Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday the 13th Retrospective

Happy Friday the 13th readers! I hope you having a wonderful day with nary an unlucky moment to be had. By the way - Friday the 13th film franchise retrospective. Scratch that overly positive opening. This is going to be rough. Where’s my lube…?

So I’ve been wanting to do reviews of each of the Friday the 13th films for a while now, not unlike I did with the Halloween franchise when I first started up this blog back in late 2012. This seems like as good a time as any. I mean, today is its namesake. Why not! But I realized that I really didn’t have much to say about the storied and highly questionable slasher series that began way back in 1980 and will soon find itself with a sequel to the horrible reboot from a few years ago in the not to distant future. So I decided to combine them all into one big all encompassing mega-review!!!

Here we go. 

Friday the 13th (1980)
Plot: The counselors of Camp Crystal Lake are being killed off one by one by a mysterious stranger as they prepare the grounds for the summer season.

Review: I can totally understand why this film is as popular and enduring as it has been for 35 years. It took what Halloween had done two years earlier, added lots of gore and gruesome make-up effects to amp it up for the horror fans that turned out in droves to see this when it was released. Some of the kills are cool, some not. The amazing music by Harry Manfredini is iconic and it’s fun in spurts. The first person perspective of the killer is a nice variation of what was seen in Jaws and succeeds in keeping the killer’s identity a secret until the ending. My problem is that once (SPOILERS!) Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) shows up at the end it’s immediately obvious that she’s the one on the killing spree since her sudden appearance is out of nowhere and she has never really been brought up before. I mean, duh. It’s also a slow and quite dull affair with characters that aren’t all that interesting or relatable (although seeing a young Kevin Bacon get an arrow through his throat is amusing for a few moments). Plus the final scare is kind of dumb and random. But it did cause a spark that would begin a dynasty that never seems to end.

2.5 out of 5 

Friday the 13th, Part 2 (1981)
Plot: A few years after the Crystal Lake murders a new group of counselors find themselves hunted by a killer.

Review: You starting to notice how similar the description of this sequel is to that of the first film? Basically they are the same movie only this one is more polished, better written and features a few characters that are smart and sassy. This is the film that introduced (SPOILERS!) Jason Voorhees as the killer who is out to avenge the death of his mother by taking out fornicating teenagers left and right. He’s actually a scary vision in this flick with his dirty overalls and burlap sack hood covering his deformed face (when you finally see it its a great piece of make-up design). He also murderizes the characters in some truly effed up ways (love the spear double kill and the machete to the wheelchair guy’s face). But it’s Amy Steel’s Ginny who is the real star here. She plays the character not as a screaming girl in distress, but as a true “final girl” who takes matters into her own hands and lays down some pain. This twist really elevates the film in my eyes over its predecessor. Part 2 is a cool, gross and thoroughly entertaining piece of shit.

3.5 out of 5 

Friday the 13th, Part 3 (1982)
Plot: A group of college students vacationing at a cabin on Crystal Lake become the target of Jason Voorhees’s wrath.

Review: Yup. Wash rinse and repeat. Although I give the writers props for not making all the characters camp counselors again. This flick takes place directly after the events of the second film, and this is the one where Jason gets his iconic goalie mask. Although I cannot say anything more positive than that aside from a few creative (machete through the crotch of the dude walking on his hands) and disturbing kills (knifing a pregnant woman?!). This flick is dumb. Dumb, annoying and kind of boring. None of the characters are likable (even fan favorite Shelley is kind of an asshole), some are introduced only to become murder fodder (the motorcycle gang and the shop owners), the cinematography is abysmal and overly dark (it was shot in 3D and actually revolutionized the way those films were made) and the acting is atrocious beyond measure. Plus it kind of hints that Jason is a rapist. Ugh. Aside from a gleefully cheesy disco infused opening theme song this sequel is the pits.

1 out of 5 

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Plot: Jason returns from the dead (maybe?) to take out a group of teens partying at a cabin on Crystal Lake and may have met his match in the form of a young local boy (Corey Feldman).

