Tag: friday the 13th

Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th


Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th (2013)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Those who consider themselves to be fans of the “Friday the 13th” franchise should make it a priority to watch Daniel Farrands’ “Crystal Lake Memories,” six hours and forty minutes worth of information that touches upon every movie in the series, including the long-awaited matchup “Freddy vs. Jason” and the 2009 reboot/reimagining/Frankenstein’s monster simply called “Friday the 13th.” Despite its intimidating running time, it is highly enjoyable to sit through because actors, makeup artists, producers, writers, and directors from every installment offer insights on not only about their experiences while making specific entries—which the documentary goes through in chronological order—but also acknowledge how and why a character like Jason Voorhees, a “mere” final jump scare in the first film, became a such cultural icon.

Interviews are not only informative from a factual point of view, in a way they provide possible reasons why certain movies in the franchise ended up the way they did. For example, consider the fifth picture, “Friday the 13th: A New Beginning,” which I deem to be one of the weakest out of the twelve movies released thus far. It is a fact that when the movie was being shot, there wasn’t a proper ending written on the script. An actor had to suggest an ending. (Which made it in the final product.) In addition, those who worked in the film in front of and behind the camera acknowledge that they felt the material was sleazy, certainly atonal, and tried too hard to become something so different from what came before that the gamble did not pay off. Danny Steinmann’s personality and relatively hands-off approach in directing the movie are also taken into account. Certain things remain unsaid, but we are able to infer.

Conversely, we get to learn why “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” and “Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives” are high points for the franchise. In the former, an experienced stuntman (Ted White) was hired. He shares some of his methods on how Jason should be like in order to create a terrifying figure outside of his massive size. In the latter, there is emphasis on the loyalty of the crew, the likability of the cast and how they get along swimmingly, and that the writer-director, Tom McLoughlin, actually spent more time with the children—to ensure that their acting is top-notch when Jason breaks into their cabin—than he did analyzing how a kill should look or feel a certain way. McLoughlin actually watched the previous five movies and made notes on how to improve the movie he was about to make. The documentary offers so many nuggets worth examining and pondering over. So when a fan looks back on a specific title, the knowledge can be utilized to see the film from a different perspective.

There is no subject considered to be taboo in this doc. Even the retrospective into the much-maligned “Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday,” the ninth installment, surprised me. By having that film’s director, Adam Marcus, explain some of the decisions he took in terms of storytelling—the Jason body swapping, packing too much mythology into one film—I came out of it respecting the director who made a film I just so happen to dislike. Having him speak directly to camera, to us, shows that his intentions for the series came from a good place. It is without question he loves Jason Voorhees and the franchise. At the end of the day, it just… didn’t work. And sometimes that happens. Farrands is not afraid to place the spotlight on relevant figures and ask the tough questions.

“Crystal Lake Memories” is so informative, it goes through not only the films but also the “Friday the 13th” television series. I’m not talking about a quick two- to three-minute acknowledgment of the show. Ample time is taken to introduce the concept, how it is different from the movies, how the fans felt ripped off at the time due to the title but having no Jason, who were hired for the roles, what the actors thought about their characters looking back decades later, the show’s changing time slots, and how influential groups helped to pull the plug on the show eventually.

The thread that ties together all “Friday” movies is the pesky Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). A case can be made the MPAA did more butchering than Jason. Especially neat (and astounding) are times when we are shown a side-by-side comparison of the original cut and what the MPAA considered to be acceptable in terms of “just the right amount of violence.” Oftentimes the original cut, while considerably more gruesome, are far superior than the bastardized version.

The reason is because we get to see more craft being put into action. There is better timing between setup to a kill and final breath. The more detailed a death, the scarier, creepier, or more shocking it is. Going back to “V: A New Beginning,” for example, had that picture been less crippled by the MPAA’s preposterous and hypocritical standards, I probably wouldn’t have despised it as much (outside of the truly ugly hillbilly depictions played for laughs) because the original cuts reveal that it is not solely about money shots. Without this documentary, certain facts and realizations would be left in the dark. And that is why it is a must-see for “Friday” fans.

