Art House to Slaughter House – The Evolution of the French Horror Film

Videovista also have my extended essay on the history of French Horror film.  Ostensibly a “10 Best…” list, I tried to explain how the current wave of French Horror films draw upon cinematical antecedents ranging from the gothic and exploitation to the properly art house.  I have been slowly working on this for a couple of months but it is only in the last week or so that I managed to fashion a proper historical narative.  Worth taking a look at if you’re interested in my views on films such as :

  • The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)
  • Spirits of the Dead (1968)
  • Female Vampire (1973)
  • Les Diaboliques (1955)
  • The Tenant (1976)
  • Eyes without a Face (1960)
  • Switchblade Romance (2003)
  • Them (2006)
  • Inside (2007)
  • Martyrs (2008)


  1. Hi Jonathan. Intriguing list.

    Haven’t seen them all – will update my lovefilm list accordingly! – but certainly understand why the ones I have seen are there save for one notable – Martyrs. I watched it this week and found the excessive torture and violence overloaded any dramatic tension and left me feeling it was simply horrible rather than horrifying. I’m never quite sure when films veer into alleged ‘torture porn’ territory what they’re hoping to achieve. Watching someone get their back slashed for long periods of a film is not only decidely grim but more probelmatic, it undermines the narrative because it becomes the main event. For me, great horror films always get the audience’s imaginations and worst fears involved, leaving space for their darkest thoughts to roam. For me the greatest scene in ‘Martyrs’ was the midpoint descent into the basement, which was slow and meditative and thus horribley tense. Far more effective than the more exxplicit bloodlust that dominates the rest of the movie. My grumble with films like Martyrs, Hostel and Mum & Dad is that they show too much. Without a wider context for the character’s plight it’s difficult to feel fear, just phsyical disgust. Maybe they should be viewed as endurance tests?


  2. I agree with you about Martyrs as a piece of Drama : It doesn’t work at all because half-way through the story effectively stops and it turns into this rather baggy series of torture sequences.

    However, I don’t think that it’s a film that relies upon emotional investment in its characters and an ensuing emotional response resulting from making the objects of that investment jump through hoops.

    I think instead that it relies for its impact on being horrible to watch and then seeking to provide an intellectual justification for the horrible things it makes you watch. The justifications are pseudo-intellectual fantastical bullshit and I know of a number of people who have rejected the film because of its weak content and its silly ending but I think that the light-weight nature of the film’s justification for torture is part of the point.

    Humans don’t need much justification to rip each other to shreds and people will happily sit through images of it in cinemas in order to garner some kind of vicarious thrill. In a way, I see Martyrs as a deconstruction of the Horror film. It takes the Horror formula, boils it until there’s nothing left but a black sludge and then serves up the black sludge for you to enjoy.


Comments are closed.