Tag Archives: Calvaire

Fright Club: Best Belgian Horror

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqS_6nlctG8

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!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hn3oba5HmH8

Halloween Countdown, Day 8: Calvaire

The Ordeal (Calvaire) (2004)

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.

The whole film boasts an uneasy, “What next?” quality. It also provides a European image of a terror that’s plagued American filmmakers for generations: the more we embrace progress, the further we get from that primal hunter/gatherer who knew how to survive.

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!

The entire cast – freaks, every one – is so memorable, so fascinating. Du Welz creates an almost amiable curiosity with each character, although poor Marc’s increasingly horrific circumstances proves that even the biggest sweetheart here is capable of really, seriously bad things.

His film is a profoundly uncomfortable, deeply disturbing, unsettlingly humorous freakshow that must be seen to be believed. So, you know, watch it!

Listen weekly to MaddWolf’s horror podcast FRIGHT CLUB. Do it!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hn3oba5HmH8

Fright Club: Best Dance Sequences in Horror

Who’d have guessed that deep inside the most notorious genre in film beats the heart of a dancer? Well, we guessed. You can’t hide your sensitive soul from us! We are here to admire your dancer’s heart and your boogie shoes as we count down the 5 best dance scenes in horror movies!

5. Prom Night (1980)

Saturday Night Fever meets Carrie in this high school slasher that’s utterly preoccupied with disco and Jamie Lee Curtis’s boobs. Who isn’t?! See it for the super-colossal dance-off. Go Jamie Lee and Jamie Lee’s thumbs, go! Is that Leslie Nielsen? Who brought all that glitter? And who’s the killer? Is it the pervy janitor? The disfigured escaped mental patient? The vindictive ex and her hoodlum new boyfriend? It all builds to a bloodbath on prom night, so just go with it and boogie down!

4. Night of the Demons (1988)

Do not be confused – Night of the Demons is not exactly recommended viewing. It’s terrible. Once you get past its dirt-cheap sets and TV-level staging, you’ll notice that Night of the Demons boasts among the most stilted and cardboard dialogue of any film from the Aquanet decade. But Angela (Amelia “Mimi” Kinkade) looks cool. Every goth chick – Fairuza Balk’s Nancy Downs from The Craft in particular – owes Angela a little respect. And professional dancer Kinkade does the demonic transformation justice. The acting is atrocious – all of it – but the film boasts a campy, nostalgic, oh-so-80s quality, and we never disagree with Bauhaus on a soundtrack.

3. Return of the Living Dead (1985)

The film has a lot to boast about. 1) It’s the first film to have zombies moan for braaaaiiiinnnnssss. 2) It’s a funny and clever twist on Romero’s foundation. 3) Eighties scream queen Linnea Quigley dons a ridiculous Eighties punk ‘do to dance nearly naked in a cemetery. Artistry among the headstones. So that’s the point today – wearing nothing but legwarmers and a wistful gaze, Quigley makes the film truly memorable.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwwpXN_CeSk

2. Calvaire (2004)

This is a weird film from the opening credits, but it takes a sharp turn toward seriously bizarre inside the local pub. As soon as those first piano keys slam and tinkle and those first boots stomp, slide and try to keep time, a whole new narrative takes shape. Things becomes clear in a way that you just don’t want them to, and we know that poor, poor Marc (Laurent Lucas) should not hope the townsfolk will be his salvation.

1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Oh, Jame Gumm. Even after 30 years, your transformation to the tune of the Q Lazzarus song Goodbye Horses is still equal parts compelling and repellant. Ted Levine evolves from hulking, inarticulate caveman to slinking sex pot – sure, a sexpot with another woman’s scalp atop his head, but he’s doing his best! And let’s be honest, you forget all about that other scalp once you witness the Buffalo Bill Skin It Back.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0ilk2NfOyw

Fright Club: WTF?! Horror

Horror films have the power to freak you out, to terrify you, to disturb and unsettle you. And often enough, along with inspiring some combination of the aforementioned emotions, certain horror films just beg the question WTF?! Like, almost anything Takashi Miike has ever directed. Or Antichrist – I’m sorry, did that fox just speak? Whether the bizarre puppetry of Hausu or the skull sex of Headless, the orifice’s point of view camera angles in Enter the Void or the queasying sibling relationship in Pin, horror movies can hit that unsettling nerve. So let’s just embrace it today, shall we? Today we count down the five (or six!) best in WTF?! horror.

