Dollhouse – Blu-ray Review

We were as surprised as anyone to see Joss Whedon back at Fox with a new series after the FIREFLY debacle of a few years back. And for a while last season, it looked like DOLLHOUSE might suffer the same fate; iffy ratings and a difficult-to-quickly-impart concept has spelled doom for more series than we can count. But what DOLLHOUSE has that FIREFLY didn’t is a Fox-friendly sexiness that the network has been emphasizing heavily in its ads. Eliza Dushku is a decent actress when given the material, who possessed an amazingly mature face even during her early appearances as Faith on Whedon’s BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. Her strong presence can be largely credited for the undercooked TRU CALLING lasting for two full seasons from ’03-’05, and was responsible for bringing Whedon on board for DOLLHOUSE.
Dushku plays Echo, an employee (for lack of a better word) of a shadowy organization called the Dollhouse. The numerous ‘dollhouses’ across the globe employ a group of ‘actives’ who have agreed to a 5-year contract, during which their own memories are removed and stored, allowing them to be used as virtual blank slates by well-to-do clients and have whatever memories (and skill sets) temporarily implanted. The existence of the Dollhouse is kept a closely guarded secret; not just from the general public, but from various state and federal law enforcement agencies for obvious reasons. In addition to Echo, we’re introduced to Sierra (Dichen Lackman), November (Miracle Laurie) and Victor (Enver Gjokaj). Working the back office for Dollhouse are a team of handlers who guide and monitor each of the actives while on assignment, including Echo’s particularly busy handler, Boyd (Harry Lennix). There’s also scientist Topher Brink (Fran Kranz) who handles the memory implants, and the Dollhouse’s showrunner, Adelle DeWitt (the fabulous Olivia Williams, looking sexier at 40 than her co-stars at nearly half that age.) Were also introduced to an FBI agent (Battlestar vet Tahmoh Penikett) who knows that Echo used to be a girl named Caroline and has reason to believe that she’s in danger.
The episodic nature of the setup allows for a syndication-friendly run, and Whedon has proved his acuity at meshing strong self-contained plotlines within larger story arcs. This gives star Dushku the chance to show more range then almost any other actress on television, with the literal possibility of playing a new character every week. But this also will present a challenge to Whedon and the writers to build her character out; even though we’re already seeing elements of previous personalities surviving Echo’s end-of-show wipe, Whedon will have to be careful measuring this out to retain the integrity of the series.
It’s unknown if Fox renewed Dollhouse out of faith in Whedon, but it would be nice to think that after the networks appalling treatment of Firefly, they may have learned a lesson about allowing a potentially strong show the time to find its footing. A full second season should tell the tale, and we will be there watching.

BLU-RAY DETAILS

Fox’s 3 disc Blu-Ray set contains all 12 first season episodes of Dollhouse, including a scrapped pilot episode (sections of which were used in subsequent episodes) and an unaired 13th episode, “Epitaph One,” which is apparently exclusive to the Blu-Ray set. We get the sense this episode was being held in reserve in case the show wasn’t renewed, as it’s near apocalyptic tone seems designed to give closure to the fledgling show.
The episodes are presented in their correct 1.78×1 aspect ratio. We saw most of these episodes on the FOX HD channel when they originally aired, but the quality of this Blu-Ray presentation dwarfs the compressed cable signal in terms of quality. Color and detail are simply superb, and the disc presentation equals the best current television drama crop. We found the lighting during the set-bound scenes to be a bit on the flat side, but location photography – “The Target” for example – can be breathtaking, and Fox’s Blu-Ray delivers a wholly accurate image.
The Dollhouse episodes run just under 50min each, which we were very happy to see. It wasn’t long ago that the average running time for a network drama was peaking at 43min, and we hope this is indicative of fear on the part of the major networks of forever losing the hour drama to cable television
Several episodes – including the pilot, “Ghost”, the superb “Man on the Street”, and “Epitaph One” – feature commentary tracks. Whedon flies solo on “Man in the Street” and delivers the most useful information; he’s joined by Dushku on “Echo” for a giggly love-in that tests patience, and writers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen (son of Joss and wife of son of Joss, respectively) chime in on “Epitaph One”.
Next up is just under a half hour of deleted and extended scenes, providing some extra character moments, and will certainly be good for a quick run-through. There’s also a series of typical production featurettes, though footage of the initial table read in “Making Dollhouse” is quite interesting.
UPDATE: This review was originally posted under an incorrect byline.
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Big Trouble in Little China – Blu-ray Review

1986 saw director John Carpenter at the height of his career; a string of staggering successes charting back to HALLOWEEN and including THE FOG, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, THE THING and CHRISTINE represent a creative peak that any director would be jealous of. 1984’s STARMAN not only buoyed the streak; it gave Carpenter the critical raves that often eluded genre directors. Taken in hindsight, there isn’t another filmmaker that we can think of – regardless of genre – who has been able to produce six legitimate classics in as many years. Major studios were eager to work with Carpenter, and there was even a flirtation with the Salkind’s ticking time bomb, SANTA CLAUS: THE MOVIE before demands for creative control lost him the job – he should have just phoned Richard Donner and saved time. Instead, Carpenter’s next project would be an oddball genre gumbo: an action film taking place almost entirely beneath San Francisco’s Chinatown and emphasizing Chinese mysticism and martial arts long before Hollywood began importing Hong Kong talent to choreograph THE MATRIX, CHARLIE’S ANGELS, et al. BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA’s $25 million budget was by far the largest Carpenter had yet worked with, and not even adjusting that figure for inflation gives a proper indication of how big a price tag that was for an action-fantasy-comedy in 1986.
We must have thought that the film’s trailer was pretty good at 16, because we arrived dutifully early on that Independence Day weekend when the film opened, even though it turned out that we could have sat anywhere we wanted to in the nearly empty theater. Big Trouble in Little China recouped less than half its budget, sending Carpenter running back in the world of independent cinema, only to return twice – in 1992 to ruin H F Saint’s beautiful novel Memoirs of an Invisible Man with a sadly risible film version starring Chevy Chase, and again in 1996 in an attempt to ruin his own legacy with Escape From L.A. But we weren’t thinking, while sitting in that near-empty theater on the 4th of July all those years ago, that the film about to unspool would represent Carpenter’s last great creative leap forward – an orgasmic discharge that mixed ’30s screwball slapstick with ’70s Shaw Bros Kung-Fu, and wrapped in director of photography Dean Cundey’s trademarked Panavision flair. Carpenter would never get the keys to the candy store on this scale again.
If you’re reading this, then the chances are that you’re already familiar with the tale of Jack Burton and the Pork Chop Express (that would, of course, be his truck.) After dropping off his freight in San Francisco, Jack meets up with old friend Wang (the criminally underused Dennis Dun, who bookended Big Trouble in Little China with superior turns in Year of the Dragon and The Last Emperor) and drives him to the airport to pick up his fiancée from China. Also awaiting the plane are henchmen of the Wing Kong, a street gang working for David Lo Pan (the great James Hong, now 80 and still going strong), the leader of Chinese underworld in San Francisco who also happens to be a 200 year old wizard, cursed to walk the Earth until he marries and then sacrifices a girl with green eyes.
On their way to Lo Pan’s HQ to retrieve Wang’s bride-to-be, Jack and Wang wind up in the middle of a full-scale kung-fu showdown between the Wing Kong and the Chang Sing; but just as the Sing appear to gain the upper hand, 3 supernatural furies arrive – with powers representing lightning, thunder, and rain – and decimate the Chang Sing. Jack and Wang make an understandable dash for safety, but return to find Jack’s beloved truck gone. While regrouping at the home of tour bus driver and benevolent sorcerer Egg Shen (more memorable character work from the late Victor Wong, who’s death on 9/12/01 went sadly, but understandably, unreported), Jack and Wang pick up help from investigative reporter Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall, showing great chemistry with Russell that should have been capitalized on in other films). Soon this motley crew is off to Lo Pan’s mystical underground lair to retrieve Jack’s truck, Wang’s bride, and stop an ancient evil from spreading across the globe.
Now, if that brief synopsis makes sense to you – seek help, fast. The plot of Big Trouble in Little China reads like an opium hallucination and must have had executives at Fox more than a little anxious. While the Asian actors are uniformly great (particularly Victor Wong and James Hong who look like they’re having a blast), playing their roles with a wink, the success of the film rests squarely on the shoulders of star Russell. At the outset, Jack Burton appears to be a typical square-jawed hero in the Carpenter mode – a sarcastic Snake Plissken. But as the film progresses, we notice that Burton, who walks into every scene wearing a cocky half-sneer and spouting one eminently quotable line after another (usually mentioning himself in the 3rd person), is being used almost entirely for comic effect. Outrageous action happens around Burton, who never seems to get a handle on the mystical donnybrook that swirls around him.
Big Trouble in Little China gets endless mileage out of Russell’s pitch-perfect comic delivery: from his “Where’d you get that?” reaction when an opponent whips out a kung-fu weapon at the airport, to the frustrated shooting of a grotesque floating head during the climax (“Hey, you never know ‘till you try”), Russell earns buckets of laughs almost effortlessly. This is likely the prime reason the film failed to click with mass audiences; Fox pushed Carpenter’s tongue-in-cheek adventure as a straight(ish) action piece, leaving lots of head scratching when the hero fires off a celebratory round of gunfire moments before the final action confrontation, only to be hit in the head by a chunk of ceiling and get knocked out cold for much of the fight. At the time, we thought that was the funniest thing we had ever laid eyes on, and little has happened since to amend that statement.
But for those who knew what the ride would be like when they bought the ticket, Big Trouble in Little China played like a dream come true. Younger folk who weren’t part of the movie-going public in 1986 probably can’t appreciate just how huge it was to have a large-scale Hollywood film embrace the Hong Kong martial arts shooting style on this scale. This was years before Jackie Chan, John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat broke down the walls of acceptance for HK cinema’s distinct style, and for those that were amenable to it, it was like having someone clean a filthy windshield and finally being able to see the world as it was meant to be seen. If this all sounds a bit too much, take a look at what was passing for action films in the earlier part of the decade, replete with listless warehouse shootouts and endless, stultifying shots of stuntmen flying off of trampolines. Somehow, Carpenter found a way to successfully fold these elements into the comic framework of Russell’s Jack Burton, creating this odd-duck masterpiece. We revisit this show just about annually to marvel at his weaving together of such desperate elements and lament the creative spiral that began for the director not long after this film’s release.

BLU-RAY DETAILS

Fox’s eagerly awaited Blu-Ray of Big Trouble in Little China adds a DTS isolated score track, but otherwise appears to be a reissue of their 2-disc DVD set of several years back. We’re very pleased to report that the Blu-Ray looks fabulous, offering a giant leap in terms of color and detail over the previous 2-disc edition. We can only hope that every vintage film gets this sort of treatment.
A selection of deleted scenes and an extended ending (many of which are from a workprint) are on-hand, in addition to a featurette from 1986. A BTS stills gallery is included, along with the original theatrical trailer, to give an indication of what Fox thought the best marketing route would be. (There’s no question that the film was a tough sell; who is this Jack Burton guy anyway? Is he a joke? Why does he spend half of the film’s final fight scene unconscious? ) We’re sure that Ms. Cattrall’s agent enjoyed seeing her prominent billing on the disc artwork (is Fox shooting for Sex and the City fans?) though Mr. Russell’s might feel differently.
The most important extra, however, is the commentary track featuring Carpenter and Russell. They’ve previously recorded chats for Escape from New York and The Thing (though all three are several years old by now), and their tracks together have long been considered the high watermark of the art form; it may sound trite, but it truly is like sitting with two friends reminiscing over dinner. On the Big Trouble in Little China commentary track, Carpenter and Russell lay into the Fox marketing dept hard, placing a lot of the blame for the film’s dismal box office performance at their feet. Carpenter is wildly unpredictable on his own, but like their film collaborations, being in each other’s company seems to bring out the best in each other.
May the wings of liberty never lose a feather.
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Race to Witch Mountain – Blu-ray Review

