Our next stop on our journey around the horror world is France, a country known for its shocking, extreme, and boundary-pushing genre films.
Welcome back to Morbidly Beautiful and our ongoing series exploring horror films from around the world. The next stop on our journey is to France ,which is host to some of the violent, gory and disturbing horror films in recent memory. Come with us as we explore the graphic horror sub-genre of French Extremity.
As a fan of horror, you may have seen a French Extremity film without even realizing it. Just think back to the last film that really grossed you out, disturbed you or made you exclaim, “WTF?!” There’s a good chance that was probably a French Extremity film. These films derive from two main sources of influence.
First, there’s the element of the gross, squirm-inducing body horror elements that filmmaker David Cronenberg is so known for. Second, these films borrow from the late 1970s American exploitation films that weren’t afraid to touch on taboo topics and transgressive ideas. Combining these two highly explosive elements is sure to garner some negative attention, and these films have certainly received their fair share of criticism.
The most notable of these releases is probably 2003’s High Tension.
This movie was listed in Time Magazine’s Top 10 Most Ridiculously Violent Films of All Time. Also, there was a bit of controversy regarding how much the film seems similar to a Dean Koontz novel. However, the author felt the film was so disgusting that he didn’t want to be associated with it, if even to sue the creators.
This film is what opened the door for many other horror creators from France to push the limits, but it is by far the most tame of the French extremity movement.
Martyrs and Irreversible are two of those films that even the most die hard of horror fans whisper about — films that give you that uneasy feeling while watching them and make you wonder, “Should I really be watching this?” Although they are both very uncomfortable watches, they also happen to be exceptionally well done.
During screenings of both of these films, people walked out of theaters. And there were even reports of viewers becoming physically ill.
In the case of Irreversible, this could be partially attributed to the low frequency tone that plays throughout most of the film — intentionally inserted to cause nausea. Of course, it could also be related to the 10 minute, one shot, uninterrupted rape scene that ends with a violent beating of the main character.
Martyrs is a rape revenge film like no other, considering the victims are young children. Subject matter aside, this film’s violence and gore make it feel like a borderline snuff film. And it’s not for the weak willed. It’s available now for streaming, but I think any viewing recommendation should come with a fair warning. If you want to check this film out, talk to someone who has seen it if you can. Then decide if you’re ready to commit to it.
While many of these films have violent scenes and heavy subject matter, they often don’t play out like standard horror films.
One exception to that is the 2007 film Inside. This film follows a young pregnant woman as she is viciously hunted by a jealous woman whose only goal is to take her baby, even if that means cutting the baby out while the woman is still alive. It’s bloody, gory and very extreme — but it still maintains much of the slasher aesthetic of an early 80s horror flick. There was also a remake of this film in 2016, which is far more tame if you can’t handle the extreme gore of the original.
French Extremity is overall a fantastic sub-genre that I implore any horror fan to explore further, with proper caution of course. For now, enjoy these four fantastic French horror films which are all easily streamable.
Trouble Every Day (2001)
Fair warning, this one is intense. Prepare yourself accordingly. For what exactly? For starters, there is a ton of extreme sexual violence, including violent lip biting, hickeys and an oral sex scene that is hard to watch. The film follows an American couple vacationing in Paris. However, the husband is really there looking for a long lost lover, a strange woman who can only be described as a sexual cannibal.
It’s one of those arthouse type films with a strong message and lots of symbolism. At times, the artistic appeal can get in the way of the storytelling, which may leave some viewers confused. Of course, the American exploitation films of the 1970s also did this, so it’s not surprising to see that style aped in this film. Trouble Every Day stars Béatrice Dalle, who also played the terrifying antagonist in Inside.
Trouble Every Day is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Ils (Them) (2006)
This one is not an extremity film, but it is still phenomenal nonetheless. Ils is one of those thriller type horrors that will have you at the edge of your seat and at full anxiety for its duration. Purportedly based on a true story, Ils follows the story of a young couple who are terrorized by intruders in a secluded house in the French countryside.
What makes this film different from many home invasion type horrors is that the intruders in this one are never seen until the very end. They are so covert in their mischief that you don’t even get the slightest view of them — not a shadow in a corner, not a figure in the background, nothing until it’s too late — nothing until the shocking twist ending is revealed.
Ils (Them) is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
As previously mentioned, French Extremity pulls a lot of inspiration from 70s American exploitation films. If this movie was one of the films that inspired it, it would be called somehting like “Nazi Cannibals”, as that’s essentially exactly what it’s about. You could almost call it Hills Have Eyes set in the French countryside. Frontier(s) follows a group of thugs from the city escaping the riot-filled streets of Paris after a run-in with the police, only to find themselves in the worst situation possible: trapped by cannibal Nazis.
While this one is fairly blood and brutal, that’s more of the backdrop to the more traditional horror film that plays out in the foreground. Fromtier(s) is one of those films that is built around a payoff that will have you standing and applauding through the final act.
Frontier(s) is currently streaming on Tubi.
The Night Eats the World (2018)
French zombie flicks are few and far between. But this one is a fantastic entry into zombie lore that has the fingerprints of French extremity all over it. The film follows Sam who goes to a party to get his belongings from his ex. He falls asleep in a back bedroom, and when he wakes up the zombie apocalypse is in full swing. The remainder of the film follows Sam as he survives day by day and slowly loses his mind in solitude.
The zombies in this one are interesting as they are dead silent. No groaning, no growling, just gnashing teeth. It’s also unique, as most zombie films follow the survivor in the world fighting off zombies. But this film follows the survivor simply surviving — rationing canned goods, dealing with the loss of heat and power, and making music. After the initial zombie terrors, this film is fairly quiet — just like the zombies. It’s a truly unique and beautiful film worth checking out.
The Night Eats the World is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
If you are hungry for more French horror, make sure to check out the Shudder exclusives Revenge and Knife + Heart. And make sure to follow Morbidly Beautiful (and me) on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or wherever you consume social media for the latest in the series as well. You can also check out this letterboxd list.
In the next entry of the series, we will be exploring the wild world of Italian horror — where all suggestions will be alternative titles from the most famous Italian directors like Bava, Argento and more.