Bank vault of Horror! – when crime meets the Supernatural
Everyone loves a good heist movie. While most of us are proud law-abiding citizens, we still get a kick out of watching the exploits of stylish, charismatic criminals conspiring to pull off cleverly contrived schemes which always play out perfectly like greased clockwork. Except instead of cogs and gears, the components of this clock are security cameras, vault doors, fancy suits, and screeching getaway cars all wrapped together by funky music scores.
For the ultimate in slick thievery, there are movies like Ocean’s 11 which popularized nearly all the modern heist movie clichés. On the opposite end of that spectrum, we have movies like Reservoir Dogs which begins out like a stylish caper but quickly devolves into a banal rat’s nest of betrayal and ultra-violence.
Ocean’s 11 glamorized the heist while Reservoir Dogs, though still highly-stylized, remained morally and atmospherically grounded and never tried to elevate the savagery its monstrous protagonists actively indulged in.
But what if there were darker, more unnatural depths for such characters to descend into? What would happen if these cynical, worldly men stumbled across the unworldly? I’m talking about a rare fusion of genres: the crime-horror flick.
Crime is common in horror flicks but is often kept on the sidelines to make room for the visceral nastiness that the popcorn crowds pay to see. But sometimes the balance is shifted and having the two unmixed genres in one movie ends up creating an amazing shock when one inevitably gives way to the other.
Imagine a crime/heist flick, either Ocean’s 11 or Reservoir Dogs, that begins with the conventions we expect before a twist happens and all those conventions are utterly obliterated. Wild supernatural horror then erupts to destroy not just the protagonists’ stylishly cultivated plans, but their world-views and lives as well. Such a movie begins out logically, sets the audience’s expectations, and then completely destroys those expectations by suddenly dropping the characters into Hell. Literally.
My favorite example of this is the Robert Rodriguez flick, From Dusk ‘Till Dawn. The plot of this mid-90s crime-horror movie involves two brothers on the run from the law as they try to escape to Mexico while using an innocent family as a shield. The first half of the film plays out much like Reservoir Dogs, with its amoral lead characters trying to kill and extort their way to freedom.
However, with absolutely no warning or foreshadowing whatsoever, they become trapped in a bar filled to the brim with vampires. What began as a gritty crime drama violently warps into a cartoonish carnival of horror.
What makes From Dusk’s violent shift in genre so startling is that it happens little over halfway through the film, just when the audience thinks they have a firm grasp on the film’s world and rules. There is no foreshadowing, no hint early on to indicate that vampires would suddenly show up later on. All we know from the start is that the protagonists are heading for a reckoning. Heading for Hell.
The metaphorical one that usually manifests as a gruesome showdown with the police in such crime movies. But nope, the reckoning turns out to be entirely literal this time. It would have been amazingly shocking if the trailers and advertisements didn’t go out of their way to spoil it.
I bring up From Dusk ‘Till Dawn as the easiest comparison to the upcoming James Franco crime-horror flick, The Vault. As shown by the trailer, The Vault’s plot involves a desperate bank heist carried out by an amoral cast of gritty thugs. They are not the smooth operators of Ocean’s 11 and, disturbingly, they aren’t even the halfway competent but ultimately violence-prone mercenaries of Reservoir Dogs.
They are a nasty, disparately assembled bunch with guns and a bank standing fatefully in front of them. Then there’s James Franco as a bank manager who presides over something darker than just the old vault beneath their feet.
All I know about the movie is that, like From Dusk ‘Till Dawn, the criminal protagonists and their worldly schemes are headed for that same otherworldly reckoning that leaves expectations lost in the dark. Hopefully it becomes a worthy new addition to a horror sub-genre that still has so many dark depths yet to be discovered.
Image Credits: Redwire Pictures, Warner Bros., Miramax, Dimension Films