Have you heard the one about the guy running for his life from mildly retarded hillbillies after his car breaks down in the middle of nowhere? No, I’m not talking about The Hills Have Eyes, Wrong Turn, Cabin Fever, the six Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies or Wolf Creek. I’m talking about the French one. No, not Frontier(s), the other French one.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) has spawned 3 sequels, a prequel, a remake and so many cheap knock-offs that the “mad hillbilly” formula (as Octo put it) has become a sub-genre unto its own. Calvaire isn’t nearly as terrifying as most of the above mentioned movies but it stands out nevertheless.
The victim in this tale is Marc Stevens, a handsome and conceited entertainer touring nursing homes across Belgium to share his terrible voice with the world. After the predictable van breakdown he is rescued by Boris, a dim witted local yokel searching for his missing dog. Boris (eventually) leads Marc to a shabby hotel where he is introduced to the innkeeper, a tragic shell of a man. Life hasn’t been the same for Bartel since his promiscuous wife left him years ago. By the time Marc discovers the true depths of Bartel’s mental illness he is in deep, deep shit.
Initially I found Calvaire underwhelming. I was jonesing for the horror rush I received last year from French films like Inside, Frontier(s) and *eye flutter* Martyrs. Its failure to jar me the way those did left me indignantly disappointed. (Well I never!) Curiously, as a couple of weeks passed I found myself harping and wigging out about a couple of unsavory (to put it mildly) incidents that Marc goes through during his “ordeal”. All in all I wouldn’t call this a must see but if you’re in the mood for something focusing on delusions and psychological torture then you could do far worse.