Saturday, October 21, 2017

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: The Giant Spider Invasion

The Giant Spider Invasion
The most unbelievable thing about The Giant Spider Invasion is that it's one of the fifty top grossing movies of 1975. All I can think is that the poster was pretty awesome and there was some serious nostalgia for the giant bug movies of the 1950's going on.

Watching this film killed any plans I had to have a Bill Rebane film festival, though. There are moments of hilarity and that giant spider is... well, it's something. I just don't think I can devote that much of my life to a series of films with this level of acting, cinematography, writing and effects. I have other things to do - like paint the trim on my house or rake pine needles.

And clear the spiders off the roof.

I will have to see his The Capture of Bigfoot at some point, as I have previously unspoken (even to myself, *sob*) desire to see all the Bigfoot-themed movies of the 1970's. This, despite the fact that Troma studio head Lloyd Kaufmen calls it one of the 5 worst films Troma ever distributed.

The Medium
Currently streaming on Shudder. It's an incredibly poor copy of the film, but I'm honestly not sure how a clearer picture would have improved things. (Holy crap you guys - there's a Blu-ray release of this movie. All I can do is wonder at the fact that there's a Blu-ray of this, but none of Alligator or It's Alive!) (In the US anyway.)

The Movie
The Giant Spider Invasion starts of like a ton of 50's sci-fi movies did, with a mysterious light in the sky and something that crashes on the property of a local farmer. This farmer, Kester, is the most reprehensible sonova bitch - stepping out on his wife and leering after his step-daughter. He's an entertaining asshole, though, I'll give him that much.

"Not the first body I've had to hide. Hey, wonder what's in his wallet..."

Meanwhile, NASA sends a scientist, Dr. Vance, to coordinate with local astronomer, Dr. Langer., in order to find whatever crashed. They're both played by veteran TV and film actors and their straightforward and earnest delivery of lines makes those lines even more ridiculous. (One of my favorites is probably unintentionally funny - after an extended sexist sequence where Vance keeps asking to see Langer's husband, brother or son, not expecting her to be the astronomer, she introduces him to her staff as "Mr. Vance." Sick burn, Doctor L.! You know he didn't get that Doctorate just to be called "Mr."!)

"That really hurt my feelings."
"You have feelings?"

Of course Kester and his wife, Ev - who obviously hate each other - have found the crash site. It's surrounded by geodes. Kester brings some back to the farm and manages to split one open. Unfortunately for everyone he doesn't see the spider that escapes from it. That's only the first and soon the farm and surrounds are infested with spiders (they're all live tarantulas at this point). In one horrifying sequence we see Ev mix up a drink using a blender containing a spider. It's nausea inducing.

"You brought a shovel to the kitchen table. This is why I drink."

Around these two storylines are some things with the sheriff (Gilligan's Island vet Alan Hale Jr. - forced by the script to utter "Hey little buddy!" in his first appearance) and a local reporter.

Finally Ev must deal with the spiders when a furry muppet attacks her from a dresser drawer. She does her best to sell this as a real spider, but... come on. This thing quickly grows in size and before you know it is almost as large as a house - threatening Ev's daughter (just like almost every male character in the film) and destroying the farm before moving off to be in a parade somewhere.

Later the Shriners will jump over it in miniature cars.

I'll give the film this - the giant spider is damn entertaining to watch. It's not scary or threatening in any way, but it is hilarious and they managed to get the legs moving in a semi-realistic fashion. The bits where it swallows people whole are a bit less believable.

Their expressions before it does so are pure gold, however.

The two scientists wander around for a bit and have a budding romance and eventually figure out that a black hole is causing some kind of interdimensional gateway (instead of, you know, simply sucking all matter into it and causing the destruction of the Earth). They manage to close it and all the extra-dimensional spiders turn to goo.

Wow. So, I'm not going to lie - I started to drift off during this movie, so I didn't pay as much attention as I should have. There are things I enjoyed - the level of cheese is so high that you can't help but get carried along in some spots. The dialogue is often unintentionally hilarious, the hate/hate relationship with Kester and Ev is also entertaining, and that giant spider thing is always fun to watch. The production quality is pretty terrible, however, as is the cinematography, music, acting, editing effects... And the subplot about guys lusting after Ev's daughter is creepier than anything going on with the spiders (except that blender sequence).

Least exploitative shot of Terry in the entire movie.

In some ways this reminded me of films by Don Dohler, like The Alien Factor and Nightbeast (which I watched for the very first 31 Days). The pure incompetence makes you root for the film and moves it - occasionally - into 'so bad it's good' territory.

The Bottom Line
Well, The Giant Spider Invasion is something I've seen now. At some point I'll have to watch the MST3K episode that features it. I have a feeling I'll enjoy it a lot more than the original. If you have to see a spider-themed movie from the 1970's I highly recommend the Shatneriffic Kingdom of the Spiders instead.

Friday, October 20, 2017

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: Below

Below (2002)
I didn't expect to watch two David Twohy movies this year, but the discussion after Pitch Black made me remember how much I had enjoyed Below. When I saw it was on Starz I had to take the opportunity to watch it again.

