6 Days of Friday: Day 6

•October 29, 2011 • 2 Comments

Welcome to the final chapter of “6 Days of Friday!”  We have finally reached the last two entries in the ongoing saga of Jason Voorhees, which include the crossover mash-up Freddy vs Jason as well as the modern reboot, Friday the 13th.  So without further delay, let’s see how his most recent incarnations hold up when compared to the classics!  Oh yeah, and unlike the film series in question, don’t expect this “final chapter” to be followed by a “new beginning”…

Freddy vs Jason (2003) ——————————————————————————————– 4/5 Stars

Synopsis: Powerless and trapped in Hell due to a new dream-suppressing drug called Hypnocil, Freddy Krueger enters into the dreams of a buried Jason Voorhees disguised as his mother, and convinces him to return from the grave to start a new killing spree…on Elm Street!  As Jason begins cutting up teens on Freddy’s turf, the residents of the street believe that Krueger is responsible and fear starts to spread, causing his strength and power to slowly return.  When he is finally back in full-force, Freddy soon realizes that he may have a problem getting Jason to stop killing, which prompts a brutal showdown between the two horror icons with a group of unlucky teens caught in the middle!

After sitting in development hell for several years, the Freddy vs Jason crossover finally slashed its way to the big screen, offering fans of both franchises a fun and gory fantasy mash-up to see who is the supreme killer.  This film marks a drastic (and welcomed) change in tone from the last two Jason films, which is surprising considering that New Line Cinema was pulling the strings once again for this chapter.  Thankfully it shies away from the extreme brutality of Jason Goes to Hell and the insane stupidity of Jason X to offer a better balance of fun and horror, playing very much like a self-aware homage to the slasher genre before transforming into more of a blood-soaked action film for the final showdown.  The depictions of both horror legends stay true to their popular incarnations, with Jason presented in his unstoppable zombie form by newcomer Ken Kirzinger and Freddy played with the typical humour and charisma of actor Robert Englund.

I’ve got to be honest with you, ever since seeing it in theatres Freddy vs Jason has remained a massive guilty pleasure of mine, and I honestly don’t understand why more people don’t absolutely love this movie like I do.  The structure sets up the first half as a stereotypical horror movie complete with plenty of bloody kills, each of which plays like a homage to one of the two franchises.  By the time the film reaches its second half, Freddy and Jason are just starting to clash over a bad case murder-jealousy (mostly on Freddy’s part, since Jason won’t stop hacking up “his” teens).  What follows is a supremely fun and excessively violent brawl between the two horror legends, starting in the dream world (advantage: Freddy) before finishing in the real world at Camp Crystal Lake.  Meanwhile, the film’s human stars (played reasonably well by Monica Keena and Jason Ritter) struggle to survive the onslaught of hacking and slashing between the two legends.  Eyes are gouged, bodies are impaled and limbs are even used as weapons in what I consider to be the goriest and most over-the-top showdown the genre has seen in years.  And while some may find it to be a bit excessive, I would have to argue that this is precisely what I could have hoped for in a film called Freddy vs Jason.

Friday the 13th (2009) ———————————————————————————————- 3.5/5 Stars

Synopsis: In 1980, a young Jason Voorhees witnesses his mother decapitated by a camp counselor.  Several years later, a group of random teens embarking on a hike through the forest surrounding Crystal Lake are attacked by an adult Jason wearing a burlap sack over his head.  They are each killed with the exception of Whitney, who is taken captive by the killer due to her resemblance to his mother.  Six weeks following this attack, Whitney’s brother Clay searches the area for clues to his sister’s disappearance, where he encounters a new group of teens that have arrived to party at their douchy friend Trent’s cottage on the lake.  In no time at all, Jason (sporting a shiny new hockey mask) arrives and begins killing the teens one by one while Clay gets closer to finding his sister and saving her from a fate worse than death!

This reboot of the Friday the 13th series effectively sums up the major plot points from Parts I-III of the original films, tracking Jason’s development from a traumatized child to an angry bag-head, and finally to his iconic hockey-mask look.  Produced by Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes in association with both Paramount and New Line Cinema (the two Friday production companies, working together for the first time), this new take on the franchise succeeds at accomplishing it’s primary goal: to make Jason Voorhees scary again.  It has literally been decades since the masked killer has been this intense and menacing, and it’s something of a joy to see him receive the serious makeover that he’s been needing for years.  It also helps that his appearance is absolutely spot on and that he is presented in a realistic human form once again, which is refreshing after seeing so much of the “zombie-Jason” in recent chapters.

There are many great throwbacks to classic moments in the Friday series, including a fantastic retelling of Mrs. Voorhees’ decapitation during the opening credits. The cast of central characters is relatively solid and managed to hold my interest despite their uninspired writing, and there were some great moments of comic relief thanks to the talents of Aaron Yoo. The kills were all quite creative, making great use of the machete but also offering some variety (i.e. bow-and-arrow, bear trap, sleeping bag).  There is even a hilarious moment where Jason seems to inexplicably teleport from one location to the roof of the cabin, paying homage to similar moments in some of the later Fridays where Jason appeared to be everywhere at once.  But despite the fact that this new Friday holds true to the original series and brings back everything that worked best about those films, there’s really nothing new or even remotely edgy to be found here, as if the filmmakers were afraid to take any risks with the material.  Everything feels very derivative and tied to the stereotypes of the classic slasher genre, and there is also FAR too much emphasis placed on “jump-scare” moments, which work in small doses but began to feel lazy and contrived after a while.  But regardless of these problems, the point remains that Platinum Dunes have succeeded in resurrecting Jason Voorhees in a truly frightening light, reminding us why he used to haunt our nightmares in the first place, and hopefully introducing the character and his rich history of films to an entirely new generation of moviegoers.

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Well, there you have it folks…twelve films, dozens (or hundreds?) of dead teens, and multiple hockey mask designs later, we have finally reached the end of Jason Voorhees’ extensive cinematic legacy.  I hope the ride over the course of these “6 Days of Friday”has been every bit as scary, funny and ridiculous for you as it has been for me.  Please feel free to leave a comment with your own thoughts on any of the Friday the 13th films, and make sure you celebrate this Halloween season with a healthy dose of hockey-mask horror!

6 Days of Friday: Day 5

•October 28, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Welcome back to “6 Days of Friday!”  Today we will be looking at Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X, the first two Jason films to be produced by New Line Cinema, who would take over the rights of the character from Paramount.  Let’s see what this new team has in store for the angry goalie…

Jason Goes to Hell (1993) ——————————————————————————————– 1.5/5 Stars

Synopsis:  An FBI sting operation disguised as a standard opening to a Friday the 13th film results in Jason being surrounded by dozens of armed officers, shot excessively, and then exploded with a grenade launcher.  Later in the morgue, the coroner mysteriously becomes obsessed with the killer’s heart and begins to eat it right out of the body, which then causes the masked-murderer’s spirit to possess him and lead him on a killing spree!  From this point on, Jason’s essence hops from body to body murdering everyone he encounters, while a bounty hunter named Creighton Duke tries to find a descendant of Jason’s bloodline – who may be the only one that can send him to hell!

When Paramount decided to put a stop to the Friday the 13th films after the despicable Jason Takes Manhattan, the rights and ownership of the character Jason Voorhees was purchased by New Line Cinema, who moved forward with their own take on the character.  The result is Jason Goes to Hell – a film that takes itself far more seriously than it has any right to, introducing a ridiculous body-swapping plot that turns Jason (or rather, the spirit of Jason) into a weird worm/snake thing that possesses various host bodies in an attempt to establish a full return to its hockey-masked form. This drastic change of tone from the original films approaches a creative self-awareness at times (like in the shocking opening sequence), but the film mostly just descends into a series brutal kill scenes after a while, with minimal emotional attachment holding anything together.

The actual Jason, for the few scenes that he appears in his authentic form, looks like his head is moulded out of ground beef. It is a messy and grotesque look that marks an enormous departure from the Jason of the original Friday films, and failed to win me over.  Additionally, his lack of presence in the main narrative is quite upsetting; and by the time he is finally resurrected in his true form at the film’s climax (which involves some sort of lame magical dagger…), the novelty of the film’s bizarre plot has long since worn off.  There’s certainly more gore and brutal killing here than in any other Friday film, but these scenes are pulled off with such a straight face that their grotesque and offensive nature becomes the focus, and any sort of fun is lost.  The film’s most exciting moment actually comes at the very end, in the momentary set-up for a Freddy vs Jason film (which eventually happened, and will be covered in tomorrow’s concluding article).  Like its successor Jason X, this film quite simply doesn’t feel like it belongs in this series, despite its courageous attempts to distinguish itself from everything that came before it.

Jason X (2002) ———————————————————————————————————- 0.5/5 Stars

Synopsis: In the not so distant future, Jason is captured by government agents and held at the conveniently titled Crystal Lake Research Facility, where it is decided that he will by cryogenically frozen.  Unfortunately, Jason doesn’t go without a fight, taking out the entire team of agents/scientists except for one named Rowan, and the two end up frozen together for centuries.  Fast-forward to 2455 where some students on an intergalactic field-rip discover the pair and decide to reanimate them.  Not surprisingly, Jason begins murdering everyone aboard the spaceship immediately upon returning to life, forcing the students to fall back on their android KM-14 to stand up and engage the killer in a showdown which could prove to be his last!  That is until Jason gets some upgrades of his own…

This is it Friday fans – the most embarrassingly stupid of all the cinematic adventures of Jason Voorhees, and the undisputed low point in this long and storied franchise.  With the much-anticipated Freddy vs Jason film stuck in development hell, the producers at New Line Cinema (which ironically included Sean S. Cunningham, the director of the original Friday) began looking for another story to make in the meantime.  The idea of “Jason in space” was suggested as a means of taking Jason into the future so that his “real world” continuity remained unaffected (as if that has ever mattered in the past).  Even the fact that it was filmed largely in Canada, and involves a sexy female android who can kick ass failed to win me over.

The problem with Jason X is that it feels far too much like an awful made-for-tv movie that you would see on the Sci-Fi channel at 1am on a weekday.  It’s so bad that it isn’t even fun to watch, and somehow feels like it drags on despite a brief 93 minute runtime.  I would have given it a full-on zero rating, except that there is one kill that stands out as one of Jason’s all-time best, involving a victim’s head being frozen in liquid nitrogen and then smashed to pieces against a counter top.  There is also a pair of ridiculous fights between Jason and the fully-armed fembot (KM-14), the first of which is won by the female android who literally blasts Jason to pieces.  This scene marks a turning point in the film, as Jason is then reassembled by a computer and turned into a super-powered killer-cyborg, facing KM-14 once again in a rematch and defeating her with ease, punching her head clean off.  The rest of the film is hardly worth mentioning in any detail.  Despite its best efforts to offer some campy sci-fi/horror entertainment, Jason X just completely misses the mark and never once feels like it belongs with the rest of the series.  In all honesty I like to just pretend that this movie doesn’t really exist, and I would recommend you all do the same.

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Wow, it feels really good to get those two horrible sequels out of the way.  Now that we have concluded our look at New Line Cinema’s first two stabs at the Jason franchise, we can move on to the far more satisfying and much-anticipated Freddy vs Jason mash-up, as well as the 2009 Platinum Dunes reboot, which looks to bring Jason back to his gritty (human) roots and make him legitimately frightening once again.  Tune in tomorrow for all the gory details in the exciting conclusion to “6 Days of Friday!”

6 Days of Friday: Day 4

•October 27, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Welcome back horror-movie fanatics!  It’s time for Day 4 of “6 Days of Friday,” where we will be looking at Part VII: The New Blood and Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.  So without further delay, let’s dive in and see how the newly-zombified Jason holds up over the course of his next two killing sprees…

Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood (1988) ——————————————————– 2/5 Stars

Synopsis: 10 years after accidentally drowning her abusive father in Crystal Lake with her emerging telekinetic powers (yes, you read that correctly), Tina returns to her family’s old house with her mother and therapist in an attempt to overcome her festering guilt.  While a random group of teens set up for a party at the house next door, a frustrated Tina attempts to use her powers to bring her father back from the depths – except she unwittingly resurrects none other than Jason Voorhees, who had been chained at the bottom of the lake since the events of Part VI.  The killer returns with a vengeance to find plenty of new teens fresh for the slaughter, and Tina may be the only one strong enough to stop him!

Part VII: The New Blood is certainly one of the most hilarious Friday the 13th movies, but also one of the worst if you begin to look beyond its capacity for unintentional humour to see the garbage that sits underneath.  After resurrecting Jason by way of an an overtly supernatural plot device in Part VI, it appears as though the filmmakers felt it necessary to take another big step away from reality by giving the leading girl Tina some unexplainable superhuman powers which allow her to move objects with her mind.  Perhaps this was their genius attempt to introduce a character who could rival Jason’s invincible nature, or maybe they simply stopped caring wanted to try something out of left field; either way, it remains the single most ridiculous plot idea in the entire franchise up until this point, and sets this film apart from the others as “the one where the girl has superpowers”.

