Well, it’s September. Among other things, this means that if you are able to do it, you have probably gone on vacation. Or at least something you’ve decided technically fits the parameters of a vacation. Many don’t even have that luxury. If that’s you, then perhaps you’re going to have a unique take on this month’s Make the Case, focusing on movies about terrible vacations and frightening, even dangerous escapades.
As a writer, my own concept of vacation is a bit confusing. I keep my expectations pretty low and try to avoid vacations that are really designed to distract me from the everyday horrors inherent in being alive. Trying to get away from the immovable objects created by poor life choices is a big theme in many vacation movies that go straight to hell. There are also, of course, family vacation movies where all expectations are radically assailed by the elements and chance misfortune. A bad vacation can come from almost any direction, so perhaps some people, even with the ability to take one, prefer to stay home.
If you’re in that category, it doesn’t mean you can’t see other people suffer. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it definitely isn’t. The best bad vacation movies, or in the case of this unrated column, my favorites, tackle this unique and often privileged wing of human suffering from a variety of angles.
6. Outdoors (1988)
Director: Howard Deutch
The Great Outdoors is one of the simpler movies being covered this month. Not just in terms of its plot, in which a kind, patient, and somewhat uptight family man, Chet (John Candy, in one of his best straight-man roles), is forced to spend the summer camping with his impressively insufferable brother in law. -law, Roman. That would be Dan Akroyd, also in his prime here, as well as his family (they all suck too, but you’ll probably come to like it). It’s a premise we’re all familiar with, and it makes sense that this was written by John Hughes.
This isn’t the last time John’s name will appear in a movie column about bad vacations.
Naturally, Roman uses every nerve Chet has. It’s not long before Chet’s romantic vacation ideals are tainted by Roman’s craziness and rudeness. The execution of all these things, combined with the scenic beauty of the film’s locations, is very nice. It’s the performances of this cast, in particular Candy and Akroyd playing each other to absolute perfection, that makes The Great Outdoors one of my favorite bad vacation movies.
5. Long Weekend (1978)
Director: Colin Eggleston
My impression of Australia is a continent that exists like a living horror movie. I mean this in that the weather looks like hell on a good day, combined with the fun fact that apparently everything, absolutely everything, in Australia has enormous potential to kill humans. The people, in general, seem charming. Obviously, in many parts, the scenery is absolutely stunning.
Movies like Long Weekend certainly live up to these expectations. More than 40 years later, Long Weekend remains one of the scariest movies ever set in the land given to us by Paul Hogan and Yahoo Serious. Two miserable married couples named Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) take out their frustrations on each other during a weekend camping vacation. This carries over to the way they treat their natural environment, which eventually reaches a point where nature itself seemingly strikes back.
The resulting nightmare these two endure is not only terrifying, well-paced, and beautiful in its suspenseful build, it’s also darkly humorous. Like me, it can even be cathartic if you’ve ever gone on vacation with someone who openly wants to harm you. I do not recommend it personally.
4. House (1977)
Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
There’s never a bad time to talk about your favorite ultra-rare house from 1977. I recently wrote about the movie for an article on the best Japanese horror movies. While it might be tempting to use that as an excuse to write about something else, it’s incomprehensible to me that we discuss movies about the worst possible outcomes for a getaway, and not discuss a movie whose weirdness goes far beyond cultural differences between theaters. from Japan and films made in the western part of the world.
House is the story of a group of girls, led by the cheerful and intelligent Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami), who decide to spend their vacations at Gorgeous’s aunt’s house in a secluded part of the Japanese countryside. The film’s gentle strangeness from the start soon gives way to a film that almost defies description. Explaining what happens to the girls, once they find out that something elaborate, sinister, and supernatural dwells in the home, doesn’t really work.
House is strong enough as a piece of surreal entertainment, and as an example of the worst things that can happen to you when you’re trying to get away from it all, to deserve two articles from me in a single year.
3. Tourists (2012)
Director: Ben Wheatley
I’m obviously a big fan of black comedy. One thing that sometimes frustrates me is the inability of a movie with an exceptionally clever premise to keep its momentum. This is probably why some ideas just can’t run for more than 80 minutes, no matter how good they are. Sightseers does not have this problem.
A charming and quirky couple named Chris and Tina (Steve Oram and Alice Lowe) go on vacation in the English countryside. However, instead of having horrible things happen to them, long weekend style, they become the perpetrators. Their darker behavior and impulses come to the surface, dominating the decision-making process that leads them to conclude that murdering anyone who irritates them is the best way to spend their free time.
Of course, there is something subversive about the whole concept of what is basically a twisted romantic comedy. Chris and Tina have their issues, as we find out, but basically they care about each other. Their shared decision to basically kill for the heck of it sets them on a pretty wild path, but the chemistry between these two likable people leaves us with an impressively enjoyable uneven movie-viewing experience.
2. National Satire Vacation (1983)
Director: harold ramis
Two years ago I wrote a column about movies that somehow emphasized the death of summer. Still arguably one of the best road trip movies and comedies ever made, National Lampoon’s Vacation was an easy pick for that list. We’re back again with this enduring classic from Harold Ramis, featuring Chevy Chase at the peak of what was once a formidable and entertaining comedic talent. To not include this movie in any conversation about going to hell in a carry-on vacation would be almost sacrilegious.
Maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic, but what the heck, we’re talking about one of my favorite sitcoms. Regardless of how you feel about Chevy Chase, it’s hard to argue with how effectively he plays an obnoxious but mostly well-intentioned husband and father whose desperation to provide his family with the best summer vacation ever leads everyone into a holiday road to the depths of utter madness and disgrace. This is another one written by John Hughes, based on a short story he originally wrote for National Lampoon magazine. There’s even a great supporting performance from John Candy.
Even through his heightened comedic style, as Clark Griswold and his family (everyone is outstanding, particularly Beverly D’Angelo as Clark’s long-suffering wife), there’s something inherently about seeing someone’s best intentions at all times.
1. Lake Eden (2008)
Director: James Watkins
Home invasion movies are a genre unto themselves. Only a few of them combine the terror of someone or something breaking into your sanctuary with the terrifying prospect of being at the mercy of unknown forces in an unknown location.
Eden Lake is a thunderbolt that successfully brings these ideas together to create a compelling story of a young couple (Kelly Reilly and a pre-fame Michael Fassbender) whose romantic escapade turns wild. His meeting with some local kids sets the stage for a movie that is a brilliant success on two levels. It continues to improve the circumstances of the unfolding situation, never running out of ways to surprise and/or alarm you.
Eden Lake is perhaps the most underrated movie we’ve covered here. It’s a strong character study wrapped in some pretty memorable psychological horror, with an ending that can leave you feeling like despair reigns supreme. There is certainly evil in the world and sometimes it doesn’t have to make much sense. Conventional wisdom will only get you so far. Perhaps if there is any lesson for Eden Lake, as it relates specifically to its vacation aspirations, it would be the courage to expect the unexpected.
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