In the past five or so years, there has been a resurgence in horror movies from foreign climates, most notably France. Where our American cousins may be stuck in remake hell, the French seem to be doing something all together more gutsy and raw. I have always had a fondness with world cinema as a whole, and consider France to be one of the best countries for both drama and action with acclaimed names like Luc Besson and Vincent Cassell among their exports. Yet I only really became aware of French horror with the slasher movie Switchblade Romance (Haute Tension), a quality throwback to the video nasty era of the early eighties, and a movie that left me both impressed with its quality and stunned by its unflinching violence. Yes, American & UK movies have stepped it up as far as on screen violence goes with the likes of the Saw franchise and Eden Lake or The Descent… but something about ‘Switchblade struck a cord with me… and made me thirsty to hunt out more French horrors.
Little did I realise that Switchblade was only the tip of the iceberg, and other horrors were to push my endurance and comfort levels further than ever before. Although ‘Switchblade remains conventional in the slasher flick rule book (apart from a seriously dodgy twist climax), what else I have seen has made me somewhat cautious when sitting down to watch another. Martyrs should probably go down in history as the most disturbing torture / revenge movie ever made – it takes no prisoners, and the on screen suffering is quite tough to watch… but again, it’s done with a great deal of skill, that although I may have been disgusted, I couldn’t help but admire it’s audacity at the same time. Similar in bold attitude is Inside (À l’intérieur), another difficult to watch experience, soaked in blood and featuring a very nasty and unpleasant ending. I also don’t recommend it if you are pregnant or just given birth. Yet I couldn’t help but be impressed. The talent available in France seems to be very different and with less restraints than say Eli Roth or Rob Zombie. These guys do enter the territory explored in French horror, but come away formulaic and not quite as brave (or should that be crazy) as the French, and for me these movies would never get the green light in Hollywood. Also add to the argument that these are in unfamiliar surroundings with foreign speaking cast, and the comfort of a glossed over American or British movie is lost, and all bets are off. This is one reason why Japanese chillers like Ring work so well – it’s the discomfort in the unfamiliar that is completely lost when such movies are remade by American studios.
So if you are into horror, not just casually, but have grown up on Friday the 13th and Halloween, yet yearn for those days when a horror movie was the forbidden fruit and not the audience grabbing new kid of the mainstream it is now, then check out French horror – but I warn you now, it will leave its mark on you, for better or worse.
I still feel a newcomer though to French horror, but plan to review more titles on this blog in the coming months, not just from France but also other countries. For now here are my reviews as posted on this blog.
Let The Right One In (Norway)