The French Chainsaw Massacre

Normally, I spend a good portion of my time making fun of the French. It’s probably because the French people that I deal with are so insufferably rude. That’s why I mumble “cheese-eating surrender-monkeys” every time I help one of them. Yet, as a history buff, I know that I owe a tremendous debt to the French–at least the French of the eighteenth century, when they were busy trading fur, selling Louisiana, and financing a revolution solely because it would piss off King George. I guess that kind of blew up in King Louis’ face. Sorry ’bout that.
One thing the French have been doing right, lately, is horror and one of my favorite exports is Alexandre Aja. You remember him from Piranha 3D–the movie that had the stones to show what it would look like if piranhas ate Jerry O’Connell’s dong.
I think I’m pretty much the last person in the horror community to see Aja’s earlier film, Haute Tension/High Tension. It was released in France in 2003, and reached the U.S. in edited form in 2005. I would like to take this moment to tell the M.P.A.A. to suck it hard. This just seems to be a story that keeps repeating, a movie is made and the makers are promptly told to cut it hard or else they won’t get the wide release it needs. What hypocrisy, a pompous secretive group of citizens acting as the moral police, protecting me for my own good, when they probably have volumes of porn in their bedstands and on their hard-drives. Of course, it’s always in the guise of “for the children.” So, you can see a PG-13 war movie with people getting shot to hell with a swelling score but Dog help the public if they see a couple, especially a woman, enjoying sex.
I really despise the M.P.A.A., is what I’m trying to say. Happily, I have the uncut director’s edition in the original language. As I said, I’m very late in seeing this movie. For awhile, I thought it was similar to the Saw series and I really hate Saw. Not because of the violence, I just think that Jigsaw is a moralizing carbuncle who would probably enjoy a circle-jerk with the M.P.A.A. High Tension is a very different story from Saw, I think the moral is something along the lines of don’t be crazy. Stacie Ponder has pretty much beaten me to the sexual politics of the movie, so I’ll direct you there.
The first thing that I would like to address is the elephant in the room–the twist ending. I know that I’m severely late to the movie and should assume that everyone knows what the big twist is. But, I’m betting there are people like me who may not want it spoiled so I’m not discussing it. Feel free to mention it in the comments, though. I saw the movie knowing what the twist was and I kind of wish that I hadn’t. I’ve read that a lot of people didn’t like the twist ending but I really did. It shouldn’t come out of nowhere if you watch the characters’ interactions. Plus, it makes somewhat more sense than what was being shown.
Basically, Alex (Maïwenn) and Marie (Cécile de France) are visiting Alex’s family in the sticks of France. I had no clue that France had sticks but I am willing to accept this. Alex mentions some trouble with local rednecks but says that the family is mostly left alone. Again, France has rednecks? There’s something comforting about that.
The house is seriously isolated, last house on the left isolated. There is a big scary van, nearby, with a big scary man in overalls, being fellated by a dead woman’s head.
Alex and Marie settle down, have dinner, and Marie enjoys a smoke outside while spying on her friend as she showers. It’s pretty clear that Marie is into Alex in a more-than-friends kind of way. Their banter in the car is strained as Marie calls her a slut and a bitch and generally makes fun of Alex. Frankly, I really wanted Alex to hit Marie in the face, dump her on the side of the road, and tell her to find her own way home. Afterwards, Marie goes upstairs and masturbates but is interrupted by the scary overalls man breaking into the house. He decapitates Alex’s dad by jamming his head between the rails of the staircase and then literally knocking his head off with a bookcase. The entire family is dispatched, except for Marie and Alex. He doesn’t know Marie is there and he takes off with Alex in his van. The movie is about Marie rescuing Alex. Until, you know, the twist.
While I enjoyed the movie, I found some of it to be derivative, especially of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Aja claims surprise that the movie has been picked apart the way it has been, but, how can you not with these shots?


Look at those scenes. If you didn’t know that this was from a French movie, where would you think this took place? Plus, the yellow-tint is very similar to the yellowy shots in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Or, look at this shot of the bad-guy.

So you have a grotesque, working-class guy with a saw and you wonder why your movie gets compared to another prominent movie with a chainsaw?
This movie even has a Texas-style lawman.

Honestly, I didn’t care for the opening of the movie. It was a lot of fast cuts and loud music and I was really concerned that this would be another music-video-turned-movie. Thankfully, I was wrong. I actually grew to enjoy the music, especially the high-frequency buzz as Marie is placed under more pressure.
The movie is quite violent, although it’s far from the most violent movie I’ve seen. The blood is very bright and Aja uses buckets of it. Critics made a lot of some of the violence, especially when Marie attacks the scary man with a club wound in barbed-wire. But honestly, you see more gore in a movie like Day of the Dead. I’m thinking of the scenes where the sheet is lifted and that zombie’s entire digestive system falls out or when Joe Pilato’s character is pulled apart by zombies. Personally, I liked the barbed-wire club because I thought it was resourceful.

And, honestly, I thought some of the gore was artistically done and evocative. Like this shot when Marie finds Alex’s mother.

I like the inversion, where the victim is vertical, and the person finding her appears to be horizontal. It’s just a perspective shift but I think it’s neat.
This movie did live up to its title. My roommate snuck into my room when I was watching it and I jumped about a mile. That doesn’t happen to me often so you know the movie at least accomplished what it set out to do. And that makes it successful, at least in my eyes. All I really wish is that they’d kept the name that they used in the U.K., Switchblade Romance. That sounds so very grindhouse.

