“I won’t let anyone come between us anymore”
First things first, if you haven’t seen or heard of this film, where on earth have you been? Haute Tension was at the vanguard of The New French Extremity. A cinematic tour de force, Haute Tension is a magnificently twisted cat & mouse thriller that until the arrival of Pascal Laugier’s incredible Martyrs, stood at the pinnacle of French horror cinema.
Haute Tension begins with Marie (Cecile de France) & Alex (Maiwenn le Besco) travelling by car to Alex’s parents house where they will stay for the weekend. Marie has just woken from a bad dream. Once the women arrive at the house Alex gives Marie a tour of the house & they eat a late supper before heading to bed. Unable to sleep, Marie lies on her bed listening to music & masturbating. She is disturbed by the sound of the front door bell. Marie watches from her door at the top of the stairs as Alex’s father answers the door. The man at the door slashes Alex’s father with a straight razor. The killer (Philippe Nahon) then pushes the father’s head between two rails on the staircase & pushes a bookcase along the side of the staircase, decapitating the father. The killer then goes from room to room murdering Alex’s family & taking her hostage in his van. Marie manages to avoid being found by the killer & hides away in the van with Alex as the killer drives away.
The name Haute Tension (High Tension) sums this movie up perfectly. Once the killer’s van leaves Alex’s parents house with the two women in the back, the movie becomes a game of cat & mouse between Marie & the killer. Director Alexandre Aja has created a movie which keeps escalating the tension to almost unbearable levels. The scene in the petrol station toilets really amps up the atmosphere & creates a palpable air of claustrophobia. I have to mention the cinematography by Maxime Alexandre, the film is one of the best looking films you will ever see. The scenes in & around the greenhouse are visually stunning. The three central actors all give wonderful performances, Nahon gives the role of the killer a real sense of menace. Maiwenn le Besco is excellent as Alex, her portrayal of a woman in the grip of utter terror is spot on. But it is Cecile de France whose performance steals the film. Her portrayal of Marie is exceptional. The movie has a much talked about ending which I obviously won’t spoil here, but it is an ending that seems to divide people 50/50 if they think it makes the movie or think it ruins the picture. Personally I think the ending is perfect. I must also point out that this film is explicitly violent, while not as brutal as Martyrs or Inside, the violence & bloodshed is still very strong & is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
If you haven’t yet seen Haute Tension then, quite frankly you are missing out on one of the best horror/thrillers ever made. Since the success of Haute Tension, Aja has carved a career out for himself in Hollywood, first with the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, followed by films like Mirrors & now seems to be making movies for 14-year-old boys (Piranha) Haute Tension remains his best film, one can only hope that one day he fulfils the promise shown in this movie. A true classic.
“Face the reality & get the message”
Kichiku Dai Enkai or Banquet Of The Beasts to give the film its English title is a student film made over two years by writer/director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri & is an incredible achievement. Taking inspiration from the Asamo Sanso incident in the 70s, Kumakiri has fashioned a complex & powerful film about what happens when madness & paranoia turns friends against each other with violence consequences.
Fujiwara is being released from prison, his cellmate Aizawa asks him a favour. Aizawa is the leader of a revolutionary group & has left his girlfriend Masami in charge. He asks that Fujiwara visits & checks on the group. Fujiwara does this & finds a gang that has lost its way under Masami. She is using a combination of sex & intimidation to keep control of the group. She kicks out the chief dissenter Yamane & throws an enkai party to welcome Fujiwara to the gang. Despite this, there is still disquiet in the gang both Kumagaya & Sugihara are unhappy with Masami’s leadership. Unable to cope in prison Aizwara kills himself. It is this news that sends the gang over the edge, Masami in particular becomes paranoid & desperate. The violence escalates as the gang turn on each other.
Kichiku is not a film for everyone. Grainy, brutal, nihilistic & unevenly acted. The first half of the movie moves at a snail’s pace. Nothing of any real relevance happens in the first hour. Even I found this to be a tad tedious. The second half of the movie is incredibly, graphically violent. Kichiku goes from a dialogue heavy melodrama to an all out splatter movie in a matter of seconds. There is the now famous shotgun decapitation & another scene where the shotgun is used on a woman in the most painful way imaginable. Along with castration, mutilation & an insane amount of blood, the second half of the movie is brutal. Kichiku is a movie full of metaphors & analogies, none more than what happens when leadership is removed & a power vacuum is created. Kumakiri it seems, is certainly trying to make a political point with Kichiku. Has he succeeded? To be honest I’m not the person to ask. My knowledge of global & Japanese politics is limited. All I can tell you is Kumakiri has made an impressive debut film that, while not appealing to all, will impress if you give it a chance.
Surprisingly The BBFC have passed Kichiku uncut (especially in light of their stance on sexual violence) so it can been seen legally in The UK. If you’re in the mood for something different you could try Kichiku, it’s certainly worth a watch.
“Its all so quiet”
The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre is a slasher film from Iceland. It’s a film that has been compared to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in my opinion it’s closer to The Hills Have Eyes in respect of plot & style. It does have one thing in common with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre & that is Gunnar Hansen (The original Leatherface) a good actor who has sadly made some truly awful movies. It should be noted that while Gunner Hansen receives top billing on the promotional material for RWWM, he has a small cameo role in the movie, nothing more.
The movie’s plot is simple enough. A group of tourists head out to sea to go whale watching. During the trip there is an accident & the ship’s captain is badly injured. For the group it seems that salvation is at hand when they are picked up by another ship. Unfortunately for them, they are picked up by a now redundant whaler & its crew are a family of deranged killers.
In truth RWWM is a bog standard slasher that fails to bring anything new to the table. It does have its moments, including a decapitation that almost makes it worth watching the whole movie just for that scene. Sadly it all gets a bit muddled, watching the film, you’re never sure who the lead character is. I accept it’s an ensemble piece but the focus of the movie keeps switching between a couple of the characters as if they were vieing for the lead. Added to that an entire strange subplot involving Endo’s escape. It’s other major flaw is one which it shares with so many slasher movies, people doing really stupid things at really stupid times. For example when one of the tourists knocks one of the killers unconscious, he leaves him with his shotgun rather than taking it for his own protection! The strangest being a traumatized woman who sings Bjork’s It’s All So Quiet over the ship’s tannoy! If this had been an American slasher I don’t think I would have been as critical but I expected more, this got me thinking…
I think when I sit down to watch a foreign language film, be it European or Asian, I expect more than if it were a Holywood movie. Lacking the kind of financial clout that the major US studios have & can throw at a movie. It seems to me that the foreign language films have quite simply had to be better movies to survive. A point that doesn’t seem lost on Holywood who now seem to be remaking any foreign movie they can get the rights for. The sad fact is that even with a decent template (the original movie) they still manage most of the time to completely fuck it up. Shutter, Quarantine, A Tale of Two Sisters, Mirrors, the list goes on. I know this may make me sound elitist & snobbish, maybe i am but I stand by my view that the foreign language movie industries produce better movies than Holywood. Of course Holywood has its place & has made some truly wonderful movies but certainly in the horror genre it is some way behind Asia & Europe.
Anyway back to RWWM, I cannot, in closing recommend this movie. There are so many better slashers out there & sadly despite an eye-catching title RWWM is just too derivative.