"Martyrs" French New Wave Horror #4


“Martyrs” is the final film in my reviews of the new French horror wave. All four of these films were extremely thoughtful and well made. Nothing exemplifies this more than “Martyrs”. This film could be accurately described as art house existential horror. Written and directed by Pascual Laugier, his film goes the distance when it comes to creativity and graphic brutality. Dealing mostly with the psychological effects of torture and what lies beyond human suffering.

The film opens with a disheveled young girl running from a warehouse. This is Lucie she has endured quite a lot while being held captive by a group of unknown people. She is sent to an orphanage and obviously has some severe psychological and physical trauma. She eventually becomes friends with Anna, a girl her age.

The film flash-forwards 15 years to your basic family of four having breakfast and conversation when there is a knock at the door. The father goes to answer it and finds and hooded stranger with a shotgun. This person coldly and brutally massacres the whole family. The stranger is Lucie, she feels that the parents of this family were responsible for the torture she endured as a child. She calls Anna who comes right over to deal with the mess. Anna has always taken care of and felt sorry for what happened to Lucie and little by little has gotten in over her head in helping her.

Lucie has been fighting her inner demons for years and this gets kind of confusing as Laugier actually creates a woman like a creature that continues to attack her. Upon first viewing, it’s hard to tell what the hell to make of her. Despite Anna’s efforts, Lucie commits suicide.

Anna further investigates the house and finds a hidden passageway to an underground facility that is the headquarters to a secret society whose mission it is to contact the other side, to find out what lies beyond death. Certain people, mainly young women are chosen to be martyrs. These people are systematically tortured and psychologically broken until they reach a certain point where they transcend the pain and suffering to enter into a new consciousness.

Anna is captured whiles snooping around the place and is subjected to the same torture that Lucie endured. After Anna has been broken it is time for the next stage. Are you ready for this? She is taken into another room and skinned alive, except for her face. She doesn’t scream or seem to feel any pain, she has transcended. She survives this procedure and whispers into the ear of the older women who seems to head this society. The Madam calls a meeting to share the news of what she has heard. If you want to know the rest watch the movie, sucka!

This film definitely “transcends” your basic horror movie and goes places we have rarely been. This secret society is composed of rich elderly white people. I guess they want to know what to expect. Sadly, there is an American remake in the works and no matter what they do; it could never come close to matching the stunning effect of this film.

"High Tension" New Wave French Horror #3

High Tension

This is the third of four reviews of the new wave in French horror. “High Tension” or “Switchblade Romance” as it is also called was made in 2003 and was the movie that really set this whole wave into motion. Director Alexandre Aja whose American film debut in 2006 was the remake of “The Hills Have Eyes” was given rave reviews earlier on my blog. His next film “Mirrors” was a huge disappointment and now with “Piranha 3-D” will be hitting theaters later this summer. Let hope for the best.

“High Tension” is a well paced, well made horror classic until the final act almost kills it in a hugely illogical WTF twist. Two female college students Marie and Alex drive out to Alex’s parent's place in the country to study for exams. Marie is a tall, muscular and smart girl with a very short blonde haircut that reminds you of Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby”. Marie and Alex are best friends, but even though they talk about possible boyfriends. Marie seems to be more interested in a serious relationship with Alex. When everybody goes to bed, just like in the previous movie “Inside”, a knock at the front door in the middle of the night set the rest of the movie in motion.

A stocky older man dressed in a grungy old work jumpsuit and a baseball hat goes to town on Alex’s family. He is a silent evil force to be reckoned with, kind of like a Michael Myers type killer. Marie and the killer play this kind of cat and mouse game and is able to stay hidden. The kills are quite brutal and visceral. Even their little boy is dispatched with as he tries to escape into the cornfield. The killer takes Alex with him to who knows where, while Marie is able to tag along without him knowing. There is a tension filled scene at a truck stop when the killer becomes aware of Marie. These two have it out in the woods later and this also starts the completely bullshit third act. I give the filmmakers credit for having the balls to take the story in this direction, but with everything we’ve seen so far, this last part really makes no sense. That being said I still think this is one of the best horror movies in the last decade. The characters are smart and so is the script. It piles on the blood and gore and is thoroughly satisfying.

"Inside" French New Wave Horror #2


The second film in my reviews of the new French horror wave is called “Inside.” It was released on DVD in the U.S. in early 2008 and is only for the true hardcore horror fans. Many movies have used pregnancy as a basis for a horror movie, but “Inside” takes it in a different direction. This was the first feature film for directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury.

The story opens inside the womb of Sarah, a news photographer when a huge jolt sends her four month old fetus crashing into the wall of her stomach. We then see that there has been a car accident and her husband has died. It’s four months later and her baby has survived; she is ready to get a c-section the next day when there is a knock at her door. It’s a woman who wants to use the phone, Sarah is skeptical and denies her. The woman knows her and starts talking to her by name. After being harassed Sarah calls the police, they check things out and say they will check back again later. The tension, suspense, and mood are kept high throughout the films 83 minutes.

