Fantastic Fest 2021 Review: Devil Story (Il était une fois le diable)

Written by Alexander Reams


Serene. This is the only possible way I can describe the beginning of 1986’s classic zombie horror film Devil Story (Devil Story: Il était une fois le diable) what is to come. A peaceful morning, birds chirping, and a cool morning breeze. The following 75 minutes play out like a gonzo commercial you would see before a screening at the Alamo Drafthouse warning people not to talk or text. A figure continuously terrorizes people. A zombie (we assume) is terrorizing a community in France, oh and they just happen to be dressed in a SS uniform. Yes. A Nazi uniform, I don’t understand it either.

Fantastic Fest 2021

The figure is not only one of deformity, but also antisemitism. Metaphorically representing the continued disdain that the Germans had towards the rest of the world at this time. He is dressed in a Nazi uniform… why? We don’t know. He could’ve picked it up along his travels, or died in it. Either way, it is his attire now. Which unfortunately plays as a shock for shock value. A common mistake I’ve found in French horror, they assume the audiences want to see gore and death for that very reason. Instead of providing any form of reason to why we are seeing what is happening. 

Thankfully, the zaniness presented is something out of my dreams. I loved the cheesiness of the violence. Every blood spatter looks like a Dollar Tree Halloween blood bottle. Every step is accompanied to a over-the-top score that borders on intrusive. There is more style than substance, which is truly unfortunate. I’ve always been a proponent of directors having a style to their films, it’s exactly what separates those films from standard fare. However it is a fine line to walk, as well as a difficult one that was not balanced well by Bernard Launois that ultimately takes away from the entire film.

Devil Story Trailer

Devil Story was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Fantastic Film Festival.

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