I’ve been excited to see gay French horror film Knife + Heart ever since it started getting loads of promotion and then loads of raves from gay horror fans. As a result, I was also wary of being hugely disappointed by over hype—the death toll for many horror movies these days.
Now, after scoring a copy of the Blu-ray to add to my collection of homo horror movies, I can safely say…it’s a mixed bag for me.
Much of what I’ve heard about the film is that it’s both a slasher and homage to giallos of the Argento era. I’d say it’s a bit of a mashup of both, but not quite a full-fledged delivery of either. What it reminded me most of is the once controversial 1980 film Cruising, which I discuss as almost being a gay slasher here. In fact, I would guess the Pacino film is one of the main influences for Knife + Heart. The first death scene alone is a virtual copycat kill lifted directly from Cruising.
Much like Al Pacino, who played a detective undercover in the seedy underground gay scene of the late 1970s, which begins taking a toll on his relationship with a woman and sends his sexual identity into turmoil, our main woman here is a lesbian who makes gay male porn in the late 1970s—and she’s really not a nice person. Her being unpleasantly predatory is just part of it. As her relationship with her girlfriend falls apart and her actors begin getting viciously murdered, she incorporates the crimes into the plot of her new film and internalizes the idea of being a gay male serial killer. Once gender identity issues were flirted with, I began to get hints of Dressed to Kill as well.
I love the general plot, but while I know the film is being LGBTQ inclusive, I personally would have preferred the protagonist be male not female. In a sea of men getting all homo with each other, the placement of a female feels way to much like a David DeCoteau heteronormative safety net to me. Hell, I couldn’t even watch that porn clip that went viral a while back with a woman eating a salad while two guys fucked in front of her. I just cannot get sexually charged when there’s a woman in the scene. Maybe it’s internal heterophobia…or maybe I’m just really that gay. Hey, judge all you want, but in this day and age of everyone insisting we all need to be pansexual, I know I’m not the only one who thinks it…I’m just one of the few who is willing to say it and not pander to societal pressures!
My ADHD tells me the investigative aspects of the film slow it down drastically. Just when the murders and homoeroticism amp up, the main girl goes into detecting mode. She meets various random characters that in no way clear up the mystery, instead adding more confusing extraneous elements. But I guess that’s what you have to do when you are attempting to replicate the disjointed weirdness of giallos.
There’s a black bird, a deformed monster hand moment, some hypnotizing club scenes, and trippy dream sequences, including a moment reminiscent of the movie theater scene in Messiah of Evil.
Horror dream sequences should be a red flag for filmmakers. If you feel the need to add one to keep the horror momentum going, your pacing is off. And just to be clear, this lull in thrills (which could have been adjusted by editing the film down from 102 minutes to 90) wasn’t only felt by me. My hubba bubba was watching the film with me, and at this point began asking me how much longer before the film was over.
As for the slasher elements, there are some nicely executed kill scenes from a visual standpoint. The killer, wearing a black mask that almost looks painted on, is super creepy, and makes freaky expressions and noises (which could have been exploited more because they’re that effective).
For me, what’s missing is any suspense or tension in these moments. I never got that sense of dread that the best slashers deliver. It lacked the kind of sustained terror that gets my heart racing, except one scene that flirts with the bizarre vibe of a giallo—it comes late in the film and is presented with unnerving flickering light, and is the closest thing to a chase scene that we get here. Yes, even though we have a main girl, there isn’t a chase or battle scene with the killer, and don’t expect any traditional body reveal moments. The climax is more giallo than slasher (in a good way if you’re a fan of giallos). And just to be clear, gay male horror fans shouldn’t expect a final boy, although there are a bunch of final guys who totally steal the final girl’s thunder.