31 Days of Hallowe’en 2019, Day 12: Marianne 1×01 [2019]

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I can safely say that Marianne is the most frightening title on Netflix. Created by Samuel Bodin, this eight-episode French horror series scares the shit out of you by using the oldest genre tropes that are so insidious they will lurk in the back of your mind long after the closing credits.

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31 Days of Horror 2018, Day 22: La Nuit a Dévoré le Monde [The Night Eats the World] [2018]

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la nuit a dévoré le monde, the night eats the world, french horror, french cinema, horror, horror movies, horror films, cinema, film, films, halloween, dominique rocher,

A French horror that generates positive buzz rarely plays by the rules, and La Nuit a Dévoré le Monde [The Night Eats the World] is no exception. A post-apocalyptic tale in which a man wakes up the morning after a party only to find he is alone with the undead roaming the streets of Paris, this zom-drama is a portrait of loneliness, taking cues more from Cast Away than 28 Days Later or I Am Legend.

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31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 4: Livide (2011)

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vlcsnap-2016-10-04-20h13m08s585Another day, another spooky story about three kids breaking into a creepy old person’s house.

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Young carer Lucy (Chloe Culloud, the gallic, heterochromic Scarlett Johansson) is being trained by an older woman, Nurse Wilson (the delightfully po-faced Catherine Jacob) at a comatose patient’s mansion. She tells her boyfriend and friend about the rumours of a hidden fortune in the house, the former of whom points out how this completely unsubstantiated treasure can buy them out of their raggedy lots in life. Reluctantly, Lucy agrees.

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Aside from that initial plot setup, French chiller Livide is worlds away from this year’s well-deserved critical darling Don’t Breathe.  While the latter is a (literally breathtaking – our audience inadvertently played along with the thieves and held their breath for silence) straight-up home invasion thriller, Livide soon fractures into ghostly, surreal, and oddly beautiful vignettes of gothic and bloody imagery.

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The less spoilt the better, but the bursts of gore and fairytale mythos layered on top of some already haunting atmosphere are a nice break from what was set up to look like a bog-standard slasher film. It might end up feeling like a movie of two uneven halves, but it’s all the more pleasantly jarring for it.

3.9/5

[I got back from Paris that evening, so from here on in, probably less French movies]

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 3:Frontiere(s) (2007)

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It might be a stain on my character that I can’t see why this French-Swiss horror outing rated NC-17. Yes, it’s unrelentingly violent with an barely-there political undertone of ‘no hope, sincerely, neo-right-wingers’, but I didn’t fathom the horribly nasty stuff that pushed it over the ratings edge. I swear I’ve seen worse.

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Anyway, there’s shit going down in Paris. A far-right group is in power, sparking a bunch of violent riots. Four friends take advantage of the chaos to rob a bank, but the getaway is botched and our group is separated. Two of then wind up at a dodgy motel, where they’re seduced by the innkeepers and then knocked out. And then it all starts to get a bit Texas Chainsaw Massacre-y from there on in.

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And I mean proper TCM, right down to the perverted family dinner (complete with drooling, spoon-fed elderly senior relative), the hulking, lumbering, mute of a butcher, the patriarch who loves to hear himself talk, and general icky  cannibalism. It’s a bit too closely-aped for my liking, but thankfully I had the film’s mildly bloated 105-minute running time to compare and contrast the leading ladies’ scream from both movies. Actually, in fact, everyone was good at screaming, because the movie was 2 hours of glorified torture porn.

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So I guess I’m not sure

why it is we had the news right-wing politics stuff as it seemed like an afterthought and was just a way to make Scary Cannibals Scarier. Maybe we could have had more exterior shots (‘hey, look how far away we are!’), or an indication that maybe Scary Family or the cops in the city are part of some kind of broader, brutal, far-right reich. I don’t know. Meh, it’s 4am.

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I do wish we’d seen more of Eve, the family’s meek waif who hovers around Yasmin (one of protagonists, who is pregnant), half-helping her and half sticking to that which she’s told to do. Her little facial ticks and mutinous moments are a joy to watch, but it’s a pity she isn’t given much more to do.

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To give her more time, maybe we could have sped up the overly-theatrical line delivery of Scary Cannibal, or tightened up the scene transitions so the pace didn’t drag so much.