Review: We all know the title to this sequel is misleading. Part 4 definitely wasn’t the final chapter in this franchise. Not by a long shot. But at the time it seemed as if the creators of this series really did want to end it here and move on to greener pastures. Too bad this film made serious money at the box office or it might have actually stopped with this lame and frustratingly annoying mess. First the positives – Tom Savini returned to provide the make-up effects (he also worked on the first) and he goes above and beyond on many occasions (that dude who gets his face crushed in the shower is tops). Too bad that’s where the positives end. None of the characters are, once again, likable at all. They seem to revel in being immature fucktards (“You’re a dead fuck!”) and not even the little hero Tommy Jarvis, played by an adorable Corey Feldman, comes off as a complete character. Events that transpire here are totally laughable (“He’s killing me! He’s killing me!”) and the big finale, which provides an extremely gory end for poor old Jason, is about as random as they come (I hate the "Remember me, Jason?" bullshit) and isn’t satisyfing in the slightest. At this point I was glad that the filmmakers decided to end it here because this is about as creatively bankrupt a film can possibly get.

1 out of 5 

Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning (1985)
Plot: Tommy Jarvis (John Shepherd), after being traumatized by his encounter with Jason Voorhees, is sent to a secluded halfway house where a string of familiar murders begin once he arrives.

Review: This sequel attempts to do the same thing John Carpenter tried with Halloween III after he killed off his antagonist, create a series of films that are loosely connected to the ones that came before it while doing something different at the same time. In the case of A New Beginning it’s set up as a whodunit. Someone is impersonating Jason for reasons unknown and the body count piles up fast. Unfortunately there isn’t much more going on here except really awkward soft core porn moments, lame kills and some of the worst scenes ever conceived for a film (that girl randomly dancing like a robot to new wave music tops my list). None of the characters are likable once again, the actor playing the teenage Tommy looks disinterested and embarrassed and there is yet another open ending to set-up another sequel. They should have ended the series here.

1 out of 5 

Jason Lives: Friday the 13th, Part VI (1986)
Plot: Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews) accidentally resurrects Jason Voorhees and unleashes him upon the small town of Forest Green, once known as Crystal Lake.

Review: Okay, now we’re talking. This is probably the most genuinely enjoyable film in the entire franchise due to how intentionally campy and meta the script is. Writer/director Tom McLaughlin went all out to make a satirical slasher film (which did a lot of what Scream got attention for years later) and he succeeds for the most part. This is the first time we actually see kids at the camp, Jason is brought back into the mix as an undead killing machine with super strength, the characters are somewhat likable and everyone seems to be having a good time either hamming it up for the camera (the over the top deputy) or being set-up as a victim. Sure there’s some dumb filler crap to lengthen the film and amp up the body count (the paintballers and the late night picnic couple), but I have a blast each and every time I watch this entry. It’s incredibly funny at times, some of the kills are hilarious (love the bloody smiley face in the forest) and for a movie with such a high kill count this one isn’t all that gory. Sure there’s blood splashed about more than once, but it’s relatively tame compared to some of the other slasher films out there. Plus, Jason finally gets a creative death scene that puts a smile on my face every time. This one is a winner and is one of the best films in the entire franchise as far as I’m concerned.

4 out of 5 

Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
Plot: Mentally disturbed and psychically powered Tina (Lar Park Lincoln) unwittingly brings Jason (Kane Hodder) back from the dead with her abilities to terrorize the partying teenagers surrounding the lake.

Review: After the awesomeness that was Jason Lives, this seventh film returns to the basics of the series with a new twist… Jason vs. Carrie. Not Carrie per se, but a young girl with telekinetic powers that unleashes unholy amounts of whoop ass upon the undead death bringer. The final twenty minutes sees Jason getting the everloving snot beaten out of him in every way imaginable. It’s insanely rad! There are plenty of nasty and somewhat gruesome deaths this time around. Unfortunately this film was heavily edited due to the MPAA cracking down on gore in horror films something fierce at this particular moment in time. Sadly there will be no “Uncut” version as most of the deleted shots were destroyed. Most of the tertiary characters are just human sized balloons filled with blood waiting to be popped, but at least Lar Park Lincoln brings a certain likable vulnerability to her part, and Terry Kiser (Weekend at Bernie’s) goes for broke as her manipulative therapist. Plus, this was the first appearance of fan favorite Kane Hodder as Jason, the only actor to play the role more than once (four times to be exact). This one is another winner to me due to the weird direction it took to keep the series fresh and hip. It’s just as entertaining as its predecessor and is my personal favorite in the franchise.

