Okay, everyone who mentioned this film over the last few weeks I posted this list on Facebook, please go get tested for psychic abilities, as it was always perched at the summit long before anyone suggested it, I swear. Again, as with plenty of the French extreme stuff, femininity is a theme. As well as (female) suffering. But it's not what you'd expect. It's decidedly modern, almost Tarantino-esque in its jumpy, nonlinear plot, eschews genre conventions in similar ways to Wheatley's Kill List, yet it's also damn near medieval in its cruelty. In an odd, full-circle way that certainly wasn't intended, it shares some themes with the movie that opened my list, not least the human capacity to endure or perversely even welcome pain, but it will surprise you more than once, and undeniably sicken you in ways you'll take weeks to recover from. So, you've been warned.
And that said, we've reached the end, in more ways than one. Uh, can I say it's been a slice, or would that be crass?
2. The Vanishing (Spoorloos)
Now, I haven't seen the US remake with Jeff Bridges, so can't speak to that, but I'm talking the Dutch-French original from 1988. I can't really say too much, as this film is especially vulnerable to spoilers—and if I were you I'd stop reading here if you haven't seen it, yet intend to—but I only caught this gem quite recently and was shocked into an almost catatonic, open-mouthed silence by its deceptively placid, undemonstrative tone that leads so inexorably toward one of the coldest, bleakest, and most unforgettably harrowing conclusions I've had the misfortune to endure. (Also, um, Courtney Love lookalike, it has to be said!)
3. Mulholland Dr.
To me Lynch may not be perceived as a horror director, but most of his films contain exactly what I look for from the genre: deep, unsettling dread, nightmare moments of inexplicably surreal intensity and, at their heart, a girl (or boy) in trouble. This one is definitely about a girl, though. And very much in trouble. There's a distressing tension between the demands of Hollywood and the objectification of feminine beauty (ironically, Naomi Watts and Laura Harring are pretty much perfect in their deceptively layered and oppositional roles). I could outline my interpretation of the plot here, but it doesn't matter: you need to watch it first, at least once, before entertaining even the hope of unraveling it. Sure, that's part of the fun; it's a puzzle box of a film, but more crucially, the pure foreboding subcurrent of terror underlying this unfurling tragedy has to be experienced in all its visceral yet quiet magnificence. You'll never taste espresso the same way again. Or think of smiling elderly couples as cute. Or have any frame of reference for Billy Ray Cyrus whatsoever. I'll resist ending with the word "silencio." Oops.
This list's most recent theme has been femininity. Not necessarily feminism, although it could be. These final entries confirm something for me: that in order to be truly effective, the horror genre must encompass and acknowledge and even own its propensity for sexism before the possibility of moving past this particularly thorny problem has even a chance.
Anyway, I'd be hard pressed to name another movie that's as equally endearing as it is offputting, thanks to director Lucky McKee. It's a cracked Victorian attic of a film, wrenchingly sad yet somehow managing to max out the creep factor too. It also comes closest to breaking my no-humour rule for this list, but by the end, all that quirkiness is decidedly not funny when we realise where May is taking us. And as stellar as everyone else involved is, a great deal of the credit must go to Angela Bettis for her performance in the title role, one that will break your heart while simultaneously unsettling your stomach. Think Frankenstein meets Carrie. And then let your decidedly sick imagination run wild and free.
This scene is pretty much perfect.