I’ll admit it: I was on the “I hate the French” Bandwagon for a bit. It wasn’t because France didn’t support the US when we invaded Iraq (because I wouldn’t have either). Most likely, my distaste for France stems from jealously, as I’ve never experienced this country and its culture first hand. So I bought the stereotypes: The French are all winos, everyone eats snails, the Subway stinks, Paris is overrun with mimes, all guys wear stupid berets and run around saying “Ooh la la”, and the women never shave their underarms. Worst of all, French are weak for letting Hitler roll his tanks in (as if I’m an indignant WWII Vet or something!).
Since leaving LA almost a decade ago, I’ve adopted more of a live-and-let-live attitude, not just in regards to France and the French, but towards everything. I’m all about celebrating mankind’s similarities rather than putting folks into boxes based on arbitrary characteristics.
But it wasn’t until the Netflix Era that I realized the French are actually the new Masters of Horror. With Netflix’s suggestions and viewer comments, I was exposed to a plethora of Horror and gore that I might otherwise have never seen. I didn’t go out in search of French films, I went looking for the best Horror films, regardless of where they were produced. It just so happened that Horror movies exported from France were continuously blowing my mind. I’d like to thanks Netflix for guiding me towards this Horror goldmine, and I’d like to thanks the French for revitalizing my enthusiasm for all things terrifying. This list is my tribute to you. Viva la France!
10 F*ckin’ Freaky French Horror Flicks
Most of the following films are part of a subgenre call the New French Extremity and are considered “transgressive” by local critics.
Inside: The plot-line for Inside is as simple as it is horrifying: A mysterious woman breaks into a pregnant woman’s apartment intent on removing the unborn baby from her womb—with a pair of long sharp scissors. That’s all there is to it and the entire film takes place over just a few fateful hours. Even though the viewers know exactly what they’re in for, Inside takes it’s time, building up the tension and suspense until it’s almost excruciating. Inside wasn’t filmed in slow-motion, but it sometimes feels like it as we endure practically every second of our protagonist’s trauma. It’s staggering how many victims fall by the wayside during this one-on-one battle royal, and it’s infuriating to see our protagonist miss several opportunities for escape. The ending is emotionally exhausting and gruesome—extremely disturbing… and just a little bit sweet. A couple years back, Inside made Bloody Disgusting’s list of the Top 10 Horror Movies of the Decade, where it was called “the crown jewel of New French Extremity”.
Brotherhood of the Wolf: This film is loosely based on the book L’Innocence des Loups by French zoologist Michel Louis that chronicles a series of real-life killings that took place in the 18th Century, creating the legend of the Beast of Gevaudan. This is a great Horror movie for non-Horror fans, with beautiful scenery, amazing costumes, and enough attention to detail to please any aficionado of period pieces. This film has a Last of the Mohicans and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon feel to it, featuring an unlikely pair of warriors. It’s got lots of actions and some great scares, but it’s relatively low on gore. Brotherhood of the Wolf takes place in an era where science is only just beginning its battle against superstition (not unlike The Legend of Sleepy Hollow). This movie is another example of the Historical Horror subgenre, like Black Death and Ravenous. Brotherhood of the Wolf can also be considered a fairy tale of the blackest variety.
Frontier(s): If you love Horror movies and haven’t seen Frontier(s), I’m revoking your membership card. Hand it over! Frontier(s) is a “must-watch” if ever there was one. Yes it’s brutal and disgusting and unnerving, but it’s extremely entertaining with a crew of interesting characters. Director Xavier Gens proves himself to be a future Horror heavy-hitter and I’m on pins and needles to see his next film, an apocalyptic thriller called The Divide. I’ve already written extensively about Frontier(s) on this website, so use the search function at the top to find more about this relentless, top-notch piece of cinema. In short: Take the best aspects of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hostel, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Decent—and you’re still nowhere close. See this movie!
High Tension: Almost just as good as Frontier(s), High Tension is another absolute must-see for discriminating Horror aficionados. Stupid Roger Ebert disagrees calling it “poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” and that it has a plot hole “that is not only large enough to drive a truck through, but in fact does have a truck driven right through.” Considering the majority of High Tension is eventually revealed to be a fantasy in the mind of a very disturbed individual, it’s not surprising that things don’t always add up. Forget about Roger Ebert and take my advice: See this movie if you have not already. And don’t let anyone ruin the ending for you! Absolutely chilling it is.
The Horde: The Horde is a great film for fans of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, as director Benjamin Rocher is clearly influenced by these Masters of grindhouse. Whereas Inside moves at a snail’s pace, The Horde is like meth-head’s nightmare. A crew of crooked cops breaks into a tenement building controlled by a powerful gangster, looking to avenge the death of a fallen compatriot. The gangster and his crew are armed to the teeth and an explosive battle quickly erupts between these factions. By sheer coincidence, all of this takes place during the onset of a Zombie Apocalypse. Soon, cops and robbers must work together to keep this undead horde at bay. This is a great film for fans of Horror and Grindhouse. It’s not as scary as most of the films on this list (as the break-neck pacing is almost comical at times), but The Horde is non-stop entertainment, overflowing with blood, guts, and bullets.
