The first time I sat down to watch a French horror movie, it was a film called Switchblade Romance (which would later get the name change High Tension for American Audiences), and it fucking floored me. It was, in a word, relentless. The movie pretty much gut-punched you in the first ten minutes, and never allowed you the chance to catch your breath again. While I have some definite issues with the ending of that movie (as most rational people do), there is no arguing that it opened the door for horror fans to sit up and take notice of the French. And that is just what the best horror fans did. I, being one of them.
High Tension kick-started my love affair with French extreme film. A genre that truly knows no limits or boundaries. A genre that not only pushes the envelope, but rapes and murders it and then pees on its corpse. You may think I am exaggerating, but honestly, no one does horror like the French. No one. South Korean may come close with its deep examinations of revenge, but NO ONE can touch the cinematic depravity of the French. Okay, well maybe the Serbs, but let’s not go there right now.
So with Halloween fast approaching, and me covering almost every other horror subject ever with the wonderful Matt Donato in our weekly column, The Last Stand, I wanted to tackle a sub-genre of horror that most don’t, and that is what brings us here.
French extreme cinema. Movies that are more like experiences. Movies that you don’t just watch, but movies that go that extra mile and seem to assault their viewers. Relentless films that make you film like you need a shower and nap by the time they are done with you. That is the other thing. These movies don’t just “end.” They finish when they are done with you, tossing you aside like a rag doll. The best part is, for this list I will focus on some of the lesser known, extreme French films. God knows I have talked Martyrs to death at this point.
I must warn you before you delve any deeper into this list: if sex, violence, rape, death, incest, bestiality, gore and general nastiness upsets you, you may want to go read something else, far away from here.
For the rest of you, put on a rain coat. Shit is about to get messy.Next
I know that I may lose some of you with Livid, because at points, it almost comes across as a gothic fairy tale. Don’t get me wrong, it is quite violent and graphic at times, but there is an underlying tone of fantasy to it all. The thing is though, this movie is undeniably beautiful. Hell, even the scenes where people get their throats cut open are quite beautiful. It just seems as if every frame of cinematography was well planned or thought out. This is a film that does not rush through its plot. Instead, it takes careful steps each minute, furthering the story and further compelling the audience.
Speaking of the story, it’s pretty simple. It focuses on Lucy, who is taking care of an old woman who may have had a gold treasure buried somewhere in her property. This prompts her less-than-proper friends to decide that they should rob the house one night, as finding that treasure would end all of their financial woes. But this is a French movie, on a list about fucked up films, so you know that the plan does not go off without a hitch.
Now, here’s the part where I may lose you. What compelled me so much about Livid (outside of the painfully stunning female lead) was the fact that I had no idea what direction this film would go in at any moment. Just when I thought it was getting dull, some really, really messed up shit happens.
The pacing here is definitely strange. A half hour in you may think that the movie is slow, but give it a chance. It finds its pacing and once it gets gory and creepy, it does not let up. Without saying too much, the “throat cut” scene caught me completely off guard and quickly reminded me that this was a French film that was pulling no punches. In other words, get past the first half hour and the film gets very fucked up. It is just a “different” kind of fucked up. Trust me, you have never seen a movie quite like this before
Livid has all the prerequisites to land it on this list. A beautiful French lead. Lots of blood and gore, and a mindfuck of a story that takes you on an absolutely wild ride. If you don’t believe me, check out the trailer below.
Trouble Every Day
What is Trouble Every Day? I watched the film twice, and still do not know how to answer that. I guess the one thing I will say to anyone who sits down to watch this movie is, it is best not to have any sexual hangups before you watch the film. Seriously. This movie gels sex and death in a way you have NEVER seen before. Also, you will note, YES, the female in this movie is the same woman who played the sicko in the French horror classic Inside. Her name is Beatrice Dalle, and she is an unbelievable talent.
Trouble Every Day stars the overly pretentious Vince Gallo as a man who suffers from a rare and strange libido disease. Basically, when he gets turned on, he ends up getting feral and reacting violently. This causes him to look for a type of cure, which causes him to encounter the Beatrice Dalle character, who has the same affliction. At times, it may seem like a vampire film because it mixes blood sex and death. But it is not a vampire film. It is more a film about human nature. A film about the dark sides we all have, and how some of us nurture that side, and how some of us let it drive us insane and own us.
I can tell you, in all confidence, that you have never seen a film quite like Trouble Every Day, and it is well worth it if you can get past that first sex scene. Seriously, sex scenes rarely ever make me gag, as I am a twisted person, but the sex scene in this movie between Dalle and her “neighbour” had me reaching for the puke bucket.
