Month of Horror 2015: World Edition – France: High Tension (Haute Tension)

Editor’s Note: These posts originally appeared starting here on the AV Club *stares off wistfully*. They are being reposted for completionist sake as this annual series continued onto the AVCAD and now here. Also, forgive the writing for I was younger and dumber and these were written to appear in comments so don’t include pictures and are far shorter and less thorough than the series is now. They have been preserved as they were.

Month of Horror: World Edition
10/16/2015 – France: High Tension (Haute Tension) (2003)
Directed by Alexandre Aja

French cinema is perhaps the most familiar and most well received foreign language cinema with a just about unparalleled length dating back to the first real motion pictures by Louis Le Prince and The Lumiere Brothers, and turning out such luminaries as Georges Méliès, Jean Vigo, Jean Renoir, Marcel Carné, Jean-Pierre Melville, Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Despite such classic films as DiaboliqueEyes Without a Face, and Baxter, French horror has been known this century for the New French Extremity movement with opinion of it being mixed to say the least with films ThemFrontier(s>, and Martyrs drawing big supporters and detractors with it being almost considered a classier (French) version of the US torture porn films. While I have seen a fair number of the latter, I haven’t exactly been in a rush to see any New French Extremity films in large part due to that comparison.

Alexandre Aja’s High Tension is probably the best known and one of the earliest of these films with Aja also being the movement’s director I’m most familiar with thanks to his remakes of Piranha (so much fun) and The Hills Have Eyes (surprisingly good). For the most part (see below and I am really sick of saying this), this is another great movie from Aja. The film is extremely tense (sigh) as it moves from a home invasion/slasher to a very Duel like suspense thriller and finally back into slasher territory at the end. The amount the film was able to keep me on the edge of my seat that it was able to get from an hour and change of one person being menaced without it starting to feel excessive or dull is impressive. The film is unsurprisingly gory and brutal refusing to shy away from anything while at the same time feeling natural in the story and not existing only to show off what it can get away with (see the Hostels and the later Saw films).

But seriously, I’m just about done with shitty twists to movies. There is nothing wrong with just ending your well done movie in a straight manner without having a twist to change the entire plot of the movie before. SPOILERS FOR THIS, SILENT HOUSE, AND WELL SPOILED BY NOW ALFRED HITCHCOCK AND DAVID FINCHER MOVIESThe twist here, albeit one that was fairly well spoiled by the internet while poking around trying to make sense of the ending to Silent House, so just another reason to hate that ending, is very similar to that movie albeit thankfully with 100% less child molestation although it makes even less sense with what comes before. Just because Fight Club and Psycho were able to nail the “one person exists only as a figment in the imagination of the lead” it doesn’t mean your movie will work because you try to pull that same hint. We are given small hints early that our protagonist isn’t completely sane but nothing out of the ordinary of a typical slasher opening and that she has an interest in the woman she kidnapped which is pretty creepy in one scene, but that’s it. Even thinking back retrospectively (or in my case also at the timethough I did my best to forget it) it makes certain scenes completely illogical and robs them of their power. While I don’t necessarily see anything malicious in it, there is something
uncomfortable here about making another LGBT horror character the crazed villain END OF SPOILERS.

So once again I’m left at the end of a movie mostly happy with what I saw with even after the shit twist in terms of filmmaking but let down by a change in the plot that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I still don’t know how to judge something that does just about everything right except for one thing that winds up clouding the rest of my memories. It’s a great film if you can get past that one sticking point and can stand the brutality, but otherwise I have a hard time recommending it.

Month of Horror: World Edition
Bonus Episode #8 – United States: Tales of Terror (1962)
Directed by Roger Corman

Unlike the last anthology film Twilight Zone: The Movie, all three segments here are handled by one director, Roger Corman, and scripted by Richard Matheson an approach which typically lends a greater equality in segments but it is still probably best to judge them on their own. All three segments also feature the great Vincent Price who starred in all of the Corman-Poe films aside from the previously reviewed Premature Burial. This is also the final (though fourth in production order) of Corman’s Poe cycle for me to get around to seeing and like all of them, these are very loose adaptations.

“Morella” is up first and is a quick 25 minute story starring Price that wastes no time barreling through its story and quickly sets the pace. There isn’t a ton of time to develop the characters, but the segment does an efficient job establishing them and the concept before getting to the typical Poe twist. It is much more in line with the more serious, horror focused Corman-Poe entries and it is a well done version of that.

“The Black Cat” is along the lines of the more comedic entry The Raven with a bumbling drunken Peter Lorre, a hilariously over the top aristocratic Price, and a goofy soundtrack backing it up. The wine tasting scene between Lorre and Price is a thing of beauty and the stretching effect they went with for Lorre’s dream sequence is downright surreal. Along with being the longest segment, it is the most uneven in quality and tone but Lorre especially keeps it consistently entertaining.

“The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” is easily best and most effective horror segment with a wonderfully creepy Basil Rathbone. The death scene is surprisingly painful to watch and Price’s moans from beyond the grave are unnerving. I also appreciated the chocolatey looking face melting effect which was equal parts hilarious and disgusting.

Overall, this is a quick moving, and consistently pretty good film which is at the very least in the middle of the pack of the Poe cycle in quality.

Up Next: Jalmari Helander’s Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale representing Finland

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