Screams From The Crypt: Vacations From Hell
Welcome back to Screams from the Crypt, the Talk Film Society’s home for horror! This week, Alex Miller brings you a triple feature of couples in trouble.
What could go wrong when a couple of lovers break from the hustle and bustle of their lives for a little getaway vacation? It happens all the time, and in the language of horror movies the idyllic vacation is the perfect material for a massacre, after all, isn’t destroying something beautiful a hallmark of the genre?
Dead Calm (1989) d. Phillip Noyce
Dead Calm is important for being an early vehicle for Sam Neill, Nicole Kidman, and Billy Zane. It’s also one of the more efficient variations on the “stranger danger” subgenre that populated the late eighties and early nineties, with titles like The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Pacific Heights, and Single White Female. Dead Calm plays like a horror movie updating of Polanski's stunning debut Knife in the Water; a couple on a sailboat take in a stranger with consequences that ensue. Polanski’s was a moody iteration examining the vulnerability of marriage, whereas Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman are in the company of a very psychopathic Billy Zane and what follows is a deadly and claustrophobic game of "escape-the-homicidal-maniac" aboard the boat.
It all works because it’s a straightforward and effective thriller that trades in a body count for suspense with swift execution. Neill and Kidman are reliable as always as it’s always good to see a horror movie with a strong female lead squaring off with Zane who’s a hammy but energetically fun villain. Harpoons and flair guns are used to their fullest potential in this unexpectedly solid outing.
Eden Lake (2008) d. James Watkins
Where the hell did a movie like Eden Lake come from? We’ve seen it all before; a couple wanders into the wrong side of town, piss off the locals, and the rest is quicksand that proceeds to ruin their lives, and all you can do is watch it all get worse. Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender) take a trip to the titular lake, but a crew of punk kids complicates matters when the couple and the gang of hoods jab each other to the brink of no return.
Well, if we’ve traveled the road to Eden Lake before, why does it work so well? Well, the cast speaks for itself, and with our present day context seeing Michael Fassbender in a place of vulnerability asserts that no one is safe. Kelly Reilly is a strong woman leading the charge that relies on instinct and intelligence, not filmic tropes. But Jack O’Connell steals the show as the full blown sociopath ringleader; he’s a forceful, blunt instrument and O’Connell’s bulldog physicality is matched by a truly convincing emotional charge. Eden Lake is genuinely scary because it traffics in actual horror, it’s a movie that has its narrative conventions to be sure, but it’s played straight, fast and visceral. It's a swift punch in the gut that plays on tangible fears, scary people who can kill you.
Long Weekend (1978) d. Colin Eggleston
This underappreciated gem from Australia’s New Wave is one of the best Ozploitation films; Long Weekend plays on the subgenre of ecological horror that's subtly resonant and thoroughly scary.
Following the exploits of the morally bankrupt couple Marcia and Peter, who decide to throw off the shackles of their faux bourgeois, white collar lifestyle and take a camping holiday. However, instead of being decent people the couple from hell decide to use the coastal forests as their punching bag, running over anything in their way, hacking down trees, and shooting animals; long story short the epic tagline says it all, “Their Crime Was Against Nature. Nature Found Them Guilty.”
The generic horror adage or sex-equals-death is replaced with an environmental object lesson and the perverse joy of wanting, and eventually watching Peter and Marcia get their comeuppance comes in an atmospheric slow burn that eschews its exploitation counterparts by playing its material with a witty sense of moody dread.
That's all for this week's installment of Screams From The Crypt. We'll be back soon, so until next time...
Stay Tuned and Stay Scared!