But if there is one redeeming quality about Part VI, it would most definitely be the introduction of actor Kane Hodder – a fan-favourite who would portray the killer in all subsequent Friday films up until the 2009 remake, and who remains the only actor to ever reprise the role.  His look in this film encompasses the definitive “zombie” era Jason, covered in dirt and seaweed, and with grayish-black skin that is half-dissolved to reveal his skeleton in several places. While the film’s supreme lack of gore and blood is a huge disappointment (for some reason it was censored far more severely than previous films), it does thankfully sport one of the best kills in the series’ history, which involves a sleeping bag and a tree.  It also contains one of the funniest climactic showdowns ever, as Tina uses her telekinetic powers to keep Jason at a distance and throw random objects at him or collapse structures onto him.  Seeing more of a vulnerable side to Jason made the whole thing much more hilarious and enjoyable for me, despite how silly the concept is.  Add in one really great shot of a house exploding, and you’ve got a film that is decidedly dim-witted yet not without its time and place.

Friday the 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) ————————————– 1/5 Stars

Synopsis: A small boat carrying two horny teens accidentally gets its anchor tangled in some powerlines at the bottom of the lake, causing an electrical surge which once again awakens the corpse of Jason Voorhees!  At the same time, another cruise ship carrying the senior class of Lakeview High passes through Crystal Lake on its way to New York (….?) for the school’s graduating trip.  The undead murderer quickly finds his way on-board the ship where he begins carving up teens en route to the Big Apple.  Once the boat finally reaches its destination, the few surviving characters attempt to stop the zombie goalie before he turns the streets of Manhattan red with blood!

Jason Takes Manhattan is unquestionably one of the all-time worst Friday films, and marks a new low for the series as far as taking advantage of the viewer is concerned.  Perhaps more so than any of the other Fridays up to this point, Part VIII was a complete cash grab, using its exaggerated title and some clever marketing to build massive hype despite the fact that Jason doesn’t actually get to Manhattan until the last act of the film (and it’s not even really Manhattan at all, filmed mostly in the alleyways of Vancouver).  With the exception of a few shots depicting Jason in Times Square, this film is a raging letdown.  It also doesn’t help that the writing is horrid and the plotting nearly non-existent, with more entertainment coming from laughter than from anything remotely resembling fear.

Once again, Jason is depicted as a zombie-like monster who has a tenacity for coming back to life at the slightest jolt of electricity.  Despite the change of scenery from the woods to the confined spaces of a boat, the film doesn’t really have anything new to offer except for a highlight-reel kill near the end where Jason engages in a fist-fight with a teen boxer, takes dozens of blows, and then punches the teen’s head clean off with a single strike!  Aside from that moment, this is pretty standard trash, complete with a few unnecessary hallucination scenes, a dull batch of actors, and way too much stalling before they finally get to their destination.  There’s also a really lame climax where the protagonist Rennie attacks Jason with toxic waste, melting away his body but somehow leaving behind the body of young Jason from when he drowned in Crystal Lake, which makes no sense at all and feels overly ambiguous and anticlimactic considering this eighth chapter marks the end of another era in the Friday universe.

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So there we have it, with Jason Takes Manhattan we have rounded out Paramount’s 8-film run at the helm of the Friday the 13th franchise.  From this point on, the character of Jason became the property of New Line Cinema, and the films began to change quite drastically once again. Tune in tomorrow to find out if it was for better or worse as we examine Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X!

6 Days of Friday: Day 3

•October 26, 2011 • 2 Comments

Welcome back to 6 Days of Friday!  Today we’re looking at Parts V and VI of the famed slasher series, which both marked an enormous departure from the tone and quality of the previous films in their attempts to start fresh and take the franchise in a new direction.  Did they succeed, or do they both just crash and burn?  Read on to find out!

Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning (1985) —————————————————-1/5 Stars

Synopsis: Four years after The Final Chapter, an adolescent Tommy Jarvis struggles to live a normal life in the wake of his violent murder of Jason as a child.  After moving from institution to institution with the hockey-mask killer haunting his every dream, Tommy ends up at a secluded halfway house for troubled teens which is located (you guessed it) in the woods.  Soon after he arrives, a teen is killed by another with an axe, marking the beginning of a violent killing spree perpetrated by a mysterious killer who appears to be copying the M.O. of Jason himself!

