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A Knock on the Door at 4 O'clock in the Morning: The Strangers on Blu-ray

  The home invasion genre was not a new one by the time The Strangers was released in 2008, in fact you could go way back to the nineteen-fifties and the Humphrey Bogart thriller The Desperate Hours for the template to be really set, though variations could be plentiful. The Bogart movie had criminals taking their victims hostage in their own house, but that was not always the manner in which these played out: George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead had a farmhouse under siege by zombies and that proved just as influential for the horror style, an outside threat that will not listen to reason and will be as relentless as they are intractable.

The Strangers took a combination of the two - crime and horror - and combined them in a relatively brief, punchy little thriller that proved to have legs, which nobody expected at the time when it was released. Coverage at that point was wont to mention it was heavily influenced by one of two European movies: the masked assailants siege flick Ils from France, and to be fair there were marked similarities, and Michael Haneke's Funny Games, where two apparently polite young men hold a family hostage for their own amusement and for Haneke to tell off the audience for watching horror movies and enjoying them. The Strangers had no such overt agenda.

Such was its archetypal flavour that audiences began to wonder if its opening captions telling us this was based on a true story could be true. Mass murders like the Manson Family attack in 1969 or the lesser known but no less horrible Keddie murders of 1981 were invoked by the growing numbers of fans who wanted the fear they felt from watching The Strangers to be legitimised by real life events, a strange impulse that gives rise to such urban myths as cursed films like Rosemary's Baby. Yet it was a different horror writer and director Brian Bertino was invoking with his claims for truth: Tobe Hooper's 1974 classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre - that had the same opening.

Well, not exactly the same, but it was blatantly lifted for Bertino's efforts here, with the same overall results, impressionable viewers were freaked out by the possibility that the atrocities herein actually occurred, and given the ending, they could happen again. The date of 2005 the titles gave for the fictional crime was just close enough to the release date - three short years before - for authenticating the unease that there are people out there who for no motive other than simple mayhem and unthinking evil will try to do the innocents harm, and was that not the basis for practically every shocker from the genre's inception onwards to the modern era?

There is nothing to understand with evil, said The Strangers and films like it, shit happens and all the psychology you can apply after the fact is not going to bring the dead back from their utterly unjustified demises. It was the antithesis of all the dramas that went inside a mind of a murderer and delved for explanations, the trio of masked attackers here had no psychology to speak of, and when, finally, they are asked that very twenty-first century fright film question, "Why are you doing this to us?" their answer is banal to the extent of sounding like the punchline to an especially sick joke. It certainly was not anything the medical examiners could build a case for or against.

The story was simplicity itself. Couple Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman return home from a party that has not gone well, since he asked her to marry him and she, realising the relationship was probably headed nowhere healthy, turned him down. Just as he is given a move towards hope that it might not all be over as she starts to have sex with him, there is a knock at the door. At four o'clock in the morning. Who could it be? Thus began the rest of the night's terrors as what had been an uncomfortable pulling apart of the couple paradoxically brings them together again as events grow ever more desperate, the sense of impending doom enough to make them forget their differences.

The Strangers spawned its own sequel in 2018, ten years after, entitled The Strangers: Prey at Night. None of the cast returned from the original, but Bertino was back onboard to pen the screenplay and produce, and if they shared anything other than the central trio of murderers (who may be copycats in the follow-up) it was some excellent cinematography, the first film being lensed by Peter Sova who retired one film later, the movies' loss. That look of the film was so polished that it elicited the comparison with Bertino's other big influence: John Carpenter's Halloween, making this yet another genre effort that Carpenter directly guided purely through his body of work. Some found the behaviour of the characters frustrating, but just try and get through a terrifying situation without making mistakes and see how easy that is; The Strangers was derivative, sure, but slick and obsessive in its desire to terrorise. Not a classic, it wore those influences too much on its sleeve, but very accomplished.

[Second Sight release The Strangers on a Special Edition Blu-ray...


Includes Theatrical Cut and Extended Cut
Because You Were Home: a new Interview with Director Bryan Bertino
Cutting Moments: a new interview with Editor Kevin Greutert
The Fighter: a new interview with Actor Liv Tyler
The Pin-Up Girl: a new interview with Actor Laura Margolis
The Elements of Terror: interviews with cast and crew
Strangers at the Door: interviews with Director Bryan Bertino and cast
Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer


Limited Edition of only 3,000
Rigid slipcase
Soft cover book with new essays by Anton Bitel and Mary Beth McAndrews plus stills and behind-the-scenes images
Poster with new artwork.]

Author: Graeme Clark.


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