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'Strangers' is a scream for Halloween

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The Strangers

(R/Unrated)

Movie: ••• (out of 5)

DVD Experience: •• (out of 5)

Starring

Liv Tyler as Kristen McKay

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Scott Speedman as James Hoyt

Gemma Ward as Dollface

Kip Weeks as Man in the Mask

Laura Margolis as Pin-Up Girl

Glenn Howerton as Mike

Studio: Universal

Directed by: Bryan Bertino

By KEVIN?CARR

It seems odd that recently horror movies in wide release have avoided the month of October. Perhaps this is part of a greater plan for studios to avoid the "Saw" juggernaut that's hit theaters at Halloween each year.

Sadly, there would have been room for "The Strangers" to hit theaters at this time of year rather than when it hit in late May. It wasn't a bad choice, per se. After all, the film cleaned up at the box office, and that gave way to drop the DVD a couple weeks before Halloween. This is a great film to watch for Halloween... especially in a creaky house with all the lights off.

I've been a committed horror movie fan for years, and I've seen all types - from the somewhat campy Universal monster movies to the grisly rash of torture porn. Strictly as a horror film, I definitely appreciate "The Strangers." In some ways, it reminds me of last year's "Vacancy," which gave a nod to the classic suspense films from decades ago.

In "The Strangers," Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman play Kristen and James, a young couple who have just attended a wedding. Things didn't go as planned for them, as James proposed to Kristen and she turned him down. They are left staying in James' father's cabin, which he had prepared as a romantic getaway. With the night gone sour, James hopes to go home as soon as possible.

However, when James heads out to get cigarettes for Kristen, things take a terrifying turn. Three mysterious masked figures start to terrorize Kristen in the house. James comes back to help her out, but the Strangers seem to always have the upper hand.

"The Strangers" offers plenty of creepy imagery, and the visuals in the film are as effective as any horror movie I've seen. The plot is rather thing, leaving much of the story focusing on James and Kristen's unfortunate cat-and-mouse game. As fans would expect from a horror movie, there are plenty of times the protagonists can leave, and the characters are often victim of their own stupidity than the antagonists' violence.

Normally, the refusal to leave the house or go on the offensive would hurt the story in a non-horror movie, but this is par for the course for these types of characters. In particular, the fate of one of their friends (played by Glenn Howerton of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" fame) is a perfect example of things that only happen in a horror movie.

I've seen a lot of this film in other horror movies - for better or for worse. But at least the bad guys aren't strapping the young couple down for hours of torture. The torture they endure is almost strictly psychological, which makes it even scarier.

The film is based on true events, which were at one time reported to be the Keddie Resort Murders (which, if you look up on Wikipedia, you'll find them to be way creepier than this film itself). Further information has come out that the inspiration was from writer/director Bryan Bertino's childhood when a mysterious woman came to his family's rented house looking for someone who wasn't there... and they later found out there was a rash of burglaries in the area that night.

Whatever the inspiration, , if you want to watch a relatively simple suspense film with some really good jump moments, "The Strangers" delivers.

The DVD comes with a group of minor deleted scenes as well as an extended, unrated ending. I can't say the new ending is any worse than what you already saw in the theaters from a violence standpoint, but the brief addition seems a little more satisfying.

The special features are rounded out with a decent behind-the-scenes featurette called "The Elements of Terror," which features the cast and crew talking about how they put together a scary film.

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