We conclude our exploration of worldwide horror by returning to America and visiting Alaska and Hawaii, the states outside the mainland.
Alaska and Hawaii both have reputations in the American imagination.
Alaska is a beautiful yet barren, snowy landscape. It’s populated by equally beautiful and dangerous animals that continually threaten the people who choose to live there. Two months of the year are ensconced in darkness, uninterrupted; this has been used in the film to communicate the harshness of this mysterious part of the United States.
Several notable adventure/action movies have come out of this landscape, including Into the Wild (2007), The Bourne Legacy (2012), and The Call of the Wild (2020), among many other Jack London stories that captivated the public from the silent era of the 20s up until the 50s.
The horror genre took many of these adventure-type stories and turned them on their head, exposing that it’s a place where one could become utterly helpless to the inhospitable outdoors.
Hawaii, on the other hand, is a veritable paradise: gorgeous beaches and loveliness around every corner. It’s a country known for the friendliness of the locals, the wonderful food, and the perfect place for honeymooners or even a nice vacation.
Hawaii is also often used as a fun destination for romantic comedies like 50 First Dates (2004), Aloha (2015), and Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008).
Lesser known are the movies that capture our anxieties about this beautiful but unfamiliar place because not everything is as it seems. Anywhere — even Paradise — can be hazardous, usually because of other people. These places, though part of the United States, are unlike the mainland; this is not your home. These two once-territories have their own folklore and their own dread. One could easily find themselves at the mercy of such stories.
The Fourth Kind (2009)
In this pseudodocumentary, Milla Jovovich dramatizes Dr. Abigail Tyler, a psychologist whose husband was murdered by a mysterious intruder. Her daughter is suffering from newfound blindness, and she is working on a study about people’s experiences and finds there is a pattern.
The Fourth Kind accomplishes the feeling of intense isolation and gives us the quiet terror of an alien invasion; this would be the best place for it if you wanted to invade in the shadows (though Nome is more city-like than some of these places). That and it is an expertly eerie story presented as a completely true story; the possibility that this could have happened is what sells it.
I loved the Blair Witch effect, referring to how The Blair Witch Project (1999) was marketed as a completely real story when it was faking out the audience.
When this movie came out, people wondered if it was real. There are also many disappearances within Alaska, so it gives credence to the idea that something nefarious is going on. However, it’s most likely that the land is simply inhospitable or the work of evil humans.
The Frozen Ground (2013)
Speaking of evil human beings, Alaska doesn’t always need the help of the supernatural to communicate terror.
The Frozen Ground tells the very real story of Robert Hansen, a serial killer who abducted, raped, and murdered at least seventeen women (many of who were sex workers) that we know of in the Anchorage area from 1971 to 1983. He would hunt them in the wilderness and then bury them in places he had explored that were only accessible by plane.
One of his victims, Cindy Paulson, got away, and Hansen was finally brought to justice; he died in prison in 2014.
Robert Hansen used a veneer of respectability to hide the horrific crimes he was perpetrating.
With Nicholas Cage and Vanessa Hudgens leading it, the film is emotional because of the solid performances all around.
It tells the story of the victims, to which the film is dedicated. Be warned: evil thrives in plain sight.
30 Days of Night (2007)
In this underseen gem, a town in Alaska is completely isolated, cut off every winter for 30 days of night.
Some people leave before the dark comes. Good thing they do because it’s a breeding ground for bad things to happen, which is why it’s such a great premise. Vampires, who notoriously hate the sun, organize themselves with a plan: destroy helicopters, steal/destroy cell phones, and kill any animal that could get the better of them for an onslaught.
This deeply unnerving story is told alongside a divorce, a different kind of isolation, and the separation of two people.
The plot pulls at the heartstrings, as the humans are woefully unmatched by the organized and intelligent vampires, resulting in carnage and tragedy.
The ending packs a powerful punch, and this film stands as one of the best and most effective modern vampire movies.
A Perfect Getaway (2009)
A Perfect Getaway is a fun, 2000s-era thriller that starts innocently enough: honeymooners in Hawaii, making classic mistakes like accidentally flashing a wad of cash and picking up hitchhikers. We are told that “this is Hawaii,” meaning that everyone is so friendly that they couldn’t possibly be dangerous, so caution is thrown to the wind.
After having a close call with Cleo and Kale, they meet Nick, who also seems somewhat menacing but able to protect them. The couple begins a joint vacation with Nick and his girlfriend, Gina. Eventually, you get wind that a couple is murdering honeymooners. You can’t trust everyone (or maybe anyone).
The scary part of this movie is how real this situation is; it could easily happen as you’re vacationing.
This is a really decent thriller with fantastic uses of red herrings and a truly unexpected twist.
It’s also an oddly touching story about a couple’s love for each other and their efforts to survive another couple’s insanity.
The Resort (2021)
The Resort has a basic premise: a young woman, obsessed with the legends of an abandoned resort in Hawaii, travels there on her birthday with friends to investigate.
Even breathtakingly beautiful places can be evil. People make stupid mistakes when legend-tripping, going to a place hoping to have a paranormal experience — crossing boundaries they shouldn’t.
Though there’s a very slow buildup to the main event, the last act is unnerving and a little shocking as night descends and the spirits of folklore come alive.
To be fair, it’s hard to believe that such things are real, but there is a kind of xenophobic lack of caution. I call it Caucasian Disbelief, where there’s this idea that because they’re not from there or don’t believe, the folklore couldn’t possibly hurt them.
There was a slight overreliance on CGI but the performances in the last act are haunting. Now, they are all trapped within the folklore.
Told as a werewolf legend in the tropical Pacific, a man named Jason dreams of a Hawaiian ritual involving the transformation of a man into a werewolf. He sees a doctor who recommends that Jason get away on vacation. Jason chooses Hawaii, meets a woman there, and has a vacation romance.
We find out this man is the descendant of a terrible werewolf curse that stretches back to his missionary ancestor (the reason he chose Hawaii).
Jason has continual flashbacks of this ritual and has strange seizure-like experiences when the moon becomes full. Young women begin dying nearby, ripped apart and mauled by a mysterious beast, while the evidence leads another man, Rick, to believe a werewolf is the culprit. Jason becomes the wolf again when the full moon rises and is shot by Rick, though it is implied Jason is not truly dead.
Once again, we have the dichotomy of a romantic paradise mixed with ethnocentric fears about what Hawaiians are truly up to.
Deathmoon is a campy whodunit from the 70s that offers a nostalgic musing on the nature of werewolves.
There are some issues with the movie from a modern lens (such as audio), and it does exhibit a small amount of Christian panic about another culture’s rituals and magic, which did not age well. Nevertheless, it’s worth a watch.