Tag: horror

Hell House LLC

Hell House LLC (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

Stephen Cognetti’s “Hell House LLC” could have been a great haunted house film—a literal one because it involves a group of friends from New York City moving to a Podunk town to turn an abandoned hotel into a haunted house for the month of Halloween—because it is not at all tempted to utilize CGI and other ostentatious visual effects to scare the audience. When this movie employs practical effects, like creepy masks and bloody cosmetics paired with inanimate objects suddenly moving on their own in the middle of the night, it’s quite spine-tingling. It is let down, however, by the tropes and limitations of the found footage subgenre. Only a notable few are highly effective (“The Blair Witch Project,” “Lake Mungo,” “Troll Hunter,” “Grave Encounters,” just to name some) and this project is not one of them.

The idea that something goes horribly awry in a haunt is deeply unsettling because many factors can go wrong: malfunctioning props, drunk visitors acting a fool, discerning between what’s a part of the show versus an accident and actual cries for help. This is an effective hook, but it is not presented in a way that is clear, precise, or exciting. In the picture’s opening minutes, we are made to watch a video captured using a visitor’s cell phone camera. It is an annoying struggle half the time to try to make sense of what is happening due to all the screaming combined with rapid turns of the person holding the camera. Not to mention all the shaking. There is even a stampede. It is a frustrating way to invite the viewers into the story because we are given the initial impression that is going to be just like any other found footage flick: few fresh ideas, if any, and absolute minimal craft.

But this poorly executed introduction is not representative of the work. Soon we come to meet the group of friends who decide to turn the abandoned Abaddon Hotel into a walkthrough (Danny Bellini, Ryan Jennifer Jones, Gore Abrams, Jared Hacker, Adam Schneider). We learn a bit about how they get along, what they think of each other, their sense of humor, their experiences with creating memorable haunts… what scares them, who gets easily spooked, who reacts with anger when faced with paranormal phenomenon. I wished, however, that the question of why Alex (Bellini), the leader, chose to revive this specific hotel, which had been closed for thirty years, is communicated early on. Did he buy it? Is he renting it? Did it come cheap? Is he attracted to its shocking history? For the sake of establishing a thicker atmosphere, these questions ought to have been answered.

The best scares are found in the middle of film, when characters wake up in the middle of the night due to noises downstairs, a strange feeling, or for no discernible reason. All of us have experienced waking up in the middle of the night so the situational horror is immediately relatable. Of course, they go investigating. And, of course, they see or experience something they wish they hadn’t. At times their reactions are humorous. And there are other times when we understand why they would be upset and express wanting to leave the hotel for good. I loved that although I am not scared of clowns… in the moment the movie convinced me I was.

Details prove to matter. Like how the three mannequins’ heads—wearing clown masks—are stuck in one position. Our protagonists even force to move the heads because they claim it would be far scarier if these clowns were looking in different directions during the haunt—like no matter from which angle you enter the room, you find at least one of them looking at you. No luck. They wouldn’t budge. And yet… and yet. It seems like the longer Alex and company stay in that hotel, the place gets angrier. There is escalating tension after every scene.

The climax is handled disastrously. It is shown to us what exactly happened during the haunt’s opening night which resulted in multiple injuries and casualties. Like the uninspired opening scene, this, too, is filled to the brim with screaming and shaking of the camera. A little bit is enough. It appears as though the writer-director is convinced that the more he shakes the camera, the more realistic the movie comes across. The reality is that everyone knows the movie is not actually found footage. So why cheapen a good time?

The Funhouse Massacre

The Funhouse Massacre (2015)
★ / ★★★★

In the middle of this torturously slow horror-comedy, I wondered if director Andy Palmer and screenwriter Ben Begley intended to make a movie to be enjoyed only by viewers who are stoned. Sure, it offers some neat practical effects like throat slashing, beheading, and skull drilling, but there is no sense of joy, creativity, or real wit emanating from it. Since its focus is on things like how to make plastic look like human flesh and how to create convincing blood spurts, one is better off watching a documentary of artists who specialize in special effects. I bet they’d have something interesting to say. In this film, the humor is so try-hard, so forced, even Gregory Plotkin’s “Hell Fest” is funnier by comparison—and that is a terrible movie regardless of the genre. One of the main problems is that every single character is written like he or she has only one brain cell and this neuron functions at half capacity. When confronted by a threat, not one person has iota of what to do in order to survive and so these potential victims are left running around like headless chickens. The filmmakers have forgotten that going through a haunted house or maze should be enjoyable, not a death march to the finish line. I hope the legendary Robert Englund, playing the warden of a mental facility that houses notorious serial killers, got paid well to appear in this junk. He should consider himself lucky that he’s only in it during the first ten minutes. The rest of us had to stay and be insulted.

