I’m a late horror movie enthusiast, avoiding them like the plague when I was younger but now loving a good scare. In an old blog post, I summarised what I thought made a good horror movie and put forward an arguement for why The Strangers is one of the greatest modern horrors in terms of plot, pacing and suspense. The Strangers was an unexpected delight by first-time director Bryan Bertino who understood how not to blow his load too soon in terms of cramming in the scares.
The film was a slow burner until THAT scene where Kristen stands oblivious in the kitchen which still gives me chills. The antagonists give no reason for their actions, the protagonists struggle to survive with heartwrenching conviction and the ending is bleak with no heroes. As a unique entity, I was quite content to leave the story of The Strangers untouched so my eyebrows raised so high that I was renting them out for advertising space when I saw a sequel was in the works. My highbrows became furrowed when I then saw that the cinematic release of The Strangers: Prey at Night was limited to the U.S. with a straight-to-DVD release worldwide.
My Mam loved the first movie. What she loved less were my antics of hiding behind her bedroom door, wearing a pillowcase on my head and weezing at her that evening. She clearly hadn’t learned her lesson when she bought me the DVD this Christmas.
Dollface, The Man in the Mask and Pin-Up Girl, ready to take you to church, Miss Thing.
To give you a spoiler-free summary, The Strangers: Prey at Night is a very different being to the first The Strangers, bringing a different, self-aware, 80’s slasher atmosphere to some familiar killers, not afraid to poke fun at itself though at the expense of some genuine scares.
Spoilers continue below, if you get sniffy about that sort of thing.
Remember how I described the first movie as a slow burner? As a pick-up truck blasting Kim Wilde’s Kids in America crawls through a misty trailer park, stuff gets messed up within the first five minutes in P.a.N. with Dollface breaking into the mobile home of an elderly couple. Their bedroom door slams shut and a title card in swirling blood that wouldn’t look out of place in a Stanley Kubrick or John Carpenter movie fills the screen.
The action jumps to our antagonists; the quintessential American family of a mother, father, older brother and a troubled younger sister. The family are going to visit some relatives at a trailer park camp (hmm, I wonder which one) on the way to taking their daughter, Kinsey, to a boarding school. During the drive, way more character background is established with this family than the initial mystery between Jamie and Kristen in the first film, making the audience warm to the characters much faster and their inevitable peril something to rally against. There was some bad writing during a diner break between Kinsey and her mom, Cindy, with Kinsey passing off her failing grades and bad attitude as “I’m a teenager” which I felt was bullshit. When I was a teenager, I achieved good grades, had a long stint of cross-dressing when I was definitely not gay and eventually hit some mental health issues – being a teenager is easy; she’s just being extra.
The family arrive at the park late into the night and try to get comfortable before a knock at the door and a strange woman asking “Is Tamara home?”. I did take some issue with this as we know what’s about to go down based on the first movie and horror has already been established before the credits but the act does work to unnerve the family.
Following some tense interactions in the trailer, Kinsey storms out for some fresh air, setting up the divide motif of the standard horror. Cindy sends Kinsey’s brother, Luke, to find her, leaving Cindy and Mike, the dad, alone until the mysterious girl comes knocking for Tamara again. The parents wisely go searching for their kids.
Luke and Kinsey find the relatives they were visiting in an unlocked trailer, mutilated. Grisly shock established, the teens bump into their parents and group splits again with Mike and Luke returning to their butchered family whilst Cindy and Kinsey go back to their trailer to find all of their phones smashed and Dollface waiting for them with a big knife. Cindy and Kinsey take refuge in the bathroom whilst Dollface pursues and Live It Up by Mental As Anything plays in the background, reminding us that this venture isn’t as straight faced as it’s predecessor.
I did however shift uncomfortably at Cindy screaming “Leave us alone” which, whilst a fair request, was a line that Liv Tyler delivered more harrowingly in the first movie. Cindy helps Kinsey escape through a skylight but her “leave us alone” request goes unnoticed as Dollface breaks through the door and stabs her to death. In case you weren’t sure, this is definitely a slasher.
Mike and Luke, after a few spooks, head back to their now empty and bloody trailer, finding Cindy. When they search for Kinsey in their car, a brick that misunderstood how to properly fly hits their windscreen, causing them to crash into a trailer with a fence post impaling Mike into his seat. Mike sends a tearful and traumatised Luke to find Kinsey. Trapped in the car, the prowling Man in the Mask – henceforth known as Sackboy – sits next to Mike and turns on the radio to Kim Wilde’s Cambodia. As Mike pleads to be spared, Sackboy brandishes a thin knife and slowly stabs Mike in the neck, waiting until he bleeds out before switching off the radio and going back on the hunt. The eerie control of Sackboy’s actions feels like a nod to the late kitchen scene in the original film when Kristen hid silently crying in the pantry, watching him sit at the table, look straight to where she was hiding and then calmly leave the room. It didn’t end well for her either.
Kinsey hides from Sackboy in a kids playground but is spooked by the hitherto unseen Pin-Up Girl (who I shall incorrectly call Betty Boop) who says they, the killers, are doing this simply because they can.
Prey at Night becomes a true winking-to-the-camera delight shortly thereafter, as Luke, cut off from phoning for help, tries to escape through the trailer park pool. All of the neon lights switch on as Total Eclipse of the Heart starts blasting. Luke confronts Betty Boop and stabs her to death before challenging an axe wielding Sackboy, shouting “I’ve killed one of yours, how does that feel?” Sackboy loses his compsure and starts swinging his axe like a, well, crazy axeman at Luke. The fight falls into the pool and is a near victory for Luke before he takes a knife to the back, all while Bonnie Tyler’s banger continues playing. Luke is pulled from the pool by Kinsey and hidden from danger as she plans to get out of the park and get help.
A patrolling officer arrives but gets his throat slit by Dollface. Kinsey leaps into the empty patrol car and shoots Dollface in the chest with the officer’s shotgun. Kinsey removes the mask and asks Dollface why they were doing all this, to which she laughs “Because why not” before taking a skullful of shotgun shell. “Because why not” and the earilier “because we can” may seem like a writing cop-out but that was the deadly trio’s intention in the first film and the for-shits-and-giggles ethos mixed with the gory slashing works really well. Not every villian needs to be an abandoned sibling or the kid you publicly kinkshamed; they can just be a sick nutter.
Sackboy makes his presence known by crashing his truck into the patrol car, multiple times. As his petrol tank starts leaking, Kinsey takes out her lighter (because she’s a rebellious teen who smokes) and throws it at the petrol. One cool background explosion later and Kinsey is limping towards the exit with Sackboy dead.
Juuust kidding, the flaming truck starts driving after Kinsey but gets stuck on a bridge. Sackboy, badly burnt, gets out of the vehicle and stumbles towards Kinsey before hitting the ground. Kinsey manages to stop a passing car, begging for help for Luke, safe that Sackboy is dead.
Juuust kidding again; he gets back up and follows her but one final golfclub to the head sorts him out for good.
I mean it this time. I think.
The unstoppable killer is a classic B-Movie horror trope that ends the gorey events very nicely with that level of self-awareness that is a pleasure to behold in a formerly so dry, I tentatively call, franchise.
Occasionally reused dialogue and at times plain bad dialogue aside, The Strangers: Prey at Night is a satire of both slasher horror and of it’s past self without wallowing in it’s heritage by trying to recreate it’s more effective moments. Prey at Night is well worth watching for any classic horror and/or 80’s soundtrack enthusiast.