The new year has brought me a substantial number of demonically themed films, from the very first movie I watched (The Devil Wears Prada) to John Huston's Beat the Devil and Lau and Mak's Infernal Affairs. [If you count descent-into-the-underworld tales and back-from-the-dead stories, you can add "Pan's Labyrinth" and Volver to the list.] And of course, let us not forget the glorious (if somewhat tardy) triumph of my beloved Tar Heels over the insidious Blue Devils (although I am currently watching a less encouraging game between the two women's teams on TiVo).

But now, an addition from my "1001 Movies you must see before you Die" list: Henri-Georges Clouzot's "Diabolique." In this classic of suspense, the wife and mistress of a sadistic headmaster plot his murder, only to find that he is no less controlling in death than he was alive. I will say no more, especially since the film specifically exhorts its viewers not to spoil the plot for their friends, but it is quite a gruesome, claustrophobic romp. Unfortunately, the headmaster's weak-hearted wife (played by Clouzot's real life spouse) is almost too mewling and swooning to bear, and I found myself sympathizing, never with the boorish husband, but with the abrupt, competent mistress, for whom no task is too ghastly. For God's sake, I found myself repeatedly thinking, if you are going to kill someone and lug around his body in a giant wicker chest, do it with some enthusiasm and vigor! It recalled the time I (appalled) found myself arguing to my roommate that if the models from "The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency" had signed up to be ring-girls at a boxling murder or tournament, then they were honor-bound to perform the job with flair. Professionalism is more important than personal dignity, I found myself implying, when what I meant to argue is that (in a tough situation, like Clouzotesque spousal slaughter or boxling) professionalism is the only thing that can salvage your personal dignity.

"Diabolique"/ "Les Diaboliques" (1955, France)
dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot

More of my ramblings (with links! and information!):

  • Wikipedia has entries on both "Les Diaboliques" (very brief) and Clouzot - go there to learn or to affect the nature of wikiality with your additions.
  • James Berardinelli reviews "Diabolique" for ReelViews, and places it in their Top 100 of all Time.
  • Michael Sragow of has a slightly longer and more detailed review of the film, in which he calls it "hands down, the dankest movie of all time."
  • Criterion has an informative essay that accompanied its release of "Diabolique," which goes into the details of the dynamics of influence between Clouzot and Hitchcock. Don't read it before watching the film if you are spoiler-averse. And really, with this film, the fewer spoilers you ingest, the better.
  • Jenny Jediny's review for Not Coming to a Theater Near You examines how the wife functions as a (perhaps mad) protagonist for the film.
  • You can get the Criterion Collection release of "Diabolique" at Amazon, among other retailers: Diabolique - Criterion Collection .

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