This is unquestionably one of the worst entries in a film series that is not exactly the most impressive to begin with.  After (supposedly) killing off Jason for good in The Final Chapter, the Friday producers decided they wanted to start fresh with a new killer while still holding true to the massive popularity surrounding Jason Voorhees as a character.  This “new beginning” for the franchise marks an attempt to “pass the torch” so to speak, resulting in a plot that centres around a copycat killer who mimics the look of Jason while wreaking havoc on a group of teens in a similar fashion to the famed horror icon.  I suppose by examining the title of the next film (Jason Lives!) one can deduce that this bold move didn’t go over too well with the fans…

But still, even though we don’t get to see the handiwork of the real Jason Voorhees this time around, it doesn’t actually influence the overall impact of the film since the “stand-in” looks and acts exactly like the true Jason anyways.  No, the real problem with this film is the atrocious direction, acting, and writing.  To avoid giving myself a headache, I will simply state that there’s just nothing worth watching here, with the exception of a minor increase in gore and nudity (which is the reason for the one star I’ve awarded).  The group of teens who anchor the film are all incredibly irritating, to the point where I was waiting for every single character to get killed off simply so that I wouldn’t have to watch them anymore. This is especially the case with the guy playing the troubled adolescent Tommy Jarvis, whose complete lack of acting skills leads me to wonder how he ever scored this lead role in the first place.  Maybe he just blew the casting director away with his sour “I’ve got issues” face, which he sports for the entirety of the film’s runtime.  Or maybe it was his killer martial arts skills.  Who knows.  What’s really important here is that this is one of the few Friday films you should outright avoid at all costs, because it will only turn you off to the rest of the series, and to be perfectly honest, there’s just too much great comedy on the way that you’d miss out on…

Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives! (1986) ——————————————————– 3/5 Stars

Synopsis: Six years after having killed Jason Voorhees at the age of 12, an obsessed Tommy Jarvis  is compelled to dig up the grave of the killer to once again see his body.  In the process, he inadvertently brings Jason back from the dead thanks to an unfortunately-timed lightning storm.  While Jason works his way back to Crystal Lake and murders any unlucky travelers whose cars break down in his path, Tommy tries to warn the locals of the danger they are facing – but the town Sheriff won’t listen!

After their abysmal attempt at a New Beginning, the Friday producers realized they needed to bring the real Jason back right away to keep the series alive (and keep their millions of dollars flowing in). Part VI: Jason Lives! is the hilarious product of this, and becomes the film which effectively redesigned Jason as a character into an unstoppable zombie killer who was brought back from the dead via supernatural means.   This became the new model for the character in all subsequent films up until the 2009 reboot; and despite the fact that several of those films were quite silly or downright awful (without a shred of the serious horror that drove the original films), Jason Lives! is the exception from this period, remaining one of the most fun and entertaining entries in the entire Friday series.

This film works well in the sense that it never takes itself too seriously yet somehow remains surprisingly self-aware, offering enough tongue-in-cheek jokes to keep things light and fun amidst the violent killings.  The tendency to border on comedy at times certainly helps the pacing of the film, while its tone and wittiness could be seen as a precursor to later films of a more self-reflexive nature like Wes Craven’s Scream.  Tommy Jarvis is brought back in a great way by actor Thom Mathews (Return of the Living Dead), who constantly plays up the ridiculousness of his situation and has some great comedic timing.  Pretty much everything on the Friday checklist pops up here at some point, and the climax offers a new and refreshing take on how to (re) kill Jason, even if Tommy’s specific plan is pretty weak.  It will never be considered one of the most frightening entries, bit this is still one of the most entertaining and rewatchable Friday films, and remains a crucial turning point in the series that should not be missed.

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Now that Jason and the Friday franchise have both been zapped back to life, aren’t you just busting to find out what is going to happen in Part VII: The New Blood, and Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan?  Tune in tomorrow to find out what’s in store for the big guy!

6 Days of Friday: Day 2

•October 25, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Welcome back Friday lovers!  It’s time for Day 2 of 6 Days of Friday, where we will be looking at Parts III and IV of the famed slasher series.  Some dramatic changes are in store for the character of Jason Voorhees, who begins to fully take shape in these two entries, transforming into the horror icon that we all know and love (to fear).

Friday the 13th: Part III (1982) ————————————————————————————- 3/5 Stars

Synopsis: Picking up immediately after the events of Part II, Part III opens with Jason looking for a place to lay low and heal the wounds that were inflicted by Ginny and Paul.  He hides out in a barn that sits on a property called Higgins Haven, where a new group of teens just happen to be arriving for a vacation, unaware that a psycho-killer is right next door!  Murder ensues.

Part III is when the series really started to establish a familiar groove, and it also marked the beginning of Jason’s transition into a full-blown pop-culture icon. It’s an admirable sequel because, like Part II, it attempts to continue the same storyline from the first two and utilize a similar tone, which is not surprising considering the fact that it was directed by Part II helmer Steve Miner.  I must say for the most part it succeeds in its aspirations, while losing a few points for lack of originality, sticking too closely to an established formula that was starting to grow a bit stale by this point.  It also felt like a big step down in terms of plotting and characterization, but maybe that’s what the 3D gimmick was supposed to make up for?

It is important to note that this is indeed the film where Jason gets his famous hockey mask, and believe it or not, it’s one of the only films in the series to show the killer actually RUNNING after victims (instead of just walking in a slow but menacing fashion).  There are plenty of unnecessary objects poking towards screen and several kills which try to cash in on the promise of a 3D experience, including a harpoon shot through the head, as well as a scene wherein Jason crushes the skull of an unsuspecting teen until their eye pops out at the audience.  The climactic final act between Jason and the film’s female survivor Chris pretty much just runs through the list of horror showdown cliches, but is made better thanks to Jason’s new “angry goalie” look as well as the fact that, originally, this was meant to be the final film in the series (and thus, Jason’s actual death).  Of course now that seems ridiculous, but at the time I suppose the final shot depicting the calm and undisturbed waters of Crystal Lake was meant to symbolize that the Voorhees family would finally rest in peace.  Thankfully for us, the reality is more akin to the unnecessary multiple shock scares that are thrown in right before this moment simply to mess with us, recalling the original and suggesting that some families simply never die.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) ————————————————————— 4/5 Stars

Synopsis: Picking up the day after the events of Part III, Part IV has Jason escaping from the morgue after being declared dead, at which point he returns (once again) to Crystal Lake…but this time it’s for the last time!  Or…wait…scratch that.  Waiting for him at his old stomping ground is a new batch of teens who have rented a house on the Lake and are looking to party.  Among them is young Tommy Jarvis, a boy who would prove to be more important than Jason could have ever known…

The Final Chapter marks the end of the first “era” of Friday films, which attempted to continue the same story and consistently depict Jason as a truly frightening character.  There is certainly the sense that the filmmakers wanted to take everything more seriously this time around, I suppose because they were actually attempting to bring Jason (and the franchise) back from the dead this time (for another slice at those killer profits).  Thankfully however, this resulted in some higher production values all around, as well as a cast that didn’t suck so bad at acting, and happened to include teen sensation Corey Feldman.

I must say that the greatest thing about The Final Chapter is how intense and uncompromising Jason is at all times.  This is definitely the Jason Voorhees that 12-year olds would have nightmares about, and special effects guru Tom Savini did a great job of making him and his acts of murder look bloody and terrifying.  One kill in particular which occurs near the end in the basement is one of the most intense moments in the series for me, showcasing Jason at his most brutal yet displaying hardly any actual gore.  There’s a very high body count this time around, leading up to a climax that is memorable, with an incredibly gory demise for our favourite hockey fan that is undercut by something of a lame plot twist, depending on how you look at it.  But regardless of its flaws, this is easily one of the best Fridays, and remains my go-to pick for a truly scary Jason film from the “classic” era.

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Safe to say, things would never be the same after The Final Chapter, as will become apparent by the diminishing ratings that you will begin to see in days to come.  It’s a sad truth, but there’s still a lot of fun ahead, as well as some…questionable decisions about what direction to take the character and franchise from this point on.  Stay tuned for my reviews of Parts V and VI next time and learn all about it!

6 Days of Friday: Day 1

•October 24, 2011 • 1 Comment

Hello devoted 35mm readers!  In the spirit of the Halloween season, I’ve decided to take a look at one of the horror genre’s longest standing franchises, and offer mini-reviews for each film in order of their release.  As you can probably tell by this point, the series I have selected is Friday the 13th, home to one of Hollywood’s most famous horror icons, Jason Voorhees.  Over the course of the next 6 days, I will give you the rundown on each of the Friday films, and hopefully lead you towards the good ones and away from…well…Jason X.  So without further delay, here’s Day 1!

Friday the 13th (1980) ———————————————————————————————- 3.5/5 Stars

Synopsis: On a stormy night at Camp Crystal Lake, a group of counselors are terrorized by an unknown killer.  One by one they are killed off until the identity of the murderer is finally revealed, along with the shocking motivation that lies at the heart of their revenge-fueled killing spree!

