31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2017, Night #18 – Switchblade Romance (2003)

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Director: Alexandre Aja

Writer(s): Alexandre Aja & Gregory Levasseur

Studio/Distributor: EuropaCorp

Budget: $2.5m

Box Office: $6.8m

Release Date: 18 June, 2003

IMDb Rating: 6.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 40%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Cecile De France – Marie

Maiwenn – Alexia

Philippe Nahon – Le tueur

Franck Khalfoun – Jimmy

Andrei Finti – Pere Alex

Oana Pellea – Mere Alex

Trailer

Plot According to IMDb

Best friends Marie and Alexia decide to spend a quiet weekend at Alexia’s parents’ secluded farmhouse. But on the night of their arrival, the girls’ idyllic getaway turns into an endless night of horror.

Inertia’s Insight

New French Extremity, the phrase coined to describe the early noughties wave of body horror films that would even make Cronenberg wince, was originally intended to be a derogatory term to denounce the films in the same light as torture porn. Despite its intention, instead the phrase has taken on a meaning more like La Nouvelle Vague, used to reference notable filmmakers that have gone on to make an indelible mark on the genre in France and the US.

One of those filmmakers is Alexandre Aja. Then just 25 years old, Aja and lifelong friend Gregory Levasseur brought us Haute Tension (High Tension or Switchblade Romance as it is known in the UK), a psychological-horror-thriller-love-story that exemplified the nature of New French Extremity with extreme gore and violence, whilst maintaining a heart that runs through the core of the film, fueling its events.

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Marie and her friend Alexia decide to spend a weekend in the country at Alexia’s parents farmhouse. Unbeknownst to them, a fucked up delivery driver with a sadistic eye for killing has decided to pay the farm a little visit…

One of the most intense attributes this film has is its twist ending. Unlike other films that try to place red herrings to throw the scent off or make their clues blindingly obvious, the first time you watch Switchblade Romance you genuinely don’t realise you’ve been fooled until it’s too late. Watching for a second time, you start to pick up on the subtle clues that are there from the start. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all Sixth Sense here; the secret is safe, but it has to be acknowledged for its brilliance.

The introduction to the girls hints at a deeper connection, and it soon becomes clear that Marie is in love with Alexia – the way they talk about relationships, the voyeuristic way she watches Marie in the shower, the way she masturbates to ‘Just Another Girl’. It’s not known whether the love is requited, but what is obvious is that Alexia is blissfully unaware. It creates a tension but also gives Marie a reason to survive, and to save Alexia.

The introduction to the driver, meanwhile, is classic New French Extremity – visual, brutal, graphic, depraved. It establishes the tone that will see us wince and squint for the rest of the film. There’s no ‘less is more’ here; it achieves an odd balance of tension, heart and gore. After the initial introductions and after the driver sends their world brutally spiraling out of control, a good chunk of the film is just pure suspense. The farmhouse scene, the gas station, the pursuit along the road – Aja carefully balances the physical horror with the mental, ensuring that when we do see it, it’s brutal, but when we’re away from it the film remains just as tense.

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The pace builds nicely to a gripping finale with a twist that you don’t see coming, gifting a huge payoff to a well crafted film. A known nostalgic throwback to the grindhouse and exploitation films of the 70’s, there’s an homage to Maniac and a nice nod to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the end, but Switchblade Romance easily establishes itself in the annals of horror history with a gritty, gory film with a big heart – that just happens to get ripped out.

Inertia’s Ideal Score ( out of 5)

★★★★

Trivia

  • According to director Alexandre Aja, four different locations were used for Alexia’s house, but the set dressing and editing make it appear as one location
  • The scene where Marie hides from the killer in the gas station restroom is an homage to a similar scene in Maniac
  • The film had some issues with plagiarism over similarities with the novel Intensity by Dean Koontz

Quotes

MARIE: I won’t let anyone else come between us anymore.


Tomorrow: Night #19 – Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

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31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #31 – Honourable Mentions

If 31 days of horror films haven’t quite desensitised you to blood, gore, guts, violence, sex, nudity, profanity, vulgarity and downright depravity, then here’s a few more for you…

These are my honourable mentions, films worthy of a viewing that either didn’t quite make it into the list or they are films that I’ve discovered just after the list was finalised and the work had begun. Too eager to share than savour them for next year (not another 31 blogs I hear you cry!), here they are. No reviews – just a poster, synopsis, my incisive insight and the trailer courtesy of Youtube.


1. Switchblade Romance (Haute Tension) (2003)

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Tagline: Hearts Will Bleed

Plot According to Google: A beautiful young Frenchwoman, Alex, travels out to the country to visit her family and brings along her friend Marie. Soon after they get settled in the secluded home, Alex’s parents are brutally attached by a psychotic truck driver who proceeds to stalk the two women as well. When the killer kidnaps Alex in his truck, Marie hides in the back to try and rescue her, but the bloodshed is far from over.

Inertia’s Incisive Insight: A worthy New French Extremity addition from Aja, the superb psychological twist at the end is just as jarring as the violent roller-coaster the film has taken you on.


2. Ratter (2015)

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Tagline: At This Moment Someone Could Be Listening… Watching… Recording…

Plot According to Google: Emma, a graduate student living alone in New York City, is watched by a stalker on all of her technological devices. Eventually, the video feeds are not enough and he goes from a virtual to a physical stalker.

Inertia’s Incisive Insight: An interesting found footage addition that adds a creepy, goosebump-inducing angle on where most of the footage is coming from, with a terrifyingly real ending.


3. The Omen (1976)

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TaglineThose Who Foretold It Are Dead. Those Who Can Stop It Are In Grave Danger.

Plot According to Google: American diplomat Robert adopts Damien when his wife, Katherine, delivers a stillborn child. After Damien’s first nanny hangs herself, Father Brennan warns Robert that Damien will kill Katherine’s unborn child. Shortly thereafter, Brennan dies and Katherine miscarries when Damien pushes her off a balcony. As more people around Damien die, Robert investigates Damien’s background and realises his adopted  son may be the Antichrist.

Inertia’s Incisive Insight: The film that made children terrifying – a superbly crafted horror.


4. Horns (2013)

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Tagline: Love Hurts Like Hell

Plot According to Google: Blamed for the murder of his girlfriend, a man awakes one morning to find he has grown a pair of horns. Armed, now, with supernatural powers, he sets out to find the killer.

Inertia’s Incisive Insight: An impeccable performance from Radcliffe that finally sheds the Harry Potter image, Horns is a funny, tragic and visually exquisite film.


5. The Ring (2002)

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Tagline: Before You Die, You See… The Ring

Plot According to Google: It sounds like just another urban legend – a videotape filled with nightmarish images leads to a phone call foretelling the viewer’s death in exactly seven days. Newspaper reporter Rachel Keller is skeptical of the story until four teenagers all die mysteriously exactly one week after watching just such a tape. Allowing her investigative curiosity to get the better of her, Rachel tracks down the video and watches it. Now she has just seven days to unravel the mystery.

Inertia’s Incisive Insight: A worthy remake of the original J-Horror Ringu, sparking and reinvigorating interest in urban legends.


6. The Thing (1982)

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Tagline: Man is the Warmest Place to Hide

Plot According to Google: In remote Antarctica, a group of American research scientists are disturbed at their base camp by a helicopter shooting at a sled dog. When they take in the dog, it brutally attacks both human beings and canines in the camp and they discover that the beast can assume the shape of its victims. A resourceful helicopter pilot and the camp doctor lead the camp crew in a desperate, gory battle against the vicious creature before it picks them all off, one by one.

Inertia’s Incisive Insight: John Carpenter at his absolute best, The Thing is a dreary, miserable, visually effective timeless horror.


7. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

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Tagline: Everything You’ve Heard is True

Plot According to Google: Found footage tells the tale of three film students who have traveled to a small town to collect documentary footage about the Blair Witch, a legendary local murderer. Over the course of several days, the students interview townspeople and gather clues to support the tale’s veracity. But the project takes a frightening turn when the students lose their way in the woods and begin hearing horrific noises.

Inertia’s Incisive Insight: The Founding Father of the found footage sub-genre, a truly terrifying masterpiece in horror filmmaking.


8. The Mind’s Eye (2015)

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Tagline: Mind Over Matter

Plot According to Google: A man and his girlfriend become the prisoners of a deranged doctor who wants to harvest their telekenetic powers.

Inertia’s Incisive Insight: A steroid-induced R-rated X-Men. Just phenomenal.


9. Bite (2015)

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Tagline: This May Sting A Litte

Plot According to Google: A seemingly harmless bite transforms a young woman into an insect-like creature that needs human flesh for her eggs.

Inertia’s Incisive Insight: Cronenberg re-born, Bite is a tour-de-force in FX and make-up – it’s The Fly of the noughties.


10. Nurse (2013)

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Tagline: Your Pain is Her Pleasure

Plot According to Google: A young nurse begins to suspect that a sexy colleague is responsible for murdering a string of unfaithful men.

Inertia’s Incisive Insight: An insanely sexy, bloody, gory and downright entertaining schlock-style B-pic.