An old French film in black and white, and with subtitles, is enough in itself to scare off many people. But believe me, Les Diaboliques (1955, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, and in some home-viewing releases called simply Diabolique) is an unmissable thriller— no cheap gore or lazy tricks, just a carefully-crafted atmosphere of ever-increasing unease and tension. In the pre-zombie-slasher sense of the word, this is actually even a horror film. You will be scared and freaked out during this film, make no mistake.
The story is of two women — a timid, downtrodden wife and a steely, smart lover — who decide to kill the bullying man they share. Just so you know they mean business, the steely lover is played by the iconically cool Simone Signoret, star of countless classic French thrillers and dramas, and her unlikely co-conspirator is played by the enthralling Vera Clouzot, wife of the director. However, as soon as their plan gets underway, things seem to get out of their control to a macabre degree.
I found Clouzot’s excellent and more celebrated Le Salaire de la Peur (The Wages of Fear) dragged a bit at times, though I still enjoyed it, but Les Diaboliques zips along with great economy, and even ratchets up a gear in the final third. Also, Clouzot has a great feel for turning mundane objects (hamper baskets, ringing phones, even dry cleaning) into instruments of fear — again, this is a horror film in the old-school, pre-gore sense.
But Les Diaboliques is most famous for its climax, which crawls almost unbearably to a genuinely terrifying revelation. I nearly shot up through the ceiling with the shock of it, and if you don’t too then I don’t believe you. This film deserves its reputation as one of the creepiest, scariest thrillers ever made.
Don’t look up the ending; just dig out Les Diaboliques on DVD or online and lose yourself in its nerve-shredding thrills. Here’s the trailer: