Top Movies: Seven Scary French Films for Halloween

Eyes without a Face movie scene

Eyes without a Face (1960)

Okay, you’re first question on this Halloween Day is undoubtedly ‘Why did Disc Dish choose to present a rundown of French fright films? That’s easy: Disc Dish founders Samantha Clark and Laurence Lerman both recently returned from spectacularly fun October vacations in Paris with their respective spouses. And after experiencing the unmitigated horrors of the value of the U.S. dollar in France, we felt it was only fair to communicate those fears to you the best way we knew how!

And so, here’s a list of seven of our favorite horror movies from France! Ooh La La and Happy Halloween!

1) Diabolique (Les Diaboliques)
H.G. Clouzot’s terrifying 1955 tale finds the wife (Vera Clouzot) of a tyrannical boarding school headmaster (Paul Meurisse) and his slinky mistress (Simone Signoret) teaming up to kill the sonuvabitch. The headmaster’s murder by drowning appears to go smoothly—but when his body disappears and strange events begin to transpire, it’s clear that something has gone horrifically wrong. The terrifying climax involving a bathtub, a body and a set of eye lenses is one for the ages. Oh, and don’t bother with the ridiculous 1995 American remake starring Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Criterion

The Manor of the Devil move scene

The Manor of the Devil (1896)

2) Eyes Without a Face (Le veux sans visage)
No, not the Billy Idol song, but the startling, sad and strangely poetic 1960 Georges Franju film about an increasingly mad surgeon who abducts young women and attempts to graft their faces onto that of his beloved daughter, who was disfigured in a car wreck that he has caused. As the once-beautiful daughter Christiane, actress Edith Scob’s expressive eyes as they peer through a form-fitting face mask are unforgettably creepy.
Available on DVD from Criterion

3) The Manor of the Devil (Le Manoir du Diable)
Respect must be paid to France’s ground-breaking movie magician Georges Méliès and the very first of his 500-plus short silent films. Produced in 1896 and filled with bats, skeletons, witches and a bubbling cauldron, the three-minute long piece is generally regarded as the cinema’s very first horror movie. Keep an eye on the bat that changes into Mephistopheles—it’s the filmmaker himself!
Available on DVD in Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema from Flicker Alley

The Tenant movie scene

The Tenant (1976)

4) The Tenant (Le Locataire)
Roman Polanski’s seriously underrated 1976 chiller based on the book by Roland Topor concerns a meek Polish clerk (played by Polanski!) in France who becomes obsessed with the suicidal woman who previously lived in his apartment. The third film in Polanksi’s “Apartment Terror Trilogy” following 1965’s Repulsion and 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant’s frights range from dripping water faucets and creaky building sounds to facial disfigurement and hallucinatory transvestism.
Available on DVD from Paramount

5) The Grapes of Death (Les Raisins de La Mort)
The first over-the-top blood-and-guts film to come out of France, Jean Rollin’s 1978 gore-fest centers on a plucky young lady named Elizabeth (Marie George Pascal) who finds herself trapped in a remote village where a strange pesticide has transformed the villagers into flesh-eating zombies. Though the film offers the slow-shuffling undead, narrow escapes and graphic cannibalism that we’ve seen a zillion times in other zombie flicks, this French take on the genre seems, oh, a little classier—and undeniably frightening.
Available on DVD from Synapse Films

The Grapes of Death movie scene

The Grapes of Death (1978)

6) Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bête)
Poetic, sensual and dreamy, Jean Cocteau’s fantastical 1946 take on Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont’s classic fairy tale isn’t as traditionally frightening as it is foreboding, particularly in the scenes set in the Beast’s (Jean Marais) shadowy, mirrored castle and the enchanted forest that surrounds it.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Criterion

7) The Ordeal (Calvaire)
Directed and co-written by Fabrice De Welz, 2004’s Calvaire represents the latest strain in French horror cinema in that it’s a mash-up of ultra-violence, stylized sexuality and bizarre humor. Laurent Lucas stars as a cheesy lounge singer who finds himself stranded in a remote village before being “helped” by a strange-looking local, which leads to his being held captive in a country inn. That’s the first third, following by another hour featuring inbred villagers, scalping, crucifixion, sodomy, voyeurism, cemetery desecration and, of course, nasty deaths. Yes, it’s a quite an “ordeal”—and a scary one, too.
Available on DVD from Palm Pictures


About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.