Les Diaboliques

An old French film in black and white, and with subtitles, is enough in itself to scare off many people. But believe me, Les Diaboliques (1955, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot) is a proper thriller— no cheap gore or lazy tricks, just a carefully-crafted atmosphere of ever-increasing unease and tension.

The story is of two women — a timid, downtrodden wife and a steely, smart lover — who decide to kill the bullying man they share. However, as soon as their plan gets underway, things get out of their control to a macabre degree.

I found Clouzot’s excellent and more-celebrated Le Salaire de la Peur (The Wages of Fear) dragged a bit at times, but Les Diaboliques zips along with great economy, and even ratchets up a gear in the final third. Also, Clouzot has a great feel for turning mundane objects into instruments of fear.

But Les Diaboliques is most famous for its climax, which crawls almost unbearably to a genuinely terrifying revelation. I nearly shot up through the ceiling with the shock of it, and if you don’t too then I don’t believe you.

Don’t look up the ending online; just dig out Les Diaboliques on DVD and lose yourself in its nerve-shredding thrills. Here’s the trailer:

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