My grandfather's WW2 stories were all about being a bombardier, and you would think those tales would have instilled in me an interest in flight (and a horror of accidentally bombing a whale), but I've always been more fascinated by submarines. They put me in mind of spaceships - enclosed tubes surrounded by a deadly environment, forced to carry all the air, fresh water, food etc, gone for months at a time with a small crew. That was the stuff of golden age science fiction to me and - though I haven't seen all submarine movies by any stretch - I've often sought out and enjoyed films featuring them.

Though you can't do this in space.

Given how terrifying manning a submarine must be, there aren't that many horror stories set on submarines. (I know Lovecraft has one - "The Temple." Any others that I should know about?) Anyway, maybe it's that the reality of a war-time submarine is bad enough. One of the most terrifying moments in any sub movie is when you've heard the splash of depth charges and everyone is waiting - usually with an insistent sonar ping in the background - to see if they're going to escape or die of drowning/crushing when the damn thing explodes too close. Ghosts might seem a little tame after that.

Still, when I heard about Below back in the early days of this century it seemed custom made for me. A horror movie set on a submarine. I remember liking it a lot and that the ensemble cast was pretty damn good. I honestly didn't remember the plot before the movie started (though it came back fairly quick) and I don't think I had any idea who Zack Galifianakis was back in 2002. (Or maybe I recognized him from Boston Common?)

Yeah, probably not.

The Medium
Starz. Streaming issues are the death of a horror movie. Any tension built up dissipates as Zack Galifianakis' beard turns into a haze of brown pixels. If you can see it on a service other than Starz (or on DVD), I urge you to do so.

The Movie
Below is a haunted house movie in which the house just so happens to be a World War 2 submarine. Sure, it starts off as a more standard WWII story in which the sub, the USS Tiger Shark, is ordered to pick up survivors of a British hospital ship sunk by a German sub. As they're picking up the three survivors a German ship is spotted bearing down on them and the first of several tense cat-and-mouse sequences immediately ensues as the German ship tries to sink the American submarine. The commander of the sub, Lt. Brice (Bruce Greenwood) shoots one of the survivors when he turns out to be a German prisoner-of-war. (To be fair, the guy went for a scalpel.)

I knew things weren't going to be good when the sky was this color.

Before we get too far - what a cast this movie has. Greenwood, Galifianakis, Matt Davis, Holt McCallany, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng, Scott Foley and more. I feel like I recognized every actor with a speaking role, though I'm not sure what their fame level was at the time. Nobody is a start or was a star, but they're all working character actors and they all do an excellent job.

Okay, back to the film. So, one of the survivors is a nurse, Claire Page (Williams) and there's a bit of the 'ooh, woman on a submarine with a lot of men who haven't seen a woman in a long time,' but there isn't too much time spent on that. Most of the conflict surrounds her unwillingness to go along with what she's told to do and believe the information she's given. She figures out that Brice is NOT the captain and forces the Lieutenant to tell the story of how the previous commander, Winters, died after hitting his head while topside after torpedoing a German ship.

Thaaats' the look Claire uses most of the film.

Claire knows this is sketchy. Even I know this is sketchy - especially given the behavior of some of the other senior officers - but it's Bruce Frikkin' Greenwood, man! I want to believe him, I really do.

After the death of the German weird stuff starts happening. There are odd noises and people hear voices. The sub can't seem to shake the German boat following them and when several men have to head outside to fix a possible oil leak (between two of the subs hulls, which is a freakin' creepy-ass place to be, even when there aren't dozens of enormous manta rays hanging around. One of the men, Odell (Davis) is told by another officer, Coors (Foley) that Winters actually wanted to machine gun survivors of the German boat they'd torpedoed. Brice, Coors and Lt. Loomis (McCallany) had objected and in the scuffle that followed Winters had hit his head and fallen overboard. The men had lied to protect Winters reputation.

Well, this submarine just got a lot spookier with a hollow area between the hulls.

Are you buying this? I'm not buying it. Foley is no Greenwood, and I get the sneaking suspicion he's actually out there with the men to make sure Odell - who's been asking inconvenient questions - doesn't make it back in. However it's Coors that dies in between the hulls, after seeing something that makes him lose his footing.

After that, people start to die. A lot. Loomis buys it after trying to escape from a vision of Winters by leaving the sub. Hydrolics fail and an attempt to bypass the system goes spectacularly wrong when electricity and the heightened hydrogen content from failing scrubbers meet. Soon the sub is out of control - or at least out of human control - and only a handful of survivors are left to meet whatever fate awaits them at the point where the sub finally stops.

"Neither of us is gonna make it, Jimbo!

I just love the movie. I'm sure there are anachronisms galore, but I didn't much care. There's a spooky atmosphere from the get go that only increases as the power dies and the light sources get fewer (and occasionally redder). The actors are all excellent and I found myself enjoying small moments, gestures, expressions, simple exchanges. There's a scene where the men are in the mess talking about what's going on and one of them floats the idea that maybe they didn't survive that first attack - that they've been dead the whole time. It's a cool and creepy moment that also punctures (or reinforces) one of the things the audience might have been thinking.

