Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Legend of the Lords of Salem

I know, I know...I haven't posted squat since Halloween, and I still don't have any of the pics up from that night. As usual, things are crazy busy between work, the kid's activities and all the holidaze. I apologize, and I'll state right now that I'll try to get back on track, although I ain't promisin' a damned thing!

In the meantime, I thought I'd share a piece I wrote up for Rob Zombie's site a while back. At the time, he had just released his Educated Horses album, which featured the song "The Lords of Salem". Zombie's band would sometimes be referred to by this moniker, and he dropped little story pieces here and there for the premise behind the song itself. At one point, he asked folks to contribute art and what-not that was related to the "Lords" story. This particular bit was my contribution, although I won't go so far as to call it a story...more of a narative to build on the mythos. Nothing ever really came of this piece, but I thought it was okay enough to save. It isn't really fully fleshed out, and I've considered revisiting it, possibly as a longer story, but I'm not sure. Maybe someday. Anyhoo, here it is:

The Legend of The Lords of Salem
By D. Gill

In the year 1666, legend states that a group of four men met in the woods outside of Salem, Massachusetts to make a secret pact with the demon known as Baal Davar. This blasphemous confederation came to be known as “The Lords of Salem”. Until now, little has been known of these men, other than what was whispered in local folklore. Locals had often talked of four figures on horseback, each wearing a mask embossed with the image of a human skull, riding through the night. Wherever these sightings occurred, plagues and strife seemed to follow. Recently discovered documents, attributed to “Nomadrac the Conqueror”, have shed some light on this unholy alliance.

According to the writings of Nomadrac, The Lords made their pact with Baal in order to gain power and immortality. The demon made them into his agents on earth, sending them forth to sow evil amongst the people. The Lords integrated themselves into the population of Salem, secretly practicing their dark arts amongst the Puritans. At first, the spells and curses upon the townspeople were attributed to natural causes, but in 1688 this all changed when Martha Goodwin, a local girl, began to exhibit signs of possession. Soon, her siblings also began acting strangely, attracting the attention of the local pastor. According to Nomadrac’s writings, The Lords had sent demonic beings to plague the children, knowing that their standing in the community would place them above suspicion.

In January of 1692, two more children began to show signs of the same affliction, ultimately leading to the infamous “Salem Witch Trials”. While almost 200 people were accused of being “witches”, with 20 of them being executed, The Lords were not amongst them. They had managed to deflect suspicion onto innocent parties, and had turned neighbor against neighbor. Their master was pleased. The Hebrew name for Baal, after all, is “Satan” (“The Accuser”). Simealtaneously, war broke out in Eastern Maine with the Abernaki Indians. Crops started to die, mysterious illnesses came upon the townsfolk, and the food supply appeared to be in jeopardy. War, Famine, Pestilence and Death were all being visited upon the people of Salem, in the form of four agents of Lucifer. As the furor over the witch trials began to subside, The Lords plotted to expand their evil beyond the borders of Maine.

Fortunately, two men saw beyond the machinations of this secret cabal. Reverend Francis Dane and his ally, Increase Mather, had long suspected that there was an unseen, malevolent force behind all this. While both rigorously defended the accused in court, they secretly enlisted the aid of a Christian Mystic, known only as “Joshua”. They kept the involvement of Joshua from the Puritans, knowing that they would only view him as another “witch”. Joshua travelled from Egypt, where he had studied with a secret order for most of his life. He was an expert on the occult, and had trained for years to battle with the forces of Baal. Joshua tracked down The Lords, and met them in battle. According to the journals of Mather, Joshua fought them with his own magicks for over a week. Finally, bloodied and bruised, he managed to bind the four demonic agents with a Holy invocation, not used since the time of the Apostles. Unable to slay them, as they had been granted immortality by their master, he buried them deep within the earth on hallowed ground. The Lords reign of terror was over…or was it?

In early 2006, several sightings of four men on horseback, each wearing a mask depicting a skull, were reported throughout Maine. Soon, they were seen in the rest of the States, and even overseas. Like the incidences in the 1600’s, the appearance of these spectres always seems to coincide with sickness and death. One rancher, stunned one morning to find his entire herd dead from a mysterious illness, found a message burned into the side of his barn “The Lords Ride Again”. Some speculate that the once hallowed ground that The Lords had been bound in had somehow been desecrated, possibly by unknowing developers. Still others believe that Baal has new agents here on earth, taking up the mantle of those that brought such pain and despair to Salem centuries before. Whatever the case, it seems that something evil has, once again, been unleashed upon mankind. Be vigilant, for if these four horsemen are once again amongst us, then their master is plotting to bring about horrors the likes of which we’ve never seen.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sounds of the Season: Calabrese

Okay, I originally planned to do a whole helluva lot more of these "Sounds of the Season" things, but the time is getting away from me awful fast. In all reality, I don't know if I'll be able to blog anymore before Halloween, so I may have to save some of the stuff I intended for NEXT year. *sigh* I've tried to represent a fairly diverse batch of music, and maybe not feature bands that are well known to all.

One band I've wanted to blog about for a VERY long time is Calabrese, a horror punk band from Phoenix, AZ. Now, for those not in the know, Horror Punk is a genre that is pretty self explainitory. While it can trace its roots to seminal punk band The Damned, the first "true" horror punk band was the legendary Misfits. In the wake of the 'Fits, many bands sprung up adopting their ghoulish looks and spooky lyrics, often with mixed results. Calabrese is one of the few acts that has successfully managed to pay homage to the Misfits, while also expanding and incorporating other diverse influences.

Calabrese is comprised of three brothers, using their last name as the band's moniker. All three sport a look that resembles the T-Birds from Grease...if they had become the thralls of Dracula! Their sound is a driving horror punk that features elements of hard rock, southern rock and rockabilly. Lyrically, they spin classic tales of terror that wouldn't be out of place in the EC comics of yore. Songs like "Voices of the Dead", "Midnight Spookshow" and "Your Ghost" are catchy as hell, yet have a hard rocking edge.

One of my favorite elements of this band is the fact that they never sacrifice their sound to be "safe", yet you can play their discs around your kids without any worry (unless the subject matter worries you...and if it does why the hell are you reading MY blog???). I know I've mentioned whether or not these discs could be played with children around on pretty much every one of these entries, and it has nothing to do with prudishness (for those that know me, I hear you laughing at that notion!). Being a dad myself, I pay attention to those types of things, and I make sure to not play certain songs around my kids. I figure if you are reading this, and considering getting some of this music for a Halloween party, you might want to know if it is kid friendly if you are a parent. I digress. My point is, quite simply, that Calabrese doesn't have a buncha F bombs in their tunes, but none of their stuff seems like it has been homogenized to please the masses. It is still kick ass hard rocking punk!

One of the reasons I think Calabrese works so well is that they don't seem to take themselves too seriously. The tongue is always planted firmly in cheek, and it frees them up to just have a good time with their tunes of terror. I had the pleasure of seeing these guys last year in San Antonio, and they were just as good live as they are on record (a true rarity with many bands). They play with an energy and ferocity that is missing in much modern Horror Punk (oh, and they can actually PLAY! That also sets them apart)! Now, don't get me wrong: they take their music VERY seriously, but everything else about them is done with a wink and a gnash of the fangs. Oh, and don't tell anyone, but they're actually really nice guys. They spent hours indulging me asking them question after question, and they graciously took the time to listen and answer.

Back to the tunes...yeah, these guys kick all kinds of ass. They have two full length discs: 13 Halloweens and The Travelling Vampire Show, both of which are solid, fear-filled spins through a haunted world (a third disc is currently being recorded). You can purchase their discs from their official site, as well as all kinds of cool merch (these guys have recruited some of the best artists in the horror medium to create fantastic shirts and stickers):

You can also get their discs off of iTunes, including their now out-of-print first EP, Midnight Spookshow, which contains earlier versions of tunes that later appeared on the full-length releases.

In short, no band SINCE the Misfits has been able to pull off horror punk the way these guys have. Quite frankly, I find them to be the true heirs to the 'Fits legacy, far surpassing other bands in the genre. If you dig this sound, and just want to have some great rocking tunes for your Halloween party, then check out Calabrese. They truly are the world's greatest Horror Rock Band!!!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sounds of the Season: The Moon-Rays

Most folks are unaware of the long history swing & big band music has with Halloween. I myself was oblivious to this until I heard some of these amazing tunes on Mr. D's MySpace page (it ain't around anymore, otherwise I'd post a link). Musicians like Lois Armstrong had Halloween hits in their day, but most of these tunes disappeared into obscurity after rock replaced big band as the dominant musical genre. In more modern times, we've had some acts who've recorded Halloween party-appropriate tunes in this style (Squirrel Nut Zippers and The White Ghost Shivers spring to mind), or who've incorporated elements of the genre into their tunes(Oingo Boingo), but no one has really revisited those songs of yesteryear...until now!

The Moon-Rays are an indie band I was introduced to by my soul-sister, Wendy the (VERY) Good Witch. With their album, Swingin' at the Seance, the Moon-Rays have dug up those old classic jazz, big band & swing tunes and strapped them to the mad-scientist's table. With their own brand of jivin' electricity, they've brought these beasts back from the dead...and unleashed them on YOUR Halloween party!!

The vast majority of these tunes I had never heard, and I was amazed at this fact! These songs are wonderful, fun romps that pay loving respect to this most wonderful of holidays. Add in the fact that the band is a tight, well oiled machine that can actually handle these tunes (something not many acts could do, in all honesty), and you've got one hell of a Halloween disc on your hands! I dare you to listen to tunes like "You've Got Me Voodoo'd" or "Headless Horseman" and not tap your feet! Kids will love these, as they're just FUN ditties all the way around, and adults will appreciate the fine musicianship. Anyone who loves Halloween will dig the imagery being weaved throughout. For good measure, the Moon-Rays have included a couple of original compositions, but these tunes blend in so perfectly with the vintage numbers that you'd have to have a fairly extensive knowledge of these songs to pick them out without benefit of the liner notes.

Speaking of liner notes, in this day and age when CD packaging is becoming a thing of the past, The Moon-Rays have opted to give us a disc with extensive pictures, notes and artwork (all lovingly assembled and designed by Wens herself)! This gives an added element that is missing from so many modern albums, with pics and artwork to add to the mood, and notes to give you a sense of the history involved.

Upon my first listen, I have been hooked! Swingin' at the Seance is an instant Halloween classic, and it will find itself in rotation at all my future Samhain shindigs! Let me be clear about this: I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this disc, and if you are a Halloween nut even remotely into swing, jazz or big band then this is a MUST for you! You can snag yourself a copy at CDBaby or Amazon!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sounds of the Season: Halloween Hootenanny/The Ghastly Ones

Surf rock and monsters have a long history together. Surf culture, for whatever reason, really embraced the classic monsters of yesteryear, and incorporated them into their iconography. Did this start with the classic surf rock theme song to The Munsters, or was that theme the result of surfers being enamoured of our favorite creatures? I'm not sure of how it all began, but today the two are inextricably linked. Surf rock is often played at Halloween parties, and a whole slew of surf bands have arisen in the past several years that wear their love of all things spooky on their sleeves.

In the late 90's, ghoulish rocker Rob Zombie assembled a macabre gang of his favorite bands to craft the ultimate Halloween party album: Halloween Hootenanny!

Now, you might think with Mr. Zombie in charge, that all the music would be in the vein of his signature growling metal, but nay! This is a completely different beast altogether, with bands like Reverend Horton Heat, Los Straightjackets, Deadbolt, The Dead Elvi and (my personal favorite)The Ghastly Ones! These bands, for the most part, skew towards the surf rock genre, and the result is a fun, spooky romp. Nothing on the disc is remotely offensive, and you can freely spin this one with kids in the room. Even Mr. Zombie joins in the fun, with a tune backed by The Ghastly Ones (Rob Zombie does surf rock! Yes, it is all kinds of awesome!). This is a perfect Halloween party disc, through and through, and it's great for all ages. My kids love this album as much as I do (their personal favorite is The Dead Elvi track "The Creature Stole My Surfboard").

While on the subject, I'll spotlight one of the bands featured...the aforementioned Ghastly Ones. They describe their style as "Haunted Garage and Cemetery Surf"...and you really couldn't have a better description! With tunes about spooks, monsters and "Go-Go Ghouls", you really can't ask for a more fun-filled, Halloween appropriate band to play at your Samhain shindig! Their first disc, A-Haunting We Will Go-Go is currently out of print, but if you do some digging you can still find it in some CD online outlets. Failing that, you can find many of those tunes re-recorded on their third disc, Unearthed (some fans argue that these versions are actually better than the originals, but I'll let you decide). Their second album, Target: Draculon, is equally packed with ghoulish grooves that will have you doing the Ghastly Stomp until dawn!

To snag some Ghastly Ones tunes, head on over to their official store:

and to get your claws on Halloween Hootenanny, pop on over to Halloween Town:

I give both of these extremely high recommendations. No, they aren't remotely similar to my previous entry (Midnight Syndicate), but they are equally excellent for getting you in the Halloween mood. For me, Halloween encompasses a fairly wide spectrum, so these fit the bill as well.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sounds of the Season: Midnight Syndicate

Anyone who knows me in any real capacity is well aware that I love music. Moreover, I'm a fan of incredibly diverse musical styles. Everything from Mozart to the Misfits to Madonna gets played in my home, office and car. To me, music is incredibly crucial to setting moods, so it comes as no surprise that I find different genres appealing for different feelings or activities.

For the Samhain Season, there are a variety of artists and albums that can appeal to the Autumn children. I'm going to make the attempt to spotlight a few of these artists in the days leading up to Halloween. The artists or albums being examined will be as diverse as my tastes, and will often be more obscure acts. Everyone is well aware of the Halloween potential of Alice Cooper or Rob Zombie, but there are other acts who deserve to be played right along with them.

If you are a "home haunter", or just dig creepy musical scores, then you can't go wrong with Midnight Syndicate. They aren't exactly what you want for a hoppin' Halloween party, but if you're looking for something to spook the trick-or-treaters, or just want something to put you in that eerie mood, then they're just right for you! Most of the Syndicate's albums act as soundtracks to horror movies....that have never been made. The discs generally don't have lyrics, but use sound effects and music to convey a sort of story to the listener. Your imagination is left to fill in the details of the actual tale. My favorite disc, The 13th Hour, is a haunted house theme, revolving around Harverghast Mansion....a place with a bit of horrid history to it, it would appear.

Midnight Syndicate have been heard in haunted attraction throughout the US, and even used at Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights. Recently, their music has even graced actual films, with them scoring horror films The Rage and The Dead Matter (the latter featuring a script from the Syndicate team themselves). The lush, gothic scores create a foreboding mood that always puts me in the right frame of mind for Halloween.

You can find their music at most of the Halloween superstores, such as Spirit, Halloween Express and Party City. You can also order online (and sample some of their tunes) here:

Some of their earlier efforts, such as Born of the Night and Realm of Shadows are now out of print, but you can find them still at their online store (sometimes you can get lucky and unearth them at the aforementioned stores. I actually happened upon both of these titles at different Spirit shops. Both are great, most especially Born of the Night). Seriously, if you like haunting musical scores that make you think of haunted houses, vampire-plagued castles and possessed insane asylums, then you absolutely MUST check these guys out!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The "Christmas Creep"

I like Christmas, I really do...but not UNTIL the actual season starts (which is on Thanksgiving Day, as far as I'm concerned). Over the past few years, I've noticed stores being afflicted by the "Christmas Creep"...putting merchandise & Christmas decorations up EARLIER AND EARLIER. Heck, last year I went into one store that had Christmas music playing over the the first week of October! In some cases, I've seen decorations going up as early as August!!! Last year the Wal-Mart by my house was putting up their Christmas Tree...on Halloween Day!!

This bugs me for several reasons. First up, it represents nothing more than a crass commercialism of the Yule season, with stores going for the quick cash grab in the off-season, hoping to get people in the mood to start their shopping earlier in the year. Second, it means that by the time Christmas actually rolls around I'm utterly sick of the music, lights and decorations...they become robbed of their special quality when they've been around for months on end.

The biggest reason this irks me? It steps all over my favorite holiday of Halloween, and usually means that Thanksgiving gets utterly ignored altogether. This year I noticed Target putting aisles of Christmas crap all around the Halloween section, with it growing every week as the Halloween aisles shrink. Damn it, enough is enough!!!!! Let Halloween and Thanksgiving have their time. Autumn belongs to these holidays, while Christmas and New Years can dominate winter (as it should be). We don't need to see tinsel and holley in August (unless those happen to be the names of your favorite strippers at the local topless bar). Let's put a stop to the "Christmas Creep" once and for all!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Trick 'r Treat Review

At long last, I picked up my Blu-Ray of Trick 'r Treat on Tuesday! After waiting (literally) years for this movie, I wondered if it could live up to my own built up expectations. Well, I can honestly say that it actually far surpassed them, which is an extreme rarity when it comes to films for me!

I won't get into spoiler territory, but I will say that Michael Dougherty has crafted a phenomenal film, filled with love and affection for the Halloween season. Every scene is chocked-full of the trappings of this wonderful holiday, and you'd be hard-pressed to find another movie that could so easily put you in the spirit. The legends and lore that are the backbone of Samhain are on display here, creating a fun, scary joyride through the mythology that led to All Hallow's Eve.

Central to the proceedings is Dougherty's finest character, Sam. Sam is, quite simply, the Spirit of Halloween. He is cute, mysterious, mischievous, vengeful, playful, creepy and downright vicious! He truly embodies everything that Halloween can be, and that just makes him such a delightful character. He takes his place alongside Dracula, The Wolf-Man, Michael Myers, Freddy, Jason etc as a true big screen boogeyman...but also fits in nicely with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny!

Sam first made his debut in animated form, in a short film Dougherty did in college called "Season's Greetings" (a favorite of mine, which is included on the disc with the film!). Rendered in live-action, he retains his cute-but-demonic aspect. While he isn't always the focus of the four interwoven stories, he is present in all of them. He enforces the rules of Halloween, and punishes severely those who break them!

If you are a fan of horror, you'll enjoy this...but I also recommend this flick for anyone who just loves Halloween. It isn't a movie you want to show younger kids (at least not until they're older), but teens will love it. It is scary, cute, funny, creepy, sexy and just plain other words, it is all the things Halloween itself is! This is easily the best film centered around the holiday since John Carpenter's 1978 masterpiece, and in many ways this film is far more all-encompassing, since it focuses on the lore and magic of All Hallow's Eve itself. I give this flick my highest possible recommendation! See it soon...or Sam may be paying you a visit!!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Let the Trick 'r Treating begin!

At long last, WB will FINALLY release the film Trick 'r Treat on DVD & Blu-Ray today! Yeah, it blows goats that they didn't give it a theatrical release (considering that it's the best reviewed horror film in 30 years), but at least we'll FINALLY get to see this flick.

I've previously blogged about the ridiculous struggle to get this film released, and the incredibly insipid way that Warner Bros. has handled this flick, so I won't go into all of that here. I'm Just happy to know that we get to see this little gem. I know I'll be having a viewing party for like-minded individuals this weekend!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Kreativ Bloggers

A VERY happy first day of October, the greatest month of the year!

First off, a big thanks to Wendy the VERY Good Witch, who nominated me for this! Wens and I have been cyber-buddies for a few years now, going back to the early days of MySpace. She's as big of a Halloween freak as I am, creative as all get-out, and a lovely soul on top of it all! Her blog, The Halloween Tree, is one of my favorite haunts on the net.

Okey-day, here's the dealio:

1. Thank the person who gave this to you.
2. Copy the Logo and Place it in your Blog.
3. Link the person who nominated you.
4. Name 7 things about yourself that no one would really know.
5. Nominate 7 "Kreativ Bloggers".
6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs and let them know you nominated them.

Seven things you don't know about me? Hmmmm....

1. I love superheroes as much as I love monsters, and I'm a rabid comic collector

2. I collect toys, specifically monsters and superheroes (imagine that! Yeah, I'm a TOTAL geek!)

3. When I lived in Austin I got to meet and hang out with Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater, Nickie Katt, Willie Nelson and Bruce Campbell (not at the same time, mind you). All of them were super nice folks who were fairly down to earth.

4. I'm a sometimes actor who has also produced a play! While I prefer the stage, I've also done commercials and voice-over work.

5. When I lived in San Antonio, I moonlighted as a celebrity impersonator. I did various shows, birthday parties, etc. portraying such folks as Prince, Ozzy Osbourne, Mick Jagger, Kid Rock and Freddy Krueger. My strangest gig? Being hired to impersonate Ozzy for a high school prom!

6. For years I was the regular Dr. Frank N. Furter in the Houston cast of Rocky Horror. My final show was Halloween 2000 in Galveston. I hope to one day direct my own theatrical production of the original stage show.

7. I'm actually an ordained minister. I've even officiated two sets of friends' weddings!

Now, for the blogs I nominate (it was hard only including 7!):

The amazing, incomparable Trixie Treats!

Next up are two entries by members of Calabrese, the world's GREATEST HORROR ROCK BAND! Brothers Jimmy Calabrese and Bobby "Vamp"
Calabrese share their thoughts on all things spooky!

For those of you who dig home haunting and amazing Halloween photography, check out Pumpkin
Rot's blog! He's got an amazing page, and an even more stunning website!

The amazing art of Doo Wacka Doodles! Nuff Said!

Dig monsters? Check out Skeleface: Keeping it Killer!

My last entry is the blog for House of Mysterious Secrets, a great site for ordering horror-themed goodies! Everything from t-shirts to toys is available! My wife pretty much does all of her birthday/Christmas/Father's Day shopping for me from this site

Well, that should just about do it! Everyone get out there and decorate your houses and yards with spooky stuff! The Samhain Season is upon us!!!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Where Lurks the Gill-Man?

Okay, so both of you who read my blog may have wondered where the h-e-double-hockey-sticks I've been. Yes, once again I have disappeared into my murky lagoon, without hide nor scale to be seen of me. Well, it all comes down to one simple reason: surgery. No, mad scientists did not try to turn this fish-man into an air-breather...I actually had surgery on my spine. For the past year I've had excruciating pains in my lower back and hip, and I've dealt with problems like this off and on for years, so the time had come to take care of this issue.

For the first couple of weeks I just didn't feel like messing with keeping up with my blog, or anything else for that matter. I basically laid around the house, totally lazy (with the exception of my hour long nightly walk that the doctor requires). I'm slowly returning to my old ghastly self, so it seemed time to let y'all know that I still live. In the next few weeks, I plan to begin my Halloween decorations in earnest. The biggest challenge right now is that I cannot lift anything over five pounds, so my kiddos have to assist me with any lifting. This is damned frustrating, as you can imagine.

On the plus side, I've binged on movies the past several weeks, most especially horror flicks. I got re-aquanted with many old horror films I hadn't seen in forever (I especially enjoyed seeing the original version of My Bloody Valentine again. That flick is a slasher that actually holds up pretty well).

Anyhoo, that's all! I'm alive, and still lurking in the shadows underneath your bed!!!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Horror Remakes: A Necessary Evil?

Hollywood, as everyone is well aware, is on a major remake kick right now. Everything from Footloose to Fame is being remade, and it seems that originality is being ignored by and large. Of course, this is nothing new in the world of film. The celluloid world has always gone through periods where producers have looked to the hits of the past to bring in new audiences. The thought seems to be that, if it was a success once, then it will be again.

No genre is this more prevelant than in that of horror films. Most early films in the genre were adaptations of gothic novels, penny dreadfuls, or folklore. Within a short time, the silent films were remade as "talkies", with these black & white entries eventually giving way to colored reinvisionings. In recent times, the horror films of the 70's and 80's have been dredged up, with classics like Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Omen, Friday the 13th and The Amityville Horror all getting the updated treatments. Naturally, many horror fans find these films to be akin to blasphemy, as the originals are viewed as near-perfect in their ability to produce sheer terror. While I can understand this reaction, I present an alternate viewpoint: horror remakes as a necessary evil to keep these stories alive.

Back when Hammer films began their revamps of the classic Universal horror films, many afficianados of terror balked at the idea of someone other than Bela Legosi donning Dracula's cape. By the time Hammer's films hit the market, the characters of Frankenstein's Monster and Dracula had long been absorbed into the collective consciousness of pop culture. Children the world over dressed as these characters for Halloween, and they were parodied in cartoons and novelty songs. Pictures of the monsters appeared on magazine covers and all sorts of varied media. This type of over-exposure led to the characters becoming mainstays of day-to-day life, rendering them completely tame. They no longer had the impact they once did on audiences, because they had lost their ability to scare. How terrifying can a creature be that appears on your cereal bowl? Since books like Frankenstein and Dracula were in the public domain, Hammer had no problem with using these stories for new films, so long as they didn't copy the Universal films outright. In doing so, they actually made films that were highly watchable, as they deviated enough to keep viewers interested. In short, they made the characters scary again. The villians didn't appear exactly as they had originally been depicted in the Universal movies, and the stories took new, surprising turns. Today, Christopher Lee's portrayal of Dracula is regarded by many to be just as iconic as that of Legosi.

Many people of my generation can recall cowering in the dark at sleep-overs to the sight of Freddy Krueger killing teens in their dreams. We can remember staying up late to watch Jason hack up horny campers, or see Michael Myers stalk babysitters. We grew up watching these films, and they scared the crap out of us! As time went on, these characters started to lose their edge. We grew accustomed to seeing kids in goalie masks or striped sweaters on Halloween, and we'd seen too many fat guys with chainsaws at the local haunted house to find Leatherface even slightly threatening. For the generations coming after us, these characters were funny (if they were even aware of them). Freddy and Jason were lampooned on The Simpsons and Family Guy, and the films themselves became self-parodying (you know when they start having these villians killing folks in outer-space they have run out of ideas). These monsters wound up following in the footsteps of their Universal predescessors by becoming pale imitations of what they had once been.

The only way for a series that is so long in the tooth to truly survive is for it to get the remake treatment. The characters themselves need to be given a fresh start, without the bogged down continuity that seems to come with numerous sequels. Now, I will admit that the majority of the time, Hollywood screws the pooch with this. You usually wind up with one of two types of remakes. Flicks like the redux of The Amityville Horror which lose the essential elements of the original in the attempt to try to make their own mark on the original story. On the other hand, you have films like Gus Van Zandt's take on Hitcock's masterpiece Psycho, an almost frame-by-frame copy of the original. Sure, the young people who go to the movies to see this film have probably never watched the classic version, but for those that have....Booooooooooring!

Occassionally, Hollywood gets it right. Some filmmakers find a way to balance being true to the source material, while also creating an engaging story that has some originality. John Carpenter's The Thing is probably the best example of a remake done right. Carpenter took the concept from 1951's The Thing From Another World, and crafted an engaging, terrifying classic of the genre. The plots are the same, but the story itself is updated in a way that still keeps the viewer guessing, regardless of how many times he or she has seen the original. David Cronenberg took a similar approach when he remade the 1958 b-movie, The Fly, taking the same basic premise and turning it into a disturbing, creepy masterpiece. I often read or hear horror fans declare that "all remakes suck", but I have to point to these films as a refutation of such a theory.

Quality issues aside, these remakes serve another purpose entirely, and that is to introduce new generations to these characters and stories. Many young people are reluctant to seek out older films, particularly if they belong to a franchise that has dozens of sequels. To them, the effects are bad, the stories cheesy and the characters comical. Much of this stems from the aforementioned fact that these characters have been in the pop culture conciousness for so long. It is difficult to find anything even remotely frightening about a character that you've seen thousands of times over the years, begging for candy on your doorstep. The characters have become iconic in their own right, but the downside is that this creates familiarity. The familiar is rarely frightening.

Remakes give the filmmakers the chance to build the story again from the ground up, putting a fresh face on an old story. Sadly, many don't take advantage of this to the full extent that they could, often just delivering a half-baked rehash of what had gone before. Still, the ultimate goal is fulfilled to deliver a new generation their own version of a classic story, Some will argue that the new generation should get their OWN classic stories, but it rarely works this way. In fact, almost all stories are variations on those previously told at one point or another. Whether it be something like Star Wars, telling the classic myths in a sci-fi setting, or Halloween, updating the legend of the boogeyman, all stories have some sort of tie to those that have been previously told. Going back to the days when humans gathered by a fire in a cave, listening to the old storyteller weave his tales, stories would be absorbed into the listener's mind to be later told again. Naturally, those tales would be altered somewhat with each telling, growing in scope and details. Film is a modern medium for that same process, the only difference being that the original tale is preserved for future viewing as well. The "new" stories being told may seem original, but they really aren't. They ultimately re-examine previously established archetypes. The originality comes in with the manner in which they go about telling the same old tale.

By no means am I trying to say that filmmakers shouldn't strive for originality. In fact, I'd like to see some true, new horror boogeymen to arise in modern culture. Still, the ones that have been established, and risen to the ranks of iconic status, are worthy of being pulled down from the shelf and dusted off from time to time (and, maybe, given a fresh coat of paint as well). Let's face it, when was the last time Freddy Krueger was anything even remotely resembling scary? Part 3? In the original, he was a dark, demonic character hiding in your dreams. By the time you get to the last few movies of the series he was a wise-cracking, comedic figure...a sort of Horror Henny Youngman. With A Nightmare on Elm St. currently being remade, many fans are up-in-arms at a new actor taking on the role from Robert Englund. Naturally, Englund is responsible for much of what made the character so iconic to begin with, but therein also lies the problem. His take on the character is the ONLY one, so therefore it is the defining take. Not much new or interesting can be done with the character, UNLESS you bring in a new actor to look at the character from a different angle. Jackie Earle Haley, of Watchman fame, has been cast in the role, and it is said that his take hearkens back to Englund's portrayal in the original, but with an even darker tone. It remains to be seen if this will be successful in returning Mr. Krueger to his previous status of a truly terrifying villian, but it looks like Haley is on the right track.

I'd love to see a slow-down on the remake front, or at least see some films that could benefit from having updated special-effects get the remake treatment. Alas, the remake is a necessary evil for the survival of big screen boogeymen. Without the remake, these characters would fade into obscurity. Part of why Dracula remains such a well-known screen villian is due to the fact that he has appeared in more films than any other character. While the majority of these are quite bad, the ones that DO manage to bring something interesting to the story cause him to be re-invigorated for new audiences. The same holds true for all of the Hollywood horror icons. They need the remake like a vampire needs blood!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The "Death" of Horror?

So, I stumbled across this guy's blog, where he gives reasons why the horror genre is "dying":

Well, pardon me for being skeptical, but I've been to this funeral before. Horror is always around, but the quality is always in flux. People seem to forget that, during any given point in history, there are always some true classics of the genre...and a whole lot of complete garbage.

Going back to horrors "golden age" of the Univeral Monsters, you had the classics like Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolf-Man, etc, all dominating the box office. In time, numerous sequels and "versus" pictures became the way for Hollywood to milk these franchises for every last drop. Eventually these series became a joke, with the classic monsters showing up in comedies with Abbot & Costello. The cry at the time? "Horror is dying"!

In the 1950s and 60s, irradiated monsters, space-men and vengeful creatures from times past arose on the silver screen, and horror started to thrive once more. Hitchcock created the prototype for the slasher with Psycho, and audiences started to flock to theaters. Of course, as time went on the irradiated monsters became more and more ludicrous, the space-men silly, and the creatures more obviously men in rubber suits. These films became punch-lines and gags, with gimmicks like 3-D and "Smell-O-Vision" becoming more important than the actual plot of the films themselves. Of course, most people thought "horror is dying"!

In the 1970s and 80s, we had the drive-in circuit, which were mainly films with low budgets and minimal studio backing (these films were also the backbone of the "grindhouses" of this era). These played in their theaters, sometimes for months on end, garnering cult audiences from word-of-mouth. Most were never huge sellers, but they were able to make a profit over time. (it should be noted that the midnight movie circuit was also a huge factor, giving new life to films like Eraserhead, Phantom of the Paradise and The Rocky Horror Picture Show that had previously flopped at the box office). Horror movies like The Exorcist and Halloween were able to dominate at the box-office, but the majority of the greats from the 70s were those films that found their audience at the drive-in.

As the home video and cable markets expanded, the drive-ins and grindhouses dried up. Eventually, you had a new market with "direct to video" films. While the majority of these were piss-poor, you'd still get the occasional gem that just didn't get its day in the theater. Hollywood has always chased big hits, and often won't take a chance on a film that isn't a "sure thing". With the drive-ins & grindhouses, the studios had an outlet for those films they were unsure of, putting them out in the hopes that they would find some sort of audience. Home video rentals made this redundant, so soon the shakier stuff was sent directly to video. Unfortunately, the increased visibility of videos soon led to these films getting a reputation for being cheap, crappy flicks that weren't good enough to make it in a theater. While this was often true, it really wasn't any different from the grindhouse days. Plenty of those films were crap, but the bad stuff was often overshadowed by cool, edgy flicks like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Evil Dead. So, now you have lots of bad movies clogging the video aisles, particularly in the horror section. What is the reaction? "Horror is dying"! Of course, this is the era that gave us Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm St, Hellraiser, Poltergeist, etc. While all those films had silly sequels, there is no denying that the originals were classics who made their mark on popular culture.

Of course, you get to the 1990s and 2000s, and you have a rash of remakes, self-aware parodies (the Scream series) and Japanese adaptations. Many of these are quite good, but the majority are awful. Studios now want to maximize their profits, so the marketing geniuses give us PG-13 fair, while later offering up "unrated director's cut" DVDs later on to purists. Is this causing the "death" of horror? I'd say it's just another typical bump in the road for the genre. The "torture porn" sub-genre is already beginning to wane, and there are still films that are hitting the scene that generate a buzz, like The Strangers, Drag Me To Hell, Let the Right One In and the upcoming Trick 'r Treat (which is getting the straight to DVD treatment, even though it has been hailed as a modern horror classic by most critics).

So no, horror isn't dead. It isn't even really dying. It is lying there, waiting for you to get too close so it can reach up and grab you when you least expect it. You may THINK it's dead, but that is never a good thing to assume when it comes to horror movies!

Monday, June 1, 2009


Yeah, so.....I haven't been on here in ages, mainly because I've been crazy busy at work and at home. My kids have activities almost every night of the week, and I've been covering for all sorts of people at work. Add in an impending back surgery, and there really has been zero time whatsoever. Sometimes being a grown-up totally blows My apologies to all of my friends here who probably think I'm ignoring them....or dead! I'm quite alive....and I'm lurking in the shadows of your room! Mwuhahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

*ahem* So, for all the activity in my life, I really don't have a whole lot to say. This is the worst blog entry ever! I guess I'll highlight some recent movie/TV viewing, as well as my current reading:

Movies: The new Star Trek film totally kicked my ass! I love sci-fi stuff, and I've never been one of those Star Wars vs. Star Trek kinda guys. To me, both have merit. That having been said, the Trek franchise had gotten pretty stale, and the most recent TV series sucked donkey balls. I thought this new film had a great solution to the bogged down history of Trek. It did a great job of tying into the old continuity, while at the same time providing a fresh start to the series. Really, this is the best of this year's Summer far!

I also checked out Sam Raimi's return to horror, Drag Me To Hell. Gotta say, this movie was a true return to form! It had the humour, gore and scares of the Evil Dead films, while at the same time seeming like a fresh new film. Damned good horror flick!

TV: I've gotten hooked on Harper's Island. Basically, it's a murder mystery crossed with a soap opera by way of a slasher film! The show is fun for anyone who is into the slasher sub-genre!

My niece has also got me hooked on 30 Rock, which is damned hilarious. She also has managed to get me addicted to Supernatural (she's like a TV pusher!), which is a way better show than I thought it would be. When it first debuted, I pretty much ignored it as yet another WB/CW teeny-bopper show, but it is really quite clever. I'm about to wrap up watching the 3rd season on DVD, so I can get caught up as soon as season 4 hits stores. My hope is that I can be completely up to speed by the time the new season airs.

Books: I'm currently reading The Heroin Diaries, by Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue fame. I'd previously read The Dirt, which was a memoir by all of the members, and found it to be simealtaneously the funniest and saddest book I'd ever read. Well, this book is similar...only missing the humorous parts. It features Nikki's actual diary entries over the course of a year, with commentary from him as well as others who knew him during this time period. Pardon my french, but the only way to really describe the material is "fucked up". It's probably the most insightful glimpse into the mind of a junkie ever, and it is quite disturbing. Not for the faint of heart!

Okay, that's about it for now. I know this is a pretty lame entry, but hopefully I'll get back to blogging on a more regular kind of basis here soon!

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Bratz of Crystal Lake

A short while back, I published a blog called "The Bratz of Haddonfield", which featured my daughter's dolls being terrorized by my Michael Myers figure. In honor of Friday the 13th, and the new film's release, I'm back at it again with that other silent stalker of the silver screen:












Thursday, February 12, 2009

More Jason Stuff

Continuing my weeklong tribute to the Friday the 13th series (both in honor of the new flick, as well as the fact that this Friday falls on the 13th), I thought today I'd look at a few of YouTube's Jason-themed offerings.

First up is a fan film by Sean Mcleod, starring artist Andrew Barr as Jason. The moral of this one: never play football near Crystal Lake (in fact, just stay away from that place. It just never goes well for folks who hang out there).

Next up is an entry from those Robot Chicken guys! This one has a great concept (although I'm not so sure that Velma is into guys):

Last, but not least, is one that just speaks for itself:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Jason Voorhees: A Candid Interview

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing movie maniac Jason Voorhees of the hugely successful Friday The 13th movie series. We all know Jason from his huge body count, but I was curious: who is the man behind the mask?

DG: It's a real pleasure to meet you! You're quite a legend!

JV: Why thank you! It's nice to be recognized for my work.

DG: In your films, you never speak. Why is that?

JV: Well, when I'm out hacking up teens, I feel that being the strong, silent type is the best way to go. I know a few of my fellow killers follow this philosophy. Michael Myers really started the whole thing, and I come from his school of thought on the matter. Other maniacs, like Freddy for instance, like to taunt their victims, but that just isn't me. It's an artistic choice.

DG: Speaking of Freddy, you fought him in Freddy vs. Jason. Are you really rivals off set, or do you get along?

JV: We had a decent working relationship, but I wouldn't categorize us as friends. He really kept to himself when we weren't filming.

DG: Are there any other film murderers you do spend time with?

JV: Oh yeah! Michael Myers and I go way back! He was really like a mentor to me when I first got into this business. He took me under his wing, showed me the ropes. I'm sure you can see some of his influence in my work. He's a much more simplistic murderer than I am, but that just works for him, ya know? He's a minimalist, whereas I try to get real creative with my kills. Still, he's done some brilliant stuff! I mean, check out that nurse he kills in the hot-tub in Halloween II! That was just amazing!

DG: Anyone else?

JV: Leatherface and I hang out from time-to-time. I go by his place anytime I'm in Texas. He makes the best sausage around! Candyman is also a close friend, as is Pumpkinhead.

DG: You've now starred in 11 films. Is there any that stand out for you?

JV: I started out so young. I mean, I was just a kid when we did the first one, and my mom really was the star of that picture. I was barely in the movie, and I spent most of my time in the lake. Still, I learned a lot by watching the people on that set, especially mom. She really is my inspiration!

I'm also really proud of my work on part 6. That was a big comeback for me, and I was nervous that the public wouldn't accept me coming out of retirement, but they really seemed to like it.

DG: Speaking of the retirement, you've now "retired" twice. What is the story with that, and why do you keep coming back?

JV: I guess I just love the business! I mean, killing horny, drug and alcohol crazed teens is what I was born to do! When I first retired, after part four (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter), I was just tired. The studio brought in that Corey Feldman kid as a possible replacement, but that wasn't what they ultimately did with the series. The next movie (Friday the 13th part 5: A New Beginning), they couldn't get Feldman back, since he was now hanging out with Michael Jackson, so they got some other guy to play his character (Tommy Jarvis). I really felt this was a bad move, and to top it off, they had a whole red-herring thing going by revealing the killer to be an ambulance driver or something. They still set up Tommy to be my replacement at the end of the movie, but by then the damage was done.

DG: You actually did a cameo in that film. Why, when you had retired?

JV: I really did it as a favor to the producers. I just appeared as a vision for Tommy. It was an afternoon's work, so it wasn't a big deal.

DG: So, why did you come out of retirement for the next picture (Friday the 13th part 6: Jason Lives)?

JV: Well, first off, I had taken a nice, long break. I had vacationed in Hawaii, and really taken some time to get in touch with my feelings. I did a lot of soul-searching, and discovered that I really missed eviscerating promiscuous campers. I also felt like I needed to come in and help clean up this franchise that I had helped build. I knew that I couldn't let the studio make another travesty like part 5. When Paramount called and asked me to come back for a new film, I jumped at the chance.

DG: So why did you retire again in the early 90's with Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday?

JV: I'll be honest with you, that was all just a big publicity stunt on the part of New Line. We'd moved over to that studio from Paramount, and they were eager for me to do a flick with Freddy. They had both of us announce our "retirements" so they could then make a big deal of it when we "returned" in a "vs." picture. Of course, that movie got stuck in development hell, and we wound up doing other stuff in the meantime.

DG: So, how did you come up with the infamous goalie mask that has become your trademark?

JV: You may remember in the first film I didn't have any mask at all. I was just this lumpy headed kid. That just isn't scary. I felt Michael Myers had really gotten it right with his mask in the Halloween series, so I wanted something like that. In the second film I had a sort of bag on my head, but that just wasn't working for me. I'd always been big into hockey, so when we did the third film I brought along a goalie mask on the first day of the shoot. I had been playing with some of my friends at a local ice rink, and I had it in my bag. The director saw it, suggested that I put it on, and the rest is history!

DG: What was the reasoning for the direction you went in Jason X? Why sci-fi?

JV: To tell the truth, I was really wanting to branch out and do new things. I had auditioned for a few romantic comedies, and I was even briefly cast in Miss Congeniality with Sandra Bullock, but that didn't work out.

DG: Really? I wasn't aware of that! What happened?

