For six months in 1997, police discovered fifteen garbage bags filled with various neatly severed body parts of five women.  The media dubbed the serial killer the Butcher of Mons, but he was never identified.  Writer/director Karim Ouelhaj imagines his evil passing to a new generation, daughter Martha (Eline Schumacher) a victim who becomes victimizer, older brother Félix (Benjamin Ramon) a “Megalomaniac.”

Laura's Review: A-

While extreme horror often exists only for the salacious satisfaction of gore hounds, it is not always the case.  With “Megalomaniac,” Ouelhaj not only has actual ideas about the perpetuity of evil, but has crafted an artistically arresting horror film.  While Benjamin Ramon lurks within the decaying opulence of their old Gothic manse looking like the undead when he’s not out being a chip off the old block, Eline Schumacher gives a multi-layered performance as an emotionally stunted woman.  Controlled by her brother and victimized at work, Schumacher walks an unsettling balance between empathy and cruelty.

After establishing the past, the Butcher (Olivier Picard) seen eerily hovering over a nighttime street, prostrate with his arms outstretched and his eyes glowing, Ouelhaj cuts to that same man delivering the child of a bloodied and bound woman (Julie Carroll), the vessels in her eyes burst, as his young son, dressed formally in short pants, observes.  Years later, Félix maintains patriarchal control of that baby sister, forbidding her from entering his room and insisting she go to work each day.  Weird sounds emanate from within the big old dank and gloomy home, past glories shimmering through via Aubusson carpets and heavy, carved wooden furniture.  Martha spends a lot of time alone, frequently talking to herself, something Ouelhaj depicts literally suggesting schizophrenia, as Félix lays in a bed of rich burgundies, looking like a Caravaggio painting of a young hedonist while thinking of the woman (Catherine Jandrain) he kidnapped from a Cathedral, then brutally stabbed to death.

The film is mostly told through Martha’s point of view.  The only outside contact she has is with her hapless caseworker Madame Connecci (Raphaëlle Bruneau), who never questions anything and will pay for it, and Luc (Pierre Nisse, "Raw") and Remy (Quentin Lasbazeilles, "Sheitan"), the two workers who habitually rape her as their timid boss Jérôme (Wim Willaert) listens and does nothing.  When Félix denies her request for company, he asks if she’d like to be locked up.  ‘Dad would let me have one,’ is her chilling reply.  A burlap bag will be dropped at her feet and Julie (Hélène Moor) will find herself a devocalized pet, the recipient of what little humanity Martha has left to offer.  And just like in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” the film will climax over a ghoulish dinner party, Martha cooking for her coworkers to announce her pregnancy.

But while most of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” took place under a bright Texas sun, “Megalomaniac’s aesthetic is one of dank decay, cinematographer François Schmitt crafting images in sickly green, dark shadows framing interiors the better for demons to emerge from.  The sound of a grandfather clock ticking in the distance combines with Simon Fransquet and Gary Moonboots’ groaning violins, metallic reverbs and fiendish moans.  Production designer Laïos Hendrickx’s essential work creates a mood of desolation, whether outside under elevated trains or over the tilled earth of agricultural fields or inside Gothic Cathedrals and that old, stone home that could have been the manse of the Slaughter family had they been wealthy merchants instead of slaughterhouse workers.

“Megalomaniac” was winner of the Best Film and Best Actress prizes at the 2022 Fantasia Film Festival.  It’s not for the faint of heart, but horror aficionados are in for a thought provoking exploration of the depths of human depravity and its insidious ability to perpetuate.

Dark Star Pictures releases "Megalomaniac" in theaters in NY, LA, OH and MN on 9/8/23.  It will be available on VOD on 9/26/23.