Scare Package

Scare Package (2019)
★ / ★★★★

The horror anthology “Scare Package,” composed of seven shorts and a unifying narrative that takes place mostly in a video store, is for viewers who require only minimal brain power for it offers a relentless barrage of obvious and unfunny jokes that get tired—real tired—mere thirty minutes in. The point is to introduce and then subvert horror tropes (i.e.: the use of excessive gore, women being used as props to exploit or make a statement, the idea of “the final girl”), but the material seems content in pointing at familiar motifs without communicating why they exist and how they can be effective tools of storytelling—or function as limitations. The work is given purpose but not imagination, notes on a page without the music. It’s a bore.

Perhaps the best short, if I were to choose while under duress, is Chris McInroy’s “One Time in the Woods,” a gore-heavy creature/slasher flick that gets by somewhat with sheer energy. I enjoyed the practical effects surrounding a monster that had been stopped mid-transformation (the setup) while it is able to retain the ability to speak (the punchline). Everything else around it is uninspired; it involves doltish campers (actors in their thirties or forties playing teenagers—ha-ha) running away from a masked serial killer. Slicing, dicing, and tearing up limbs lead to the caricatures on screen being hosed down with red goo and such. It is meant to look cheap. And it does. It’s breezy fun and it ends just when it is starting to wear out its welcome.

That’s more than I can say about Courtney and Hillary Andujar’s “Girls’ Night Out of Body” which involves a haunted… lollipop that one of the women stole from an Asian convenience store. Prior to the start of the short, the VHS—the sole VHS—is shown under the “Post-Modern-Feminist-Slasher-Body-Horror” aisle. I got a chuckle out of that one. But that’s the best bit. In this day and age in which feminism—sometimes blind feminism—is celebrated, you might think the material would strive to make a statement about the female sex, traditional gender roles, and what is expected of a young woman in horror movies (taking off her clothes, screaming and moaning as if she were having sex when she is actually being pursued and tormented). But no. It simply features girlfriends hanging out in a motel room as they wait for a masked man to knock on their door. I think it is the worst of the bunch—quite a feat because nearly all of them are equally egregious. (Baron Vaughn’s body snatcher “So Much to Do” is a close second.)

I recognized potential in the wraparound narrative “Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium” directed by Aaron B. Koontz. Or maybe I just miss being inside video rental stores. In any case, I enjoyed watching enthusiastic performers (who clearly took inspiration from Mike Judge’s “Office Space”) Noah Segan (as the clerk who may or may not be what he seems…), Hawn Tran (as the new employee whom the clerk has dubbed to be his “little Pikachu”), and Byron Brown (as the customer who is desperate to get hired in a place he loves) wringing out every bit of smile, chuckle, and laughter from the audience. There is an awareness to their performances that comes across endearing for they embody familiar personalities you’re likely to bump into at Blockbuster or Family Video. I wished the entire movie is just hanging out with this trio.

It is a complete miscalculation to take these characters and jam into yet another short—which is supposed to be ironic, I guess, because the thirty-minute “short” called “Horror Hypothesis” (also directed by Koontz) is the longest. “Breakfast Club” archetypes running around a research facility as yet another serial killer aims to kill them off is just boring. By this point, the movie is out of steam and I was out of patience. Must we endure another set of cardboard cutouts attempting to flee from another towering assailant? Horror movies vary so wildly and yet this anthology is stuck doing the same thing. By the end of it, I was convinced the filmmakers should be forced to watch foreign horror cinema. Because what’s at offer here is child’s play.


31 (2016)
★ / ★★★★

In the middle of this interminable and pointless exercise that writer-director Rob Zombie considers to be a movie, I couldn’t help but wonder why the filmmaker felt compelled to make it. Yes, it’s gory and ugly, but it isn’t like “31” strives to push to genre in any direction. It simply wallows in its own misery like a rotten thing, a sad sight and a real stinker. You’re better off losing brain cells by holding your breath for an extended amount of time than having to sit through this picture. At least holding your breath takes less than a minute. This one demands nearly two hours. You could’ve gone to the gym during that time and felt good about yourself. This movie strives to make you feel bad.

The setup is as formulaic as it gets: carnival workers (Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Meg Foster, to name a few) are kidnapped, taken into an abandoned building, and forced to participate in a sick game. A voice via loudspeakers claims that whoever manages to survive for 12 hours, this person, or persons, will be free to go. Within this time span, however, clowns of various shape and sizes (with quirky names like Death-Head, Sex-Head, Schizo-Head, Psycho Head, and the like—no Meth-Head, sadly) will enter the facility and try to murder them. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, old people dressed in aristocratic clothes (Malcolm McDowell, Jane Carr, Judy Neeson) place bets on who, if any, will make it to the end.

