Here’s our guess: you have no idea how much great horror comes out of Belgium. A lot! So much that we weren’t even able to talk about the excellent camp horror Cub or the bloody head trip that is The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears – but we still had to mention them because you should see them.
But keep in mind – there are five movies from Belgium that are even better! And here they are!
5. Vampires (2010)
About 6 years ago, Belgiain filmmaker Vincent Lanoo made a hilarious (if blandly titled) mock-doc about vampires. Far darker and more morbid than the later Kiwi import What We Do in the Shadows (the first two film crews were eaten before they could complete the documentary; the final film is dedicated to the memory of the third crew), Lanoo’s film offers insight, social commentary and blood along with laughs.
The crew moves in with a vampire family with two undisciplined teens. The house also contains the couple who live in their basement (vampires can’t own a home until they have – make – children), and Meat (the name they’ve given the woman they keep in their kitchen). There’s also a coop out back for the illegal immigrants the cops drop off on Mondays.
Beginning to end, wickedly hilarious.
4. Them (2006)
Brisk, effective and terrifying, Them is among the most impressive horror flicks to rely on the savagery of adolescent boredom as its central conceit.
Writers/directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud offer a lean, unapologetic, tightly conceived thriller that never lets up.
Set in Romania, Them follows Lucas and Clementine, a young couple still moving into the big rattling old house where they’ll stay while they’re working abroad. It will be a shorter trip than they’d originally planned.
What the film offers in 77 minutes is relentless suspense. I’m not sure what else you want.
Creepy noises, hooded figures, sadistic children and the chaos that entails – Them sets up a fresh and mean cat and mouse game that pulls you in immediately and leaves you unsettled.
3. Alleluia (2014)
In 2004, Belgian writer/director Fabrice Du Welz released the exquisite Calvaire, marking himself a unique artist worth watching. Ten years later he revisits the themes of that film – blind passion, bloody obsession, maddening loneliness – with his newest effort, Alleluia. Once again he enlists the help of an actor who clearly understands his vision.
Laurent Lucas plays Michel, a playboy conman who preys upon lonely women, seducing them and taking whatever cash he can get his hands on. That all changes once he makes a mark of Gloria (Lola Duenas).
Du Welz’s close camera and off angles exaggerate Lucas’s teeth, nose and height in ways that flirt with the grotesque. Likewise, the film dwells on Duenas’s bags and creases, heightening the sense of unseemliness surrounding the pair’s passion.
Duenas offers a performance of mad genius, always barely able to control the tantrum, elation, or desire in any situation. Her bursting passions often lead to carnage, but there’s a madcap love story beneath that blood spray that compels not just attention but, in a macabre way, affection. Alleluia is a film busting with desperation, jealousy, and the darkest kind of love.
2. Man Bites Dog (1992)
In a bit of meta-filmmaking, Man Bites Dog is a pseudo-documentary made on a shoestring budget by struggling, young filmmakers. It is about a documentary being made on a shoestring budget by struggling, young filmmakers. The subject of the fictional documentary is the charismatic Ben – serial killer, narcissist, poet, racist, architecture enthusiast, misogynist, bird lover.
There’s more than what appears on the surface of this cynical, black comedy. The film crew starts out as dispassionate observers of Ben’s crimes. They’re just documenting, just telling the truth. No doubt this is a morally questionable practice to begin with. But they are not villains – they are serving their higher purpose: film.
The film examines social responsibility as much as it does journalistic objectivity, and what Man Bites Dog has to say about both is biting. It’s never preachy, though.
Theirs is a bitter view of their chosen industry, and – much like The Last Horror Movie – a bit of a condemnation of the viewer as well. The fact that much of the decidedly grisly content is played for laughter makes it that much more unsettling.
1. Calvaire (2004)
Like you didn’t know.
Fabrice du Welz’s surreal nightmare has appeared on eight separate Fright Club podcasts. Why? Because we effing love it.
A paranoid fantasy about the link between progress and emasculation, The Ordeal sees a timid singer stuck in the wilds of Belgium after his van breaks down.
Writer/director Fabrice Du Welz’s script scares up the darkest imaginable humor. If David Lynch had directed Deliverance in French, the concoction might have resembled The Ordeal. As sweet, shy singer Marc (a pitch perfect Laurent Lucas) awaits aid, he begins to recognize the hell he’s stumbled into. Unfortunately for Marc, salvation’s even worse.
Du Welz animates more ably than most our collective revulsion over the idea that we’ve evolved into something incapable of unaided survival; the weaker species, so to speak. Certainly John Boorman’s Deliverance (the Uncle Daddy of all backwoods survival pics) understood the fear of emasculation that fuels this particular dread, but Du Welz picks that scab more effectively than any filmmaker since.
Plus there’s dancing!