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VACANCY – Paul Haslinger

Original Review by Clark Douglas

“Vacancy” is a nasty little B-movie that does precisely what is supposed to do. It introduces us to characters we care about, and then proceeds to put those characters through a series of extremely tense and horrific situations. It provides a suitably creepy villain, a few well-placed jolts, fairly smart protagonists, a thankfully short running time, and a satisfying ending. It’s not a great horror film by any means, but it’s not trying to be. It’s simply trying to be a generic horror film of quality, which it is.

The premise is rather simple. We are introduced to a married couple, played by likable movie stars Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale. We like them, but they don’t like each other much, and are about to file for a divorce. When their car starts having problems, they are forced to stop at one of those gas stations that only appear in horror movies. These have been pointed out numerous times by film critic Roger Ebert, and I quote from his review of the remake of “The Hills Have Eyes”: “Most gas stations are clean, well-lighted places, where you can buy not only gasoline but groceries, clothes, electronic devices, Jeff Foxworthy CDs and a full line of Harley merchandise. In horror movies, however, the only gas station in the world is located on a desolate road in a godforsaken backwater. It is staffed by a degenerate who shuffles out in his coveralls and runs through a disgusting repertory of scratchings, spittings, chewings, twitchings and leerings, while thoughtfully shifting mucus up and down his throat.”

Yes, our lucky couple comes upon one of these gas stations, and are given directions from a young man who is only too happy to mess around with their engine a bit. Sure enough, their car breaks down after only one mile of driving. They trudge back to the gas station, which is now closed. Fortunately, there’s a motel next door, run by an incredibly seedy-looking fellow played by Frank Whaley. They rent a room, and aren’t very happy with it. It’s an awful room, messy and smelly. For distraction, Wilson pops in a blank video tape laying on top of the TV, hoping for some diverting adult entertainment. What he finds is a cheap slasher movie, which seems to have been filmed in the very room in which he and his wife are staying.

The grisly proceedings that follow are accompanied by score from Paul Haslinger, who has previously provided very underwhelming scores for films like “Crank”, “Underworld”, and “Turistas”. He continues to establish himself as a terribly uninteresting composer with his work on “Vacancy”, which is a genuine waste. For once, we actually get a nicely designed title sequence which allows for a full-length concert presentation of the score’s main theme. I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve missed these in modern movies. Imagine my disappointment to discover that Haslinger has presented a really bland theme for drum pads and synth string choppings. However, it must be said that this boring (but cohesive) theme is the best thing about the score. The rest falls into the same category as most other modern horror scores, full of slashing and crashings and synthetic sound design, but very little actual music. Fortunately, the film handles things much more professionally than the score.

Basically, the film gives us thirty minutes of effective character development and set-up, and about fifty minutes of horror action, with the couple trying to figure out how to escape this real-life horror studio. Wilson and Beckinsale are considerably better actors than the average screaming teens, and make the situation a little more frightening than it might be otherwise. Director Nimrod Antal brings an surprising level of professionalism to his direction, and Frank Whaley plays a particularly wonderful villain. Whaley’s oddball performance is a match for the creepiest roles of Steve Buscemi. Add these elements to some surprisingly good dialogue and a couple of nifty plot twists, and you’ve got a movie that provides everything a horror fan has a right to expect from a film like this. Certainly not for those looking for fun giggles, but for what it is, not at all bad.

Rating: *

Track Listing:

  • Vacancy Main Title Theme (2:50)
  • Lost In Nowhere (1:38)
  • Meeting Mason (1:12)
  • Trapped (1:25)
  • Phone Booth (1:52)
  • Under Survellance (1:56)
  • Trucker Arrival (1:10)
  • Rats In The Tunnel (2:01)
  • They’re Under Us! (2:10)
  • Nobody’s Fault (1:38)
  • Searching The House (2:11)
  • Chase And Barricade (1:39)
  • David Stabbed (3:34)
  • A New Day (1:02)
  • Killed By A Beamer (1:22)
  • Going For A Gun (0:45)
  • Amy Attacked (1:31)
  • Amy’s Revenge (1:14)
  • Finding David (1:56)
  • Vacancy End Credits (4:51)
  • Vacancy Variant Acid (4:19)
  • Temps Perdu (4:32)
  • Transmutation Void (9:19)

Running Time: 56 minutes 07 seconds

Commotion Records CR014  (2007)

Music composed and arranged by Paul Haslinger. Edited by Brian Richards. Score produced by Paul Haslinger.

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