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Franz Patrick

Freddy vs. Jason


Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
★★ / ★★★★

There is an interesting (and gratuitous) idea behind two ‘80s horror icons duking it out in “Freddy vs. Jason,” written by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, but the picture is so saddled with exposition, we do not see Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) and Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger) battle one another until more than halfway through. Instead, we follow Lori (Monica Keena) cry, mope about, and act traumatized after a classmate is brutally murdered in her house during a small get-together with friends. She is a far—well, cry—from the protagonists of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Friday the 13th” movies. A case can even be made that not only is she less intriguing than the villains, she pales by comparison against all of her friends. More on this later.

The aforementioned curious idea is the push behind the premise. Because Freddy has been forgotten in Springwood, he is rendered powerless to kill people in their dreams. In other to regain his powers, he comes up with a plan: To resurrect Jason and send him to the suburbs to wreck havoc. Surely a murder there would trigger a chain reaction of suppressed memories so that residents would once again utter the name Freddy. And they do. But Jason isn’t the type to be used; he is, after all, an invincible walking corpse who doesn’t take kindly to insults. The screenplay does a good job in laying out a clear motivation for Freddy and Jason. When these two are on screen, together or apart, the movie comes alive.

I have seen every “Nightmare” and “Friday” picture to date, and, in terms of brutality, this film is high up on either list. Director Ronny Yu is not shy, for instance, in showing Jason take a machete and cut his victim in half. The camera remains unblinking as the upper torso separates from the lower abdomen. I cannot remember if it was also shown in slow motion—but it felt like it due to my sheer surprise. In previous “Friday” flicks, this level of gruesomeness is never shown. And then the director takes it up a notch. A few beats later, the two halves are shown on the floor completely lifeless—blood, guts, and all. It is likely to satisfy gorehounds.

But in between Jason and Freddy’s epic showdown, we follow the boring human characters. Lori is not at all compelling heroine. While Keena can cry or look tortured at a drop of a hat, Lori lacks convincing strength. So, for example, when she yells out would-be quotable badass lines toward the end of the picture, it comes off terribly fake. Keena co-stars with Jason Ritter, playing a boyfriend who had been sent to a psychiatric hospital four years ago due to something he witnessed; Kelly Rowland as Lori’s sassy best friend who wants to get a nose job; and Chris Marquette, portraying a geeky classmate who remains to have a crush on Lori even though it is blatantly obvious she has no interest in him. Ritter, Rowland, and Marquette wield such charm, at any given moment I can look at their characters and feel fire in their bellies. I failed to detect even an ember crackling in Lori. Why is she our main protagonist?

Due to the dead dull human characters—most of whom are just dead eventually—one must wonder if they are actually needed in a film like this. In terms of bloodshed between the titular characters, it works. We see Jason, while dreaming, struggle to keep up with Freddy—who is so fast, quick-thinking, and occasionally clever with puns. When the table is turned while out in the waking world, Freddy looks like a limp rag doll—or cockroach—pushing against the muscular silent boulder. Although at times apparent CGI is used, it doesn’t matter because there is joy in letting these two have at it. If only the screenplay were as enthusiastic in allowing the human characters—particularly our heroine—to shine, not just serve as fodder. Perhaps it would have been better if all of them had been killed nearly halfway through. That would have been a daring move—a first in either franchise.

Jason X


Jason X (2001)
★ / ★★★★

“Jason X” is so a product of the early 2000s, given its forced futuristic setting and nasty tendency to save a most useless, whiny character well into the latter half of the picture serving only to create more trouble for the other remaining survivors. Although this tenth entry in the “Friday the 13th” series is an improvement from the hopeless miscalculation that is “Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday,” it remains a slog to sit through. The reason is because it functions more as an action film than a horror movie. The work suffers from a serious case of repetition.

I enjoyed that writer Todd Farmer takes a risk by sending Jason (Kane Hodder) and the new group to be slaughtered into the future and in outer space. The series is begging for a massive makeover, so why not go all in? The idea isn’t as preposterous as it sounds. I argue that keeping the story in or around Crystal Lake for the umpteenth time and expecting different results is equally ludicrous. I went into it with an open mind and, to my surprise, was entertained at times.

Up until about the twenty-minute mark, there is a semblance of a possible good movie. We witness a scientist, Rowan (Lexa Doig), desperately trying to put Jason in cryostasis following another murder spree of soldiers who wish to restrain and transport him out of the facility. Dr. Wimmer (David Cronenberg) wishes to study Jason’s extraordinary ability to rapidly regenerate. One thing leads to another and Rowan and the infamous killer find themselves more than four hundred years into the future. Director Jim Isaac has the sense to show the uninhabitable earth (now called Earth 1), the massive spacecraft, the people aboard and their mission, down to how subjects are defrosted and repaired. There is even android played with a wink by Lisa Ryder.

It offers some nifty visual effects, particularly of the “ants” (nanorobots) which cover the entire body, crawl inside crevices, and fix damaged organs. The picture even has a sense of humor about itself. While not particularly sharp with its satirical angle, there are a few chuckles that result from nudging clichés that plagued ‘80s slasher flicks, including this franchise, like sexual purity essentially functioning as shield against surefire death and the trouble that comes with not making sure if the enemy is really, truly dead. A particularly brilliant exchange involves newly revived Rowan and Dr. Lowe (Jonathan Potts), professor in charge of a field trip on Earth 1.

