Friday, October 3, 2014

31 Days of Horror: Les Diaboliques

Simone Signoret and Vera Clouzot are haunted by their own paranoia in Les Diaboliques.

In addition to our regular programming, every day this month, Last Cinema Standing will be bringing readers recommendations from the best of the horror genre as we make our way to Halloween. This should not be treated as a “best of” list but more as a primer. You can read the full introduction to Last Cinema Standing’s 31 Days of Horror here, and be sure to check back each day for a new suggestion.

Day 3: Les Diaboliques (1955)

The story goes that Alfred Hitchcock initially attempted to buy the rights to the novel on which Les Diaboliques was based but missed out by just hours. French director Henri-Georges Clouzot beat him to the punch and made this classic horror-thriller that the master himself considers among his favorite films.

With a deceptively simple plot, Les Diaboliques relies on atmosphere and mood to sell the terror, and Clouzot achieves this expertly. The film is built on suspicion, innuendo, and the hallucinations of a guilt-addled mind. Right through the final frames, it does not let up, and the tension ramps up so slowly you could be forgiven for not noticing the pain in your fingers from gripping the arm rest too tightly.

Christina is married to a cruel man. He is cheating on her with Nicole. Christina and Nicole meet and agree to take revenge on the man who has deceived them both. They murder him, but the body goes missing, and they are haunted by their fear of capture and distraught over the moral and spiritual implications of what they have done.

The film is defined by what the characters cannot see and what the audience does not see. Clouzot adheres to the classic logic of horror films: Anything the audience can imagine will be far scarier than anything he could show on screen. So, he holds back and holds back, waiting quite literally until we see the whites of their eyes to fire his final shot. When he does, it lands with such force that it could knock you down. Thankfully, you will probably still be holding onto the arm rest.

Tomorrow, a cat, a curse, and another woman on the brink of insanity.

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