When it comes to horror cinema, there’s a great difference between the fantastical terror of Friday The 13th’s Jason Voorhees, and the existential dread that comes with a film such as Don’t Look Now. Though it may be Voorhees’ collection of sharp objects that jolts you in the moment, it is the shocking tale of grief, loss and the striking image of the dwarf at the climax of Nicolas Roeg’s classic that sticks with you in the long run.
“There are two different stories in horror: internal and external,” John Carpenter once said. “In external horror films, the evil comes from the outside, the other tribe, this thing in the darkness that we don’t understand. Internal is the human heart”. With this considered, it becomes apparent that George Sluizer’s The Vanishing, based on the novel The Golden Egg by Tim Krabbé, is a horror tale both internal and external, feeding off an innate fear of ‘the other’ as well as an incurable addiction to curiosity.
A masterpiece of suspense, the 1988 film is a brutal and deeply pessimistic journey into the mind of a psychopath, a seemingly normal man who decides to take part in a brutal of one half of a young couple on vacation. Abducting a young woman, Saskia, her obsessively curious boyfriend becomes embroiled in a psychological game with the sociopathic killer in order to find out the truth of his lovers’ death.
Well versed in the history of cinema, and a maestro of practically every genre he graced his presence with, director Stanley Kubrick became fascinated by George Sluizer’s film, appreciating it as a modern horror classic. Reportedly having watched the film three times, Kubrick told Sluizer “it was the most horrifying film I’ve ever seen”, to which The Vanishing director responded “even more so than The Shining?” to which Kubrick simply replied with a stoic “yes”. As a confidant of Kubrick, Jan Harlan, the brother of the director’s widow, once revealed, Kubrick opinion was that “The Vanishing was real – The Shining was a ghost film – a huge difference”.
However, it appears that the respect was mutual, with Sluizer mimicking Stanley Kubrick’s winding sweeping panoramic shots seen in the opening of The Shining, in the opening of his own film, tracking cars on a highway with an overbearing birds-eye-view. Kubrick wasn’t alone in his passion for the Dutch film either, with Denis Villeneuve using the now iconic ending of the film as inspiration for the conclusion to his own 2013 film Prisoners.
Making its way onto lists of the greatest ever horror films since its release in 1988, The Vanishing is a titan of psychological horror, responsible for perhaps one of the most squirming, creeping conclusions in cinema history.