What is unique about this movie is that even though Sarah is pregnant, the story and the horror is not about her fetus. It’s not evil or the spawn of Satan, it just a regular baby that just wants to be born. As Sarah is sleeping, the mystery woman has made her way inside (there’s that word again) the house. She grabs a scissors in an attempt to cut the baby out of her. She doesn’t get too far for when she pierces Sarah’s belly button, she awakes and is able to escape to the bathroom and lock the door. Just who is this woman anyway? Like the movie “Frontier(s)” it takes place near Paris where race and political riots are happening (a lot of angry people over there.)

The rest of the movie is an extremely bloody test of survival. Other people will enter the house but will not be coming back out. The blood and gore effects are top notch and brutally realistic. The acting is also much better than you would expect from a film like this. All capped off with an ending so nasty you’ll literally puke in your popcorn. So why would you want to see a movie like this? Because you are a sick, sick, person. It’s also great entertainment! It’s not for 85% of people, but for a select few it will be a rare journey into severe depravity. Buy it today on DVD!

"Frontier(s)" New Wave French Horror Series #1


Back in the late 1950s and early 60’s one of the biggest film movements in the history of cinema started with the French new wave. A group of innovative and creative filmmakers like Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer and many others that changed the way films can be made. Now in the present, the French seem to have done it again with horror. “High Tension”, “Frontier(s)”, “Inside” and “Martyrs” are all extremely brutal, unrelenting journeys into the deepest depths of depravity. All are extremely well made and make the horror world stand up and take notice.

I will review all four of these films in the coming weeks with the first one being “Frontier(s). This film starts out in Paris as political protests and riots consume the city. A group of young activists (three guys, one girl) gets in over there heads. After a robbery, they get into a shootout with the police and take down an officer. They split up as one of these guys is also shot. They head for the country and plan to eventually hideout in Amsterdam. The rest of the story is a mix of “Hostel” and Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. This movie is a prime example of what is now called “torture porn”. It’s an orgy of gore, sadism and downright nastiness that for a horror fanatic like myself eat it up like a cannibal to a human liver.

This is not a cheap movie that was haphazardly slapped together. Writer/director Xavier Gens has crafted a multi-layered story with political and social commentary. The group of young radicals, who also happen to be Muslim, stop off at a hostel in the French countryside only to find it being run by a group and murderous cannibal, who are lead by a former Nazi. I know it sounds a little like a cheap B movie but Gens pulls it off. I’m not saying this movie is not without its flaws, but it is still a very intense ride.

The DVD leaves a little something to be desired as there are no special features of any kind, just the film. Yes, it is subtitled, but hey get over it. Don’t limit yourself, add Frontier(s) to your Netflix Queue today!

George A Romero's "Survival of the Dead"


George A Romero is the undisputed father of the zombie movie that started in 1968 with “Night of the Living Dead”. Now with “Survival” his sixth “of the Dead” movie, they seem to lose more relevance and purpose with each sequel. The early films were smart, gory and actually scary. While now they are just redundant and uninspired. His zombies have failed to be in the least bit scary or menacing. With all the zombie movies out there you really need to have a great idea or spin to really have a decent shot at a good film. Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” remake certainly injected some much-needed life into the genre (pun intended, sucka!). Along with the two “28 Days” films, it has spawned the now age old question of whether you like your zombies fast or slow? I know Romero wants to make a buck and he certainly has the right to, but the “dead” films have more than runs its course.

"Stir of Echoes" Ghosts with a side of Bacon


This movie starring Kevin Bacon is based on a story by famed author Richard Matheson, whose other work includes “I Am Legend”, “The Box” and “What Dreams May Come”. Director David Koepp is better known as a screenwriter who has written numerous blockbusters like the Jurassic Park movies, Spider-Man, and Panic Room.

“Stir of Echoes” is a decent ghost story, but has its flaws. Set in suburban Chicago Bacon’s character of Tom is your average blue collar worker. One night at a neighborhood party he allows his sister-in-law to hypnotize him. This seems to open a door in his mind that allows him to be a “receiver” of the pleas of dead people. His son also seems to have this ability. In several scenes, the kid is talking to his friend Samantha who is nobody else can see. Samantha was a teenaged girl from the neighborhood who disappeared six months back. Little kids being used as a medium for the dead to air their grievances is getting to be a pretty tired plot device in my opinion.

Tom starts to have visions and hallucinations of a horrific crime and is haunted by the ghost of Samantha. Tom goes back to his sister-in-law to if she can fix him. All he finds out is that he has to start digging in his backyard and buy large quantities of orange juice. Kevin Bacon, orange juice, there must be another breakfast reference somewhere I missed. Tom completely digs up the yard and apparently didn’t hit any gas or power lines. He is obsessively digging for the truth, yet his hands look fine. My hands would be a bloody mess after a half hour. He asks around the neighborhood and the police about Samantha’s case, but they brush him off. As is customary with most movies like this there is a scene where Tom has to go down into a dark and creepy basement, and an extremely tired use of a bathroom mirror gag.

So does Samantha get her justice from beyond the grave? Are the neighbors harboring secrets? This movie is pretty formulaic in its story telling but it is pulled off well enough to be somewhat entertaining. The producer also thought so well of it that they made a direct to DVD sequel starring Rob Lowe.