I finished the re-writes on the story I wrote earlier in the month and I’ve sent it out to a market. I have to keep rolling the dice.

I watched the terrific low-budget French horror film, Maléfique (2002), today. I saw the film originally at the London horror film festival, FrightFest a number of years ago, where the director, Eric Valette, gave a Q&A afterwards. The film made a lasting impression on me, so I was delighted it got a DVD release.

The lads behind FrightFest have shown considerable foresight and have established their own DVD label, FrightFest Presents. Maléfique is the second title in their catalogue of horror flicks. They’ve put together a great product. Not only does the film have a commentary track featuring Valette and Alan Jones, but it includes a featurette on the making of the movie, and one of Valette’s earlier short films, Il est difficile de tuer quelqu’un, même un lundi (It’s difficult to Kill Someone, Even on a Monday). It doesn’t require much effort to put together a professional package, and Maléfique is a film that deserves a decent presentation.

The movie revolves around a white collar criminal, Carrère (Gérald Laroche), who is put into a prison cell with Lassalle (Philippe Laudenbach), the librarian who doesn’t read, Marcus (Clovis Cornillac) the pre-op bodybuilding transsexual, and “Daisy” (Dimitri Rataud) the mercurial mentally disturbed boy who eats anything. Carrère is convinced his pretty wife will get him out of prison, but as time goes on his illusions about his marriage are uncovered. His one goal is to be with his son again.

A mysterious journal is discovered in a hidey hole, and in it are the writings of a former prisoner, Charles Danvers (Geoffrey Carey), from 1920, some of which is written in Latin, Greek and French, and contains occult symbols. Initially the prisoners dismiss it as rubbish, but when Daisy draws a symbol on the ground, and Carrère says the correct incantation it bursts into flames. In his journal Danvers claims that he has found a way out of the prison, and Carrère attempts to figure out the obscure formulae. Several times the dangers of not getting the charms right are highlighted – such as when Daisy’s fingers are “eaten” by the wall. Lovecraft fans will enjoy the occasional eldritch references in the film.

In my opinion all low-budget horror screenwriters should watch this film. There are barely half a dozen locations, and the majority of the action occurs in one jail cell. The sets are gloomy and claustrophobic, and the few special effects are excellent.

The writing is top-notch (due to Alexandre Charlot and Franck Magnier). Valette cleverly starts the film with a short, intriguing, and bloody opening flashback featuring Danvers, which is not explained until later in the film. Since there is no action, apart from character interaction and conflict, for another twenty minutes it’s a smart way to hook audience interest. Yet the film never falters or loses pace. The personalities of the prisoners are all clearly established and very well portrayed by this cadre of actors.

I remember being impressed by Valette at the FrightFest Q&A. When asked if he cut much material from the film, Valette responded that he had “cut” in the writing process, and that he only shot what had to shoot to make the film. Anyone who is interested in making films on a budget should take that advice: it’s cheaper to get the film right before you start filming. Too many low-budget horror films I watch have a haphazard attitude towards the story, and instead think that a bunch of in-joke and lots of squirting blood effects will distract from feeble characters and poor plotting.

Maléfique is a star in the Indie horror firmament, and essential viewing for all fans of the genre.

Of course, this film is slated for a Hollywood make-over. I think the original is brilliant, and doesn’t require an inferior imitation (my prediction is based on precedent).