Rowan ponders over the establishment not allowing certain “artifacts” to remain dead because there is money to be made from nostalgia. We wonder if she is only talking about “artifacts,” like herself, that can be thawed from cryostasis. But it is likely that the writer is criticizing movie franchises—like this one—chugging out one sequel after another, no matter the quality, for the sake of maintaining the brand. If “Jason X” were a better movie, this statement would have meant something.

Eventually, however, the viewers are blanketed by shootouts, people being tossed into the air only to pass out or break their necks, and the like. There is one cool death scene involving a drill followed by a joke—but this happens early on. The longer the action sequences run, the more we are reminded that perhaps it really is time for the “Friday the 13th” series to hang up the phone. There are a few interesting ideas here, but they are not fully realized—not enough to keep a ninety-minute feature afloat.

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday


Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
★ / ★★★★

For a much better time, watch Jack Sholder’s “The Hidden” instead.

It appears that the screenwriters of the ninth “Friday the 13th” installment, Jay Huguely and Dean Lorey, has learned nothing from the downright awful “V: A New Beginning.” That is, it is not at all a good idea to take out or hide away the true Jason Voorhees, the unstoppable killer sporting a hockey mask, because he is the movie; it is demanded he be front and center. In an attempt to explain this iconic villain’s invincibility, and to provide so-called closure for the series (the final shot suggests otherwise), those at the helm take on several plot contortions that do not fit the mold of the slasher subgenre. What results is a confusing, limping mess—laughable, ridiculous, interminable. About halfway through I caught myself thinking, “This is not a Jason movie.”

Jason’s body (Kane Hodder) is blown to pieces. This is not a spoiler because it is presented to us in the first scene before the opening credits. So, what we come to know as Jason’s body is rendered useless. But the writers have a “brilliant” idea (read: idiotic)—Jason’s body is just meat, something worn… which means it can be shed. For the real Jason, you see, is a small demonic creature that can jump from one person to another and take control. Less than twenty minutes in, the picture has turned into a creature feature—and so it must be evaluated as such.

The creature itself does not look impressive. It looks rubbery and gooey, but director Adam Marcus is so busy placing emphasis on fourth-rate action—shootings, stabbings, screaming, scrambling—that he neglects to show, with a keen eye and patience, the supposed true form of Jason. I felt the director himself is embarrassed of how the creature looks and so he attempts to hide it as often as possible. It is alien-looking, certainly bizarre, but far from the quality of terrifying and memorable creatures in pictures like Ridley Scott’s “Alien” or John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” It is curious that the form of the monster isn’t spectacular, or even mildly impressive, because the “Friday the 13th” franchise has been financially successful. Where did the money go? There is no excuse for such D-grade special effects.

Jolts are elementary and often substandard. Anybody who has seen a horror movie will not be surprised by any of the jump scares. When you think something will appear suddenly in a dark corner, it does. When you suspect a person has been taken over by the creature, he is. Cue shots of a character standing by a window and suddenly the window breaks and she is grabbed from behind. There is nothing inspirational or original in these would-be scares. Also notice that when an action sequence is supposed to be urgent, there is a laziness to the camera work. Actors move briskly and hit their marks but since no enthusiasm is radiating from behind the camera, the final product looks and feels incredibly slow. There is no semblance of tension.

“Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday” is severely misguided. The series is not defined by story or particularly deep character development. It is about giving the audience what they come to expect from a slasher film and altering the formula just a little (like adding supernatural elements as found in the worthy “VI: Jason Lives”)—even if by the end of the day it fails. This entry is dead on arrival because the writers willingly place their work against a decade’s worth of lore. Couple this disadvantage with a lack of craft from behind the camera as well as enthusiasm to genuinely entertain, what results is a new low. I found it be depressing every step of the way.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan


Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
★★ / ★★★★

This is a strange one. A case can be made that “Jason Takes Manhattan,” written and directed by Rob Hedden, is actually composed of two pictures. The first half takes place on a cruise ship in and around Crystal Lake, and the second half unfolds in New York City. The former is technically superior in every way compared to the latter, but the Manhattan chapters are more fun in that, as a whole, it is a minefield of unintentional humor and it becomes increasingly ridiculous by the minute. (The final confrontation takes place in the sewers. Is it going for gross-out horror?) I do not recommend the picture for casual audiences, but for fans of “Friday the 13th” series, I believe it does the job.

Collectively, this group of soon-to-be high school graduates to be slaughtered by Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) command stronger star power compared to the cast of previous installments. There is Jensen Daggett, playing the central protagonist Rennie who is still dealing with childhood trauma involving a drowning; Scott Reeves as nice guy Sean who is pushed by his father to take on a career he has little to no interest in; Sharlene Martin as prom queen and mean girl Tamara; and Martin Cummins as Wayne the aspiring filmmaker. Each one has a memorable face and personality—which makes for an enjoyable watch. It is curious, too, that this time around the picture is in no hurry to kill off its characters. In this franchise, it expected for characters to be introduced and only to be gutted five to ten minutes later.