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I’m probably still recovering from the fact that the poster misleadingly looks like some sort of zombie apocalypse, or from processing the odd plot conundrum (how are the family getting away with this crap while running a seemingly legit hotel business, given that TCM were backwater hicks who were totally cut off from society). This movie just….could have been better.

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But whatever, it’s 4:30am. Here’s the goddamned trailer.

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 28: Peur(s) du noir (Fears(s) of the Dark) (2007)

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source: horror.wikia.com

Ooh, those menacingly plucking strings of music over the opening credits got my attention (as did the monster screams in the background), though the repeatedly strobe-like flashes of the credit text probably isn’t best if your eyes are a bit tired. Peur(s) du noir (or, Fear(s) of the Dark), is a black-and-white animated anthology horror. Each directed by one artist (or graphic artist), the stories tell singular stories about snippets of fear.

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There are six segments in total; four are standalone stories – one about a boy who studies insects; another about a young girl and a Samurai spirit; the third is about a boy who crosses paths with a monster, and the fourth about a man who takes refuge from a blizzard in an abandoned cabin. The other two creep in alongside the other stories as segment bookends – one is about a man who sics his vicious dogs on people, and the other is a series of graphics with a woman narrating her personal fears.

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The first segment (about a boy who’s fascinated with bugs) is compelling and relatable, but the animation and story on the other two were a little too dull. The bookend piece about the man and his dogs was quite ghoulish (particularly the ending), maybe more owing to the Lon Chaney-like gargoyle appearance of the man, and the sequences were short and sinister enough. What let it down a fair bit for me was the narrated segment. I get that it set the tone that this wasn’t going to be some animated French version of V/H/S or The ABCs of Death, but the designs were too dull when paired with the narration, which came off as suffocatingly pretentious.

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Anthologies can be a bit of a broken beast. People often judge them as a complete, Love Actually-esque film, as if they’re supposed to intersect and provide a neatly-connected story. But the “bookend” segments make it clear that this is a series of parts that aren’t necessarily meant to fit together other than drumming up a fairly unified tone. It does make for some disjointed viewing, especially as the stories are so different; they start out Creepypasta-ish with shock over substance, but then shift towards more traditional chills.

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Which is why, for me, the final segment (the man in the cabin, by Richard McGuire), is my personal favourite. It makes effective use of the advertised black-and-white (the Samurai segment was more grayscale); the colours are stark and the animation is clean and simple. McGuire mucks about brilliantly with light and dark – because the cabin is deserted and the man only has a gaslight lamp, all we see is what’s in the light; maybe a bit of shadow. If it had been a live-action film, we would have seen everything in that house – even in the dark. Outlines of the floor, fireplace, chairs, doors, etc. But we only ever see what’s illuminated by that tiny circle of light. There’s also no dialogue, and the music is used sparingly. I was a bit disappointed with how abruptly it ended, and when I found out that my reading of the story was wrong – I thought the man was returning to an old home, rather than happening upon a stranger’s – but even on its own, it’s a strikingly innovative segment. Absolutely worth watching for that one alone.

I watched this one on Netflix UK, and the running time of 80-odd minutes is a tad misleading, as there are over 6 minutes of credits. I didn’t see anything afterwards, but just more of the flashy-flashy Men in Black-type design they inflicted on us for the opening titles.

 

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 24: Les Yeux Sans Visage (Eyes Without a Face) (1960)

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“To avoid problems with European censors, Borkon cautioned Franju not to include too much blood (which would upset French censors), refrain from showing animals getting tortured (which would upset English censors) and leave out mad-scientist characters (which would upset German censors). All three of these were part of the film”

Wikipedia

Well, this French film from 1960 was far creepier than its time period implies. I’ve been shocked like this before (just watch the entirety of The Innocents), but the film starts out so eerily that I shouldn’t have been so surprised.

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Doctor Génessier is a well to-do surgeon in an affluent Parisian suburb. He’s mourning the death of his wife and now he’s just identified his daughter Christiane’s body, mangled from a car crash and pulled out of the river by police. At the funeral, he and a lady friend appear blank-faced and then trudge home…where his daughter is waiting for him.

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She’s the titular character without any skin on her face, though she’s somehow able to speak and cry etc. the way a facefull person would. But she’s miserable; she misses her fiance (who thinks she’s dead – and he works with her damn father), and she feels like a guinea pig for her dad. She’s being kept mostly with her consent under house arrest while her father locates a suitable face donor – whether they’re willing or not.

