The Vanishing (1993) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

The WTF Happened to This Horror Movie series looks back at The Vanishing (1993), a remake of a 1988 Dutch thriller

The episode of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? covering The Vanishing was Written and Narrated by Mike Holtz, Edited by Juan Jimenez, Produced by Andrew Hatfield and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

Expectations can be a funny thing when it comes to movies. Go into a theater with absolutely no inhibitions about what you’re about to witness and you’re likely to have a far better time than if you were watching a sequel you’ve built up expectations for in your mind. Remakes? Forget it. One would wager that the likelihood of you enjoying a remake of a film that you already enjoyed in its original packaging is a considerable amount lower than had you never seen the original. For obvious reasons. This brings me to today’s topic: a 1993 American remake of the French-Dutch film Spoorlos that was attacked by many for being an example of the problem with American remakes. Or was it a misunderstood victim of its time and circumstance? Those are the questions we’ll be asking in today’s WTF happened to The Vanishing?

The late director of both the original and remake of The Vanishing, George Sluizer, had made a friend in writer Tim Krabbe after adapting one of his novels. They kept in contact and Krabbe was even letting Sluizer read his latest novel titled The Golden Egg as he wrote it. Sluizer got as far as around chapter three of the 1984 novel when he told Krabbe he had seen enough and wanted to buy the rights to turn it into a film. Krabbe obliged and even offered to write the film himself. This entire process seemingly went as well as when you’ve had too much to drink and bite into a Pizza Roll before it’s cooled down. Personal experiences aside, the first draft was not great according to Sluizer who said: “It was not bad but it was not good. So I said ‘Let’s write the second draft together’.” The two would go on to have plenty of fights about certain aspects of the script such as their difference of opinion on how the tragedies should play out and how the film should be structured. These fights ultimately ended in Sluizer giving him the Presidential Harrison Ford treatment. Sluizer kicked him off the project, saying, “So I kicked him off the script. I said ‘Bought the rights now you go and I’ll finish myself’. And he was very angry. Which lasted for a long period.” The title of the book had been changed from The Golden Egg (a reference to a recurring dream the characters of the original film were having) to Spoorloos or The Vanishing. This was intentional from Sluizer who said, “The Vanishing I invented because I wanted to make a reference to The Shining which is also not a word.” This just makes me laugh. I love this guy. He’s got himself a very Dino De Laurentis attitude. He very clearly loved Stanley Kubrick’s work as well, so I bet he was ecstatic to hear that Kubrick would later say of his 1988 film that it was the most terrifying film he had ever seen… even more frightening than The Shining itself.

The original film would have a very similar plot to today’s film with a few extremely polarizing changes. In both films, a man abducts a woman from a gas station as her boyfriend waits for her in the car. She is never seen again and the boyfriend searches hopelessly for her for years. Eventually, he begins a new relationship but is still never able to let go of his need to know what happened to her that fateful day. Her killer, a family man who treated the situation more as an experiment of whether or not he was capable of such things than a murder….eventually becomes impressed with the boyfriend’s perseverance and reveals himself to him. He offers answers to all of the questions that plague the man but only if he agrees to drink a sedative and experience the same things his missing girlfriend had when she disappeared. Desperate to know what happened the boyfriend agrees and (you’ve no doubt seen the films if you’re watching this now but just in case… serious spoilers in 3, 2, 1) he wakes up from drinking the sedative laced coffee and is buried underground in a coffin ala Ryan Reynolds in Buried.

Now HERE is where the two films differ greatly. In the original film, the next and last scene simply shows the killer hanging out with his family on a beautiful sunny day before panning to a newspaper with a headline about the two lovers’ disappearances, their photos in two egg shapes… a reference to the dreams they each had previously hence the name of the original book being The Golden Egg. The end. Haunting, shocking, mean, and a pretty badass way to end a movie if we’re being honest. Nobody expected that gut punch.

The Vanishing (1993) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

The 1993 remake and topic of today’s video would have a very different ending that would be the cause of so much scrutiny, the movie has literally been banished from Earth. Well, not really, but it certainly affected it deeply. As a matter of fact, the film isn’t currently available to rent or stream anywhere. To watch it you have to either get very internet creative or find a semi-rare DVD copy. Ironic for a movie called The Vanishing and just one more solid argument for the physical media folks out there.

So, before we get to exactly what happens at the end of the American remake that left the film with so much scrutiny in its wake, we ask the question, why remake the film in the first place? According to Sluizer, the films are very different saying, “Different ending. Different beginning. Different middle. In fact, everything is quite different when you look at it very, very closely.” For Sluizer there is a love story at the heart of both films, they both just happen to feature a murderer. But don’t call him a serial killer. Sluizer rejects this idea deeply saying, “He’s not a serial killer at all. That’s the one thing I really fought to keep not to turn him into a serial killer. According to me anyway. He’s someone who experiments. He tries to find out something about himself. And uses other people in those experiments. But he’s not a serial killer”.

The remake would go on to cast the legendary Jeff Bridges as the aforementioned non-serial killer and he would play the role quite differently than the man who came before him. It’s a fascinating performance from Bridges and one that I believe, had it come out today, without the expectations of the previous film, would be celebrated as a striking and nuanced performance of a very strange man who has a odd cadence in his voice that manages to sound both distinguished and as though something is not quite right. It’s hard to put a finger on and it sticks with you after the film has ended. It’s almost as if Russell Crowe’s John Nash from A Beautiful Mind had a little bit of Buffalo Bill in him. Deep Down.

I will give a disclaimer here to my possible bias once again, as I had the pleasure of seeing the remake first… but I prefer its pacing to the original. They both have many of the same moments but they are shuffled differently and I think for the best in the remake. Here, the film begins with Jeff Bridges’ character Barney Cousins, chloroforming himself and timing it to see how long the effects last. Because that’s the kind of sh*t you had to do before Google, kids! You had to get in there and figure it out! Both films would have many of the same scenes of this Batman Begins-level training. He would take his heart rate after each failed attempt to lure a woman to his car, lowering it with each misfire and calming his nerves for the big moment. He would even secretly use his time with his kids to test how fast he could reach around them in the passenger seat to lock their car door or coerce them to scream on his farm so he could ask the neighbors the next day if they heard screaming or not. This man is playing chess, not checkers. F*cked up chess. There’s something very American Psycho and/or Nightcrawler about these moments that are fascinating in each film.

In a very Barbarian moment, the story focus jarringly shifts to a couple on vacation who get into an argument after their car is stranded in a dark tunnel on a Highway. This couple is played by none other than Sandra Bullock in one of the earliest roles in her career and Kiefer Sutherland, who already had films like Flatliners, A Few Good Men, and The Lost Boys in his rearview mirror. This is one hell of a main cast no matter how you slice it. But we all know where this is headed. Sandra Bullock’s presence doesn’t last long in the film.

The two make up and she heads inside to get herself a Coke and him a beer (hey, road beers are illegal! I’m gonna tell!) and is never to be seen again. This prompts a harrowing and tense scene where he realizes she’s gone and we then follow the next few years of his life desperately searching for her before a waitress at a diner falls for him and convinces him to begin taking care of himself. The waitress, who as a character I’m very wishy-washy on (more on that later) is played by Rita Baker, who you may remember from her great performance in So I Married an Axe Murderer. She starts out as a wonderful human being who just wants the best for the guy until the second they move in together. We’ve all had this happen to a friend regardless of whether it was a male or female. The worst! They get their hooks in you and the whole game changes.

The Vanishing (1993) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

She suddenly begins to become very controlling of his life, specifically wanting him to get rid of the gun he purchased after his past lover’s disappearance. Then when he gets an offer to write a book about his experience, he has to literally fake weekend military exercises to hole up somewhere and get his writing done. That’s next-level crazy, Senorita! Eventually, after sitting at home all day and playing hackers on his computer, she realizes what he’s up to and breaks it off with him. She goes as far as leaving a message on their answering machine stating that they are done and that she’s not putting up with his crap anymore. Like, I said… she’s… she’s a lot as a character.

As the recently dumped Jeff is listening to his message, Barney shows up at his house and reveals himself as the abductor. We, the audience, then get a much better-filmed version of Jeff beating the dogshit out of this guy and I have to say it’s quite enjoyable. Cathartic even. F*ck that guy. Eventually, all roads lead to the same place as the original film, with Jeff waking up in a casket.

Only this time… in America… Rita is able to track them down and rescue Jeff from his grave after a back-and-forth throwdown of wits and fists with Barney. Jeff then hits Barney over the head with a shovel, before stabbing him right in the mouth with it, leaving a Joker-like wide incision on his mouth hole. And it’s metal.

The film ends with Jeff and Rita having lunch together with a publisher offering Jeff the chance to write a novel about their story. The bad guy got a shovel to the mouth hole, Jeff and Rita live happily ever after… happy ending. But not for many fans of the original. Nor critics.

Before the release of the film, Kiefer Sutherland had been asked if he had fear of backlash for the remake, to which he responded, “No, because we didn’t remake the film. We made a different movie. The characters are different. The whole balance of the characters within the film is different. George took the setup of the film and re-adapted it for this audience. For me, I like this version.” Which will tell you all you need to know about the crew mindset going into the film. Though many of them had not watched the original under the director’s orders, according to Sutherland, who said, “George was very specific about wanting to make a different picture that they were not going to be the same. And that it would probably just be better that I didn’t see it. So that I didn’t get caught trying to pull something from that film into this one and I agree with him.”

Ultimately, the film, this time co-written by The Notebook scribe Todd Graff was heavily scrutinized upon release for what was believed to be essentially a bullshit American ending that totally ruined what made the original so special. Various quotes from critics called the film “a compromised Hollywood remake”, “a mess”, and even “lobotomized”. Salon even called it the worst remake of all time. Oh, come on, Salon! If you only knew what the future held. Black Christmas. The Fog. F*cking Flatliners. Why are you even called Salon? There’s nothing about hair in this magazine.

Partly due to this early shellacking, The Vanishing would ultimately fail at the box office as well, bringing in only 14.5 million of its 20 million dollar budget. Which, by the way, was over ten times that of the original film.

Whether you’re in my minority camp of actually enjoying the remake more than the original, or you think it’s a flaming pile of cow dung… the important themes such as Barney Cousins nuanced character as a deeply idealistic father working himself up to whether or not he can commit an act of pure evil or Jeff’s obsession with finding the truth leading to his absolute recklessness for his safety or the safety of those around him. I think this is a case of expectations muddying the waters for everyone. It is important to also wonder what would have happened if Sluizer had his way with the remake. He once admitted to a Dutch Magazine that he had originally intended himself for the film to have the same ending as his original. He said that he’d signed a contract with 20th Century Fox producer Joe Roth to keep the ending the same, only to have the producer leave for Disney leaving the contract void. After some bad test screenings, the ending was changed.

So, take from that what you will my friends but that is indeed just WTF happened to The Vanishing. Which, again, has mysteriously vanished from any streaming services.

So, is 1993’s The Vanishing an ahead of its time misunderstood film that if it released today as an original film would be heralded critically such as movies like Jake Gyllenhaal’s Nightcrawler or David Fincher’s The Killer? Or is it a trashy Americanized remake that didn’t have the marbles to pull off the true horror of its predecessor? Time for your thoughts down below. I hope everyone has a great day.

A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To see more, head over to our JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.