4 out of 5 

Friday the 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
Plot: Jason (Kane Hodder) is revived just in time to stowaway on a cruise ship filled with partying high school graduates on their way to New York for the weekend.

Review: This putrid and nearly unwatchable entry in the never ending franchise happens to be the first entry I had the displeasure of sitting through in a movie theater. After seeing The New Blood on cable, and becoming an instant fan of the series due to it, I was extremely excited to see what the filmmakers decided to do next. Sadly it was in the form of a bunch of underwritten and extremely annoying teenagers spending ¾ of the film doing nothing of note on a boat, and once they reach New York (one scene was NY, everything else was Canada) they stand around waiting to be offed in extremely dumb and unimaginative ways (except the uppercut beheading… that was rad). And the way Jason was taken out… a toxic waste bath in the sewers that turns him into a little kid?! Who the fuck thought that was a good idea?! Wow. After two great films that tried to do things a little bit differently to keep fans interested this one comes along and pisses all over it. It ruined the franchise for me in that I lost interest about as quickly as I fell in love with it. This is trash, plain and simple.

0.5 out of 5 

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
Plot: Jason (Kane Hodder) is dead, or so everyone thought. His spirit lives on and moves from person to person like a virus looking for one of his kin to spark his rebirth. 

Review: When Jason Takes Manhattan flopped at the box office Paramount gave up on the franchise and sold the rights to New Line Cinema. The new owners decided to give the character one last hurrah, just as they had given their flagship franchise a couple of years earlier in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Just like that steaming turd of a sendoff, Jason Goes to Hell is the worst sequel in the entire franchise and probably one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. Everything about it is absolutely putrid! There’s the ridiculous body hopping plot device, the terrible acting, the godawful special effects and career ending direction from Adam Marcus. Everything is dark, murky and ugly. Sure some of the kills are gruesome and disgusting (that girl getting vertically split in two gets me every time), but that doesn’t automatically give this film a pass. There is no entertainment value to be found here at all. It’s a joyless, painfully cheesy and awfully written endcap to the series. The stupifying mystical Voorhees lore that is added here is just as fucking ridiculous as the Thorn bullshit from Halloween 5 and is not welcome in the slightest. Even the way Jason is killed off once and for all sucked the big one. So friggin’ dumb. Kane Hodder deserved a better curtain call. 

And what’s worse… the ulterior motive of this film was to set-up a Freddy vs. Jason film (that we wouldn’t get until a decade later).

Absolutely worthless.

0 out of 5 

Jason X (2001)
Plot: Jason in space.

Review: Yup, you read that right. New Line Cinema and screenwriter Todd Farmer (My Bloody Valentine 3D) actually followed through with taking Jason to the place horror franchises go to die – outer space (see Leprechaun 4: In Space). Surprisingly it kind of works! The set up is fun and inventive, the kills are insanely graphic and extremely creative (I’m all about the frozen head smash), the world in which the film takes place is kind of cool with rad tech and surprises around every corner and Kane Hodder returns as Jason for the final time. Most of the characters are written as dumbasses, but what’s great is that they are self-aware dumbasses and that is part of this flick’s charm. It also has a wicked sense of humor (“It’s going to take more than a poke in the ribs to put down this old dog.” <stab> “Yeah, that’ll do it!”)! The actors, while obviously WAY TOO OLD to be playing teenagers (one actor was in his thirties), all are fun to watch flail around in the dark with laser guns. Plus David Cronenberg has a great bit part in the opening! While it all builds up to what is to be an epic finale, I’m sad to say that it goes out with a whimper. The last few minutes are underwhelming in the extreme and that was supremely disappointing in my eyes. And the music by Harry Manfredini sucked donkey balls. This movie needed a heavy metal score to amp up the on screen happenings, not some lame ass Casio keyboard bullshit. It’s one of the worst scores ever recorded, bar none. But this is one of the biggest surprises in the long ass franchise. This concept should never have worked, but it did. It’s flawed, but a blast nonetheless.

