Friday, July 13, 2012

Summer of Slash: Friday the 13th Wrap-up




Frequent commenter Michael Grover has graciously offered to write up more in-depth reviews at his blog Filmiliarity, so click on that link and check for updates on his blog if you’re interested in more than the pithy way I blitzed through these final six entries in the series.

In my last edition of this series on the Friday films, I mentioned that after The Final Chapter was released in 1984 the series took on a different gimmick with each subsequent film. The series would never be the same; it would never look like what we thought slashers were supposed to look like. After 1984, the slasher genre changed thanks to upstart New Line Cinema and the movie that revived horror maven Wes Craven’s career, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Because of this shift in the subgenre, the likes of Jason just didn’t seem to cut it anymore. Sure, people were still paying money to see these movies (they would always be profitable, even until the horrible tenth installment which just barely made its budget back, a first for a series that usually had no problem making three-to-six times what they put into it), but it seemed that the slasher landscape had changed. Part of this is due to New Line’s popularizing of Freddy Krueger by turning him from a scary boogeyman to a murderous quipster. Obviously Jason Voorhees couldn’t compete with this (nor could Michael Myers, probably the most inert of all slasher series), so the producers decided to try and keep with the times by placing him in wacky situations.

As I think about the subsequent films, only one stands out. The series devolved into an even more frustrating template and malaise than the first three sequels. Whereas the early sequels (2-4) seem somewhat of a piece (interestingly, Part 2 and Part 3 were the only sequels not assigned a subtitle) since they were rooted (or, they were supposed to be, but Part 3 seems to exist in a vacuum) in exploitation, the subsequent films adopt the feel of the more postmodern, detached slasher film of the post-1985 horror era – a slasher that is too self-reflexive and almost mocking the audience paying money to watch it. It was an interesting era for the slasher because so much nothing came from it; the only thing worthwhile being released that even resembled the early slashers were coming out of Italy. It was not the best time to be a horror fan, and I think that people tend to forget just how close the slasher subgenre was to being completely dead by the time Jason took Manhattan and Paramount sold the rights to their most profitable film series to New Line.

Here are my thoughts on the rest of the series (I will not be including the abomination that is Freddy vs. Jason or the 2009 remake of Friday):



Part 5:

Known as A New Beginning (ugh), Netflix didn’t have this one available for stream oddly enough, and I sure as hell didn’t feel like going out of my to find it what is universally agreed upon as the worse entry of the series. So, here’s what you need to know: like the geniuses that thought it would be a bright idea to have a Halloween movie without Michael Myers as the killer (Halloween III: Season of the Witch, in case you forgot), Friday the 13th: A New Beginning doesn’t have Jason wondering around Camp Crystal Lake killing teens. Notice how they don’t assign the film a number – as if in their twisted minds, the producers still believe they’re upholding their promise that The Final Chapter was the final Friday movie because they killed Jason – instead it’s essentially what we’re all so familiar with these days: a reboot! Hooray! There is an attempt to link the character of Tommy Jarvis to this film (and the next), but that’s where it all ends. This is just like any other slasher, only the producers get to use a franchise name that guarantees them they’ll make money.  The producers didn’t even wait a year to make this movie – so if you were one of the saps that thought Final Chapter was the end, how stupid you must have felt. But, it obviously didn’t matter to fans of the series at the time because you want to know how much this movie made? Eleven times its estimated budget. So the formula still worked and people still flocked to see these movies despite being so openly lied to; it didn’t matter: people still wanted to see Jason kill people.

Here’s the other notable thing about the film other than its reputation within the series: the body count is a ridiculous 22. Perhaps to compensate for that fact that this isn’t really Jason killing the people the filmmakers thought they needed to up the body count to astronomical numbers (this has to be some kind of slasher record, no?) where I can only assume that it would get old after about, oh I don’t know, number five. I don’t say this often, but thank you, Netflix. You bailed me out big time. Part 6 – a film as equally goofy as Part 3, for its failed, strained attempts at being all meta – a film that boasted Jason Lives in hopes that fans would return once again in droves to this time actually see Jason Voorhees kill people. 


Part 6:

Allow me to begin this review with a quote from the fine people at Hysteria Lives! about Friday the 13th, Part 6:

“Ultimately, JASON LIVES is more of the same – but I know if you're reading this you won't see that as remotely anything like a bad thing. The James Bond movies are just the same thing ad infinitum, nobody bitches about them. Several notches above any of the sequels that followed, JASON LIVES is a slasher sequel to be cherished. Effortlessly entertaining.”

I have to respectfully disagree here. There’s one thing, and one thing only, that Part 6 has going for it: writer/director Tom McLoughlin. And what I mean by that is that the film is the singular vision – for the first time in the series – of one individual. It’s more coherent than any of the other films since Part 2, but it’s also woefully self-aware. “Meta” and “Postmodern” are terms I like seeing when talking about, reading about, or writing about a horror film. Nothing annoys me more than meta-horror films. The one and only exception being Wes Craven’s New Nightmare because it was actually made to be scary as well as being meta; however, the film is not meta in that smugly self-aware way where the filmmakers clearly are making a horror film that states, “I didn’t really want to make a horror film, so let me shit all over the genre at an attempt of self-aware humor.” I like it when horror movies take themselves seriously; yes, a cheesy horror film is like chicken soup for my ailing soul most nights, but there’s a stark difference between cheese and smugness. Not to beat a dead horse, but the problem with meta is that the filmmakers that make these kind of horror movies think they’re above (or “beyond” if we want to get all etymological) the material.

All that to say that the above quote equating the Friday films to the Bond films is not entirely true since the Bond films were created (on film at least; the books are more serious) to have a self-aware style and humor and wit whereas the Friday films were rooted in the down-and-dirty exploitation subgenre.

So, yeah, there’s a lighthearted and loose, self-aware tone to the film – an attitude of we’re better than just making another stupid slasher movie, and that kind of pisses me off. The Friday films aren’t worth getting all bent out of shape over when someone fucks with their tone, but dammit, there’s nothing at all interesting about watching a movie where Jason Voorhees is supposed to be Frankenstein’s Monster (which was the idea since McLoughlin revives Jason at the beginning via lightning). There are a few good moments that McLoughlin cooks up: the opening scene in the graveyard (especially the moment where a panicked Tommy Jarvis tries to light a match just as the wind and rain kick in) and a moment where a little girl at the camp keeps seeing Jason throughout the movie. There’s a nice shot that kind of surprised me where the girl’s mother is tucking her into bed and telling her that everything is going to be alright. Just as the mother sits up, the camera moves up a little bit with her to reveal Jason lurking outside and peering into the window. It’s a nice, fluid shot without the usual superfluous nonsense that one finds in these films.

Thankfully, the film would get back to business with its next installment: a slasher that knows what it is, what its purpose is, and how to brusquely deliver the goods.


Part 7:

The best and most interesting of the bunch since the first sequel, Part 7 (subtitled: The New Blood) is a lot of good, cheesy fun, actually, and it moves at a brisk pace and contains some of the most imaginative and brutal deaths since the Savini years. Part 7 also marks the debut of perhaps the most famous portrayal of Jason Voorhees by stuntman Kane Hodder (more on him later). It’s one of my guilty pleasures that I will forever enjoy for its goofy premise, short runtime, inventive death scenes, and startlingly good make-up and gore effects.

The story is one of the better gimmicks that the sequels came up with (this installment was actually supposed to be the long-awaited battle between two horror icons: Freddy and Jason. A battle that would finally arrive 15 years later in a movie that…well, it’s just best if we move on) as Jason is pitted against a girl named Tina who has telekinetic powers. It’s essentially Jason meets Carrie, but it’s all done in a way that makes for quite a fun horror movie. There are two notable things about Part 7: one is the insane amount of gore that was cut and then destroyed by the studio (rough work prints can be watched here) and the other thing notable about the film is that it is the debut of Kane Hodder, probably the best actor to play Jason.

So the gore: there are many notorious scenes in Part 7: there’s Jason taking a mini-kazoo/plastic horn type noisemaker and shoving down someone’s throat until blood spurts out the end, there’s Jason squeezing a guy’s head and having it explode in blood like he’s popping a giant zit, there’s Tina using her telekinetic powers to move a severed head across the room which then headbutts Jason (not so much gory, just awesome), and then there’s the infamous sleeping bag scene where Jason grabs some poor camper as she’s in her sleeping bag and swings her against the tree to a bloody pulp (in the version seen in theaters but cut for video, he hits her against the tree six times). So, the film is somewhat notorious in the pantheon of Friday films for its copious amounts of blood and gore. This can be attributed, I think, to having a make-up effects guy be your director. John Carl Buechler had only directed Troll prior to this film (and worked as an effects guy on a few others), and the story goes that he continually clashed with the film’s producer over the amount of gore and the fact that he, being an effects/make-up guy and all, wanted to have Jason unmasked most of the movie.

