Folks on social media have been losing their minds over a particular kill in Fear Street: 1994, in which someone's head is run through a supermarket slicing machine. It's a great kill, no doubt, but one can't help but wonder if the reason that the reactions are so vocal is because the spectacle of a gory kill has become such a rarity in modern horror. It is ironic that the MPAA has been far more lenient in recent years than they were in the 1980s (when's the last time a mainstream horror movie was threatened with an NC-17 for its violence?) and yet this kind of creative carnage has been all but erased from such fare. 2018's Halloween revival had a couple of good kills, but also left quite a bit of Michael Myers' reign of terror off-screen; I can't be the only one disappointed we didn't actually get to see his handiwork when he turned that one cop's head into a makeshift Jack O’ Lantern.
However, for the filmmaking team of Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, attention to such detail has never gone out of style. After storming through the gates with their incredible debut Inside (French: A l'interieur), the pair have gone on to try different sub-genres each time out, casting a wide net on the horror landscape over the course of their five films, with their one common bond being a showcase for their FX teams' unique and visceral ways of messing up the human body. On paper, one might assume that their newest film, Kandisha, would buck that trend, as it concerns a supernatural curse a la The Grudge or something in the Conjuring-verse, and thus would focus on scares and spooky atmosphere instead of gore - but no! It actually offers one of their gnarliest kills ever, and considering their past work, that's an impressive feat.
Their penchant for bodily harm was abundantly clear from the start, as Inside began with a horrific car crash and only got harder to watch from there. The film's home invasion plot, in which a pregnant woman is menaced by a stranger who seemingly means her harm, could have been a two-hander built entirely on suspense, but Bustillo and Maury opted to keep the body count rising thanks to a pair of visitors (the heroine's boss and mother, respectively) as well as a trio of cops and their perp for good measure. No one dies easily in this film, and both villain and hero also endure plenty of physical trauma, which hits its apex when the woman goes into labor and her enemy (caring only about the child) gives her an impromptu C-section with a pair of scissors on a blood-soaked (not exaggerating) staircase.
Scissors would play a part in their follow-up, Livide (which remains unavailable in the US but can be imported easily enough), in which someone's neck is on the receiving end of this seemingly only mildly dangerous object. The film's dark fantasy plot (in retrospect, one might say it was like Don’t Breathe as directed by Guillermo Del Toro) was a big departure from the simple home invasion narrative of their debut, but graphic dismemberment proved to be the unifying theme, with jaws being torn off and (in an inversion of Inside's climax) something being *placed into* a character's wounded stomach. With the film concerning a trio of would-be robbers crossing paths with the wrong house owners, the lines between hero and villain aren't readily clear, but no matter: no one ever escapes fully unscathed from a Bustillo/Maury joint.
This is certainly true of their next film, Among The Living (French: Aux yeux des vivants), in which the lead characters are a trio of fourteen-year-old boys and - spoiler - not all of them survive the onslaught of its hulking killer, who sets his sights on them after they stumble upon one of his murders in progress. Whether the filmmakers opted to show restraint given the ages of its victims, or the budget didn't allow for as much spectacle, some of the film's kills are entirely left to our imagination, suggesting an exception to what was becoming a rule for their work. That is, until the final reel, when they make up for lost time with a head being cleaved in half (at an angle you don't usually see) and someone being killed by, of all things, the murderer's foot being forced inside their mouth. And if Green Room's arm injury left you squeamish, you'll probably pass out at the sight of what happens to someone's already broken arm when the killer crushes the cast "protecting" it.
The killer in the film is kind of a man-child with a horrible family, so it is perhaps what got the filmmakers their next gig, a Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel that would ultimately be titled Leatherface. It was their first English language film and (to date) their only brush with the mainstream, though the unhappy production (the film was recut without them) and eventual dumping to VOD by its distributor suggests they won't be racing back to Hollywood any time soon. Given such issues one might be hesitant to credit them for this or that high (or low) point, but for what it's worth they did retain the services of some of their previous FX collaborators, including Olivier Afonso, who had worked on all of their earlier features. The franchise's previous entry, Texas Chainsaw 3D, was criticized by some for being relatively tame for this series, so hiring this team made sense if the producers planned to course-correct. The film's Badlands-inspired premise results in some relatively straightforward gunshot deaths, but there's still plenty of grisly prosthetic-driven visuals on display (though one of the film's gnarliest bits, a leg that was only partially cut off by the infamous chainsaw, ended up being excised; you can see it on the Blu-ray). They also seemingly spill more blood in this film than their others combined; the demise of the film's secondary antagonist, a lawless sheriff played by Stephen Dorff, would have sent the censors who tackled the 2nd and 3rd films straight into a coma, no doubt.
This brings us to Kandisha, which again sounds like the sort of movie that won't offer much in that department but surprisingly ended up showcasing some of their most gruesome visuals to date. One particular highlight, a body being torn in half, includes an admirable little touch: the victim's shirt doesn't quite rip all the way, connecting the two sides of the corpse for a beat before the monster finishes the job with an extra tug. It's that sort of attention to detail that the filmmakers seem to go out of their way to include; be it the blood pouring off of Leatherface's chainsaw, the mangled teeth behind a jaw that's been shot/cut/f-ed up in some way, or (in another Kandisha highlight) the bits of broken glass that sprinkle to the ground before a body we didn't know was coming splatters over them, the directors are fully dedicated to making sure the audience can feel the impact of the violent acts that occur within their films.
And, perhaps most important to note, such moments are not done in an "Isn't this cool?" kind of way like the later Friday the 13h films. One can appreciate the craftsmanship, to be sure, but these violent acts are not meant to get the audience cheering, and it's not gore for gore's sake. Whether it's at the hands of a maniac with a power tool or a vengeful spirit, these are real lives that are being cut short, and thanks to a dedicated team of makeup artists, we will feel every bit of that impact when we sit down for a Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo film. No matter how fantastical the plots may get, it's this lack of sugar-coating that makes the experiences feel equally real, and makes each new effort from the pair something you know won’t soon forget.
Check out the trailer for Kandisha below (click here for an exclusive clip), now streaming on Shudder: