haute tension 
french cinema is not known for its contributions to the horror genre, with notable exceptions, e.g. the films of jean rollin
, france has produced very little in the way of scare pics, especially fright films that feature much gore. extreme cinema is not an unknown in france at all it just seems that filmmakers are not interested in making full-on horror movies.
until now. director alexandre aja and his producer/co-writing partner gregory levasseur obviously were weened on the horror genre, particularly flicks made in the u.s. and italy. lately i've been going thru their filmography with the exception of their latest release, last summer's mirrors
starring keifer sutherland. i'm going to have to wait until it is released on disc to see it after missing its brief run at the local cineplexes. they did a remake of wes craven's classic the hills have eyes
a couple of years ago. i wasn't terribly impressed with the revision and i'm not a big gorehound, except when gore is done well, and the film was particularly wet and gooey. that was good and was the only good thing about the film. it was aja's and levasseur's second feature.
however, aja's and levasseur's first feature is very good and very wet. after reading rave reviews on the net about the film upon its release i had to wait until '05 for its appearance on dvd here in the u.s. my first reaction was a rather mixed one. the psychology of the transfigured self is rather shallow. the filmmakers' owe more than a passing nod to say hitchcock's psycho
but the debt to the late, great filmmaker is barely acknowledged by the young frenchmen. rather, haute tension
plays like an homage to early '80s u.s. slasher movies and italian zombie cinema.
even so, the transfigured self features prominently in the storyline and its treatment is mostly flat which influenced my early reception of the movie. but on subsequent viewings the film worked its peculiar magic on me and i found myself reading the film for its influences. aja and levasseur know the history of italian gore cinema so well that they hired the best fx man in italy, giannetto de rossi, and the effort was worth it. the movie is soaked in blood and gore. and the machinations of death are unique. the film starts out slow but after the first death, to mis-quote dylan thomas' poem, there is no other. for it is powerful and visceral and leaves the viewer utterly quaking at the audacity of the filmmakers.
the plot is simple: two young women plan to spend the weekend at one of their parents' country home. during their first night there is a knock on the door which bring forth the very depths of hell. however, all is not as it seems, the bogeyman is a hulking man in work coveralls, eyes hidden by a baseball cap, and who drives an old, rusty truck. his weapon of choice is the straight razor. to say more would be to give away the filmmakers' central plot device, which i think is structurally the weakest part of the film.
at any rate, my viewing of this movie moved beyond the obvious weakness as i read thru the many homages and the sheer delight of gore done well. the score is near-perfect and the photography, lighting and editing are superb. this is not a movie for everyone or even for those who love horror. because it is french this flick got the awful 'art-house' label and was even the midnight movie for the french film festival held here in sac last summer. it is not 'art-house' at all but a sucker-punch to the solar plexus and an affront to all that is decent in mainstream french films.
if that ain't praise enough i don't know what is. should you see this film do yourself a favor and forgo the dubbed version. it stinks. stick with the original soundtrack with subtitles. you won't need to read the movie once the action starts. screams of terror and pain don't need translation.