Butcher Block is a weekly series celebrating horror’s most extreme films and the minds behind them. Dedicated to graphic gore and splatter, each week will explore the dark, the disturbed, and the depraved in horror, and the blood and guts involved. For the films that use special effects of gore as an art form, and the fans that revel in the carnage, this series is for you.
The world of French Extremity horror is filled with bold debuts by filmmakers staking a claim on horror with torrential blood flow and visceral brutality. Like Alexandre Aja’s explosive entrance in horror with High Tension, Xavier Gens brought Frontier(s), a film originally meant to be a part of the lineup for the independent horror movie festival, After Dark Horrorfest, in 2007 but was released separately once the MPAA gave the film an NC-17 rating. Drawing from the intense riots in France after a far-right candidate circled closer to election, Gens penned a brutal script that featured a gang of thieves fleeing to Amsterdam amidst politically charged rioting only to find themselves prey to a family of neo-Nazis on the border. Angry, violent, and unrelenting, Frontier(s) brings the familiarity of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and dials it up to extreme levels.
Final girl Yasmine, played with admirable ferocity by Karina Testa, begins the film in an emotional place. Her brother is shot during their robbery stunt, using the riots as cover, and mourns his passing as the police are closing in. She’s also three months into an unwanted pregnancy, her brother’s dying breath begs her to keep the baby. It gives Yasmine moral ambiguity that most final girls lack, but more importantly it gives her the mental fortitude to survive the neo-Nazi family picking off her friends one by one. And of course, this family happens to be cannibals.
Between the cannibalism, the pig pen, and meat processing facilities, this means a ton of gruesome slaughterhouse style deaths. Meat hooks through flesh, table saws through skulls, cringeworthy severing of Achilles tendons, exploding heads, and even one character whose burned alive in a boiler, it’s easy to see why the film earned its NC-17 badge of honor. Even still, Gens held back on the gore; his original script featured two scenes not included in the final film, one of which was considered too grotesque. The scene was to delve into the family preparing a human body for the big family dinner scene, and would have included a shot of the body being skewered from anus to mouth. The other was a scene featuring one of the robbers fighting off the underground children with an axe, ultimately cut to keep the mystery around them.
Gens had a difficult time getting the film made initially, thanks to the extreme violence. It wasn’t until Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita) signed on as producer that gave Gens the freedom to go wild, sans human dinner preparation scene. Between Gens and cinematographer Laurent Barès, Frontier(s) is visually arresting horror movie. But of course, the makeup team deserves a ton of credit for the visceral trauma the characters endure (or don’t endure). Sabine Fevre, Nicolas Herlin, and Laetitia Hillion were all nabbed at the early stages of their makeup effects careers and fresh off beloved French horror film Inside before bringing their talents to Frontier(s).
Frontier(s) is the first in French horror to really draw comparisons to the wave of horror branded “torture porn,” with its level of violence and gore resembling films closer to Hostel and Saw. The very core premise also leans heavily into The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as well, though way more bleak and nihilistic than its counterpart. Even still, Frontier(s) is an unrelenting bleak ride that never lets up. It’s an onslaught of visceral violence enhanced by very talented people both on screen and behind it.