The change of scenery from the usual cabins and camping grounds to a small cruise ship is a welcome change. The reason is because there are more opportunities for claustrophobic shots, particularly in cramped rooms and hallways. The engine room is damp and murky, offering plenty of hazards. Tighter shots underscore the sheer size of undead Jason; there is reason to scream because not only is the threat credible, there is also not much room for escape. And it isn’t exactly comforting when there’s a murderer nearby for one simply cannot run or drive to the nearest police station. (Not that they’re of any help in slasher films.) As usual, the violence is brutal, gory, and in-your-face. However, there are a few off-screen deaths for the sake of changing things around. (Particularly alarming is the way one of the supporting characters is exterminated. Maybe the performer had another project she had to attend to?)

The Manhattan portrayed in this film leaves plenty of laughs for those with an open mind. Notice that when New Yorkers lay eyes on a massive masked man who is dripping wet with seaweed covering his clothes, they remain rather unfazed. Just the usual psycho walking about. They are only bothered when Jason makes physical contact with them or when another person is picked up and thrown across the subway. It is also a bit of a miracle that it is only ever dirty outdoors. Almost everyone outside is a punk or a drug addict. It is so reductive, it is impossible not to laugh at what’s being shown on screen. Yet I had a difficult time in telling whether it is meant to be taken seriously. It’s quite straight-faced. The dialogue offers few jokes, if any.

Still, I enjoyed it for what it was. I didn’t give a hoot about Rennie’s aquaphobia, but I found myself wanting her to survive. Though I must say that the film is averse to sweet moments. Rennie and Sean like each other outside of the sexual realm. And yet when they kiss, the tender moment is immediately disturbed by the presence of Jason. But when a sexual scene involving other characters is front and center, breasts and buttocks and all, it is allowed to unfold for however long. I was annoyed by this, even angered by it for some time. Is the message supposed to be that no strings attached sex is allowed but not a meaningful and genuine connection between two young people? I found that attitude to be far uglier than seeing rotting Jason unmasked.

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood


Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
★ / ★★★★

Introducing a heroine with psychic powers is actually near the bottom of the list regarding the problems that plague “New Blood,” yet another limp sequel directly following one of the highlights of the series. In the superior “VI: Jason Lives,” it is established that Jason Voorhees is a walking corpse and so to have a telekinetic protagonist square off against the undead this time around is not much of a leap. I happily accepted this new direction, but, as always, what matters most is the execution—how well this avenue is explored given a set of familiar, or possibly new, rules.

The final product is a near-disaster. The screenplay is written by Daryl Haney and Manuel Fidello, clearly influenced by Brian De Palma’s “Carrie.” There is visual and special effects galore, but the writers fail to answer a basic question: What makes Tina (Lar Park-Lincoln) a compelling character outside of her supernatural abilities? A deeper question: How is Tina a worthy opponent for Jason? These two question go answered until the end credits and so what we are left with is run-of-the-mill slashing and hacking. No tension, no suspense, no thrills.

As in “V: A New Beginning,” it is a struggle to remember the names of the friends in the neighboring cabin who gather to throw a surprise birthday party. (As expected, their friend and his girlfriend never make it to the celebration.) Only two are standouts: Nick (Kevin Spirtas) as Tina’s earnest romantic interest and posh pearl necklace-wearing Melissa (Susan Jennifer Sullivan) who throws herself all over Nick, not getting the hint that he does not like her at all—not just as a potential romantic partner but as a person in general. Nick is written in the most boring way possible, simply created to look concerned for Tina when she’s agitated and to protect her when the masked killer shows up. This nice guy character is completely unnecessary because his constant interruptions delay the inevitable battle between Tina and Jason.

Jason does not get a taste of Tina’s telekinetic powers until the final fifteen minutes—a mistake considering the fact that the point of the movie is to showcase the clash of supernatural phenomena. I enjoyed the crispness of the visual effects for its time, particularly when buildings are torn apart little by little and eventually collapse. Park-Lincoln does what she can with the role. I sensed she possesses dramatic chops, especially during scenes when Tina is in a room with a psychiatrist, Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser), who promises treatment in regards to her emotional imbalance but actually only there to take advantage of her and her abilities. However, the screenplay possesses only a superficial idea of trauma stemming from childhood. So the performer is not given much to work with other than to look flustered as people around her die.

“Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood,” directed by John Carl Buechler, is a misleading title on all fronts. The story does not take place during Friday the 13th. There is nothing new about it—not in terms of characterization, plot surprises, or ways in which blood is delivered. And what does it mean by “New Blood”? I wondered if it referred to Tina replacing Tommy for the role of central protagonist, the latter terrorized by Jason when he was only twelve. Or does it refer to the new batch of teens to be skewered and slaughtered? In any case, halfway through I realized I missed Tommy. He may not have a special ability but at least he was interesting.

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives


Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
★★★ / ★★★★

Completely ignoring the embarrassment that is “Friday the 13th: A New Beginning,” writer-director Tom McLoughlin takes control of “Jason Lives,” a riotously entertaining slasher flick that offers not only blood and guts but also self-awareness of how stale the series has become. It needed new life. And so it takes a tongue-in-cheek approach right from the opening scene. Tommy Jarvis, now an adult (Thom Mathews), wishes to ensure that Jason is truly dead and has zero chance of coming back. His plan: Dig up Jason’s body and cremate it. But childhood trauma gets the best of him and the angered Tommy impales the corpse with a metal pole. Lightning strikes and the undead Jason rises from the grave. How’s that for irony?

The energy is on a high level right from the get-go—a trait that is new for this long-running series. It moves briskly so it gives the impression that it knows precisely what it wishes to accomplish in each passing scene and when to reach its final destination. It just so happens that the journey is peppered with satirical jabs aimed at the more laughable aspects of the franchise. For example, we meet a pair of counselors on the way to Camp Forest Green, formerly Camp Crystal Lake. They become lost somewhere in the woods (naturally). The passenger claims, half-jokingly, that they should get out of the car and start screaming for help. Meanwhile, the driver sees a figure wearing hockey mask and insists that they drive away immediately because she has “seen enough horror movies” to know that it wouldn’t be a good idea to proceed.

There are multiple examples of the screenplay poking fun the series as a whole. The joke on top of the joke is this: Due to the nature of the film, a slasher movie will unfold exactly how we expect it to—given that the viewer has seen enough of them. There is a reason formula exists. Because it works. It is not cynical, just aware of the unwritten rules. In other words, what matters more is the execution. In “Part VI,” the filmmakers embrace the rules, laugh at them occasionally, and stretches it a bit. The occult angle—zombie and super-powered Jason—is a risk that is made to work through sheer forward momentum. Notice there is not a single slow part in the movie. In previous installments, particularly “III” and “V,” at least half of the picture drags.

Mathews is a solid Tommy Jarvis. I felt as though he watched the Corey Feldman role closely as the young Tommy in the enjoyable “IV: The Final Chapter” and made it his own. What he retains is that vivacious spunk that made Feldman so lovable and memorable. It is the correct decision to drop the tortured adolescent schtick that made “V” such a slog. Here, we get a determined Tommy who just so happens to share funny moments with Megan (Jennifer Cooke), the sheriff’s daughter, who appears to fall for him from the first time she sees him… behind bars. Megan is one of the counselors of Camp Forest Green. Children are due to arrive the next day—which ups the ante because up until this picture, kids never showed up at the camp. Something about the counselors ending up dead a week or so before camp officially starts.

“Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives” may not boast the most brutal and gory deaths, but it is the most fun, arguably alongside “IV,” up until this point. Unstoppable Jason—one who doesn’t feel pain, who doesn’t die—is introduced here. And so due to the occult elements being more pronounced, I felt a certain level of freedom here that is absent from its predecessors. Six movies in and the series is able to offer freshness. That’s a rarity and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning


Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
★ / ★★★★

I counted. It took fifteen kills until a victim is given a chance to run for her life. Up until this moment, by then the movie is an hour deep into its interminable running time of ninety minutes, every single kill involves a person getting hit once and he or she drops dead almost immediately. No suspense, no thrills. Just an exercise of violence. Stab. It is ugly and boring, not at all a worthy follow-up to its inspired direct predecessor. “Friday the 13th: A New Beginning,” the fifth in the series, based on the screenplay by Martin Kitrosser, David Cohen, and Danny Steinmann (who also directs), is without redemption. It is—without question—the worst entry so far.

We follow one of the survivors in “The Final Chapter,” Tommy Jarvis, now a teenager (John Shepherd), who is sent to Pinehurst Youth Development Center, led by Dr. Matthew Letter (Richard Young), so that he can undergo further healing from severe trauma, prepare to re-enter society, and start life anew. Although Tommy is the central protagonist, no thought or insight is put into how the character is written. His evolution is non-existent and so when the picture goes for a last-minute twist—which is completely predictable—it is most unconvincing. I would like to know how much the writers got paid to helm the screenplay and demand, if they kept the check, that the money be donated to the poor—with interest. Because they did no work. The final product is an amalgamation of the worst elements of horror films within and outside of this series. This movie’s existence is an act of spitting upon the fans of the series with impunity.

We are provided no detail regarding Pinehurst and how the halfway house works. This is supposed to be where a massacre will take place later on, but the filmmakers could not be bothered to establish a realistic, creepy, or foreboding atmosphere. Not once did a scene not look like it had been shot on a set. Nearly everything comes across as fake: the decor, the plates and the dinner table, down to the bunkbeds. These objects appear as though they have not been used once. And we are supposed to believe that this is an established halfway house? The movie expects the viewers to be dumb and blind.

Furthermore, other than Tommy, I found it impossible to remember any of the residents’ names. And so I assigned them nicknames—a few of them not-so-nice because the clichés come hard and fast. The reason is because a person is gutted before an interesting fact or specific trait about him or her surfaces. To add insult to injury, the kills are not inspired… or even framed correctly. The approach is almost always a close-up of the weapon piercing the body. Showing blood does not magically generate horror. You have to work at it. Those in charge from behind the camera have no understanding of this. Cue the badly edited reaction shots.

This degenerate of a film contains some of the most offensive representation of rednecks I have ever seen in the movies. I understand that the intention is to generate humor, but the jokes, I felt, came from a mean-spirited perspective. It shows rednecks as constantly obnoxious, dimwitted, and dirty. That they talk like wild animals. That they live like pigs. That they essentially eat pig slop, too. I couldn’t believe that in the mid-80s, this sort of stereotype was still considered to be acceptable. I found zero entertainment value from this sequel.

I hope “A New Beginning” is the bottom of the barrel. How can it get worse?

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter


Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
★★★ / ★★★★

There is no typical final girl in the third sequel of the “Friday the 13th” franchise, “The Final Chapter.” Based on the screenplay by Barney Cohen, it is the most inspired one of the lot thus far, surpassing even the original in my eyes, because it is able to recognize patterns (read: cliché) that plagued its predecessors and manages to add some nifty twists to them. Much darker in tone and atmosphere than “Friday the 13th Part III,” which had potential because, like this film, it attempted to break away from the formula of the plot focusing on camp counselors gathering in or around Camp Crystal Lake, home of Jason Voorhees (Ted White), all to be slaughtered by the end of the movie—except for one.

This time, the story picks up right from the bloody aftermath of “Part III.” Jason is supposedly dead, but he springs to life while at the hospital, killing a nurse and a coroner. We get back to Crystal Lake… but the interest lies not in the group of teenagers who move to a cabin for the weekend. Instead, we meet Tommy and Trish Jarvis (Corey Feldman, Kimberly Beck), as well as their mother who loves to jog (Joan Freeman), a family still recovering from a divorce. (We also meet the dog Gordon.) Remove this family completely from the picture and it is interesting that what remains is a reproduction of the first two films. Perhaps that is the point: To tie up the first four moves in such a way that there is at least a semblance of cohesion.

As expected, we get the usual slicing and dicing, sharp objects piercing through the abdomen, post-coital blood spattering. There is even a creative use of a corkscrew. Half of the teenagers are standouts, for better or worse. Most memorable is Crispin Glover as Jimmy/“Jimbo,” the socially awkward one who is a bit sad for being turned down by a girl right before their trip. His dance moves must be seen to be believed. Another memorable actor is Lawrence Monoson who plays Ted the clown. I found him to be especially annoying because, unlike Shelly (also a clown) from “Part III,” Ted is not given any interesting dimension. With Shelly, he is written to be a lonely clown—it is clear he just wanted a friend. Ted, on the other hand, is just obnoxious. At one point I wished for Jason to appear when Ted was alone in a dark room just so there wouldn’t be any more scenes of him that I’d have to endure.

What elevates this slasher film is not the kills but the approach. We get the usual in-your-face violence. But there also times when we simply see shadows of Jason impaling his victim while out in the rain. Occasionally scenes end abruptly as the victim is in the process of dying—as if to communicate that the point has been delivered and so it is time to move on to next rising action culminating in another brutal killing. The fact that it doesn’t linger communicates a certain confidence, that it has a lot more to show. “The Final Chapter” is the most fast-paced installment so far. I think it is because the filmmakers are excited to show their ideas.

Make-up artist Tom Savini is back for “The Final Chapter,” and it shows. There is beauty to the broken limbs, deep cuts, and open wounds gushing blood. I wanted to study certain frames just a bit longer. But I think I enjoyed it most because director Joseph Zito is actually interested in showing deeper characterization compared to the other pictures. We observe Trish’s maturity as the elder sister; Tommy takes us up to his room to show off his hobby: making monster masks and props. And so when it is time for them to face the seemingly unstoppable Jason, we wish for them to get away not for the sake of having survivors but because we want their stories, their lives, to go on. “The Final Chapter” is a step in the right direction.

Friday the 13th Part III


Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
★ / ★★★★

It is funny that although “Friday the 13th Part III” has a similar running time to its predecessors, it feels much longer than either of them. Funnier still is the fact that I found potential in this picture, particularly the first half, because gone is the usual formula involving camp counselors gathering in or around Camp Crystal Lake. Instead, we follow a group of friends spending the weekend at Higgins Haven, once a home to Chris (Dana Kimmell) who left two years prior due to an incident while she was out in the woods after a row with her parents. But the second half is such a drag, not even Jason Voorhees (Richard Brooker) finally wearing his notorious hockey mask is able to save it.

Like the first sequel, I enjoyed this group of sheep to be slaughtered so I wanted to know more about them. Every one of them is good-hearted in their own way—yes, even the clown, Shelly (Larry Zerner), who pretends to be seriously injured or dead using elaborate toys or cosmetics for attention—but not one of these surface personalities reveals something new, odd, or surprising. In the previous movies, at least one, usually the final girl, is shown to have another dimension to her. Here, not even the last survivor is or becomes mildly curious. As easy as it is to point to the subpar acting across the board, the problem lies in the unimaginative and unambitious screenplay by Martin Kitrosser and Carol Watson.

The first thirty to forty-five minutes promises humor. For instance, we meet a biker trio (Nick Savage, Kevin O’Brien, Gloria Charles) when Shelly and Vera (Catherine Parks) run into them at a convenience store. Although there is a threat of violence, clearly the gang is meant to be cheeky more than frightening. It feels like they are ripped right off midnight exploitation pictures. Even two of Chris’ friends are potheads (David Katims, Rachel Howard). Again, instead of using these personalities to provide moments of levity in between gasps of horror, the writers do nothing interesting with them. We know they’re bound to get killed, so why not have some fun along the way? Finally, listen closely to some of the dialogue. They sound pornographic. So you’d think that the sex scenes would be steamy. But alas.

