Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Scary films—like nightmares—shun logic. After all, what else would you expect from movies about vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies, mutated creatures, and sadistic maniacs?

Searching for logic in a scary movie is like skinny dipping in quicksand.

If the vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies, creatures, and madmen defy logic, their victims fare no better. Folks in horror movies behave foolishly. When they confront horror, they freeze in their footsteps and belt out a blood-curdling screams. Or they flee in the wrong direction, fall down, and sprain an ankle. Even if the girl doesn't sprain her ankle, she will run in a circle and collide with the villain. If the victims reach their car, they must crank up their jalopy repeatedly before the engine finally turns over, just as the monster or killer looms large in their rearview mirror. Indeed, the only reason that the engine doesn't fire-up the first time out is that it would make it too easy for the victims to escape.

Alas, horror movie villains are as unreal as they are undead, and their victims qualify as the least resourceful humans on earth. Now, keeping this in mind, do you watch scary movies to see the victims apply cold, hard logic to an illogical crisis while keeping a cool head under pressure? Anybody that goes to horror movies hoping that the villain will be realistic or that the victims won't do idiotic things clearly doesn't know much about horror movies and life-in-general. Some moviegoers love to berate the victims for their crazy behavior. If you saw a vampire, werewolf, zombie, mutated creature, or homicidal maniac, you'd probably freeze-up and howl, too. If logic has no place in horror movies, neither does realism. People ridicule creature-features routinely because Godzilla doesn't look like the genuine article. Has anybody seen a radioactive prehistoric monster? Werewolves aren't real, so how can they look genuine? Basically, criticizing horror movies for lapses in logic or lack of realism makes no sense. Criticizing horror movies as a type of movie makes better sense, and people who hate horror movies have no right to single out horror movies that abuse logic and defy realism.

The French horror movie "High Tension" (***1/2 out of ****) definitely gives both logic and realism the axe. As the best and bloodiest horror chiller since "Saw," "High Tension" qualifies as a ghastly valentine for gorehounds. First, "High Tension" narrowly avoided an NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America, but the MPAA must have been in a generous mood when they gave this nerve-jangler an R-rating. You'll see more blood and gore on display here than those recent remakes of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "House of Wax," or nail-biters like "Bogyman." Second, director Alexandre Aja doesn't waste time with a lot of cheap false alarms to make the hair rise on the back of our necks. He is too busy showing a homicidal maniac killing people to indulge in those moments designed to make you jump when he can plunge you up to your neck into a blood-soaked situation.

Just for the record, don't see this movie if you are the squeamish. "High Tension" will scare the puke out of you. Aja doesn't pull any punches when it comes to depicting violence. The scene where the maniac breaks out a huge buzz saw that resembles something firefighters wield to free people trapped in cars illustrates this idea. The villain approaches a stalled-out car that his victim has flagged down on a deserted road. As the driver frantically cranks the vehicle, the maniac smashes the windshield then mangles the driver with this hideous weapon, turning the interior of the car into a bloodbath. In some horror circles, gorehounds call these movies splatter movies instead of slasher movies.

Actually, "High Tension" combines slasher with splatter for a bloodbath of a life-time. Plot wise, "High Tension" concerns two female college students in contemporary France who spend a weekend in the country to catch up on their school work. Marie (Cecile De France of "Around the World in 80 Days") and Alex (Maiween Le Besco of "The Fifth Element") cruise into remote Southern France where Alex's family live on an isolated farm house. No sooner has everybody turned in for the evening than a homicidal madman (Philippe Nahon of "Irreversible") barges into their house. This one-man home invasion army slashes the father, jams his head in the rails of the staircase, and decapitates the breadwinner with a piece of furniture. This madman opens the wife's throat from ear to ear like a watermelon and pursues the little boy into a cornfield with a shotgun. He shackles poor Alex in chains, gags her, and prowls the rest of the house in vain to find anybody else. Miraculously, Marie avoids detection in scenes of heart-stopping suspense. The maniac tools around in a rusty old truck like the monster drove in the "Jeepers Creepers" movies and sticks Alex in the back. At the last second, unbeknownst to the killer, Marie scrambles aboard with Alex. Marie resolves to save her best friend.

Before it's all over with, "High Tension" evokes chilling memories of the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Compared with "Friday the Thirteen's" Jason or "Halloween's" Michael Myers, the maniac her make them look like pansies. Although the first hour or so of "High Tension" is a brutally straight-forward exercise in stomach-churning terror, the last half-hour takes a bizarre 180 degree spin reminiscent of the Brad Pitt movie "Fight Club." Already, Aja has been tapped to helm the remake of "The Hills Have Eyes." If you're looking for a movie that will make you scream and wet your pants at the same time, look no farther than "High Tension."

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