Halloween Havoc!: DIABOLIQUE (Filmsonor 1955)

I last discussed France’s le cinema fantastique two years ago today with a look at EYES WITHOUT A FACE . Now let’s return to the land of “Liberte’, equalite’, fraternite'” and take a trip back to 1955’s DIABOLIQUE, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s masterpiece of psychological horror starring Simone Signoret that can compete with any Alfred Hitchcock film in the spine-tingling suspense department. In fact, Hitchcock himself wanted to secure the rights to the book by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac that DIABOLIQUE is based on, but Clouzot beat him to it!

Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) is the cruel principal of a boarding school owned by wife Christina (Vera Clouzot), a weak woman with a heart condition whom he constantly berates. He also has a mistress, teacher Nicole Horner (Signoret), sporting a black eye from the bastard. The two women know about each other, with Michel lording his power over them. Christina and Nicole have had enough though, and conspire to do the prick in over the school holiday. Nicole has devised an ingenious plan to lure him away, having Christina call and tell Michel she wants a divorce. Not wishing to lose his meal ticket, he goes to Nicole’s apartment in Niort, where he’s drugged with a bottle of Johnnie Walker and drowned in the bathtub. They cart Michel’s body in a wicker basket back to the school and dump it in the swimming pool, but when it doesn’t emerge they scheme to have the pool drained. The body has vanished, and strange things then begin to happen: the suit Michel was wearing is delivered home from the dry cleaners, a little boy tells them the principal caught him breaking a window, and the annual school picture shows Michel’s ghostly face in a window!

Clouzot keeps the suspense ratcheted tight as a drum, turning the screws ever so slowly until the haunting finale, with a triple twist ending that the filmmaker asks the audience not to reveal… so I won’t! The penultimate scene is obviously influenced by the films of Val Lewton and American film noir (which were both influenced by the French poetic realism films to begin with): full of chiaroscuro shadows, footfalls in the dark, a quiet sense of dread, followed by the shocking revelation. It is one of the scariest segments in horror, indeed in cinema as a whole, and not to be missed.

The performances are dead-on (pun intended), with Simone and Madame Clouzot at the top of their game. Charles Varel also shines in the pivotal role of a Columbo-like retired cop turned private detective, adding to the eeriness. DIABLOIQUE has been remade several times: Curtis Harrington’s 1967 GAMES (also with Signoret), a pair of TV Movies (1974’s REFLECTIONS OF MURDER, 1993’S HOUSE OF SECRETS), and a big budget 1996 version starring Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani (with Kathy Bates as the cop!) that failed miserably. None of these films can hold a candle to Clouzot’s dark, disturbing piece de resistance. There’s only one auteur who could’ve possibly handled this material with such style, and that would be Hitchcock. We can only wonder what that would be like, but we’ll never know. Instead, we’re left with Clouzot’s brilliant piece of film work, which we can certainly be grateful to have for Halloween (or any) season.

Halloween Havoc!: THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE (Hallmark Releasing 1974)


While doing some background research on actor Arthur Kennedy for my post about DESPERATE JOURNEY  back in June, I came across an IMDb entry for a movie titled THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE. It’s description is as follows: “A cop chases two hippies suspected of a series of Manson-family like murders; unbeknownst to him, the real culprits are the living dead, brought to life with a thirst for human flesh by chemical pesticides being used by area farmers”. Sounded right up my alley, and a perfect candidate for this year’s ‘Halloween Havoc!’ horrorthon!


Though the description isn’t 100% accurate, THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE is a surprisingly good Italian-Spanish made chiller with elements of giallo movies, as our lead George is traveler who stumbles into murder. His motorcycle (a nice looking vintage Norton) is backed into by Edna on his way to Wyndhamere. She gives him a lift, and get lost, stopping for directions at farm where a new “sonic radiation” pesticide is being used. It’s there Edna encounters the first zombie, which is explained away as being a tramp looking for a handout. Edna persuades George to bring her to her sister’s place in South Gate and take the car to his destination, as sister Katie’s a junkie she’s trying to persuade to go to rehab.


Katie and husband Martin are attacked by a zombie just as George and Edna show up. Martin’s brutally killed, and the police are called in, led by a dour, hard assed sergeant (Kennedy, complete with Irish brogue!) who suspects them all of being some kind of hippie death cult. This leads to conflict between young, long-haired George and the establishment sergeant, who’s convinced the young folks are guilty, while the experimental pesticide radiation causes more and more of the dead to rise and feast on the flesh of the living!


Director Jorge Grau keeps things tense and suspenseful, and there’s plenty of gore for horror lovers, as the zombies chow down on human innards. Ray Lovelock (George) spends a lot of time with his shirt half-buttoned exposing his hairy 70’s chest (hey, it was the style at the time!!). Lovelock’s noted for his roles in poliziotteschi flicks like LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN, Spaghetti Westerns (DJANGO KILL… IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT! with Tomas Milian)   , and Eurohorror (LAST HOUSE ON THE BEACH). He’s also been in more mainstream movies like Norman Jewison’s FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and 1976’s THE CASSANDRA CROSSING. Christina Galbo (Edna) made a name for herself in the Eurohorrors THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE?, and THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN. An actress named Anita Colby has a bit as a nurse; this is NOT the same Anita Colby famous as a model and Hollywood actress (BRUTE FORCE)    as is sometimes erroneously claimed.


As for Arthur Kennedy, he chews the scenery with relish as the ornery policeman. By this time, the five-time Oscar nominated actor was working mostly in Europe due to his alcoholism and, though the part of the tough, conservative cop is a pretty stereotypical one, Kennedy gives it his all, and proves his acting prowess hadn’t waned despite his issues. THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MANOR was first released in the U.S as DON’T OPEN THE WINDOW, the bottom half of a double feature bill with LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT that toured the Grindhouse and drive-in circuits. Its original title translates into DO NOT PROFANE THE SLEEP OF THE DEAD, and is also known as LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE. But by any name, it’s a good, atmospheric zombie movie that I recommend you watch this Halloween season. Or any season you’re in the mood for some Eurohorror fun!



%d bloggers like this: