Monday, August 10, 2009

"12 rooms, 12 vacancies..."

What is it about hotels and motels that are inherently spooky?
Why do I always get a slight sense of dread when I step foot into the rented room?

Probably because I've seen freakin' movies like The Shining, 1408, Motel Hell, and the mother of all messed up motel movies: Psycho.
Every time I'm in some rinky dink mom & pop place for the night (which isn't to say it's very often, but it's always memorable) I wander into the bathroom, looking for weird flowery wallpaper and holes in the walls.

But all in all, my worst experience of this kind was a night spent in Buzzards Bay, Mass. - which seems like a lovely little town adjacent to Cape Cod.
The town itself might be nice, but the 'shall-not-be-named' piece of crap place we stayed in....not so much.
Let's just say we propped a chair against the door to hold it shut cause the lock was broke. Seriously.

Hey, at least I've never seen cockroaches anywhere. That would scare me more than anything else I think.
I'm guessing it would be easier for me to stay in a room where someone had been murdered (or tons of people a'la 1408) than in a room with creepy crawlies.

I digress.

Motel movies. Yeah, they are scary, generally. Because everyone can relate, I think.
I don't think I wrote about Vacancy.

Having just watched Vacancy 2, I feel I should touch on the first one a bit. Starring Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale, it had the benefit of well known stars to gain popularity.
The basic plot is simple. Husband and wife are fighting an on the road. So many movies start like this, don't they? Have the starring couple at odds when you begin so it means so much more when they're fighting for their lives.

So then we have the popular "car breaks down on a lonely highway" plot device. Used and abused, but always effective to set the stage. David and Amy (Wilson/Beckinsale) come upon the somewhat run-down motel and book a room for the night, only to discover that the tv isn't showing HBO... it's showing the murders of previous motel guests. And the crimes are taking place in the exact room they're in. Ta-dah!
Frank Whaley is really good as the hotel manager. Not exactly Norman Bates, but maybe the next best thing (or worst, for the guests).

Vacancy is a taut, quick-paced thriller - somewhat predictable yet still effective. If you've never seen it, I would watch it before seeing it's sequel.

That said, Vacancy 2: The First Cut could actually stand alone, as it is really a prequel, not a follow-up.

It supposedly shows how the whole thing got set up.
After showing the very first murder at the motel (which surprises the two entrepreneuring motel employees who have already set up cameras to catch unsuspecting guests in flagrante delicto to sell as porn movies). The murderer makes a deal with the other two and soon they are basically producing snuff films.

On to the meat of the story.
Jessica (Agnes Bruckner) and Caleb (Trevor Wright) are newly engaged and traveling from Chicago to rural North Carolina to start a new life. They've brought Caleb's friend Tanner (Arjay Smith) along for the ride, which is rather confusing. Not sure what he's there for if not to provide comic relief and another DB.
It doesn't take them long to find out they are being taped, and things just pretty much go downhill from there.
But whereas in the first Vacancy the whole movie revolves around the one couple, Vacancy 2 goes beyond that to show the murdering three men much more - and the problems they have within their own ranks. It also goes outside the motel (again unlike the original) and takes the hunted beyond the motel room and into the woods and a neighboring house to keep the action going.

While neither movie wound win any awards of course, they both have their good points and faults. And though neither movie ever scared me (and Vacancy 2 blatantly ripped the killer's look off directly from The Strangers and/or Friday the 13th part 2....), they both kept me fairly entertained, with the first Vacancy doing a bit better job of it.

Still doesn't make me want to stay in some piece of crap dump. Ever.

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