Bernard Launois’ ‘Devil Story’/’Once Upon A Time… The Devil’ (1986) Vinegar Syndrome’s 4k Restoration Blu-ray Review

Now, I have seen some weird movies in my Vinegar Syndrome travels, but I think Bernard Launois’s 1986 French film, Devil Story/Once Upon A Time… The Devil/Il Etait Une Fois… Le Diable, may just take the cake. Let me explain.

Devil Story was written and directed by Bernard Launois (Pigalle Story 1976). The cast includes Véronique Renaud, Marcel Portier (Stranger In The House 1992), Catherine Day (Two Orphan Vampires 1997), Nicole Desailly (The Secret Wife 1996), Christian Paumelle (Madame Bovary 1991), and Pascal Simon (L’agence Labricole 1981). The music was co-composed by Paul Piot (The Gilded Cage 2013) and Michel Roy (Hard Penetration 1977). The SFX were created by André Trielli (A View To Kill 1985).


A deformed man living with his mother in the countryside roams the woods killing indiscriminately. A couple spend the night nearby, and the wife goes through a nightmarish experience involving a black horse, a mummy, and the deformed man.

Devil Story, mutant

What Works in Devil Story

That synopsis does not do this film justice. There is so much going on here. It doesn’t make any sort of sense, but it certainly is going on. There’s the murderous mute mutant, his dead sister, their mother, the murderous, goat-loving gypsy, a ghost ship, an old Crazy Ralph couple, a loudly galloping horse— a literal night mare—a woman in distress, a Gothic castle, an Egyptian mummy, and a freaking zombie. I didn’t see a partridge in a pear tree, but I digress. Of course, having all of these tropes means the story is bound to be lacking, and that is certainly true with Devil Story. It’s just mass confusion, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fun ride.

Devil Story kicks it into high gear from the very first scene. We’re introduced to the mutant, his face a bubbly, twisted mess, sporting Nazi regalia and a cool leather glove with nails sticking out of the back, right after he’s killed some random people. He’s having a grand ol’ time doing it, too. Then we switch over to a vacationing couple who’s car breaks down, so they make friends with the Expositioning Old Folks who let the newlyweds stay the night at their giant stone castle hotel. And this is when things get weird. The young woman wakes up in the middle of the night… or does she? Is this a dream? Because this French countryside is now apparently the dumping ground for where Ryan Murphy’s abandoned American Horror Story plots go to die. Every horror trope you’ve ever thought of lands here. Don’t try to understand it. Just relax and let go.

I can’t forget to mention the addition of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Why does this sound familiar? It’s basically Dracula’s theme song. So I guess there’s a vampire in this flick, too?

Devil Story, grave

What Doesn’t Work in Devil Story

Devil Story is in French, so this may dissuade some people from watching it. The Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray does offer a dubbed version of the film, so don’t let not speaking the language stop you. There’s more groaning and screaming than anything else in here anyway, so even if you’re watching it in its original French, you probably won’t need the dubbing. Only the scene where the couple have brandy with the hotel proprietors do you need to know what’s being said.

I know that I’m spoiled with contemporary horror movies where things are quick and action-packed, so watching slow burns can be a bit tedious. However, Devil Story is not a slow burn. It’s plodding, slow, and repetitive. And as I mentioned earlier, there’s no storyline here. It’s just a long line of randomness that should be awesome to watch but is, unfortunately, rather boring.

Devil Story, mummy, zombie

4k Restoration

This 4k restoration of Devil Story is beautiful. It does show some of the wires and pulleys that are probably not as clear in the original, but the clarity is great. The colors and details are gorgeous as well. The film is also available in both French and English dubbed in this restoration. It’s also interesting to note that, in the included interview, “Launois Story: Once Upon A Time… Bernard,” the director talks about his start making erotic films and sexploitation comedies. He also admits to not being a fan of horror but wanted to check all genre boxes, so he made Devil Story. So this is how non-genre fans see our beloved horror films, huh?

From Vinegar Syndrome’s Devil Story page:

This special limited edition embossed slipcover (designed by Earl Kessler Jr.) is limited to 5,000 units and is only available here at!

A young couple, on vacation in the French countryside, decide to stay the night at a spooky old castle after their car breaks down. Despite being warned about the local legend of a cursed ship which crashed into the nearby cliffs, the wife ventures out into the wild, only to find herself having to fend off a Nazi-uniformed mutant, his Gypsy mother, a rogue mummy, a horse possessed by the devil, and more!

Without a doubt one of the strangest horror films ever made in France, Bernard Launois’ Devil Story (or Once Upon A Time…The Devil) is a mind-melting and almost indescribable, heavily gore-fueled fever dream, barely seen outside of its native country but more than deserving of its growing cult following. Prepare to forget everything you thought you knew about weird world cinema as you experience Devil Story, newly restored in 4K from its 35mm original camera negative, loaded with both new and archival extras and interviews, and on disc from Vinegar Syndrome in the English-speaking world for the first time.

directed by: Bernard Launois
starring: Véronique Renaud, Pascal Simon, Catherine Day, Nicole Desailly, Marcel Portier, Christian Paumelle
1986 / 76 min / 1.85:1 / French & English Mono

Additional info:
• Region Free Blu-ray
• Newly scanned & restored in 4k from its 35mm original camera negative
• Presented in both its original French language soundtrack and its English dub track
• “Once Upon a Time…Devil Story” – making-of featurette with the cast and crew
• “Once Upon a Time… Bernard” – a brand new interview with writer/director Bernard Launois
• Select scenes with commentary by the director
• French TV Coverage
• Original trailer
• Reversible cover artwork with art by Steak Mtn.
• English SDH subtitles

Be sure to grab yourself a copy of Vinegar Syndrome’s 4k restoration of Bernard Launois’ Devil Story before they run out!

About Tracy Allen

As the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of, Tracy has learned a lot about independent horror films and the people who love them. Now an approved critic for Rotten Tomatoes, she hopes the masses will follow her reviews back to PopHorror and learn more about the creativity and uniqueness of indie horror movies.

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