The 10 Best Language Horror Films is written by guest writer Ken B Wild and can be followed at @KenBWild on Twitter.
10 Meilleurs Flms d’horreur de la Langue Française
Four very different prisoners find a book of black magic and attempt to use its powers in order to escape their cell. The strong characters run this film; they are so unique and twisted. I would describe this film as a cross between Hellraiser and Wishmaster and I would mean that it isn’t as good as Hellraiser and better than Wishmaster. Its claustrophobic atmosphere prevails throughout, almost entirely set in one cell as the characters strive to escape once and for all. The low budget means the effects vary, with the practical prosthetics being vastly superior to the CGI (isn’t it always?) and offering some memorable scenes and ideas. There is a sense of insanity which seeps into every scene and this increases as the film progresses. It throws together gore, character development and surreally horrific moments and is well worth a view or two.
9. Sheitan (2006) aka Satan
Make no mistake, this film belongs to Vincent Cassel from the moment we meet his character, Joseph. On Christmas Eve, 3 young men and a girlfriend get thrown out of a nightclub after one gets involved in a brawl. They meet up with Eve who suggests they accompany her to her house in the country. They are met there by Joseph, the housekeeper. The fast MTV style editing of the nightclub scenes are replaced by lingering suggestions that something just isn’t right with the new location. The backwoods, crazy locals theme is played to good effect, and it is abundantly clear that something is wrong with almost everyone we encounter. Cassel’s manic mugging and erratic behaviour touches upon lunacy as events twist and turn with disturbing images and disgusting effects. This film seems to just run out of steam as if they had no real idea how to wrap it all up at the end, but the open ending offers the viewer an opportunity to interpret it to their own choosing.
8. Frontier(s) aka Frontière
A group of young thieves (one pregnant) flee from Paris with a bag of money during some political rioting and are welcomed into an Inn near the border. Their hosts turn out to be deranged neo-Nazi cannibals attempting to create a new Aryan race (don’t you hate it when that happens?!). The violence in this one is often implied rather than shown in its gory glory, but there is still enough crimson to please the hounds. We get some pliers, sledgehammers, blades and a shotgun offering up some punishment as the youngsters fight throughout the relentless onslaught and they certainly suffer, and dish out, some wince inducing treatment. The plot is kind of a mash up of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hostel, maybe a touch of Saw and pretty much any hillbilly killer family film ever made. Not a particularly groundbreaking film, but a well made entry.
7. Ils (2006) aka Them
Loosely based on a true story, this film doesn’t rely on blood and guts but rather on the very real horror of being woken up in the night by noises and being under attack in your own home. A young couple living in a big old remote house are plunged into a waking nightmare when their house is invaded by hooded figures, cutting the lights and the telephone lines. From the moment they arrive, the rising tension doesn’t let up. This is one of the best home invasion films around. I prefer this to The Strangers as this doesn’t have the slow build up of someone just standing outside for half an hour, it just gets straight to the scary stuff and throws in enough jump moments to keep the audience on their toes. The feeling of isolation and claustrophobia are superbly handled, and the hooded assailants are effective as the faceless bad guys. This is a chilling film which leaves a mark.
6. Baby Blood (1990)
This 1990 film is the oldest on my list but a great place to start if you want to see what the French were up to 20+ years ago. Get this…. A parasitic mutant bursts out of a circus leopard and impregnates a woman, who it telepathically communicates with, ordering her to feed it blood by killing people! She reluctantly agrees (or she will die too), and much bloodshed is in order as she slaughters men with an increasing level of vigour and nudity! It isn’t all just splatter though as it also touches upon the relationship between a mother and her unborn child and the bond that develops between her and the thing inside her almost becomes quite moving. The effects are good considering the modest budget, and the story is handled very well.
5. 7 Days (2010) aka Les 7 jours du talion
First of all, this is French Canadian made, so I hope you will permit me to include it as it is a very powerful and disturbing film. The perpetrator of rape and murder of a surgeon’s 8 year old daughter is apprehended but, as he is appearing at court, he is kidnapped by the girl’s father. He tells police he will keep him captive, torture him for 7 days and then execute him. He will then give himself up. The film then splits between showing the authorities frantically trying to find him and the surgeon making good on his promise in graphically brutal style. The very idea of this film is enough o set it apart from the others. There is no humour in this film, no music at all(!) and no respite, it just unfolds in front of you. The torture is nasty, but the victim is already set up as so unsympathetic to the viewer, it makes you question whether he actually deserves it all. That is the great question of this superior thrill ride. Does he deserve it and would you do the same….?
4. The Ordeal (2004) aka Calvaire
It turns out that this one is actually Belgian (they speak French though, oui?), but I have to add this to the list. From the opening scenes of this film, you know you are in for a strange 90 minutes. Marc, an entertainer, fleeing from his latest performance has car trouble in the middle of nowhere and finds himself at a small hotel and is made to feel very welcome by the owner. Unfortunately, the owner is more than a little unstable and things soon start to go downhill for Marc. He suffers humiliation, and both mental and physical torture as his visit lasts longer than he intended. Even as the situation alters, it only gets worse for him. There is a dark vein of comedy running through this one similar to the humour found within the horror of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The OTT locals are grotesque in their depravity, and by the end of the film, you are just left hoping for it all to stop, but in a good way….
3. Haute Tension aka High Tension aka Switchblade Romance
This film seems to divide viewers, and I can see why. *This may contain spoilers*. For the first hour, this is one of the most effective, in your face, stalk and slash movies ever made. The simplicity of characters finding themselves targeted for no reason by a random psychopath is something I have longed to see for some time. This film was so very close to being the one to deliver it. It has brutal, bloody and fast paced action and once the gory carnage has started it rarely lets up. It all changes after about an hour and the whole thing is turned on its head. There are some who believe that this takes it a level up with an intelligent twist and there are some who thinks it renders the previous action a little unlikely if not impossible. Your enjoyment of the end of this film may depend on which camp you fall into. Regardless of that, this is a truly impressive piece of work and should definitely be given a go.
2. À l’intérieur (2007) aka Inside
4 months after surviving a car crash which killed her husband, a heavily pregnant woman is tormented in her home by a woman who wants her baby.
Inside contains some of the finest blood and gore since Braindead (Dead/Alive). It is essentially a slasher flick but with intelligence and a relentless seriousness that draws the viewer in and almost dares you to keep watching. The main aspect which sets it apart within the genre is the fact that the ‘victim’ is about to give birth, and the ‘killer’ is also female. The violence is shockingly brutal and is superbly handled as the nightmare goes on and on. Both of the main actresses should be commended for their respective performances as they really do give it their all.
This is one of the most intense, gore filled 80 minutes ever. A bloody brilliant film!
And the Best French Horror Film is . . . .
1. Martyrs (2008)
Not an outright ‘Horror’ film, this manages to contain some of the most horrific scenes and ideas ever committed to film. In my opinion, this is not only the best French extreme films, but also one of the finest examples of modern horror ever made. Martyrs manages to be sickening, moving, shocking, powerful and even depressing all at the same time. The overlapping plot twists all over the place blending seamlessly from one deranged idea to another and back again. I will not reveal the plot here as it is well worth joining this ride with no idea of the journeys path. Martyrs keeps the viewer off guard from the outset and seemingly anything can happen next. This is one film which definitely benefits from a repeat viewing as it just never loses its impact. It is an expertly crafted film full of almost beautiful brutality, and I can almost guarantee that you will be left with it burned into your mind for days.
What movies would you add to the 10 Best French Horror Films list?