Mutants: Mutants has the same cold, gritty feel as 28 Days Later—and the storyline is very similar too. Still, Mutants manages to put a new spin on the Zombie genre (no small feat in such a saturated market). What happens when someone you love is bitten by a Zombie and you know it’s only a matter of time until they turn? You fucking kill them, of course. Yeah, it sucks, but this is a hard and fast rule of the Zombie genre, and necessary for survival. You simply can’t let emotions get the best of you if you want to last long during a Zombie Apocalypse. But what if someone you love is bitten by a Zombie, and you know that a cure exists? You chain them up in an abandoned hospital and pray the military can evacuate you both in time. In Mutants, as you might suspect, the timing goes down to the wire. What I like best about Mutants is that the Zombies are more than just bloody and diseased-looking. Those infected undergo a transformation into something much more monstrous—like a living gargoyle with black shiny eyes, pointed ears, sharp teeth, and patches of blue skin. Mutants proves that you don’t need to reinvent a genre to make a great film. However, a few choice, original changes can make a huge difference.
Sheitan: An Arabic word for Satan, Sheitan follows a crew of club-kids on an ill-fated trip to the country. On Christmas Eve, a few horny guys are invited home by a couple of smokin’ hotties. When they arrive, they meet Joseph (pictured), an unkempt and unnerving caretaker with something wicked up his sleeve. Joseph is played masterfully by Vincent Cassel who steals the show, vacillating between a gentle, humorous personality and something altogether sinister. Things start of slightly strange and escalate into utter insanity. This film oozes sexual energy until it runs amok. Sheitan has the most explicit bestiality moment I’ve ever seen. It’s not nearly as bad as those stories we’ve all heard about shows in Mexico, but it’s shocking nonetheless. I’m just going to say it: A girl gives a dog a hand-job. It’s just for a split second and, for all I know, it might have been a puppet dog—but I still feel dirty just saying it. Later, during Christmas dinner, conversation turns from theology to incest as Joseph becomes completely unhinged. He reveals he has a wife hidden somewhere in the house—who just so happens to be his sister as and extremely pregnant (with Joseph’s baby of course). All of this ties into a family curse and some bizarre pagan-esque rituals. One of the things I like best about Sheitan is that the person who emerges as the hero is probably the last person you would expect. Plenty of gore and an awesome trippy, psych-out ending. Great for fans of films like Trainspotting.
Them: Another great movie with an incredibly simple plot, Them focuses on a couple in a secluded home in the woods who are tormented by something in the darkness. Them is similar to The Strangers in the sense that its victims were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time (this, however, is where all similarities end). As opposed to The Strangers, Them at least lets you know who the killers really are. Supposedly based on real events, Them is so basic that it’s hard to write about it without giving the whole story away. This simplicity, however, does not affect this film’s effectiveness or its intensity. With a great spin on the Cabin-in-the-Woods subgenre of Horror, Them is a nonstop run from something wicked. This film clocks in at just 78 minutes, but the tension is so thick, the experience seems to last vastly longer.
High Lane: A great Survivalist Horror movie in the tradition of The Most Dangerous Game, High Lane is like Friday the 13th without the amenities of Camp Crystal Lake. Similar to films like Primal and Dying Breed, a group of city-slickers (only one of whom has experience rock climbing) go on an adventurous get-away in a remote region of the Swiss Alps. As if inexperience at high altitude isn’t dangerous enough, High Lane throws a love triangle into the mix. Fears of heights are exasperated and tempers flare as jealousy and competition become apparent. The characters are presented with multiple opportunities to do each other in (and the moral code of society seems to evaporate in this isolated environment). As if this situation isn’t explosive enough, we’ve got a deformed, feral human (supposedly kidnapped as a child and abandoned) lurking around in the woods and rocks—and he’s up to no good. This is a great film for fans of adventure movies with a good adrenaline rush.
Martyrs: So. Fucking. Good. In the unrated DVD, director Pascal Laugier apologizes to his viewers for what they are about to experience. He warns that you might not be happy that you decided to watch Martyrs. He goes on to say that he sometimes hates himself for having created this film. Either the intro is a marketing ploy, or Laugier is full of shit. Martyrs is brutal, disturbed, and horrifying to the extreme, but it is also a brilliant and uncompromising vision with incredible depth. Anyone involved in the creation of this film should be proud, not apologetic. This irksome point aside, I cannot praise Martyrs enough. To be clear, this is for hardcore Horror aficionados only. Not for the timid or sensitive, Martyrs is perhaps a feminists’ worst nightmare. Martyrs grabs you from the very first second and never lets up. One of the things I like best about Martyrs is that it’s got three very distinct “acts”, each with its own climax and revelations. Martyrs also introduces one of the most unique and unsettling Horror villains in recent memory: An elderly, well dressed woman who’s known only as Mademoiselle. Martyrs will hit you hard and keep you thinking for a long, long time. If you watch this movie, you will be affected. Word on the street is that an American remake is in the works, but I can’t imagine anything that could be an improvement on this masterpiece. What’s it about? A secret cult obsessed with the afterlife… and so much more.
That’s it for this addition of Blood and Guts for Grown Ups. Have a great weekend Every-bloody! Check back all week for links to my blogs on FilmSponge.com and I’ll be back with a brand new list next Friday.
Hopefully, my review of Straw Dogs will be posted tomorrow afternoon. Goodnight my lovelies.