Tuesday, August 20, 2013

FOREIGN HORROR: Euro-Horror Part One


Europe is home to the very first horror film ever created. A 3 minute silent film called Le Manoir du diable (The Haunted Castle) from France made in 1896, which has gone on to inspire filmmakers throughout the years. So...is there any wonder as to why Europe has created some of the most graphic and intriguing cinema that the genre has ever seen? Horror film pretty much started there. Come...take my hand...and join me for some tea and crumpets while we discuss European Horror.

Fear is a universal language. It is an emotion that can creep inside an unsuspecting individual and live there for many, many years. If you think about it, often times, the things that scare us the most in a horror film usually takes place in a moment. One frame shown in a quick flash without sound and without any notice. You're sitting in a dark theater, watching a horror film...and before you know it...there it is. The one image that will haunt you for years to come. That's a good reason as to why foreign horror is so effective. Essentially, you are watching a language that you don't understand...concentrating on absorbing the film's primary beats, following the story down a dark path...until something pushes you over that crucial edge.  The storyteller is forced to use much more universal conventions in scaring his or her audience. That's why most of the horror found in foreign films tends to be so graphic and exquisite. European filmmakers have understood this element of fear for a very long time and, judging by some of their recent genre examples, they are making the films that scares us the most right now.

If you've been following Film Deviant for awhile now, it's no secret that I often do my best to work Martyrs, Let the Right One In  and  À l'intérieur (Inside) into any conversation. Those three films have made it into my top 10 horror films of all time. Hell, if I were to do a top 20...you would see Frontier(s)  in there somewhere. All these films are amazing works of art that transcend the traditional elements of the genre and become something harder to classify than just "a horror movie".


You'll notice that I'm excluding Italian horror in this conversation. Mostly because that country is deserving of their own spotlight. Italian filmmakers have contributed so much to the horror landscape that it would be sort of unfair to lump those films into the rest of the examples of European horror. So, we made an Italian introspection...HERE.

In the last decade Spain, France, England, Germany, Sweden, Serbia and even Ireland and Norway have served as breeding grounds to a new standard in the way a horror film is approached. While their films maintain some of the same conventions that you'll see in any old horror movie (the build up, final girl, antagonist, gore, etc.), you'll notice some different twists that take everything into a bold new direction.

For example...2003's Switchblade Romance, more commonly known as...High Tension. Alexander Aja has created a film that breaks through every possible horror convention known and then waves its middle finger at the genre, while also finding a way to respect everything that has come before it. It takes what you know about the "final girl" then pulls the rug out from under you. I won't go into spoilers or anything...but, High Tension  has one of the most polarizing endings in any film of the last 10 years. The ability to take some serious chances with its re-introduced "final girl"...and also display some new concepts while doing so. All the while...never once waiting for its audience to catch up. I respect that about Aja's approach to his filmmaking. He seems to work on the outer fringes of the genre with whatever film he chooses to work on. He'll take something that you already know (his remakes come to mind) and put a fresh spin on it all in which to introduce something new and fun.

Moving on to the horrors found in Sweden, Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In  re-introduces one of the most well-known monsters from the genre into something endearing and tragic. A vision that resembles something much more human and organic, all while never disowning its basic monstrous roots. Vampires have been bastardized in recent years by big-budget machines that take what has been loved for a century and turning it all into back-to-school notebooks and sparkly bedroom sets. However, Let the Right One In  represents a classic story told in a brand new way that offers some beautifully intriguing new ideas for an old premise. I love the film for what it does for the genre and for the cinematic experience.


Spain's [REC]  has used this very same formula and turned a zombie subgenre into something that defies categorization. It takes those usual elements, swallows them and regurgitates them into a new inspiring point of view. Speaking of point of view, [REC]  also does wonders for the tired found footage subgenre that, at the time, hasn't seen anything new in awhile. It does interesting things that incorporate both new and old. What a concept, huh? The second film in the [REC]  series is actually my favorite for its ability to throw every conceivable idea but the kitchen sink at you.

While on the subject of found footage, Norway's Trollhunter  has done something pretty amazing with the subgenre. It breathed new life into the category of film and offered up a premise that sounded absolutely zany on paper...but, turned into something beautiful on film. If you've never seen Trollhunter...stop reading this article and go find yourself a copy. André Øvredal has crafted a truly magnificently original little film that defies any kind of true label. This is a cinematic treasure that will endure years of remakes and copycats.

All these films represent the new standard of horror. They all have one thing in common: a fresh new way of looking at a genre that has been with us for a very long time. One can argue that America has yet to catch up with the amazing influx of foreign horror that has washed ashore from all these great countries. But, there are filmmakers that are taking cues from our European counterparts and creating some truly daring stuff. It is all relative to the genre. We make amazing films and push foreign filmmakers to create amazing films and so on. A beautiful never-ending cycle that only benefits us. The diehard horror fans.

In part two of our Euro-Horror special, we'll delve deeper into some of the continent's finest moments of horror cinema including a look into a film that has managed to turn a stomach-turning display of brutality into an iconic example of what France is capable of producing. A film that has...transcended itself.

In the meantime...for your viewing pleasure...here's [REC]. En español.





Thanks for reading,

bryan.





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