Malefique (2002)

Reviewed by Johnny Butane

Starring Gerald Laroche, Phillipe Laudenbach, Clovis Cornillac, Dimitrie Rataud

Directed by Eric Vallete

For a while it seemed like France was finished with horror. Jean Rollin may still be producing films, but some may say that he is a genre of his own, and as a whole there weren’t any straight up horror films coming from France. In 2000 Deep In The Woods was released, but aside from a bit of European flare the film’s main influence seemed to be post-Scream slashers from the states. Now it’s 2003 and it seems that French horror is coming back in full force. Malefique is one of the four films I know of coming from France this year among such other interesting titles as In My Skin, Switchblade Romance (aka Haute Tension), and Dead End.

In a filthy and gloomy cell in a French prison, Carrere stews in his own hatred and regret. He’s just been arrested for some sort of white collar crime, and although he had planned for his young trophy wife to pay his bail and get him out, she’s stabbed in the back by taking all of his money, and even firing him from his own job. Now with no money to even pay his lawyer there is no chance that he will be able to taste freedom again and be able to see his son. The other prisoners are lifers; Lasalle: an old timer who killed his wife when he felt that his collection of books commanded him too. Coincidentally he is the prison librarian, Marcus: a tough man who is halfway between his sex change operation. He plans to climb the prison wall with Daisy, the man child holding onto his back. An odd group of cellmates certainly, they all get along for the most part, do their best to pass the time, cooking meals, and planning escape.

One day when Marcus sends Daisy flying into the prison wall (after he pisses on Marcus in his sleep) an old stone is dislodged, revealing a hole in the wall. The prisoners inspect the hole, and discover what appears to be a journal dating back to the 20’s. Apparently the owner of the journal was a serial killer that cut out pregnant women’s placenta’s to keep him young. He was also known to practice black magic, and the journal describes a series of spells that he used to escape the prison. The prisoners doubt the truth to the story, but when one of them inadvertently casts a spell that unleashes a ring of fire in the room, they all begin to wonder what potential and power that the book might be able to give them. Hatching a plan to escape the prison, the four men embark on a dark night of magic that will changes their lives (and some of their bodies) forever.

Malefique is a horror film. It doesn’t pretend to be a psychological thriller; it doesn’t wink at the audience with comical parts, or fake scares. It is a straight forward, gloomy, atmospheric, and bloody film builds up nice and slow and then never let’s go until the finish. Fans of H.P Lovecraft could possibly see this as the one successful adaptation of a book that the master never wrote. The atmosphere is thick with “forbidden knowledge”, and “unnamable horrors”. Although all of the action takes place in one cell, with a limited cast, my interest was maintained the entire running time. The acting is spot on, the direction is tight, and the photography is darkly beautiful. It’s been a long time since we’ve had an extremely violent horror film, that isn’t afraid to play it straight for once. Malefique is a definite treat, and will be a pleasant surprise for those that thought that all of the good horror films of recent are strictly coming from Japan.

4 out of 5

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Johnny Butane