Sunday, 26 December 2010

Dan O'Bannon Week

A year ago last week, the movie world mourned the loss of one of it’s most original and strikingly innovative contributors - writer/director/producer/actor Dan O’Bannon.

As the screenwriter of classic genre films such as Alien and Total Recall and cult favourites Dead and Buried, Dark Star and Return of the Living Dead, O’Bannon really made his mark on the world of genre cinema.

To commemorate the anniversary of his death and celebrate his film work, The Blood Sprayer is just rounding up a whole week of articles dedicated to an appreciation of everything 'Dan O’Bannon.'

Friday the 13th (2009)

Dir. Marcus Nispel

When his younger sister becomes the latest person to go missing during a camping trip to Crystal Lake, Clay Miller sets out to find her, with or without the help of the local police. Falling in with a crowd of teens staying in a holiday chalet on Crystal Lake, he is joined by sympathetic Jenna in his search of the local area, while her friends remain at the house to party. Before long it becomes apparent the area is stalked by a hulking psychopath who abducts and murders anyone who encroaches on the grounds of an old summer camp… It would seem those old campfire tales of a hermetic psycho named Jason Voorhees may have had more of a grounding in reality than anyone ever dared dream of… Let the blood run free!

When it was originally conceived, the remake of Friday the 13th was intended to be an origin story, detailing the genesis of mass murderer Jason Voorhees. Writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, who had previously worked on Freddy vs. Jason for New Line, were brought in again to pen a screenplay. They eventually fashioned a script that was envisioned as a reboot of the series. Amalgamating elements from the first four movies, this reboot manages to provide a fitting sense of history and actually exhibits more plot than most of the prior Friday the 13th movies combined! Though naturally, that isn’t saying much.

When I first saw the reboot of Friday the 13th, I didn’t really think much of it. Then I thought carefully about the original and what Platinum Dunes had done with it. The original is considered a classic, sure, and as much as I love it and enjoy watching it, there’s no mistaking it was conceived as a rip off of Halloween to cash in on that film‘s success. While far from a flawless movie, it is still held in an almost defensive reverence by purists. A second viewing of the reboot convinced me that what Nispel, Shannon and Swift have attempted to do is craft an old school slasher in the vein of the original Friday the 13th movies and it is easy to see that attempts have been made to at least capture the spirit of the original series. Shannon and Swift have taken the fact that characters in Friday the 13th movies exist solely to be murderlised and just run with it. They’ve deliberately created characters who are unsympathetic - with the exception of a few - so their deaths, when they come, will illicit cheers from the audience. While this detracts a little from the tension, it is at least in keeping with the mentality of slasher movies - in particular the Friday the 13th titles. A few genre conventions are side-stepped without the nudge-winkery of the Scream-era slashers - though most clichés are stuck to like flypaper. The usual notion of the Final Girl is slightly skewed in that the girl who was signposted to be the last one standing (Danielle Panabaker), turns out to not be and in her place we have a 'final boy.' As the resourceful and determined Clay, Jared Padalecki's sincere performance convinces. The surprisingly likable local sheriff is played by the always sturdy Richard Burgi, who proves less ineffective than most slasher movie cops.

Aside from talk of cell phones and GPS gadgets etc, the rest of the film and its script could have been made back in the slasher heydays of the early Eighties. It certainly exudes that mentality and outlook. Characters still smoke pot, drink beer and indulge in copious amounts of sex. The screenplay is adorned with a nostalgic sheen as the writers fondly recall and recreate slasher scenarios from the subgenre’s glory days. The amount of breastage on display also recalls the golden era of slasherdom. Even a few of the Friday the 13th movies’ recurring motifs are added to the mix. It seems no Friday the 13th flick is quite complete without someone’s slashed-up body being chucked through a window. A number of inventive deaths also manage to shock - none more so than that of the unfortunate girl hung over a campfire in her sleeping bag. While not directly lifted from past movies, these moments at least feel like they could have been. Indeed, much of the film unfolds as a loving homage to its predecessors - the majority of the running time is given over to the building of suspense as annoying teens drink, smoke and fuck their way around a creepy location as they’re picked off one by one in increasingly grisly ways - completely oblivious to the danger they are in. In keeping with the usual tradition of slasher movie teens, this lot also seem to hate each other - bickering and goading ensue when they are together. Alpha male Trent is a particularly unsympathetic and egotistical prick, played with smug aplomb by Travis Van Winkle.

Severely unfunny pot-shots are taken at the roles played by ethnic minorities in horror, the result of which render the ‘token’ ethnic characters amongst the most annoying of the bunch: “Why you gotta go racial? Don't put me in a box, all right? What, because I'm black I can't listen to Green Day? *Groans* Indeed, the only characters even remotely fleshed out are the ones who survive longest. Shocker. Even they aren’t remotely three dimensional just because they are at least ‘nice’ and less annoying than the others; we root for them on a purely human level. Having said that, writers Shannon and Swift know that we don’t watch these movies for delicately nuanced characterisation or insightful deconstruction of the human condition. We watch ‘em to indulge in the carnage of annoying, attractive teens - smug (and safe) in the knowledge that we would never be as stupid or make the same fatal errors as them.

The reinvention of Jason (Derek Mears) is a solid one. He’s leaner, meaner and much more calculating and actively sadistic in this version. While the back-story fleshes him out, it isn’t to the detriment of the character - a la Freddy vs. Jason. He still maintains an air of mystery, and instead of the lumbering zombie he eventually became in the original series, here he is presented as a feral, ferocious, conniving maniac - closer to his incarnation in Part II - whose mortality makes him all the more menacing. He’s just a calculating psychopath skulking about the woods. We glimpse him as a disfigured boy, the 'baghead' version from the second instalment of the original series and eventually as the iconic hockey mask-wearing killer he will always be remembered as. The location is effectively realised and the labyrinth of tunnels under the old summer camp go some way to explain how it is that Jason is able to stalk his prey and seemingly pop up behind them from out of nowhere. The old cabins and the usual sort of imagery associated with the series is recreated lovingly, with Daniel Pearl’s now tell-tale atmospheric cinematography in all its mist-shrouded creepiness ensuring events play out in a fitting no-man’s-land where the teens are totally at the mercy of nature. Primal fears and back to basics survival never looked so slick.

One small (personal) gripe is the distinct lack of Mrs Voorhees. While her memory faded as the series progressed, it was hoped that her presence would make itself known again in a reboot of the franchise. As the wronged and vengeful matriarch, Nana Visitor graces the screen for too short a time during a brief prologue that plays out under the opening credits. However the impact of her blood-stained actions resonates long after, as it is made explicitly clear her son witnessed her murder and picked up where she left off. Teens = BAD! Must. Be. Punished. The usual sex equals death mantra of the series is also splayed across the screen during a particularly wrung out scene where two blonde and obnoxious teens are having sex in the holiday chalet. We cut ever rapidly between them and Whitney (Amanda Righetti) making a break for it with Jason stalking after her as she runs toward the chalet for help. Just as it seems she’s about to pound on the window for help, Jason roughly apprehends her. The scene plays out in the heady cornucopia of exploitation, titillation and sleazy suspense that made the first movie so dubiously compelling.

The reboot also works well as a companion piece to the Platinum Dunes remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and is just as slick, with the same stylised grittiness that pales in comparison to the original’s stifling carnal-house atmospherics. Both films though, while shadows of their originals, manage to be entertaining and well enough made in their own right. Most wouldn’t doubt Nispel’s ability to wrack up tension or spin a good yarn - even if the yarn was told in a much more compelling and effective way many years before.

A well made and fairly solid outing which manages to bring a much needed air of menace back to the series and even though it is just a glossy take on a tried and tested formula, it is still enjoyable - and retains the same familiar (and popular) sensibilities of the original flicks.

From a geeky point of view, it was also kinda cool to see the film begin with the Paramount logo and Jason’s unmistakable motif echo across it: Ki Ki Ki Ma Ma Ma…

Friday, 24 December 2010

Freddy vs. Jason

Dir. Ronny Yu

With the memory of Freddy Krueger suppressed and vanquished from the youth of Springwood – rendering him powerless and incapable of claiming any more victims - the dream-dwelling killer resurrects the brutish Crystal Lake marauder Jason Voorhees and manipulates him into going to Springwood to carve up a few teens and strike fear and chaos into the community once again. Only problem is, once Jason starts a-killin’, there’s just no a-stoppin’ him. There’s eventually a big show down between the pair and some sassy, sexy teens get stuck in the middle of it all… Shocker.

Since the initial idea of filming a face off between Freddy and Jason way back when Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood was being developed, there had been numerous screenplays by a plethora of writers over the course of a decade that tried to flesh it out and make it a reality. The show-down between two of horror cinemas most iconic antagonists was stuck in development hell as soon as it was conceived. As an idea it was awesome. As an actual movie, it proved more problematic. The basic problem came from deciding how best to entwine the mythologies of both characters in a way that wouldn’t do a disservice to their respective film series’. How would this encounter come about? Freddy Krueger is a demonic manifestation of his victims’ dreams. Jason is essentially a demented backwoods hick with severe mental/physical deformities who eventually exhibited supernatural attributes when writers needed to resurrect him countless times and explain his immortality. Why would they even be involved in a face off? Who would the audience root for - neither are particularly sympathetic - both are sadistic, cold-blooded killers. These were but a few of the many problems various writers tackling the project were faced with. The production of Scream and the evolution of the post-modern, self-reflexive horror movie also upped the ante for those tackling the creation of Freddy vs. Jason.

When writers Damien Shannon and Mark Swift came to the project, the bones for the story were already there and many of the drafts already submitted picked up where Jason Goes to Hell left off - with the gruesome twosome now in hell. By going back to the original A Nightmare on Elm Street and readdressing the idea that fear is what gives Freddy his strength, and reinvestigating the generation gap and the idea of the deadly consequences of parents doing dubious things to protect their children (sins of the fathers etc), the writers came up with the idea that the youth of Springfield were being drugged and having their dreams suppressed in order to stop Freddy’s killing spree. The community has become a quiet, bloodless place to live now. Those teens who began to show signs of remembering Freddy were whisked off to the local loony-bin and locked away from the rest of the world. The sense of helplessness evoked in the original film when the teens realise what their parents have done - and that it is their parents very attempts to keep it secret and protect them that actually imperil the lives of the younger generation - is nicely recreated here, too. The idea of a drug that can suppress dreams was introduced in A Nightmare on Elm Street Part III: Dream Warriors. Freddy therefore needs to strike fear into the heart of the community again and he does this by resurrecting Jason’s slumbering corpse and sending him to Elm Street. This is a clever twist and a mainly convincing way to bring the two slasher villains together. Freddy must confront Jason when he won’t stop killing. Hey presto - let the fun begin!

The main problem with Freddy vs. Jason is, cartoonish tone aside, practically every scene that doesn’t feature someone getting hacked the fuck up, is loaded with exposition. Everything is explained and served up to us on a steaming plate of expository dialogue. The writers assume their audience is stupid and completely neglect the fact that most horror fans will know who this pair are and don’t need a re-cap or explanation as to what’s going on. Its not exactly rocket science - though after watching this many Friday the 13th movies in such quick succession, I’m surprised my brain still functions at all.
Yu’s direction ensures events whip along at breakneck speed and a rudimentary plot is spiced up with various death scenes that rank amongst the most bland and unimaginative either series has produced. What he does bring to the film is a great sense of style - at times, things look like they’ve been lifted wholesale from a comic book. This approach is evident in the violence too - which while pretty bloody, is also too outlandish to make any sort of impact other than ‘whoa, dude. That was like, um, totally gnarly!’ A most unwelcome aspect of the numerous fight scenes between Freddy and Jason towards the end of the film is the inclusion of pinball machine sound effects and cartoon wrestling bells. Dreadful. In all the wrong ways.

The various dream worlds depicted in the film - particularly Jason’s skewed memories of Crystal Lake - are effectively realised and look pretty stunning. Another successful aspect of the film is the look of both villains. The continuity of the Friday the 13th sequels was rather inconsistent to say the least, and this entry is no different in terms of reinventing Jason’s look again. Here he is presented as a lean, though no less hulking, giant. The re-casting of Ken Kirzinger as Jason, instead of Kane Hodder (who'd portrayed him in the last four movies), caused quite a stir in the horror world, with many fans expressing outrage. Kirzinger - I guess like most of the actors who have played the role over the years - provides a slight variation on a familiar portrayal. He moves slowly, and the fight scenes are blunt, brutal and kind of like watching two aging, haggard wrestlers thud the shit out of each other. Freddy, when tussling with Jason, resembles a little terrier dog - all snappy and snarly and completely dwarfed by the brutish hockey-masked one. The sight is a little ridiculous, but it fits perfectly with the tone of the film.

Much attempts seem to have been made to make Jason the ‘good guy.’ I guess to an extent he is a victim and this has been addressed throughout the Friday the 13th series a number of times. He was always an outsider; he was thought drowned when neglectful camp counsellors weren’t watching him; his mother was beheaded after she attempted to avenge his ‘death.’ He grew up in the backwoods alone. This ‘back-story’ and sympathetic slant strips the character of his menace. He has become a lumbering behemoth, and something of a pathetic creature we begin to feel sorry for. Never mind all the sadistic carnage he was responsible for in previous films. At one point he is even depicted as a shivering, cowering little boy in a hockey mask, whom Freddy refers to as 'an ugly little shit!' How undignified! The treatment of Freddy isn’t much better, but then again we have come to expect this and can thank the consistent dilution of the Elm Street sequels for that. Krueger was progressively elevated to the status of ‘lovable rogue’ as the sequels dragged on, a far cry from Wes Craven’s initially feverish and clammy depiction of him as a child killer. An opening scene depicting Krueger stalking a little girl through his filthy boiler room (while he tells us who he is and what his deal is, of course) hints that this film will return him to the shadowy, loathsome form he was in the original - when he was still scary. Then someone remembered that Freddy vs. Jason was a late summer blockbuster and that those sorts of issues don’t wash with the multiplex crowd.

