As has become tradition, Kevin brought us his annual Halloween film this week, and he chose a 1955 film by Henri-Georges Clouzot usually known as Diabolique in English, but which I will prefer to refer to by its more proper plural French title, Les Diaboliques.

It’s a bit of a strange pick for a Halloween movie, but maybe only if you’ve already seen the film.

Want a hit off this Sharpie?

Michel Delassalle is a bit of, shall we say, terrible person.  He’s the headmaster of a boarding school, and a cruel one at that.  He doesn’t particularly want to be the headmaster of a boarding house – in fact, he would prefer to sell it and use the money to get ahead in business – but he doesn’t really have the ability to do this since his frail, heart-conditioned wife is the owner as she came into the marriage with all the money.  To add to his despicable character, he openly keeps one of the other teachers there as a mistress.  And just as the cherry on top of it all, he Ike Turners his mistress and Harvey Weinsteins his wife like he’s got the right.  As you might imagine, they’re a bit sick of him, and as you might not imagine, they’ve grown somewhat close because of this.

Johnny Walker Pink

With his wife (Christina, brunette above) indisposed to a divorce due to her Catholicism, his mistress (Nicole, blonde above) hatches a plan to rid them of their abuser forever.  It plays out about like this:  During a planned weekend’s vacation for the entire boarding house, Christina and Nicole take the Delassalle car off to a property Nicole still owns in her hometown.  Once there, Christina telephones Michel informing him of her decision to file for divorce, which will naturally mean that she will retain the boarding house, which is basically the sum total of their property.  This would ruin him, of course, so he hops the next train to town, where the women drug him with whiskey doctored with a sleeping potion obtained by Nicole.

Even Ray Milland didn’t have a weekend this bad

Then in his stupor, Nicole with some assistance from Christina, drowns him in the bathtub.  She drapes a tablecloth over the tub and in the morning they pack him up in a trunk and return to the boarding house, where they dump him into the extremely dirty swimming pool in the hopes that when his body finally floats up, it will be taken as an accidental death.  Michel, of course, didn’t tell anybody where he was going as he didn’t want to alert the others at the boarding house of his marital problems, so he is simply missing.

I’ll keep digging, ma’am, but I’m not sure there’s a subway train down here

The problem is, after a few days the body still hasn’t floated up, and the women are becoming anxious, so Nicole “accidentally” tosses her keys in the pool as an excuse to have it drained.  And the body is not there.  At this point, things start to get weird.  The suit he was wearing at the time of his death is returned to the boarding house by the dry cleaners.  Trying to figure out who sent it, they find that “Michel Delassalle” is registered at a hotel in town, but he never seems to actually be there and nobody seems to actually see him.  The women are quite concerned about what is going on, and Christina is near to going to the police and confessing everything.

Sorry for intruding in your movie, but otherwise they’re going to get away with it

But then a body meeting the description of Michel, more or less, washes up in the Seine and Christina goes to the morgue to identify the body, under the assumption that it must be him and that somebody who has witnessed the deed is playing them.  It turns out that the body is not Michel, but at the morgue Christina is accosted by Alfred, an extremely nosy former policeman now detective, who basically forces his services upon her in order to find her husband.  At the same time, there are mysterious sightings of Michel, one by a lone student who insists he spoke to him, and another as a ghostly appearance in a window behind a school photo taken in his absence.  Christina becomes extremely anxious, going so far as to confess her crime to an unconvinced Alfred while Nicole removes to the city due to her fears.

Body Glove had to go through several iterations before getting the concept of the wet suit right

That night, Christina is haunted by noises in the hallway and finds a typewriter with the name Michel Delassalle written on it over and over (nothing about all work and no play, however).  In her fear she stumbles into the bathroom, where she finds Michel’s body in the bathtub…and it begins to move and rises towards her.  This ultimately proves to be too much for her heart, which finally gives out.  At which point a very-much-alive Michel and accomplice Nicole embrace in an apparent triumph – only to be discovered by Alfred, who obviously turns them in.  The End.

As I said, I’m not so sure this is a great Halloween movie – once you’ve seen it.  The movie wants you to believe that something supernatural is going on, and it maintains that though basically nothing more than suspense up to the point when the body rises from the bathtub.  The first time I saw the film, I still wasn’t really sure what was going on.  Could it be a Halloweeny zombie thing going on?  Well, the film disabuses you of this notion in about 48 frames in favor of a perfectly natural explanation.  And once you know that it’s a plot, and nothing supernatural, the next time you watch the film it’s not a bit surprising.

In fact it’s even a bit, frankly, obvious – particularly by today’s standards.  Christina is the obvious victim – she owns the property, she won’t get a divorce, she has a frail heart.  Nicole is the obvious perp – she comes up with the plan, she procures the sleeping potion, she covers up the tub with the tablecloth so that Michel can breathe unobserved, she wraps him up in the tablecloth before they put him in the trunk…in fact, it’s so brutally obvious that on this second viewing (several years after the first time I saw it) I began to mistrust my vague memories and to look for reasons to believe that both women were scheming against each other – to wit, that perhaps Christina and Michel were plotting to kill Nicole via Nicole and Michel’s plot to frighten Christina to death.  That of course, doesn’t turn out and instead it’s just the obvious plot.  And a pretty simple plot, with only two moments when Michel has to hold his breath (once in the tub, once in the pool) long enough for Christina to leave so he can come up for air.  That of course, could very easily have gone wrong, but here it did not.  But the bottom line is that it’s hard to think of this as a Halloween movie when you know it’s just a suspense film – but maybe if you don’t know what’s going to happen it could cast itself in that mold.  Michel rising out of the tub IS pretty freaky the first time.

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