Hostel and Saw may have defined horror for the new generation, but where is horror going right now? It's getting harder to shock and scare people, which is why torture porn's more refined European cousin New French Extremity will have more lasting impact over time.
New French Extremity does exactly what it says on the tin. Critic James Quandt describes this type of horror as:
''[D]etermined to break every taboo, to wade in rivers of viscera and spumes of sperm, to fill each frame with flesh, nubile or gnarled, and subject it to all manner of penetration, mutilation, and defilement.''
This was intended as an insult - but every horror fan knows that nothing boosts a movie's popularity by banning it, hating it, or vomiting to it in theaters. John Waters embraces this with his famous statement on puke-ridden movie criticism:
''If someone vomits while watching one of my films, it's like getting a standing ovation.''
I'm afraid that none of these movies made me throw up, but they did their best. It's important to remember, though, that Ick Factor alone does not make a horror movie. If it did, this would be the best horror movie ever.
Great horror needs style, adrenaline, effort and direction to carry off anything truly revolting with aplomb. With this in mind, let me talk you through the finest of the New French Extremity, the most famous and accomplished of the movement.
5) Inside (A L'Interieur, 2007)
Inside, starring the fearsome Béatrice Dalle as La Femme ('The Woman'), this simple, low budget home invasion horror taps into what critic Andrew Scahill calls the 'Gynaelogical gothic'. However, unlike your standard sinister pregnancy movie, there is no scientific or supernatural crap going on.
Shot in stylistic shadows and understated grainy murk, Inside takes us into the pure, nasty heart of horror as La Femme breaks into Sarah's (Alysson Paradis) house and then, well, her body. All La Femme wants is the baby inside Sarah and, in the borderline unwatchable final scene she gets what she wants. Brutal.
Most shocking moment: Scissor Caesarian. Yup. That'll do it.
4) Sheitan (Devil, 2006)
I'm sure that Vincent Cassel wouldn't mind me saying that, in the words of Marilyn Manson, he has 'a face that's made for violence and porn.' Fresh from the certifiably unwatchable Irreversible (2002), Cassel excels in a second outing of taboo savagery and bizarre sexual depravity.
In a series of eye-gouging events, Cassel (who also plays his own wife in the film) incites an orgy of violence, perversity and bestiality to a banging French hip-hop soundtrack. If you can roll with the punches - and a freaky doll workshop - seek this one out.
Most shocking moment: woman masturbates dog.
3) Frontier(s) (Frontière(s), 2007)
Frontier(s) cleverly reinvents that much loved horror trope, 'kidnap by hillbillies' by way of a group of French-Arabic youths escaping Paris in the throes of political violence. Frontiere(s) cuts right through the Achilles' tendon as Yasmine (Karina Testa) must slice, dice and generally brutalize her way out of captivity from a group of evil Nazis, headed by the revolting Von Geisler (Jean-Pierre Jorris).
Think The Texas Chainsaw Massacre by way of a fascist House of 1000 Corpses, or really any of the multitude of horrors where a girl gets chained up in a pig pen or slaughterhouse. The blood-soaked climax takes Yasmine beyond the limits of the horror movie 'final girl' to a teeth-clenching finale. Frontiere(s) may not be the most original template for a horror, but it certainly injects new blood into the gene pool.
Most shocking moment: Yasmine tears a woman's throat out.
2) High Tension (Haute Tension / Switchblade Romance, 2003)
High Tension takes the home invasion genre and bleeds all kinds of hell out of it. The well trodden ground of movies like The Strangers and You're Next is almost unrecognizable through the rain of blood.
The action follows Marie (Cécile De France) and Alex (Maïwenn Le Besco) as they take their vacation from university at Alex's family farmhouse. However, any illusions of rural bliss are quickly shattered by the arrival of Le Tueur (Philippe Nahon), who descends upon the domestic idyll like a plague of bloodthirsty locusts.
Supposedly based on the nerve-shredding Dean Koontz novel, Intensity - which is a great read even if the comparison is tenuous at best - the onslaught of violence that Marie must trudge through to liberate Alex from Le Tueur is a white knuckle ride.
Regarding the infamous twist - spoiler alert - I really don't care if people don't like it, or think that it 'makes sense'. An unreliable narrator is just that, folks - unreliable. Marie's split reality elevates the action to an interpretation of sublimated desire as irrepressible criminality that bests even the classic Brian de Palma thriller Dressed to Kill (1980).
Haters of the twist, think on the fact that Marie is so threatened by her forbidden desire for Alex that she envisions the embodiment of her sexual aggression as a misogynistic, mouth-breathing trucker. If you don't like it, watch it again. If you do like it, watch it again.
Most shocking moment: graphic circular saw attack.
1) Martyrs (2008)
No doubt about it, Martyrs is the most interesting film of the bunch, by far and away the most shocking, deeply nihilistic and intensely affecting film I have ever seen. It is definitely a horror movie, but its biggest shocks are found not in sex or violence, but despair.
The sheer dispassionate brutality mixed with scenes of brain-wrenching violence makes Martyrs the only movie I've ever actually had to turn off, take a breather, and then go back to. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach after watching this.
In possibly the most bizarre direction change since Ryan Murphy went from Glee to American Horror Story, the producers of Twilight oversaw an American Martyrs adaptation. The remake is also changed the ending, which is about as reductive as changing the ending of Titanic.
The masterful climax of Martyrs gives me chills every time I think about it, bringing an apex that is not just moving as a horror but intensely harrowing and terrifying on a baser level than any masked killers or paranormal activities. Martyrs taps into your darkest fears and tells you very firmly that not only are you right to be afraid, but it is only the uncertainty about what you are afraid of that keeps you alive.
Most shocking moment: the finale. For those who do not wish to be kept awake at night, take Mademoiselle's advice - 'keep doubting.'
Does there come a point where movies go too far? Or are you simply upset that the term 'Scissor Caesarian' has penetrated your fragile little mind?