Freddy vs. Jason is peopled by a hip, cool cast who do exactly what they’re supposed to, and look good while doing it. As Lori, Monica Keena is a fine final girl - starting off as a waifish wet blanket who pines for her childhood sweetheart and misses her dead mother, before morphing into a buxom, kick-ass babe who screams stuff like 'Welcome to my world, BITCH!' while wielding flaming torches and kicking ass. Her friends - sassy, tells-it-like-it-is Kia (Kelly Rowland), chain smoking emotional wreak Gibb (a wonderfully glib Katherine Isabelle), sensitive Linderman (Christopher Marquette), stoner Freeburg (Kyle Labine) and troubled boyfriend Will (Jason Ritter) - soon realise that something sinister is afoot when their friends and school mates start dying in fiendishly violent ways and the grown-ups begin to act strangely. They eventually work things out while they sit around explaining stuff, you know, just in case we don’t quite get what’s going on. Which is impossible since every little fucking thing is explained in bite-sized, easily digestible chunks. Not only is everything dumbed down, its made worse by the fact that it is STILL explained to us.

As it is, Freddy vs. Jason is a disappointing though still fairly enjoyable romp that perfectly encapsulates how far both film series’ have come since their initial instalments back in the early 80s - one, a cheap exploitative shocker boasting a murderous matriarch, the other, a seminal, genuinely nasty and terrifying fright flick that exploited primal fears. Many years and sequels later, and both are box office blockbusters that seem as at home in your local family multiplex as slush puppy machines and popcorn.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Jason X

Dir. Jim Isaac

In the near future a team of government scientists finally succeed in capturing and containing the seemingly indestructible killer Jason Voorhees. They plan to cryogenically freeze him, but not before he breaks free and slaughters all but one of them. Sole survivor Rowan lures him into the chamber but is frozen in time with him. Flash forward to the year 2455; earth is an uninhabitable wasteland, devoid of life. Jason and Rowan are discovered by a team of interplanetary explorers and taken back to their ship to be thawed out. Newly revived, Jason does what he does best. Murderlises people. In space.

The final shot of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday AKA Friday the 13th Part IX promised us a confrontation between Jason and Freddy Krueger. Indeed, with that ‘final’ instalment of the series and with Krueger’s own franchise coming full circle with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, the time to bring both villains together in one diabolical showdown was perfect. Except, no one could quite figure out how to do that satisfactorily. Numerous scripts were commissioned by various writers but the whole project was doomed to languish in development hell for nearly a decade more. Meanwhile, an increasingly frustrated Sean Cunningham thought it best to produce another Jason film to keep fans sated while they waited for the vs. film. A number of concepts were played around with, including Jason in gangland LA, Jason underwater, Jason in the desert, Jason in a winter wonderland (blood on snow!) etc, before they finally decided on the outlandish idea of sticking him in space. Hey, Hellraiser and Leprechaun both did the same thing to inject new life into their burgeoning franchises and it didn’t do them any harm. No, wait…

Chronologically Jason X comes after the events depicted in Freddy vs. Jason. Writer Todd Farmer and director Jim Isaac went all out with the humour in this one, though apparently the original script was very dark and gritty, with Cunningham’s influence eventually diluting it. The overt humour evident in Jason X is basically splat-stick. Well, it is the tenth instalment – for it to take itself seriously may have been slightly preposterous. And it is set in space. The tongue in cheek vibe is actually one of the film’s saving graces – it knows it is the umpteenth sequel and it just has fun with that. Being the tenth in the series doesn’t mean it doesn’t scrimp on the inventive kills though – or indeed the amount of kills! If you thought you’d seen every way to kill a bunch of teens, think again. As well as revisiting the popular ‘sleeping bag’ death in a bravura virtual-reality ‘flashback’ sequence, we also witness the spectacle of a woman’s head being shoved into a vat of liquid-nitrogen and freezing instantly before being smashed to smithereens on a table, and another unfortunate woman being sucked out into space through a hole Jason has punched in the hull of the ship.

Of course for old school aficionados who like their deaths a little more ‘vintage’ there are the usual impalements, decapitations, breaking of necks, slashing of throats, pulverising of heads and Jason hacking/dismembering/cutting people the fuck up with his trusty machete. As Jason is the strong silent type, he never was one for puns a la Freddy Krueger, but that doesn’t stop this film being pun-tastic. The punch lines are usually delivered by other characters, for example the exclamation “He’s screwed!” comes when one victim is found impaled and spinning on a giant screw, or Janessa (Melyssa Ade) screaming “This sucks on so many levels!” as she is, well, sucked out of a hole in the hull. Indeed, deliciously cheesy one-liners positively pepper the film, perfectly exemplified when Kay-Em 14 (Lisa Ryder) declares to Jason, while tottin’ a pair of big guns “I’m gonna have to hurt ya now!”

