The Devil's Nightmare

Color, 2018, 102 mins. 32 secs.
Directed by Yann Gonalez
Starring Vanessa Paradis, Kate Moran, Nicolas Maury, Jonathan Genet, Khaled Alouach, Félix Maritaud
Altered Innocence (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA HD/NTSC), Memento Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (France RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

The Knife + Heartretro craze for all things 1970s was Knife + Heartalready going strong when it took a wild turn with Knife+Heart (Un couteau dans le Coeur), the second directorial feature from director Yann Gonzalez. Like his prior film, the dreamy pansexual fantasia You and the Night, this one features a pulsating electronic score by the director’s brother, M83 (a.k.a. Anthony Gonzalez) and a slick visual style that plays nicely off of its more outrageous elements. An entertaining blend of high art and very low sleaze, it may not be a film for all tastes but will deliver a heady kick to anyone willing to groove along on its wavelength.

In 1979 Paris, gay adult filmmaker Anne (pop star Paradis) is having a tough time on her latest film because she’s still lovesick over a recent breakup with her film editor, Anne (Moran). Things go considerably darker when a wild-eyed serial killer wearing a kinky leather zip hood and wielding a bladed sex toy starts killing off the actors in her film, but rather than cancel the production, Anne decides to channel the police interrogations into a hardcore slasher film called Homocidal. It soon becomes clear that the deaths have something to do with one of her previous stars, Fouad, and a terrible secret from the past that has many more Knife + Heartlives to claim.

A committed performance by a very game Paradis (who proved her chops in previous films like the excellent The Girl on the Bridge) anchors Knife + Heartthis beguiling little treat, which seems to operate like a murder mystery but ultimately swerves in a different, more adventurous direction in the final stretch that sends any whodunit expectations out the window. Though constant references to other films can be irritating in the wrong hands, Gonzalez somehow manages to make this crazy quilt work with a barrage of visual nods to gialli, slashers, Cruising, Jean Rollin, and even a couple of third act homages to Jess Franco’s The Diabolical Dr. Z and Exorcism. Despite the subject matter, it’s also way less explicit than you’d expect; there’s very little nudity, and the pantomimed sex scenes are mostly played for laughs apart from a hallucinatory end credits sequence that’s one of the film’s highlights. That said, some of the violence is strong stuff at times including a forced knife fellatio scene that would have the MPAA spitting blood.

After its premiere at Cannes, Knife+Heart made its home video debut on Blu-ray and DVD in France without any English-friendly language options. Far preferable is the expanded special Knife + Heartedition in the U.S. from Altered Innocence, available as separate Blu-ray or DVD discs and porting over the four extras from the French release: a music video for the song “Les vacances continuent” (3m34s), which ran before some American screenings and is actually gorier than the main feature; a funny, very lo-fi “Gothic Knife + HeartVideo introduction” by Pierre Emö (3m33s), a porn cult favorite who appears throughout the film as one of the Homocidal actors; a trailer for the crucial third act film within a film “De Sperme et d'eau Fraiche;” and the international trailer. New here is a lengthy interview with Yann Gonzalez and co-writer Cristiano Mangione (19m43s) about how they first met and embarked on the sweat-soaked journey of making this film, plus the surreal, nudity-packed Gonzalez short film, “Islands” (24m6s). Also featuring a nifty insert poster, the release rounds out with the film’s U.S. trailer, an “XXX” sex-centered trailer (though it's nowhere close to what the title implies), and bonus trailers for The Wild Boys, Queercore, Permanent Green Light, and A Closer Walk with Thee. Image quality is superb, replicating the bold aesthetic of the feature itself (which was shot on film, mostly 35mm with 16mm used for the adult movie clips) and nicely capturing how this played on the big screen. The excellent, very active French DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is offered with optional English or Spanish subtitles.

Reviewed on June 11, 2019