Sunday, March 7, 2010

#35: Diabolique

(Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1954)

Diabolique is one of my favorite thrillers, but I haven't seen in it in a decade. So when I saw it was on watch instantly, and having just seen Clouzot's earlier Le Corbeau, I decided to watch it again and see how it holds up. Unsurprisingly, it's just as intriguing, creepy, and ultimately just plain fun.

As Criterion mentions on their site, Diabolique had an enormous impact on Hitchcock. He actually tried to make the film in English, but instead chose to adapt another of the source material's authors' books D'Entre les mort, as Vertigo, Hitchcock's greatest film and, incidentally, my favorite film of all time. Diabolique was also acknowledged by Hitchcock as a direct influence on Psycho, though I much prefer the former film.

Despite its somewhat far-fetched ending, Diabolique should be required viewing for anyone interested in writing or directing a thriller or horror film. The establishing first half hour is essential to the sense of emotional claustrophobia the characters feel. Each moment of revelation is done in an effortless and understated way, like the amazing scene of the inspector looking over the dead man's clothes, and closing the door behind him to reveal the suit the man had been wearing when he disappeared. The ending doubles back on itself and refuses to let the audience off easy. It's a beautiful lesson in suspense and terror.

Similar to The Vanishing, which had its perfect ending destroyed by a shoddy Hollywood remake (in that case by the very same director who had made the original), Diabolique was remade in the mid-90s by the director of National Lampoon's A Christmas Vacation (and the abysmal Avengers feature) and starred Sharon Stone. Needless to say, the film was doomed from the beginning, but it was made even worse by the extension of the film's plot beyond comprehension let alone satisfaction. Like the atrocious Breathless remake, it should only be viewed by masochists or viewers interested in learning how not to adapt earlier films.

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