Some might be turned off by the slow pace of this film, but it is a ride worth taking, because the couple dips the movie does take are truly depraved and unforgettable.Previous Next
In My Skin
Okay, good thing I brought up the puke bucket, because you will need it again for this movie. I can handle almost any kind of violence in a film. Whereas certain kills and injuries would affect me when I was younger (like when someone would get their Achilles cut), the older I get and the more I see, the less I feel. Yes, I can honestly say that long-term exposure to gore and violence can truly desensitize you to its impact. Regardless of that, In My Skin proved to me that certain violence in a movie can still make me cringe and need to close my eyes.
What kind of violence, you ask? Well, self-inflicted, of course.
Maybe it is because I used to have a crazy ex who would butcher herself, but seeing someone cut or slice themselves is that ONE THING that can still make me cringe. So guess what In My Skin is about? A woman who sustains a leg injury, and as a result, becomes intrigued with her body as a vessel, and just how much damage it can take. So yes, this is a film about a woman who hacks herself up, to more and more extremes. The movie actually holds back quite a bit, but even in those scenes, the sound design will stay with you forever. The sounds of the cuts and slashes are so nasty and visceral that you can almost feel the blade going over YOUR flesh as you hear it.
Man, I am getting a little queasy just thinking about it. Remarkable thing about the movie is, it was written and directed by its star, Marina De Van. It is like the Don Jon of cutting movies.Previous Next
Frontier(s) may be my most well-known movie on the list, but I still wanted to extol upon its virtues, as it seems to get less love than Inside and Martyrs. Frontier(s) is pretty much the French version of Texas Chainsaw meets Hostel. Some (bad yet not really bad, just forced to be bad by their circumstances) people rob a bank and after, they find a nice little inn in the French countryside to stay at and lay low for a couple days. As it turns out, their luck is shitty (a running theme for French extreme cinema) and this particular inn is run by neo-Nazi cannibals.
As if you couldn’t tell from the rest of the entries, Frontier(s) is fucking brutal. You know those horror films that are so cruel and so torturous that you actually feel yourself aching for the people in the movie, begging for the sickos to just put them out of their misery? Yes, this is one of those movies.
Also, a quick warning regarding all of these films. Not to be too spoilerific or anything, but if you come at French extreme cinema (how is it that I sound even more pretentious every time I write that?) expecting a happy ending, you are going to be sorely let down. These movies do not have idealistic, happy endings. Any of them. Ever. It may help to know that going in.
No, these movies make it their goal to find what little hope you have and beat it to death in front of you, and Frontier(s) is no exception.Previous Next
In Their Sleep
Easily my favorite film on the list, and one of my favorite films of the genre, In Their Sleep is a movie that deserves way more attention than it’s gotten. This is one of those movies that is SO GOOD that I would not be surprised it if got some Oldboy like cult status over the next decade. Hell, I could even see a (shitty) American remake that would miss the whole point of this film being put into production sometime soon. Now, a good deal of people don’t like this film for just how nihilist it is. But that, my friends, is exactly why I love it.
In Their Sleep follows a woman named Sarah who, from the get-go, we see life has not been kind to. A recent move to the country acts as a precursor to the tragic death of her teenage son, and ends up costing her a marriage. We see Sarah, later on, and follow her one night as she goes to work. She ends up seeing a young boy who seems to be in danger. We, as the audience, note how similar in age and stature the young boy was to her son, and we can see her making the same connections. She ends up stopping to help him as she sees him being pursued by an aggressive man who seems content on killing him.
What follows is one of the greatest cat-and-mouse games ever put on film. I will not tell you more than that so as to not ruin anything that makes this film spectacular, but trust me. It is on Netflix right now, so why you are not watching it at this exact second is beyond me.Previous Next
Calvaire (The Ordeal)
People kept telling me, you need to see “Calvaire, you need to see Calvaire.” They say, “Frontier(s) is not the true French Texas Chainsaw homage. Calvaire is.” So of course, I put it on my radar. Now that I’ve watched it, all I can say is holy shit.
Listen, of all the movies mentioned on this list, and for all the depraved things they do, their depravity does not even contend with Calvaire. Calvaire is a soul-raping (animal raping, man raping) movie, and you NEED to know that going in. I am not recommending it based on merit. I am recommending it based on the ideals of sub genre it is in. Is it traumatizing? Is it French? Then it has the right to be here.
Calvaire is about a man named Marc who is a singer and is traveling solo by van to get to a gig he has on Christmas. In typical horror film style, his van breaks down and he falls in with some colorful locals. All seems fairly normal at first, but then he walks by the barn and sees the villagers encouraging and cheering on sex with an animal. It’s at this point that your soul will try to slither out of you, so be aware.
From there on, shit only gets more insane and disgusting. We see that, for some insane reason, these people are seeing Marc as a woman who used to live there. I think you can see where this is going. Think of how uncomfortable you felt when you watched Deliverance, and multiply that by INFINITY and have you Calvaire.
If you manage to get through the film, you will be treated to one hell of a chilling ending, with a simple shot that will stay with you for a long, long time.Previous