The frightening movies of Michael Haneke -- Even before ''Cache'' the Austrian filmmaker made audiences shudder

By Ken Tucker
May 19, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

The frightening movies of Michael Haneke

Forget Hostel or Saw II — if you want to be really disturbed by a movie, watch anything directed by Michael Haneke. The Austrian filmmaker — whose Caché, 2005’s foreign-film unsettler, arrives on DVD next month — is a master of domestic malice. His four just-released films — The Seventh Continent (1989), Benny’s Video (1992), 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994), and Funny Games (1997, featuring Arno Frisch) — render middle-class life a quiet horror. In Video, a teenage boy enjoys watching, over and over, a tape of a pig being slaughtered; he then invites a girl to his family’s cramped home and kills her in a similar manner, while recording it. Games features two young punks invading a family’s vacation home and holding them hostage. The brutal creeps leer at the camera, implicating us as witnesses of their acts of slow torture. Why watch? Because Haneke doesn’t spatter the screen or make stupid dead-coed jokes. In an interview about Video, Haneke says many people experience ”reality only through the media.” Piercing that filter, his films make you feel the agony of violence, thus raising his work to a higher purpose: to recall the distinction between civilized and craven behavior.