JV: Well, I kept killing the extras they had for the beauty pagent scenes, and the director and producers really didn't take too kindly to that. I mean, that is what I do, but they just didn't feel like it fit their vision of what they thought the film should be. Personally, after having seen the final film, I think it would have been a way better movie if they'd allowed me to take out a few of the contestants. It would have given it an edge. Still, I got to meet Bill Shatner, so it wasn't a total waste!

DG: Any other films you were a part of, but were cut from?

JV: The only other one was Moulin Rouge. I had really wanted to make a musical, and I felt like this was my chance. Baz Lurhmann fired me when I tried to kill Nicole Kidman during one of her numbers. Hey, if you had to listen to that screeching she calls "singing", you'd have tried to kill her too! I still feel that I would have done everyone a service if they'd allowed me to put her out of her misery. She sounds like a dying cat! He replaced me with Ewan McGreggor, which I find to be an interesting choice.

DG: Okay, so back to Jason X. You decided to make a sci-fi film?

JV: Yeah. I'd always been a big fan of Ridley Scott's Alien, and so I really pushed to get this picture made. I know some of the fans didn't care for me doing a space picture, as they felt I was pulling a "Moonraker", but I'm really proud of that film. I felt it contained some of my best work, and the cyborg costume was fantastic! Still, I had to listen to my fans, so that led us to finally doing the Freddy flick.

DG: At one point, it was rumoured you were doing a new Friday the 13th with Quentin Tarantino. What is the story on that.

JV: I had suggested Tarantino after I saw Kill Bill. I mean, if he can make a skinny chick like Uma Thurman into a bad-ass killer, just imagine what he could do for me! We met and discussed it, but Quentin was busy with other projects. I'm hoping we'll one day get to work together.

DG: You just completed the 12th entry in this series, a "reboot" if you will. What is up next for you? Sequel?

JV: That has been discussed, but I'm just not sure what will happen at this point. Right now, I'm busy with a pet project of mine that I'm hoping will hit the stage in the next year or so.

DG: Stage? What is this project you speak of?

JV: Like I said, I've always wanted to do a musical, so I've been working with Tim Rice to do Friday the 13th: The Musical. I think it's a great direction for me, and we're hoping to have some of the success that other films have had when they were adapted into stage musicals. I mean, if The Producers can be a broadway hit, why can't Friday the 13th?

DG: Is there anything about you that you feel your fans should know?

JV: Hey, I just want all of them to know how much I appreciate their support throughout everything I've been through. The Academy may never recognise me for my work, and I may never have Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt numbers, but I do have a loyal fan base. That means the world to me!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Crystal Lake Revisited, Part 2

This is the second part of my look back on the Friday the 13th film series. My previous blog focused on the first five movies in this franchise, so both of you who actually read the crap I write should go take a gander at that one first. As I stated previously, I've already seen all of these movies before, but I wanted to watch them again with a more mature, worldly perspective going for me (stop laughing, damn it!!!). In the case of Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part 6, having an older, wiser point of view really adds to the viewing experience, as you can totally see what the director was going for. I have to say, I LOVE this film! I want to marry it and make babies with it! It is, quite simply, frigging brilliant in its silliness. It is obvious that writer/director Tom McLoughlin is having a ball throughout, and that he doesn't take the subject matter too seriously. At the same time, he doesn't mock the character at all. In fact, he seems to really work towards making Jason into a truly scary monster.

While the previous entry had set up Tommy Jarvis to be the successor to Jason, the low box-office take of that flick convinced the studio that they needed to bring big J back. Of course, the main problem is that Tommy had hacked him into itty, bitty pieces in the fourth flick. Hey, this is horror! This isn't a problem! McLoughlin takes care of this point by having one of the most over-the-top opening sequences in this entire series. Tommy, now played by Thom Mathews, is apparently over his psycho moments from the previous movie, and just wants to make sure Jason is truly dead (I guess those hallucinations he kept having made him doubt that he had truly been successful when he chopped him up like a piece of chicken at Benihana). Tommy and a buddy from the mental hospital (played by Ron Palillo of "Welcome Back Kotter" fame) go out to Jason's grave to dig him up. No.... really. Tommy wants to burn his body, but wouldn'tcha know...he has a flashback and goes all ape$hit on Jason's wormy remains with a metal pole. Naturally, a thunderstorm is occurring at this moment, and lighting strikes the pole. Guess what happens???!!! If this sounds goofy as all get out, well…it is! But, just to show you where the film's intentions lie, the camera quickly shows a close-up of re-animated Jason's eye…and then does an homage to the James Bond flicks' opening "gun view" by substituting big J in place of the spy (throwing a knife, rather than shooting, of course). It is this kind of attitude that prevails throughout the rest of the film. Now, that isn't to say that this one just plays it silly. Rather, it revels in the over-the-top nature of the slasher-flick, and thus mixes in the humor with liberal amounts of carnage and scares. The film never devolves into outright parody, but it is obvious that it isn't intended to be viewed as serious either. The acting is also much better than most of these, and the dialogue quite witty. While not quite as perfect of a blend of horror and comedy as Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn, this flick is still pretty great at combining the two. Overall, it makes this movie just plain fun, and easily my favorite of this entire, bloated franchise. Hey, what other movie are you gonna see Arnold Horshack getting punched through the torso???

Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood has the misfortune of following such a strong entry, and that is a shame. The flaws in this one stand out all the more than they would on others, but there are still some great things about it. First off, this was the first of the series to feature fan-favorite Kane Hodder as Jason. Hodder brings a powerful, sinister presence to Jason in his movements and mannerisms, and it really makes him seem quite fearsome. The plot of this one focuses on Tina, who has the gift of telekinesis (yeah, its pretty much Jason vs. Carrie as far as the story goes). Tina is haunted by her accidentally killing her father years before on a Crystal Lake pier, and so she returns with her mother and an unscrupulous shrink to face her demons. Of course, the shrink just wants to exploit her gift, and his machinations lead to Tina accidentally reviving Jason. Director John Buechler goes out of his way to incorporate the past film's continuities into this one by having Jason's previous injuries be visible (Buechler does the make-up as well, as that was his chosen profession. He was convinced by the producers that he should direct this flick, despite his lack of experience in this realm). Hodder's Jason looks like the slimy, chewed-on-by-fish-for-years zombie that he is supposed to be, and I have to say that I quite like his look in this one. The make-up & effects for Jason are the absolute best in this film, which is no small feat when you consider that the great Tom Savini was involved in the early films. The acting is lacking, and in many ways this one is by-the-numbers in as far as the kills go (though this is probably more due to MPAA meddling than anything else), but the presence of Tina and her TK power makes for some fun moments, giving Jason an adversary that can actually be a threat to him. Hodder himself just does a great job, and it is easy to see why he gained such a following amongst the fans of the series.

Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan, is a mess of a film, even when it comes to low-budget slasher films of the 1980s. This one finds Jason being drug along unknowingly by a party boat, full of high school grads, departing from Crystal Lake for the Big Apple. Over half of this film is spent on the boat, most likely for budgetary reasons, blowing the chance to really see Jason in the New York setting for any length of time. When the survivors do arrive in Manhattan, they spend most of the remaining time running down dark alleys that are obviously on a sound-stage. The over-all effect is like watching Jason running amok on a sitcom set, with the occasional NY location shot being thrown in for good measure. The protagonist in this one, Rennie, is another girl with powers of the mind, only she experiences some sort of psychic visions. Throughout the film, we see her having hallucinations of Jason as a kid, usually in some sort of drowning scenario. This is obviously an attempt to tie this entry to the original film, but it is done so cheaply that it never really makes sense as to what these visions are supposed to signify. Adding to the confusion is the fact that sometimes Juvenile Jason sports his "deformed" make-up from the original film, while in other shots he appears as a normal-looking kid. The climax of the film has Jason pursuing our heroes through the New York sewer system, where he is dispatched by a flood of toxic waste (the city, we are told, releases their toxic waste into the sewer on a nightly basis)! The sheer silliness of this notion caused me to laugh out loud. Does the EPA know that New York City does this??? Maybe this is what causes giant gators and ninja turtles? As Jason does his best impression of the "I'm melting" bit from The Wizard of Oz, Rennie sees another vision of him as a young, normal boy. What the hell that was supposed to mean, I haven't a clue.

Now, this film isn't without merit. The unintentionally funny bits are plentiful, such as when Jason PUNCHES A GUY'S HEAD OFF!!!( No, really!!!). This flick is filled with silly moments that, in the hands of a better director, could have really been played up. Instead, they are only comical for the "oh, you gotta be kidding me" effect that they have on the viewer. Hodder is back in the hockey mask, and he puts in another great performance. He does an excellent job of conveying a sense of rage and determination, which is no small feat when your face isn't shown, and you have no dialogue. Unfortunately, he can't save this mess. Director/Writer Rob Hedden just seems clueless as to how to go about making a horror flick of any kind, although it is highly likely that he had to cave in to budgetary restraints and MPAA tinkering. Adding to the craptacular nature of this is that Harry Manfredini, the composer for the previous seven installments, is replaced by some hack named Fred Mollin. Mollin creates an incredibly dated, suspense-free score that will have you giggling at times throughout the flick.

