Archive for french

Films That Haunt Me: THE IRON ROSE

Posted in Films That Haunt Me, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2016 by smuckyproductions

For some years now I’ve been a fan of Eurohorror, but I always stayed away Jean Rollins – though I saw his name pop up around every corner – because of his reputation. Thankfully, having gone through most of the horror canon already, I had no other option but to try him out. And I am ashamed to have waited so long. At his best, Rollins is a Gothic master – and we have a fine example of this in THE IRON ROSE.

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The plot is so simple, it surprises me that it hasn’t been done a hundred times: a couple gets lost in a cemetery after having sex in one of the crypts. It could have been a Tales from the Crypt episode, or a good zombie movie – but Rollins takes a more interesting approach. Certainly, it starts out like a good ol’ B movie… until the psychological effects kick in.

The cinematography trapped my attention from the beginning. Rollins finds the most fascinating locations and the camera knows how to showcase them. Whether it be the beach, an abandoned train yard, or the cemetery itself, each image is enthralling. This is good, because most of the film crawls along at a snail’s pace. One of my favorite attributes of Eurohorror is its patience. This will be an instant turn-off for many viewers, but for those who can withstand it, the slowness becomes hypnotic. With a gorgeous (and seldom-used) score to back up his images, Rollins creates a delicious Gothic atmosphere.

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It is the atmosphere that allows for the psychological fear to come through. Unlike most films of its kind, “The Iron Rose” features fairly decent acting and dialogue, and no violence. Good thing, too, because the two characters carry almost the entire film. You might expect zombies or ghouls to come into play at some point – but Rollins opts for a more truly Gothic story. The only supernatural element is the graveyard itself, which goes on forever like a labyrinth. Everything else come from the characters.

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Once the plot kicked in and I realized there would be no traditional horrific elements, I was pleasantly surprised to still find myself afraid. It is the mental degeneration of these characters that is so unsettling. Rollins pulls this off without subtlety, but the effect is strong. His images emphasize the morbid trap that these people have fallen into. They are innocent for the most part, and yet they are dealt a disturbing punishment. It plays out like a realistic nightmare – who isn’t afraid of being lost in such an awful place? And the ending, while not as climactic as some might like, is genius to me – and haunts me still.

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While I am sure that most of Rollins’ work will not reach these heights for me, I am thrilled to have unlocked a new corridor of Gothic cinema for myself. The emphasis on image and mood, pertaining to psychological chills, is an art that I hope will not be lost. If patience is one of your virtues, indulge in this moody piece of the grotesque – you might get lost, too.

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Films That Haunt Me: ILS (THEM)

Posted in Films That Haunt Me with tags , , , , on December 16, 2015 by smuckyproductions

With a remake of 2008’s “Martyrs” coming out, the public is reminded of the heyday that was the French Extreme cinema. These works, including “Irreversible,” “Frontier(s)” and “Inside,” pushed the limits of viewer stamina with their intense violence and deeply existential ideas. There is one French offering, however, that avoids violence almost entirely – a heart-shattering and pulse-bursting piece of suspense called ILS.

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American audiences will recognize the plot from 2008’s “The Strangers,” a remake of this film. It is strikingly simplistic – a couple living out in the middle of nowhere must fend off mysterious figures who invade their house, with insidious intentions. This story has been done exponential times, but rarely has the filmmaking pushed it so far into brutal terror. Without having viewed the remake in its entirety, I can’t speak to their comparison – I know, however that the original goes much further thematically, and winds up making a bleaker statement.

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I haven’t seen this film for years, but it has stuck with me in an unconscious way. The execution of the suspense and scares is unique for a modern film because of its lack of gloss – the terror is raw, simple, but all the more effective. Quiet, out-of-place noises and glimpses of figures as they run down the hall become heart-stopping. The filmmakers place utter confidence in their scenarios and leave out all fancy trappings. Because of this, the film will fall flat for some people – but for me, it was overwhelmingly visceral.

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The ending is another point that ruined the film for some viewers. Without giving it away, I will state that I found it satisfyingly bold – not groundbreaking in any way, but it fit the tone so well, and avoided the cheap shock that a lesser film would have grabbed at. It is remarkable that the filmmakers could sustain the tension for even 77 minutes, and they do not waste that talent in their climax. Clear, brutal and not a little bit bizarre, the ending has always stayed with me.

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The simplicity and lack of glitz will certainly turn off many viewers. For those viewers who are drawn into its atmosphere as I was, it is a phenomenal exercise in suspense and terror. It is old-fashioned in that way – setting it apart from its equally noteworthy, but much uglier, cinematic contemporaries. Lock the doors, check the windows, and see if you can watch it without looking over your shoulder. After all, “we just want to play…”

Films That Haunt Me: LES DIABOLIQUES

Posted in Films That Haunt Me with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 3, 2015 by smuckyproductions

It’s November now, a time for Halloween hangovers before the Christmas rush begins in full force. After the horror rush of October, some might think it’s time to calm down, watch some wholesome films, get away from the macabre. And some can never get away. For those in the latter group, I continue my discussion of the grotesque and the Gothic, starting off with the noir nightmare LES DIABOLIQUES.

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This gem of French cinema is often referred to as the alternative to “Psycho,” perhaps because Hitchcock and Henri-Georges Clouzot – the director of this film – engaged in a bidding war for the book rights. When one sees the film, this couldn’t make more sense. It’s a dark, psychological, power-play crime story about a brutal man and two women – one his wife, the other his mistress – who conspire to get him out of their lives once and for all. Which they do. But what if he’s not done with them yet?

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So, yes, it sounds like a noir-thriller… until things start to happen. I can’t say what those things are, but just thinking about them horrifies me. Something about classic horror and bathtubs, man. But this is a film that brilliantly combines two genres that often get mistaken for one another. There is the reality and logic of a crime-thriller – murder, cover-up, detective work – but then, out of the dark, comes the cloying nightmare of horror. The latter component has less screen time, to be sure, but it is certainly provides the most memorable scene. Suffice to say, this has one of the best shock endings of all time.

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Its unique atmosphere also sets it apart from most noir-thrillers, which tend to have seedy, hard-boiled tones. Even before the murder takes place, this one adopts a sodden, autumnal aura that might be more at home in a ghost story, full of rainy skies and ill-kept corridors. With the quiet Gothic-ness of the beginning, the horror does not feel out of place.

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And that aura of the uncanny only serves to support the quietly-building hints within the film that something is not right. This is a master-class of tension. The occurrences are minute, almost imperceptible, until it dawns on the viewer that they’re terrified. And that’s when things really begin to happen. The film is patient and trusts that it will achieve its effect – a confidence that is often missing from modern genre offerings, which are too hasty to grab a quick scare, rather than sustaining a mood of dread.

This film is a dream come true for lovers of classic cinema and horror fans alike – perfect for these damp November afternoons, when we need a chill to keep us warm. And perhaps a heart-stopping shock, too.