In the pantheon of horror movies, Alfred Hitchcock’s Pyscho might be sitting pretty on the top of any film critic’s list, but it’s this Mephistophelian French horror Les Diaboliques that subliminally threatens to topple Psycho‘s beyond-famous status. Henri-Georges Clouzot’s sinister thriller still rings as shocking today as it was in the context of 1955, with its themes of adultery, murderous conspiracy and sadomasochism. And this was released five years before Psycho, hitherto considered as the most revolutionary horror film of all time. It’s not surprising then that even Hitchcock himself was fascinated by the material, who tried to buy the rights from novelists Boileau and Narcejac (who wrote D’Entre les Morts later on for Hitch, now known as Vertigo), but was elbowed out by Clouzot by a matter of minutes.
Les Diaboliques is a pure template for Psycho, with its ominous atmosphere, superb sense of pacing and a twisteroo script. Here we have a rather warped ménage-à-trois set in a French boys’ boarding school where the Headmaster’s abused wife and his scorned mistress conspire to murder the fascist husband and end his tyrannical grip on the school. They succeed and throws the husband’s corpse into the swampy schoolyard pool, but what they get is chaos and terror instead, as when the pool is emptied, the cadaver goes AWOL. Cue haunted apparitions around the school premises. It’s a terrific and horrifying set-up, but one that becomes more disquieting to watch as the plot unfolds twist after twist, and in black-and-white, this looks like a spooky vintage ghost story with a moral discourse, one that’s chockful of betrayals.[separator type=”space”] DIRECTOR: Henri-Georges Clouzot | CAST: Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse | SCREENPLAY: Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jérôme Géronimi | PRODUCER: Filmsonor | RUNNING-TIME: 114 mins | GENRE: Horror/Suspense | COUNTRY: France