The first Friday the 13th certainly wins some points for its impact and influence, considering it started as a low-budget indie film before it was bought up and distributed by a major studio (Paramount), where it became a huge international hit and financial success, not to mention earning enough widespread popularity to pave the way for 10 sequels.  It also played a key role in ramping up the already growing American slasher-horror craze, which stems back to classics like Black Christmas (1974) and Halloween (1978) but really began to take off in the early ’80s era of low-budget ripoffs after this film’s release.

Still, despite its importance to the genre, Part I is surprisingly mediocre in itself, with only a few memorable moments standing out amidst an otherwise rehashed plot and some fairly low production values.  These successes are largely thanks to the great special effects work of gore-maestro Tom Savini, whose career was just beginning to skyrocket around this point.  The arrow-through-the-neck that marked the demise of a young Kevin Bacon still stands as one of the film’s best shock-moments, as does the slow-motion decapitation at the film’s climax, which is one of the most unforgettable scenes of the entire franchise. I also really enjoyed the way in which director Sean S. Cunningham uses p.o.v. shots from the killer’s perspective to keep their appearance shrouded in mystery.  By combining some of the camera conventions of Italian giallo cinema with the plotting of a slasher film (he has cited Carpenter’s Halloween and the works of Mario Bava as key influences for this film), Cunningham establishes a mystery yet refrains from giving you any clues or leads.  Instead, you are simply left in the dark until the killer just kind of shows up (with a suitable twist, of course).  To be honest, the original Friday is still a classic of the genre and is worth checking out, but don’t expect anything truly groundbreaking.  Oh yeah, and don’t expect to see Jason with a machete either…at least not until…

Friday the 13th: Part II (1981) ———————————————————————————— 3.5/5 Stars

Synopsis: 5 years after the events of the first film, a group of camp counselors return to Crystal Lake to open a new camp, only to find that they too are being stalked by a killer.  Jason Voorhees, assumed dead after allegedly drowning as a child, returns as an adult to exact his revenge on anyone who happens to cross his path!

Friday the 13th: Part II is definitely one of the best examples of an effective horror sequel, picking up right where the original left off and carrying on in same spirit, while also offering a better sense of pacing and a higher body count.  After a brief opening scene that shows Jason Voorhees offing Adrienne King (the sole survivor of Part I) in her home, we return once again to Crystal Lake, where a new batch of teenagers arrive fresh for the slaughter.

The slightly increased production values certainly help the film this time around, but the real reason to check out Part II is simple… Jason is the killer this time! Don’t get me wrong, I loved what the filmmakers did with the character of Mrs. Voorhees, but the introduction of Jason in this second chapter would be a move that would take the series to an entirely new level.  Keep in mind as well that at this point he doesn’t even have his famous hockey mask yet – he actually wears a pillowcase on his head, and comes across more like a wild hermit living in the woods.  But trust me, he’s taking no prisoners…even the guy in the wheelchair gets it!  This Friday also sports a slightly better lead actress in Amy Steel, along with an intense and memorable climactic scene, complete with yet another cliffhanger ending.  Though better in many ways than the original, Part II does admittedly lack the feel of a true classic, and really only holds its own weight when viewed in close succession to Part I.  For this reason, it earns the same rating as the original, but remains the one I’d usually pick to watch if I had the choice.

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So I guess things are all tied up at the end of the day, we’ll have to see what happens tomorrow when we look at Part III and Part IV.  Feel free to leave a comment about your own thoughts on the Friday the 13th films, and if you haven’t watched a horror film yet this week, sit down tonight and do it already.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (Review)

•October 6, 2011 • 2 Comments

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is one of those rare films that is so shockingly bad on so many levels that it seems to transcend any sort of traditional system of evaluation.  It is a film that defies logic on multiple occasions, and ultimately ends up being one of the main factors working to tarnish the memory of late actor Christopher Reeve.  On top of all this, it was the resounding nail in the coffin of the original Superman film franchise, which screeched to an sharp halt after two incredibly successful first films.  But before we fully dissect the many failures of Superman IV, it is important to understand a bit about its shaky production history.

After Superman III failed to impress fans, critics, and everybody else, Reeve and the producers behind the franchise called it quits and hung up the red cape and blue tights for good.  That is until Golan & Globus (the producing team behind several Chuck Norris classics) came along and bought up the property, pushing forward with plans for a fourth film.  They made Reeve an offer he couldn’t refuse, and just like that Superman IV was born.  But problems quickly arose when G & G began ruthlessly trimming the budget (allegedly from $36 million to $17 million), forcing director Sidney J. Furie to make some unfortunate sacrifices which included reusing old special effects and shooting multiple scenes at the same crappy locations (since they couldn’t afford to shoot in NYC).  There were also a large number of cuts made after filming, with the final theatrical version sitting at a brisk 90 minutes and feeling like a rushed and unfinished mess.

