Friday, 21 October 2011 2:46 PM
To celebrate the release of Retreat, in which Thandie Newton and Cillian Murphy unwisely try to patch up their failing marriage by spending time alone in the only cottage on a remote Scottish isle, here’s a guide to the movies’ worst holiday destinations. These films tell you all the things you don’t see in the brochures…
And Soon the Darkness (1970)
Destination: Northern France. Holidaymakers: Pamela Franklin, Michele Dotrice. Major snag: Psycho Killer.
This is a cautionary tale about the perils of venturing abroad, especially if you happen to be two English girls in short shorts who decide to go on a cycling tour of an area of France where several young women have mysteriously disappeared. It’s a slow burn of a movie, beginning with the petty discomforts – unfriendly guest-houses, leering locals, squabbles – of a shared trip, then escalating to cat-and-mouse with a maniac. Spoiler-cum-survival tip: if the killer could be either the mysterious, reticent stranger or the friendly local policeman, don’t immediately assume you’re better off with the gendarme.
Cold Prey (2006)
Destination: Norwegian ski-slopes. Holidaymakers: Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Viktoria Winge. Major snag: Psycho-Killer.
Activity holidays are never a good idea in horror movies, and this excellent Norwegian slasher movie – which has founded a chilly franchise via two sequels – is a perfect illustration of what’s likely to happen. It begins with the usual problems when two girls and three guys go on a trip together, compounds them when the surplus guy breaks a leg trying to impress a girl and throws in a bear-like local mass murderer. Survival tip: abandoned hotels in the middle of nowhere are usually abandoned for a reason, and if you find a bunch of press clippings about a murder spree which took place in this very spot years earlier it’s time to go home early.
Dead Calm (1989)
Destination: the high seas. Holidaymakers: Sam Neill, Nicole Kidman. Major snag: Billy Zane.
This is the all-horror version of Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water, which perfected the couple-and-a-stranger holiday disaster storyline, and has influenced many subsequent bad trips. It illustrates two lessons that ought to be well-learned – 1) taking a holiday alone together is not advisable for couples who have been going through a bad period after the death of a child (did it help in Don’t Look Now or Vacancy) and 2) rescuing the seemingly amiable sole survivor of a horrible disaster is only going to lead to terror by psychopath. The message Never Get on a Boat with Billy Zane was ignored by the highest-profile holiday-from-hell movie in history, Titanic.
Destination: Cahulawassee River, Georgia. Holidaymakers: Burt Reynolds, Jon Voigt, Ned Beatty Ronny Cox. Major snag: ‘squeal like a pig, city boy’.
Generations of sissified city boys have stayed home thanks to John Boorman’s memorable and persuasive account of what’s likely to happen to them if they venture more than ten feet from somewhere you can get espresso. Because a dam is going to flood the whole region, four guys decide to shoot the doomed rapids of a backwoods river – early on, they encounter that banjo-plunking kid and still aren’t dissuaded from venturing into the realm of redneck rump rapists. Survival tip: if Burt Reynolds suggests whitewater canoeing, argue for miniature golf instead.
Dracula Prince of Darkness (1964)
Destination: Transylvania. Holidaymakers: Francis Matthews, Barbara Shelley, Charles Tingwell, Suzan Farmer. Major snag: Dracula.
19th Century Romania may be awash with history, full of lovely and hospitable castles and look surprisingly like the home counties, but it’s not an especially congenial spot for two fussy, respectable Victorian couples to visit. The garlic hung up in the inn should be a clue that more than the food will be bad and that meal laid out at Castle Dracula is deceptively inviting. The worst fate here befalls pompous Tingwell, who gets hung upside-down and gutted to resurrect Christopher Lee, and repressed Shelley, who gets turned into a sexy vampire and impaled by the local monks.
127 Hours (2010)
Destination: canyons in Utah. Holidaymaker: James Franco. Major snag: an unnoticed crevice.
Extreme sports aficionado daredevils scorn such wimpy safety measures as telling people where they’re going, making sure they always have phone reception, packing plenty of food and water and remembering they’ll need a very sharp knife if – for some reason or other – they have to hack off their own arms. Aron Ralston thought he could BMX bike through desert canyons without a care, and ended up with a lot of surplus extra gloves that lack resale value.
Open Water (2003)
Destination: the Caribbean. Holidaymakers: Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis. Major snag: sharks.
A couple on an island holiday take a supervised boat trip to scuba dive in the open ocean, but fellow tourist faffs around with safety equipment and mucks up the head-count when it’s time to get back in the boat and go home. So they get left behind, and the sharks start circling. Cold, paranoia (‘it’s all your fault’) and the vastness of the ocean are perils even before the Jaws gang show up. The lesson needed to be repeated in Adrift, released in some places as Open Water 2, but variants include the up-a-tree-with-crocodiles Blood Water and up-a-ski-lift-with-wolves Frozen.
The Out-of-Towners (1970)
Destination: New York City. Holidaymakers: Jack Lemmon, Sandy Dennis. Major snag: New York City.
The film industry has repeated over and over again that the backwoods aren’t safe places for city-dwellers, but occasionally feels the need to redress the balance by showing how the city isn’t safe for hicks from the sticks. Scripted in sadistic mode by Neil Simon, this is notionally a comedy but as actually as gruelling as Deliverance as a nice small-town couple come to the Big Apple for a dream weekend, and are insulted, abused, robbed, ignored and menaced by every single person and dumb object they come across.
Destination: Delos. Holidaymakers: Richard Benjamin, James Brolin. Major snag: robot Yul Brynner.
Long before Michael Crichton was worried that genetically engineering dinosaurs as a theme park attraction was not a good idea, he was concerned that hedonist vactioners of the future would have so much fun dressing up as cowboys and gunning down robots that the machines would revolt and start slaughtering the guests.
By Kim Newman
For those of you who want to see the movie that inspired this little reminiscing trip of movie holidays from hell, check out Retreat when it’s released at cinemas on 14 October or grab it on Blu-ray or DVD from 17 October 2011.
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