Hot enough for you? I swear, it’s been so hot, I walked into my kitchen yesterday and I saw the devil with his head in my icebox. He was like, “Bro, it’s hot as hell in here,” and I was like, “Bro, get outta my refrigerator!”
It’s August, the dog days of summer, and that means it’s time for another edition of Almost Horror where we look beyond the genre to find the films that work as horror flicks more than you think. Since August is Hell Month here at Nightmare on Film Street, I have opted to go with a mid-90s actioner set amidst one hell of a heatwave. It’s cunning, it’s diabolical, it’s John McClane at his bad-ass best in John McTiernan’s Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995).
A Twisted Plot of Vengeance
In another time on another coast, New York cop, John McClane (Bruce Willis – The Sixth Sense, 1999) stopped a group of terrorists at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles. The Christmas Eve takeover of the tower was to secure the cash-on-hand to fund further operations for the group of German radicals hijacking the building and the X-Mas party going on inside. Leading this nasty cast of characters was Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, 2007), a measured, methodical madman who happened to end up at the wrong side of a windowpane resulting in a thirty-story plunge thanks to harrowing heroics of McClane.
Fast-forward seven years and Hans’ older brother, Simon Peter Gruber (Jeremy Irons – Dead Ringers, 1988), has holed up in New York City and he’s looking for the head of Detective McClane… and about $140 billion in gold bullion from the Federal Reserve. From here, a psychologically brutal game of ‘Simon Says’ is set into motion which sees McClane playing cat and mouse throughout New York City in the middle of the hottest summer on record, attempting to solve riddles and defuse several bombs with the reluctant help of civilian, Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson – 1408, 2007).
I Want To Play A Game
It’s unclear where Gruber learned how to master his devilish game of Simon Says, but I would dare a guess and say it was with the Godfather of sick puzzle-try, Jigsaw of the Saw franchise. There is no truth or evidence to back that claim up other than the sheer psychological masochism that has gone into Gruber’s planning. It’s textbook Jigsaw!
Not only is the City of New York in the grip of a massive heatwave but they are also reeling in the aftermath of a department store bombing. But since this is revenge, McClane is going to suffer a lot more than this for his actions. His first stop is a harrowing one indeed, considering Gruber’s racially charged implications behind it. And if that wasn’t bad enough, McClane and Carver now have a bomb to recover on a busy subway train. In total, they have four different bombs to deal with.
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That not enough for you? Don’t worry, it wasn’t enough for Simon Gruber either. On top of the bombs they have to find, they have a series of riddles to solve before they can properly disarm them because, you know, vengeance is sadistic like that. Fun fact, Writer Jonathan Hensleigh (The Punisher, 2004) bought the entire Mother Goose series of books to inspire Simon’s riddles.
As it turns out, Gruber’s plan isn’t solely based on avenging his brother’s death. He has much loftier plans such as knocking over the Federal Gold Reserve, not to mention 480 dump trucks, the actual number needed for all of the loot. It’s go big or go home when you’re in the bomb happy psychopath business and that’s going to run you a pretty penny on supplies, so what’s a madman to do in funding his future endeavors? Distract the entire NYPD and FBI risking innocent lives while you plunder the world’s most secure gold holding, that’s what.
Of course, one man can’t do this on his own, so Gruber enlists some of the most morally corrupt human beings in existence with one, in particular, being the sickest of the sickos. Her name is Katya (Sam Phillips – The End of Violence, 1997) and she will cut your throat, bathe in the showering pour that gushes from your wound, and love every drop that stains her skin. These are the kinds of people, Grueber associates with.
Yet another fun fact, Actress/Musician Sam Phillips was said to have had a hard time with the scene where she slices up a security guard since she is obviously not a real-life assassin, but because the actor playing the guard looked sort of like a real person she despised, Rush Limbaugh, she found the motivation she needed to cut him down believably.
Life Imitates Art
A month (to the day) before Die Hard with a Vengeance was to be released, the real-life Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed by terrorists. In the wake of this real horror story, director John McTiernan (Predator, 1987) strongly considered either cutting the opening explosion of the department store or bumping the released date back a few weeks out of respect for the victims and the sensitivity of the general audiences. The studio, 20th Century Fox, opted to open on the scheduled date with the original opening scene intact.
Fox then took out trade press ads defending their decision to continue with the imminent release of a film about terrorists planting bombs in public places. Subsequently, actor Bruce Willis refused to speak about the April 1995 Oklahoma bombings during the press junket for the film because he thought comparing it to a fictionalized movie would trivialize the real-life tragedy that took place.
While this may be a stretch, its worth mentioning that despite being released six years before the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York City there are a few creepy coincidences between the real-world event and the third Die Hard sequel. The World Trade Center is seen in the film and the 1993 bombing of them is mentioned. Also, the film appears to take place in September since kids are in school as witnessed in the school bomb sequence. Both may be small facts but do give a disturbing foreshadow to the horrific events that unfolded in Manhattan six years later.
The Action of Tropes
I suppose the title says it all. Die Hard with a Vengeance. To think of this as anything but a horror film should now be next to impossible. I mean, yeah, it’s set with big action pieces with plenty of explosions, car chases and shoot outs but look past those action tropes and look further into the deeper, darker heart of the matter. For it is there you will find the truth.
Die Hard with a Vengeance gives us a sadistic psychopath, a bloodthirsty murderess, a perverse prevarication of punishment, and a body count- Whoa, hold up. Let’s just talk about that for a moment. Die Hard with a Vengeance is the third film in the Die Hard franchise and when the movie opens, John McClane already has 34 kills under his belt. By the end of it, McClane, who is the good guy remember, has a body count of 47. That’s 13 kills from McClane alone, not counting all of the people that Gruber takes out throughout the film’s 126-minute runtime.
That’s a bigger body count than most third installments of huge horror franchises. I’m talking more souls than the Cenobites claim in Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992), more bodies than the evil Silver Shamrock Corporation kills in Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) (assuming the TV ads were stopped in time) and more slayings than our old pal Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th part 3D (1982), making the Die Hard series, specifically Die Hard With a Vengeance, one of the bloodiest in cinematic history.
“[Die Hard With A Vengeance has] a bigger body count than most third installments of huge horror franchises.”
And there it is, folks. With the evidence lain before you, the argument speaks clearly for itself. Die Hard with a Vengeance is a bonafide horror classic with enough of chills, thrills, and blood spills for any horror hound to howl at. But enough of our opinion, what do you think? Does Die Hard with a Vengeance belong in the Almost Horror lexicon of loathing? Of this one too far out of reach to be considered as such?
Let us know on our Nightmare on Film Street Twitter, Subreddit, and Horror Movie Fiend Club page on Facebook. We’re dying to know. Like, Hans Gruber plunging from the thirtieth floor dying… RIP Alan Rickman. Until next time, fellow fiends… Stay creepy.