3.5 out of 5

I’m choosing to not review Freddy vs. Jason due to it not being a true Friday the 13th film.

If you want to read my review of the 2009 remake of Friday the 13th, click here.

As you can see, this is a very uneven and somewhat lackluster horror franchise that lasted longer than all the competition regardless of the sometimes horrible quality. Still, it holds its place in history for being mindless schlocky entertainment, and in that regard it delivered repeatedly. You’d be surprised how much money these films managed to rake in before audiences started to tire of the stale formula and dumb gimmicks. The series holds moments of greatness and some of the lowest of lows. But what long running franchise doesn’t? Even though a lot of these flicks are downright terrible I still watch them on the regular, and that speaks for the longevity of this character and this series. As much as I hated the remake of Friday the 13th I’ll probably be first in line to see the sequel.

The entire Friday the 13th franchise gets:

3.5 out of 5

Monday, November 9, 2015

Spectre

In my review of Skyfall I stated that I loved Casino Royale and despised Quantum of Solace. Skyfall ended up becoming my new favorite Daniel Craig starring James Bond flick due to it’s mature story, great action, a deliciously dastardly villain and wonderful insight into the main character.

When the details surrounding the follow-up, Spectre, were revealed I was absolutely delighted! Sam Mendes was returning to the director’s chair. John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade would be writing the screenplay once again. Thomas Newman would be supplying the music and the entire cast of regulars would be starring front and center. And with the foundation that Skyfall provided I was completely stoked to see where the story would end up going, especially since it was finally bringing the criminal organization SPECTRE back into the fold!

And that ended up being right into the toilet. 
When James Bond (Daniel Craig) receives a cryptic message from his past he goes rogue to uncover a sinister terrorist organization - SPECTRE.

Everything that Skyfall did right, Spectre does the exact opposite. Where there was plenty of action and espionage, now there is none. Where there was awesome character development, now there is none. Where there was a conscious effort to remove all the cheesy tropes the series was known for from the start, now they have returned and in a completely awkward fashion. Where the performances of the actors were top notch, now they act like zombies. Where there was a villain that felt like a genuine and terrifying menace, now we have one of the most non-threatening antagonists of all time. Where there was a fantastic movie that I consider to be the best in the entire history of the franchise, we now have one of the worst. Where did it all go wrong?
I remember reading that director Sam Mendes wasn’t interested in helming another Bond film, but I’m pretty sure that the producers threw a nice stack of money his way to make him change his mind. Well, after watching Spectre I can confidently say that it certainly didn’t work. His complete disinterest in the material is evident in every single second of film. There is no energy to any scene. He directs his actors to stand perfectly still and mechanically recite their dialogue. Even Hoyte Van Hoytema’s (Interstellar, Let the Right One In) cinematography is of the “place the camera in the most boring spot imaginable and let the film run out” variety and is so under lit in some instances that its impossible to see what is going on. It’s boring from start to finish in every way possible.

I usually like Daniel Craig in this role. Not here. He acts like he’s on Quaaludes for the entire film. He blankly stares off into the distance during dialogue scenes and can barely seem to run at a decent clip when he needs to get somewhere fast. I think Mendes’ malaise rubbed off on him.
Both Bond girls, Léa Seydoux (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and Monica Bellucci (The Matrix Reloaded) come off as vapid bimbos willing to jump on Bond’s dong just because its there (one bangs him right after her husband’s funeral). Bellucci’s character didn’t even really need to be included (why exactly were those people going to kill her?) as Bond could have just followed one of the funeral goers to the SPECTRE meeting place instead of thrusting the info out of her in a forced and completely unnecessary sex scene (wasn’t the series supposed to be moving away from Bond’s whoring ways?).

