Fright Club: Pregnancy Horror

It’s nearly Mother’s Day, and what better way to celebrate than to reminisce on the hell that is pregnancy? Oh, what our mothers go through just for us! The handicapping size, the fear of demonic possession, zombiism, blood-thirstiness…well, the list just goes on forever. And so do the horror movie options. Lucky for you (and your mom!), we’ve pruned that list to just the five best.

5. Jug Face (2013)

Writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle brings together a fine cast including The Woman’s Sean Bridgers and Lauren Ashley Carter, as well as genre favorite Larry Fessenden and late-life scream queen Sean Young to spin a backwoods yarn about incest, premonitions, kiln work, and a monster in a pit.

As a change of pace, Bridgers plays a wholly sympathetic character as Dawai, village simpleton and jug artist. On occasion, a spell comes over Dawai, and when he wakes, there’s a new jug on the kiln that bears the likeness of someone else in the village. That lucky soul must be fed to the monster in the pit so life can be as blessed and peaceful as before.

Kinkle mines for more than urban prejudice in his horror show about religious isolationists out in them woods. Young is particularly effective as an embittered wife, while Carter, playing a pregnant little sister trying to hide her bump, a jug, and an assortment of other secrets, steals the show.

4. The Brood (1979)

Dr. Hal Ragland – the unsettlingly sultry Oliver Reed – is Hal’s a psychiatrist leading the frontier in psychoplasmics. His patients work through their pent-up rage by turning it into physical manifestations. Some folks’ rage turns into ugly little pustules, for example. Or, for wide-eyed Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar), rage might turn into bloodthirsty, puffy coated spawn. This is Cronenberg’s reimagining of procreation, and it is characteristically foul.

Cronenberg is the king of corporeal horror, and The Brood is among the best of the filmmaker’s early, strictly genre work. Reed and Eggar both are unseemly perfection in their respective roles. Eggar uses her huge eyes to emphasize both her former loveliness and her current dangerous insanity, while Reed is just weird in that patented Oliver Reed way.

But it’s the climactic image of procreation – of motherhood and childbirth – and the way the filmmaker and his leading lady subvert that life-giving moment, turning it into something beastly, that will stick with you.

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

3. Sheitan (2006)

The fantastic Vincent Cassel stars as the weirdest handyman ever, spending a decadent Christmas weekend with a rag tag assortment of nightclub refugees. After Bart (Olivier Barthelemy) is tossed from the club, his mates and the girls they’re flirting with head out to spend the weekend at Eve’s (a not-shy Roxane Mesquida). Way out in rural France, they meet Eve’s handyman, his very pregnant wife, and a village full of borderline freaks.

It’s a ripe scene: sinners sinning at Christmas, inbred freaks, creepy dolls, impending childbirth.

The film is savagely uncomfortable and refreshingly unusual. Cassel’s performance (or, performances, so to speak) offer the work of lunatic genius, and his time onscreen is never less than memorable. It’s the kind of horror movie you’ll only find in France.

2. Inside (2007)

Beatrice Dalle’s insidious performance is hard to shake. Fearless, predatory, pitiless and able to take an enormous amount of abuse, her nameless character stalks a very, very pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis). 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. She’s grown cynical and despondent, more depressed than excited about giving birth in the morning.

Alexandre Bustillo’s film seeks to change her mind, make her want that baby. Because Dalle’s lurking menace certainly wants it. Her black clad silhouette is in the back yard, smoking and stalking – and she has seriously bad plans in mind.

Bustillo and directing partner Julien Maury swing the film from intelligent white collar angst to goretastic bloodfest with ease. The sadistic humor Dalle brings to the performance adds chills, and Paradis’s realistic, handicapping size makes her vulnerability palpable.

1. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby remains a disturbing, elegant, and fascinating tale, and Mia Farrow’s embodiment of defenselessness joins forces with William Fraker’s skillful camerawork to cast a spell. Along with Repulsion (1965) and The Tenant (1976), Rosemary’s Baby is part of Polanski’s “apartment trilogy” – disturbing films of tension and horror in which metropolitan life and nosey neighbors conspire to drive a person mad.

Working from Ira Levin’s novel, Polanski takes all the glamour out of Satanism – with a huge assist from Ruth Gordon, who won an Oscar for her turn as the highly rouged busybody Minnie Castevet. By now we all know what happens to poor Rosemary Woodhouse, but back in’69, thanks much to Mia Farrow’s vulnerable performance, the film boiled over with paranoid tension. Was poor, pregnant Rosemary losing it, or was she utterly helpless and in evil hands?

Fright Club: Best Christmas Horror Movies

It’s the holidays!! Who doesn’t want to snuggle in with their cup of nog and a nice, Christmassy bloodletting? I know we do. But with so very much to choose from – Krampus, A Christmas Horror Story, Silent Night, Deadly Night, Santa Claws, Gremlins, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Legend of Hell House, The Children, Satan’s Little Helper, Santa’s Slay – which should you watch?

Well, none of those. I mean, they’re great in their own (sometimes awful) ways, but we have a list of 5 that may actually scare you.

5. Saint (2010)

What is every child’s immediate reaction upon first meeting Santa? Terror. Now imagine a mash-up between Santa, a pirate, and an old school Catholic bishop. How scary is that?