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The movie has a cracking score, but it’s used so sparingly that, along with the stable, continuously-shot scenes, at times you feel like you’re watching a documentary. Which makes it all the scarier, because the medical scenes are horrifyingly gruesome. Ever want to hear the sound of forceps snipping open facial veins? How about skin being tugged and lifted like a bleeding pancake off of red-raw flesh? Well, this movie’s for you!

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At the heart of it, though, is a troubled father-daughter relationship that, when stripped of all that kidnapping and mutilation, most adult daughters can probably relate to. And Edith Scob manages to portray Christiane’s predicament so well while forced to wear a rigid, opaque mask for almost all of her screen time.

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And for a disarmingly frightening film, there are some doses of very lovely, poetic imagery, including a wee bit of foreshadowing I didn’t catch until a skim of a rewatch. It takes some of the edge of the tension and gore, and turns it into more of a melancholic slow-burning, psychological horror. But yeah, about that ending. Really makes use of that very theatrical, almost demented circus-like score.

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 5: Belphegor – Le fantôme du Louvre (2001)

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Reviews of bad movies are fun, because they’re bitchy and wannabe witty (i.e., most recap sites). So I was exceptionally pissed off when I realised that not only did I like this movie, but that it was also a total putrid, congealed clot of Camembert, so I’m unable to give this movie the bad review I’ve been so desperate to unleash.

The plot is thus: Set in and around Musée du Louvre (and the first film to have ever been filmed there; no, I did not see the fucking Da Vinci Code), Belphegor – Le fantôme du Louvre is a mummy movie. Expect all the cliches – plagues, artifacts, rituals, tragic backstories, plundering, decoding hieroglyphics, and incantation-based legends. Recently single, Lisa (Sophie Marceau) lives with her grandmother Geneviève (Patachou) above their struggling shop, opposite the Musée.

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After her grandma encourages her to flirt with electrician Martin (Frédéric Diefenthal), the two end up sneaking into the Musée at night. They both do a wee bit of wandering, unaware that there’s a fantôme lurking about, and Lisa is unwittingly possessed by an ancient Egyptian spirit with some burial-related unfinished business. The movie then proceeds to have Lisa play cultural appropriation dress-up, kill/maim some guards, yell at museum-visiting schoolchildren for drawing incorrect hieroglyphics, and just take her sweet (unexplained) time just wandering around the Musée on subsequent days and nights. Which is odd, because you’d think that someone who’s just been evicted from her shop couldn’t possibly afford all those pricy Louvre tickets.

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Meanwhile, working on the case, we’ve got a kooky British scientist (Julie Christie, speaking horrible French but still way better than the rest of us on holiday because at least she’s making a fucking effort), kooky security guards, and a kooky, rockstar-loving Inspector (the scene-stealing and sadly late Michel Ferrault), who has every one of the film’s best lines.

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It’s a shame that the Scooby-esque “coming together and forming a plan” thing doesn’t happen until the last third of the movie, and instead we get to see almost an hour of characters avoiding each other, fighting with each other, and/or dribbling out plot points in drip-feed. I wouldn’t blame you if you started to nod off at the 50-minute mark.

Belphégor – Le fantôme du Louvre

Belphegor – Le fantôme du Louvre is every bit as panto-cheesy as the above poster and IMDb rating suggest (Netflix US, on which I watched it, was equally unkind). It’s full of 90 year-old Egyptian fantasy horror tropes, and the plot sort of meanders about from set piece to set piece. Some of the principal characters don’t have the conversations that one would expect from such scientific/investigative/security-conscious professionals (and which would have lowered the movie’s body count). The special effects are abominable. The comically Egyptian-inspired score is borderline racist. And the ending just sort of happens. But for some reason I couldn’t stop enjoying it. It was like being a dumb kid at the cinema and watching The Mummy all over again.

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Maybe it’s the ever-watchable Marceau, or her striking chemistry with Diefenthal. Maybe it’s Julie Christie’s embarrassingly slow French accent, or the did-I-mention-he-was-fucking brilliant Michel Serrault. Maybe it’s the gorgeous setting of the Louvre that I’m dying to see (despite the fact that France was basically next door to me growing up and I never got the chance to go when I did visit Paris). Or maybe it’s the fact that everything in this movie is truly played for laughs.

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It’s a cute movie. Watch it on the Eurostar or something. I suggest a drinking game: every time someone takes a potshot at the British Museum, drink everything.