Even Bond’s colleagues look like burned out 9 to 5ers that don’t seem to care that their organization is about to be shut down by their peers and just keep going about their everyday business. They are criminally underused as well. Especially Naomi Harris' Moneypenny.
But worst of all is the way Oberhauser/Blofeld is portrayed by Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained). This is the ultimate evil mastermind in the Bond universe. We’ve seen him played by great actors such as Donald Pleasance (Halloween) and Telly Savalas (Kojak). When I heard Waltz was cast in the part I was ecstatic. He played one of my fave villains of all time – Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. Well, his interpretation of Ernst Stavro Blofeld is to act like someone who is afraid of speaking too loud in the library. He quietly recites his lines in a way that really irked me to no end in that he half smiles as if he’s embarrassed to have to say them aloud (this guy was the villain in The Green Hornet so he has experience with crap dialogue). He isn’t scary, threatening or even a complete character for that matter. The writers threw a little Bond/Blofeld connection in there to freshen things up a bit (it’s lame) while most of the time expecting the audience to bring what they remember from the character’s previous appearances with them to fill in the blanks.

And don’t even get me started on the Jaws ripoff, Hinx, played by Dave Bautista who has metal thumbnails (that he uses once) instead of metal teeth. Worst. Henchman. Ever.
The screenwriters also majorly screw this classic character up at every turn. He does things that are contrary to everything that he stands for and puts civilians in harm’s way for no reason at all. For example – the prologue action scene. Bond is in Mexico City to assassinate a terrorist, but instead accidentally blows up an apartment building and part of another one. He doesn’t seem even remotely concerned that he might have just killed a number of people that resided within, but were also on the street below when the structure collapsed. He then hijacks a helicopter his target is getting away on, and instead of going after his mark he makes a beeline right for the pilot and commences to beat his ass silly. Mind you, at this point the chopper is airborne right above a town square filled with thousands of people celebrating The Day of the Dead. Bond tries to crash the helicopter not once, but twice into the square (and causes it to perform three physics defying barrel rolls in the process). Why are the writers trying to make Bond come off as a cold-hearted asshole who could give two shits about causing collateral damage?

Another WTF moment comes near the end...

SPOILERS! 


While being tortured by Blofeld, Bond’s new love interest, Madeleine (played haplessly by Léa Seydoux), tells him that she loves him and gives him a deep, wet kiss. Ten minutes later before the big finale begins she stops in the middle of the street and in one of the most singularly unconvincing ways possible tells him that she can’t be with him anymore out of nowhere. Bond just stands there like “Okay”, and walks away. WHO THOUGHT ANY OF THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?!

And the shitty icing on this dookie cake is how this film ends up being a James Bond-ified carbon copy of Captain America: The Winter Soldier! No joke! When the big (so-called) twist occurred I leaned over to one of my friends that was sitting beside me and said exactly that. And sadly Spectre comes nowhere near the awesomeness that is The Winter Soldier. It’s not even in the same galaxy. Not even the same reality.


END SPOILERS 


Mainly I feel it’s the combination of the putrid screenplay and Mendes’ disinterest in the film that is the main issue. The actors only do what they’re told as do the rest of the crew.  It’s his job to interpret the script in a visual way, keep it entertaining and moving at a constant clip. He did none of that. The final film feels rushed, unfocused and the pacing is pedantic in the extreme. Outside of a pretty impressive unbroken shot at the top of the film, Ben Whishaw’s fun version of Q, a great opening credits sequence (which features a terrible theme song and makes the audience think that they will learn how previous characters in the Craig films will connect when actually they kind of don't) and a couple of decent dialogue scenes (loved the Bond and Mr. White exchange) I can say nothing else positive about Spectre. It is one of the worst films in this series, if not THE worst.

When describing my feelings for Spectre to someone after seeing it, I actually said “I’d rather watch Quantum of Solace again” than this newest entry in the franchise. And keeping in mind how much I dislike that film, that’s a bold and very telling statement.

1 out of 5

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Freaks of Nature

Why did I pay to watch this movie, you might ask? Well, it was Halloween weekend and I wanted to see some new horror films instead of being a fuddy-duddy and watch my old standbys for the fifth year in a row. So I made a real effort to get out there and see some new shit. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was one of them (and was a ton of flawed fun), but what exactly was available in multiplexes that wasn’t another pointless Paranormal Activity sequel or PG-13 “boo”-athon? Thankfully Halloween 2015 saw a number of lower budget horror comedies receive a limited theatrical release, so I jumped at seeing them opening night before they headed to VOD. 

