Have you booked your summer holiday yet? If you have these ten films might make you have second thoughts as Josh Millican delves into horror movie “vacations from hell”…
Last August, Huffington Post columnist Jillian Berman published an article about Americans and “Vacation Anxiety”, the crux of which claims that we’re “too afraid and stressed to take days off from work”. She cites two primary reasons: We dread the piles of work awaiting us when we return, and we fear that no one else can accomplish what we do during our absences. Basically, we’re a bunch of delusional worriers with “martyr” complexes.
Berman makes some compelling points, but I’ve got a theory of my own: We’re afraid to venture far from home because we’ve seen too many horror movie “Vacations from Hell” that seem to promise travelers certain torture and probable death. In most cases, characters in these films are having the time of their lives, until a terrifying turn of events changes everything.
The films below would probably give even the most intrepid of adventurers a case of agoraphobia. If you’re planning any travels in the near future, you might not want to avoid reading this list!
Hostel (Roth, 2005)
A couple Americans and an Icelandic backpacker trekking Europe are convinced to venture out to Slovakia where gorgeous promiscuous women are plentiful and especially hot for foreigners. Little do they realize these beautiful Bettys are merely bait for Elite Hunting, a business that provides wealthy businessmen a chance to torture and murder kidnapped vacationers. A staple of the often maligned Torture Porn subgenre of horror, Hostel also established Eli Roth as a horror practitioner of unusual promise. Buried in the subtext is a morality tale that warns against traveling to developing or depressed nations for the sole purpose of exploiting the locals.
The Ruins (2008, Smith)
Most Americans who travel to Mexico are happy to spend their entire vacations close to the beautiful coastline, never knowing (or caring) about the awe-inspiring Mayan pyramids scattered throughout the jungles and rain forests. But after watching The Ruins, you might think the beach bums are actually the smart ones. While the locals are certainly less than helpful, the real villain is a carnivorous vine with a fierce craving for human flesh. The Ruins succeeds at creating a devastatingly claustrophobic mood with enough gore to make it an excellent representation of Body Horror.
Turistas aka Paradise Lost (Stockwell, 2006)
The fact that Turistas/Paradise Lost was released less than a year after Hostel made it easy to dismiss as an unoriginal rehash, and that’s a real shame. Once you get past the surface similarities, Turistas quickly proves itself to be the superior film in terms of depth, devastation, and entertainment. The film is engrossing at every moment and never drags with characters you actually care about; it’s just as gruesome as Hostel but packs twice the suspense, including a cat and mouse chase through underwater caves that will have you literally holding your breath. The primary villain is a man of rare intelligence and extreme depravity, whose motivations are a definite departure from your archetypal horror movie baddies: A butcher with a heart of gold.
Escape from Tomorrow (Moore, 2013)
The reigning Champion of guerilla filmmaking, the movie that “shouldn’t exist” shines a surreal and nightmarish lens on “The Happiest Place on Earth”. But Escape from Tomorrow is more than just a critical stab at Disney’s unique brand of artificial elation fueled by blatant consumerism, it’s a deeply disturbing examination of the deterioration of an American family through one man’s descent into madness. Fired at the onset of his Disneyworld vacation, a husband and father cracks under the strain, causing the saccharine music and plastic smiles to take on a demonic sheen, and making this a truly hellish vacation.
Afflicted (2014, Lee/Prowes)
Considered by many one of the best Found Footage offerings of 2014, Afflicted follows a couple of Americans on a European vacation that’s also a “Last Hurrah!” for one, who suffers from a terminal illness. A chance encounter with a beautiful biter causes a whole new set of troubling symptoms to emerge in a film with elements of Body Horror that’s also a breath of fresh air in the somewhat stale Vampire subgenre. Excellent storytelling, top-notch acting, and very impressive yet understated FX make Afflicted an exceptionally engrossing vacation from hell.
A Perfect Getaway (Twohy, 2009)
If Vacation Horror is a subgenre, there’s an even smaller subset within that deals specifically with honeymoons and anxieties unique to newlyweds; within that venn-space, A Perfect Getaway sits near the top. A doe-eyed couple fresh off the altar teams up with another couple in a picturesque Hawaiian Eden — but there’s troubled in Paradise. A misunderstanding with an ominous pair of ne’er do wells injects a hefty dose of paranoia, as the quartet wonders if they’re being stalked and/or deceived. It all sets up for a jaw-dropping twist and a conclusion that’s pure Hitchcock.
Honeymoon (Janiak, 2014)
If we accept Honeymoon Horror as a subset of Vacation Horror, Leigh Janiak’s debut feature is the quintessential example of a film that exacerbates the darkest fears of newlyweds. A disgustingly loving couple retreats to a lakeside cabin where their celebration of a shared life takes a nightmarish turn. An off-the-cuff remark about kids quickly creates a palpable gloom that has the young husband questioning his new wife’s very identity. Is she being manipulated by something sinister in the surrounding woods, or is something inhumane already inside her? Allegorically, Honeymoon examines societal expectations regarding female reproduction after marriage, and all of the associated stresses.
Borderland (Berman, 2007)
Borderland might unfairly be accused of excessive borrowing from horror heavy-hitters like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Hostel. But in fact, Borderland is loosely based on actual people and events. Real-life Mexican cult leader and drug smuggler Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo is known to have employed Voodoo-esque rituals, along with kidnapping and murder, to keep a stranglehold over an entire border community. University of Texas junior Mark Kilroy was supposedly “sacrificed” at the hand of Constanzo’s followers in 1989. Historical accuracy notwithstanding, Borderland (like Hostel) is a morality tale for young Americans who would travel to poor countries to indulge in lawless, consequence-free debauchery.
Chernobyl Diaries (2012, Parker)
This one really struck a chord, probably because it’s the kind of apoco-creepy urban adventure I could imagine myself participating in (although I’d probably pick someplace less radioactive). There’s something absolutely captivating about the decay of an abandoned city, one evacuated in extreme haste; there’s also something terrifying, beyond the emotionless strength of nature’s reclamation process. It’s the idea that some people never left, rather they adapted to the changes by devolving into a feral state. There’s really no “Diary” to speak of, making the film’s name unfortunately misleading, wrongly insinuating this is a Found Footage film (it’s not). If urban adventures are your cup of tea, this one will get your blood pumping.
Frozen (2010, Green)
Prolific horror blogger John Squires recently published an article about Frozen’s powerful emotional impact that’s definitely worth a read. Part of what makes Adam Green’s 2010 film so devastating is that the protagonists/victims aren’t thousands of miles from home, just out of town on a weekend ski trip. The tension builds slowly but powerfully as what first seems like a troubling inconvenience becomes a desperate fight for survival for a trio stuck on a ski lift. But it’s the banality of this premise that makes the film’s ultimate moments of horror so extreme.
Check out Josh’s 10 MORE Horror Movie Vacations from Hell!
Written by Josh Millican
What do you think of the films we’ve picked? What is your favourite Holiday from Hell movie?
See Also: The Greatest British Horror Films of All Time