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


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.

Friday the 13th


Friday the 13th (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

By around the twenty-minute mark, the final girl (Amanda Righetti) is in the hands of Jason Voorhees (Derek Meers), the deformed son of woman who went on a killing spree at Camp Crystal Lake almost thirty years prior, and the title card finally makes an appearance. By doing so, this remake of “Friday the 13th,” directed by Marcus Nispel, makes a promise that the film will strive to be more efficient, more violent, and more intelligent than the sequels, perhaps including the original, that came before. After all, slasher films have evolved, been dissected, and spoofed over the years. In the end, however, it is just another disappointment.

It is a mistake to relegate the final girl’s brother, Clay (Jared Padalecki), who remains actively looking for her around the camp after her sudden disappearance six weeks ago, as just another one-dimensional character. But unlike the fresh batch of friends (Danielle Panabaker, Travis Van Winkle, Julianna Guill, Aaron Yoo, Ryan Hansen, Arlen Escarpeta) designed to be gutted like cattle during the second half, he is meant to be the obvious good guy with whom we are supposed to root for to make it to the very end. But good guys in horror films, especially when they are not written well, get boring real quickly—as is the case here.

For instance, there is not one convincing scenario in which Clay is confronted with the possibility that his desperate search may be for nothing. And so we never get a chance to see or measure how he might cope in a situation that challenges his expectations. What is a villain like Jason, after all, but a metaphor for a seemingly unstoppable monster living in all of us? Instead, we are given a few confrontational scenes between Clay and the leader of the sheep to be slaughtered because the latter cannot help but to feel threatened when there’s a low-key alpha dog within a one-mile radius. Not only is it preposterous, it’s empty. It does not tell us anything of value about the protagonist or the figures we don’t want to see murdered in brutal fashion.

Or perhaps we do. An argument can be made that one of the points of slasher films is to provide catharsis in the form of violence. While the movie does provide blood and violence by the bucketloads, these are not particularly inspired. I enjoyed the scenes where characters find themselves getting dragged underground or being stuck there and must then find a way out, but a lot more deaths take place out in the open where a rigid formula must be followed prior to the killing blow. It gets old even before the title card is shown.

During my occasional boredom and consistent disappointment, I thought of ways how the screenwriters—Damian Shannon and Mark Swift—might have played upon the formula with minimal effort. Perhaps the most effective way is to tease with suspense. The closest it gets is a scene where a man can be heard begging for help outdoors as his remaining friends cower in fear indoors. This scene could have had a much stronger emotional punch had the material dragged out the man’s misery for one or two minutes. It is human to want to help… but it is also human to choose self-preservation. In other words, the writers have chosen to limit themselves when it comes to changing up the type of horror being tackled at a given time.

Due to the lack of daring and imagination, this remake of “Friday the 13th” is just another forgettable entry. It has the budget for gore, cosmetics, and neat special effects, but it lacks the aforementioned elements that matter most. Forget the bad or non-existent acting. This is a film that has learned next to nothing from previous entries—why one or two of them work and, more importantly, why most of them do not.

Halloween


Halloween (1978)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“I met him fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding; even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.”

John Carpenter’s 1978 independent “Halloween” masterpiece will forever be one of my favorite films. With such a microscale budget, Carpenter, the production team and the actors managed to accomplish so much. “Halloween” stars Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode who, among with her friends Lynda (P.J. Soles) and Annie (Nancy Loomis), was stalked by a masked killer named Michael Myers (Tony Moran). Michael killed his sister when he was six years old and was sent to a psychiatric hospital under the care of Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence). Michael’s madness became much worse over the years and he escaped the night before Halloween 1978 to return to his hometown in Haddonfield, Illinois.

This picture invented the slasher flick that plagued the 1980’s because of its craft. The first scene of this film was an absolute milestone because we saw Michael kill his sister through his eyes as he wore a clown mask. The way he grabbed the knife from the kitchen drawer, walked up the stairs, and went for the kill was terrifying because it was done by a child without any sort of reason (or emotion) behind his actions. After the murder, when his parents discovered him with the knife, it looked as if he had no idea what he had done, like he was possessed by the devil.

Fast-forward to 1978, we got to meet Laurie and two of her friends. Laurie, obviously different from the other two because she’s actually interested in books and not so much interested in boys (or maybe her shyness often got the best of her), was established as the protagonist. She cared about the children she babysat (unlike the other two) by letting them have fun on Halloween, such as carving pumpkins, making popcorn, and watching scary rated R movies on TV, as long as they remained safe and refrained from scaring each other. In broad daylight, we were able to see Michael following them around–appearing in an area one minute and disappearing the next–something that slasher movies of today rarely do. (Not all stalkers only come out at night after all.) There were also very amusing scenes between the three friends, which I thought was a good move from Carpenter because it made them very relatable. That was important because we all know that Michael would eventually go after them. Why was he obsessed with the three girls? We don’t exactly know. Maybe he saw qualities of sister in them or maybe not. To me, that’s why I thought the picture worked: it retained elements of mystery and it was up to us to draw our own conclusions.

The soundtrack was something I would never forget because it was downright creepy and it set the tone of certain scenes. A particular track was specific to an event that was about to transpire so we came to know what to expect (a stalking scene, a false alarm, or going for the kill). However, the brilliance of it was we don’t know when exactly the scare or “Boo!” moment would happen. When they finally do happen, they come with maximum effect due to excellent timing. Unlike most modern horror films, the soundtrack in this movie was used as little as possible. It also means that Carpenter knew when to use silence. Sometimes silence meant nothing but sometimes silence meant something really bad was about to happen.

My absolute favorite scene was the showdown between Laurie and Michael in the last twenty minutes. It still gives me the chills whenever I watch Laurie crossing the street to go into the house where two of her friends were murdered. Since the lights were all off yet she was getting phone calls from the house pretty much all night, at first she thought they were playing a joke on her. But when she finally reached the bedroom, she realized that none of it was a joke. While she was busy entertaining the kids across the street, Michael was busy with the body count. There was also that scene when she finally got out from the neighbor’s house (not an easy feat considering Michael blocked the exits) as she tried screaming for help but no one would open their doors to offer her refuge. She then had no choice but to go back to the house where she was babysitting… but she couldn’t find the keys in her pocket.

There’s a plethora of social commentaries that could be drawn from this film, which were immortalized as clichés in future slasher flicks like “Friday the 13th,” “Prom Night,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and the like. However, I’m not going to mention them all here because I think it’s best for you to try to see them yourself. But I do want to mention how impressed I was with how the concept of the “boogeyman” evolved from a simple folklore (when the kids tried to scare each other) to a personification of evil that one cannot kill (when Laurie tried to kill Michael time and time again but he always managed to “return from the dead”). The concept of the boogeyman finally culminated in the last minute of the film when Laure conceded, “It WAS the boogeyman” and the movie showed us familiar places with Michael breathing in the background–places that have been touched by evil and would never be the same again.

For those who have seen a plethora of movies, “Halloween” is almost always on their list of being one of the best horror films ever made. It’s not difficult to understand why considering how much it impacted the collective media unconscious. I consider it one of the best movies I’ve seen, not just in the horror genre, because of how it made me feel when I first watched it. There was a certain darkness to it that shook me to the core and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. And when I see it again from time to time on television as Halloween nears, I may smile during certain scenes and not look as scared as before. But the same thoughts regarding “What if I was in her shoes?” quickly flood my mind and I can’t help but feel affected. Though it may not scare you because you’re used to seeing blood delivered in gallons in modern horror movies (personally, I think blood is just gross and not at all scary), it would most likely earn your respect for being well ahead of its time in terms of craft and context.