I’ve been reviewing horror again. This time in the form of new scary flick, “You’re Next”. It’s kind of like “The Strangers” but not.
If I (in all my scary movie loving glory) were to unearth a film from yesteryear that I would recommend to my readers to watch, it’d be “The Strangers”. It’s hardly yesteryear given that it was released in 2008, but I would place it firmly in the horror classic backcatalogue, alongside “real” classics like “The Exorcist” or “The Shining”. What was marvellous about this film was the fantastic non-complexity of it: a man, a woman, a remote house, 3 weirdos in masks, nighttime. Done. That’s all you require if you’ve got a sharp script, excellent cinematography, great direction and superb acting.
It’s safe to say that “The Strangers” is a relatively quiet movie – there’s a lot of ramped up, tense moments. There is horror in the non-obvious instances – for example the moment when Liv Tyler is standing quietly in the living room and the masked face of a man (who is essentially wearing a bag on his head with black, soulless eye holes cut into it) appears silently behind her, watching her through the patio doors.
“The Strangers” was all about home invasion, which is one of the most terrifying contexts that any horror movie can put in place. Follow this formula – person in house, stalked by external force – and you’re onto a winner. Follow this formula well, and you’re onto a classic. I think it flips the notion that in most normal slasher films, someone is being chased/stalked/whatever, and their goal is to run home, slam the door, and be safe. Home invasion set-ups demonstrate that even at home, you’re not safe. This idea plays on the fact that someone is entering your haven, taking over the place that you are in control of, and threatening your life. If you’re not safe in your own home, where are you safe?
Going back to films such as “The Shining” or “The Exorcist”, these stories both place their victims into locations that they consider to be safe. Here, they are haunted from within (in these examples by a father possessed by ghosts, and a daughter possessed by the devil). Movies such as “Psycho” evolved the whole “motel concept”. The motel room was the “home” in this instance, and Janet Leigh was attacked when someone encroached on it. The best modern-day version of this concept lies in 2007s “Vacancy” which, again, was excellent. Films such as “Last House On The Left” portrayed another unique concept – killers being invited into a home. Then of course there’s “Halloween”, which sees a stalker break into a house, and “Scream” which is similar. The opening sequence to “Scream” is an ingenious depiction of home invastion – girl on phone, alone in big house, she is told that she is being watched, she must lock the doors and pray for daylight. Should she or shouldn’t she go outside and help her boyfriend who is tied to a chair by the swimming pool? This “phonecall concept” was also fantastically delivered in both the 1979 and 2006 remmake of “When A Stranger Calls”.
I rave about “The Strangers” because it was fast-paced when it needed to be but for the most part understated and eerie. The weird girl that shows up on the couple’s doorstep is enough to set the tension going – she stands quietly on the doorstep, asking “is Tamara home?”, not elaborating on who Tamara is, with the sound of the crickets chirping from the distant lawn behind her. Then there are loud bangs on the door, which cut through the silence like a blade; the record player gets stuck at one stage, repeatedly playing the screechy tones of Gillian Welch’s “My First Lover”, positively tingling your spine; and then slowly but surely the masked figures from outside begin to attack in what is a cleverly designed sequence that spans for the remainder of the movie. I can’t stress what an effective film this is.
“You’re Next” follows the same recipe and is a very good film, with lots of nice moments, but it isn’t a patch on “The Strangers”. So my old school/new school horror recommendation in this week’s blog post is to check out “You’re Next” if you’re looking for something sinister to catch at the cinema this weekend, and to undoubtedly get your hands on a copy or a download of “The Strangers” at some point if you want to see classic modern horror at its best.