Cinema holds a power, an allure that has delighted and consumed audiences for over a century, and seemingly only grows in terms of evolving spectacle and devotion. You only need to view the pull of an event like Frightfest itself to see the perfect evidence of this mesmerising force in action. Therefore, it seems equally perfect to find Fabien Delage’s Fury of the Demon (La Rage du Demon) taking its place in this year’s festival programme, as an intriguing play on both the magic and mystery of film itself, with its endless ability to conjure fevered appreciation and whispered, creeping legend. However, Delage’s film itself is something of a fractured experience that frustrates as much as it fascinates.

Fury of the Demon investigates the legend of the titular lost film, Fury of the Demon, exploring the history of this controversial work from cinema’s youth, in particular the origins of its creation and the stories of the violence and madness it provoked within those who have watched it. This idea of a lost film with dark power isn’t exactly original; the central conceit of the film has been played most extemporarily in John Carpenter’s severely underrated Cigarette Burns, wonderfully playing with many of the elements Fury of the Demon explores about the nature of cinephilia and the blurring line between reality and fantasy represented by film itself. However, in perhaps the most intelligent and interesting element of the whole film, Fury of the Demon stands apart for the choice of framing the narrative in the form of a talking heads documentary, discussing with theorists, critics and directors (including Alexandre Aja) the rumours that abound around the lost film, as well as the era of cinema that Fury of the Demon was born from, a time where film and magic seemed entwined.

There is something invitingly unthreatening and yet confrontational about this documentary  form at the same time; the construction and clichés are so well-worn that you are almost lulled into the space of truth that usually follows the candid nature of direct speech and perceived authority that combination of singular ‘professional’ insight and stock footage example evoke. It’s such a simple device, but extremely effective in terms of bewitching the viewer and weaving the layers fact and fiction. The film acts as a Trojan horse of sorts: a faux documentary about a fictional lost horror, which masks an ode to both the magic of early cinema and the aching mystery at the heart of cinematic discovery. Indeed, the careful meditation upon the nature of film creation, preservation and discovery is wonderfully absorbing, a revealing and knowledgeable study rather than coming across as a tedious lecture upon the topic. However, this approach Delage takes becomes something of a strength and a weakness all at once in the grand scheme of the film.  It truly feels like the magic of cinematic history, encapsulated in the focus upon George Melies, whose cinema of illusion created some of early cinema’s most enduring and magical iconography,  is the real driving force of the film, but as a result, the dressing of horror around this cursed fictional film is simply…well, mere dressing:  a mesh that cloaks the real bones that support the film, fluctuating between listlessness and excessive conviction in presenting this tall tale. The moments the film fully dives into the fakery of witness testimonies and manipulated photography to insert figures into the past, slip too strongly into obviousness and breaks down the carefully constructed boundaries of the illusion, to the film’s detriment.

Luckily, the balance holds well enough that it doesn’t remove from the crucial historical truths and reflexive nature that truly support the film at its strongest, or make the film feel overly bloated, when it could have been so easily dispelled as an excessive distraction.

Fury of the Demon is a flawed but admirable work whose ambition to intelligently present a truth through the mystifying lens of myth excellently reflects the very works of Melies themselves the film so lovingly covets, through in the transparency of its illusion. The film is trick, but unlike the elusive fantasy of the master illusionist himself, it doesn’t quite make all the right moves and the magic feels frustratingly absent, creating an experience of showmanship that is unfortunately enjoyable, rather than essential.

Horror Channel Frightfest review: Fury Of The Demon
2.5Overall Score
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About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk