Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood – Horror Film Review

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New BloodFRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI: JASON LIVES had pushed the old slasher franchise into a new direction, resurrecting Jason Voorhees as a living dead zombie from hell. and take notice. Now, along comes PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD, and it really wants to do something different. “Different,” in this case, means gene-splicing elements from another film into the familiar formula, and the result – about a face-off between the hulking masked maniac and a troubled teen with telekinesis – is fondly if not quite respectfully called “Carrie Meets Jason.”  You cannot really take the results seriously, but they are fun, offering both an interesting subplot and a chance to see something never really shown in a FRIDAY film before: Jason getting his ass handed to him on a platter. “Purists” (a funny word in the contest of exploitation trash) might object to seeing their favorite anti-hero dissed so badly, but anyone looking for a good time should be able to get at least a few chuckles out of seeing Jason meet his match.
The story begins with a prologue in which Tina, as a tiny tot throwing a temper tantrum, telekinetically – albeit not quite intentionally – sends Dad to the bottom of Crystal Lake. About a decade later,* Tina  is brought back to the location by her mother and a psychiatrist named Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser), allegedly so that the troubled teen can confront her unresolved guilt over daddy’s demise. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Crews views Tina as a lab rat, the study of whose unusual abilities will somehow make him rich and/or famous, and he is doing everything he can not to help her control her telekinesis but to amp it up. An unfortunate side effect of this is that when Tina wishes for her drowned father to return from the bottom of the lake, her psychic powers inadvertently resurrect Jason (who has been slumbering there since Tommy Jarvis dragged him to the bottom in the aforementioned PART VI).
This is a pretty good set-up, but the screenwriters do not quite know what to do with it. Once Jason is back in action, their main problems seems to have been how to delay the inevitable confrontation until the third act. This involves introducing another bunch of dumb, sexed up teenagers, who wander off into the woods and get killed at regular intervals.
Okay, you expect that kind of thing in a FRIDAY film. What hurts is that the main trio of Tin, her mother, and Dr. Crews are involved in something like a legitimate story that provides motivation for them to do something more than wander around in the woods like idiots, and yet they too often end up wandering around in the woods like idiots. (The real reason for this is to keep them busy while other characters are being killed.)
What this means is that, despite its best intentions, THE NEW BLOOD feels for most of its length too much like a typical entry in the series – and not a particularly distinguished one at that. We get the usual gang of idiots dying the usual deaths, and even if the scenes are not exact copies they do feel awfully familiar. (There is even a spring-loaded cat – a cheap scare device previously used in PART 2.)
By this time, it was more or less obligatory for the MPAA to demand cuts before handing out an R-rating, making it hard for the sequel to compete with the original in terms of on-screen mayhem. The irony is that, for the first time, a FRIDAY film is directed by an exerpt in makeup and special effects, but John Carl Buechler is not allowed to strut his stuff. With the shock value seriously diminished, he tries to turn THE NEW BLOOD into more of an old-fashioned monster movie, but he is no more successful than Tom McLoughlin was in JASON LIVES, and he lacks McLoughlin’s tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.
There is also a certain flatness to his work. The scene of Jason first emerging from beneath the lake was obviously supposed to be a show-stopping moment, but the image is prosaically captured, forcing the editor to overlap multiple takes with dissolves in order to let the audience know this is supposed to be frickin’ awesome. (Hint to filmmakers: when something really is awesome, you don’t need to elbow the audience in the ribs; they will figure it out for themselves.)
Fortunately, one Tina becomes the Final Girl, the film delivers the goods. Her knock-down, drag-out smack-down of Jason Voorhees is just about everything you could wish for, as she pulls electrical wires down on him hurls furniture at him, strangles him with the strap on his own hockey mask, and more. Some fans and critics have complained that Tina’s psychi power diminishes the suspense because it relieves her from grappling hand to hand with an antagonist much stronger than she.
This misses the point entirely. The FRIDAY films have never been about conventional cinematic virtues like suspense, drama, and characterization. They are dumb-hoot movies whose only reason for existence is to provide an excuse for outrageous action. Denied by the MPAA from offering up the gore that made the franchise famous, THE NEW BLOOD goes over the top in a completely different way, and it’s so much fun watching Jason get what he deserves that you would have to be a malcontent to complain.
The other highlight of the film is the debut of stuntman Kane Hodder in the role of Jason. Jason was never much of a character, nor even a particularly memorable figure, in the earlier films; if not for the hockey mask, he would be just a generic lurking figure (which is exactly how he appears during the first half of PART 3). Although it would be an exaggeration to say that Hodder can convey much characterization from behind the mask, he does provide Jason with some recognizable traits that hint at a vestige of personality, particularly the purposeful stride, with head down and slightly forward, suggesting the focused concentration of a hunter pursuing its prey.
Hodder also deserves points for registering stupified shock when Tina first turns the tables on him, sending roots shooting up from beneath the ground to enwrap his feet and trip him into a puddle (which she will shortly electrify, courtesy of nearby powerlines). It’s not the kind of in-depth emotional performance that will win any Oscars, but it is a priceless moment that helps erase memories of the film’s many weaknesses.
Bottom line: THE NEW BLOOD, like JASON LIVES, is a film that deserves points for trying to be different, even though the attempt is only partially successful and tends to neutralize the exploitation element that is the franchise’s main appeal. Gorehounds may be disappointed by the relatively bloodless kills, and only timid viewers will really find the proceedings frightening. But if you’re a general horror movie fan or someone only interested in checking a FRIDAY film out of curiosity, you could do worse.

FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD(1988). Directed by John Carl Buechler. Written by Manuel Fidello, Daryl Haney (based on character creatd by Victor Miller, uncredited). Cast: Kane Hodder, Lar Park-Lincoln, Terry Kiser, Susan Blu, Susan Jennifer Sullivan, Kevin Spirtas, Heidi Kozak, Elizabeth Kaitan.
FOOTNOTE:

  • This ten year jump creates some problems for the continuity timeline. 1980’s FRIDAY THE 13TH took place in 1979. 1981’s PART II takes place five years later, meaning it was set in 1984, which is also the year for the two subsequent films. Both A NEW BEGINNING and JASON LIVES depict Tommy Jarvis (who killed Jason in THE FINAL CHAPTER) as having aged into an adult – about ten years, which would put those films in the mid-1990s. Tina’s prologue in THE NEW BLOOD seems to take place after the end of JASON LIVES, so the main action, ten years later, must take place in the first decade of the new millennium. Strangely, the hair styles and clothing are all vintage 1988, the year the film was actually made.

Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives (1986) – Film Review

friday_the_thirteenth_part_viThis sixth installment in the all but interminable FRIDAY THE 13TH series seems deliberately designed to be the first one to make classic horror movie fans sit up and take notice. If you prefer the living dead to masked slashers, if you taste runs toward Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man rather than Michael Myers, Leatherface, and the old Jason Voorhees, this film is for you. No longer a mere maniac in a hockey mask, Jason is reinvented as a walking corpse, and writer-director Tom McLoughlin strives to bend the familiar FRIDAY formula into a throwback to an earlier era of horror monsters. The results are mixed – neither fish nor fowl (or, rather, neither bat nor snake) – but you have to give McLoughlin credit for trying.
Most of the previous FRIDAY films had played the lazy slasher trick of killing off the killer and reviving him without explanation, fudging the details with dream sequences that obscured exactly what had happened. Some fans even speculated that Jason had been a zombie all along, having drowned (as Mrs. Voorhees relates in FRIDAY THE 13TH) and then come back from the grave in PART 2 to avenge his mother’s death. That interpretation pretty much bit the dust when the character of Tommy Jarvis performed a little unauthorized cranial surgery on Jason in FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER. The “Final” in the title lured customers eager to see Jason’s demise; predictably, the box office success led to FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING. That film’s attempt to jump-start the series by having someone else don Jason’s hockey mask showed a steep decline in ticket sales; ergo, Paramount decided to bring Jason back from the dead.
Ignoring the events of A NEW BEGINNING,* JASON LIVES begins with Tommy Jarvis (now played by Thom Matthews of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) heading out to a cemetery, along with his friend Allen (Ron Palillo,  in order to make sure that Jason remains in his grave. Needless to say, this ill considered operation has exactly the opposite effect: a metal spike that Tommy jabs into Jason’s chest acts as a lighting rod, and faster than you can say “Frankenstein” (or “Godzilla vs the Sea Monster,” come to think of it), the old serial killer is back in action.
As disastrous as Tommy’s attempt to seal Jason in his grave turns out to be, at least it does something that few FRIDAY films do: it sets up an actual plot. Instead of gathering together a bunch of ignorant boobs who get killed off one by one until the Final Girl faces off with Jason, JASON LIVES focuses on Tommy’s attempts to warn the police and put an end to the reborn killer. You know, it’s almost like a real movie, with a protagonist pursuing a clearly defined goal!
This is both good news and bad news. McLoughlin can go only so far in overturning the cliches. This remains a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie striving to be something different but only partially succeeding. The gore is toned way down; the nudity is non-existant, and the only sex scene is so tame it feels like its inclusion was the result of a contractual obligation. In place of the grim and gritty exploitation of the earlier films, McLoughlin offers mild scares that undercut the series’ main strength. Some of them are amusing (with a single swing of a machete, Jason takes out a trio of victims standing side by side; he also takes out one foolish weekend warrior who shoots him with a paintball), but they lack the shock value of the graphic deaths in earlier films.
The problem is that, without the threat of horrendous carnage at every opporutinty, there is only so much you can do to make Jason scary; he’s just not a particularly spooky character whose mere presence can make your skin crawl. McLouglin tries to compensate with tongue-in-cheek humor and an old-fashioned monster movie approach to the material (two elements that combine in “Karloff’s General Store” – a reference to the actor who starred as the monster in the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN). Some of the sight gags and one-liners are amusing: when one pretty female victim is yanked right out of her cute little bunny slippers, the incongruous juxtaposition of her footwear and her horrible death is worth a chuckle; when two young kids are hiding in the dark from Jason, their future survival by no means certain, one asks the other, “So, what were you planning to be when you grew up?”
Jokes like these, along with the fact that many of the potential victims are not sexually active teens but prepubescent children (who we know will never be in any real jeopardy, let alone killed), lowers the horror level way down into the tolerable level instead of pushing the envelope. Consequently, if you never much liked the FRIDAY movies, you can comfortably sit back enjoy this one as a sort of self-spoof, but if you’re a hardcore fan, you’re likely to be just pissed off and disappointed.
Or put another way, this is the FRIDAY THE 13TH film for viewers who do not like FRIDAY THE 13TH films. But even if you’re a fan who finds the film disappointing, you have to give it credit for putting Jason back behind the mask and setting up the series for future sequels. The legacy of JASON LIVES for the rest of the franchise was that it let the filmmakers off the hook from having to end each new film on an ambiguous note regarding Jason’s survival. From this point on, Jason could be satisfactorily killed off at the conclusion because, being dead, he could easily be revived for the next sequel.

He's back - the Man Behind the Mask
He's back - the Man Behind the Mask

The previous FRIDAY films were one-note affairs; this time out, a slightly new tune is being played (this is literally the case: composer Henry Manfredini’s familiar theme music is augmented with a couple songs performed by Alice Cooper (including “He’s Back: The Man Behind the Mask”). Whatever its weaknesses, JASON LIVES is a reasonably fun attempt at remaking the franchise into an old-fashioned monster movie, and fans of Frankenstein, the Mummy, and other creatures of the walking dead may find it appealing.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 6: JASON LIVES(1986). Written and directed by Tom McLoughlin. Cast: Thom Mathews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen, Kerry Noonan, Renee Jones, Tom Fridley, C. J. Graham, Darcy DeMoss, Vincent Guastaferro, Tony Goldwyn.
FOOTNOTE:

  • It is just barely possible to rationalize a continuity between the fifth and sixth FRIDAY THE 13TH movies. JASON LIVES tells us that Tommy has been in therapy since offing Jason back in Part 4, and the motivation for his trip to Jason’s grave is to put an end to the hallucinations and nightmares that have plagued him during the intervening years. One could charitably assume that the events of A NEW BEGINNING were part of one long nightmare in Tommy’s mind.

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Friday the 13th, Part 3 in 3-D – Retrospective Review

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If FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 is the A SHOT IN THE DARK of the franchise, then this second sequel is the GOLDFINGER – the one that established the template for the rest of the series. Serial killer Jason transforms from furtive figure striking mostly from the shadows into an unstoppable killing machine unafraid to show his face…er, mask. Speaking of which, this is the film in which he first donned the hockey mask that became his trademark for the rest of the series. Thus a horror icon came to fruition.
The movie itself shows severe signs of creative desperation. After the first FRIDAY THE 13TH (which revealed Mrs. Voorhees as the killer) and PART 2 (which passed the machete to her son, Jason), there was not much more to do except think up some new excuse to get another gang of horny, drug-smoking teenagers into the woods around Crystal Lake. PART 3 is a rehash with a vengeance, relying heavily on the 3-D effect to lend some novelty to the proceedings.
Even by the lax standards of slasher films in general, and FRIDAY THE 13TH films in particular, the screenplay is almost plotless. Some ultra-lame characters arrive in a cabin, smoke pot, have sex, and die one by one, only belatedly realizing what is happening. To fill up the running time and provide more deaths, a bad-ass biker gang is on hand to threaten the dweebs and then get killed by Jason.
The closest thing to a plot development involves this installment’s Final Girl, Chris (Dana Kimmell), who has memories of being assaulted by a deformed man in the woods two years ago. This unpleasant recollection from her past makes her afraid of the woods, but if you think FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 is going to waste time on unraveling her psychological trauma and showing her overcome her fear (a la Roy Scheider’s fear of the water in JAWS), you’re watching the wrong movie, baby.
The funny thing is: as lame as the story and characters are, the movie actually works as a crowd-pleasing piece of junk entertainment. We don’t care about any of the victims, so audience identification shifts to Jason, and we get a kick out of watching him perpetrate graphic atrocities on all these idiots. Even if you have a distaste for violence, you will find the film too absurd to take the gore seriously, which makes it enjoyable in a camp kind of way. Highlights include popping an eyeball out of someone’s head and (apparently) slitting some guy in half through the crotch as he walks upside down on his hands.
One should also acknowledge that, as predictable as FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 is, it occasionally works as a genuinely scary horror film. The long opening sequence, in which a camera follows a woman as she takes the laundry down from the clothes line, will put you on edge no matter how hard you try to resist. Those sheets, blowing in the wind, flap marvelous in 3-D; their rustling in the dark creates an unnerving sense that Jason could attack at any minute. Likewise, the last-minute CARRIE-rip-off dream sequence, in which the body of Mrs. Voorhees leaps out of Crystal Lake (an inversion of the first film’s ending, which had Jason leaping out of the lake), is an effective shocker, even though you see it coming a mile away.
The 3-D effect is about standard for its era – which is to say, effective but flawed. The camera is able to create the illusion of depth and of objects projecting out of the screen, but the phtography is often dark and dingy, and the overlapped left and right images (one for each eye) are never fully integrated; the result makes you feel cross-eyed, leading to eyestrain and/or headaches.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 is not a good movie by any reasonable standard, but the weak story, bad dialogue, and silly characters all become part of the experience. Call it camp or call it a guilty pleasure, but this sequel provides more entertainment value than either of its predecessors.

TRIVIA

Actress Tracy Savage, who plays the victim named Debbie (the one who gets impaled from beneath the hammock), left acting and became a successful television news reporter in the Los Angeles area.
Shelly (Larry Zerner), the obnoxiously unfunny comic comic relief character, is one Jason’s few victims to die off-screen. The reason for this is to set up a “surprise” – which likely will fool no one. Shelly is a prankster, one of whose jokes consists of putting on a hockey mask  and scaring someone. Shortly thereafter, we see a figure in a hockey mask walking toward another victim, who thinks she is seeing Shelly pull another prank. Presumably, the audience is also supposed to be fooled (why else hide the fact that Shelly has been killed?), but the difference in body size is too obvious, clearly telegraphing that it is now Jason behind the mask. This also means that we never see the moment when Jason decides to don the mask for the first time, cheating the audience of seeing a significant mment in the character’s development.
3-D supervisor Martin Sadoff explained the origin of the hockey mask in a cast and crew reunion at the 2007 Screamfest in Hollywood:

I’m from Buffalo, New York, and [producer] Frank Mancuso Jr. is my neighbor, and we’re hockey fanatics. The day of the makeup test, we didn’t really know what Jason should really look like, but we had to come up with some kind of makeup test in 3D. I had a hockey mask there, and I said, ‘Why don’t we put it on and see what it looks like?”

Jason reveals the reason he likes to hide his face behind a mask.

FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 IN 3-D(1982). Directed by Steve Miner. Screenplay by Martin Kitrosser, based on characters created by Victor Miller and Ron Kurz. Cast: Dana Kimmell, Paul Kratka, Nick Savage, Rachel Howard, David Katims, Larry zerner, Tracie Savage, Jeffrey Rogers, Richard Brooker.
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Friday the 13th (2009): Jason Voorhees, call your agent

Friday the 13th (2009)Less a remake than just another tired sequel, the new film puts Jason through the same old moves with all the finese of a blind choreographer directing an arthritic dancer.

Jason, what the hell happened to you? You seemed poised on the verge of a monumental comeback, a chance to step back into the ring and reclaim your crown. Instead, your new FRIDAY THE 13TH movie makes you look like a washed-up old has-been, a former champion bulked up on steroids and hyped up on amphetamines who still can’t swing a machete like he used to. But I don’t blame you – at least, not totally. You’re just a victim of your handlers. That’s why I’m telling you – you gotta call your agent and dump those clowns before you even think of making another movie.
Seriously, Jason, listen to me. I mean, I know we’ve never been particularly close. Your first two movies looked like gory rip-offs of HALLOWEEN and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, so I didn’t even bother to see them in theatres; catching up with them on cable was more than enough for me. I did check out your 3-D flick on the big screen; it was ridiculous, but I had to admit it was scary in parts. I still wasn’t a fan, but eventually your longevity won me over with all those crazy things you did in later movies: coming back from the dead, duking it out with that psychic girl, taking a trip to the Big Apple, blasting off into outer space, meeting up with that bastard son of a hundred maniacs.
It didn’t matter that the films were never very good; when you make that many, there are bound to be a few good moments here and there and, eventually, enough to fill one good movie – sort of like a great mental montage that eclipses the lame dialogue, dumb-ass characters, and insipid story-lines that were just an excuse to string together all those kills.
That’s why a FRIDAY THE 13TH reboot seemed like a good idea: it was a chance to take all those good moments – the best of the best – and put them into one great movie. And the great thing was: unlike remaking something like DAWN OF THE DEAD, in your case, the original film is not so all-fired great that the new one would automatically pale in comparison.
Yes, the new FRIDAY should have been a kick-ass crowd pleaser, but let’s face it: something went wrong. A lot of somethings, really. Let’s get down to it, if you dare face the truth with your big ugly face…
First off, the very worst thing about the old movies was that stupid story about how your mother killed those camp counselors because she was mad at some other camp counselors who let you drown because they were making out or something instead of watching you. Well, we all know you didn’t drown, so that’s one dumb thing the new film could have done without.
But what do we get? A prologue where your mom is trying to kill a camp counselor in order to avenge your death by drowning. And when the counselor beheads your mom, we actually see you do something only suggested in the earlier films, picking over mommy’s corpse immediately afterward. So apparently you were nearby the whole time and never bothered to wave your hand and get your mother’s attention to let her know you were all right and she didn’t have to engage in a life-or-death battle that would wind up leaving her headless. Nice move, Jace. Come to think of it, you’re about as dumb as those victims your skewer on a regular basis.
I do have to give the prologue credit for being set on June 13, 1980 – the year that the original FRIDAY THE 13TH came out. That’s not quite the last clever thing in the new film, but it is the last reference to the infamous unlucky day, making me wonder why they even retained it in the title if they weren’t going to use it for anything more.
After that, it becomes clear pretty quickly that this new FRIDAY will have much more in common with PART 2 than with the original. I guess that was expected; no one, including me, wants to see another movie in which your mother turns out to be the killer, and it is kind of nice that the “remake” of the first FRIDAY is condensed down to a couple minutes before the opening credits.
But this leads to some problems. In the old films, you could grow and mature over time; you didn’t even get your hockey mask till halfway through PART 3. Now, however, the audience is three steps ahead of you, expecting all this stuff to happen, so your handlers – the writers and directors and producers – are in a such big rush to squeeze everything in that they forget to make it seem important. It just happens because it’s gotta be there somehow, like having you kill some inconsequential peripheral character who just happens to have a hockey mask in his attic. Lame, dude, real lame.
And what was up with the marijuana growing in your forest? Were your screenwriters really that desperate for an excuse to get some victims onto your turf? Were you supposedly growing it to lure suckers in, or was it grown by the hillbilly who offers to sell some pot to our hero? If the latter, why were you letting him walk through your forest with impunity for so long? Why did you wait until this particular time to take him out?
But forget all that. One of the amusing absurdities of the old movies was that someone was trying to reopen Camp Crystal Lake even though lots of people had died there years ago and no one in his right mind would ever send their kid there again. This was stupid, but it set the tone for the films, which were all about hacking up a bunch of characters who were obviously too stupid to live; otherwise, they wouldn’t be part of such a hare-brained scheme. By removing this element, your new film pretends to be serious and more believable, but that’s not what anyone wants to see in your work
In any case, the attempt at believability is unconvincing, and the serious tone only drains the fun out of the picture. Big mistake. I mean, FRIDAY THE 13TH IN 3-D is an atrociously awful film, but it is entertaining. The new one is just dull.
Sure it was a bit unexpected to see you mow through the first five kids in about a half-hour, and it was clever the way they flashed the title right after that – as if to say, “What you thought was going to be the whole movie is really just a really long prologue.” It was as if that prologue with your mother was really a pro-prologue, followed by another twenty-minute sequence before the movie really got started. You don’t expect the FRIDAY THE 13 franchise to play around with cinematic structure, so my hat’s off to you for that.
But this cute little ploy is not enough to forgive the lame stuff like pretending to kill someone who later turns out to be alive. What are you – going soft in your old age? And why the hell are you suddenly running around like a defensive end chasing down a wide receiver? Back in the old days, you could stride after your victims in full confidence that no matter how fast they ran, they would never escape you. Seeing your hurry now is supposed to make you seem more threatening, but it just reveals your new-found insecurity.
And while we’re at it, what’s with the lame-ass kills? Sticking the blade up through the floor boards was good for a little bit of prickly fun, but as painful as it looks, no one believes it could be deadly – it’s just too easy to get away after the initial surprise is over. And once or twice I thought I detected a trace of computer-generated imagery. What’s the matter? Can’t swing that machete like you used to? Need a computer to compensate for you inadequacy?
I also didn’t get what was up with the bear trap and dangling the girl over the fire. Since when do you use protracted techniques that extend the agony of your victims? Back in the good old days, you were a ruthless, efficient executioner – your victims barely had time to let out a scream before they were dead. Now you’re carrying on like you’re auditioning for a role in the next torture porn film.
This brings us to another problem. You were never an original, but you did manage to carve out your own niche. Unfortunately, your new film reduces you to something more generic. I think the problem is that kids who grew up watching your films are now making films, but they weren’t just watching your films; they were also watching stuff like CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and when they get their chance to work with you, they forget what makes you the horror icon you are, so they churn out a generic remake in which you just happen to be a character. In fact, Marcus Nispel directed a CHAINSAW remake a few years ago, and at times he seems to think he is still making that movie, just with you instead of Leatherface.
That much I can blame on them instead of you, but you’ve got to take your lumps, too, Jason. You’re slow and stupid in this film. We all know the victims in your movies just want to have sex and/or do drugs, and we love to see the women take off their clothes, but did you have to let so many of their antics go on for so long before killing them? It started to feel like Russ Meyers was directing – which would normally be a good thing, but why let that obnoxious ass – the one who invited everyone to his family’s cabin and then kept telling them not to touch anything or get anything dirty – why let him live long enough to have sex with a beautiful woman when he obviously deserved to be gutted as soon as possible?
As if that were not bad enough, Jace old pal, you let some know-nothing Final Girl outwit you with a ploy from the second film – only here it is handled really badly. In PART 2, Ginny was studying child psychology, and you were an unsophsticated, demented man-child, so it was easy to believe that she could get the better of you by exploiting your idolization of your mother. This time out, you let this girl live just because she looks like a picture of your mother, and then you fall for the trick when she pretends to be your mother, telling you to drop your guard. Leaving aside the question of how she figured out that this trick would work, I just have to ask: What’s wrong with you, Jason? This is no psychology student using specialized knowledge and training to pull the wool over your hockey mask; she’s just a chick improvising on the spur of the moment. And you let her get away with it. Pathetic.
Sorry to come down so hard on you, Jason, but I had to do it, for your own good. You see, you’ve fallen in with a bad lot; they pretend to be your friends, but they really aren’t. They’re just using you to get a paycheck. They don’t care. If they did care, they would have come up with a reboot that recharged your batteries and returned you to more than your former glory. Instead, they stuck you in a tired old rehash that might almost be called anti-post-modern.
Instead of showing an awareness of all that came before, they just put you through the same old moves with all the finese of a blind choreographer directing an arthritic dancer. They don’t play with the formula. They don’t manipulate audience expectations to create suspense. They don’t overturn the cliches or reimagine them. We all know the black guy is gonna die, and so are all the chicks who expose their breasts. Okay, there are two girls who don’t go topless, so it seems like either of them could be the Final Girl, but we really know it has to be the one who looks like mother. So sad, so predictable.
The idea of a remake is that you can go back to the beginning and start fresh. Superficially, the 2009 edition of FRIDAY THE 13TH appears like a return to form, but this is merely a disguise. By simply coming up with a new excuse or two to lure a bunch of machete fodder into the woods for a mostly plotless series of set-pieces, your new film comes across less like remake and more like just another uninspired sequel. It’s the kind of thing that ran the franchise into the ground, but at least those old sequels provided some gimmicks to spice things up (3-D, a telekinetic adversary, sending you into space). Omitting the gimmicks can only take your partway toward credible horror; you also need some inspiration, some imagination, or at least a litle renewed enthusiasm – none of which is much on display here.
That’s why I’m telling you Jason: call your agent and get some new help if you plan to star in any more movies. 

FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009). Directed by Marcus Nispel. Screenplay by Damian Shannon & Mark Swift, from a story by Shannon & Swift and Mark Wheaton, based on characters created by Victor Miller. Cast: Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Amanda Rightetti, Travis Van Winkle, Aaron Yoo, Derek Mears, Jonathan Sadowski, Julianna Guill, Ben Feldman, Arlen Escarpeta, Ryan Hansen, Willa Ford.

Friday the 13th, Part 2 – A Retrospective Review

Friday the 13th Part 2Although this is the second FRIDAY film, it is really the first in what became the franchise. In a weird way, it is the A SHOT IN THE DARK of horror films – a sequel that reinvents the basic set-up, creating a launching pad from which the remaining  sequels take off. The methods employed are not particularly clever; in fact, they are sloppy and contradictory. But it’s hard to argue with success. In that regard, at least,  this sequel resembles the original FRIDAY THE 13TH: like its predecessor, PART 2 is a disreputable, unrefined effort that nevertheless sold millions of tickets.
The challenge facing any serious critic assessing the film is dealing with the fact that it became very popular even though it is not very good. The solution is to acknowledge that even crude techniques, when properly employed, can be effective, in a lowest-common-denominator kind of way. Taking the basics of the first FRIDAY, the sequel  places a group of camp counselors in an isolated location where they are stalked by a mostly unseen killer, who dispatches them in a variety of gruesome ways. Sophisticated? No. Scary? Yes.
Certainly it is easy to pinpoint flaws in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 – the most obvious being that its premise contradicts the previous movie in a way that is irreconcilable (although fans have certainly tried). Part 1 had been intended as a stand-alone film, its murderous Mrs. Voorhees neatly decapitated by final girl Alice (Adrienne King), precluding any chance of bringing her back for a rematch. With the killer dead, writer Ron Kurz had her son Jason step into the breach.
The problem, of course, is that in the first film Mrs. Voorhees was avenging the death by drowning of her son; if Jason is alive and well, she had no reason to kill all those camp counselors. Given a charitable frame of mind, one might imagine that the paths of Jason and his mother had somehow never crossed, leaving her in the dark as to his continued existence, but dialogue in PART 2 specifically tells us that Jason witnessed his mother’s death, indicating that he was close at hand during the events of FRIDAY THE 13TH (even though the only sign of him was a CARRIE rip-off in which he scares Alice by jumping out of the lake – a scene clearly meant to be a dream).
In short, PART 2’s premise is completely nonsensical; the only way to enjoy the film is just to ignore it and go for the gore. Even here, the film comes up a bit short. Howls of critical outrage had resulted from the carnage FRIDAY THE 13TH; Siskel and Ebert slammed the MPAA for givng the film an R-rating, and the organization reacted by clamping down on the sequel, ensuring that the body count, though as large as ever, was considerably more bloodless.
What the film has going for it is a certain competent professionalism. The original had been produced and directed by Sean Cunningham as a way to raise money to jump start some non-horror projects. Although Cunningham turned the film into a blockbuster, much of the success was due to the title and the advertising campaign; one cannot shake the lingering suspicion that he was in it for the money, sitting in the director’s chair only because he knew he could turn the film in on time and on budget. On the other hand, PART 2’s director, Steve Miner, is a bit more interested in the hands-on aspects of film-making, in using the camera angles and movement to elicit screams from the audience.
Even this is not enough to make the film really good, and Miner is not above stooping to some seriously lame shtick, as in the opening prologue that – gasp!– kills off the lone survivor from the original.1 Overlooking for a moment that the now-motherless Jason has lived his entire life as an uneducated imbecile lurking in the trees surrounding Crystal Lake – and, consequently, could not possibly have the means or intelligence to track down Alice in a distant city – there is the little issue of the spring-loaded cat that leaps through the window at Alice, providing the film’s first jump. It’s a cheap tacitc to achieve a cheap scare – made all the worse because the cat’s trajectory indicates that it is not leaping but thrown by some off-screen stage hand.2
Once the action shifts to Crystal Lake, things pick up considerably. The usual nonsense ensues (lots of hot young bodies eager for copulation, which serves as a prelude to violent death), but as much as the mind resists, the adrenalin responds to the manipulation – best exemplified by a scene of a lone character in a wheelchair. The editing alternates tracking shots from before and behind him; with both sides covered, it is impossible for Jason to be anywhere near the target without being seen, and yet each switch in angle unnerves the viewer further. It is as if Jason were somehow hiding behind the camera itself, which offers not his POV but our own; we are watching the victim, and feeling as if somewhere over our shoulder, Jason is lurking, ready to strike.
When Jason’s face is finally revealed, it is appropriately hideous; otherwise, the image of the character presented here, wearing a hood that makes him look like the Elephant Man, is hardly strong enough to have embedded itself in the public consciousness; it has long since been eclipsed by the familiar hockey mask he donned in the next sequel.  However, the depiction of Jason as a twisted, superstitious, murderous, but not completely inhuman man-child does yield some interesting results.
The film is notable for presenting a “Final Girl” who relies on something more than mere pluck to survive. Ginny (Amy Steel) is introduced – with all the subtlety of an exploding bomb – as a a girl majoring in child psychology. Since Jason’s psychology is that of a child (admittedly a homicidal one), this  leads to a fairly remarkable confrontation at the end, in which Ginny is able to use her knowledge to manipulate Jason. Trapped in a room that is obviously Jason’s shrine to his dead mother, complete with her severed head, Ginny disguises herself to convince Jason that she is Mrs. Voorhees, back from the dead and urging him to put down his machete now that his work is finished. The film here pulls off the neat trick of making Ginny seem clever and courageous under fire, while at the same time tossing just the tiniest bit of sympathy toward Jason, whose devotion to his mother is being used against him, creating a sense of betrayal.
Unfortunately, there was no doubt that FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 was going to be part of a franchise, so there was no way that the film would be allowed to work itself out to its logical conclusion – that is, Jason thinking he was being killed by his own mother (and the symmetry would have been appropriate, had he, too, died by decapitation). Instead, the film offers up the obligatory slasher cliche: Ginny, who up to now has shown signs of admirable intelligence, does not take advantage when the killer is down for the count, neglecting to deliver the death blow that will silence him once and for all.
Instead, there is another last-minute jump scare that is once again dismissed as a dream, leaving the audience not quite sure what has happened. (Exactly how much of the action is a dream is not made clear, leaving the fate of one victim up in the air – was he killed in “reality” or not?) Ginny, whose overall (though occasionally erratic) competence has earned her the right to dispatch Jason, is denied the opportunity. The film throws away a potentially satisfying ending, undermining its best sequence in favor of setting up a sequel.
Oh well, that’s show business. The nice thing about reviewing FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 decades after its original release is that, after the initial shock has worn off, it no longer seems like the work of a bunch of depraved sadists (not that it ever did -but the critics might have given you that impression at the time). It is a competently executed horror thriller that supplies the expected goods without apology for its own low ambitions and sloppy continuity.  Taken on its own terms, it is a success, and despite many absurdities (such as chick in tight shorts who grabs the wrong cheek when a horny guy sling-shots a pebble off her ass), there are even a few moments (e.g., the confrontation between Ginny and Jason) when you have to set aside your distaste for the cheesy slasher formula and admit that even a disreputable gorefest  can occasionally earn respect.

TRIVIA

Several critics have noted certain similarities between the FRIDAY THE 13TH films and Mario Bava’s 1971 giallo murder-fest, BAY OF BLOOD. The most obvious occurs in PART 2, when a pair of lovers are impaled upon a bed by Jason, their death gasps replacing cries of orgasm. Virtually the identical scene takes place in BAY OF BLOOD – although, ironically, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2’s version is much less explicit, because of cuts demanded by the Motion Picture Association of America.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981). Directed by Steve Miner. Written by Ron Kurz, based upon characters created by Victor Miller. Cast: Amy Steel, John Furey, Adrienne King, Kirsten Baker, Stuart Charno, Warrington Gillette, Walt Gorney, Marta Kober, Tom McBride.
FOOTNOTES:

  1. *One might charitably consider this the filmmakers’ way of brazenly stating that they are severing continuity ties with the original and boldly going off in their own direction. Or it’s just an easy way to work a kill in before the opening credits.
  2. There is also the issue of whether the cat, when seen leaping through the window, resembles what is supposed to be the same cat seen a moment later after having landed. Liz Kingsley at And You Call Yourself a Scientist, notes that “it is a much smaller animal.”

[serialposts]

Laserblast: Jason lives on DVD – again

This year the remake stars finally aligned and the Michael Bay-produced remake of Friday the 13th opens nationally on, fittingly, Friday, February 13th. Cashing in on the free publicity, Paramount has re-released the first 3 Friday films from the ’80s on DVD, with the original also getting a Bluray release. There is also a new documentary and a box set of “Jason” sequels produced at New Line Cinema after aquiring the character from Paramount.  Paramount has previously released their Friday titles on individual DVDs, in two-movie sets, and in a large box set (the first release to include any value-added content). What makes the new release of the original special is that it represents America’s first chance to see the film in its complete, unrated version, restoring roughly 10 seconds of bloodshed. We had so much to say on the topic that our comments have been sliced off into a separate stand-alone review of the film and its new incarnation on Bluray disc, which you can read here. For the rest, read on below…
Friday The 13th: Part 2: Deluxe Edition (Paramount DVD)
Paramount hadn’t even finished counting the profits from Friday the 13th when a sequel was ordered. The directing chores for Part II went to Steve Miner who had worked for Cunningham as an editor as far back as Last House on the Left, and apparently Paramount liked what they saw, because Miner remained on board for the third installment as well. Though of less historical import than the original, 1981’s Friday the 13th Part II is actually superior in many ways; the production budget was significantly higher allowing for more shooting time, a larger cast, and a generally more polished look. Since we all saw Mrs. Voorhees decapitated at the end of the previous installment, a new killer was found in her not-really-drowned-after-all son, Jason. The ‘Jason dream’ was a last minute addition to the first film to give it a Carrie-style closing moment shock and never with the intention to hand the reigns over to him as the killer in a subsequent film, but the idea that a fully grown monster would be looking to kill anyone in the area that reminds him of the young girl that killed his mother makes for a nice reverse dovetail with his mother’s revenge motive in the first film. And since Jason wouldn’t get his ubiquitous hockey mask until Part III, the producers decided to hide his hideously deformed visage under a burlap sack for the majority of the film. I’ve not heard too many comments on exactly how much more frightening this particular image is than the aforementioned mask; it lends Jason a raw, backwoods savagery that is missing from the rest of the series (it’s likely that the idea came from the real-life mass murderer depicted in Charles B Pierce’s southern fried docudrama The Town that Dreaded Sundown).
Speaking of idea theft, the film’s bravura moment – when Jason simultaneously dispatches a lovemaking couple – is also “borrowed” from Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve. The philosophy of Part II seems to be ‘more of the same, in higher quantity’: more kids, more kills, more nudity, etc. Unfortunately, the MPAA had the final say and much of the blood hit the cutting room floor to secure an ‘R’ rating, and unlike the Friday the 13th deluxe edition, nothing had been restored to the new DVD (it’s possible that the deleted footage from this, along with all the Paramount Fridays, has been lost). Picture-wise, the new DVD appears to be the same transfer used on the previous edition, and save for a multi-million dollar, “call in Robert Harris” restoration, this is just about the best that the title will look in standard definition. Extras include “Inside Crystal Lake,” an interview with “Crystal Lake Memories” author Peter M Bracke. “Friday’s Legacy: Horror Conventions” is exactly what it sounds like – more panel discussions. “Tales from Camp Blood-Part II” is a continuation of the same baffling short found on the Friday the 13th disc, and there is another lengthy panel discussion from a horror convention, “Jason Forever.”
Friday The 13th: Part 3 – 3D Deluxe Edition (Paramount DVD)
The very next year, Paramount lowered the bucket into the well once again for a third go-round, this time with the added attraction of 3D. The early ’80s saw the emergence of numerous unusual trends in the entertainment biz, but few were as unusual as the brief resurgence of 3D films. Dismissed as a fad in the ’50s, only the occasional genre title like The Stewardesses in ’71 appeared to remind people of the memorable gimmick. Comin’ at Ya!, an Italian-made western is generally credited with restarting the trend in 1981 by comin’ at exhibitors with an inexpensive-to-show 3D process that wound up grossing a tidy sum against its low budget. In very short order came Parasite, Metalstorm, Treasure of the Four Crowns, and several major-studio genre efforts like Jaws 3D and Amityville 3D for a slice of the profits. Friday the 13th Part III 3D proves why horror movies have always best utilized the process: of all genres, horror films will traditionally have the least amount of shame in regards to 3D presentation. The recent 3D remake of My Bloody Valentine is a perfect example of application and technique, and though Valentine’s 3D process is light years ahead of what was being used in the early ’80s, the makers of Friday the 13th Part 3 also knew how to have fun with it. Scene after scene throws everything imaginable at the screen, from eyeballs to spear guns to errant Jiffy Pop kernels – all to superb effect. Jason himself would pick up more than just his famous hockey mask in this installment, as the third film showed the character moving beyond being merely a murderous mongoloid into something supernatural, surviving dozens upon dozens of mortal wounds. The series lost something here; audiences stopped rooting for the victims and began rooting for Jason himself – faceless mayhem wins out over actual human feeling. This isn’t to say that the Friday films were the only perpetrations, but I never witnessed cheering for Michael Myers. The new DVD release does contain one very special feature: a 3D version of the film (with two sets of logo-embossed glasses) is included along with the standard, 2D edition, featuring what seems like the same transfer as the previous editions. The 3D effect is decent enough – and gets better depending on the size of the monitor – but it can be a bit headache-inducing if viewed for extended periods.
New Line Jason Slasher Collection (New Line DVD)
Nothing new here, just a box set of the 3 previously-released films produced by New Line after acquiring rights to the Jason character: Jason Goes to Hell, Jason X, and Jason vs. Freddy. The discs, image, and extras are identical to the previous DVD editions. You’re unlikely to find horror fans without a solid opinion on these films, one way or the other: some feel that they’re little more than over-produced cash-ins, devoid of what popularized the character in the first place; others are happy for the new blood injected into a series that was growing stale on the Paramount lot. Jason Goes to Hell is the closest in structure to a traditional Friday film, retaining the familiar setting, and Jason vs. Freddy is certainly the most handsomely produced film of either series with Hong Kong ace Ronny Yu at the helm. Sometimes we feel like that only person who liked Jason X, which might as well change its name to “The One in Space;” if there’s a scene half as clever as the one where the crew of the ship try to distract Jason by placing him in a virtual Crystal Lake (circa 1980, hairstyles and all), I haven’t seen it. If you haven’t already invested – and you have more than a passing interest in the series – it’s an extraordinary value.
His Name Was Jason: 2 Disc Splatter Edition (Starz/Anchor Bay DVD).
The centerpiece of this expansive release is a feature-length documentary on the Friday the 13th phenomenon, which also features numerous mini-docus on the actors who’ve played Jason over the years, along with the directors and screenwriters, in addition to more than a half-dozen other featurettes. The completist will find much of interest here, but one can’t help the feeling that much of this should have been presented as supplemental features on disc for actual Friday films.
Assault on Precinct 13: Restored Collector’s Edition (Image Bluray/DVD)
John Carpenter’s first real artistic statement after the student film, Dark Star, Assault is a near perfect example of a stripped-down, lean exploitation film directed with style and wit by a filmmaker schooled in the past but with both eyes trained on the future. Cherry picking elements from Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, Carpenter’s film finds Ethan Bishop (a magnetic performance by Austin Stoker) getting command of an L.A. precinct the evening before it will be closed down forever. With only a skeleton crew on board to answer phones and direct people to the new location, a man staggers into the station after killing a gang member who had murdered his young daughter. Within moments, the station (actually Precinct 9, Division 13) is under siege from the rest of the gang. Cut off from outside aid, and refusing to hand the man over to the gang, Bishop turns to prisoner Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston) for help in defending the crumbling station. Carpenter lays his cards on the table during the opening credits, by giving himself the editor pseudonym “John T. Chance”, which was John Wayne’s character in Rio Bravo. Assault is, at its heart, more than just an homage to westerns, but a breakdown of their very essence made at a time when the genre was in deep public disfavor. Filmed in long, slow, deliberate takes to make the most out of the insanely limited 20 day shooting schedule, the show never drags, and watching Carpenter create a tension-filled action scene with little but flying debris and the ‘snip…snip’ sound effect of silenced automatic weapons is exhilarating. This new edition of Assault arrives on both DVD and Bluray this week sporting a new high def transfer which we are very much looking forward to getting our grubby mitts on. We assume that the commentary is the same one recorded ages ago by the director (how long ago? It was originally for the Laserdisc release) but it’s still fun to hear how appalled he is by the leisurely pacing. Assault on Precinct 13 was the warm-up for Halloween, and the makings of Carpenter’s visual vocabulary are well on display. Highly recommended.
Brainstorm: Deluxe Edition (Warner Bros DVD)
An interesting Sci-Fi effort that would unfortunately be forever linked to the drowning death of star Natalie Wood. Filmed in 1982 at Duke University, the film stars Christopher Walken (long before entering into the knowing, self-mockery phase that he seems stuck in now), Louise Fletcher (back when her Cuckoo’s Nest Oscar could still open studio doors), the always dependable Cliff Robertson, and the luminous Miss Wood. The second directorial effort of special effects master Douglas Trumbull following 1972’s Silent Running, Brainstorm uses extremely convincing electronic machinery to convey a device through which one individual can transmit senses remotely – everything that the wearer of the device sees, feels, hears, etc., can be transmitted directly to another person or even recorded onto a special tape. For scientist Dr. Brice (Walken) it’s also a window unto himself when he experiences the memories of estranged wife Karen (Wood) which include all the tense domestic moments that led to their separation. Things turn south when a scientist on the project suffers a fatal heart attack, and manages to record the experience, convincing the powers that be that the device has some decidedly juicy military applications. Brainstorm was meant to christen an expensive new IMAX-like process (seen in the ‘brainstorm’ sequences, which appear much sharper than the rest of the film because they were filmed in 70mm at a higher frame rate) but after sitting on the shelf for 2 years following the death of Natalie Wood, the studio was no longer interesting in making a heavy investment in new technology. We may be no closer to the sort of technological breakthrough seen in the film, but Trumbull manages to wrangle a difficult-to-sell concept, and with the help of a fine cast, give it some emotional resonance. The packaging of Warner Bros new DVD of Brainstorm labels it as a “Remastered Edition” that preserves the multiple aspect ratios of the theatrical showings, and it will be a treat to see this film on a decent sized monitor. Of all the films that get drudged up for a remake, redoing Brainstorm in IMAX 3D would actually make sense.
Also appearing this week:

  • Dragonslayer: I Love the ’80s Edition
  • Five (Sony DVD)
  • Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection: Volume 14 (Shout Factory DVD)
  • The Hills Have Eyes (Unrated, 2007) on Bluray
  • Oliver and Company 20th Anniversary Edition
  • Paura – Lucio Fulci Remembered, Vol 1
  • Space Buddies
  • The Wiz 30th Anniversary Edition
  • Xanadu

Friday the 13th – Bluray Review

Has it really been nearly 30 years since Friday the 13th came out? If, in 1980, you had asked me to watch a film from 1950, I’d probably have wondered why you were forcing such an old movie on me. Maybe Friday doesn’t seem that old because I actually saw it in a theater during its initial release. Now, I couldn’t tell you how it came to pass that I actually managed to convinced my father to take me: I was way, way too young to fake my own way into an R-rated movie – perhaps he was under the impression that it was a modern spin on “10 Little Indians,” but it’s more likely that he simply didn’t know anything about it at all and I had been badgering the poor man to take me ever since seeing the first ads on TV. And what ads they were – who can forget the memorable ‘body count’ trailer that was later adapted into television spots? In NY it seemed like the ad played on channels 5, 9, and 11 around the clock; I was already flirting with disaster by staying up on Saturday nights watching Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, and seeing that ad during the breaks had me absolutely petrified with fear – and things didn’t get any easier in the theater. Even now, while driving by a heavily wooded area, I think back on poor, doomed Annie’s flight from the unseen killer after an unwise attempt to hitchhike to her new job at Camp Crystal Lake. I wasn’t much of an outdoors-man back then, but after that fateful matinee in 1980, I’ve managed to successfully avoid being in any sort of camping or hiking situation. I absolutely cowered in my seat, afraid to look at the screen or admit defeat and leave the theater (an offer that was made several times by my parent and guardian). Does that make Friday the 13th a masterpiece? Nope – but it’s damn effective, and that’s enough.
After failing to recapture his early success producing Last House on the Left by directing a pair of ill-advised family comedies (the just-above-execrable Manny’s Orphans and Here Come the Tigers) Sean S. Cunningham decided to return to familiar territory with another horror tale. Halloween had proved how lucrative the genre could be for a low-budget picture that was smartly advertised and slickly presented, and in true exploitation tradition – without money, cast, or even a script – Cunningham placed a striking ad in Variety for “The most terrifying movie ever made” featuring bold block letters shattering through a pane of glass and spelling out “Friday the 13th.” In short order, he had investors lined up and a script written by Victor Miller that took a more maternal outlook on the traditional killer, giving the film a relatively unique twist in its closing moments. The story follows a group of teens attempting to re-open a long-closed summer camp that is rumored to have a “death curse” ever since the drowning of a young boy several years previous; the camp counselors are killed off in graphic fashion until only one remains to see the face and learn the motive of the murderer. Filming took place at an actual Boy Scout camp in New Jersey, giving the production access to lots of young, hungry, and (except for Betsy Palmer) mostly unknown acting talent in nearby New York, including the fetching Adrienne King as the virginal “final girl” Alice; Bing Crosby’s son, Harry, as future archery target, Bill,\: and a 22 year old Kevin Bacon as Jack, who doesn’t check under the bed.
While filming on a shoestring budget in the middle of Jersey, it’s a safe bet that the notion of creating a franchise that is still going strong three decades hence didn’t occur to anyone, least of all its director. Cunningham’s reputation as a genre producer in the Roger Corman mold is secure, but directing isn’t his strong suit; the success of Friday got him a more prestigious directing gig adapting Mary Higgins Clark’s suspenseful A Stranger is Watchinginto a tepid mess a few years later. But Cunningham kept to a very simple filming style on Friday, relying heavily on a stalking, subjective camera simulating the killer’s viewpoint. But the final key to Friday’s success was composer Harry Manfredini’s iconic musical score, featuring the indelible “ki, ki, ki, ma, ma, ma”, whispered throughout the score and inspired, according to Manfredini, from Mrs. Voorhees repeating “kill her, mommy…kill her!” during the conclusion (though what remains is a near libelous lift from Hermann’s Psychoscore). And while that conclusion along with its last act reveal might seem trite and overly familiar today, it played beautifully before the horror market was over-saturated with out-of-left-field twist endings (thank you, Sleepaway Camp).
Though often cited as the tipping point for the modern “body count”-style horror movie, it was far from the first. Cunningham was smart enough to steal from the best, namely Mario Bava’s 1971 Twitch of the Death Nerve – a film to which Friday’sfirst sequel would owe an even bigger debt. Bava’s violent thriller was basically a chamber mystery – revolving around a pricey parcel of land and the motley crew of fortune-seekers that assemble to vie for its inheritance (which itself is an extension of what Bava began 7 years earlier in Blood and Black Lace, setting a black-gloved killer loose in an Italian fashion house) – that reveled in the method of murder over motive. I’ve sat through Twitch at least twice and I’d be hard pressed to tell you much about the plot; what I do remember are the inventive and graphic (for the time) murders, which generated some unusually negative press for the acclaimed director.* This is particularly true of a section that has a group of twenty-somethings drop in near the estate for some general teen-type partying. This passage always had a different vibe from the rest of the film – almost as if spliced in from another movie – but it’s this segment that marks the true beginning of the modern slasher film.
Friday the 13th’s attractive cast is also genuinely like-able; not that the characters are memorably written (bluntly put, they were written to be killed), but the actor’s performances are effective. After a 1958 prolog in which two counselors at a seemingly thriving Camp Crystal Lake are murdered during a make-out session, we flash forward to the “present day” (present in this case being 1980) and meet Annie, an attractive young girl hitchhiking her way to a job at the very same camp, about to reopen for a new season after several abortive attempts over the previous 20 years. After shrugging off the warnings of locals in a diner that anyone attempting to reopen the camp will be “doomed,” Annie continues on and accepts a ride for the final leg of the trip from an unseen driver of a Jeep. Now, you don’t have to have seen the movie to know that Annie’s life expectancy clock has hit the under 5-min mark; in fact, she doesn’t even make it to the camp! In the typical modern horror movie, female characters almost always fall into one of two categories: supermodel hot or eyeglass-wearing bookworm that eventually takes off her glasses to reveal – a supermodel. Annie is played by actress Robbi Morgan, an attractive, curly-haired brunette (probably no older than 19 when the film was shot) who appears very much the normal girl. Perky, a bit tomboyish (in a non-sexually intimidating way) and utterly believable in a flannel shirt and backpack on her way to a summer job, we’re instantly engaged and feel a genuine affection for her, making her inevitable fate surprisingly tragic. The waif-like WB castoffs that typically populate horror films today seem even more plastic by comparison, weighing down every scene with phony ennui that can only come from having a cadre of assistants constantly telling you how tough your job is.
Equally strong is Adrienne King as Alice, pigeonholed after the film’s release as the archetypal ‘final girl’, a term proposed by feminist authors in the ’80s to support the notion that the men who wrote and directed these films thought of most women as either virgins or whores, with the latter deserving of a grisly end, elevating a single girl – typically both virginal and somewhat masculine, conforming to Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode in the original Halloween – to survive and face the killer. Though Alice is somewhat dowdy in comparison to her fellow counselors, it’s sexism of a different color to assume that she’s a virgin simply because she doesn’t sleep with Kevin Bacon or tie the tails of her oxford shirt over her bellybutton. Alice is in the midst of an affair with one man when the film begins, and doesn’t flinch at the suggestion of strip Monopoly. Empathy is what’s important here, and King is particularly good at allowing the audience in, even as the cinematography puts us in the place of the killer.
The completed film was picked up for distribution by Paramount Pictures, who invested heavily in its advertising and were rewarded with both a huge moneymaker, and a string of sequels that could each be counted on to bring in many times its meager budget before finally losing the character (and Cunningham) to New Line in the ’90s. Though New Line could have continued to use the Jason character as much as they wanted, the participation of Paramount would be required to use the very marketable title, and this year the remake stars finally aligned and the Michael Bay-produced remake of Friday the 13th opens nationally on, fittingly, Friday, February 13th.
Kicking up a bit of publicity, Paramount has re-released the first 3 films in the series on DVD, with the original also getting a Bluray release. Now, Paramount has already put out DVDs of the series individually, in two-movie sets, and in a large box set (the first release to include any value-added content). What makes the new release of the original special is that America will finally be able to see the film in its complete, unrated version, restoring roughly 10 seconds of bloodshed. But anyone expecting a gore-fest will be sorely disappointed; Friday came out at a time when the MPAA was being particularly tough on horror, routinely targeting genre filmmakers like Wes Craven and Brian DePalma and insisting on myriad cuts from most slashers before passing with an all-important ‘R’ rating. The level of tension that Friday so deftly maintains throughout makes the film seem – like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre before it – much more violent than it actually is. Only Kevin Bacon’s demise is noticeably augmented by the extra bloodletting, but it has the curious effect of calling attention to the Tom Savini-created effect and actually detracting from the moment; however, Paramount should be congratulated for finally making the footage available. The new edition also features a commentary track cobbled together from separate interviews (a practice we’re not fond of, but understand the need for) with Cunningham, writer Victor Miller, Crystal Lake Memoriesauthor Peter M Bracke, actresses King, and Betsy Palmer (Mrs. Voorhees), editor Bill Freda, assistant editor Jay Keuper, and composer Manfredini.
Featurettes include “A Friday the 13th Reunion,” which is actually a panel from a horror convention (featuring Palmer, as ever, wearing that famous cable-knit sweater).”Fresh Cuts: New Tails from Friday the 13th” is a more formal collection of interviews featuring many of the above participants, including our favorite victim, Robbi Morgan. “The Man Behind the Legacy: Sean S Cunningham” features an interview with same. Also available is the famous original trailer and the inexplicable “Lost Tales from Camp Blood – Part 1,” a short film about a couple who hear noises in the middle of the night, go out into the hallway of their home to investigate, and are killed in short order by a masked, Jason-like figure. It doesn’t really have anything to do with Friday the 13thexcept that the creator is most likely a fan; its inclusion is somewhat baffling. If it appeals, the story continues on the new disc for Part 2. The 1080p Bluray picture brings out clarity and detail in the image that I wouldn’t have thought possible, and is well worth the upgrade if you’re so equipped. Midway through the film, Ned (Mark Nelson) calls out to a hooded, shadowy figure in a cabin doorway where it’s clear for the first time since the original theatrical prints that it’s actually Betsy Palmer, making the most of her 10 shooting days. Paramount also gets high marks for including the original mono soundtrack in addition to a newer surround mix. Highly recommended.
Read about this week’s other Friday the 13th DVD releases in this edition of our weekly Laserblast column.
FOOTNOTE:
*Writing in the Fall 1975 issue of Cinefantastique, Jeffrey Frentzen called TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE Bava’s most “complete failure to date” and accused the director of having an “obnoxious eye for detail” in regards to the violent murders.

My Bloody Valentine 3-D: Q&A with Patrick Lussier & Todd Farmer

MY BLOOD VALENTINE IN 3D, the remake of the 1981 Canadian slasher film, opens in theatres nationwide today. Last night, director Paul Lussier and writer Todd Farmer attended a preview screening at the Arclight Cinemas Hollywood and answered questions about the film. (Lussier will be appearing after the 8:00pm screening of the film at the Arclight Cinemas Sherman Oaks on Saturday – click here for details.) Attendance on Thursday night was sparser than I expected, which is to say there were lots of people but it was not a sell-out, inspite of the chance to mee the director and the screenwriter in person. Nevertheless, those in attendance did enjoy the film, hooting and hollering as though they were white-water rafting (or should that be red-river rafting) on a tidal wave of blood. Afterwods, Ryan Rotten of Shock Till You Drop moderated the discussion with the two filmmakers, who offerd a handful of behind-the-scenes stories. WARNING: Spoilers!
The first topic was the reason for being interested in remaking this particular property.
TODD FARMER: The original terrified me when I was young. The thing with the drier was a tribute to it. I saw that when I was a kid, and it screwed me up so bad that I never saw the movie again until we started doing this. I subconsciously just stayed away from it. It was great to watch it again while working on this because I had forgotten how great a movie it really was. Some people have trouble with it because it is tongue in cheek, but I love it. I love the fact that horror can be SAW; horror can be BLOODY VALENTINE; it can be so many different things.
PATRICK LUSSIER: Being from Canada, this is a very big Canadian icon. It’s unabashedly Canadian. When you get a chance to revisit these characters and the situation, it’s pretty great.
What elements did Lussier and Farmer want to retain from the original, and what did they want to change?
PATRICK LUSSIER: The big thing was the miner itself. The love triangle. The murder mystery. The drier. The hanging mining clothes – which is exactly how they do that in a mine. And smashing the lights when the miner comes in at the end.
TODD FARMER: The biggest difference was that we were going to treat this a little more realistically than tongue in cheek. Hopefully, there is humor there, but it comes out of the situations more so than jokiness. As far as adapting it, it felt like there was a rich texture there. A couple people poked fun when I said we really liked the love triangle aspect of it. Why would you want to laugh at that? Anybody older than sixteen has been involved in a love triangle whether you like it or not. We liked the way that it worked. I think the biggest aspect for me was… a lot of what you see on screen is not necessarily the writers; it’s this guy [Lussier]. He’s been doing this forever, and because he comes from an editing background, he sees things that I never saw. So as far as the writing, he gets as much credit as I do.
When was the decision made to shoot in 3-D?
PATRICK LUSSIER: Mike Pasternack (of Lionsgate] wanted to remake the film. He had been involved as an executive on the original film. Then it was talked about: ‘We might want to do it in 3D.’ As we got closer and closer to getting ready to shoot it, we started doing tests in 3D. The second we did the first test and showed it to everybody, that was pretty much the clincher. We went to a stage and set up our faux mine with black clothe and ladders and had somebody walk through, you could see the potential in it.
One challenge was keeping the kills interesting, because the homicidal maniac always uses the same weapon, a pick ax.
PATRICK LUSSIER: That was something we talked about with Gary Tunniclif, our special effects makeup guy. He said, ‘You can’t just hit him with a pick ax; he’s got to do something terrible to them.” He wrote this thing called “A Document of Death,” which outlined a million ways to kill somebody with a pick ax. We would go through and apply it to certain scenes. Kevin Tighe’s death came out of the location. He originally died quickly in the script. Then when we found that house with the wooden floors, that led to the pick in the floor and the EXORCIST III homage for the killer’s entrance in that sequence. Burk’s death was always that way, although it originally happened earlier in the film. Really it’s the last death you see on camera, so it needed to be spectacular. The jaw ripped off was quite a horrible thing to do.
Coming up with inventive 3D kills was less a concern for screenwriter Farmer, who was focusing on other elements.
TODD FARMER: In the beginning the biggest concentration was on the story and characters. We wanted to keep the audience guessing: maybe it was Tom; maybe it was Axel. What would happen was, he [Lussier] would call up in the middle of the night and say, ‘So there’s this girl and a shovel…!” A lot of stuff came out of him just being nutty.
PATRICK LUSSIER: The kills came out of necessity, trying to exploit the 3D. You’ve got to sit there and look at it and wonder ‘What would it be?’ It’s not all coming at you. For the coming at you things, the technical term is ‘Outie.’ The shovel gag is called an ‘Innie,’ because you’re actually attached to the end of the shovel as the audience. It was just figuring out how to play with the three-dimensional space.
The original MY BLOOD VALENTINE is more famous for what was not shown. In the wake of outrage over the graphic violence in 1980’s FRIDAY THE 13TH, MY BLOODY VALENTINE was eviscerated in order to achieve an R-rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. Lussier managed to avoid problems by overshooting with the goal of being able to trim back to the cut he wanted after showing a longer version to the MPAA.
PATRICK LUSSIER: We showed them a more extreme version the first time out, in 3D. There was a sex scene that was three times as long, which we felt would be the thing they would go after, and it was. Knowing that that was something we would never unleash on an audience, we had something that we were willing to cut out. We had enhanced a few of the kills even further, so when they came back and said, ‘We hve some problems here, here, and here,’ we said, ‘Oh, let us address that.’ Very quickly we sent them back the version of the movie we had been working on and really wanted. They said, ‘Oh yeah, this is fine.’
The film acknowledges its roots in the ’80s slasher genre by casting Tom Atkins, who appeared in several John Carpenter films.
PATRICK LUSSIER: I was a huge fan of Tom Atkins. The original THE FOG was the first R-rated movie I ever saw. We were shooting in Philly and a friend of mine said, ‘Tom Atkins lives here – you’ve got to get him in your movie.” We immediately met with Tom and offered him the part and started fleshing it out even further so he had a much longer stay in the movie.
Screenwriter Todd Farmer (who also had an on screen death in JASON X, which he wrote), appears as a trucker who videotapes himself having sex with a woman in a hotel room. His attempt to get away from the woman, who demands the tape back at gunpoint, is interrupted by the killer miner. Why did Farmer take this role, which involves nudity and makeup effects?
TODD FARMER: I did audition for this one, but that’s not how it came about. He [Lussier] called and he was telling me this part was going to be cast locally, which is great – there are a lot of local actors in the Pittsburg area. The difficulty was that if we got someone who had never done it before, it could be challenging because there’s special effects, which take a lot of time. And getting naked is this whole other thing you have to deal with – there’s sex and all this other stuff. I was complaining, ‘It’s like going to Vegas – it’s a crapshoot. We don’t know what we’re going to get.’ It’s a small role but it’s a difficult role. He [Lussier] said, ‘Yeah, I know. Will you do it?’ I asked my wife. I thought she would say no. She said, ‘Rock star!’
Patrick Lussier earned his dues as an editor working for West Craven. Did he learn any lessons from the creator of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET?
PATRICK LUSSIER: Absolutely. I have been very fortunate to work with Wes since 1991 with NIGHTMARE CAFÉ. Over the years I have just picked up a lot of advice. Simple things: If it’s scary, make it darker. Always have your misdirection in mind. Never sacrifice character for style. Too often, horror movies are all style and shaky cameras, and it disengages you from the experience. RED EYE from Wes is a great example of a movie that has incredible tension with close ups of two actors sitting side by side. We talked about that: ‘Are you going to do some kind of fancy camera moves through the plane?’ He said, ‘I’m not going to do anything like that because that’s not where the drama is.’ That’s not how you connect to the audience. That was a big thing to learn.
What are the plans for the DVD release?
PATRICK LUSSIER: I think they’re talking about releasing it in 3D. It may be anaglyph. They’re still trying to figure out the polarizing process for release on video. It may be a year away from that. There’s a stack of deleted and extended scenes, a couple of Easter Eggs, and a commentary with Todd and I yammering away through the whole movie like we’re in your living room. Then I think we have a few other extras.
If there is a sequel, what will it be like?
PATRICK LUSSIER: Obviously do it in 3D again. The second part would be bigger, badder, nastier and probably have more massacres!

My Bloody Valentine in 3-D: Horror Film Review

MY BLOODY VALENTEINE 3-DThis film goes a long way toward giving remakes a good name. It takes a not particularly memorable film – one of a myriad holiday horror titles to follow in the wake of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) – and turns it into a crowd-pleasing horror movie that is actually much better than the slasher films of the 1980s from which it borrows its template. It delivers more than enough gore to satisfy the horror hounds – all of it comin’ at ya in glorious 3-D – but it never feels sadistic or off-putting.
Equally impressive, screenwriters Todd Farmer and Zane Smith successfully manipulate the mystery and suspense elements to create an effective thriller almost from beginning to end. Their script keeps audiences guessing about the killer’s identity. Although it resorts to a cheat or two to throw you off the scent, there are clues that will alert sharp-eyed viewers to the cheats, so in a sense the film plays fair.
The 3-D photography is pristine, clear, and beautiful – not like the blurry old double-image stuff scene in the 1950s and 1980s. Director Patrick Lussier predictably uses the technique to deliver some literally eye-popping visuals – at times his work seems almost as much inspired by Lucio Fulci (ZOMBIE) as by the 1981 namesake film – but the effects are delivered with a gusto that has viewers roaring with approval rather than gagging in disgust.
Unfortunately, the film suffers from a handful of unintentionally laughable moments – or at least, if they were meant to be funny, the filmmakers did not signal their intent very well. In a few places characters do dumb things of the sort that remind you this is only a movie. In other cases, for no apparent reason they delay taking obvious action: an alarm button is pushed only after a co-worker has been murdered; a gun is fired only after the killer has impaled a victim.
Only occasionally does the film fall prey to the lame elements inherent in the slasher formula, such as the unstoppable killer who takes a licking and keeps on ticking. (And the filmmakers seem completely unconcerned about the muscle atrophy that would occur during a year-long coma, which would be more than enough to prevent the killer from going on a rampage in the hospital upon awakening.) Also, the title “My Bloody Valentine” seems a vestige of an ealier age: Valentine’s Day doesn’t figure into the murderer’s pathology in any significant way; the back story explaining the atrocities is all about a cave-in that led one miner to kill his co-workers in order to save air while waiting to be dug out.
These silly little moments demand that you go with the film and just accept it for what it is, instead of winning you over. Which is too bad: Although this is a genre effort and proud of it – clearly fashioned to please its target audience of slasher fans and gore-ounds – MY BLOODY VALENTINE IN 3-D is otherwise good enough to appeal to a wider range of scary movie enthusiasts, as long as they are not too squeamish about on-screen carnage.

I am no fan of slasher films, and I came to this with no expectations – who needs another remake? – but it won me over in spite of myself. After nearly a week of sitting through five of the After Dark Horrorfest’s “8 Films to Die For,” MY BLOODY VALENTINE reminded me that gruesome horror can indeed yield a film that is not merely disgusting but actually enjoyably frightening.
MY BLOODY VALENTINE (2009). Directed by Patrick Lussier. Screenplay by Todd Farmer and Zane Smith, basedon the 198a screenplay by John Beaird, from a story by Stephen Miller. Cast: Jensen Ackles, Jaime King, Kerr Smith, Betsy Rue, Edi Gathegi, Tom Atkins, Kevin Tighe, Megan Boone, Karen Baum, Joy de la Paz, Marc Macaulay, Todd Farmer.

Slaughter – After Dark Horrorfest Review

slaughter-poster-copyDo not buy a ticket to this movie. Do not rent this movie. Do not watch this movie for free. If you have a choice between seeing this movie and being incarcerated in Guantanamo, choose the latter, because sitting through this suckfest is such torture that it qualifies as a crime against humanity that should be punishable under the Geneva Conventions.

No doubt you think I’m exaggerating, but that’s only because you haven’t seen the movie. If you did, you would feel differently. In fact, if you go and see it in spite of my warning, you will probably hate me for not trying hard enough to convince you not to. So here goes:

It is becoming increasingly clear that After Dark Films will include any old shoddy piece of junk as one of their Horrofest’s “8 Films to Die For.” That we’re seeing a crass exploitation film is not the issue; it’s a given. What is the issue is that SLAUGHTER fails miserably, even by the low standards of grindhouse cinema:is.

The pace is unforgivably damn boring, rolling along as if it were some kind of drama with interesting characters and a story worth watching. Horror and suspense are almost non-existent till near the very end, when we finally get  a glimpse at what must be the reason for the film’s inclusion in the After Dark Horrorfest: a sequence in which our heroine has her teeth pulled by the film’s psycho killer. As far as dental horror goes, it is a good deal more grizzly than MARATHON MAN but not nearly as effective.

Till then, you have to sit through tedious story about some city chick hiding from her stalker boyfriend by moving to the country, where she rooms with a country chick next to a barn where piggies are slaughtered. When the country chick proclaims that “men are pigs,” you can easily surmise the reason we never see her one-night stands a second time, but the city chick never gets the hint. (Now you may consider this last bit of information a spoiler but trust me – it is impossible to spoil something that is rotten to begin with.)

The psycho-killer is one of the least intimidating screen presences ever thrown up on the big screen by filmmakers with naive expectations that viewers would actually be scared. The method of dealing death is – get this – strangulation (big whoopdie deal!), but the killer doesn’t look strong enough to outmanuver my grandmother, let alone the leading lady. And check out the terrifying back story that explains the killer’s homicidal proclivities: childhood abuse consisting of naughty photographs showing the victim – gasp! – wearing a t-shirt and shorts. (I can just feel the scars of pyschological trauma forming in my brain, can’t you?)

The “climax” suffers from pointless repetition (capture, escape, repeat) that is further undermined by a SEINFELD-like narrative device that has the two separate storylines (stalker ex-boyfriend, psycho roommate) colliding with each other. (At least in SEINFELD, this kind of thing was treated as a joke.)

As if all this were not bad enough, the film ends with a final “turning the tables” moment that is supposed to shock us with its unexpected shocking shock effect, but the action is staged so badly that the only shock is how shockingly laughable it is: the character with the upper hand – and the shotgun – lets her opponent get the drop on her in a way that screams out how little anybody making the film gave a shit about anything – she might just as well have handed the gun over and stuck her head in the noose.

But nevermind that. We’re supposed to believe this garbage, but the titles tell us it is based on a true story. If you’re stupid enough to believe that, then you deserve to drown in this cesspool.

Amy Shiles as Faith
Amy Shiles as Faith

SLAUGHTER (2009). Written and directed by Stewart Hopewell. Cast: Amy Shiels, Lucy Holt, Craig Robert Young, David Sterne, Maxim Knight.

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