Setup to the kills are a bit more polished this time around. However, this comes at a cost. For instance, given that Jason has begun to wear a hockey mask, there are a lot more shots in which we see him from head to toe. In the previous sequel and the original, either we take the over-the-shoulder perspective of the killer or the killer’s body from the chest up is hidden using shadows or other objects for about half the picture. Due to the limitation, there is more opportunity to create interesting shots. The level of suspense may not be high, but at least the angles from which we absorb the action are curious some of the time. Thus, due to the newfound freedom of showing Jason’s entire body, this film feels more like today’s slasher movies.

“Friday the 13th Part III,” directed by Steve Miner, is not unwatchable, but it is clearly inferior to its predecessors. I admired the small changes—such as the shift from camp counselors to a group of friends and the more humorous tone—because it shows that attempts are made to keep things a bit fresh. But the changes must be supported by good reasons. Because why make changes when these are not going to be utilized in such a way to elevate the entire work?

Friday the 13th Part 2


Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
★★ / ★★★★

“Friday the 13th: Part II” might have had the chance to surpass the original had screenwriter Ron Kurz decided to take on a more psychological approach alongside repeating the mad spatterfest of the original. There is a character in this sequel, Ginny (Amy Steel), assistant to the lead camp counselor Paul (John Furey), who has a background in child psychology. What better heroine to pit against a serial killer with serious mommy issues than someone who can offer insight on how a deranged mind works? But the movie is not interested in psychology, just cheap thrills. While entertaining in parts, nearly nothing of importance unfolds in the first hour. (The recap of the first movie during the first ten minutes is downright awful.) That’s a lot to ask for a slasher film in which creative kills, gore, and body count matter.

This group of counselors is slightly more entertaining than in the original. Individually, they do not receive the same amount screen time as their predecessors, but they are memorable enough because the writing’s approach to humor is more overt. Some examples: the tow truck, a recurring gag involving a dog named Muffin, Vickie (Lauren-Marie Taylor) constantly throwing herself on wheelchair-bound Mark (Tom McBride) who seems more interested in arm wrestling other guys. There is even a couple from the city who wish to visit Camp Crystal Lake, also known as Camp Blood, because it is infamous for the murders that occurred there five years prior—the massacre in the first film. This time around, the story takes place in Packanack Lodge, a short walk away from Camp Crystal Lake.

Speaking of the first picture, sole survivor Alice (Adrienne King) makes an appearance. It is interesting that she is brought back not because of what is to be done with the character—which is predictable—but seeing her is a good reminder that Alice is not anything special. In the original, I failed to see what was so great about her. She is not especially strong, smart, or resourceful. It felt like Alice was the final girl just because the other cast members possess less star power than King. Now, compared King to Steel, the difference is night and day. I wished that Ginny had been on screen more because from the moment she pulled her sputtering car up (late) to the first camp counselor meeting, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. It is no wonder Paul is enamored with her. The performers share chemistry.

The kills are not necessarily bigger but more in-your-face. Perhaps it has something to do with editing that is more skilled, urgent. The machete-to-the-face scene actually made me flinch. It is frustrating, however, that director Steve Miner is even more fond of close-ups compared to “Friday the 13th” director Sean S. Cunningham. It is so commonly used, it cheapens an already schlocky material. Why not simply trust the violence or death on screen without having to result to such tactics? It looks like an approach made for TV movies.

Is it worth sitting through “Friday the 13th Part 2” even though it takes quite a while to take off? I think it is, especially if you consider yourself to be a horror aficionado, if only for the sole reason of the killer actually being Jason Voorhees (Warrington Gillette) this time around. As far as slashers go, it isn’t anything special but it’s tolerable.

Friday the 13th


Friday the 13th (1980)
★★ / ★★★★

A drowning in 1957 and two kids murdered in 1958, it is no surprise that the locals refer to Camp Crystal Lake as Camp Blood. So when they learn that it is about to open for business in two weeks, they struggle to hide their disapproval. Sean S. Cunningham’s classic slasher picture “Friday the 13th” offers a mildly entertaining time, but it isn’t anything special. The body count is high, but the build-up toward the kills are not especially suspenseful or creative nor the kills themselves cathartic or thrilling. And with a short running time of ninety-five minutes, there are stretches here that drag.

The one neat thing about the film is that it does a good job in hiding who the final girl might be. I assumed it would be Annie (Robbies Morgan) given that she is first to be shown on screen and she exhibits a sort of independence and pluck. She claims to love children, and the rumors around town do not disturb her. She is even shown being nice to a dog on the street. Annie is one of the camp counselors, specifically the cook, on her way to the lake. The rest of the counselors (Adrienne King, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram, Mark Nelson) wonder what’s taking her so long to get there. It’s getting dark.

I appreciated that by end of the movie, we have an appreciation of the different spots of Camp Crystal Lake. For instance, where the dock is located relative to the cabins and the cabins relative to the archery range. It looks and feels like an actual camp instead of a set built for the sole purpose of making a horror movie. Over time, we grow familiar with these places. So when a camp counselor is killed at a certain location and another person visits that same place but the corpse is hidden somewhere nearby, we have a gut reaction to the scene in front of us. Most disappointing, however, is that the director does not seem to possess a keen or insightful eye on how to shoot a murder effectively. More thought is put into reaction shots.

