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.