Looking back on Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s World of Wrestling Entertainment career is to marvel at one of the more successful vocational makeovers in modern film. While attempting to foist the remarkably charisma-free John Cena on a trusting world, the wrestling overlords would do well to realize that Johnson actually possesses something special, and that there is no greased slide from the ring to movie stardom. Though we were unfamiliar with his meteoric rise through the WWE ranks – first as Rocky Maivia, then later, simply as The Rock – we definitely noticed his easy charm in the entertaining 2003 action comedy THE RUNDOWN, wherein he routinely out-shone co-star Seann William Scott. Smaller but showier roles followed in less lustrous fare like the GET SHORTY sequel BE COOL and last summer’s GET SMART, but even in non-starters like an ill-advised WALKING TALL remake and the merely bewildering SOUTHLAND TALES, Johnson demonstrated an uncanny ability not to go down with a sinking ship. The success of 2007’s THE GAME PLAN (a fable of paternal responsibility with a professional sports background so well worn that one could easily imagine Wallace Beery in the lead) encouraged Johnson and his agents and managers to set a clear career path for the star into family-friendly entertainment, as evidenced by the in-production TOOTH FAIRY (a warmed-over project that had earlier been earmarked for California’s current governor) and even a JOHNNY QUEST reboot featuring Johnson as Race Bannon. But it was last year’s healthy grossing RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN that offered definitive proof of the star’s appeal to children and his ability to open a movie as a leading man – even if he shares the screen with alien kids and talking animals, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Escape to Witch Mountain and Return to Witch Mountain (reviewed on DVD here) were two of Disney’s bright spots in an otherwise difficult decade. Beginning very inauspiciously with 1970’s The Boatnicks and ending with the budget-busting The Black Hole in 1979, Disney looked to still be stuck making stilted slapstick like The Apple Dumpling Gang (just as unfunny in 1975 as it is now). Escape to Witch Mountain and Return from Witch Mountain, released, respectively, in 1975 and 1978, broke this trend by offering an exciting children’s adventure tale featuring superb veteran casts and the really wonderful Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards (who return in small roles in Race) as twins who possess unusual powers (including telepathy and telekinesis) but have no memory of their parents or home life prior to the orphanage. The revelation of their true nature will catch by surprise only those who routinely run into telekinetic children, but the kids’s alien nature was  smartly downplayed by Disney, giving Escape to Witch Mountain a mysterious edge. Though not released on DVD until this year to coincide with Race, both the original film and its sequel remain favorites thanks to their distinctly non-juvenile approach and unusually up-market production values (including an uncommonly large amount of location work for a Disney effort of the time.) The inevitable announcement that a remake was in the works gave many fans the willies, but we found Race to Witch Mountain to be firmly in the ‘not bad at all’ category with a winning lead performance from Dwayne Johnson.
As is the fashion now, all suspense about the past of the children is thrown out the window as the US military monitors the crash of their ship in the Nevada desert. In an eco-friendly plot twist, the children, Sara and Seth (played by AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig, both significantly older than their ’70s counterparts) have come to Earth to search for a science experiment left on the Earth years ago by their parents to study the decline of our environment. Their home world, it turns out, is dying, and the data gathered in the experiment will allow them to regenerate their environment, but if they can’t get the proof back in time their government will begin a military colonization of our planet. The kids seek help from ex-con and former mob driver turned cabbie Jack Bruno (Johnson) to drive them from Vegas to the spot where the experiment has been hidden, and a disgraced astrophysicist in Vegas to speak at a UFO convention (the always great to see Carla Gugino) is along for the ride, too. Complicating things are an alien assassin sent by the military on the children’s home planet to insure that they don’t make it back, along with the ubiquitous cabal of government agents (led by the great Ciaran Hinds) who are out to imprison the kids and their ship in their secret base hidden in – you guessed it – Witch Mountain.
Though the original certainly featured some suspenseful chase sequences (particularly for children), it seemed to be fueled by a sense of wonder and discovery, with the children’s past only parceled out piecemeal via hazy flashbacks. With the mystery of the children’s past no longer a factor, Race to Witch Mountain plays out more like an amusement park ride than a quest. The worst offender in this regard is the addition of the alien assassin, a thinly veiled Predator rip-off that feels like it was added merely to give the film a running action beat. And even though we were pleased to find Hinds – playing the role deadly straight – as the government baddie, the use of black-suited government goon squads hunting down E.T.s feels more than trite at this point.
This might sound like we’re being over-critical of the film, and we don’t mean to be. Director Danny Fickman set up a very believable UFO convention as a humorous backdrop for the Vegas scenes (Coast to Coast AM listeners will find many familiar faces – or, er, voices – in the crowd, including John Lear and author Whitley Strieber), and he is able to balance the demands of the genre while poking gentle fun as well.
The cameos by Eisenmann and Richards are enjoyable, and they even get a moment of screentime together. Their presence definitely lends the show an air of legitimacy, even if it reminds older audiences of the shortcomings of Race to Witch Mountain‘s young actors. These shortcomings lay the weight of the film on Johnson’s shoulders, where it’s ably carried. Johnson gets better and better with each film, and his work here (along with the underused-as-usual Gugino) raises the film well above the level of typical kids fare.
Disney is releasing the film for a limited time in a 3-disc Blu-Ray edition that contains at least one version of the film that will play for everyone whose home video system has moved beyond cave wall pictographs. The feature is presented on a Blu-Ray, a standard DVD, and a digital copy for download via iTunes.
The 2.40×1 Blu-Ray image is very pleasing; although the detail does reveal some budgetary shortcomings in the visual EFX department, we found the low-tech approach to the Sci-Fi elements quite pleasing (especially the design of the UFO itself, which could have been right from an episode of In Search Of). There was a slight loss of detail in some of the darker scenes, but this could have been a fault of the original photography rather than a video transfer issue.
The throaty DTS track also gets a workout, and if you miss any dialog there are about 75 subtitle options.
Extras on the Blu-Ray include a lengthy section of deleted and extended scenes running a little more than 20min, featuring helpful comments from director Fickman as to why the scenes were removed. Our favorite extra – “Which Mountain?” – goes over all the hidden (and not so hidden) references to the original film; some, like the use of a familiar Winnebago, we caught, while others we missed, like the fact that Jack Bruno’s cab number is 1975, the year that the original was released. There’s also a brief gag reel that’s about par for the course as far as these things go.
The standard-def DVD also contains an irritating extra, selling the virtues of Blu-Ray, featuring a pair of charmless, tossy-haired jerks that apparently star on one of Disney’s TV shows.
Recommended.
Race to Witch Mountain‘s will be available on DVD and Blu-ray on August 4, 2009.
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Homecoming – Borderland Film Review

homecomingAn unusual suspense thriller that rides the line of outright horror without going over, HOMECOMING has a surprisingly tight structure and some effective performances that elevate it above the usual. It gives former O.C. starlet Mischa Barton a little more to chew on dramatically and she delivers even when the script places some genuine howlers on the tip of her tongue.
Homecoming weekend is extra important for former high school football star, Mike (Matt Long): not only is he bringing his gorgeous college girlfriend Elizabeth (Jessica Stroup) home to meet his parents; the former town hero will also be presiding over a ceremony to retire his old jersey. Unfortunately, a trip home also means a reunion with high school sweetheart Shelby (Barton) who has taken over the family restaurant-bowling alley after nursing her mother through a protracted convalescence. Mike worries about Shelby’s reaction to his return, and with good reason; not only is Shelby still under the impression that they’re a couple, but she’s also utterly insane.
We were actually a little worried when we first met Liz and Mike, as both characters are well on the bad side of bland, but things perk up considerably once Shelby enters the picture. Resembling a somewhat sultrier Gwyneth Paltrow, Barton injects the proceedings with a welcome jolt of electricity, distracting the viewer from the screenplay’s ham-fisted revelantion of her fragile frame of mind – mere seconds after she reunites with Mike, we learn that she has been working on an addition to her house in preparation for their eventual family. Not only does this rob the story of a major bit of ‘is she/isn’t she crazy?’ dramatic tension that should otherwise last well into the middle portion of the film, but once Mike hears this particular proclamation, nothing on Earth should keep him from grabbing Liz and beating cheeks right out of there.
Of course they stay in the bar, and a suddenly composed Shelby comes out with a few complimentary rounds of drinks for the gang and a few private words for Liz on the importance of a first impression on Mike’s parents. Convinced that she’s too drunk to make that crucial first impression, she insists on being dropped off at a local hotel to sober up for the night and be fresh for the morning. Mike and his cousin (who also happens to be the local sheriff) drop Liz off at a motel, and rather inexplicably drive off just before Liz finds out that the Vacancy sign is broken, and that all the rooms have been sold out for the Homecoming weekend. Unable to get a cell phone signal (and since it’s an iPhone with AT&T service, it’s the one script contrivance we totally believe), Liz sets out walking to the next motel, three miles away. Meanwhile, Shelby has closed up her bar and is fighting back Mike-fuelled tears on the drive home when she accidentally hits a pedestrian walking along the side of the road – now guess who that turns out to be?
We were expecting a trite Fatal Attraction rip-off based on Homecoming‘s initial setup, and we were pleasantly surprised when the plot swerved off that well worn track, and into a teenage riff on Misery. It’s certainly novel, but (and we’re trying not to give away any major plot points) it could have benefited from not sticking so close to King’s plotline, right down to the well-timed appearance and eventual fate of a certain supporting character. Again, these scenes would have paid off more lucratively had the screenplay kept Shelby’s sanity under wraps for a bit longer, but the film is entertaining enough (particularly in the all too often grim world of DTV suspensers) that we found ourselves going with it, anyway.
The unfortunately named Morgan J Freeman shows an admirable lack of directorial hyperbole, wisely allowing Misha Barton’s performance to carry Homecoming. It might not be fair to call the rest of the cast weak, but their characters are much more closely tied to the screenplay’s iffy machinations. As a member of the local law enforcement community, cousin Billy ought to be a bit more concerned with Liz’s disappearance, making him (and frankly, most of the residents that we meet) seem like dullards. Homicidal rage notwithstanding, Shelby is definitely the brightest light in the entire town.
Not even one of horror’s hoariest coda-clichés can derail the otherwise suspenseful ending – a well earned fright fest that pushes the show into a pleasingly nasty territory into which we didn’t expect it to go. Solid directing and a single, voraciously entertaining performance is more than some summer blockbusters can boast, and with properly tuned expectations, Homecoming can make for a nicely diverting evening at the movies.
The screener that we were sent contained no extras, and will not, presumably, represent what the official home video release will look like. The film is about to begin a limited theatrical engagement on Friday, July 17th (other dates are available on the film’s official site) in New York and Los Angeles.
HOMECOMING (2009). Directed by Morgan J. Freeman. Written by Katie L. Fetting. Cast: Mischa Barton, matt Long, Jessica Stroup, Michael Landes, Allen Williamson, Joshua Elijah Reese, Nick Pasqual. Joe Forgione, Alex Hooper.

Friday the 13th (2009) – "Killer Cut" Blu-ray Review

It’s a testament to the outrageous lengths that New Line Pictures had taken the FRIDAY THE 13TH series after acquiring the rights to the Jason character from Paramount, that there was nowhere to go but back to the beginning. JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY transformed the summer camp-lurking mass murderer into a non-corporeal life form that takes possession of various bodies via a dark, viscous fluid. JASON X found Jason, unable to be executed using conventional means, being awoken from cryogenic stasis 500 years in the future by students on a science expedition from humanity’s new home, Earth 2. And the self explanatory JASON VS. FREDDY had New Line showcasing their two top in-house horror icons in a battle royale with each other, in a largely successful attempt to renew interest in both sagging franchises. Jason had long since become a bit of a joke, little more than a delivery platform for the creative output of makeup FX designers. It hadn’t mattered for a long time whether or not he had motivation for killing, or even if he was actually human; screenwriters twisted the legend like Silly Putty in order to suit the latest outrageous adventure.
In 2003, the same year that the case of Jason vs. Freddy was heard in cinemas, Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company released its debut effort – a commercial-slick remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The company’s unofficial mission statement has it dredging up our ’70s horror heritage and purchasing remake rights whenever available, and as unappealing as this sounded, their Chainsaw remake wasn’t all that bad. While the young cast seemed like little more than a bunch of WB starlets filling up their summer hiatus (though we enjoy leering at Jessica Biel as much as the next fella) and it had to stoop to gore and extended scenes of torture to move its audience where the original relied on atmosphere and inference, original cinematographer Daniel Pearl returned to beautifully ease his sun-blasted, 16mm classic into the 21st Century tent of Michael Bay World, and whoever thought of bringing in R. Lee Ermey (whose character was a relatively new invention) deserves major praise.  A string of less successful remakes followed: a grim version of The Hitcher and a deadly dull Amityville Horror remake, wasting a too-young Ryan Reynolds in a role that he could have hit out of the park a few years down the road, were universally panned but smartly marketed (even the ultra-dopey Chainsaw prequel made a profit.)
It was probably inevitable that Platinum Dunes would set its sights on Friday the 13th as a remake-friendly project; for better or worse, it’s got one of the most iconic killers in horror film history and enormous name recognition, and the various films in the series are also notable for having little or no plot, and, frankly, when it was bad (and it was bad pretty often) it circled the nadir of modern horror. This all to say that we approached the recent remake – helmed by Marcus Nispel, late of Platinum Dunes’ Texas Chainsaw reboot – with as open a mind as is possible.

What’s good?

Unfortunately, one common factor in the Friday cannon is pretty bland cinematography. Things got more interesting once the series shifted to New Line (particularly Ronny Yu’s beautiful shot Freddy vs. Jason) but there’s something wrong when even the spaceship-set Jason X is shot as blandly as a Sci-Fi original series. Nispel made his bones in the commercial & music video world where his work is rightfully acclaimed. His Friday the 13th is richly colored, with deep forest hues creating a nicely creepy atmosphere.
We also liked the approach that the screenwriters took when it came to which aspects of the series would be carried over; we get some of the creepy, mongoloid Jason from the first film (though only in the “Killer Cut”, but more on that later). We get some of the canvas bag-wearing Jason from Part II (the most frightening, in our opinion) and, of course, the ubiquitous hockey mask.
Nispel is also quite good at creating suspenseful set-pieces, particularly a very disturbing kill early on involving a sleeping bag and a bear trap. We also liked the opening gambit involving what can best be described as a decoy group of hikers, which leads us to…
What’s not so good? (Spoilers ahoy)
The film opens on a group of kids who unknowingly tread onto Jason’s turf while looking for a magical forest of marijuana (not kidding.) It is a bit shocking when nearly the entire group is killed off after 20 minutes and we get the title card, which was a nice touch.
The problem is that the second group – gathered for a weekend party at the luxury cabin of ultra douche bag, Trent (Travis Van Winkle) – is far less interesting than the first group. Stopping off for supplies, they meet Clay (Jared Padalecki, from the WB’s Supernatural) who’s searching for his missing sister, Whitney (Amanda Righetti) who had been among the first group. Also along for the weekend are fun-loving Nolan (a Mathew McConaughey lookalike), his girlfriend Chelsea (Willa Ford), the slutty Bree (Julianna Guill) and, for the sake of racial diversity, Lawrence (Arlen Escarpeta) and Chewie (Aaron Yoo).
The inclusion of the latter two perfectly represents the fatuous notion behind too many studio decisions, which allow marketing reports to trump realistic casting decisions. And, though this might fall under the ‘personal preference’ column, we strongly disliked the notion of underground tunnels running beneath Crystal Lake. Now, maybe we missed the scene where the existence of these was explained, but unless there was a large precious mineral find in the Crystal Lake area, their presence seems highly suspect. Its obvious purpose was to give Jason’s seemingly miraculous comings and goings a practical explanation, but it doesn’t do much for Jason’s mythic status to imagine him carefully scaling up and down decades-old mining company ladders (and come to think of it, wouldn’t this just take up more time than less?) It also allows for a dungeon of sorts in which Jason can keep Whitney captive – an odd, unusual plot point that simply does not fit in the Friday world. This dubious machination comes courtesy of director Nispel, for whom its inclusion was the only requirement in screenplay submissions.
There are doubtlessly fans who love the notion of Jason setting the sort of elaborate booby traps that would make Wile E. Coyote jealous, but we always felt that his presence was most terrifying when he was just a garden variety, mass-murdering backwoods mongoloid without an ACME charge account.

BLU-RAY DETAILS – THE KILLER CUT

New Line’s Blu-Ray is quite lovely to look at, featuring deep, inky blacks that really bring out the woodsy atmosphere. The color scheme is a bit more muted than some might expect, but that was clearly the intent of the original cinematography and reproduced faithfully here.
There’s a 9 minute difference between the theatrical version and the “Killer Cut” on DVD and Blu-Ray. It appears to be mostly a matter of scene extensions, with several gorier kills (particularly the aforementioned sleeping bag scene) and quite a bit of added nudity, which significantly extends the screen time of Julianna Guill and her breasts. There are also a few isolated moments with Jason, including a shot of him sharpening his machete that was included in the trailer but dropped from the theatrical cut, and a few glimpses of him witnessing the beheading of his mother in the opening scene, which reenacts the conclusion of the original film. (Sharp-eyed fane of Deep Space Nine will recognize Nana Visitor as Mrs. Voorhees.) The makeup on young Jason in this scene is kind of silly, and it was probably a smart cut.
The disc also features 3 additional scenes, including an alternate version of the moment where Jason first finds his hockey mask that is demonstrably better than what wound up in the film.
The Rebirth of Jason Voorhees discusses the work that went into the redesign of Jason for 2009, including clothing, makeup and masks.
Exclusive to Blu-Ray are Hacking Back/Slashing Forward, which is little more than the cast and crew talking about how much love and respect they have for the original film, along with a collection of seven mini-featurettes on the death scenes.
Making up for the absence of an audio commentary is something called a Terror Trivia Track which runs concurrently with the film.
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Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives – Deluxe Edition DVD Review

Smarting by the anemic box office and angrily negative fan reaction to FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING, Paramount brought in writer-director Tom McLoughlin (whose only previous directorial experience was the well regarded ONE DARK NIGHT back in 1983) to revive the franchise. McLoughlin – under studio directive to bring Jason back to life – decided to use humor to smooth over the more ludicrous plot machinations, and his comic sensibilities were thankfully more graceful than his predecessor’s had been. As with previous entries, production began almost before the previous film had exited theaters, and FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART VI: JASON LIVES! was released in August of 1986. The sequel picks up with teenage Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews, so memorable alongside James Karen in the previous year’s RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) and fellow asylum inmate Allen (Ron Palillo, TV’s Horshack, in what would sadly be his highest profile role post-KOTTER) on a breakneck graveyard run to once and for all purge Jason from his dreams. This plays out almost identically to the opening of the previous FRIDAY THE 13TH – though instead of ghoulish pranks, Tommy and Allen set out to burn Jason’s corpse to cinders. What follows gives a fair indication of the type of humor that McLoughlin offers, as the attempt to put Jason down for good has the exact opposite effect: a steel pole gets lodged in the torso of the lifeless, desiccated body – which is brought back to life Frankenstein-style by a bolt of lightning. After Allen gets a hole punched through his chest by the newly animated killer, Tommy flees, his unfinished task a heroically epic fail. The prologue finishes up with an optical shot through the eye of the hockey mask, with Jason stalking across the frame, then stopping to throw a machete at the camera in a takeoff of the James Bond opening that elicited wild applause from the audience with whom we saw the film.
Tommy makes a fruitless attempt to warn the local authorities in the form of Sheriff Garris (an appropriately gruff David Kagen), who winds up throwing Tommy in jail after he makes a grab for a shotgun. Having renamed itself Forest Green in an effort to distance itself from its most infamous son, Crystal Lake – understandably – doesn’t lay out the welcome mat for Tommy; he does, however, find a believer in the Sheriff’s daughter, Megan (Jennifer Cooke), who just happens to be one of the counselors at yet another summer camp operating off the lake (how do they get insurance?)
Director McLoughlin showcases a few humorous moments of the all-too-rare “laughing with” variety, as Jason goes after a pre-Ghost Tony Goldwin and the director’s wife, Nancy. Jason blocks the path of their rather unintimidating Volkswagen, and after Tony’s unsuccessful attempt to threaten him with a fist-sized handgun, Nancy tries offering him her wallet – cut to final shot of an Amex card floating in a blood-soaked puddle.
McLoughlin is careful never to let the humor drift off into outright satire – probably harder than it sounds when you’re talking about a Part VI of anything – but he’s also aware that given the triteness of the setup it’s probably the only way to squeeze out a halfway entertaining movie. Even if the sequence wherein Jason kills a bunch of corporate executives on a survivalist weekend plays too broadly for comfort, McLoughlin’s heart is in the right place.
With the help from Megan, Tommy escapes from the jail and heads to the place he know Jason can’t resist – a summer camp. McLoughlin does take a risk here; previous films in the series have only shown camps getting ready to open, but here we see Jason actually menacing a little girl in her bunk, and the series dips its toe into palpably uncomfortable waters for several moments (though some of that tension is relieved by a snoozing camper with a copy of “No Exit” open on their chest.)
Being a Paramount film, nothing too horrible happens (though at the risk of a spoiler, let’s say that one character bends over backwards in a more than figurative sense.) However, the MPAA once again had at the film, dulling the impact of nearly every kill. Being the final film in the unofficial Tommy Jarvis trilogy of IV, V, and VI, the showdown leaves Final Girl Megan without much to do, as Tommy lures Jason back to the very lake where he drowned as a boy, leading to a fiery – if not quite final – confrontation.
Far superior to its dreadful predecessor, Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives is the last decent film in the series made at Paramount. The ill-conceived A New Blood introduced a Final Girl with telekinetic abilities, thus ripping off two movies instead of just one, and the aberration that was Jason Takes Manhattan featured a High School graduation party on a cruise to NYC that doesn’t reach the titular city until the conclusion for some hastily filmed Times Square shots (the Pilgrims got to Manhattan quicker.)
While not all the humor in Jason Lives works, at least the failed bits don’t up-end the whole show. The only major complaint is the shift in location shooting to Georgia; while the California locations of III, IV, and V stood out like a bloody machete from the effective Northeast setting of the first two films, Georgia always looks like Georgia.
Paramount has understandably decided to make this film the last of the series to get special edition treatment, possibly because they have run out of installments of Lost Tales of Camp Blood, the 6th (and we hope, final) of which is included here. The film has also been cleaned up a bit since its last release, with a much better looking image than the copy found on the box set.
The best extra is the commentary with Tommy McLoughlin, editor Bruce Green, and writer Vinnie Guastaferro. McLoughlin is a horror enthusiast (who directed several episodes of the Friday the 13th syndicated series); he still relishes his shot at making a Friday the 13th film (he still has Jason’s gravestone in his yard) and he leads an informative and fun chat that makes it hard to switch hack over to the film soundtrack. (We actually had the opportunity to meet McLoughlin shortly after this film, while he was shooting Date with an Angel at the de Laurentiis studios in North Carolina and can confirm that he really is that nice.)
As for the remaining bonus features:

  • The making-of piece, Jason Lives: The Making of Friday the 13th Part VI is interesting, but features a lot of overlap with the commentary.
  • Slashed Scenes is another tribute to the MPAA, featuring complete versions of the edited kills, though the workprint quality is wobbly.
  • Meeting Mr. Voorhees describes McLoughlin’s unfilmed ending that would have shown Jason’s never-discussed father visiting his grave.
  • The mocumentary The Crystal Lake Massacres Revisited Part III doesn’t offend; neither is it worth much of your time (particularly for the third time.)
  • The nearly apologetic theatrical trailer is also included.

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Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985) – Deluxe Edition DVD Review

We’ll give Paramount the benefit of the doubt that they truly intended to end the FRIDAY THE 13TH series with young Tommy Jarvis chopping Jason Voorhees into a million pieces at the conclusion of FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER. Screenwriter Barry Cohen was given explicit instructions to make sure that the form of Jason’s exit wouldn’t leave any doubt that this was indeed the end of the line, even if  the final shot lingers ominously on the face of a traumatized Tommy, suggesting a possible alternate route – just in case. It turned out that “just in case” happened less than a year later when Paramount came to its fiduciary senses and commissioned a 5th installment of the franchise after THE FINAL CHAPTER raked in sixteen times its own meager budget. Danny Steinmann, coming off the nasty Linda Blair revenge-themed programmer SAVAGE STREETS in 1984, moved into the director’s chair. FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART V: A NEW BEGINNING has since become a bit of a pariah among fans because the screenwriters – looking for a way to get themselves out of the narrative dead end that THE FINAL CHAPTER had boxed them into – gave the sequel a twist ending that (while it makes more sense than most other films of the franchise) is handled so poorly by Steinmann that it utterly overshadows the show’s few virtues.
Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning opens with a dream sequence in which young Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman returning for a cameo) watches a pair of grave robbers unwittingly revive Jason. He wakes from the nightmare as a teenager (played as a near-mute by John Shepherd) riding in the back of a bus on route to the Pinehurst halfway house for troubled teens (presumably, Tommy has been under state care since hacking Jason to pieces as a child.) As Tommy is shown the facility, we meet the heroically under-written cast of characters, a group of teens whose only real trouble seems to be a tendency towards petulance. ‘Always eating fat kid’ battles ‘walkman wearing, robot-dancing punk girl’ and ‘crazed axe-wielding loner’ for our attention until the arrival of neighbors Ethel Hubbard and son Junior straight from a Hee Haw parody of Mother’s Day.
It was at this point in the series that you could feel the producers, screenwriters and directors just throw up their collective hands and say “Hell, nobody takes this crap seriously – so why are we sweating it?” From this point on, the already limited characterization dropped down to almost nil. With no human beings to feel any sympathy with, audiences began to actually embrace Jason – often the only character with a defined agenda. We clearly remember our crowd at a showing of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood cheering loudly for Jason’s brand of faceless mayhem and nothing else.
Anyway, Ethel’s complaints about the kids at the shelter getting into trouble on their property soon prove legitimate as fat kid Joey (Dominick Brascia, complete with melting chocolate bar screwed tightly in his pudgy little hand) pesters dangerous loner Vic (Mark Venturini) once too often and gets an axe buried right in his skull in broad daylight. People who remember nothing else about the film remember this moment – the one bright splash on an otherwise dull, ugly canvas. It’s at this point that the film begins setting up its twist ending, so if you haven’t seen the film and want to remain “surprised,” skip the next paragraph.
When the ambulance crew arrives to pick up fat kid Joey, paramedic Roy Burns (Dick Wieand) begins to have a fit of apoplexy at the sight of fat kid Joey’s body. Watching Wieand’s face contort recalls third-tier silent movie acting at its most histrionic. At the crime scene of the next two victims – a pair of leatherboys that arrived at Crystal Lake via Rydell High – Wieand has a similar outburst that etches into the very celluloid itself “I’m the killer!!!” and of course, he is. That’s right – it’s not Jason. Excluding his cameo in Tommy’s dream, A New Beginning marks the only film in the series where Jason is utterly MIA, racking up zero real-world kills to the chagrin of fans.
There’s an attempt to cast the specter of guilt on Tommy himself, real estate paid for at the conclusion of the previous film and spread more thickly here, but we simply know that it’s not him. Once “Jason” has hacked through the majority of the cast, we’re left with Shavar Ross, last seen making an ill-fated trip to a local bike shop with Arnold Drummond, Final Girl Pam (an unmemorable Melanie Kinnaman) and Tommy, who saves both of them by pushing the hockey masked killer onto a grouping of sharp farm-type implements. The mask is removed, revealing not the malformed inbred son of Pamela Voorhees, but the most obvious suspect since Raymond Burr in Rear Window. We’d love to tell you that A New Beginning is better than its reputation – to tell you that the efforts of the production not to cheat the finality of the previous film’s conclusion, but we simply can’t.
Even by the muted standards of low budget horror, the film is an unforgivably crass, ugly experience, devoid of suspense, and, thanks to the MPAA’s blood vendetta against the franchise, bereft of any interesting kills (after the broad daylight demise of fat kid Joey, of course.) Director Steinmann’s idea of humor can be found glued to the gutter, begging for scraps of uncomfortable laughter from the lowest possible denominator. Fans of the series – and of horror in general – are right to vilify it.

DVD DETAILS

Whatever its faults, Paramount has given Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning an excellent presentation on their Deluxe Edition DVD, released june 16. No one with the film fresh in their mind will be surprised at Director Steinmann’s demeanor on the commentary track; sounding near-inebriated, he jokes his way through the film offering little decent information. Joining him is Shavar Ross, who offers the only interesting stories about the production, and a “superfan” moderator, who has probably chosen to champion the film precisely to crowbar himself into this sort of situation (mission accomplished, we thought, you can stop pretending to like this turd.)

  • We also have the fifth (!) installment of the fan-made Lost Tales from Camp Blood, pointless as ever, but at least this time it’s more interesting than the feature.
  • The Crystal Lake Massacres Revisited Part II offers another bit of news magazine-style mocumentary, examining Jason’s murder spree as an actual news story.
  • New Beginnings: The Making of Friday the 13th – A New Beginning is the laboriously titled documentary on the production, offering a far better look at the process than the commentary does.

The package is rounded out with the original theatrical trailer, and the disc comes with the same lenticular slipcase as Friday the 13th Parts IV and VI.
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Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter – DVD Review

Is it possible that this film is so old that there’s no longer any snarky fun to be had making fun of its title? It was certainly possible that in 1984 Paramount Pictures was growing awfully tired of being known as the “Slasher Studio” with titles like the FRIDAY THE 13TH  series, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, and APRIL FOOL’S DAY, giving the venerable studio bad press among powerful critics like Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, who railed against the the violence and supposed misogyny. The problem was that the films were all solid earners on thrifty investments, and studios are notoriously gun shy about killing golden geese. But once Paramount’s fortunes began to rise with a series of successful Eddie Murphy comedies and a string of blockbusters like FOOTLOOSE, FLASHDANCE, (and RAIDERS OF THE something or other) the studio must have felt that they could afford to cut the slasher films loose. Screenwriter Barney Cohen was tasked with killing Jason Voorhees (a job that no fictional character had thus far been capable of) and PROWLER director Joseph Zito was brought on board to send him off with style. An unusually capable cast was assembled, including then-heartthrob Peter Barton (THE POWERS OF MATTHEW STAR, anyone? Anyone?), future star Crispin Glover, future child-star catastrophe Corey Feldman, and everyone’s favorite LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN, Lawrence Monoson, all of whom contributed towards giving the film a feeling of professionalism and legitimacy that the series would never see again while the franchise was at Paramount.
As with the previous entry, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter picks up right where the previous film left off, with an apparently dead Jason lying on the floor of the barn at Higgin’s Haven. With the characters unaware of Jason’s medical condition, which prevents death, his body is brought to the county morgue where he promptly slaughters the attendant (Police Academy’s Bruce Mahler as the show’s only truly obnoxious character) and a nurse before heading back to Crystal Lake. Meanwhile, a group of teens (who apparently don’t listen to the news on the car radio) are headed out to the lake for a weekend getaway in a rented house, situated right across from the Jarvis home, with young Tommy (Feldman) teenage sister and future ‘Final Girl’, Trish (Kimberly Beck)living with their mom (Joan Freeman.) On their way home, the Jarvis’ meet would-be camper, Rob (Erich Anderson) who has returned to Crystal Lake for revenge against Jason for killing his sister years earlier (apparently she was the bottom half of Friday the 13th Part II’s notorious Twitch of the Death Nerve-inspired spear kill.) The arrival of twins Tina and Teri (Camilla & Carey More) completes the victim roster and we’re off to the races, with director Zito bringing a polished execution that the series hadn’t seen before or since.
Zito’s instincts for performance allowed someone like Glover to improvise moments like his stupendously insane dance; and had the series actually ended with this film it would be quite well remembered today. Of course, the spine of any Friday the 13th film is the kills, and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapterhas some of the series’ most visceral deaths, displaying the same nasty edge to the violence that Zito brought to The Prowler and the crazy violent Chuck Norris vehicle, Missing in Action. The slaughter scenes here have more weight to them simply because we care more about the performers (one very impressive kill is implied by shadow play against the side of the house during a rain storm and nicely demonstrates creativity trumping gore.)
Besides the always entertaining Glover, a pre-Goonies Feldman is also very good as the monster-mask wearing, Zaxxon-playing Tommy Jarvis – a familiar character to many of us who were too young to see this film when it first came out, but snuck in anyway. Anyone who wonders why he was such a popular child star need only watch the scene where he peeps on a pair of naked teens from his bedroom across the way; the kid nearly always made something out of nothing. And while Kimberly Beck is a bit bland as final girl, Trish, and the phrase “dead fuck” isn’t nearly as funny as screenwriter Barney Cohen seems to have thought it would be, this would be the last time that pointing out the deficiencies of a Friday the 13th film would take up so little space.

DVD DETAILS

It’s a shame that Paramount didn’t deem the film deserving of a Blu-Ray release (yet), but the new Special Edition DVD looks quite nice. Though inflation would drive the budgets of future installments up, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter seems practically epic when compared to the poverty row entries still to come, and the DVD’s image reflects the higher production standards.
To make up for the lack of commentaries on the last 2 Friday the 13th films, there are actually 2 tracks included here, the first featuring Zito, Cohen, and editor Joel Goodman, none of whom are under the impression that the film is anything more substantial than it is, but are rightfully proud of what they were able to achieve. The second is a fan track featuring directors Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2) and Adam Green (the woefully under-appreciated Hatchet), which is actually quite fun. They’re both smart, savvy guys who grew up on the same horror feed as the rest of us, and they have a legitimate and heartfelt affection for Zito and the film.
As for the bonus features:

  • Buckle up for the 4th installment of the increasingly irritating Lost Tales from Camp Blood (see our reviews for the previous films for an explanation that we’re getting too tired and embittered to re-write.)
  • The Crystal Lake Massacres Revisited Part 1 is a mock Investigative Reports-style documentary on Jason’s killing spree that is fun for a few minutes, but we ran out of steam long before it was even half over.
  • A more substantial extra is the documentary, Jason’s Unlucky Day: 25 Years After Friday, a brief but informative piece on the making of the film, featuring Zito, Cohen, SFX artist Tom Savini (who returned to the series for the first (and last) time since the original) and star Beck.
  • Jimmy’s Dead Fuck Dance Moves is an unedited take of Glover’s hysterical dance, where you can see other actors straining to keep straight faces.
  • The Lost Endingis exactly that, presented without production audio but with commentary by Zito and Beck.
  • Longtime fans will likely be most excited by Slashed Scenes, a 15min collection of alternate takes that offers the best look yet at the unedited murder sequences.

The only disappointments are that the show didn’t qualify for a HD release and that not all the extras from the previously released box set have been ported over (this really ought to be step 1 when studios double-dip on releases), so purists should hold onto their old discs. Otherwise Paramount has done an admirable job with this release. Highly recommended.
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Friday the 13th, Part 3 3-D – Blu-ray Review

With the release of the abysmal JAWS 3D in 1983, the short-lived 3D fad of the early ’80s had finally burned itself out with a whimper. But the previous year had given us perhaps the best 3D film of the era: a romp of special effects and atmosphere that proved why horror is still the first, best choice for a 3D production – FRIDAY THE 13th PART 3 – 3-D. Put into production less than a year after Part 2 had wrapped, it’s unknown (at least to us) when it was decided to incorporate 3D into the picture, but it was a likely factor in retaining Steve Miner for the director’s chair, as it no doubt helped to smooth over a technically difficult shoot. Even under luxurious circumstances, making a 3D picture is a complex, and technically tedious process; necessitating a Kubrickian number of takes of even the simplest actions. But working with only a few million dollars (large by the franchise’s standard, certainly) made the shoot a grueling experience – not just for the crew, but for actors who felt neglected while the bulk of attention went to the technical aspects. The resulting film looked completely different than previous FRIDAY THE 13TH films, not just because of the 3D, but because the show was the only film in the series to be shot in an anamorphic 2:35 aspect ratio, giving it a distinctly cinematic feel.
Friday the 13th, Part 3 picks up literally moments after the end of Friday the 13th, Part 2, with the first reports of the latest massacre at Crystal Lake going out over the local news. The show is being watched by a middle-aged couple who appear to run a local convenience store, and quickly give us a good indication of the lack of attention given to performance. The hideously abrasive duo represents the typical Hollywood idea of rural folk: filthy, unshaven cussaoholics that spit dime store abuse at each other like short-bus Tennessee Williams characters. The direction given the actors clearly stopped at “act gross” and they proceed, as if to curry favor with a director that was likely unconcerned with their actions, to bury the needle in the red. Perhaps we’re overreacting, but there’s just something so dismaying low-rent and lazy about this level of stereotyping (and Miner had shown just the previous year that he could be better that that sort of back-row pandering).
Fortunately, this sequence, like the rest of Friday the 13th, Part 3, is saved by the superb use of 3D; nearly every shot – from incidental camera movements to laundry poles right in your lap – conveys both a depth of field and a sense of fun. Unfortunately, characterization doesn’t get much better once we get to the main group of teens; abandoning the notion of camp counselors, we have a party hosted by Chris (Dana Kimmell) at her family’s cabin. Other guests along for the weekend include the hunky Rick (Paul Kratka); a spare, disposable couple, Debbie and Andy (Tracie Savage and Jeffrey Rogers); sad, overweight prankster, Shelly (Larry Zerner); the lets-have-one-more-girl-in-the-cast Vera (Catherine Parks); and a pair of aging, dope-addled hippies (Rachel Howard and David Katims), who appear straight out of a Groove Tube sketch. For variety sake we also get a trio of trouble-making bikers (Crystal Lake is getting worse than Gary, Indiana) as grist for the killing wheel.
The evidence on screen points to a group of young, hungry actors who were given brief character notes and then left largely to their own devices. In some cases, this results in utter blandness; Chris, Vera, and Debbie are utterly interchangeable, and the only defining trait given to poor Andy is the ability to walk on his hands (which does, however, result in the film’s best kill). Too often this results in a replay of the hayseed couple from the opening, with stereotyping as broad as an L.A. freeway and just as unpleasant to encounter. Chubby loser Shelly (not the fault of Zerner) wears out his welcome almost instantly, constantly faking his own murder with homemade SFX makeup from an enormous kit (which he refers to as “my life”) and telegraphing his own demise so forcefully that there’s no surprise when it finally happens. There’s just no way that any of the other characters would be hanging out with this guy, much less the High Times centerfold couple, who seem to be along for the ride because Paramount counted up their Cheech and Chong’s Nice Dreams receipts and decided that America’s love affair with aging hippie dopers was still going strong.
On home video – without the novelty of Friday the 13th, Part 3 became notable only for containing the moment when Jason first dons his trademark hockey mask – iconic, for sure, but a slender thread on which to hang an entire movie.
Paramount has gone a long way towards restoring the film’s reputation with next week’s Blu-Ray release, however. As with Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray edition of My Bloody Valentine 3D, the disc contains both the 3D and flat versions of the film (2 sets of 3D glasses are included, and don’t make the same mistake we did and think you can just use the glasses that came with My Bloody Valentine 3-D – the red and blue lenses are reversed.) The flat transfer is superior to previous home video editions, but not as demonstrably so as the Friday the 13th, Part 2 Blu-Ray release.
The print appears to have weaker colors and somewhat more dirt and print damage than the other titles in the series, though this could easily be a side effect of the 3D photography that more technical savvy people might be able to confirm. It’s not a quite a bad transfer, but if the 3D version were not included it would be difficult to recommend an upgrade from the standard DVD edition.
The 3D version actually has a reasonably stable image that is easily comparable to My Bloody Valentine 3-D; unfortunately, the polarized-lens gasses that made the theatrical experience so special have been subbed out for the inferior anaglyph type for home viewing. Fortunately, the effects translate decently to home viewing, and we found the image less headache-inducing than most 3D films on disc.
Don’t throw out Paramount’s old box set, as the cast commentary track hasn’t been ported over to this release; as with Friday the 13th, Part 2, a Steve Miner commentary track is sorely missed, but there’s still plenty to chew on:

  • Fresh Cuts: 3D Terror (HD) features the affable Larry Zerner and gives an entertaining overview of the difficult shoot.
  • Legacy of the Mask (HD) is devoted to the iconic hockey mask and its almost immediate resonance with the public.
  • Slasher Films: Going for the Jugular is a bit of a ramshackle look at the genre that is too slight to make much of a ripple.
  • Lost Tales from Camp Blood – Part 3 (HD) is yet another chapter in the apparently endless series of loosely connected, fan-made tribute shorts that simply have no business being here while older extras are being left off.

The original theatrical trailer is also included (HD). Paramount has righted numerous past wrongs with this release, establishing a standard to which other major studios should be looking to when it comes to genre releases on Blu-Ray.
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Friday the 13th Part 2 – Blu-ray Review

The Body Count Continues with Paramount’s Blu-ray release of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, the slasher sequel that launched Jason Voorhees as a horror icon.

When last we left young Jason Voorhees he was just a figment of Alice Hardy’s imagination: the manifestation of the 24 hours of terror spent fighting off Jason’s mother as she butchered her Alice’s co-workers to make sure that no one would ever re-open Camp Crystal Lake, where Jason had drowned as a small child while the teenagers that were supposed to be watching him were having sex. Alice finally defeated Mrs. Voorhees, cutting off her head with her own machete before drifting off into the lake on a small row boat. And while the hideously disfigured boy that leaps out of the water and pulls her under is just part of a bad dream – the sheriff in her hospital room tells her that they didn’t find any boy – Alice is convinced that he’s very real, and her final line closes the film, breathed out in a mixture of wonder and fear, “Then he’s still out there…”
After the money began to roll into Paramount Studios – over $100 million 1980 dollars on a budget of under $500,000 – the studio was very sure that he was still out there, and almost immediately commissioned a script for a sequel to Friday the 13th using Jason as the new murderer, even though his cameo at the end of the film was never meant to be any more than a last minute jolt. After Sean S Cunningham vacated the director’s chair, his associate producer on the first installment, Steve Miner, was brought in to replace him. This was Miner’s first directing gig, though his roots in the genre go back to Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (produced by Cunningham), on which he served as a production assistant. Friday the 13th, Part II had a somewhat more luxurious budget (more than double that of the original – a trend that wouldn’t last long), which allowed for a more polished look, and a generally superior group of decent young NYC actors.
Friday the 13th, Part II begins with a pre-credit sequence that brings us up to date with Alice (played once again by Adrienne King) as she attempts to readjust to life after surviving the massacre of the first film. We probably don’t need to tell you what happens once she finds Pamela Voorhees severed head in her refrigerator, but suffices to say that it represents Ms. King’s final appearance in the franchise. Cut to five years later (and we always wondered why the script was so unnecessarily specific about the time, as it put the series four years ahead of the actual date), at which time Paul Holt (John Furey) is about to open a counselor training facility right next to the Camp Crystal Lake site, in spite of the warnings of some colorful townsfolk (Walt Gorney, reprising his acclaimed role of ‘Crazy Ralph’). Paul passes on the legend of Mrs. Voorhees and her deformed son to his counselors as a fireside ghost story, basically telling them that it’s all bunk, but also admonishing them to stay away from “Camp Blood” just in case. Of course, they don’t – not that it really matters much anyway, as Jason has never really made it clear where his jurisdiction officially ends. Jason spares almost no one, from in-coitus lovers, to old men, and even the handicapped in one of the series’ crueler kills.
We’ve always felt that Friday the 13th, Part II is actually the best film of the series, and catching up with it on Paramount’s new Blu-Ray only solidifies that notion. Filmed outside Kent, in western Connecticut, the film retains the deep-woods atmosphere that Cunningham found in his New Jersey location for the original (Part II would be the last Friday the 13th film shot in the Northeast, the convenience of California or the cheapness of Canada winning out in future installments) and makes for a seamless transition. The steadicam work is cleaner, too, sacrificing the grittier handheld look of the original for a slicker feel that seems more organic than it did in later installments.
There are also quite a few decent performances among the new cast, especially Amy Steel as the all-important “final girl.” Steel has a very appealing tomboyish quality that favorable recalls Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode. In fact, the film represents the last time that characterization was really given any thought at all. Subsequent entries would stick to firmly established horror-movie stereotyping: the gum-smacking slut, the virginal girl dressed like she just walked out of an Emily Bronte book, the joker, the game-playing nerd, the fat kid (who was often combined with others to create “Fat Practical Joker” as in Part III’s Shelly ) the jock , the preppie, etc. The characters in Friday the 13th, Part II are hardly icons of screenwriting grace, but for the most part they seem like fairly normal teens who we could almost imagine hanging out with.
We should also single out the efforts of Tom McBride as the wheelchair-confined Mark, whose naturalistic performance is quite good, giving Mark a happy, positive life-outlook without the irritating After School Special, can-do pathos inherent in most portrayals of the handicapped (sadly, McBride is also the first counselor from a Friday the 13th film to pass away for real – he died of AIDS related causes in 1995.) And we couldn’t talk about this film without mentioning Kristen Baker’s Terry, the object of many a pre-teen crush in the ’80s. It’s partly the bowl cut and sporty workout clothes, but it’s her nude moonlight swim that really set fan’s hearts a flutter. Baker is one of the great MIA cases of the series; bit parts followed her Friday the 13th, Part II job, then she was seen working at an art gallery in California in the ’90s, but like Daniel Simpson Day, her whereabouts are currently unknown.
Another plus in Friday the 13th, Part II’s column is its depiction of Jason. He wouldn’t get his trademark goalie mask until the next picture, and the reveal of Jason here gives us a truly frightening and semi-realistic visage. When we picture killers living in shacks deep in the woods (and thanks to this film, we frequently do), it’s usually in a variant of this very ensemble: mud covered work boots, a filthy overalls and lumberjack shirt combo, topped off a burlap sack with a single eye hole over the head (obviously someone on this film remembered Charles B Pierce’s The Town that Dreaded Sundown). Oddly, the burlap sack gives Jason some personality that the hockey mask took away later in the series, though without the famous mask, Part IV may well have been the final chapter. There’s the most basic stab at creating a personality for the character in Part II – a window of opportunity that was rapidly closing.

BLU-RAY DETAILS

Paramount’s new Blu-Ray of Friday the 13th, Part II contains a lovely 1080p transfer that freshens up the 18-year-old film considerably. We didn’t see the DVD release of the deluxe edition last year, but the image on the Blu-Ray is light years ahead of their previous bare-bones issue. It’s still a low-budget horror picture, and folks should set their expectations accordingly, but we noticed improvement in color stability and detail over the Blu-Ray release of the original film.
All the extras contained in the DVD version of the deluxe edition have been ported over; with a single exception, all are in HD.

  • Inside ‘Crystal Lake Memories’ (HD) is a chat with the amiable author Peter M Bracke about writing his tome on the series. It’s a lovingly put-together coffee table book that really is a must-have for fans, as Bracke was given unprecedented access to Paramount’s Friday the 13th archives.
  • Friday’s Legacy: Horror Convention (HD) takes us to a cast-and-crew reunion at an unnamed horror convention (possibly the Texas Frightmare weekend?) that artfully avoids the myriad uncomfortable moments that these events produce and presents a golden-hued view (we guess that Tom Savini, a notoriously ill-tempered con guest, is on his best behavior in front of the cameras).
  • Lost Tales from Camp Blood Part II (HD) continues the bizarre short film series began as a supplement on the original Friday disc. It’s a mercifully brief but professionally-made (by the same names listed in the credits of the other supplemental features) bit of fan fiction that is connected to the Friday the 13th films tangentially at best.
  • Jason Forever mixes archive interviews with more current sessions with the actors and stuntmen who played the character through the Paramount-produced portion of the series.

Also included is the original theatrical trailer (HD) that literally continues the body count motif from the origina Friday the 13th’s preview. It’s a shame that director Steve Miner couldn’t have recorded a commentary track (for this, but especially for Part III) as he’s easily the most successful filmmaker to helm a Friday film (his credits include House, the Mel Gibson vehicle Forever Young, Halloween H20, and Lake Placid).
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