Well, that’s basically what the Dutch have to live with, as their Sinterklaas, along with his helper Black Peter, sails in yearly to deliver toys and bag naughty children to kidnap to Spain. I’m not making this up. This truly is their Christmas fairy tale. So, really, how hard was it for writer/director Dick Maas to mine his native holiday traditions for a horror flick?

Allegorical of the generations-old abuse against children quieted by the Catholic Church, Saint manages to hit a few nerves without losing its focus on simple, gory storytelling.

4. Black Christmas (1974)

Director Bob Clark made two Christmas-themed films in his erratic career. His 1940s era A Christmas Story has become a holiday tradition for many families and most cable channels, but we celebrate a darker yule tide tale: Black Christmas.

Sure, it’s another case of mysterious phone calls leading to grisly murders; sure it’s another one-by-one pick off of sorority stereotypes; sure, there’s a damaged child backstory; naturally John Saxon co-stars. Wait, what was different? Oh yeah, it did it first.

Released in 1974, the film predates most slashers by at least a half dozen years. It created the architecture. More importantly, the phone calls are actually quite unsettling.

Why the girls remain in the sorority house (if only they’d had an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!), or why campus police are so baffled remains a mystery, but Clark was onto something with the phone calls, as evidenced by the number of films that ripped off this original convention.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30OgeKqpIvw

3. Sheitan (2006)

How fucked up is this one? The fantastic Vincent Cassel stars as the weirdest handyman ever, spending a decadent Christmas weekend with a rag tag assortment of nightclub refugees. After Bart (Olivier Barthelemy) is tossed from the club, his mates and the girls they’re flirting with head out to spend the weekend at Eve’s (a not shy Rosane Mesquida). Way out in rural France, they meet Eve’s handyman, his very pregnant wife, and a village full of borderline freaks.

But who cares when somebody might be knocking boots at any minute?

The film is savagely uncomfortable and refreshingly unusual. Cassel’s performance is a work of lunatic genius, and his film is never less than memorable.

2. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

It’s not just the Dutch with a sketchy relationship with Santa. That same year Saint was released, the Fins put out an even better Christmas treat, one that sees Santa as a bloodthirsty giant imprisoned in Korvatunturi mountains centuries ago.

Some quick thinking reindeer farmers living in the land of the original Santa Claus are able to separate naughty from nice and make good use of Santa’s helpers. There are outstanding shots of wonderment, brilliantly subverted by director Jalmari Helander, with much aid from his chubby cheeked lead, a wonderful Onni Tommila.

Rare Exports is an incredibly well put together film. Yes, the story is original and the acting truly is wonderful, but the cinematography, sound design, art direction and editing are top notch.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pH9IyqTk1E

1. Inside (2007)

Who didn’t know this would be our #1?

This is not your usual Christmas cheer – not even for this list. No, this is a horror movie, no question about it, and it stems from the country that put out some of the most extreme yet excellent the genre had to offer in the first decade of this century. France’s 2000 – 2010 output included High Tension, Frontiers, Martyrs, Sheitan, Calvaire, Them, Irreversible, and Trouble Every Day, all of which are spectacular and challenging horror options. Inisde stands out for its exponentially developing pace, its sinister sense of humor, and one outstanding villain.

Beatrice Dalle’s insidious performance is hard to shake. Fearless, predatory, pitiless and able to take an enormous amount of abuse, her nameless character stalks a very, very pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis). 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. She’s grown cynical and despondent, more depressed than excited about giving birth in the morning.

Alexandre Bustillo’s film seeks to change her mind, make her want that baby. Because Dalle’s lurking menace certainly wants it. Her black clad silhouette is in the back yard, smoking and stalking – and she has seriously bad plans in mind.

Bustillo and directing partner Julien Maury swing the film from intelligent white collar angst to goretastic bloodfest with ease. The sadistic humor Dalle brings to the performance adds chills, and Paradis’s realistic, handicapping size makes her vulnerability palpable.

This is a mostly brilliant effort, a study in tension wherein one woman will do whatever it takes, with whatever utensils are available, to get at the baby still firmly inside another woman’s body.

Merry f’ing Christmas!

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Countdown: Best French Language Horror Movies

French horror films are not for the squeamish. Hell, even Belgian and Canadian horror seems affected by the French flair for bloodshed and discomfort – the Grand Guignol, as they might say. And those crazy frogs may be making the very best in the genre right now. In celebration of this week’s live Fright Club, the brilliant and horrifying Calvaire (in 35 mm!), we count down the other 5 best French language horror films.

5. Sheitan (2006)

The fantastic Vincent Cassel stars as the weirdest handyman ever, spending a decadent Christmas weekend with a rag tag assortment of nightclub refugees. After Bart (Olivier Barthelemy) is tossed from the club, his mates and the girls they’re flirting with head out to spend the weekend at Eve’s (a not shy Rosane Mesquida). Way out in rural France, they meet Eve’s handyman, his very pregnant wife, and a village full of borderline freaks. The film is savagely uncomfortable and refreshingly unusual. Cassel’s performance is a work of lunatic genius, and his film is never less than memorable.  

4. 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

3. 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.

2. 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/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

1. 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 will do whatever it takes, with whatever utensils are available, to get at the baby still firmly inside another woman’s body.