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.

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