Perhaps it has something to do with the limited budget. But I’m not convinced. You see, in John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” which was released two years prior and also under a limited budget, every scene comes across as focused and polished. There is a sense of control, as though its aim is to deliver a specific experience and mood. “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th” even open in a similar way: We see through the eyes of a killer. But the former has an extra detail to it: We see through the killer’s eyes who happens to be wearing a mask. It is off-putting, especially when we are shown a tiny hand—a child’s hand—grabbing a knife. In this film, by comparison, the execution is painfully ordinary, generic. The camera takes on the first person perspective as it observes women sleeping. It is uninspired and cheap.

The kills are violent and gruesome, but not one of them invokes a strong visceral reaction. For instance, when a throat is cut with a blade or when a spear pierces through someone’s throat, the practical effects are all too apparent. This is a movie drenched in shadows (there is an issue with the camp generator eventually) yet when it is time to cut someone open, the money shot is always—always—well-lit. There is irony there. But I think the intention is not to generate irony but rather cheers or gasps of horror. Cue the overbearing musical score when a counselor is just about to bite the dust. I was not impressed or moved by this consistently obvious approach.

“Friday the 13th” is written by Victor Miller. The story is straightforward, but the dialogue underachieves in that everybody seems to talk the same way. There is a hint thrown in that at least a few of the counselors have come from different parts of the country. And yet they are not written with enough specificity so that we are able to discern among them with ease. While not necessary that we learn their backstories—it is a slasher film after all—it is important that we know them a little bit outside of their physicality.

The Command


The Command (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

On the surface, “The Command,” inspired by the biggest submarine disaster in history and based on Robert Moore’s book “A Time to Die,” is a disaster film: a Russian Navy exercise turns deadly when one of the torpedoes, due to a hydrogen peroxide leak from within, overheats and causes a series of explosions which renders the “unsinkable” submarine utterly destroyed in the bottom of the Barents Sea. The surviving sailors must wait for rescue as water levels rise and temperature continues to drop. But those who choose to look closely will realize that the film is not a popcorn flick. It filled with sadness and anger. It is a condemnation of politics and bureaucracy when a life-or-death situation demands that these petty things be set aside.

The work is written for the screen by Robert Rodat and directed by Thomas Vinterberg. It is a fruitful partnership because the screenplay is filled with nonverbal cues that communicate plenty about the characters, especially when they are trapped in their own thoughts and are forced to wrestle with grim possibilities. To support this, the direction is patient and precise; notice the framing of how hands tremble when terrible news is heard for the first time, how eyes search the room for answers regarding loved ones, how a person breathes while facing an impossible situation. By providing images filled with rich, haunting, and useful information, the filmmakers engage the audience—not because of the disaster itself but because of the people affected by it.

But this isn’t to suggest that the picture lacks tense moments. A standout involves Captain-Lieutenant Mikhail Averin (Matthias Schoenaerts) and a fellow sailor having to dive into a lower level of the flooded submarine in order to acquire adaptors for an oxygen generator. The first attempt of rescue by the Russians has failed; the trapped sailors know that the next attempt will not occur for several hours. The task itself is seemingly insurmountable because the compartment where the adaptors are stored is quite a distance away. In order to hasten their swim time, the volunteers must remove their clothing with the exception of shorts and cloth wrapped around their biceps which serves to hold a flashlight in place. By providing pertinent details and taking the time to present these details, it allows us to imagine how cold the two must get with every second they must spend in that water. We are already worried for them even before the dive.

Events outside the submarine gather tension, too. Mikhail’s pregnant wife (Léa Seydoux), their firstborn in tow (Artemiy Spiridonov), along with other Navy wives, demand answers from officials. They are constantly denied by fancy men in uniform with their roundabout way of speaking. These women are not to be taken as fools. Out on the ocean, Admiral Grudzinsky (Peter Simonischek) is wise enough consider the possibility that Russia might need help from other nations after two failed rescue attempts despite the fact that his superiors demand that the circumstances be kept secret. You see, officials like Vladimir Petrenko (Max von Sydow) would rather protect their Naval secrets from foreigners than the men in the submarine—technology over human lives. Meanwhile, Commodore Russell (Colin Firth), a Brit, extends a helping hand to the Russians from the moment explosions are detected under the sea.

“Kursk” is a high quality dramatic thriller because it understands the importance of details. Although the final act is a bit rushed—it ends just when anger is at its peak—I admired that every step is presented in a clear and intelligent manner. We always have an answer to what is happening, why it is happening, and how it is happening. And despite having at least half a dozen key characters, we have an understanding of each one even though we may not always agree with his or her choices. Choices decided the fate these sailors.

Submergence


Submergence (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Those expecting a typical romance in which a potential couple meet, court, and live happily ever after are in for a big disappointment because, although beautifully photographed, Wim Wenders’ “Submergence” is more adult-oriented than fantasy-leaning escapism. Rather than focusing on plot, it is interested in showing challenging circumstances, building a perfect mood to capture longing and loneliness, presenting the details of one’s work, and underlining the distance between lovers than it is about showing its subjects physically interacting to make the viewers swoon. Its vision is without compromise and I respect that.

