Women and power tools are always an exciting mix. There’s something about the blend of sexuality and electricity that stimulates the senses, especially when there’s the risk of one false move opening up a whole new world of orifices. And by ‘senses’, I mean ‘genitals’, because most horror films are intended to sate the male lust for sex and violence in as short a time period as possible, like a protein shake of rape-fantasies, allowing horror fans to get back to their jobs staffing comic stores and stocking shelves at Shoppers Drug Mart as quickly as possible. So, it’s no surprise that this film has been sending ripples of excitement through the horror world, based upon the promotional stills alone. What is a surprise is that the film’s not half bad. Usually, when a film excites horror geeks, it’s because Fangoria couldn’t get its eight thousandth Friday the 13th retrospective ready by press time, so they had to quickly lay out some third-rate coverage of a Dario Argento import to fill up pages. Horror fans usually got to be horror fans because their older brother had a lot of Misfits records, making them the most impressionable people this side of Ashlee Simpson fans, so you can pretty much tell them to like anything so long as it’s got a bloody breast somewhere between the opening organ music and the end titles. Incidentally, you can also drive them to mass suicide like lemmings by throwing a Japanese laser disc of Army of Darkness off a cliff, but then there would be no one to wash my windshield while stopped at a down-town traffic light.
Haute Tension, however, has a lot going for it, specifically the titular high tension, which drives the film from it’s tame beginning to its shocking conclusion, which reveals that the director has seen Fight Club and hates lesbians. Unfortunately, while the film has great visceral impact, that’s the only level on which it functions. For a horror film to be truly effective, it has to work on an intellectual level as well, not only keeping you on the edge of your seat, but haunting you for days and making you shiver and sweat concurrently, like bad Tonkinese soup made from rotted dog. And just like bad Tonkinese soup, horror is best made by Asians these days, because they know what truly scares western audiences, namely Asian children. I don’t know what it is about them that’s so creepy, be it the androgyny, the agelessness, or their perpetual resemblance to that awful Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but something about those little buggers sets me on edge, turning a trip through Chinatown to get illegal fireworks into a pilgrimage through a Dantean Inferno that smells like stir-fry and opium. Unfortunately, Haute Tension is French, not Asian, so it can’t engage on an intellectual level, because the French don’t have that. I don’t know what the hell happened to French cinema in the past few decades, but someone better check their tap water for lead, because their cinematic empire has declined into a cesspool of self-indulgent nonsense. They went from innovative film criticism to innovative film movements to innovative ways to get Vincent Cassel to do kung-fu in wildly inappropriate cinematic situations. Police procedural thriller? Time for a flying spin kick to loosen up that gang of skinheads bizarrely trained in Chinese martial arts. And nothing says 18th century French period piece like tae-kwon do and bo-fighting. And their horror films have never been anything to write home about, which might explain why everyone’s getting so excited about this one. In fact, the French don't even place in the top five list of international horror producers, which I’ve kindly listed below for your reading pleasure.
1. Japan. These movies are terrifying, because the Japanese are absolutely bat-shit crazy. And not crazy in a wild, exciting Bam Margera way, crazy in the muttering Bible verses backwards in a corner while splitting your penis in half like a snake tongue with your fingernail. They are different from us, mark my words, in the way that silicone-based volcanic organisms are different from the rest of life on Earth. They are to be feared, as are their films.
2. Italians. Also crazy, but in an ebullient sense. They’re all about color and cacophony that quickly goes south. In a way, they’re the birthday clowns of European horror, all bright balloon animals and slight of hand and 33 dead boys stuffed into the crawlspace.
3. England. Stiff and formal, but rich in subtext. They make the only horror films in which it appears that someone in the production has graduated high school, and that high school was a repressive Catholic seminary run by Christopher Lee.
4. Spain. Spain has made one horror movie, a low-budget sexploitation vampire film infused with 70s psychedelia, but shortly thereafter the tyrannical Franco government was overthrown by Ultron robots, which began churning out replicants of the same picture like a cocked-up photocopier. This will continue in perpetuity, or until Jess Franco dies.
5. Canada. Canadian horror films, like The Changeling and Ginger Snaps, are heavily representative of the Canadian identity, in that they have no form or shape of their own but are clearly not American. They accomplish this by having almost no effects, budget, or violence whatsoever, and spending a lot of time in the woods. Also, you need to personally know the director to figure out what’s supposed to be happening in the final act.
So, there you have it. A quick run-down of the major players in international horror. Sadly, France has yet to crack the top five. Perhaps with a few more entries like Haute Tension, things might change. But unless they get any smarter however, that change won’t be for the better.