Monday, March 2, 2009

MOVIES- Vacant Strangers

(My drawing of Hitchcock may never have been more appropriate or inappropriate as the banner for the subject of movies.)

I’ve never really been a fan of horror movies. In fact it may be the only genre that I don’t like. Not that I can’t appreciate a good horror movie, it’s just that so many of them are so predictable and repetitive that I don’t find anything worthwhile in them. See if you’ve heard this one before- a small group of people take a holiday in a secluded spot and then when darkness falls they start to suspect that someone is trying to kill them. They attempt to deal with the situation by taking several incomprehensibly stupid actions which only cause them to start to disappear one at a time. Eventually only one of them are left and that one either escapes by single-handedly defeating the person or persons who have exterminated the entire group without breaking a sweat. During this process several things will dependably occur- someone will lose one or several articles of clothing, someone will be startled by one of their companions and kill or almost kill them thinking they are the villain, someone will have sex, many loud noises will happen at unexpected moments, and things will jump out at people.

Remember, snuff films are illegal only because of the murder involved, not because they have any different appeal than any other horror movie.

Now, to be clear, I’m probably not talking about actual horror films. I’m talking about that sub-genre commonly referred to as slasher films. Actual horror builds psychological suspense and a sense of dread through canny manipulation of ancient fears buried deep in the human psyche. These films have the same relationship to that kind of horror that jumping out from behind a corner and yelling BOO has to telling a well crafted ghost story. In fact, that’s probably the best description of them. Jumping out and yelling BOO cinematically.

The best thing on the whole disk of THE STRANGERS is the first thing director Brian Bertino says on the documentary about the making of the film. “This is something that’s never been done before.” I laughed out loud. Had he watched a movie called VACANCY, released the year before, perhaps he would have been more aware of the irony. The movies are virtually identical. Both involve a couple having relationship problems who wind up in a secluded area and are beset by a group of masked people who intend to kill them. Apparently not being married is the 21st century’s equivalent of what having teenage sex was in the eighties.

Both of the movies are reasonably acted and directed. Things go bang, people enter stray light beams slowly from dark backgrounds behind the main characters, people hide in closets, phones ring and there is no one on the other end. Both movies are completely devoid of an original idea but if I had to make a choice I’d probably give a slight edge to VACANCY simply because it spends a little more time setting up a plausible scenario and building tension. And because neither of the protagonists take off their shoes at any point. That’s important to me. If you are being attacked by a group of killers, put on your shoes so you can run. If you don’t have that much brain then I have a hard time believing you deserve to get away in the first place.

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