Fun fact: Paramount originally intended to follow up part 8 with Jason Takes L.A., in which our undead, goalie-masked madman would have run afoul of the Crips and the Bloods! Instead, when the rights reverted back to producer Sean S. Cunningham, he chose to shop them around to other studios. Ultimately, New Line Cinema shelled out the dough for Jason, and that is how Mr. Voorhees wound up at The House That Freddy Built. That leads us to our next entry:

Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday, is the second in the series to claim to be the last. Once again, this wouldn't be a "final" entry at all. In fact, it seems obvious watching this years later that the only reason Jason is sent to Hell in this one is to set up a Freddy vs. Jason film (the plan to combine these two series was already in the works at this point, but the film meeting between the two horror giants didn't hit screens for another decade, getting trapped in "development hell"). The plot of this, the ninth film, is an attempt to expand Jason beyond the simple slasher genre. Does it work? Not at all. There are tons of great ideas, but they ultimately don't pan out. The film opens in traditional Friday the 13th fashion, with a scantily clad girl being stalked by Jason (how he came back from being a ball of goo at the end of the previous film is never really explained, although they may have just decided to ignore that installment altogether). It quickly changes gears when an FBI assault teams shows up to blow Jason into little bits. Soon, what is left of Jason is carted off to a secret morgue, where the remains are to be studied by government-type scientists. Jason's black heart soon starts to beat, hypnotizing the forensic expert who then EATS THE HEART! Seems that Jason has the (heretofore unseen) ability to swap bodies by becoming this snakey, parasite-thingy that possesses folks a la The Hidden. He then heads off to find his long-lost sister, who he needs in order to be truly reborn (without Voorhees DNA, the bodies he takes over decay rapidly). Turns out that sis (played by Erin Gray) lives near Crystal Lake! Hot on Jason's heels is Creighton Duke (Steven Williams), a bounty hunter who seems to know everything about Jason and how his abilities work. How he came by this knowledge is never explained, and therein lies the biggest problem with this entry: plot holes, vaguely defined retcons, and contradictions to previously established continuity abound in JGTH. Now, whenever you have a series with this many sequels, you'll have a few inconsistencies that crop up from time-to-time, and the rest of the Ft13 flicks have plenty. Horror fans are extremely forgiving of such nit-picky things, and generally ignore or explain them in their own minds. In this case, you can see why so many fans just weren't willing to give this flick a pass. It almost seems like the film-makers were assuming that the audience had either never seen one of these movies before, or were just too stupid to notice the holes in the plot that were big enough to drive a Mack truck through! Since three different writers appear in the credits, it may be that numerous re-writes were applied to the script, ultimately leaving out rather important information. Or, it could just be that these guys didn't have a clue as to what a Ft13 flick was really about. When it is all said and done, the movie is a bloated beast that collapses under its own weight. It is filled with all sorts of ideas that are never fully explored, and it cannot seem to make up its mind if it wants to be a "serious" horror film, or a self-aware parody. Director Adam Marcus also throws everything he can into the soup, visually referencing everything from Twin Peaks to The Hidden (I was almost surprised that Kyle MacLachlan didn't show up in a cameo). He gets some kudos for including the props of The Necronomicon (from The Evil Dead) and the Artic Expedition crate (from Creepshow), but these also act as reminders of far better horror flicks. The Necronomicon's presence in the film is actually prominent enough that it led many fans to speculate that it was intended to be a much bigger plot point, possibly a hint that Jason's mother used the book to re-animate her son in the original. If THAT idea had actually been explored here, then this movie would have been much more interesting. As it stands, it just winds up seeming like another loose end that is never tied up. Hodder is back as Jason, but he too is wasted in his role, since he only appears at the beginning and end of the film, as well as in a few reflections of his possessed hosts. All in all, a film that is just severely lacking. It seems obvious that, with a little more work, this COULD have been a decent horror movie, but the end result is just lackluster.

After JGTH, New Line would put Freddy vs. Jason into pre-production, with numerous scripts being churned out over the years. In the meantime, they would pursue a tenth entry in the Friday the 13th series. I'll get to that one in a bit, because, film continuity-wise, it occurs last amongst all of them. FvJ finally made its cinematic debut in 2003, some ten years after first getting the green-light from the studio suits. Now, "versus" films are often problematic, since combining two different characters and continuities into one film is no easy task. A film pitting Freddy against Jason may be a great idea on paper, but just how do you put these two radically different characters in a movie together? Jason is a mindless brute, who kills for the sake of killing, while Freddy is a smart-assed psychopath who murders folks in their dreams. Well, New Line had numerous writers that attempted to craft just such a script, with all of them said to have sucked like a Hoover. Finally, screenwriters Damian Shannon & Mark Swift managed to crack it, and the resulting film is a blast! Freddy vs. Jason is not only respectful of the two franchise's histories, it actually utilizes bits and pieces from both series to move the story along. Seems that Freddy is stuck in Hell, and the only way he can regain his power is to get the kids on Elm Street to remember him. He finds Jason, and decides to manipulate him into returning to the land of the living to stir up terror back in his old digs of Springwood. Naturally, Jason continues to kill after he's outlived his usefulness to Freddy, taking away potential victims for the gloved one. This leads to the conflict between the two. It's a simple plot, but it works. Especially cool to a Friday the 13th fan is the fact that it references the events from the first film, with Jason's mother and his drowning death being story elements that are important factors. Most important, this movie is pure fun. It balances humorous moments with over-the-top deaths. It isn't really scary, but it maintains the tone of both series. Jason turns out to be a great foil for Freddy, as his silent, killing-machine approach is nicely contrasted against Freddy's overly verbose theatrics. Sure, it's pretty durned silly, but it is apparent that everyone involved genuinely loves both series, and thus everyone is clearly having fun. Oddly, Kane Hodder does not play Jason here, even though he was well loved by fans of the series, and had portrayed him in four previous movies. Apparently, he was too close in size to Robert Englund, and director Ronny Yu felt that Jason should be an imposing presence next to Krueger. Hodder was replaced by Ken Kirzinger, who has the unenviable task of following on the heels of one who was widely felt to have been the defining actor to play the role. He does a decent job, all things considered. He makes up for his lack of sheer ferocity by being an incredibly hulking prescence. Kirzinger is a mountain of a guy, and uses that to his advantage. This film is a must-see for the "rave" scene alone, in which Jason is set on fire as he pursues intoxicated teenagers through a corn field!

Now, with the success of FvJ, it stand to reason that New Line would immediately rush a sequel into production, and they did exactly that. A script treatment was approved, and pre-production began on Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, which would pit the two movie madmen against the hero from The Evil Dead trilogy. The ED movies had long had a huge cult following, and this movie came extremely close to getting made. Actor Bruce Campbell, who portrayed Ash in all three films, had even said he would do the flick if it got off the ground. Unfortunately, legal red-tape prevented this from happening, but DC/Wildstorm and Dynamite Comics managed to secure permission to adapt Jeff Katz's script treatment into comic. The result is actually one of the best installments of any of the film series! Using the throw-away "easter-egg" visual of The Necronomicon in JGTH, the story centers on Freddy manipulating Jason to get his hands on the infernal book, so that he can become a living god. When it comes to the whole Book of the Dead thing, Ash is never too far away. He arrives in Crystal Lake to match his chainsaw and boomstick against Jason, and his one-liners against Freddy. I urge anyone who is a fan of ANY of these characters to pick this one up, as it truly is the sequel that SHOULD have been! It is fun, violent, creepy and downright groovy! I know it isn't technically a movie, but I felt I'd be remiss if I left that one out!

The final entry is Jason X. Say it with me now: "JASON IN SPAAAAAAAAAACE!" Yes, this one features our undead slasher in space, which was a popular trend with horror at the time, oddly enough. The Leprechaun and Hellraiser films had also done space-related sequels, and Halloween was also considered at one point. While these entries were generally unpopular with fans, for whatever reason the studios continued to pursue the formula. Maybe it has to do with the success of the Muppet films with these various formulas? I mean, we had The Muppets Take Manhattan and Muppets in Space, both templates later applied to Jason. If we see Jason's Treasure Island, The Great Jason Caper and Jason: The Swamp Years, then we'll know I'm onto something here. I picture some studio exec sitting in his office thinking "if it works for Jim Henson's puppets, then why can't it be applied to our slasher movies?". The sad part is, this is probably true.

Originally intended to be released in 2000, with the oh-so original title of Jason 2000 (can't you just see the ad campaign? J2K!), it wouldn't see movie theaters in America until 2002, opening the door for it to become widely bootlegged. While this film is disliked by many fans, I have to admit that I enjoyed it for its sheer silliness. Director James Isaac not only doesn't take it seriously, he seems to view the whole thing as incredibly ridiculous. He plays up every convention there is in the slasher sub-genre, and everyone seems to be winking at you throughout. The US government has captured Jason, and is studying him for his ability to regenerate. He breaks loose, kills lots of people, and winds up frozen. He is found in the year 2455, by a team of students studying the dead world of Earth. Jason thaws out, kills horny space teens, and fights an android. Oh, and said android accidentally causes him to be turned into some sort of cyborg. Yeah, it's pretty much how it sounds. This isn't a case of the director mixing humor and horror like part 6 or even FvJ. This one is just an out-and-out goofball movie that always has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. Everything is taken to ridiculous extremes, and I have to say that it works. Hodder is Jason once again, and he milks every scene he is in, with him offing one of the young, beautiful victims by dousing her head in liquid nitrogen, then shattering it. You pretty much cannot take a movie that has this approach too seriously, and I would hope that no one who watches this one would. I mean, it's JASON IN SPACE, for Pete's sake! If you view the thing as a comedic send-up of the series, then you'll have fun. If you're wanting an actual horror movie...well, this might not be the one for you.

Well, that about does it. If you've never watched these, and you are willing to take the good with the bad, then I highly recommend snagging these movies from Netflix, your local video store, or borrowing them from someone cool enough to own them all. The vast majority aren't "good" films, but there is entertainment to be had in all of them, if you are open to it. If you aren't a fan of horror, b-movies or cheap slasher flicks, then you might wanna pass. If any of these sound like your thang, then grab 'em. If you are one of those folks who maybe saw one or two of these things when you were younger, then they are definitely worth a revisit from you as an adult.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Crystal Lake Revisited, Part 1

Friday the 13th is coming up at the end of this week...a day generally feared by folks across the world, which I've never really understood. Just how bad can a Friday be? In rebellion against this most ridiculous of superstitions, I've always kind of revelled in the whole Friday the 13th thing. Of course, a great way to celebrate this is the whole slasher film series, starring goalie-masked Jason Voorhees (who actually took over the family business of hacking teens up from his mama, who was the killer in the original film). Recently, I decided to take another look at this group of flicks. Since this Friday also marks the return of the franchise to the big screen, in the form of a "reboot", I thought it was a good time to look back at the series. (This is the first of a two-part blog)

The first film is, essentially, a rip-off of John Carpenter's Halloween. After the success Carpenter had, a host of imitators sprung up in its wake. Of these, the original Friday the 13th was easily the best, since it didn't just move the date, but also changed the locale to a secluded summer camp out in the woods. While there are shots in this film that Carpenter should get royalties off of, the whole film itself is able to stand on its own. It plays coy with the audience, by not revealing who the killer is until the end. While this character is never seen in the film until the last few minutes (thus not really making it a mystery), it is still a nice twist, in that this rather normal-looking mom is the perpetrator of all these gruesome deaths. Betsy Palmer's portrayal of Pamela Voorhees invokes Psycho, with her channeling the voice of her dead son, Jason, whom she was out to avenge. While Halloween gave birth to the slasher sub-genre, this film is really responsible for quite a few of the conventions that are today associated with them. Look for a young Kevin Bacon as a counselor/victim.

Of course, every successful horror film in the 1980s had sequels, and this flick had more than just about any of them. Part 2 featured Jason, seemingly back from the grave (he either rose from the grave to avenge his mother, or never drowned at all. This point is debated amongst fans of these flicks to this very day), and picking up where his mama left off. He even starts off by killing the lone survivor from the previous installment! Poor thing went through all that, only to get an icepick in the head! (I'm still trying to figure out how Jason was able to find where she lived. Did he look her up in the phonebook? Did he fly there? Does Jason have frequent flier miles?) What is notable about this movie is that Jason is depicted as some sort of retarded super-hillbilly. He is a deformed, coverall-wearing redneck who sports a bag over his head. He kills people left and right, and there is little to no character development beyond one or two of the principals (the protagonist in this film really stands out though, as she is depicted as tough as nails, and downright resourceful when dealing with Jason). Most of the teens are one-dimensional, cookie-cutter hornballs who exist for the sole purpose of being hacked to death by Jason. Oh sure, we have one guy who is in a wheelchair, but the vulnerable handicap guy thing had already been done in the far-superior Texas Chainsaw Massacre several years before. In this case, the twist is that he is a horny camp counselor who is looking to score. Yup, this means he's marked for death. Overall, this entry is an almost by-the-book slasher film, with nothing original going for it. Well, other than the bag-headed in-bred hillbilly murderer thing. You gotta love that!

Part 3 was directed by the same guy who did Part 2, Steve Miner. You'd think that this would ensure some consistency between films, but it really doesn't. Jason is a raving, drooling maniac in this film, instead of a silent, back-woods fucktard. This installment was originally done in 3-D (because, you know, it's the 3rd movie! Get it?), so it is filled with goofy shots of things like TV rabbit-ears and baseball bats aimed at the camera. Sure, it has a few good POV shots of knives and red-hot pokers coming at you, but the vast majority of the made-for-3-D angles are mundane, everyday objects intended to make the audience go "oooooooo! Looky! It's coming right at me". Of course, watching this on DVD, without the 3-D format, it is unintentionally hilarious. In fact, this whole flick is one accidentally comical moment after another. The horrible dialogue, delivered by actors who couldn't get work in porn because they just didn't have the thespian skills required, makes for some wonderfully funny moments, even if that wasn't at all what the filmmakers intended. The whole thing is worth a viewing to check out Jason CRUSHING A GUY'S HEAD and seeing the victim's EYEBALL POP OUT OF HIS SKULL AND FLY AT THE CAMERA!!!

Of course, this is the entry in the series that introduced the world to the goalie-masked visage of Jason. Yes, this goofball movie is responsible for the look of one of horror's most iconic images! If you're like me, and you can enjoy a bad horror movie for its comical merits as much as you can enjoy a good one for its genuine scares, then this flick is definitely worth viewing.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, the fourth in the series, is a surprisingly good flick with some really creepy moments. Both Crispen Glover and Corey Feldman are seen in pre-celeb roles, and the acting is really refreshingly good in this one. Jason is silent once again, but he is seen as a fast moving, violent murderer that is filled with rage. This elevates him above the status of retarded hillbilly, grunting freak or Michael Myer's clone, and actually makes him into a true movie monster. Oh sure, it is still a slasher flick, so it has all those conventions, but it makes the most of them. One thing that makes this one a little more interesting is that we get to know several of Jason's victims before he does them in, so there is a genuine sense of peril when he is coming after the protagonists. We actually find ourselves caring about some of these people, instead of rooting for Jason to hurry up and off the idiots. Plus, it has Glover doing one of the funniest dance routines ever commited to celluloid.

Of course, despite the title's claim to the contrary, this wouldn't be the last installment at all. The director sets up a possible new series, by having Tommy Jarvis (Feldman) slay Jason. The film ends with the hint that little Tommy may have been so traumatised by his experience that he may take up Jason's favorite pasttime himself.

(no, that isn't Britney Spears in the above pic)

As good as Part 4 was, Friday the 13th Part 5: A New Beginning is proportionately bad. This time out, Jarvis is all grown up (well, he's apparently a teenager, but he looks to be in his mid-twenties). Of course, we are led to believe that Tommy is killing all the kids at a half-way house for troubled teens, but it turns out this is a red-herring. In reality, it is a copycat killer, using Jason's MO as an excuse to exact revenge for the death of his son. John Shepherd does a good job of playing the older, more disturbed Tommy, but the rest of the cast is pretty lacking. The story itself is by the numbers, almost as if there were a do-it-yourself slasher flick kit you could buy at your local K-Mart at this point. The characters are all bad 80's stereotypes, and most of the time you don't give a crap if they are hacked to pieces. In fact, two of the more annoying characters look like they belong in some bad 80's sitcom moreso than they do in a horror film, and when they are finally killed, it is a blessed relief. On the plus side, it has one of the hotter examples of the requisite hot-chick-with-a-great-rack-who-gets-naked-before-she-gets-killed:

Tomorrow, I'll be back with a look at the remaining films in this series.