Did ‘High Tension’ Rip Off Dean Koontz’s ‘Intensity’?

Thousands of horror fans — whether lovers of , , or simply fast-paced thrillers — adore . Released in France as Haute Tension in 2003 and in the UK as Switchblade Romance in 2004, the movie combined a great cast and talented young director Alexandre Aja to create one of the most exciting, blood-spattered .

However, apart from the usual detractors and haters of movie violence — this was yet another marvelous horror movie that Roger Ebert despised — there’s always been one more interesting criticism leveled at High Tension:

Is High Tension a rip-off of Dean Koontz’s Intensity?

Eight years before Aja released High Tension, horror novelist Dean Koontz published Intensity, which has a very similar storyline. But is it a rip-off? I haven’t been able to find any official word from either Aja or Koontz regarding the matter, although the likely unreliable Wikipedia does note that ”the film is an unauthorized reinterpretation of the novel Intensity by Dean Koontz.”

High Tension and the 1997 TV version of Intensity
High Tension and the 1997 TV version of Intensity

Let’s take a closer look at how Intensity and High Tension are similar…

The Set Up

Intensity: 26-year-old psychology student Chyna Shepherd heads to fellow student Laura Templeton’s family home in Napa Valley for a short holiday.

High Tension: Student Marie ( ) drives with fellow student Alex (Maïwenn Le Besco) to stay at Alex’s family home in rural France.

Marie and a captive Alex

Marie and a captive Alex

The Murders

Intensity: A deranged killer, Edgler Vess, enters the house and kills the family. Laura’s father is shot on the toilet and her mother stabbed in the shower. Chyna, who hides, finds Laura tied up and sexually assaulted.

High Tension: A deranged killer, Le Tueur, enters the house and kills the family. Alex’s father is decapitated with a bookcase, her mother has her throat slashed with a razor, and her little brother is shot in the field outside. Marie, who hides, finds Alex tied up but otherwise unharmed.

Le Tueur's truck

Le Tueur’s truck

The Vehicle

Intensity: Vess kidnaps Laura, stashing her in his motor home. Chyna, sneaks onto Vess’s motor home to try to rescue her before realizing Laura is dead already.

High Tension: Le Tueur kidnaps Alex, stashing her in the back of his truck. Marie sneaks on board to try to rescue her.

Marie stops for gas

Marie stops for gas

The Gas Station

Intensity: Vess stops at a gas station and Chyna sneaks out, looking for a phone. Vess kills the attendants and drives off. Chyna steals his car and follows Vess, still hoping to save another victim Vess boasted about.

High Tension: Le Tueur stops at a gas station and Marie sneaks out, looking for a phone. Le Tueur kills the attendant and drives off. Marie steals his car and follows Le Tueur, hoping to save Alex.

Marie on the killer's tail
Marie on the killer’s tail

So far, so similar, but from this point, the two stories diverge completely. Intensity sees Chyna attempt to rescue another victim, Ariel, from Vess’s stronghold guarded by vicious dogs, showing great courage and ingenuity. High Tension adds a and a killer twist that has nothing to do with Intensity. Much of Intensity is told from Vess’s point of view, delving deeply into the mind of the killer. The killer in High Tension barely says a word. Despite the similarities at the start, the two are entirely different stories.

As far as I’m concerned, High Tension is a great film and Intensity is a nerve-shredding, ripping read, and I’m happy with both. Intensity was also made into a TV movie in 1997 starring Molly Parker (House of Cards’s Jackie Sharp!) as Chyna Shepherd and John C. McGinley (Scrubs‘s Dr. Perry Cox!!) as killer Edgler Vess.

Did High Tension secretly ripped off Intensity, or was it coincidence?

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