Haute Tension (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
tend to think that France produces arty, meandering, generally
philosophical films while the USA specializes in cheap thrills. While
there is some truth to that, the fact of the matter is that the French
more or less invented cheap bloody thrills as a form of entertainment.
In 1897, a French playwright opened his own theater to produce the
sorts of entertainments with were anathema in the cultured world of
the legitimate theater. Many
different types of entertainments were produced there, but Le Theatre
du Grand Guignol became most famous for one particular type of play
which captured the imagination of its audiences: splatter theater. The
company become particularly adept at presenting macabre terror plays
which simulated violent death and torture so effectively that the
simulated beheadings, dismemberings, acid-splatterings, and other
blood-soaked effects seemed real to the audiences. Over the
years, the Grand Guignol theatre became one of the most popular
tourist attractions in Paris, and eventually its name became
synonymous with an entire grisly genre of horror performances
featuring extreme gore delivered with realistic special effects.
Although the theater opened its doors before cinema was a popular
entertainment medium, the Grand Guignol theater company was, in
effect, the group responsible for the invention of splatter films.
They paved the way for Hershell Gordon Lewis, Rob Zombie, The Texas
Chainsaw Massacre, and the other fodder for film's latter day gore
Haute Tension is a French film in the true Grand Guignol tradition. No compromises. It's vicious, visceral, and in-your-face.
What's it about? Not much. A young female visits her family's isolated countryside estate, accompanied by a friend from school. While they are there, a murderous maniac stalks the estate.
What's it like? Imagine a stylized and professionally executed horror film like A Nightmare on Elm Street, but higher on the gore meter, lower on the irony - more like Blood Feast or Texas Chainsaw Massacre in its straightforward depiction of the violence. You might say it is a bloodier French version of Jeepers Creepers, or maybe the kind of film The House of 100 Corpses would have been if Rob Zombie were French.
Is it good? That's a complicated question. Let me change it to "Will people like it? If so, who?" The critical response to this film has clearly established an answer to that question. If you are like 95% of the people who watch films, splatter films are not for you, so the question of quality is irrelevant. You won't like a brutish, mean-spirited, explicit splatter film even if it has the production values of Amelie, the myth-making genius of The Godfather, and the cinematic poetry of Blade Runner. Roger Ebert wrote, "The philosopher Thomas Hobbes tells us life can be poor, nasty, brutish and short. So is this movie." He hated it and gave it one star. I feel about the same way. If I didn't have to watch films like this for other work-related reasons, I would never watch one on my own for pleasure.
But that doesn't mean it sucks.
If you are among the other 5% who really enjoy an extremely explicit gore-fest, and would like to see an effectively vicious homicidal maniac on a rampage, this should be your kind of movie. It has a distinctive look and visual style, an unsettling and effective musical score, and dramatic tension throughout. And there are not many films that will show you a maniac beheading a woman, then using her severed head to masturbate furiously. It gives new meaning to the phrase "getting some head."
Two additional notes:
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