6. The Woman (2011)

There’s something not quite right about Chris Cleese (an unsettlingly cherubic Sean Bridgers), and his family’s uber-wholesomeness is clearly suspect. This becomes evident once Chris hunts down a feral woman (an awesome Pollyanna McIntosh), chains her, and invites the family to help him “civilize” her.

The film rethinks family – well, patriarchy, anyway. Notorious horror novelist and co-scriptor Jack Ketchum may say things you don’t want to hear, but he says them well. And director Lucky McKee – in his most surefooted film to date – has no qualms about showing you things you don’t want to see. Like most of Ketchum’s work, The Woman is lurid and more than a bit disturbing. Indeed, the advanced screener I watched came in a vomit bag.

Aside from an epically awful performance by Carlee Baker as the nosey teacher, the performances are more than just good for the genre, they’re disturbingly solid. McIntosh never veers from being intimidating, terrifying even when she’s chained. Bridgers has a weird way of taking a Will Ferrell character and imbibing him with the darkest hidden nature. Even young Zach Rand, as the sadist-in-training teen Brian, nails the role perfectly.

Nothing happens in this film by accident – not even the innocent seeming baking of cookies – nor does it ever happen solely to titillate. It’s a dark and disturbing adventure that finds something unsavory in our primal nature and even worse in our quest to civilize. Don’t even ask about what it finds in the dog pen.

5. Bad Boy Bubby (1993)

The hell?! Why? What?! Good God.

Nicholas Hope is astonishing as the titular Bubby, a 30-year-old manchild who’s never, ever left the room he keeps with his mum.

Remember the Oscar-winning indie film Room? Remember how tragedy is somehow skirted because of the courageous love of a mother for her son? Well, this was not Bubby’s mum. Bad things are happening in that room, and once Bubby is finally free to explore the world, his adventure is equal parts deranged and soul-crushing. Hope is so frustratingly empathetic in the lead that no matter what he does, you root for him. You root for friends who will love him, for someone who will care for him, but it’s the resigned cheerfulness with which he faces any kind of abuse that really just kills you.

This taboo-shattering film is so wrong in so many ways, and yet it’s also lovely, optimistic, sweet, and funny. And just so, so fucked up.

4. Baskin (2015)

Welcome to hell! Turkish filmmaker Can Evrenol invites you to follow a 5-man police squad into the netherworld, where eye patches are all the rage, pregnancy lasts well under the traditional 40 weeks, and you don’t want to displease Daddy.

The serpentine sequencing of events evokes a dream logic that gives the film an inescapable atmosphere of dread, creepily underscored by its urgent synth score. Evrenol’s imagery is morbidly amazing. Much of it only glimpsed, most of it left unarticulated, but all of it becomes that much more disturbing for its lack of clarity.
The further along the squad gets, the more often you’ll look in horror at something off in a corner, that sneaking WTF? query developing along with your upset stomach.

The central figures in this nightmare are one eye-patch wearing helper who enjoys tossing his or her hair over one shoulder, and the breathtaking father figure played by Mehmet Cerrahoglu. There is no one quite like him.

Cerrahoglu’s remarkable presence authenticates the hellscape. Evrenol’s imaginative set design and wise lighting choices envelope Cerrahoglu, his writhing followers, and his victims in a bloody horror like little else in cinema.

3. Calvaire (The Ordeal) (2004)

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.

The whole film boasts an uneasy, “What next?” quality. It also provides a European image of a terror that’s plagued American filmmakers for generations: the more we embrace progress, the further we get from that primal hunter/gatherer who knew how to survive.

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.