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About scarina

I like scary movies a little too much. I thought I'd share my obsession with you.
This entry was posted in 21st century, foreign, serial killers, slasher, you so crazy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The French Chainsaw Massacre

  1. Thomas D. says:

    I saw this in the theatre in the dubbed version, and the dubbing was a joke (even for dubbing). They are a couple of scenes where someone is speaking English in the French language version, if I remember correctly, and someone else doesn’t understand him, but this comes off as nonsensical in the dubbed version. I know studios think horror fans are mouthbreathers, but we are way into the age of Crouching Tiger grossing $100+ million as a subtitled movie. The dialolgue is not even that prevelant or important, except in the scene or two I mentioned.

    P.S. I really like this movie in the “real” version, principally because it’s a stylish version of a “pure” slasher.

    • scarina says:

      I hate that stereotype about horror fans. Yeah, there are some mouthbreathers but you’ll find that with any genre. I’d rather watch an awesome Argento movie than a mediocre Spielberg movie any day. Subtitling isn’t hard to deal with at all, I don’t know why it puts so many people off.
      That’s one of the things I liked about the movie, the lack of dialogue. Just the crunch-crunch of the lumbering killer’s footsteps or the clanking of chains.
      I think this was a really neat take on a subgenre that many people think is played out.

  2. Crypticpsych says:

    First off, because you like documentaries, given your discussion of the MPAA I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you’ve seen the documentary “This Film Is Not Yet Rated”. If you haven’t, you really need to. I’m still waiting for someone to do a really epic, full-blown investigation into the MPAA, but until they do, that movie will have to do. Myself, while I can sometimes “understand” the mentality that leads to censorship, I don’t support it. When I was reviewing the show “Fear Itself” episode-by-episode (I stopped when it got cancelled and am planning to go back to it), every single week almost I began by bashing the Parents Television Council for the exact same reason that I, and you apparently, bash the MPAA. I don’t suppose you know any good books on the subject of MPAA censorship?

    As for foreign films, seeing as I’m the member of the best-horror-movies “Rogue’s Gallery” whose favorite movies are simply listed as “Foreign and Off-beat”, I think you can guess where I stand on the subject of subtitles v. dubbing, lol. I always prefer the original language with English subtitles and will often watch regular movies with English subtitles too (in case I can’t hear a line).

    I do have a story though that drove me absolutely nuts when it happened. When I’m in stores looking at dvd sections for deals, I like to listen around me. If someone nearby seems to want a horror movie but can’t pick one out, I try to lend a hand. Once, I was in a Target and I saw this couple was trying to find a good horror movie. I reached out and showed them a copy of The Orphanage (A Spanish ghost story from 2007 that Guillermo del Toro produced, but didn’t direct, that absolutely floored me when I saw it). The movie was $5. That’s it. The cheapest you’ll find a DVD outside of a Black Friday sale. So cheap that buying it blind would not be too big a deal. Their response to my suggestion was that they couldn’t watch it because it only came with Spanish audio and English subtitles, not an English dub. I didn’t say anything to their faces (that’d be rude), but in my head, I could almost feel something snap at the fact that the people were going to be deprived an absolutely amazing movie because they couldn’t “handle” subtitles.

    • Crypticpsych says:

      (Oh….and I love High Tension. :D)

      • scarina says:

        LoL nice addition. And, seriously, thanks for all the comments. Sometimes I feel like I write to an echo chamber, I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s this passionate about horror.

    • scarina says:

      Yes, This Film is Not Yet Rated is one of my favorite documentaries. I haven’t seen it in awhile though. The whole racket really bothers me, whether it’s t.v., music, or video game ratings. I wouldn’t mind if they were purely descriptive but I really hate the idea that there’s this arbitrary line that people cross that make them able to handle some media but not others. Sadly, I don’t know of any books about the MPAA. The closest thing I’ve heard about are a few recent books about the comic scare of the 1950’s and the comic code.
      Sometimes I think about putting the english subtitles on, I’m glad I’m not the only one. I grew up with closed captioning on all the time b/c my stepdad was partially deaf so things like that don’t really bother me.
      I have’t seen The Orphanage yet but I can’t believe anyone would turn that down for five dollars. Insane! That kind of reminds me of when I was at some rental place near my mom’s house in Pennsylvania. This woman was loudly complaining to the clerk because they didn’t have an english dubbing of Pan’s Labyrinth because she wanted to show it to her two young children. Also, that movies in America should be in American. The clerk tried to explain that it wasn’t really a children’s movie and she freaked out.

      • Crypticpsych says:

        Oh, I’m reading one of those next once I finish Koontz’s “Twilight Eyes” (slow progress though that may be…)! It’s called “The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books The Government Didn’t Want You To Read!”. The thing that really interests me about this (besides the fact that EC Comics and the like and the show Tales from the Crypt have always fascinated me) is that it comes with a DVD of an episode of a TV show from 1955 called “Confidential File” about the “evils” of comic books and juvenile delinquency. That should be REAL interesting.

        And oh, I’ve definitely heard siimilar things about Pan’s Labyrinth in video stores. One store I used to live by had taken to putting these big pieces of bright yellow tape on the case that said “SPANISH WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES ONLY”. People scare me sometimes.

      • scarina says:

        That book sounds amazing, I need to check it out. I love EC Comics. Sometimes I think of buying a window screen for when I paint so I can emulate the pixelated printing style. Shorts about moral panics crack me up.
        They scare me too. 0.0

  3. Crypticpsych says:

    There’s no need to thank me for the comments, I’m glad you like them and am more glad that I found your blog! I appreciate it though. I agree with you, it’s always great to find someone else passionate about horror to talk to. :)

  4. Pingback: Maniac | Scarina's Scary Vault of Scariness

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