High Tension


Viewed – 12 November 2013  Blu-ray

Director’s Cut

Amongst horror fans, this one movie has quite a reputation.  Firstly it spawned the surge of extreme horror coming out of France, that unleashed such cult favourites as À l’intérieur (Inside) and the infamous Martyrs.  It also kick started the career of director Alexandre Aja (Piranha 3D, The Hills Have Eyes).  This tells the tale of best friends Marie (Cécile De France) and Alex (Maïwenn) who travel to the countryside residence of Alex’s parents to stay for a holiday.  However, amongst the idyllic surroundings, there lurks a serial killer, who drives a rusty old van and is waiting for the right moment to strike.

high tension

This atmospheric and nerve-shredding slasher movie is France’s answer to all those American genre movies that copycat Friday The 13th and Halloween – albeit with a brutal unflinching intensity that’s not easy to recover from.  In America this was initially cut by several minutes to avoid the dreaded NC-17 certificate, but this unrated ‘directors cut’ restores all the blood and violence that the director intended.  Rejoice gore-hounds, their is much to get your hands dirty with here – graphic throat slitting, beheadings, stabbings and even a chainsaw!!  But I digress – above all else this movie is primarily about tension.  Violence is spaced out, infrequent, but when it comes – it packs a punch … made all the more effective by intense build-ups.  It’s clear why the movie’s title is High Tension (Haute Tension) when translated, as apposed to the less ideal Switchblade Romance as it’s known in the UK. 

Now let’s get to why this movie has also divided critics.  There is a twist, that is much talked about and is basically why this isn’t perfect … and for me ruins the overall effect.  All I can say to Alexandre Aja is … why?  My only explanation is that when this movie was released in 2003, there were many a movie that had a twist – it was the in thing, but the movie worked well enough without one.  It’s a real shame because this is brilliantly shot, with a superb use of sound and music (especially Muse’s New Born) that regardless of such a fault – still manages to be a cut above similar horrors.  After repeated viewings, I can’t forgive what direction Aja chose to take, which means it’s far from a masterpiece, but oh boy … will you remember it!

The Blu-ray from Lionsgate features the movie in eye-catching HD and although the muted colour pallet and the mostly night time setting prevent this from being a showpiece title – the movie is in great condition, and the 7.1 DTS French Soundtrack is superb and really effective.  Some controversy has been labelled at the dubbed French voices, but I found it barely noticeable.  There is also an English dubbed soundtrack (best avoided) if you just can’t do subtitles (shame on you!).  Add to this several featurettes exploring the making of, as well as an English language commentary by the director and producer (well worth a listen) and scene specific commentary also – that for fans this is an essential purchase.  Everyone else I recommend this if you’re after a really tense and brutal slasher that doesn’t hold back … but perhaps leave your brain on pause.

Verdict:

(the movie):  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray):  4 /5

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Livid


Viewed – 17 August 2012  Blu-ray

When French directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury unleashed the brutal, intense ‘Inside’ on unsuspecting horror junkies back in 2007, a new breed of extreme, bold film makers had arrived, leaving this viewer exhausted and more than a little scarred.  So any following venture by this bold directing duo was going to be a must see – although what we have finally got, is a very different piece of work than you might have expected.

Lucie (Chloe Coulloud) is a young care worker who following a visit to an old house where an elderly woman lies in a coma, discovers that this woman used to be a famed dance instructor, and is very wealthy, with rumors of a hidden treasure.  That night Lucie decides to break into the house with her boyfriend and another man, with hopes of finding the treasure – only to discover that something evil is waiting for them.

Borrowing it seems from classic Dario Argento movie Suspiria, we have re-animated ballerinas, an evil vampire, a spooky house and lots of creepy music.  Bustillo & Maury’s movie is not short of ideas, and the first half certainly pulled me in with its freaky imagery and nail-biting atmosphere.  Yet the movie it becomes, despite potential, is a sort of mish-mash of styles, part haunted house, part vampire fest, part art house movie – and its a bizarre mix that never really gels.  Shame, as when things get going it is scary and disturbing (a dead ballerina on a podium music box … shudder), but along with unconvincing performances and a tone that shifts uncomfortably from realism to dream-like fantasy, this is a movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be.  On a technical basis, its a grand step up from Inside, which was often amateurish in its camera work and music … but with this material, and its scatter shot approach, the directors would be advised to work harder on their writing next time around.  Disappointing.

