“The Vanishing” aka “Spoorloos” (1988)

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By Jerome Reuter

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—American film audiences can’t deal with an unhappy ending. The proof of that lies in the remake of Martyrs that’s currently in production. However, this isn’t the first time a films conclusion, as well as its tone has been softened for easier consumption. Case in point: the 1993 American remake of the film I’m looking at today: The Vanishing. A few months ago, I complied a list of the top 5 worst horror remakes. That one made the cut, what’s even sadder the same director of the original made it, George Sluzier.

So what makes the original the superior product? Why do I have such disdain for the remake? Well, there are a few points I’ll bring up to give a further detailed explanation.

As far as the stories go, they’re very, very similar. A young woman goes missing, and her lover becomes obsessed with finding out the truth behind her disappearance. Even going so far, as getting this information from the assailant of the crime.

The original played up obsession flawlessly. Not only of the need to find the truth, but of the assailant wanting to commit ‘the perfect crime.’ You got to see the mechanics of their inner mindsets at work. From the victims’ point of view, there’s this deep routed obsession of not knowing, driving him to brink of madness. From the assailants’ point of view, there were the ongoing attempts to commit his evil deed. This is brilliantly shown through several flashbacks, to show his previous attempts. The moment in the film where they’re brought together, really gives you a look inside his head. The dialogue between the two shows the inner workings of a sociopath. Let’s face it—you’re not going to get moments like that with Kiefer Sutherland and Jeff Bridges. The performances from the remake really didn’t do anything to make the plot seem more interesting.

The original had suspense, it kept you on the edge of your’ seat, and made you wonder just how far things were going to go.

If you want the main difference between the two, and why the original is so great—it’s all in the conclusion. I had already mentioned the obsession of the victim wanting to know. To paraphrase a line from Hellbound:Hellraiser II : “You wanted to know, now you know.”

The victim is given a dose of drugged coffee from the assailant, in order to find out the truth. When he awakens from his stupor, he finally learns the truth of his missing lovers’ fate. He wakes up buried alive, confined to a shallow grave. Our victim laughs as he’s finally gotten his wish, he knows the full scope of what happened to his lover—and it’s cost him his life. The films final scenes are with our assailant, relaxing at home, completely unsympathetic to the crime he’s committed. The camera even pauses on a newspaper clipping, with headshots of the two lovers, still believed missing. In some ways, this establishes the vanity of the killer, taking a bizarre sadomasochistic joy from getting away with murder.

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In the American version, he’s saved at the very last moment. This completely ruins everything the original film built up to. As I said before, an American film audience couldn’t deal with the bleak ending the first one had.

The Vanishing hold up as one of the most terrifying films ever made. Stanley Kubrick even considered it the most terrifying film he had ever seen. The original is easily accessible, and completely worth the time for a viewing. You might just turn down that next cup of coffee that’s offered to you.

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