His film is a profoundly uncomfortable, deeply disturbing, unsettlingly humorous freakshow that must be seen to be believed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hn3oba5HmH8

2. Possession (1981)

Speaking of sex and monsters – wait, were we? – have you seen Possession? WTF is going on there?

Andrzej Zulawski – writer/director/Czech – created this wild ride with doppelgangers, private investigators, ominous government agencies, and curious sexual appetites. It’s more precisely fantasy than horror, but it feels like David Cronenberg meets David Lynch, which is a pairing we can get behind.

Sam Neill plays Mark. Mark has just left his job – a mysterious position with some kind of lab. He’s being offered a lot of money to stay, but he needs to go home. We don’t know why.

Back at home, he greets his genuinely adorable son Bob (Michael Hogben). Bob – the names is so normal, and yet feels so unusual for a small child. Mark’s wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) is also at home with Bob. There’s nothing normal about Anna.

Mark and Anna’s relationship boasts an intentional artificiality – a queasying sexuality – that makes it hard to root for either of them as their marriage deteriorates. Anna, it seems, is in love with someone else. Is it the sexually open – really, really open – Heinrich? Is it a bloody, mollusk-like monster? Is Mark boning Anna’s mean friend with a cast on her leg? Does Bob’s kindergarten teacher bear an unreasonable resemblance to Anna? Is anyone caring properly for Bob?

These questions and more go basically unanswered in a deviant, summary-defying, fantastical bit of filmmaking that mocks the idiocy, even insanity of obsession and boasts a handful of weirdly excellent performances. And sex with a bloody mollusk monster.

1. Gozu (2003)

If you are looking for genuine lunacy in film, your search should begin and quite possibly end with filmmaker Takashi Miike. His shit is nuts. Truth be told, there are scads of Miike films that could have populated this list because even his tamest, most logical, no-puppetry films are wild rides. So when he starts coloring way outside the lines, expect to be surprised.

This one starts off as a yakuza film – one guy on a mob-style assignment – then descends into absolute madness.

Minami (Yuta Sone) has been ordered to assassinate his feeble-minded yakuza boss Ozaki (Sho Aikawa), but he’s conflicted. Then he loses him and wanders, in search, into – you might say it was the Twilight Zone, except this place is considerably weirder. There’s a minotaur. An electrified anal soup ladle death scene. Some seriously, seriously weird shit.

Like a walk through somebody’s subconscious, the film is awash in repressed sexual desires of the very most insane and unspeakable. There’s a comical element that’s almost equally unsettling. Gozu is not as violent as many Miike films – it’s violent, don’t be mistaken, but the horror here is more in unseemly behavior and wildly inappropriate imagery. It’s just stuff you can’t unsee.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=penZT2N2xDw

Day 28: Alleluia

Alleluia (2015)

For a lot of horror fans, French cinema is the way to go. But just north of that border is a country making a name for itself in genre filmmaking, thanks in part to the work of Belgian writer/director Fabrice Du Welz.

In 2004 he 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).

Fans of Calvaire may remember that name. Is there a connection? Du Welz is tantalizingly vague about the specific relationship between Alleluia and Calvaire, although certain sets (a rustic, wooden cross, for instance) beg loads of questions.

Like 1969’s Honeymoon Killers and 2006’S Lonely Hearts, Alleluia is loosely based on the acts of American serial killers Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez.

Lucas looks like an entirely different man this time around, and Du Welz’s close camera and off angles exaggerate the actor’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.

Slow, atmospheric, and shot in grainy 16mm, Alleluia asks for your patience, but it repays you for that investment. It’s a film busting with desperation, jealousy, and the darkest kind of love.

Listen weekly to MaddWolf’s horror podcast FRIGHT CLUB. Do it!

Day 18: Calvaire (The Ordeal)

The Ordeal (Calvaire) (2004)

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.

The whole film boasts an uneasy, “What next?” quality. It also provides a European image of a terror that’s plagued American filmmakers for generations: the more we embrace progress, the further we get from that primal hunter/gatherer who knew how to survive.

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.

His film is a profoundly uncomfortable, deeply disturbing, unsettlingly humorous freakshow that must be seen to be believed.

Listen weekly to MaddWolf’s horror podcast FRIGHT CLUB. Do it!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hn3oba5HmH8

Fright Club: Gay Themes in Horror

Senior Gay Correspondent Jon Theiss joins us this week to talk through our five favorite horror films with gay themes. To narrow down, first we threw out all films with girl-on-girl action intended to titillate a heterosexual male audience. We could dedicate an entire show to the female vampire and her ripe bosoms. We’re not going to, though.

What were we looking for? Films that – whether intentionally or not – seemed preoccupied with homosexual themes. In some cases, gay characters get to be actual characters and not just props for vilification or comedy. In others, teenage boys pretend to date Jami Gertz just to be closer to Kiefer Sutherland.

5. The Lost Boys (1987)

Out and proud Hollywood director Joel Schumacher spins a yarn of Santa Carla, a town with a perpetual coastal carnival and the nation’s highest murder rate. A roving band of cycle-riding vampires haunts the carnival and accounts for the carnage, until Diane Weist moves her family to town. While hottie Michael (Jason Patric) is being seduced into the demon brethren, younger brother Sam (Corey Haim) teams up with local goofballs the Frog brothers (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) to stake all bloodsuckers.

Sure, Schumacher finds sex appeal in the vampire tale – who doesn’t, though?

What’s interesting is that he finds sexuality that swings. This would certainly become somewhat standard fare in later works (the image of an evil, blond vampire seducing an introverted brunette innocent certainly informed the 1994 Tom Cruise v Brad Pitt bite-off Interview with a Vampire). But back in ‘87, The Lost Boys was sort of the Top Gun of vampire films. (Oh, like that movie wasn’t gay!)

Though it’s Michael and David (Kiefer Sutherland) who do the “will he or won’t he?” dance, it’s Corey Haim’s character that puts this over the top. The androgyny, the shoulder pads! Is that a Rob Lowe poster?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_lwtRMg0ts

4. Night Warning (1982)

Here’s a weird one. And convoluted, too. Orphaned Billy (Jimmy McNichol) lives with his horny Aunt (Susan Tyrrell), plays basketball, and necks with his girlfriend Julia (Julia Duffy). Aunt Cheryl kills the TV repairman, claiming he was trying to rape her. When police realize the TV repairman was actually the longtime lover of Billy’s basketball coach, an evenhanded treatment of homophobia arises – surprising, given the time period. Not that it’s the point of the film, but it is the biggest surprise.

No one is really trying to unravel the murder mysteries piling up here. Aunt Cheryl is too busy trying to keep Billy to herself while small town cop Joe Carlson (go-to bigoted cop figure throughout the 70s and 80s, Bo Svenson) just wants to know whether or not Billy’s gay.

This is very definitely a low budget, early Eighties horror flick. Don’t get your hopes up. But it is such a peculiar movie. Everyone – the cop, the girlfriend, the aunt – seems to want to have sex with Billy, except his coach, who loses his job over the fear that he might want to. Longtime character actor Steve Eastin offers a commendably layered performance, given the film itself. His Coach Landers is the only genuinely decent adult in the entire movie, which really says a lot for the film.

Susan Tyrrell is fascinatingly unhinged and so, so creepy that you cannot look away, and if you’re up for one hot mess of a movie, this is an especially absorbing time waster.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DL8pbcWPk28

3. Sleepaway Camp (1983)

A seriously subversive film with blatant homosexual undertones, Sleepaway Camp is a bizarre take on the summer camp slasher.

It may be the shocking finale that gave the film its cult status, but it’s writer/director Robert Hilzik’s off-center approach to horror that makes it interesting. Dreamy flashbacks, weirdly gruesome murders, and a creepy (yet somehow refreshing) preoccupation with beefcake separate this one from the pack.

It’s not scary, certainly, but it is all manner of wrong. Let’s take the honest to god awesome Aunt Martha – I have looked and looked, and I can find no evidence in real life that Desiree Gould is a drag queen. Aside from the obvious evidence of this particular film.

The kill sequences are hugely imaginative, and the subversive approach to the entire film makes it hard for me to believe more people haven’t seen this gem.

2. May (2002)

How about a tale of a wallflower, the blossom of new love, and the efficient use of veterinary surgical equipment and a good-sized freezer? Few horror films are as touching, funny, heartbreaking or bloody as May.

As the title character, Angela Bettis inhabits this painfully gawky, socially awkward wallflower with utter perfection. Director Lucky McKee’s screenplay is as darkly funny as it is genuinely touching, and we’re given the opportunity to care about the characters: fragile May, laid back love interest Adam (a faultless Jeremy Sisto), hot and horny Polly (a wonderful Anna Faris).

By day Polly flirts with a confused but needy May during their workday as veterinary assistants, and by night May pines for her tragically hip and beloved Adam. May just really wants somebody who will love her.

McKee’s film pulls no punches, mining awkward moments until they’re almost unendurable and spilling plenty of blood when the time is right. He deftly leads us from the sunny “anything could happen” first act through a darker, edgier coming of age middle, and finally to a carnage-laden climax that feels sad, satisfying and somehow inevitable.

1. Calvaire (The Ordeal) (2004)

That’s right – it’s Calvaire again. We come up with topics just so we can talk about this movie.

The backwoods horror subgenre is often driven by a rape hysteria – either those giant, illiterate, inbred freaks are going to rape our women, or they like the look of Ned Beatty’s purty mouth. It is not homophobia, exactly – more of a fear of losing our place atop the food chain. So, why put Calvaire atop this list?

Because writer/director Fabrice du Welz takes a somewhat familiar idea and infuses it with so much fascinating, subversive, unexplained insanity – and he examines sexual identity, love, longing, masculinity, femininity, and dance while he’s at it.

Delicate Marc (an absolutely perfect Laurent Lucas) performs as a semi-amateur, highly bedazzled crooner. We open during a show at a retirement home, where the elderly women swoon and one nurse does more. Marc is compassionate but uninterested.

Later his van breaks down well off the beaten path and we learn that basically everyone is sweet on Marc.

The unanswered questions in this film create the most bizarrely mysterious environment – there’s a backstory here that you just feel sure you don’t really want to know. What we do know is that, somehow, there’s not one human female for miles. How the men of the area have compensated is a deeply peculiar tale to unravel, and it’s the absence of the feminine that makes Marc’s presence so volatile.

Whether Marc is gay or straight is beside the point, but the fact that his own sexuality is unclear helps du Welz sidestep the patriarchal, mainstream dread usually generated by this type of film. Lucas’s delicate, supremely compassionate performance and du Welz’s use of darkest humor give the entire film a “what next?” quality that is absolutely unshakable. It may not be the gayest movie on this list, but it is absolutely the best.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgB9JTdrXhg

Listen to the whole conversation at FRIGHT CLUB.

Fright Club: Best Horror 2000 – 2009

We have a new winner! Prior to this time travel cataloging exercise, we embraced the misunderstanding that the 1970s offered the best in horror. Nope. Pruning our list of the horror films released between 2000 and 2009 to just five proved honestly impossible. It was so hard! Too hard, actually, so we cheated: we are going to give a quick nod to the top 5 that didn’t make the list, and then we’re going to make #5 a tie. It had to be done!

So, our apologies, love and respect to the five best films that did not make this list: Eden Lake (2008), Frailty (2001), The Orphanage (2007), Martyrs (2008), and Calvaire (The Ordeal) (2004).

No, onto the tie!

TIE! 5. Wolf Creek (2005)

Using only digital cameras to enhance an ultra-naturalistic style, writer/director Greg McLean’s happy backpackers find themselves immobile outside Wolf Creek National Park when their car stops running. As luck would have it, friendly bushman Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) drives up offering a tow back to his camp, where he promises to fix the vehicle.

If this sounds predictable and obvious to you, rest assured that McLean has plans to burst every cliché in the genre, and he succeeds on almost every level.

