FILMS FROM THE VOID is a journey through junk bins, late night revivals, under seen recesses and reject piles as we try to find forgotten gems and lesser known classics. Join us as we lose our minds sorting through the strange, the sleazy, the sincere and the slop from the past and try to make sense of it all.
French horror is a rare bird in discussions of horror here in the United States. While the New French Extremity — which includes such films as Martyrs and Haute Tension — brought new focus to the country’s genre efforts, along with the current sensation that is Raw, European horror is far more often associated with Italy and the United Kingdom.
And, even when one usually thinks of French horror, there’s a certain artistic element associated with it. These are films which, while still full of blood and scares, have a certain element of capital ‘A’ art attached to them. One only need consider the likes of Jean Rollin’s Les raisins de la mort and La morte vivante for an idea of what the concept of “French horror” conjures in my mind.
So, it was a great surprise to discover that not only is there a French slasher film drawing from the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Burning, it’s a 8mm nasty that shares a lot of its aesthetic with the likes of other underrated grimy films like 1981’s Le lac des morts vivants. And let’s be clear: when I sat “draws from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Burning,” I really mean “blatantly steals shots from said movies.”
That film is Ogroff, also known as Mad Mutilator, directed by former video shop owner Norbert Moutier. It’s recently been reissued in North America for the first time by Canadian label Videonomicon, and includes an excellent booklet which provides a lot of behind-the-scenes information on the film, as written by Andy Bolus of Evil Moisture.
However, even reading the essay by Bolus, as well as Joseph Ziemba’s Bleeding Skull entry on the film won’t quite prepare you for what you’re about to watch. As Ziemba says, “Ogroff is an evil fairy tale from a warped mind. It’s comprised of a series of sinister tangents, which only make sense as the whole unfolds.”
And, honestly, he’s right. The film’s concept is pretty basic: “For Ogroff, the mad lumberjack, the war is not over yet. Having suffered trepanation and ablated in one eye during the war Ogroff continues the fight by brutally killing anyone who enters the forest where he now resides. That is until one woman catches his eye and things get even weirder!”
It’s a solid plotline for any slasher — coming frighteningly close to that of 1981’s Don’t Go in the Woods by James Bryan — but this is a film which continues to perplex, confound, and entrance the further one’s willing to go with it. I wanted to giggle at the red gouache paint used for blood, and at the obvious mannequin heads flying through the air after a decapitation, there is — as Bolus states in his essay –“something else in this movie, something creepier, a kind of deranged menace hanging over the French countryside.”
A good portion of the off-putting nature of the film is that there’s very little dialogue. Ziemba reckons it to be about nine lines, total, although I’d be willing to maybe bump that up in the 15-16 range. Still, that isn’t much for an 87-minute feature, and combined with the fuzzy audio which uses some strange electronic music and sound effects records, it’s like watching something from an arthouse with the aesthetic of a snuff film. You can’t help but feel like maybe something is going on that you shouldn’t be part of, and that looking away could possibly be your best option.
With minimal dialogue, and rapid shifts in location, introduction of characters, and travel from place to place with no obvious transitions between any of them, paying attention to Ogroff is key to understanding what’s going on, although it’s not actually possible. Ogroff is an enigma. It features a fight between a man with a hatchet and a man with a chainsaw, the sudden appearance of zombies, and at one point, Ogroff dispatches a car with the aforementioned hatchet, seemingly in real time.
Ogroff is the sort of film which was made by a horror movie fan to be the sort of film he wanted to see, and one can agree that the film shows a lot of love and dedication. However, it’s the singular vision of a man who wanted to put everything he loved into one film, and the strange synthesis which took place, that really makes this worth tracking down.