The film is made up of strong characters a far cry from their airheaded Eighties counterparts – though they are still various recognisable types and still end up making the same fatal errors of judgement – and Jason of course still pops up behind them to stab them with big pointy things. At times it resembles a lower budget Aliens, with a team of military grunts also out to snare Jason onboard the spaceship. And being made in the oh-so-ironic early 2000s – hot on the heels of Scream and that slasher revival – it featured the usual plethora of sassy female characters and camp sensibility. Few of the cast play it straight – with the exception of Lexa Doig (Rowan) and Peter Mensah (Brodski), most go for the laughs - but it still works. A brilliant cameo by David Cronenberg (director Jim Isaac had worked with him on a number of his films as an assistant director and special effects guy) as the eviiiiiil Dr Wimmer – “I don’t want him frozen, Rowan; I want him soft” – helps set the knowing tone. The cast know as much as we do that the reason why these films are so popular is because people watch them for one thing – to see characters get killed off in gruesome ways – not for insightful characterisation or biting social commentary. Though those things wouldn’t go amiss from time to time. Just me then? K.

Even though they’ve stuck Jason in space and given his movie a sense of humour – most of this film still plays out like a straight slasher flick, with characters stalked and slain one by one. When android babe Kay-Em 14 manages to fuck Jason up good and proper and it looks like he’s had his chips; his remains are resurrected by futuristic Nano-technologies, creating the film’s biggest coup – Uber-Jason. Decked out in futuristic garb and boasting an all new mask, he comes back bigger and stronger than ever.

Visually speaking the film looks quite interesting and manages to look way more expensive than it actually was. While the special effects pale in comparison to most of the time, they were still effectively enough realised for their budget. The virtual reality sequence towards the end, when the survivors create a holographic version of Camp Crystal Lake circa 1980, complete with pot tokin’, beer swillin’, premarital sex lovin’ babes who take their tops off – provides a wry commentary on the conventions of the series, revealing its status as an ironic pastiche more than a dated anachronism.

While far from blowing away the box office, Jason X still amassed a cult following and a slew of comic book spin-offs followed, exploring the titular character’s exploits in space and on other worlds. While certainly not the strongest entry in the series, Jason X is far from the weakest; it’s winning sense of humour and genuine adoration of Jason (and his fans) give it a much needed jolt of originality and devilish playfulness.


Monday, 13 December 2010

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday

Dir. Adam Marcus

Jason is blown to smithereens by the FBI while up to his old tricks at Crystal Lake. During the autopsy however, his demonic spirit possesses the coroner who sets off on a killing spree, in search of Jason’s hitherto unmentioned niece, Jessica: the only person who can stop him once and for all. With his spirit jumping from person to person by way of a parasitic demon rendering those it possesses indestructible, it won’t be an easy task for Jessica to defeat him…

Through a Voorhees was he born... Through a Voorhees may he be reborn... And only by the hands of a Voorhees will he die.”

Another year, another Friday the 13th movie which claimed to be the last in the series. Wasn’t that supposed to be The Final Chapter back in ’84? My brain hurts. New Line Cinema now owned the rights to the series (well, to the name of 'Jason Voorhees', anyway), and Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday was also the first film in the series since the original to feature the involvement of Sean Cunningham. While it may have been part nine in a seemingly never-to-end franchise, it also stands as one of the most fiercely original and innovative Friday the 13th films to date. Moving away from the tired formula of teens menaced in the woods by Jason, this one begins with a scene that defies all expectations and unfurls with a narrative more akin to The Hidden, in which Jason’s soul moves from host to host, turning whoever he possesses into an indestructible killing machine.

Beginning with a seemingly typical prologue in which a young woman arrives at a cabin at Crystal Lake, strips naked to have a shower and then finds herself chased around the woods by machete-wielding Jason, it’s soon obvious this film won’t be like all the others. The young woman is an FBI agent involved in a sting to lure Jason out and blow him up. So with the main antagonist dead within the first ten minutes, where does the story go from here? Yes, I know: it never stopped them before! But this one is different! His body is in pieces so there’s no chance of him simply being resurrected to begin where he left off. It’s revealed his heart is a parasitic demon that can pass from host to host, and that’s exactly what it does, beginning with the coroner examining the remains.

The main strength of Jason Goes to Hell lies in its willingness to push boundaries and take a fresh approach to the series. The overt fantasy trimmings (including some business involving a mystical dagger, a book on demonology bound in human flesh and a grotesque demon that ‘enters’ poor Diana as she lies dead on the basement floor) lend themselves well to the film and a whole mythology is fleshed out through the script. Turns out that Jason can only be killed by a member of his family. He can also be reborn if he takes possession of a member of his family. Enter Jessica (Kari Keegan), his niece, who was never mentioned in the series until now. Turns out Jason’s father Elias Voorhees was a bit of a player. Continuity has never been this series’ strong point. Mrs Voorhees explicitly stated in Part I that Jason was her only child. Much like Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, Jason Goes to Hell also features previously unmentioned family members for the convenience of the plot. Jason apparently had a sister, Diana (Erin Gray). It seems that in long-running slasher series, the only way to truly kill off a villain is to have a member of their family do it. Figures. Reinforce those conservative, All-American family values why-don’t-ya?! That a fractured family under threat features at the root of this film, it exhibits more of an emotional core than any of its predecessors.

