31 Days of Halloween 6 – Is Les Diaboliques better than Psycho?
After searching for a copy of Les Diaboliques (1955) for over a month, I decided to include my comments and review of this movie during my October Halloween bonanza movie thing. This movie is said to have inspired Psycho, the thriller by Alfred Hitchcock, and is notable as one of the best horror movies ever made. It has the same type of suspense, drama, and twists as Psycho, but does have some differences. Based on my reading, the director was more of a competitor to Alfred Hitchcock than an inspiration, as director Henri-Georges Clouzot and Hitchcock both wanted rights to the novel, Celle qui n’était plus (She Who Was No More) by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. Clouzot won out and created Les Diaboliques.
Les Diaboliques or Diabolique is a French film with English subtitles, and I have been debating with myself whether this film is still effective today. I have come to the conclusion that the last five to ten minutes are a really important part of the suspense genre. This movie delivers a gripping, shocking, feeling of excitement and I haven’t felt that way about a suspense thriller in a while. The movie doesn’t gross me out or make me turn away. Instead, the opposite happens; I can’t stop watching the screen, trying to judge the shadows to anticipate what is coming next. That is a great feeling.
The movie is set at an old-fashioned boy’s school, much like a private school. The Headmaster is named Michel, and he’s not a nice guy. He’s sort of a one-dimensional character in that way. He’s so one-dimensional, his wife and his mistress plan to murder him together. Their plan doesn’t go exactly as planned.
The “plan” does not take up much of the movie. His wife Christina is fed up with Michael and visits Nicole’s home in the country where they lure Michel for the murder. The plan itself is secondary to how the ladies react after the plan. They make the murder look like an accident, but Michael’s body disappears. Where did it go? Who took it? Is he really alive? If he’s alive, where the hell is he? Is he out for revenge? These are the questions that take up the bulk of the movie.
Inspector Finchet is the police officer in charge of Michael’s murder case. He’s not exactly a Sherlock Holmes. He asks a lot of questions and never really leads the movie. He gets some information here and there, then the movie moves on. Another strange thing usually happens after that, and he’ll reappear to assess it. Finchet is played by Charles Vanel, who appeared in over 200 French films, none I’ve heard of.
The dated nature of this movie makes it hard for me to get into it in parts. There is driving. There are a lot of discussions. There are eating scenes. There is walking, talking, back and forth, this and that, and this movie is 114 minutes long. They trimmed it slightly for the USA and I can see why.
I’m afraid I’ll have to disagree with critics that say Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques tops Hitchcock. Hitchcock’s body of work puts him above Clouzot and a lot of other directors, making him one of the best suspense thriller directors ever. Clouzot created a really great ending and not much more compared to Hitchcock. I don’t mean to minimalize it, but it’s hard to make a choice between the directors, or between Psycho and Les Diaboliques. The fact is, Les Diaboliques will be forever compared to Psycho, and in some ways, it’s splitting hairs putting one over the other. They’re both pretty good movies. They have a similar tone and the suspense in both is just perfect.
All in all, I’m glad I’ve finally been able to watch Les Diaboliques. The last 10 minutes are the best part and probably remembered by everyone as one of the most gripping moments ever. The director ends his movie with a caution to viewers, telling them not to spoil the ending for their friends. Clouzot wants everyone to enjoy the surprise and you’ve got to admire that.
31 Days of Halloween Movie Marathon
1 – Frankenstein and the Monster from HELL (1974)
2 – Dracula has risen from the grave (1968)
3 – The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)
4 – Evil Dead II (1987)
5 – Dawn of the Dead (1978)
6 – Les Diaboliques (1955)
7 – The Howling (1981)
8 – Friday the 13th (1980)
9 – Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
10 – Hellraiser (1987)
11 – Let the Right One in (2008)
12 – Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1984)
13 – House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
14 – The Strangers (2008)
15 – The House of the Devil (2009)
16 – Psycho (1960)
17 – The Orphanage (2007)
18 – The Amityville Horror (1979)
19 – The Raven (1963)
20 – Blue Velvet (1986)
21 – Repulsion (1965)
22 – Dementia 13 (1963)
23 – The Vanishing (2008)
24 – Halloween (1978)
25 – Shaun of the Dead (2004)
26 – The Silence of the Lambs (1988)
27 – An American Werewolf in London (1981)
28 – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
29 – The Exorcist (1973)
30 – The Ring (2002)
31 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)