Euro-Horror Binge: February Round-Up

That old enemy time has got in the way of us constructing individual Euro-Horror posts for each of these films, so we thought we’d compile our most recent viewing into a column type piece.

After stopping with Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s giallo inspired horror, Livide, we picked up with their most recent feature, Among the Living (Aux yeux des vivants, 2014, France,★★). It’s clear that Bustillo and Maury are once again bowled over by their love for the genre – one of the things that make them such an inspired team – yet here, their tight grip begins to slack and the result is a messy slasher drawing on too many different genre areas. Inspired by (and lacking the charm of) Stand By Me and Stephen King’s IT, this tale sees three children encounter a masked killer in an abandoned film studio lot. Among the Living is messy and unfocused, and its attempts to add any degree of depth to the narrative feel cliched and flat. Despite this it does have Béatrice Dalle in the opening which is a little treat for genre fans.

We remain in France, but move back eight years for our next feature, Them (Ils, 2006, France, ★★★) from David Moreau and Xavier Palud. This punchy seventy-seven minute thriller follows a couple, terrorised in their rural country house. It’s snappy, brutal and establishes a tight sense of tension for its short yet satisfying run time. The filmmakers make strong use of the rural locations and night-time setting to create a blistering sense of panic that pulses throughout the feature. One slight criticism would be the failure to take this down a more original narrative route, it’s undeniably familiar and subsequently failed to stick with us.

Whilst our next film did not come out of Europe, its influences clearly did. The Editor (2014, Canada, ★★) from Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy follows a giallo film editor who is wrapped up in a number high profile murders within the film crew. Brooks and Kennedy create an atmosphere evocative of classic Argento and Bava works, with luxurious locations, lingering nudity and aggressive murders – yet the weaker comedic elements detract from the more natural giallo fun, plus a small role from Udo Kier is drastically underused.

The term forgotten classic is banded about a lot, but it is entirely apt for Jérôme Boivin’s Baxter (1989, France, ★★★★★). This little seen shocker is narrated by our title character, who happens to be a bull terrier with a particularly French outlook on life. After an unhappy life with an old woman who he feels sheer contempt for, Baxter finds a new home with a young couple – yet their attention on their new baby fills him with jealousy. Baxter soon finds himself with his new teen owner, a budding sociopath and Hitler fanatic. The results are a deeply unsettling glimpse into animal instincts and man’s relationship with beast.

The tone is lightened slightly with Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead (Død Snø 2, 2014, Norway, ★★★) from Tommy Wirkola in which the Nazi zombies from the first film return to hunt down sole survivor Martin and retrieve their gold. There is a little more US influence this time round with Martin Starr’s US zombie hunter, yet the off-kilter Norwegian humour is still alive and well. This sequel is at its best simply when providing Nazi zombie carnage and it provides that by the tank-load.

All star auteurs Roger Vadim, Louis Malle and Federico Fellini team-up with some of Europe’s biggest stars for Spirits of the Dead (Histoires extraordinaires, 1968, Italy/France, ★★★★★) – a spellbinding triage of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. Soaked in gothic atmosphere, each filmmaker bring a unique and memorable short to the table: Vadim’s gothic Metzengerstein starring Jane Fonda as a debauched countess, Malle’s William Wilson featuring Alain Delon and Brigitte Bardot in a tale of murder and stolen identity, and finally Fellini’s Toby Dammit exploring the visions of a drunken Shakespearian actor (Terence Stamp). An outstanding trio of tales celebrating gothic madness with unique aesthetic clout.

We linger in Italy a little longer with our second Bava entry, A Bay of Blood (Ecologia del delitto, 1972, Italy, ★★★★). This lakeside slasher puts former Bond-girl Claudine Auger through her paces following the murder of a elderly countess by her greedy husband – however, a nearby group of teenagers get roped into the chaos. It’s not as precisely crafted as Bava’s previous works – but this garish slasher picture delivered the atmospheric visuals and nastiness that I craved after the tepid, Black Sunday.

Roger Vadim returns in our Binge with Blood and Roses (Et mourir de plaisir, 1960, France, ★★★★★) a gothic vampire romance based on Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu. Vadim’s elegantly constructed picture follows a lonely, jealous heiress who becomes obsessed with a legend about her ancestor being a vampire. Vadim utilises the picturesque European rural locations, making a seductive an atmospheric canvas for this tale of jealousy and the supernatural to unfold upon. Don’t expect brash lesbian vampires from this erotic, yet sumptuously elegant picture.

Alain Delon returns to our Euro-Binge with his final horror film, Shock Treatment (Traitement de choc, 1973, France, ★★★★) which sees him star as Dr. Devilers who operates a shady health clinic on the French coast. Devilers’ obsession with primal rituals and tribal sacrifices should be a warning to Helene (Annie Girardot) who falls into his arms. Exploring the abuse of fellow men by a privileged elite, director Alain Jessua never quite makes his thematics overly clear, but Delon ensures this is a watchable, often suspenseful affair.

Paul Morrisey’s Blood for Dracula (Andy Warhol’s Dracula, 1974, Italy/France, ★★★★★) provides the high camp dramatics one expects from Morrisey’s works combined with classic gothic narrative. The result is a Dracula film like no other. Morrisey’s film follows a dying Count Dracula (a fabulous Udo Kier) as he travels to Italy from Transylvania in the hunt for a virgin bride. He soon encounters an impoverished Italian landower who offers one of his daughters to be his Dracula’s bride. However, Joe Dallesandro’s handyman has been busier than expected. Part comic farce, part gothic drama, and part political satire, Blood for Dracula is chock-full of high camp fun. Praise should also go to Claudio Gizzi’s gorgeous score.