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: