Starting off like so many slasher movies before it, SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE (let’s call it by its English title for the sake of this review, shall we? Especially as it’s a rather better title than what Haute Tension translates as) begins in a farm house in the middle of the French countryside. Alex has brought her friend Marie back from university with her so they can do a bit of revision during the holidays. The law books never get opened, though, because as soon as everyone’s in bed it’s the cue for almost Alex’s entire family to get massacred by a mysterious caller who then proceeds to kidnap her. Marie ends up with her in the back of the killer’s van and the rest of the film details their trip through the French countryside before culminating in a final blood soaked showdown. To say any more would spoil the story for those who haven’t yet seen it, suffice to say the film takes a turn I wasn’t expecting but was extremely welcome in these days of by-the-numbers slasher movies.
The new wave of extreme French horror cinema has tended to emphasise the more grim and miserable aspects of the genre. SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE predates films like INSIDE, MARTYRS and THE HORDE and while it’s no less bloodstained it does have a lighter, more entertaining vibe to it. Having seen it it’s now no surprise to me that while his contemporaries have been exploring the finer points of miserabilism in their homeland director Alexandre Aja moved to Hollywood to direct an okay remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES and a quite outrageous over the top fun filled extravaganza of a remake of Joe Dante’s PIRANHA.
As SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE progresses, and particularly as we get into the last twenty minutes, it becomes obvious that this and PIRANHA 3D are the work of the same man. Personally it’s a delight to discover a modern French horror director who wants to entertain at least as much as he wants to mortify. It’s also a pleasure to see Giannetto de Rossi’s name in the credits, his torn throat appliances having come a long way since Olga Karlatos had hers ripped out in Fulci’s ZOMBIE 2. In fact the only thing I really didn’t like about this film was the music, which comes across as one of those ‘sound design’ efforts filled with scraping noises and wobbling base noises when a proper score would have made this even more enjoyable. On the basis of this and his subsequent projects, Alexandre Aja has confirmed his position as the only modern French horror director I would like to actually meet, if only so I can ask him if the J&B gag in this film is a reference to the Italian giallos SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE could actually so easily be a blood drenched, slasher-orientated, over the top tribute to.