French Horror

All posts tagged French Horror

Book Review: Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity

Published September 19, 2016 by rmpixie

Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity McFarland & Company Inc., 2016

 Films of the New French Extremity:  Visceral Horror and National Identity by Alexandra West ( McFarland & Company Inc., 2016)

Scholars and journalists Alexandra West and Andrea Subissati, hosts of the Faculty of Horror podcast, focus on in-depth analysis of the horror genre with a feminist approach that would sway the staunchest naysayer.  With their knowledge and background, it’s no surprise that West has recently written a book entitled Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity and after getting to meet the author herself, I had to buy a copy. Once I flipped past the first page I was hooked.

Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity came from a lecture West presented in 2014 for The Black Museum, a series put on by Subissati and Toronto-based writer and editor Paul Corupe where seasoned speakers and professionals in the horror genre present on various topics “from film theory to genre studies”.  It was here that her academic but extremely accessible book was born, and West successfully tracks the transition “from art-house films to full-fledged horror films” that came out of France from the early 90’s to the mid 2000’s.

The genre of New French Extremity is something that for a long time only a few could stomach or relate to. It is brutal, bloody and in your face, but West eases the reader in by giving you a solid base of French history and politics, along with the violence it spawned, in order to help you understand the environment these directors were coming from and the genesis of their films. In essence, French society tended to put a shiny veneer over the ills and wrongs of their actions, turning a blind eye to it all. These films attempt to peel back the shiny exterior of a country celebrated for its culture to show the societal warts that got bigger over centuries. While some of the filmmakers may have different approaches to their subject matter, be it murderous country folk, abused women, self-destructive characters or relentless serial killers, West brings them together to map their contributions to pushing societal, sexual and political boundaries, showing how their films soon became cinematic earmarks as well as social commentaries in the history of horror cinema and what is now considered a critical part of the genre.

Most horror critics and writers like myself have seen many of the films West writes about. I saw them because they were a) French and b) horror or taboo; things I love unconditionally, with Martyrs and High Tension sitting in prime positions on my shelves. They were terrifying films yet I was drawn to them. I couldn’t make connections other than they were all French and showed a darker side to the country I romanticized so much; dots on the same page without the lines to connect them. West is able to create threads of similarities with such coherence and logic, that any French extreme enthusiast feels a sense of almost relief as her analysis pinpoints characters, motivations and plotlines to make sense of the chaos you witness on-screen. All the chapters are riveting, but for those of you who search for some meaning from Martyrs as much as I have, West’s dissection and interpretation of the film comes very near to perfection.

Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity will resonate with those who love French Extreme cinema and those who have visited (and fallen in love with) France like myself; becoming lured by the romantic façade of an aloof yet beautiful country, only to scratch the surface revealing the grimy reality underneath.  Steeped in the history and culture of France, West’s book makes these admittedly horrifying films accessible and convey an understanding much like one would study a terrifying beast for meaning. It is truly a must read for any and all horror fans and academics out there looking for a comprehensive guide to the beginnings of French Extreme cinema.

This Wednesday September 21st, The Black Museum will hold a book launch for Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity in Toronto where West will do a reading. Check out the details here. Come out to support great Canadian talent!

 

The Nightmares of Horsehead

Published May 21, 2015 by rmpixie

horsehead

Horsehead (2014, 1 hr, 29 mins)

I’ve always been interested in dreams and their meanings.  Oftentimes I have tried to remember my nocturnal subconscious wanderings, and most of the time I can’t, but when I do, it is usually in reoccurring settings and always unsettling.  Horsehead takes you one step further as lucid dreaming becomes a doorway to night terrors and family secrets.

Jessica (Lily-Fleur Pointeaux) is a young woman who suffers from terrible nightmares.  In order to conquer them, she ends up studying the psycho-physiology of dreams.  She is summoned back home because of her grandmother Rose’s death, and is more than uncomfortable when she realizes her grandmother’s body is kept in the bedroom next to hers for the wake.  After a disturbing dream where Rose (Gala Besson) gives her a cryptic message, Jessica is prompted to use lucid dreaming techniques (where one is aware of what occurs in their dreams) to get to the bottom of what becomes a spiraling, surreal discovery of herself and her family secrets.

From the infamous Freddy Krueger and A Nightmare on Elm Street, to Inception and The Cell, dreams have been great fodder for horror and the fantastical, portrayed as both campy and high art, but with Horsehead, it is almost a perfect balance of the absurd and artistic.  I was first drawn in when I saw a film clip and heard the scoring by Benjamin Shielden.  Jarring dub-step/breakbeat buzzing along with the voiceover of Jessica’s professor/boyfriend as he describes detailed instructions to lucid dreaming was something I hadn’t seen before.  It was different for sure, and the skillful editing by Frédéric Pons made Jessica’s dreams all the more compelling.

Director Romain Basset did an amazing job leading the audience down the rabbit hole as Jessica’s dreams became more disturbing and revealing.  His use of symbolism resonated with psychological significance as Jungian references involving animals and religion all came into play without being too overbearing, the most obvious being the ominously creepy Horsehead creature itself-the harbinger of death or perhaps a literal representation of a nightmare.  Charles Perrault’s Red Riding Hood was also a prominent theme with Jessica, her grandmother and a wolf guide; a sinister interpretation of the popular fairy tale.

The sets were quite beautiful and simple, pulling from Henry Fuseli’s famous gothic “The Nightmare” painting.  This eerie piece of art combined with the dark red and pale blue colour palette and stylish cinematography elevated the film’s old-school giallo feel.  And speaking of giallo, Jessica’s mother Catelyn was played by Catriona MacColl, who was also in Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond and City of the Living Dead, while her step-father Jim was played by Murray Head, the musician behind the 80’s hit “One Night in Bangkok”.  All the performances were great, especially Pointeaux, who held her own with the veteran cast.  My only issue with the film was Jessica’s grandfather Winston (Fu’ad Aït Aattou), and his role as, from what I can gather, a cult leader of some sort.  There was a whole back story that I wanted to see more of, and perhaps the explanation of the age discrepancy between Jessica and her mother.  I wasn’t sure if all this was meant to be ambiguous because of the dream logic, but don’t let that stop you from seeing it.

Romaine Basset’s first feature-length film was an artistic triumph.  If you enjoy surreal, well-made independent horror, check out Horsehead.

Fangoria’s exclusive clip that drew me in!

And the official trailer:

Pixie’s Horror List for 2014

Published January 1, 2014 by rmpixie

Happy New Year folks!  I’ve been cruising the internet for the new batch of horror films coming out this year.  I must say I’m a little perplexed as to what signifies horror these days.  I guess the cross over categories are a good thing as the genre is constantly evolving, but I don’t want to get sucked in by clever marketing only to be disappointed by the lack of horror elements in a film.  As I’ve mentioned before, adding a random torture scene and blood sprays does not a horror make.  I’m old-fashioned with my horror needs.  A monster, serial killer, demon, ghost, slasher from the dead, mutation or some supernatural element in any combination does it for me.  Psychological horrors are good too, but they need to be better described for the fans so we don’t get disappointed just because it is misrepresented with the marketing.

Aside from that, I’ve found some intriguing films for 2014 that I may actually venture out to a theatre to see, and even though I am usually not a fan of sequels, I’ve found a few that look good:

The latest Paranormal Activity instalment, The Marked Ones is creating a lot of buzz.  I will probably see it, but I admit I will most likely wait until it comes out On Demand/DVD.  It’s been such a successful franchise that I think people will go see this film out of curiosity, although there are a lot of Paranormal Activity fans out there.

Devil’s Due sounds pretty good.  There is nothing I like better than a suspicious (demonic) pregnancy for a happy couple.  Bring it on!  Seems like these devil spawn movies never get tired.  And I will always see them.  Always.  You can thank my strict Catholic upbringing for that.

I, Frankenstein I will definitely got to the theatres to see.  I love Kevin Grevioux (of the Underworld series), who created the graphic novel which the film is based on.  I love Aaron Eckhart because he is delicious.  And I love monsters, which this film is chock full of.  Yay!!!

Ok, so this is not horror, but it gets an honourable mention.  300: Rise of an Empire is so on my list.  Yes, because of the hard bodies, especially that of Sullivan Stapleton, one of my many movie boyfriends, and star of Strike Back, one of the best action T.V. shows ever.  Who cares about the storyline.  Just bring on the greased up men!

I’m really curious about Maleficent, the story of the evil character from Sleeping Beauty before she curses the Princess Aurora.  It has a great gothic feel, and I love the makeup and look of Angelina Jolie. I also dig a good back story, so I will probably put something other than pyjamas on and go see this one in theatres.

Dead Snow 2: Read vs. Dead is going to be ridiculous. Zombie Nazis and lots of snow.  Who knew you could make a movie and it’s sequel out of what sounds like random words picked out of a hat.  I loved the first one, so can I have some more please?

Deliver Us From Evil is a possession movie that involves cops, bad guys and, of course, the devil.  Scott Derrickson is a great director (he did The Exorcism of Emily Rose which is the one movie I will never watch alone), and the cast looks great.  Joel McHale will play Eric Bana’s partner in this supernatural cop flick, so I’m hoping for some dry humour as well as devilish thrills.

Oculus, which premiered at the TIFF this past year, has me intrigued as well.  A creepy mirror, bad things happening to a family and battling evil sounds like a great old-fashioned horror film that I won’t miss! Oh yeah, and actress Karen Gillan ( who played Amy Pond of Dr. Who fame) is in it, so I have to see it.

After seeing The Dead, a zombie apocalypse movie set in Africa, I’m excited to see the second installment The Dead 2:  India, where an American engineer travels through a zombie outbreak to rescue his Indian wife.  Diversity, zombies and adventure are always welcome!

Another flick that I’m really interested in is Grim Night.  I had seen the trailer some time last summer, and I hope it comes out soon.  The premise where Grims (your good old-fashioned hooded spectres of death) come out once a year to claim new victims is chilling, so I hope the film does it justice.

The Theatre Bizarre 2: Grand Guignol will be the second addition to this anthology franchise.  This sequel brings us a crop of French directors and their horrific contributions, and we all know how much I love my French horror and Xavier Gens (The Divide, Frontière(s)), so here’s hoping there will be lots of  “soif du sang” and that this flick will “nous donne le frisson”!

Of course, The Human Centipede’s final chapter is due this year.  As ridiculous as it is, I feel compelled to finish off this gross-out franchise just so I know what the final outcome of the mouth-to-bum insanity will be.

Another ridiculous but must-see film:  Squirrels.  As a crazed animal lover and vegetarian, I’ve just got to see squirrels gone bad.  I’m the one who is always trying to commune with these furry rodents, so this just might make me think twice about “making friends”…

Along with the above picks will be many independent gems like angry ghost film Pernicious by indie fave James Cullen Bressack, obscure B-movies that I stumble across, as well as anything from the new Hammer Films studios like The Quiet Ones.

I hope 2014 brings us horror fans lots and lots of good, scary stories on the big screen!

Thanatomorphose: BITS 2013

Published December 9, 2013 by rmpixie

thanatomorphose_xlg

Thanatomorphose (2012, 1hr 40 mins)

The second screening on the first night of BITS Fest was probably, from what I gathered, the most talked about.  Why, you may ask?  Well, because it had to be the most stomach-churning, grotesque, cringe inducing body horror I have seen in a long, long time.  Everyone that I spoke to would ask “Did you see Than..na..mo.., you know which one I’m talking about?”  It left a lot of people grossed out, not impressed or loving it.

 Thanatomorphose  (the French word for “the visible signs of decomposition of an organism caused by death”) is about a woman who is slowly decaying, mentally and physically.  Sounds pretty straightforward, but the progression of events in the film made it a grueling study of her deteriorating life, relationships, and body at an excruciating slow pace so we could see every minute detail.

There were 3 acts:  Despair, Another and Oneself, where we see the main character, Laura (Kayden Rose), attempt to create a relationship with her prick of a boyfriend (David Tousignant), have a half-hearted affair, and create a half-finished sculpture.  Nothing seems to come to fruition as she suffers from some sort of decaying disease and a grand ennui, if you will.  She refuses to get help, and is preoccupied with sex.  Basically naked for most of the film, Laura’s hands are constantly groping herself, seemingly for pleasure, and then for necessity as she tries to keep her bits from falling off.  Duct tape, jars for fingers and ears, and photos are all enlisted to keep some semblance of her former self, until her actions are done in vain as Laura soon becomes a puddle of gore, maggots and a memory.

As the credits started to roll, I was set on dismissing it as a “WTF?” type of film, which on first impulse, it is.  But the more I thought about it, the more intrigued I was because I could relate to Laura’s general discontent and stagnation.  I think it’s a commentary on life and society these days.  Some of us are so desensitized and dead inside that we lose our self-awareness, alienating ourselves and those around us.  Her apartment served as a type of tomb as she isolated herself from “normal life”.  She also maintained her solitude by disposing of anyone who wanted her to get help or found her repulsive.  You only need one person to do some crazy navel gazing, or watch as it rots…

The vagina-shaped crack in the wall above her bed morphed as she did, changing from a mere crevice to a dark sickly looking wound.  Did it symbolize a way out, a rebirth, that was just beyond her reach, the progression of her physical and mental demise, or the perversion of her sexual preoccupation?  And what about the sex and desire aspect of the film?  Laura gave in to her boyfriend’s constant need for her sexually.  She also gave in to her auto-erotic urges with mechanical regularity. It was as if she was trying to feel something, to connect through sex with herself or any willing takers despite her repulsive appearance. When the decay started to change her, she still offered herself up out of habit, even attempting to apply makeup to her rotting face, only to be rejected by all her suitors.  A punishing illustration of how she tried to maintain her former self even though she was already lost.

The sound design for this film was really interesting.  Creaking floorboards, buzzing flies, and Laura’s labored breathing were front and centre, punctuated with a gut wrenching violin score that made the film feel like we were watching through a peephole.

Director Éric Falardeau gave us some insight after the screening.  He said the film was an homage to Cronenberg (The Fly), Polanski (Repulsion) and Buttgereit (Necromantik 2).  This was Kayden Rose’s first lead role, and to help with the character development, the movie was filmed in chronological order, which also helped with the extensive special makeup effects.  David Scherer and Quebec’s own Rémy Couture did the makeup for this film, and they really outdid themselves.  Graphic and grotesque, they took decomposition to another level.  Falardeau also described the use of maggots during the filming and how Rose learned to deal with the ickiness of it all.  The film also walked away with Bloodies Awards for best special effects and best actress.

I’m still not sure of my own feelings about Thanatamorphose.  It was definitely though provoking and unique; an art house film buff’s playground, but the pacing killed me.  If you are going to watch it, prepare yourself for some drawn out scenes, and do not eat while viewing.  Trust me on this.  Not a good choice. What I do know is that I find French horror to be one of the most extreme out there.  From High Tension, to Inside and Martyrs, Thanatomorphose will be added to this list as a stomach-turning study of the fragile human condition

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