The first was Freaks of Nature.
 
In the world in which the movie takes place, humans co-exist peacefully with vampires and zombies. The small suburb of Dillford begins to see the first signs of that peace beginning to crumble away. On the night of an uprising against the humans, a young female vampire (Mackenzie Davie) and a newly undead zombie (Josh Fadem) team up with a teenage human (Nicholas Braun) to stop an alien invasion that threatens their small town.

I have to admit that the mash-up of all these horror archetypes really intrigued me, which is why I wanted to see this flick in the first place. The set-up was fun and it featured a nice cast of recognizable actors (Denis Leary, Vanessa Hudgens, Keegan-Michael Key, Bob Odenkirk, Joan Cusack, Mae Whitman and Patton Oswalt) alongside some newer talent I wasn’t familiar with.

But that’s where the positives end. This flick is a mess from start to finish.
For starters the writing is horrible. Not one of the main characters are presented in a way that makes them relatable or even slightly likable. I honestly couldn’t stand anyone in any way shape or form. Every character is a douchebag in one way or another and do stupid things just to do them and nothing more.

Here’s an example - Why did Fadem’s Ned randomly decide to become a zombie? He gets into a fight with his parents over his favored brother’s fate as a baseball player and (in a nutshell) says, “Hey, zombie girl who was randomly nice to me in school today… make me one of you.” Why? Because if he was not a zombie the movie would have been over too soon, that’s why. Ned solves all the problems the main characters are faced with due to his being the smartest kid in school, but now that he’s a zombie he becomes stupid whenever he eats brains (the zombies here retain their intelligence and ability to speak as long as they don’t eat brains). So if there is a pickle the trio finds themselves in they turn to Ned for the answers and, “oh shit, Ned ate brains again”, and they have to wait for their effects to wear off. It’s infuriating and frustrating to watch this go down time and time again. I thought to myself, “just kill Ned and get it over with already”, but we all know that wouldn’t happen. He’s a lead. 
Screenwriter Oren Uziel (22 Jump Street, the upcoming Mortal Kombat reboot) also made the fatal mistake of attempting to make this horror mash-up a sort of homage to The Breakfast Club. There is an extended scene where the trio is locked in a basement as the invasion takes place. They begin to chat about what has led them down their individual paths to being a vampire, zombie and a wannabe jock. The dialogue is ripped right out of that 80’s classic almost verbatim with horror elements subbed in for being a “flake”, “geek” or “burnout”. It’s almost embarrassing because the scene falls flat on its face due to the hokey dialogue and forced drama.

The acting is pretty abysmal too. Everyone either goes completely overboard or is sleepwalking through their role. The three leads are uncharismatic and bring nothing to the table to make their characters the least bit likable. Denis Leary is a complete asshat (his character is supposed to be, but he has zero positive qualities which equals to no redeeming arc), Patton Oswalt is annoying and Vanessa Hudgens is eye candy and nothing more which saddens me a great deal (she is a decent actress who picks horrendously awful projects). Only Keegan-Michael Key as a disgruntled vampire teacher made me laugh more than once due to his obvious adlibs.
The special effects are lame, the make-up sucks ass through a straw and as much as the script tries to be funny it never actually is. Director Robbie Pickering shows that he knows nothing about comedy, getting actors to perform their craft or interpret a script in a way that’s even the least bit entertaining. Like I said, this is a mess.

And if there’s one thing that I’m getting sick of in comedies nowadays it’s that swearing does not equal an automatic laugh. I can’t count the amount of times that a character cursed in an over-the-top manner just to get a cheap laugh. What’s worse is that the entire finale hinges upon this crap. It’s embarrassing that filmmakers and screenwriters who don’t know how to milk the comedy in natural, and genuinely funny, ways always seem to fall back on throwing as many F-Bombs as they possibly can at the audience. It was funny back in the early 2000s. Not anymore. 
Freaks of Nature is about as lame as a horror comedy can get. Everything about it feels disconnected, forced and thrown together. Avoid it like the zombie plague people seem to be attracted to in this ridiculously stupid and un-entertaining flick.

0.5 out of 5