HELLABRATION DELUXE! Thirty-One Days of SHOCKTOBER: Day Seventeen – 10/17/18

10/17 – 2003: HIGH TENSION (a.k.a. SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE)

Ah, yes…HIGH TENSION; the film that had me hating on director ALEXANDER AJA and writing/producing partner GREGORY LEVASSEUR so much, that I categorically refused to watch anything they put out for years. The movie was that good…and the ending that infuriating. (They eventually won me back with their remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES.)

It was only in English class in school, that I was ever introduced to the concept of the “unreliable narrator.” I don’t remember ever having seen it in film before HIGH TENSION, and once I did, I decided I really didn’t like it. And from the response of the audience I was with, I knew I wasn’t alone in that sentiment.  Maybe it had so much to do with the first two thirds of the movie being one of the best, bloodiest, most nail-biting slashers that had come along in a very long time. Being strung along in that context does not work well for those who invest heavily in the characters and the scenario.  And how could you not?

The film opens with two young college girls traveling through the beautiful but very remote French countryside. Marie (CECILE DE FRANCE) and Alexia (MAIWENN, a.k.a. MAIWENN LEBESCO of THE FIFTH ELEMENT), are on break, of course, and going to spend their time off at the farmhouse of Alexia’s parents. It’s supposed to be the most tranquil, ideal getaway. Which is going to become an absolute fucking nightmare.

Because not all that far off, a deranged killer (PHILIPPE NAHON) is on the loose, and from the stunningly gross first shot we see of him, we know that anyone in his path is in for a world of hurt…and worse.

We get the usual welcome home as the girls reach their destination, Alexia’s parents welcome them, and they get settled in.  Everything is fine…until Alexia’s father answers the doorbell in the middle of the night. Bad move, dad.  What follows that knock is two acts’ worth of some of the most bloody (literally) brilliant, harrowing and horrific scenes of suspense and carnage this side of De Palma. The first time I saw this, I just knew I was watching a modern classic unfolding before my wondering eyes.

After viciously laying waste to the family, The Killer snatches up Alexia and takes her hostage..for  Gawd only knows what.  And Marie, who has managed to duck him at every turn, goes to save her best friend, and you root for her to succeed every step of the way.

Then…along comes the final act.

It wasn’t that long ago that I hated this movie so much, that in a purposefully vindictive act of sabotage, I would have spoiled the entire film for you, here and now, just to spare you from the feeling of outrage and betrayal that I felt when it was all said and done.  But no, I’m not going to do that – I’ll take the high road.  I’ve a better understanding now of what Aja and Levasseur intended, and though I still may not like it, I do respect it with some time gone by.

So I will just let you do the viewing, and you can decide how you feel about the film as a whole. But De France and Maiwenn are fantastic, playing their roles the way they were directed to, and the audience’s investment in them and the other characters really helps with the shock value, when the blood, bone and brains start to fly.

To sum it up with just my opinion: HIGH TENSION is a film with bite, that also sucks. Depending on how you look at it. And I guess, taking into account the definition I used before about what ‘art’ is, it’s also a very ‘artfully’ realized piece of horror cinema.

POST-MORTEM SCRYPT:  Also terrifying audiences that year: A TALE OF TWO SISTERS, GOZU, IDENTITY, DEAD END, OPEN WATER, DARK WOODS, thr remake of WILLARD, and the remake of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.


Posted by Samuel Glass

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