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5 spooky French films to watch at Halloween

The Local France
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5 spooky French films to watch at Halloween
Photo: AFP

With Halloween just around the corner you might be in the mood for a spooky movie - but did you know that French cinema was a direct influence on some of the best known Hollywood scary movies? Here are 5 to try this autumn.

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Late October is a great time to delve back into some of our favourite horror classics.

Many of these thrill-induced films present us with a force of evil that terrorises a group of unfortunate people - but ultimately the good prevails and we, as the audience, leave with the comfort of knowing that these horror stories aren’t our reality.

Every once in a while, however, we see a film that is able to change this common narrative and present us with new forms of spectacle. And in a lot of instances, these pioneering films have come from France.

Let's take a look at five French films that helped shape American cinema.

1 Les Diaboliques (1955) - Henri-Georges Clouzot

In this film, the wife and mistress of a cruel and abusive boarding school headmaster plot to kill him. After successfully doing so, the women begin to question how dead the headmaster really is.

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Sound familiar? That’s because this movie directly influenced Alfred Hitchcock’s american horror classic Psycho (1960). This influence is evident in the atmosphere of suspense, plot elements, and surprising twists. The suspense and psychological tension in Les Diaboliques were instrumental in shaping the iconic shower scene in Psycho.

2 Les Yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face, 1960) - Georges Franju

In Les Yeux sans visage, a brilliant but deranged surgeon attempts to restore his daughter's disfigured face by kidnapping and experimenting on young women. The eerie atmosphere and surgical horror in this film were highly influential, shaping the thematic landscape of many American horror movies - even  the mad scientist Dr Frank-N-Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a result of this influence as films blurred lines between science and monstrosity.

3 Caché (Hidden, 2005) - Michael Haneke

Michael Haneke's Caché explores a family's life unravelling due to mysterious surveillance and threats. Its pervasive sense of unease and psychological tension inspired American films, such as Paranormal Activity (2007), which utilised the form of capturing private moments through tapes of home surveillance.

This psychological terror in having the sense that we are being watched at all can be partially credited to Haneke's work.

4 Haute Tension (High Tension, 2003) - Alexandre Aja

Alexandre Aja's Haute Tension is an intense, violent thriller. It influenced American films like The Strangers (2008), Inside (2007), and Hush (2016) by demonstrating the power of unrelenting tension, brutality, and suspense.

The “home invasion” style film was popularised at this time and much of that can be credited to the inspiration of Haute Tension. This inspiration fuelled a wave of extreme horror in American cinema during the early 2000s.

5 Martyrs (2008) - Pascal Laugier

Martyrs stands as a prominent film in the New French Extremity movement, which explored themes of suffering and transcendence.

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Its profound influence on American horror is evident in the works of filmmakers delving into extreme and disturbing themes, challenging traditional horror conventions, and pushing boundaries in the genre. An American remake of Martyrs was released in 2015 under the same name.

In many of these cases, French filmmakers were able to influence a new wave of American horror through taking risks.

These directors were perfectly able to capture this nervousness in their films and that is what made them so impactful. As we get older and new technologies and society are presented to us new subjects start to give us even more anxiety and tension.

Thomas Cailley was able to draw inspiration from contemporary subjects for his most recent film: Le Regne Animal (2023). Written just before the pandemic, Cailley is able to relay the theme of family amid a global infection. This film comes with many classic horror elements: jump scares, freaky coups de cinéma, and lingering suspense.

 

By Henry Keohan

Le Regne Animal will be screened with English subtitles by the Lost in Frenchlation cinema club on November 2nd at Luminor Hôtel de Ville cinema in Paris. Tickets are available here

You can find more information on Lost in Frenchlation's regular screenings around France of French films with English subtitles here

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