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.