The Bottom Line
Below is a wonderful little thriller/ghost story with great direction, acting, editing and effects (especially for a movie made 15 years ago). It might chill more than scare, but it's good enough that I often wonder why it sank at the box office. (I'm sorry.)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: The Return of the Fly

The Return of the Fly
A few years back I did a review of the original The Fly (linky). In that review I expressed my astonishment when I discovered that the original film was in color and, indeed, a completely different film than I had expected. I'd grown up thinking the color version was the sequel to a much older black and white film. THAT film, as I'm sure you've guessed, was The Return of the Fly - a much cheaper sequel green-lit when the original had done much better at the box office than expected.

It's weird to come at this film realizing that it's a sequel, as it's inferior in most every way to the original. Not that sequels are always better than the original - I think the opposite is most often the case - but I generally expect them to at least look like they were made after the original!

"Don't worry, you'll forget all about this. And grow up in black and white!"

Still, I have fond childhood memories of this movie and I tend to place it in a group with 50's sci-fi monster movies like Them! and Tarantula, movies I love and look forward to watching again and again. So let's see if this one holds up as well.

I was going to make a joke about holding things up...

The Medium
Starz again. I had fewer streaming issues this time around, but they still occured. It was nice that Starz had a few classic horror movies, though - I feel like they're hard to come by on streaming services.

The Movie
The Return of the Fly is shot in black and white (though still in Cinemascope), has only one returning cast member (Vincent Price), and eschews the slow burn mystery for something more like a thriller or film-noir crime picture. Fox appears to have done everything it could to get out a sequel quickly, including use of existing sets from the first film. (There's a scene in Andre Delambre's lab in which his message to his wife - including the shaky "I love you" - is still visible on the chalkboard in the background. It's particularly poignant as the scene takes place after the funeral of Helene.)

Despite having been made on the cheap - roughly half the budget of the original - Return didn't skimp in one important area, the presence of Vincent Price. The first two Fly films (he declined to return for the third) really launched him into the horror genre and the films he made directly after this are among the ones he's most famous for. His part in Return is slightly beefed up from the original and he appears in more scenes. His Francois Delambre is still pretty restrained, with only a few of the extravagant mannerisms that would make him so memorable in later films.

Chewing books more than scenery.

Young Phillipe from the first film is all grown up now, and in the aftermath of his mother's death presses his uncle Francois for the real story about what happened to his father. Francois actually tells him, which seems like a bad idea. Phillipe is already pursuing his father's research, however, and all the story does is make him more determined to follow in his father's footsteps. Sans the unfortunate fly-head thing, of course. Soon the young scientist is in the basement of his inherited house, working on 'disintegration and reintegration' with a fellow scientist, Alan Hines. After a brief bout of blackmail Francois joins them.

Who would ever think Vincent Price's character would be
the least villainous in this scene?

These early laboratory scenes are great and remind me of Universal Frankenstein films - all flashing lights, electrical noises and fancy equipment. It's all 50's tech, of course - with reel-to-reel computer tapes, blocky light sequences and even dark glasses that look like those used for viewing nuclear bomb tests - but it's still got that 'mad science' feel to it. Francois even gets to voice the classic "there are some things man is not meant to know" line, just so we know what kind of film we're watching.

Phillipe scoffs at this, as any good scientist should Still, Francois is right on this. There are some things man is not meant to know. What a human being looks like with hamster hands and feet is one of those things.

There's a part of your inner calm you won't get back.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, we have a number of scenes with increasingly successful experiments in... I'm just going to say teleportation, because disintegration/reintegration is just too clumsy. The three men even get as far as putting objects and animals into a suspended state by starting the disintegration and not finishing the second part of the process. At one point they do this to a hamster...

Frankenstein's message may very well be that "man should not play at being God." The Return of the Fly's message seems to be closer to "do some damn background checks on key employees." Alan, you see, is a dirty rotten thief and is planning on selling the secret of teleportation to the highest bidder. (For some reason he's doing this via the middleman of a local mortician, but who am I to judge?) When a policeman surprises Alan stealing the plans Alan overpowers the man and temporarily 'hides' him in the teleportation machine using the same 'start the process, don't immediately finish it' system they'd used on the hamster earlier.

You can imagine how this goes. This is actually the most horrifying bit in the film. You wouldn't imagine that a man with the hands and feet of a hamster would be as disturbing as it is. The hamster with the hands of a man isn't conducive to calm nerves either. Luckily they're both disposed of fairly quickly.

Not well, but quickly.

Phillipe, being no dope (except for the whole 'doing the experiments that destroyed my family' thing) figures out what Alan is up to and confronts him. Okay, scratch that 'not a dope' thing. Alan knocks out Phillipe and stuffs him into one of the teleportation tubes. Then, because Alan is nothing if not an absolute dick, he puts a fly in the same tube. (He knows Phillipe is deathly afraid of flies, though not why.) Then uses the same suspended disintegration trick to hide Phillip. And the fly. If you've been wondering how they were going to somehow get someone to wear a giant fly head again, there's your answer.

Human dickishness instead of staggering coincidence? Yeah, I buy it.

When Phillipe is reintegrated he comes through as a half fly creature, of course. Then he escapes and goes on a rampage. The fly head design isn't as subtle this time around and is obviously heavy. I say obviously because every time the actor runs or turns quickly he's forced to brace the front of the head so it doesn't topple off his shoulders. It's unfortunately hilarious.

As is this.

Phillipe-fly takes his revenge (even on the mortician, who he didn't even know was involved), Francois and a detective try and find him (and his fly-Phillipe version) and there's a somewhat sloppy happy ending. (I really wanted a giant fly body with Phillipe's head on it, myself.) It's all pretty standard monster-movie stuff. That's not to say it's bad - it's a pretty fun monster movie - it's just not at the same level as its predecessor.

The Bottom Line
While not quite the classic horror of the first film, Return of the Fly is slightly above other paint-by-number monster movies of the era. It's better than the film it was paired with - The Alligator People - for instance. Points awarded for managing a (semi) believable reason for getting someone to be half-human, half-fly again. You can never overestimate the human ability to be a jerk.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: Pandorum

Last night I was in the mood to watch Event Horizon. Unfortunately, I've already watched it for a previous 31 Days, so I was out of luck. There just don't seem to be enough horror/sci-fi films around when you need them. (I'd watch the hell out of a live action Dead Space. I think.)

Luckily, as I was perusing the movies available on Starz I happened to see that they had Pandorum. It's been a few years since I watched and while I remember being slightly underwhelmed, I also remember being impressed with the mood and effects.

The Medium
Starz streaming service. I'll be opting out after the 7 day free trial. It's not organized well and the streaming quality has been intermittently bad. Sometimes the film just stops or hangs and at other times I get significant signal degradation (like a soup of moving squares). Other streaming services don't seem to have the same issues on the same equipment. So, while the service has some shows I want to watch - Ash vs the Evil Dead, primarily - and some movies I can't find elsewhere I just don't feel like it would be worth a regular subscription.

The Movie
2174 and the Earth is chock-a-block full of human beings. The recent discovery of an Earth-like planet leads to the construction of an enormous interstellar ship, the Elysium, meant to carry 60,000 humans in hypersleep/cryosleep/goopy-second-skin-sleep to their new home. Eight years in the crew (on a rotating cycle of sleep/awake with other crews) gets a message from Earth. "We done screwed up. Planet's gone. You're it. Good luck." Maybe not in so many words - but that's the gist.

Message decoded: You're fucked.

In indeterminate amount of time later Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) is awakened in the cold and dark, along with Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid). They're both suffering from partial amnesia, a result of an unusually long time in hypersleep. How long, exactly, they're unable to determine - as power surges are playing havoc with the computers and they cannot contact the bridge.

Bower heads off through the ventilation system to try and get to the reactor and stabilize it. Payton stays to try and get into the computer system and figure out why they're the only two members of their rotation to awaken. Bowers is beginning to suffer the early stages of a deep-space psychotic syndrome known as "Orbital Dysfunction Syndrome." Also called Pandorum.

Don't worry man! It gets much worse after this!

I'm a sucker for amnesia stories in general - the who are you and what did you do and what will you do now that you've got a clean slate sort of thing. It's one of the reason I got sucked into Dark Matter (damn you SyFy for cancelling it). Memento, Bourne Identity, Dark City, Total Recall. Even Paycheck. So just with that conceit I'm already predisposed to enjoy the film. Add to that a grimy, dark and claustrophobic first act that treats the ship as giant haunted house full of monsters and I'm all in.

Pandorum doesn't manage to keep up with the promise of that first third - morphing into more standard sci-fi action fare as Bowers meets more survivors and the 'monsters' are revealed in brighter light as more Mad Max rejects than the xenomorphs. The dark, cramped hallways and holds give way to brighter, open areas that work better for the action-oriented set pieces and chase sequences. Not to say it's bad - it's quite fun, really - but it's not as oppressive and weird as it sets out to be.

"Witness me!"

In fact I find myself more interested in Payton and the survivor he finds, Corporal Gallo. Gallo claims the ship is lost in space and that he was forced to kill his fellow crew members after they succumbed to Pandorum. There's something more going on with the twitchy (and sketchy) Corporal, however. We know it, and Payton knows it - leading him to take precautions.

Like glaring at him in an angry way.

Bower and the two survivors that join his quest to find the reactor - Nadia and Manh - dodge groups of the creatures (who are incredibly difficult to kill - except when they're not) and run across yet another survivor, Leland. Leland offers them sanctuary and food and tells them the real story - about the message from earth, one of the crew going mad and killing the others and then 'playing God' with the passengers before putting himself back into hypersleep and abandoning the passengers to time and an evolution accelerating enzyme. (Leland's also drugged the food, because he's an opportunistic cannibal as well as a storyteller.)

"I don't like this story. And the food sucks."

Things go on from there with the 'final countdown' race to the reactor, a confrontation between Payton and Gallo that goes a way you shouldn't expect, but probably do, and well as a final reveal that should feel like more of a twist than it does. It wasn't quite what I expected, but it was close enough to feel disappointing.

"6 levels of Doom and suddenly it's figure out a puzzle time?"

The Bottom Line
It has a bunch of interesting ideas and imagery, but Pandorum ends up feeling both lighter and more familiar than it should. It doesn't quite scratch that Lovecraft in Space itch that Event Horizon does so well, either, being more of a horror/adventure tale with some pretty standard action beats and familiar sci-fi tropes. It's still got plenty to recommend it, with some great set design and performances and a story that's still enjoyable, if not ground breaking.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: Jason Goes to Hell

I'm stumbling to the end of my Friday the 13th marathon feelling like there's a hatchet in my brain (another migraine). I made it as far as Jason Goes to Hell and I think - unfortunately - I'm going to take some time before watching the rest. I will watch them - but I need a break after the last two films. While I was able to find details in them that I could enjoy I can honestly say I (mostly) hated those movies, and they left a bad mental taste in my brain that is threatening to color my memory of the whole series.

Jason Goes to Hell (1993)
You know, I think there's a universe where this isn't a Friday the 13th movie and it's become a cult hit. Body hopping serial killer with a magic bloodline and a character like Duke hunting him? Those crazy folks at the diner? The gore and nudity? Yeah, this is someone's favorite horror movie in another timeline.

But not this one.

Things start of promisingly enough - a return to the classic formula: a woman heads to Crystal Lake (no longer Forest Green, I see) alone. Not a particularly bright person, you might think - I mean, at this point the place has got to be pretty famous. Still - this is a Friday the 13th movie and this is kinda thing is to be expected. Sure enough, Jason shows up, looking none the worse for wear since being melted in a New York sewer. He attacks, she flees, he follows - right into an FBI ambush. Nice try FBI guys! It's going to take more than bullets to take down...

Oh. Rocket launcher. Yeah, that uh, that seems to do the trick.

Well, thank God that's over. Who's up for a beer?

Well, okay, I guess we'll see where this goes. Maybe there's a cool scene in the morgue where Jason's constituent bits all come back together, leaving him with like a jigsaw puzzle and... ah, geez, what? That's not sanitary doc. So the coroner eats Jason's heart and Jason possesses him? But it's still Jason! See, there's his reflection in the...

My god, this movie. I mean, on one level I appreciate the complete chutzpah it has, to take a well established series and just throw everything about it out the window. To make things up out of whole cloth. There's a Voorhees family now? And a Voorhees house that's not the shack from Part 2? Is this Halloween?! And Jason's a body-jumping slug right out of The Hidden? And mystical bloodline nonsense. And this crazy cowboy guy who trades finger breaking for information? And the nebishy guy with the letter jacket is the hero?

If this looks stupid to you... you're right.

On the plus side, the gore quotient is significantly upped in this installment. I mean, I've only seen the unrated DVD, so I imagine it was cut a bit in the theater, but still - that whole eating the heart scene, the poor woman who gets cut in half by a road sign, whatever the hell that thing is that crawls out of the reporters neck. The movie gets some points for imaginative squick, for sure.

But it's just... it's such a mess. Such a weird, nonsensical mess. I don't even care when Freddy's gloved hand appears at the end, I'm so confused and pissed about the new 'mythology' crap. Not a good start, New Line (who ended up with the series after Paramount saw the returns on Jason Takes Manhattan). No wonder it would be 8 years before we'd get another Friday film and 10 before Jason and Freddy finally faced off.

But hey, at least we got some comic books out of it.
Which I now need to find because I'm a masochist, apparently

So, yeah. I know I have two more movies in the original series and one remake/relaunch/whatever it was, if I want to include that. It's... it's going to be a bit before I get to them. I promise it won't be 8 years, though.

Monday, October 16, 2017

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: Friday the 13th 7 & 8 - The New Blood and Jason Takes Manhattan

Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood (1988)
 So, full disclosure, I hated this movie when I first saw it. That was probably 1989 or '90, as I know I didn't see it in the theater. For the longest time I refused to watch it again, that's how much I'd hated the experience. I didn't watch Jason Takes Manhattan or Jason Goes to Hell in part because I remembered disliking The New Blood so much. (I suppose I should be thankful on that count.)

So when I finally got around to re-watching it a couple of years ago I was astonished. What the hell was my problem? It was the same movie - Jason vs Carrie, essentially - but my experience of it and reaction to it was completely different. It's still not my favorite, but man - I couldn't tell you why I'd had such a visceral reaction to it back then.

Critics called this film "Jason vs Carrie" and it kinda does feel like they got Stephen King to pen a Friday the 13th movie. Traumatic childhood incident where a girl, Tina, uses her burgeoning psychic abilities to accidentally kill her father. Ten years later overbearing establishment figure bent on using (now teenage) girls abilities to further his own career/agenda brings her back to the scene. Protective mother figure is blind to what's really going on until it's too late. Escalating emotional stress exacerbated by adolescence, a budding relationship and torment by peers leads to a final confrontation where psychic girl kills everyone in a pyrotechnic display of her powers.

"I'm doing this? I'M DOING THIS? With my MIND?"

Actually, wait - no, it's Jason who kills everybody and HE's the one on the receiving end of the pyrotechnics.

This movie features my favorite Jason design, with rotting flesh, exposed spine, chain around the neck and gooey fluids. This is Kane Hodder's first outing as Jason and he's just great, with excellent physicality and various head movements and ticks that - pardon the pun - really bring Jason to life. His background in stunts and willingness to do whatever it takes to get the shot also serves the film well in the final third, when Tina starts kicking Jason's ass six ways to Sunday.

Dude! That's his SPINE! So. Cool.

My main complaint about the film at this point is that the teenagers and the kills are pretty boring. We get stabbings and impalements and head crushings, but they're not very... well, exciting. This film also suffered at the hands of the MPAA, being sent back 9 times (as with Part 6). As a result it too is fairly bloodless, with lots of kills cut away from at the last minute. It's too bad, as the director, John Carl Beuchler, was actually a special effects guy first. I understand quite a bit of the original gore was excised - including a rotting father from the end sequence. We do get some gooey Jason shots, including what looks like pus and brains leaking from his head as Tina constricts his mask. There's also a hilarious attack when Jason picks up a camper in a sleeping bag and swings them against a tree. (Reminding me of an even more ridiculous attack in Prophecy - the skinless bear one, not the Christopher Walken one.)

I don't have a good screencap of the sleeping bag scene, so... uh, here's this.

Things really get going for me when Tina and Jason finally square off, because this is really the first time Jason has had a foe that can actually take him on. And Tina can - she electrocutes him, hits him with lights, tvs and someone's severed head, she strangles him, crushes him, drops him through the floor and then sets him on fire. Then she escapes while the house blows up around him. This is all pretty epic and a fantastic tour-de-force of a final girl fight. It's not, y'know, ENOUGH to kill Jason, but damn does she give it the old college try.

And then Tina resurrects her dad to grab Jason and drag him under water. And suddenly I remember why I hated this movie so much. Schlubby McWifeslapper is brought back from the dead to save the day by taking out Jason? HE'S WEARING A CARDIGAN. Guys who wear cardigans should not be the ones to take down Jason - even if they're summoned back from the dead by their psychic kids.

Tina and her new boyfriend survive - continuing the trend of "final girl plus one" from the previous film. I kinda wonder if Tina is still out there, ready to take Jason on again. There needs to be like a big Expendables style team-up of all the Friday the 13th final girls where they hunt Jason down and beat the crap out of him.

Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
Okay, to be honest, I'm kinda losing steam here, and this and the next film are going to suffer in the review department as a result.

Jason gets on a boat, kills a bunch of teenagers, follows the survivors to New York and then gets turned into a little kid by toxic waste. I'm not kidding.

I've only seen this film once before and I'll give the film this - it's not as cheap-looking as I remember it being. It's still got all the ambiance of a first-season X-Files episode (also shot in and around Vancouver), but the ship has some production value and not all the rooms look like soap opera sets. The teenagers are the least likeable bunch of victims in a Friday the 13th movie so far, but at least they make an effort to protect themselves, arming up once they realize the danger. It doesn't help, of course. It never does.

Did you know Crystal Lake connects to the ocean? Me either - not something they promote in the brochures. Still, that's how Jason gets on the boat.

"I heard it was a singles cruise..."

Kane Hodder is back as Jason, so at least we have that - not that he gets a lot to do. The kills are pretty anemic and Jason suddenly has magic powers (other than constantly coming back from the dead). He can teleport now - bebopping around a dance floor and instantly appearing at the top of a ladder. Also his child ghost is haunting the main character, whose name I can't really be bothered to remember or look up. This ghost looks like it was played by three or four different kids over the course of the film and I couldn't tell you why he appears, exactly. Maybe it's supposed to be a flashback for... crap, okay, I'm looking it up... Rennie, right - a flashback to Rennie's childhood almost-drowning on Crystal Lake.

Yeah, Rennie's guardian, uncle Charles "Complete Asshole" McCullough threw her in the lake as child, even though she couldn't swim. That's why she's afraid of the water. Also maybe drowned child Jason tried to kill her back then. I dunno.

Which is why I'm not sad when he gets the Toxic Avenger treatment.

Jason goes about murdering teens as usual, though several people get drowned off-screen by doing what the English teacher tells them to do. (There's the one lesson you can take from this movie - the advice of English teachers can get you killed. That's true in Call of Cthulhu as well, by the way.) Rennie, Charles, English Teacher, un-named boyfriend and Julius (whose name I only remember because of the one cool scene later on) escape the boat and end up in New York. Which is apparently Times Square and an endless series of alleyways out of a Troma movie. There are druggies and would-be rapists that rob and separate them. Jason is the good guy in one scene, which is weird. Julius and Jason have a boxing match on the roof, which is fun as hell and the highlight of the film for me. (It doesn't go well for Julius.)

"Okay, that's a really good shot."

Jason chases Rennie and unnamed boyfriend onto the subway and in the most egregious move in a movie full of egregious moves Jason walks through a series of subway cars and DOESN'T KILL ANYONE. Not a single person. Not so much as a bunch of screams and blood hitting the windows. This... this offends me, somehow. This should have been a centerpiece, a monumental piece of bloody carnage that would culminate with a crowd of screaming, bloody people erupting from the subway entrance to be followed by Jason into Times Square.

Instead he just walks through, comes up the stairs and - so rude - kicks a gangs boombox. And scares them by showing them his face.

That moment when Jason looks around and the camera shows us that he's really standing in Times Square is pretty cool. It's like 30 seconds of time. Jason doesn't take Manhattan. He walks through it, quickly.

"Hey, it's Jason! Jason's in Manhattan everybody! Oh... is it done already?"

Rennie and unnamed boyfriend find themselves in the sewer. Which floods with toxic waste every night at midnight. I don't know if this is a nod to CHUD or just what the screenwriter thinks really happens in New York. Some running occurs. Jason finally kills a guy. Toxic waste floods the sewers and the stupidest looking Jason makeup ever melts away to reveal... a kid in his underwear.

Rennie, unnamed boyfriend and dog I forgot to mention earlier survive.

I don't... I just... I can't. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: Friday the 13th Parts 4, 5 and 6

I don't think I've mentioned this before, but I actually live about 5 minutes from Crystal Lake. well, A Crystal Lake, anyway. It's got a locals-only beach that my wife and I go to in the summer and directly across from that beach is an old Catholic summer camp, Camp Gregory. It's no longer in use, and looking up to see the paint peeling off the old concrete retaining wall in the shadow of the looming pines always gives me a bit of a chill, no matter how hot it is.

I hear they're renovating and hope to open again soon. I'm sure it's fine.

Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter (yeah, right) (1984)

This and Part 6 form the apex of the Friday the 13th movies for me. If I had to pick one over the other, though, it would be this one. It's got all the elements that make a classic Friday the 13th movie - teenagers in lust, Crystal Lake, Jason and - most importantly - Tom Savini. Add to that Matthew Star (sans powers), Doublemint twins, Crispin Glover (and his amazing dance skills), a Goonie and the best Jason death ever... well, that's winner, winner, chicken dinner. (A phrase I only learned recently and have resolved to use as often as possible.)

Another bunch of idio... er, teens, head up to Crystal Lake, including Glover and that kid from The Last American Virgin. They're once again thinly written stereotypes, but as with Part 2 the actors do their best with what little they have. A new addition to the pool of potential victims this time around is a family - Trish Jarvis, her mom and her little brother, Tommy. Why anyone would still be living on that lake at this point is an open question - but maybe they're just underwater on their mortgage. One other addition is Rob - a guy 'hunting bear' who's actually hunting Jason - seems he's the brother of Sandra from Part 2. (That's another nice thing about this film - the nods and references to the previous installments.)

Did I mention the dance, though?

The teens do what teens do in slasher films - they skinny dip, drink, hook up, fight, stomp off alone to go swimming in the nude. Jason shows up because that's like catnip to a slasher and proceeds to impale, slash, stab, nail, crush and otherwise make mincemeat out of them. Winner, winner... you know, I'm done with that phrase already. (And just as an aside, who the hell is renting cabins on Crystal Lake to teens, anyway? That's like aiding and abetting homicide. In my head cannon it's now Vincent Price, laughing maniacally every time he gets some teens to sign the rental agreement.)

"Yes, this counts against your security deposit."

The two main locations - the Jarvis house and the rental - allow for some interesting back and forth chase sequences and the kills in general are more interesting than usual. (I remember reading that some of the actors had to do their own stunts, and some of that stuff looks damn dangerous.) Tommy is a fun addition - having a kid that loves makeup and special effects is an obvious shout-out to Savini and it works much better for me than the 'have someone read a copy of Fangoria' placement in Part 3.

Part 4 also features the only moment of real horror in any of the Friday the 13th movies - as far as I'm concerned, anyway. Jason's already slaughtered the teens next door and both Rob and Trish are investigating. Rob descends into the basement - because being near Jason obviously causes IQs to drop sharply - and is attacked. He screams for Trish to run and as she does we can clearly hear him screaming in the background, "he's killing me! He's killing me!" That is a legitimately horrifying moment and the one time I'm actually not treating the whole film like a carnival thrill ride.

The final sequences with Jason chasing Trish and Tommy are great, as is the final confrontation with Tommy having made himself up to look like Jason as a kid. Jason's death is fantastically gory - especially considering the relative tameness of the previous attacks. There's no doubt - as he lands on the machete and slides down it, the blade biting deeper into his skull - that this is the end of Jason Voorhees. A real final chapter. No doubt in my mind. None.

Looks like you've got a splitting headache there, Jason! (sorry)

In the general sense there's nothing special about Part 4 - it's full of standard Friday the 13th stuff - but in the details it succeeds at doing all those things in the best possible way. I know there are issues with the making of the film - Joseph Zito was notoriously difficult to work with and there were injuries, walkoffs and threats - but none of it comes through in the film itself. It's tense and fun and gory and would have been a great sendoff for a classic character.

But then it went and made a ton of money.

Friday the 13th Part 5: A New Beginning (1985)


Look, I'm trying to find something (anything) to enjoy in these films as I watch them, because otherwise it becomes an exercise in self harm. So, in that spirit, it's... mostly in focus?

Actually, let's give the film a little credit - they did try and do something different with this installment. The opening sequence - in which Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldmen) watches two jackasses dig up Jason for... uh, reasons - is actually pretty cool. (So cool they'd make a whole movie out of the concept next time around.) When Jason comes to life and digs the worms out of his eyes (doesn't literally happen - but should have) you start thinking there might be something to this New Beginning idea.

Unfortunately, that's the last time you actually see Jason. And it's a dream sequence.

So's this. I kinda wish the whole movie had been a dream sequence.

The basic setup is that Tommy is being sent to a halfway house for wayward teens (not a camp, it's different, see?!). Local neighbors Ethel and her son, Junior, are none too happy about the way the kids sneak on to their property and fornicate. The local sheriff tries to make peace, but he has his hands full with...