The initial plot has Superman deciding to collect and destroy all of the world’s nuclear warheads after repeated Cold War rumblings between USA and Russia – a move that shows the hero intervening and using his powers over mankind to change the course of human history based on what he believes will constitute the “greater good” of our species.  This moral decision and the implications it has about Superman as a character are actually quite compelling, and could have easily carried the film if it would have been handled with a bit more complexity.

Instead, the whole thing takes place in about 15 minutes, while the rest of the first act simply rehashes the same uninspired Lex Luthor and Lois Lane stuff that we’ve seen a million times before.  There is actually a scene where, out of nowhere, Clark reveals to Lois that he is Superman, flies around with her a bit, then kisses her and erases her memory again.  I mean, seriously?  Has this just become a game for him?  Lois as a character has literally become a puppet, going through the same motions film after film and having her memory reset every time she makes any progress.  It’s all the more depressing that Margot Kidder looks incredibly tired in the role, simply going through the motions one more time. 

[As a side note, a hilarious deleted scene from the DVD shows an extended cut of the flying scene wherein Superman lets go of Lois, and instead of, you know, falling to her death, she simply continues to fly!  It’s not just a brief moment either, this goes on for a few minutes, with Lois soaring through the air alongside Superman like it’s no big deal.  Maybe he has some sort of super-anti-gravity aura?]

And then there’s Nuclear Man.  After the whole WMD plot seemed to come and go without consequence, Lex Luthor (with the help of his nephew, played with painful incompetence by Two and a Half Men‘s Jon Cryer) unveils his ultimate plan to make an evil clone of Superman using DNA extracted from a strand of his hair (which for some reason was residing in a museum?).  This produces the solar-powered Nuclear Man, played by the great Mark Pillow (star of such films as…Superman IV…) who, despite being made via Superman’s hair, actually sports a fluffy blonde mullet, and has deadly fingernails that he can extend and scratch you with.  In the film’s defense, there are a couple of deleted scenes on the DVD showing a “prototype” version of this evil clone which has dark hair and comes across more like the character of Bizarro, one of Superman’s villains from the comics.

A wildly overblown and uninspired fight ensues as soon as they meet, and we jump from disaster to disaster where Nuclear Man continually does something malicious to innocent civilians and Superman simply reverses it immediately after.  This sequence contains some of the film’s most ridiculous moments, not to mention some the worst special effects ever put to film.  One scene has Nuclear Man flying to China where he destroys sections of the Great Wall, only to have Superman arrive and use his (often-overlooked) brick-laying vision to rebuild it simply by looking at it!  Truly spectacular.

Later on, the fight moves to the moon, where we get a great look at Superman’s super-wires (the hidden secret to his flying powers).  After some back-and-forth battling, Nuclear Man flies down to Earth and grabs the Daily Planet’s new editor Lacy (played by Mariel Hemingway), and proceeds to fly back into space with her in his arms.  Yes, I said into space.  Thankfully, the laws of physics don’t apply in Superman IV, as can be seen by the way Lacy’s hair blows in the non-existent wind and she continues to breathe the non-existent oxygen, not to mention how she nearly falls out of Nuclear Man’s grip due to the non-existent gravity, even as she looks back at her planet far off in the distance.  The words don’t really do it justice, so I invite you to watch the scene for yourself:

As you can tell by the immense length of this review, Superman IV is a film that speaks to me quite strongly.  It is supremely awful, but in a pretty hilarious and interesting kind of way when you look at its production history.  There are some great laugh-out-loud moments, even if you’ll probably regret putting it on right away.  I will say this though, as bad as it is, I still enjoy watching it more than Superman III because it’s short runtime makes it feel like less of a drag than the 2+hrs of that film.  It’s clearly not for everybody, but fans of the old Reeve films who have a good sense of humour may see Superman IV: The Quest for Peace for the masterpiece of unintentional comedy that it is.

R  A  T  I  N  G  :    1 / 5   S T A R S

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987, USA, PG: 90 mins) Directed by: Sidney J. Furie.  Starring: Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Jackie Cooper, Mariel Hemingway, William Hootkins, Jim Broadbent, Jon Cryer, and Mark Pillow.

 
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