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After a couple of years from its original release, the French film High Tension (AKA Haute Tension and Switchblade Romance) is hitting US theatres. Horror Fans have most likely heard of this movie already. It has already gained quite a large cult following around the world. It is a stylish slasher that is truly visually impressive. It does suffer from a few problems including a less than satisfying ending, and being a little too close to Dean Koontz’s book “Intensity”. Despite its flaws, High Tension still proves to be a movie no horror fan should miss.
This is a well made slasher film. The plot goes like this. Marie and Alex are friends who decide to spend some time in the Country with Alex’s family. On their first night with the family, a maniac comes to the house, kills Alex’s mother, father, and younger brother, and throws a gagged and chained Alex in the back of his truck. Marie is able to evade the killer by hiding under her bed. While trying to save Alex, Marie ends up in the back of the killer's truck, a fact unknown to the killer. The film continues on a dark and suspenseful ride that is both gruesome, and fascinating.
The film direction is first rate. Not only does this movie look great, but every frame is oozing with dense atmospherics and dread. It is like watching a relentless and at times beautiful nightmare. From the beginning, you can tell everything is going to go to hell, the only question that is persistent throughout the film is how will it all end. The gore is also top notch. Though this movie doesn’t have a huge body count, when death comes, it isn’t pretty. The kills are gory and innovative enough to satisfy most gore hounds. I am not a huge slasher fan. I’m one of those “Give me Zombies any day over a Serial Killer“ horror fans, but I am willing and ready to like a good slasher. This is one of the really good ones. Not a perfect one, but one definitely worth seeing. What makes this one better than most? A strong sense of style coupled with a strong pervading creepiness throughout the film . The acting is also very believable, and never falls into the territory of being cheesy.
I have read a few debates over the ending of this film. Some feel the ending is great, many others feel the ending makes very little sense and destroys the rest of the film. I have to take the middle ground. The movie is solid enough to withstand the ending. The ending itself is fairly predictable and cliché (especially in recent cinematic history). Does the ending make sense? I think it does, and I can confidently defend my stance if need be. I also feel that the ending is not as clever as the filmmakers would like it to be, and hurts the lasting impact that the film has. Often a simple ending can be more effective than a clever one. Just look at the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre as an example. The ending is simple and abrupt, yet it is incredibly disturbing and haunting.
I am not a huge Dean Koontz’s fan. In fact the only book of his I have read is “Intensity”. It was an entertaining read, but didn’t leave me craving more. The reason I bring this up is because 90% of High Tension’s plot is very close, even in the smaller details, to the first 150 pages of “Intensity“, and Dean Koontz is not mentioned anywhere in the film credits. The director has admitted to reading “Intensity”, and I have seen adaptations of books that are less faithful to the source material than this is to “Intensity”. Granted the last half of “Intensity” is not in High Tension, and the endings are vastly different, but the material is still close enough that I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lawsuit to pop up. The movie is still good, but I wish Koontz would have had some recognition for his obvious influence on this film.
The version of this film that I saw was the original Uncut version with French dialogue and English subtitles. The version that is hitting American theatres is dubbed into English, and from what I have read, about a minute of gore has been cut to get a R rating. I am not a fan of dubs, but I have heard the dub is pretty decent. I might end up going to see this film again at the theatre to get the big screen experience. I can imagine that this film might lose a little of its intended impact on the small screen
I would recommend this film to any horror fan. Even though it is a slasher, it is certainly better than the typical Jason or Freddy flick. Really, this is one of the best horror films to hit the theatres in a while. Often good horror movies suffer the straight to video fate. Even with its flaws, this is a good one that deserves to be seen, and the theatre might be the most satisfying way to experience it. 3 ½ Cans.
Added: Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Related Link: High Tension's Official Website
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