Verdict:  2.5 /5

The Horde


Viewed – 30 September 2010  DVD

There have been loads of Zombie movies over the years, from the legendary Night Of The Living Dead, Italian shocker Zombie, and also 28 Days Later.  Even remakes such as Dawn Of The Dead.  So it was just a matter of time,  in wake of the rise in popularity of French horror movies like Frontiers and Martyrs that the talented guys from that country would deliver their own zombie apocalypse.

Following a night time raid on a high rise apartment building, a group of cops find themselves teaming up with the criminal gang they had set out to apprehend, when a ravenous army of zombies attack the building.  This wafer-thin setup offers some fairly competent characterisation, with bickering brothers on the crooks side, a bitter, gutsy female and a hard-as-nails guy on the cop’s side, that are soon joined by an over-zealous ex-war veteran / pensioner with stacks of weaponry.  Lacking the biting social commentary of a George Romero movie, but with plenty of gunfire, hand-to-hand smackdowns and oodles of blood and gore, this is certainly entertaining.  The kills go for a more brutal, nasty approach rather than anything remotely inventive and at times the violence felt a touch cartoonish.  Yet what spoils this is firstly an erratic camera that although attempting cool just proves annoying, then a setting that is 80% in darkness, meaning its not always clear what’s happening.  Add to this moments of character stupidity I haven’t seen since the 80s – There’s someone growling and scratching at the door – don’t bloody open it!!!

So in closing, considering the otherwise stellar output from France when it comes to horror, this just lacked imagination and a personality to call its own amongst a crowded genre.

Verdict:  2.5 /5

Inside


Viewed – 14 June 2009  DVD

Took another look at this and so have decided to update my review.  This is part of the recent trend of extreme French horror, that has spawned the likes of Switchblade Romance (Haute Tension), Frontier(s) and the harrowing Martyrs.  So how does this one stack up?

Sarah (Alysson Paradis) is a heavily pregnant woman who four months previous survived a horrific car crash that claimed the life of her fiancé.  Now alone on Christmas Eve and ready to give birth on Christmas Day, she’s a bewildered, lonely young woman who feels she’s just going through the motions and her life has little meaning anymore … even her love of photography feels empty.  Enter onto the scene a weird stranger (Beatrice Dalle) who arrives late at night and demands to be let into the house.  So sets forth an unrelenting battle for survival as an obviously demented woman attempts to kill Sarah and take her unborn baby.

This is a disturbing premise for sure, especially for anyone with a child on the way,  so I’d recommend severe caution if sitting down to watch this very nasty and blood-soaked film.  The gory murders are unflinching and graphic, with an intensity to them due to the dark and claustrophobic setting, where many scenes are almost in total darkness.  Now as a fan of extreme horror this certainly delivers as far as subject and gore are concerned, but lacks some of the finesse of similar movies, and although it’s obvious the director(s) are trying hard to ramp up the tension with music and sound effects, their efforts just aren’t as well implemented.  Performance-wise we get a powerful, emotional turn from Paradis and totally believe in her plight as she tries to survive, and the creepy, black-widow Beatrice Dalle is a horror villain to rival the best of them, with every moment she’s on-screen sending chills through my whole body.

The struggle between the two women is very well-played out, the various shots to the traumatized unborn baby adding real power to events, but ultimately this is a movie that revels a little too much in the red stuff, and this threatens to overwhelm what is otherwise a very powerful and deeply atmospheric experience.

Verdict:  4 /5

The Ordeal


Viewed – 09 April 2010  DVD

Very strange.  This urban chiller starts off like a cross between Texas Chainsaw Massacre and BBC TV show The League Of Gentlemen, with a cabaret singer travelling through rural France until his van breaks down and he seeks shelter in a local inn owned by a kind by slightly wierd old man.  Only problem is, said old man seems to have more than a few screws loose, and it’s not long before he has dressed up our terrified singer in his wife’s dress and starts calling him Gloria. 

This is demented stuff indeed, with the local villagers offering no salvation as they are more busy sodamising the local cattle than being at all normal(!).  This is basically the main character’s torment until he finds a way of escaping his captors, and is age-old stuff, but does offer a more disturbing and unrelenting atmosphere than some similar movies even if in the age of torture-porn horror movies like Hostel and Martyrs, it can’t deliver a true horror experience beyond its odd flavouring.  The lead actor Laurent Lucas is lacking in personality and is hard to like, and the demented other members of the cast offer very little depth, and not much light is shed on why they’re so nuts.  On a plus, the direction by Fabrice Du Welz is stylish with the lack of mood music ramping up the eerie semi-documentary feel, and some of the camera work is very imaginative.

Worth a look then if you like strange, freaky movies – but for me, I’ve seen much better.

Verdict:  2 /5