Review: Spoorloos ("The Vanishing", 1988, George Sluizer)

A couple in love is on a vacation trip. When they stop and have a break from driving at some petrol station, the woman is kidnapped. Three years later, her boyfriend is receiving letters from the kidnapper, and goes on a frantic search for the truth...

Oh. My. God. "Spoorloos" aka "The Vanishing" is masterpiece of writing, and suspense.

It begins with some personal moments of a loving relationship, but there are some undertones - and soon the woman, Saskia, goes missing. What follows is a fascinating look at the psyche of her boyfriend, Rex, as he gets lost in search of inner peace, and the kidnapper, who proceeds with half naive, half devilish insanity. It all heads towards an unavoidable conclusion, but "Spoorloos" takes its time. Technically, it's a very simple production, but it drags you in with its intricate writing, editing, and camera work, the beautiful, mostly calm settings, and unobtrusive acting. While, slowly, the horror starts creeping in, as you begin to guess what might have happened, and what is yet to come...

As all the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall together, you realize the true quality of what you're seeing. "Spoorloos" is bright, precise, and just beautiful from the first scene, but when the end credits roll, it has become a brilliant, scary monster. There are mere seconds of physical violence in this film, there's no gore, no vampires, no undead, and nothing that really qualifies as special effect. But there's also no comic relief in it, and its self-awareness doesn't pour into the story. It's lighthearted when required, but nonetheless serious throughout, creating a mesmerizing, uneasy mood that only grows. Real horror is all in the mind.

"Spoorloos" is a very sad, very not-dumb, highly thought-provoking, and hair-raisingly scary low-budget movie, beautifully filmed and acted, that combines some Hitchcock-ian suspense with a dramatic build-up a la "Smilla's Sense of Snow" and the simplicity of "Man bites Dog" into an effective, shockingly realistic psycho thriller. 

Probably very disturbing for the average viewer, an absolute must-watch for fans of the genre, and a potential hidden gem for "true" horror geeks.

Verdict: Super scary... 9/10



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Review: Too Late the Hero (1970, Robert Aldrich)

It's World War II. A British army base on a Japanese island is the starting point for a special mission to capture and destroy a Japanese radio transmitter. Tensions and reconsiderations among the squad threaten the mission's success...

In this war action film production featuring Michael Caine and Cliff Robertson, we witness a half united, half torn apart group of characters entering combat with the enemy, the jungle, and themselves. As with many of these older war movies, the depiction might be a bit wooden or maybe naive in some regards, but overall "Too Late a Hero" is miles away from being dumb or flat. Quite the contrary. It's full of little and not so little sub-plots going on between the men, there's some wild action, it's gritty and gory at times, and touches on psychological horror. Henry Fonda makes a great appearance at the beginning of the movie, Caine and Robertson both play their roles with routine perfection, and all other performances are solid, too.

It is a thrilling action movie, and it does tackle some important subjects - like integrity versus responsibility, resilience and belief under pressure, nihilism of war - but we kind of don't really know what we're seeing here. Is it really an action movie, or more of an epic? Is it a psychological treatment? Or was it ultimately just about personal overcoming and heroism?

"Too Late the Hero" is a bit of a mixed bag - but it's entertaining, thrilling, and thought provoking, nonetheless. And, yeah, it's really gritty at times.

Verdict: Somehow unfocused, but still very well worth a watch. 6/10



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Streaming Kino: The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (1973) - Lee, Cushing, Coles

A secret service agent narrowly escapes the deadly rituals of worshiping the devil, and based on the evidence so far, Scotland Yard decides to consult occult expert Van Helsing...

"The Satanic Rites Of Dracula" is a later entry in the Hammer/Lee/Cushing series of Dracula films, and it might not come across as an overly "typical" episode, but it still looks absolutely Hammer, only with motorcycles and tape reels. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are in it, a couple of other familiar faces, and as all Hammer Draculas, it's a solid production in all regards. Chilling and entertaining, "The Satanic Rites..." can easily be recommended to all horror movie fans, and of course is a must see for everyone who likes vampires and the Hammer Dracula series. 


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