Notice the atypical technique in which succeeding scenes are presented. It is fluid, like water, an important symbol in the picture, almost as though we are seeing the images through a flow of consciousness or deeply personal, somewhat guarded memories. It is important, I think, that it is presented in this manner so that audiences get an impression of the feelings of incompleteness that the two lovers undergo when they are separated. Because of their occupations, there is no two-way letter-writing or texting involved. And in addition to the subjects not knowing each other for very long before they must separate, there is only uncertainty. Here is a film in which we grow increasingly unsure whether the protagonists would see each other again—a rarity in the romance sub-genre.

Danielle and James, a bio-mathematician preparing for a deep-sea dive and a British spy posing as a water engineer, are played by Alicia Vikander and James McAvoy, respectively. They share solid chemistry as their characters meet in a stunning seaside hotel in Normandy. As intuitive performers, closely observe their body languages as requisite lines are uttered with subtlety and passion. Because by also focusing on the unsaid, it provides us a more complete picture of what these characters are about and what they hope to achieve. It is critical that we feel or understand Danielle and James’ love for what they do, their personal and professional missions, so that we buy into the idea of why they ultimately choose to put themselves in potentially dangerous situations.

Yes, the dialogue offers some scientific jargon, which may be a challenge to sit through for some, but I think the focus ought to be on the intention behind these words. The dialogue is written so beautifully that at times, for example, Danielle may choose to use opaque words in order to hide her feelings of awkwardness with a man she just met. But what makes James interesting, for instance, is that he is a great listener, a skill that is required in his line of work, and so he is able to pierce through the fog and reach her. Still, however, she offers surprises in store. Their meeting is only the setup for the plot but it is so strong, it could have been an entire picture on its own.

Beauty and brutality collide when Danielle and James follow their respective paths. Hydrothermal vents in the deep Atlantic Ocean look like alien worlds while jihadists treat precious human lives as insects to be crushed at the slightest sign of annoyance. Interiors of ships, particularly of a laboratory filled with curious equipments, are polished and elegant while interiors of war-ravaged buildings, particularly the unsanitary clinic, highlight the fears and overall unhappiness—torment—of a community. We are meant to wonder whether Danielle and James’ contrasting worlds are so different, they might end up getting sucked into them, extinguishing every chance of getting back together. But what’s brilliant, I think, is the picture does not simply rely on a romantic reunion.

The Death and Life of John F. Donovan


The Death and Life of John F. Donovan (2018)
★ / ★★★★

There is a curious drama hidden underneath “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan,” written by Xavier Dolan and Jacob Tierney, a story that involves correspondences between an eleven-year-old boy who aspires to become an actor (Jacob Tremblay) and an adult television actor on the verge of superstardom (Kit Harington), but its fancy touches—like where a camera is placed in order to show a scene in a “unique” way, how characters tend to break into speeches when emotions run high, on-the-nose songs playing suddenly on the radio designed to underscore how a person is feeling just in case the audience doesn’t quite “get” it—bog it down. For a film about crippling loneliness, it seems afraid or unwilling to get to the point. There is a minefield of unnecessary decorations here. Sometimes less is more.

It is all the more disappointing that the film is filled to the brim with wonderful supporting performances, from Susan Sarandon as the titular character’s alcoholic mother, Natalie Portman portraying a former actress whose promising career perished when the father of her child decided to abandon them, to Thandie Newton as a journalist, typically covering politics, who is thrusted, much to her dismay and exasperation, into interviewing an actor named Rupert Turner (Ben Schnetzer)—the boy, now a man, whose idol died due to drug overdose in 2006.

But out of these veteran performers, Kathy Bates and Michael Gambon shine brightest, the former playing John’s no-nonsense manager and the latter as a grandfather whose grandson is a big fan of John’s. They stand out for two reasons: 1) strong performances that demand the viewers to look at the screen without blinking and to listen deeply and 2) their ability to put into context what writer-director Dolan fails to accomplish. The Bates character underlines that in order for John to live a life of happiness and fulfillment—and they are two different things—he needs to live an honest life. Meanwhile, the Gambon character highlights the fact that sometimes we forget what we know we deserve. Dolan’s story involves dreams, Hollywood, and celebrity, but Bates and Gambon reminds us of the humanity of the people who choose to live a life in front of the camera—that John and Rupert’s stories are relevant to yours and mine.

John keeps a secret that the fact he is a homosexual. But there is no drama. Does he wish to keep it a secret because he fears it would extinguish his blossoming career? (He is shown to be a heartthrob, similar to Leonardo DiCaprio in the ‘90s.) Or does he simply hate the fact that he is gay? Is it a mix of both—or something else entirely? The viewers are left to make numerous assumptions based on stories—better stories—from other movies—better movies—we’ve seen before. But this is a mistake because we are supposed to learn about and empathize with a specific character, not some vague idea or archetype. It is supposed to be a personal story, perhaps even autobiographical, but it lacks flavor and specificity. It doesn’t work.

The drama is dead dull. It has nothing new or special to say about modern celebrity, idolatry, or public and private spheres. And yet it has the bravado to cover itself with stylistic pretensions. I was so detached from it, that, at one point, childhood bullying is happening front and center… yet I caught myself trying to read texts of various posters in the classroom.