THE DEVILS; DIABOLIQUE; THE FIENDS
As a film, Les Diaboliques is exceptional, a model that has never been surpassed by any of its imitators or remakes. Henri-Georges Clouzot and screenwriters crank up suspense at a gruelling intensity the return home with the dead body comes with so many hiccups the trunk starting to open as they carry it down the stairs; the drunken soldier who insists on getting into the back of the van; the blood that the innkeeper sees coming out of the trunk; the light that comes on in the school house just as they attempt to dump the body in the pool; the cranky neighbour who becomes irate about being disturbed and writes the times everything happens down. The twists that we are subsequently propelled through of the body not appearing in the pool as expected and the increasing anxiety prove nerve-wracking in the tension generated. Clouzot proves a master at generating suspense via his cast who are all excellent. The shot that closes on Vera Clouzot as she just stands there and lets Paul Meurisse drink the wine is great.
The twist ending is shocking the end credits even ask one not to give it away, which this reviewer will respect. The lead up to it is a fine evocation of a mood of pure dread phantom typewriters, dead bodies rising from the bath and the heroine in a flimsy nightgown that seems to look forward to the fake supernatural events plots that many of the imitators used. Certainly, if approached logically, the twist is founded on an absurdly contrived house of cards although it does remain within the realm of possibility unlike many of the subsequent imitators. The measure of Les Diaboliquess effectiveness though is that one never questions the twist but rather is taken by the shock reversal it holds.
There were two tv movie remakes, Reflections of Murder (1974), directed by John Badham and featuring Joan Hackett in the Vera Clouzot role, Tuesday Weld in the Simone Signoret role and Sam Waterston as the husband; and House of Secrets (1993), directed by Mimi Leder featuring Melissa Gilbert and Kate Vernon in the respective roles and Bruce Boxleitner as the husband. The film underwent an atrocious English-language cinematic remake as Diabolique (1996) starring Isabelle Adjani in the Vera Clouzot role and Sharon Stone in the Simone Signoret part. Among many of its suspenseless butcherings, the remake offered a happy, upbeat ending.
Henri-Georges Clouzot never directed any other genre films. His one other classic work is the gruelling suspense film The Wages of Fear (1953) about truckers driving vehicles laden with nitro-glycerine through unstable South American terrain. Les Diaboliques was based on a 1952 novel by two popular French thrillers writers Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. Boileau and Narcejac also wrote the books that became the basis of Alfred Hitchcocks reincarnation thriller Vertigo (1958) and the transplanted limbs horror film Body Parts (1991), as well as the screenplay for the classic French mad surgeon film Eyes Without a Face (1959).
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