His first triumph is in the acting. Jarratt’s killer is an amiable sadist who is so real it’s jarring. You find yourself hoping he’s an actor.

A horror film this realistic is not only hard to watch, but a bit hard to justify. What makes an audience interested in observing human suffering so meticulously recreated? This is where, like a true artist, McLean finally succeeds. What is as unsettling as the film itself is that its content is somehow satisfying.

TIE! 5. 28 Days Later (2002)

Activists break into a research lab and free the wrong fucking monkeys.

28 days later, bike messenger Jim wakes up naked on an operating table. What follows is the eerie image of an abandoned, desolate London as Jim wanders hither and yon hollering for anybody. In the church, we get our first glimpse of what Jim is now up against, and dude, run!

Prior to 28 Days Later, the zombie genre seemed finally dead and gone. But Danny Boyle single handedly resurrected the genre with two new(ish) ideas: 1) they weren’t dead, 2) therefore, they could move really quickly. Like Romero, though, director Danny Boyle’s real worry is not just the infected, it’s the living.

Danny Boyle is one of cinema’s visionary directors, and he’s made visceral, fascinating, sometimes terrifying films his entire career – Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Millions, 127 Hours – but 28 Days Later is certainly his one true horror film. And it is inspired.

4. The Ring (2002)

The Ring – thanks in large part to the creepy clever premise created by Koji Suzuki, who wrote the novel Ringu – is superior to its source material principally due to the imagination and edge of fledgling director Gore Verbinski. His film is visually arresting, quietly atmospheric, and creepy as hell.

This is basically the story of bad mom/worse journalist Rachel (Naomi Watts) investigating the urban legend of a video tape that kills viewers exactly seven days after viewing.

The tape itself is the key. Had it held images less surreal, less Bunuel, the whole film would have collapsed. But the tape was freaky. And so were the blue-green grimaces on the dead! And that horse thing on the ferry!

And Samara – from plump-cheeked cherub to ghastly figure crawling from your TV…yikes.

Sure, it amounts to an immediately dated musing on technology. But still, there’s that last moment when wee Aidan (a weirdly perfect David Dorfman) asks his mom, “What about the people we show it to? What happens to them?”

At this point we realize he means us, the audience.

We watched the tape! We’re screwed!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PkgRhzq_BQ

3. The Loved Ones (2009)

Writer/director/Tasmanian Sean Byrne upends high school clichés, maneuvering between gritty drama and neon colored carnage in a story that borrows from other horror flicks but absolutely tells its own story.

Brent (Xavier Samuel) is dealing with guilt and tragedy in his own way, and his girlfriend Holly tries to be patient with him. Oblivious to all this, Lola (a gloriously wrong-minded Robin McLeavy) asks Brent to the end of school dance. He politely declines, which proves to be probably a poor decision.

The Loved Ones is a cleverly written, deeply disturbed piece of filmmaking that benefits from McLeavy’s inspired performance as much as it does its filmmaker’s sly handling of subject matter.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olB5Wrg8Sxc

2. The Descent (2005)

A caving expedition turns ugly for a group of girlfriends who will quickly realize that being trapped inside the earth is not the worst thing that could happen.

Writer/director Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers) must be commended for sidestepping the obvious trap of exploiting the characters for their sexuality – I’m not saying he avoids this entirely, but for a horror director he is fantastically restrained. He also manages to use the characters’ vulnerability without patronizing or stereotyping.

He makes even better use of the story’s structure. Between that and the way film and sound editing are employed, Marshall squeezes every available ounce of anxiety from the audience. Long before the first drop of blood is drawn by the monsters – which are surprisingly well conceived and tremendously creepy – the audience has already been wrung out emotionally.

The grislier the film gets, the more primal the tone becomes, eventually taking on a tenor as much like a war movie as a horror film. This is not surprising from the director that unleashed Dog Soldiers, but Marshall’s second attempt is far scarier. For full-on horror, this is one hell of a monster movie.

