FOREIGN HORROR: Euro-Horror Part Two

The horror films that European filmmakers have created are like nothing else that the genre has ever seen. They exist to shock and provoke endless thought...simultaneously. The French, in particular, strike that often hard to find balance of whip smart storytelling combined with bone-rattling brutality. Sit down and join me for some espresso and croissants...we're taking a trip into the dark recesses of cinema.

I touched upon French horror last time with Haute Tension. A film that combines some smart storytelling choices with some of the most gruesome death scenes that you will ever see in a horror movie. All the while...dancing in a light of elegance. Well, there's another film that blackens out that little light in favor for a much bleaker one. But, before we get to that film, let us get a little French history out of the way...shall we?

France is one of the largest countries in Europe. America tends to scoff at the French as Jerry Lewis-worshipping elitists that only care about sex and cafés. Well...we couldn't be more wrong. The French have a long history of taking a certain liking to something and approaching it with great care and respect. Like horror films. Since the very first horror film came from France over a century ago, they deserve to be recognized as a true force in the genre. And so they've studied the culture throughout the years. Young Pascal Laugier watched John Carpenter and George A. Romero films when he was growing up in a politically strangled environment. France hasn't always been so accepting of the genre. In fact, the social climate in France has scoffed at horror for the past few decades. A film like Haute Tension  would have been inconceivable 20 years ago.

Enter Martyrs.

Pascal Laugier has cited his unique horror film as a means to tell a story about the political and social climate surrounding his growth in the country. An artistically suppressed country that carefully conditioned its people to embrace safer things in the media. Upon production, Martyrs  was rejected by every single film studio and actress in France. No one wanted to be a part of it and the project was shunned by everyone. Forcing Laugier to resort to other ways of making the film he wanted. And the timing was to play a huge role in the emergence of the French horror explosion. 

The French films that came before Martyrs: Haute Tension,  À l'intérieur, Frontier(s), Funny Games, Ils, Calvaire, Trouble Every Day, etc. These films prepared us for Martyrs. Dropping seeds that would later grow to become the provocative film we all love. You can see some of the dark influence in these other films. Whether it be the explosive violence or the tightly wrapped reveal that blows the mind. Without any of these genre classics, a film like Martyrs  would not have been possible. And what a film it is.

Nothing you know is like Martyrs. Think of the very first time you watched the film. The way it made you squirm uncomfortably...and yet, you couldn't turn your eyes away. You felt all of Lucie's pain. You flinched at every punch...every kick. And it was all so very sincere. Martyrs  is a film that speaks for a generation and, yet, it is an enduring film that will live on for eons. It not only displays a new way of approaching horror...but it also awakens its audience and enlightens them of the possibilities that a film can have. It is what our genre needs.

Being an American horror film fan, I envy a film like Martyrs...mostly for its ability to truly kick down the door of horror fundamentals and take a shotgun to everyone faces in the room and leave its audience for dead in a pool of blood. Name me one other American horror film that has done that in the last decade. While there are certainly some that have come I said before. like Martyrs.

It is a revenge story...that unfolds into something transcendental.  It is the spirit of European horror film. Another film from France that shares its brutal spirit...and delivers some truly phenomenal female performances...both desperate and unrelenting is the beautifully tragic À l'intérieur. A film that grips you by the neck on an unsuspecting Christmas Eve night...and hardly ever lets up. God, I love À l'inté in a really unhealthy way. And if you haven't seen Frontier(s) really need, right goddamn now!

French horror has reached a certain point in the genre where every new film from the country is automatically declared the "next big movie" whenever a release date is announced. Hell...there's even huge interest whenever Pascal Laugier, Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo or Alexandre Aja reveals a new project. The French movement is so powerful and palpable...that it can be felt by all the surrounding countries. The last decade has strongly improved the genre is so many different ways that new visions are being explored from every dark corner of Europe...and we will shine a light into some of those dark corners in Part Three of Euro-Horror.

In the meantime...check out Michael Haneke's Funny Games. A film so nice...he made it twice.

Please enjoy...

Thanks for reading,