That thing is in the basement with Jessica's dead mother!

In place of the usual teens we have a collection of interesting characters and much more is done to try and flesh them out a bit – don’t worry though, for purists there are the early scenes featuring sexed-up teens who plan to camp out at the lake to “smoke a little dope, have a little premarital sex, and not worry about getting slaughtered.” These scenes are more of a loving homage to the earlier films than anything else, and they serve to highlight the daring direction the rest of the film heads in. Protagonists Steven (John D. LeMay) and Jessica are an estranged couple who have a child together. He desperately wants to patch things up with her, while she seems more intent on moving on and marrying news anchorman Robert Campbell (Steven Culp). Jessica’s mother Diana hides a dark family secret, while the other quirky townsfolk are drawn with more colour than the usual Friday the 13th fodder, particularly the staff of the local diner. A certain amount of pathos is conjured after some of their deaths, too – unusual for a Friday the 13th movie. The film also features the character of Creighton Duke (Steven Williams), a bounty hunter hired by tabloid show American Case File, when he claims that Jason isn’t really dead and that only he knows how to finish him off for good. Boasting more sass than Shaft, Duke had the potential to be a worthy adversary of the hulking Voorhees.

The violence on display is perhaps the most graphic from the whole series, particularly when viewed after the likes of the relatively bloodless Jason Takes Manhattan. This film features some of the most gruesome kills, including the sight of one unfortunate girl being ripped in two while she climaxes during (unprotected!) sex in a tent. Jason’s main method of causing death in this one usually consists of some form of trauma to the head – heads are banged together, bashed in, crushed, pulverised and busted open by car doors. The violence is blunt, gritty and grim. One of the most astoundingly brutal set pieces takes place in the diner when most of the secondary cast members are offed in spectacular style when the possessed Robert enters in hot pursuit of Jessica who is trying to retrieve her baby. A shoot out and some improvisational violence depletes the cast. There are also a couple of scenes featuring some pretty outlandlish and stomach-churning 'body-melt' effects. The look of the film is different to the previous instalments, too. While most of the films had their own distinct look and feel (the first two entries being the ones with most continuity), Jason Goes to Hell is much darker, and much more stylised than anything that came before. Well and truly gone from the series at this stage however, is any semblance of suspense. Jason, while in different forms here, is still the same ubiquitous killer who pops up wherever and whenever you most expect him to.

Jason Goes to Hell benefits from a knowingly dark sense of humour and showcases a surprising amount of self-awareness and intertextual reflexivity than any of the prior movies – or indeed any of the horror movies of this time (three years before Scream, too). References to other horror films (including The Evil Dead series) come thick and fast and characters take pot-shots at the conventions of the genre; a wonderful case in point is when Steven picks up a couple of teenage hitchhikers who tell him they’re heading to Camp Crystal Lake. He responds with: “Oh yeah? Planning on smoking a little dope, having a little premarital sex, and getting slaughtered?”

This entry divided fans – on one side are the ones who missed the usual formula of sexed-up teens getting cut the fuck up at Crystal Lake and the distinct lack of ‘Jason’; and on the other, those who praised director Marcus’ efforts to do something genuinely daring and different with a series long devoid of imagination or flair. The revelation that Voorhees is one of America’s most wanted killers also enriches the Mythos and references his weighty back catalogue of kills, as well as adding a touch of credibility. The film also provides a barbed commentary on America’s fascination, nay, obsession with true crime, violence and serial killers, and the tabloid TV shows which exploit their antics.

I'll have a Voorhees burger and a side of Jason fingers.”

The film’s last shot of Freddy Krueger’s razor-gloved hand bursting out of the dirt to snatch Jason’s discarded hockey mask down to hell, caused all kinds of masturbatory exaltations from fans who had been clamouring for a showdown between the two slasher titans since The New Blood.
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday may have lied to us about being the last one, but it still succeeds as a real fan-boy movie that has a genuine affection for the series, and indeed the genre, and attempted to bring something new to the blood-soaked table.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

Dir. Rob Hedden

When an anchor snags an underwater electricity cable at the bottom of Crystal Lake, the power surge reanimates the dormant corpse of Jason Voorhees who winds up onboard a boat filled with teens heading to New York to celebrate their graduation. Bloodless carnage and dreadful Eighties soft rock ensue.

While Freddy vs. Jason had been on the cards for some time, but wouldn't come to fruition for years yet, due to creative differences between New Line and Paramount, the two horror icons actually did go head to head back in 1989 (albeit from within their own respective franchises). New Line released A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child at the same time Paramount was releasing this, the eighth instalment of the Friday the 13th series. Often considered the worst of the sequels (which arguably isn't saying much!), Jason Takes Manhattan is a mess of a film. While director Hedden tried to move the series in a new direction, he was prevented from doing so by an ever diminishing budget and anxious execs, who didn't want to deviate too much from what they believed to be a winning formula. As a result, the film lacks tension, likeable characters, cohesiveness, continuity and its trademark violence. It also looks like a made for TV movie - again due to the low budget. Indeed, even the title is misleading as the vast majority of the film takes place on a boat (named The Lazarus, no less!) bound for New York. By the time we get to Manhattan and Jason pursues the surviving teens through subways and sewers, if you’re still awake, you’ll be ‘rewarded’ with about twenty minutes worth of a tensionless chase scene.

How big is this boat? The small graduating class of stereotypes all split up to do their own thing. The guys gather in the gym for sparring, a couple of girls bitch about everyone else and do some coke, a rock chick with impossibly big hair hangs out below deck to play guitar and savour the cool acoustics, a nerd with a film camera follows people around filming them, sensitive jock Sean (Scott Reeves) struggles to prove himself to his father (the ship’s captain), teacher/chaperon Colleen Van Deusen (Barbara Bingham) flits about being caring, while our Final Girl Renee (Jensen Daggett) deals with her fear of water (brought about by a mysterious incident in her past) and her overbearing uncle/guardian/biology teacher Charles McCulloch (Peter Mark Richman) – the most annoying and dislikeable ‘villain’ ever. Where’s Dr Crews when you need him? Numbers are briskly whittled down as characters wander about on their own and Jason suddenly appears behind/in front/beside them and kills them. Stalking sequences are rendered tensionless as Jason has now become this seemingly ubiquitous being capable of teleportation, appearing, disappearing and reappearing anywhere. So no matter how much the characters try to evade him, he just appears wherever they are running to and gets 'em. This wears thin very fast and sucks all suspense out of the story. The various gory money shots are all cut from the film, too – so we don’t get to see Jason bash in the brains of the rock chick with her own guitar, or smash a hot sauna rock into the chest of a jock.

Due to budget cuts, director Hedden had to reign in his ambitious script which featured the hockey-masked killer fucking shit up in Manhattan during much more screen time. What little we do see of Jason marauding around the already dangerous streets of New York looks suitably impressive. Gasp! as Jason murderlises some crack addicts who are roughing up Renee. Gawp! as Jason fucks up some vagrants. Be astounded! as Jason kicks over a street gang’s ghetto-blaster. The brief shots actually featuring Manhattan cityscapes are effectively realised, and it appears to be one of the unmistakably Eighties depictions of the city – all grimy Abel Ferrara aesthetics, graffiti-loaded alleys, steaming manhole covers and crack whore-tastic street urchins. Events soon move into the featureless sewers though as Renee and Sean desperately try to escape Jason. Much of the scenes in the city were actually filmed in Toronto, again due to budgetary limitations. Shame.
One of the ‘highlights’ comes when boxer Julius is cornered on a rooftop and begins pummelling Jason. Eventually exhausted and not seeming to have deterred Jason any, he dares the hulking maniac to ‘take his best shot.’ Which he does, punching Julius’ head right off his shoulders, over the side of the roof and down into a bin in the alley below.

The ending is nonsensical and features Jason being dissolved by toxic waste in the sewers, and reverting back to the form of a small boy. What does this mean? That he was a ghost all along or something? Doesn’t. Make. Sense. And hey, I realise this is part eight of a series already low on imagination and continuity, but please! Also odd are the flashbacks Renee has of learning to swim as a youngster in Crystal Lake and having a spooky encounter with a young Jason, who tries to drown her. A ‘shocking twist’ reveals that Renee’s gob-shite of an uncle is actually a bastard after all. Shocker.

Nothing beats the final shock ending though, as Sean and Renee emerge from the sewer, only to be startled by the formidable form of... Renee's dog! Scary. If you thought the original shock ending was enough to induce brown pants, you ain't seen nothing yet...

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood

Dir. John Carl Buechler

Several years after Tommy Jarvis chained him underwater at Camp Crystal Lake, Jason Voorhees is accidently resurrected by a teenager with psychic powers. It isn’t long before a bunch of scantily clad teens staying in a house by the lake get brutalised by old hockey mask features before a showdown with Tina, the telekinetic teen ensues. Jason vs. Carrie, anyone?

"There's a legend around here. A killer buried, but NOT dead. A curse on Crystal Lake, a death curse. Jason Voorhees' curse. They say he died as a boy, but he keeps coming back. Few have seen him and lived. Some have even tried to stop him. NO ONE can."