1. Let the Right One In (2008)

In 2008, Sweden’s Let the Right One In emerged as an original, stylish thriller – and the best vampire flicks in years. A spooky coming of age tale populated by outcasts in the bleakest, coldest imaginable environment, the film breaks hearts and bleeds victims in equal measure.

Kare Hedebrant‘s Oskar with a blond Prince Valiant cut falls innocently for the odd new girl (an outstanding Lina Leandersson) in his shabby apartment complex. Reluctantly, she returns his admiration, and a sweet and bloody romance buds.

This is a coming of age film full of life lessons and adult choices, told with a tremendous atmosphere of melancholy, tainted innocence, and isolation. Plus the best swimming pool carnage scene ever.

The unsettling scene is so uniquely handled, not just for horrifying effect (which it certainly achieves), but to reinforce the two main characters, their bond, and their roles. It’s beautiful, like the strangely lovely film itself.

Listen to the whole conversation on our FRIGHT CLUB PODCAST.

Fright Club: Best in French Horror

French horror films are not for the squeamish. In particular, the French languge output in the first decade of this century boasted some of the most extreme and well-crafted horror available anywhere. Films like Sheitan, Trouble Every Day, Frontiers, High Tension and many others mark an era that may never be bettered. In celebration of this week’s live Fright Club, we walk through some of the best in best French language horror films.

Inside (2007)

Holy shit. Sarah lost her husband in a car crash some months back, and now, on the eve of Christmas, she sits, enormous, uncomfortable, and melancholy about the whole business. Were this an American film, the tale may end shortly after Sarah’s Christmas Eve  peril makes the expectant mom realize just how much she loves, wants, and seeks to protect her unborn baby. But French horror films are different. This is study in tension wherein one woman (the incomparable Beatrice Dalle) will do whatever it takes, with whatever utensils are available, to get at the baby still firmly inside another woman’s body.

Them (Ils) (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/Frenchmen David Moreau and Xavier Palud offer a lean, unapologetic, tightly conceived thriller that never lets up. 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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9Djvi1-k0s

Irreversible (2002)

Gaspar Noe is perhaps the most notorious French filmmaker working in the genre, and Irreversible is his most notorious effort. Filmed in reverse chronological order and featuring two famously brutal sequences, Noe succeeds in both punishing his viewers and reminding them of life’s simple beauty. There’s no denying the intelligence of the script, the aptitude of the director, or the absolute brilliance of Monica Bellucci in an incredibly demanding role.

Martyrs (2008)

This import plays like three separate films: orphanage ghost story, suburban revenge fantasy, and medical experimentation horror. The first 2 fit together better than the last, but the whole is a brutal tale that is hard to watch, hard to turn away from, and worth the effort.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jbct9qWBSME

Calvaire (The Ordeal) (2004)

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. With the darkest imaginable humor, the film looks like what might have happened had David Lynch directed Deliverence in French. As 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. The whole film boasts an uneasy, “What next?” quality. It also provides a European image of a terror that’s plagued American filmmakers for generations: the more we embrace progress, the further we get from that primal hunter/gatherer who knew how to survive. This film is a profoundly uncomfortable, deeply disturbing, unsettlingly humorous freakshow that must be seen to be believed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgB9JTdrXhg

FC 02-Best in French Horror Films

Join us the 4th Saturday of every month for Fright Club Live, as we unspool a horror gem at Drexel Theater. Join the club!

Fright Club Live: Calvaire (The Ordeal)

The Ordeal (Calvaire) (2004)

This week’s Fright Club – 9pm at the Drexel Theatre in Bexley – unspools the 35mm print of Calvaire. It’s the first time the film has screened in Columbus, and we could not be more excited!

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.

The whole film boasts an uneasy, “What next?” quality. It also provides a European image of a terror that’s plagued American filmmakers for generations: the more we embrace progress, the further we get from that primal hunter/gatherer who knew how to survive.

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.

His film is a profoundly uncomfortable, deeply disturbing, unsettlingly humorous freakshow that must be seen to be believed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgB9JTdrXhg