The gore is easy to understand (even though it doesn’t look nearly as gruesome by today’s standards) and really, if you want to get an idea of what the gore effects may have looked like, you need only look to 2006’s Hatchet. Buechler did the gore effects for that slasher and got to put a lot of those extremely graphic deaths that were cut from this film into that film. What would have been a nice change of pace is having Jason unmasked throughout most of the movie. Again, from the producer’s point of view I guess I can understand why you would be reluctant to strip Jason of his iconic symbol – it would be like removing the razors from Freddy – but when Jason actually is unmasked near the end (in a nifty use of the telekinesis gimmick), I have to say that it’s a phenomenal piece of make-up effects (it's the pic that heads up this post) by Buechler and his crew. When his mask is removed, he’s made to look like the zombie he now is (he’s been under that lake for a long time now, chained down by a boulder), and in what may or may not be an homage to Fulci, he kind of looks like one of the Italian maestro’s buried conquistadors from Zombi 2.

So that takes care of the gore, but the other notable thing about the film is Kane Hodder. I love the way he plays Jason – especially in the scenes where Tina throws all kinds of things at him and has pictures, lamps, and severed heads (!) coming at him (it?). In one of my favorite scenes, Tina collapses the cabin around Jason as planks and wood and columns and the roof come crashing down – and somehow Hodder is able through pantomime, essentially, to emote confusion towards this odd girl who is kicking his ass all over Crystal Lake. It’s a great performance. He’s also brutally efficient like no other Jason has been in the series. He would be the only actor to play Jason multiple times.

So, the streak ends at one. Friday the 13th, Part 7 is the last time the producers of the series would attempt something outside of what I like to call the Ernest P. Worrell syndrome. This is where the producers, much like Jim Varney had success just plugging na├»ve Ernest into wacky settings, would plug Jason into some kind of gimmicky setting in hopes of selling tickets. I imagine those production meetings went something like this: “oh look, Jason can go to Manhattan”; “Ooh, he can go to Hell”; “Oh, I know, let’s send him to space!” (And really what it reminds me most of his that “Police Cops” episode of The Simpsons). So there’s nowhere to go but down after Part 7, but definitely check it out; it’s rare to see such a silly and goofy (yet not smug like the previous installment) and brutally violent slasher coming out during the dredges of the subgenre. It’s, dare I say, kind of a hidden slasher gem.



That picture is from The Final Chapter, but it so succinctly sums up how I feel about the next three installments... 

Part 8:
 
Oh boy. This is the one where Jason visits Manhattan. The film opens with a loooong (like 20-30 seconds) shot of a rat in a toxic waste drum with the shittiest late ‘80s music playing over the opening credits. And it only gets worse from there. The less said about the film the better (and this installment is one of the main reasons I felt I needed to do capsule reviews of the final six films) as Jason doesn’t even show up in Manhattan until the end. Part 8 could have been a cool “Jason as vigilante” idea (hey, at least it would have been different) but instead they opt to make the same old slasher movie – but this time – like Andy Samburg and T-Pain – Jason’s on a boat! When Jason finally does get to shore, he just plods along and kills the same way he would were he at Camp Crystal Lake. It’s sad that the series seemed to have a fresh and violent and goofy tone with Part 7 and then just totally goes back to being uninspired. Nothing – seriously, nothing – stands out in this movie. I suppose you could riff it with friends, but Part 3 is more worthy of your attention in that regard than this tripe. The only scene that even remotely elicited a chuckle from me was the “boxing match” at the top of a Manhattan building; it’s so laughably bad the way Hodder plays Jason as the boxer that’s going to let his opponent “punch himself out.” Hodder seems totally uninspired by the material and less brutal this time around. The film would perform the worst in the history of the series (even though it still turned a few million profit) forcing Paramount to sever ties with its cash cow series and sell it off to New Line Cinema. Fanboys were going crazy because this meant that the long-awaited battle between Freddy and Jason (which was supposed to be the premise for Part 7) could now see the light of day without all of the legal mumbo-jumbo that held up the process years earlier. However, fans still wouldn’t get that movie for another 13-14 years. It was not worth the wait. Next!

Part 9:

I’m running out of steam, so let’s do these last ones quick: The FBI kills Jason in the beginning. There you go. This is first time New Line got to produce a Friday film, and it almost seems like they’re saying, “fuck you Paramount…we’re going to kill him and then reduce him to our version of a slasher, Freddy Krueger” as the rest of the film is basically Jason’s spirit possessing people and having them do his dirty work (which is the premise for the first Nightmare sequel, one of the worst of that series). It’s got a sense of humor about it that makes it a breezy watch, but it’s all so tired at this point. You get the moment at the end where Freddy’s razor-hand pulls Jason’s mask down to hell. Teasing something that wouldn’t be made for another decade.

Part 10:

Jason goes to space. There’s a weird android chick that kicks a lot of ass. There’s one helluva an effect where Jason dumps a girl’s head into some dry ice and then smashes it on the counter. It’s inventive, it looks cool (this had the highest budget of any Friday film and almost didn’t make its money back), and it’s surprisingly brutal in a film series that lost its teeth the minute Jason took Manhattan. So that death stands out as one of the best in the series, but it’s so out of context with the all of these wacky Jason plots where they send away from Camp Crystal Lake. I do remember seeing this in the theater. I don’t know what that means or why it’s important, but I figured I would end on that.

So happy Friday the 13th, everyone! Do yourself a favor if you’re a Netflix streamer and watch Part 2 and Part 7 tonight and then cleanse the palate with some cheesy Part 3(D!) goodness. Things will be back to normal next week, and don’t forget to click on Michael’s link at the top of this post for his full reviews of these films on his blog.

2 comments

  1. Well, that was a trip to that summer I spent with my brother watching all these movies one after the other on DVD.
    Part 5... well, Part 5 makes my list for the top 3 installments of the series because it's just so widly different and interesting at the same time in its concept. I don't know if you've watched it or not, but this one is truly a marvel... and I don't care that Jason isn't in it, I guess after Part 4 I was kinda glad that he wasn't around, he was quite tiring at the end of 4 (apart from being dead). The concept of a new Jason, and Jason being some kind of entelequia or existence that is needed in the universe was quite refreshing to me, so I rate it highly.
    Part 6 has a great start: the thunder, the James Bond beginning (haha, funny you mentioned James Bond), but the rest is tiring and not as interesting. Jarvis spends most of the film in jail, and the rest of the characters aren't interesting at all.
    Part 7, you can say that I find interesting but I still is maybe as faulty as part 4 in some of its parts, but still it is quite entertaining in the concept of telequinesis, and I guess it's fair to call it the best of the rest that would follow. It has great effects and acting, and it's overall watchable.
    Part 8 is a mess, an unwatchable mess, I barely see what was the point, it's not even scary! The boat sequences were long and this movie really felt like a 2-part 4 hour miniseries of the events of this group of kids that go to Manhattan and those sequences are barely funny, they are just silly and boring. One of the worst.
    I have some charm for part 9, because its well shot and has certain atmosphere to it, and that's besides the fact that this film is bright, most of it happening in day time. That doesn't save it from being badly acted and silly as hell, one of the many things that bring it down. The presence of the Evil Dead's Necronomicon shocked me as well as confused me, as it tried to give a mystical presence to Jason that killed Michael Myers in Part 4-5-6.
    Part 10 is the worst of the series. I was bored and appalled by the awful acting quality of the whole thing. Jason is not interesting and the special effects are just crap, and the sequences that occur in some kind of virtual reality weren't clever for me.
    I liked Freddy vs Jason.
    The remake is maybe as bad as Jason X.

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  2. Thanks for the plug, Kevin. I'll do my best to keep my reviews of the remaining films up to the standard you've set here. I've always been somewhat of an apologist for this series, and I may end up respectfully disagreeing with you on the value of a few of the later installments, but then again, I haven't seen most of them in years, and it's entirely possible they haven't held up as well as I think they have. (I think I completely forgot that I even saw part 9!) I should have the first review up by this evening.

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