Geez, am I really going to try and write out this plot? Let's sum up - one of the kids goes nuts and hacks up another, setting off a series of killings that seem at least inspired by Jason. Tommy isn't certain if it's Jason, someone else or - due to his random way of losing it and kicking the shit out of people - himself. People are picked off one by one until a final confrontation with a guy who isn't Jason - or even believably threatening - and a 'twist' ending with Tommy, a mask and a knife.

And they didn't even get the mask right. Blue slashes? Seriously?

Things I liked about the movie. The kid, 'Reckless Reggie,' has a brother named Demon (yes, that's his name). It's always nice to see actors from Return of the Living Dead in a Friday the 13th movie and he's pretty entertaining (Demon sure has a lot of fast food in his van). I really hated the 'comic relief' neighbors, so I liked when they were finally killed off. (For years I thought Ethel was played by the same actress that plays the first victim in the first Friday the 13th movie.) Violet's got some serious dance moves. Reggie has a pretty snazzy red jumpsuit. Umm...

You know, I dislike this movie a lot and as a Friday the 13th movie it's seriously lacking in... anything that makes it feel like a Friday the 13th movie, beyond teenagers getting killed. If it was another in a long line of imitators instead of a part of the franchise it might have been better received. Maybe. I still hate Part 3 more, though. This is at least TRYING. And they do kill a lot more people.

The movie is pretty clearly a setup for an adult Tommy Jarvis to become the new Jason. I imagine they had plans for a series of movies with that character that were pretty sharply derailed by the reception Part 5 got at the box office. You can ignore critics (and really, if you're a slasher film you kinda have to), but you cannot ignore the bottom line.

Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives! (1986)

"Some folks sure got a strange idea of entertainment."

Part 6 was the first (and for a long time, only) Friday the 13th film I got to see in the theater. I don't even remember the circumstances, just bits and pieces of the film itself - particularly seeing Horshack (Welcome Back Kotter's Ron Palillo) in the opening sequence and the part where Jason climbs onto the top of the burning RV. I do remember loving it. For the longest time Part 6 was my favorite of the series, mostly because it's the most shamelessly fun entry.

I'm torn as to whether Part 6 ignores the entirety of Part 5 or just the particulars of the disposal of Jason's corpse (it's mentioned he's been cremated) and the ending with Tommy and the mask. I'll go with it all being in continuity with the discrepancies being down to Tommy's illness.

Jason Lives starts things off in grand style with Return of the Living Dead's Thom Matthews taking over the Tommy Jarvis role. He heads to the cemetery where Jason is buried (hauling along his poor, doomed buddy Hawes) looking for some kind of closure. Instead he ends up inadvertently bringing Jason back to life in the time-honored method of the corpse struck by lightning. "He's back," to quote from the Alice Cooper song on the soundtrack, "the man behind the mask!"

80's lightning effects! Awesome!

Jason's not really a man anymore, though. He's a supernatural creature, a rotting corpse with a desire to kill and a homing instinct that drives him back towards Camp Crystal La... er, I'm sorry, Camp Forest Green. On the way he'll kill a future president (Scandal's Tony Goldwyn) and slaughter members of a corporate paintball retreat. These scenes help reinforce the self-referential comedy aspects of the film ("I've seen enough horror movies to know any weirdo wearing a mask is never friendly.") and the supernatural strength of the revived Jason, who seems just as surprised as anyone when he tears a man's arm off.

These jokes just write themselves, really.

Meanwhile, Tommy - having escaped from Jason (not Hawes, who ends up dumped in Jason's grave) heads to the sheriff's office to tell them what's happened. The authorities don't believe him however, especially when they figure out who he actually is, and end up running him out of town - though not before he meets the sheriff's daughter, Megan, and her friends, the new counselors up at Camp Bloo... Camp Forest Green.

Speaking of the camp - for the first time ever in a Friday the 13th movie the children's camp actually has children show up! Much fun (and significant tension) is had with Jason stalking around the buildings as kids sleep inside. Once things go (inevitably) wrong and Jason is murdering counselors and cops with equal enthusiasm the kids are forced to hid beneath their beds. "So," says one, "what DID you want to be when you grew up?"

I can't help but wonder - did their parents send these kids to Camp Blood on purpose?

Tommy escapes with Megan's help. They arrive at camp too late to save any of the adults, but just in time to save the kids. Tommy's plan to chain Jason to the bottom of the lake in some half-hearted supernatural ritual almost doesn't work. Luckily Megan knows how to use an outboard motor AND do CPR. Leading to yet another "it's over, it's finally over" statement - this time from someone who should really know better.

No, yeah, sure, sure - he's dead this time. Of course. Totally.

I know some Friday the 13th fans who absolutely cannot stand this movie, because they feel it's making fun of something they love, ridiculing it. To me, though, it manages to have its cake and eat it too. It works because it's still a Friday the 13th move - with teenagers, Jason, murders etc. - and it's also an action comedy that pokes fun at the ridiculous elements of its own mythology. It's a meta-comedy horror film years before Scream was a thing. It's just plain fun - something that's going to be sorely missing in the films that are to follow.