the side of his head, which does nothing but make the Pig Man remember that he is supposed to be murdering people. So he chases the bride around for the rest of the night and into the next morning, at which point she remembers that there is a can of gas in the trunk of the Mercedes and sets him on fire. Then either the Mummy or the Doppelganger literally stomps the innkeeper’s guts out; I can’t remember which even though I just watched this abomination last night and I’m sure as heck not watching it again to find out. Except….drumroll please….it was all a dream, and the bride wakes up in the Toccata and Fugue B&B alone. Her husband has gone out to get MORE gas, according to the innkeeper’s wife, so the bride does the only logical thing. She wanders out into the backyard where she falls into a big hole and disappears. The end.
Now, as promised, here is what I think this ridiculous film is about. The first clue is the French title, which is Il était une fois le diable, or Once Upon A Time The Devil. That “Once upon a time” tells us this is a fairy tale. It is a tale of a young Catholic schoolgirl whose father’s insane jealousy of any man who wants to date her has made her terrified of heterosexual sex. The French themselves are the ones who nicknamed the orgasm “the little death,” and that is just what the Pig Man is causing at the beginning of the film: the opening sequence represents the groom/Pig Man at his bachelor party, banging everything that moves. He even gets a woman who is literally skipping through the forest carrying an armload of wood. You know what wood symbolizes of course, and the skipping also evokes a fairy tale, like Hansel and Gretel.
Our protagonist has been at Catholic school, so she has been experimenting with lesbianism, which is why a member of the crew throws a cat at her when we first see her. Girls in her repressed environment have been literally throwing pussy at her. But this pussy scratches, because high school girls are gossipy, changeable, and backbiting. Or, as some would say, catty. Liking the lesbian sex, but dreading a life spent on camping trips and moving in and out of U-Hauls while enduring hundreds of conversations that begin with the phrase “we need to talk,” our young schoolgirl sells out and agrees to marry a man who drives a Mercedes.
The innkeeper represents her father, who has been fighting a quixotic battle on her behalf against male sexuality, represented by the black horse. The doppelganger is the grown up version of the girl, represented by her darker hair, just as the blonde hair on the protagonist (I can’t remember her name, if it was even mentioned) represents youth and immaturity. And the mummy represents her mother/Mommy/Mummy, who wants her to just grow up already and fuck her new husband, because sex with men isn’t that bad. Alas, in the end the pull of lesbian sex is too strong, and the girl literally falls into a giant vagina located in the backyard of the hotel, never to be seen again.
And the moral of the story is: never stay in a hotel where Toccata and Fugue is playing on the Muzak in the lobby. Just keep driving. Also, don’t let your car run out of gas, dummy! Finally, never trust the dialogue in a film that is dubbed into English, because sometimes people just make shit up and act like they know what they’re talking about.