The New Blood originally started out as Freddy vs. Jason, but neither New Line nor Paramount could come to any agreement about how to bring about this clash of the slasher titans to the big screen. It would take many years for this film to be produced. There’s no doubt though that Part VII was heavily inspired by the success of A Nightmare on Elm Street and that series’ special effects laden sequences. The New Blood unspools as a violent fantasy horror exhibiting overtly supernatural trimmings; Jason is firmly established as an unstoppable killing machine and Tina (Lar Park-Lincoln), a young girl with latent telekinesis, is the Final Girl who must do battle with him using her resourcefulness and special psychic gift.

Writers Manuel Fidello and Daryl Haney stick rigidly to the formula – even going as far as copying the basic structure of Part IV: the resurrected Jason terrorising a lakeside house full of teens next door to a house homing a troubled (and fatherless) family. The teenaged characters are unadulterated slasher fodder with no distinguishing characteristics. No wait, one of them is an aspiring sci-fi writer or something. They have come together for a birthday party or something, while in the house next door, Tina, her mother and her psychiatrist – the eviiiiil Dr Crews and his staggering array of knitwear – try to get a handle on Tina’s traumatic past (she caused the death of her abusive father by drowning him in Crystal Lake with her telekinetic powers). Wracked with guilt and with the eviiiil Dr Crews spurning her own (for his own eviiiiil gain), she attempts to raise her father from the murky depths of the lake, only to inadvertently resurrect the dormant corpse of Jason instead. He immediately sets about chopping up the teens next door and eventually Tina’s mother and some random campers in the area fall by his hand. Naturally.

Déjà vu – noun
1. Psychology. The illusion of having previously experienced something actually being encountered for the first time.
2. Disagreeable familiarity or sameness: The new television season had a sense of déjà vu about it—the same old plots and characters with new names.
Origin: 1900–05; < F: lit., already seen.

The New Blood suffered at the hands of the censors who deemed the violence much too outlandish and brutal for cinema audiences, particularly the scene in which the dastardly Dr Crews meets his death when Jason sticks a whirring hedge trimmer into his stomach… Also featured in The New Blood is perhaps the most popular death scene in the whole series: an unfortunate girl inside a sleeping bag is repeatedly bashed against a tree by Jason. Charming. Elsewhere the methods of inducing violent death consist of head-crushing, neck slashing, impaling, stabbing, skewering and the obligatory chucking people through a window. Director John Carl Buechler was also responsible for creating the SFX and he'd previously helmed and created special effects for films such as Troll and Cellar Dweller. He would go on to provide effects and make-up for the likes of Ghoulies, A Nightmare on Elm Stret 4: The Dream Master and erm, Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity, amongst others. Huzzah!

As before, characters wander around slack-jawed, not seeming to notice their dwindling numbers, wafting out into the night to search for lost earrings/investigate strange noises/get something from the car. Whatever. Jason pops up out of nowhere and murderlises them – some of them just not quickly enough, frankly. Tension is a distant memory. From another film. One creepy and strangely subtle moment does come however, when one of the characters enters the dark kitchen for a post-coitus midnight snack. When the lightning flashes, the hulking form of Jason is briefly glimpsed standing stock still in the corner of the room waiting to pounce. The moment is uncharacteristically subtle for the series, and indeed the rest of the film – which exhibits about as much subtlety as the director’s initials would suggest…

The New Blood is unintentionally hilarious, and at times ‘so-bad-its-oh-so-good.' It is also the campest in the series (which is really saying something!), the bouffant hairstyles, shoulder pads, hideous Eighties fashion sense and skimpy man-shorts on display not helping any! Behind the scenes this film was nicknamed Fri-GAY the 13th on account of most of the cast and crew being same-sex orientated. The film is also lent a strange mood because of the setting - it was filmed in Alabama – as far removed from the lush greenery of the original Camp Crystal Lake as you can get! Weird mosses and roots evoke an oddly American gothic atmosphere and Crystal Lake is more like a swampy bijou than idyllic leafy summer camp.
The New Blood is also significant because it was the first film in the series to feature Kane Hodder, the only actor to play the role of Jason more than once. Most other actors only portrayed the hefty killer once, whereas Hodder embraced the iconic role and went on to make it his own.

1988 not only saw this, the seventh title in the Friday the 13th series hit cinemas, but also saw the series produce its own spin-off TV show! The premise of the show, also called Friday the 13th, revolved around a couple of cousins who inherit an old antiques shop, only to discover all of the items have been cursed by the devil. They spend three series retrieving all the items and having all sorts of crazy adventures. The show went some way to influence the likes of The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and while it didn’t actually feature Jason, there were plans at one stage to create an episode based around a cursed hockey mask that would eventually find its way to a familiar owner…