I don’t know about you, but I am always on the lookout for a super f*cked-up horror movie that I can also watch at Christmas time. Fabrice du Welz’s debut Calvaire (2004) is the furthest thing from “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a horrifying “home for the holidays” classic.
Released nearly 20 years ago during the New French Extremity film movement that gave us Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s Inside (2007) and Alexandre Aja’s High Tension (2003), among others, Calvaire has recently been released onto the world with a new HD remaster by Yellow Veil Pictures. For me, this was a movie that always came with high praise from avid Extremity fans but was damn hard to find (not unlike Xavier Gen’s Frontier(s) which I have been hunting down for years). Until now.
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Recently re-released to American theatres with a digital release later this week, Calvaire (translated: The Ordeal) has returned for another round of boundary-pushing horror. This “I dare you to watch this” movie follows a travelling singer named Marc (Laurent Lucas) stuck in the remote Belgian countryside after his van breaks down in the middle of a rainstorm. Thankfully, there is an inn nearby with vacancy available. Unfortunately, the owner is a deranged madman who slowly ensnares Marc in brutal, violent trap.
Keeping in line with the sub-genre, Calvaire is a real downward spiral of depravity, degradation, and doom. Hope is a rare commodity in The New French Extremity. Everything goes from bad to worse to horrific to grim in very short order. The innkeeper, Bartel (Jackie Berroyer), kidnaps Marc, tortures and rapes him endlessly, and dresses him to resemble his ex-wife Gloria. In his delusion, he believes that she has returned home to him just in time for the holidays. And in a truly nightmarish turn, it’s a delusion shared by everyone around him. Everyone believes (or at least pretends) Marc is Bartel’s wife.
It’s a wonderfully perversive inversion of the classic Christmas story (heck, even the first Christmas story) but one that comes with all the standard warnings of it’s fellow Extreme movies: Don’t watch this unless your prepared, don’t watch this in public, don’t watch this right before going to bed, maybe don’t even watch this at all lol. It took me weeks to get around to pressing play on this movie, if I’m being honest. It’s hard to carve out time for something that you know if going to make you feel uncomfortable.
I’m glad I was finally able to cross this one off my watchlist though, and I encourage you to seek out this new HD remaster of Calvaire if it’s been on your watchlist for some time as well. It has the same New French Extremity barbarity you’ve come to lovehate love but it’s not hard to see why it’s stood out as a gem of that grim genre for so many years.
Beyond the unrelenting torture of its lead, it’s a wickedly dark take on “the greatest story ever told”. It also features a c-c-c-crazy dance sequence and one of the most immersive barnyard shootouts in recent memory. Laurent Lucas delivers one hell of a performance as a man whose sanity is daggling by the thinnest of threads. If Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)made you second guess your next cross-country trip through the United States, Fabrice du Welz’s Calvaire (2004) will have you cross France and Belgium off the map entirely.
“Calvaire is a real downward spiral of depravity, degradation, and doom.”
Fabrice du Welz’s HD remaster of Calvaire (2004) is currently playing in select theatres, and will be available digitally beginning March 3, 2023 thanks to your friends at Yellow Veil Pictures. Let us know what you think if this French Extremity classic, and all about your favorite NSFL horror movies over on Twitter or in the Nightmare on Film Street Discord! Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.
[Review] The Old Extremity is New Extremity Again with HD Remaster of NSFL Christmas Horror CALVAIRE (2004)
Keeping in line with the sub-genre, Calvaire is a real downward spiral of depravity, degradation, and doom. If Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) made you second guess your next cross-country trip through the United States, Fabrice du Welz’s Calvaire (2004) will have you cross France and Belgium off the map entirely.