If it sounds like it’s trying way too hard, that’s because it is. Perhaps even the writer-director, consciously or subconsciously, is aware of the wafer-thin material. And so he decides to fill it up with splashes of color, loud noises, wild costumes, and a whole lot of shaking the camera. It becomes so desperate that at one point—as if shaking the camera weren’t enough—we are inundated with seizure-inducing flashing lights. I guess people who are prone to epileptic fits are the lucky ones in this grim scenario because they will be compelled to shut off the movie.

There are no characters here, just sheep to be slaughtered. The story takes place on Halloween 1976; the dialogue is so cartoonish—the southern accents, its portrayal of African-Americans, of blonde women/objects—that it is borderline parody. Again, because the screenplay offers no substance, it relies on exaggeration to mask the fact. Not only is it a one-trick pony on screen, it is also a dead horse on the page. Perhaps the writer-director believes it is enough to have something—anything—on film, like a twenty-page essay written the night before that’s completely devoid of insight, sense, and spell checker.

In the opening sequence that shows the gruesome murder of a priest, we come to meet Doom-Head played by Richard Brake. His monologues are a bit much, more comic than horrific, but I liked his energy; he is the most believable out of all the psychos introduced. However, since he makes an appearance in the very first scene, we already know the trajectory—there is no end in sight until the sheep face this wolf in clown-face. And so the movie becomes waiting game.

“31” is without nutritional value or a point. “Here’s what I can do!” is not a good enough reason to make a film—not in this day and age when so many movies are being released in theaters and streaming services per week. It’s survival of the fittest out there. Ironically, this movie would be one of the first to drop dead, be forgotten. It’s that inconsequential.

The Burrowers

The Burrowers (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

Boiled down to its essence, J.T. Petty’s horror western “The Burrowers” explores the white man’s fear of The Other: Irishmen, black folks, indigenous Indians—these may as well have been monsters, less than animals, in the eyes of the white man. And in this story, there are literal monsters that come out at night to take people from their homes and feed on them. The white man and those whom he considers to be inferior must team up and learn to work together in order to eliminate an immediate threat. Although certainly meant to be for entertainment, the work makes a rather critical statement about how America works in a nutshell.

I relished its macabre sense of humor. The story takes place in the Dakota Plains 1879 and the first shot involves a marriage proposal. The beautiful woman goes missing and Coffey (Karl Geary), desperately in love, goes on a mission to retrieve her. For a long while the picture is told through the prism of optimism. These men in cowboy hats sporting guns and can-do attitude surely must save the day. They may have their differences but surely they can learn to see past the pettiness and get the job done. After all, lives—innocent lives, especially since the missing includes children—are more important than squabbles, right?

Well, it seems Petty has learned a thing or two from Hitchcock at his peak. Halfway through as bodies begin to pile up, we start to question that perhaps the messages that the filmmaker wishes to impart about America and its deeply racist history is more important than following the expected parabolic path. Notice the manner in which the pacing slows to a snail’s pace somewhere in the middle as characters are shuffled around like a deck of cards. Those who we believe must make it to the very end for the sole purpose of plot are now cold underneath the ground—well, actually, warm because the creatures in question tend to paralyze their soon-to-be form of nourishment and bury them alive so their victims’ organs can rot before the big feast—and those we think will not make it far remain thriving. Fresh decisions like these manage to keep the picture afloat despite sudden changes tone and pacing.

Although not especially memorable, I enjoyed the look of the creatures. It is the correct decision to keep them hidden in shadows and tall grass for the majority of the picture. Instead, we hear the chittering sounds they make before the attack. Is this their form communication? A way to intimidate? Can they help it? On the occasional moments we see them front and center, I was reminded of naked mole rats on steroids. There is gore but emphasis is not on the amount of blood and how they spurt out of arteries. Rather, what’s important is what they do to the human bodies once they have one trapped. Thus, we believe why these creatures have existed even before the white man arrived in America—and even before man existed. The burrowers are not only ancient but also formidable. The screenplay is so elastic, it even has room to make a statement about man’s destructive role in the environment.

“The Burrowers” may not be big on overt scares but it is willing to take on a number of ideas that will continue to remain relevant for years to come. And because some of the topics it touches involve racism, racial injustice, destruction of nature, and the like, that in itself is horror. Most modern horror films do not even dream of being about something. Some simply strive to deliver shock and call it a day. Here’s one with a point to make.


Phantasm (1979)
★★★ / ★★★★

Those who wish to insert square peg logic in a round hole are certain to be perplexed by “Phantasm,” a surreal, dream-like horror picture by writer-director Don Coscarelli. It is confident in what it is supposed to be so it does not bother to slow down and explain anything; it expects the audience to be able to keep up because not only are we intelligent, we possess similar fears that its characters have: loss of loved ones, abandonment, facing uncertainty and the unknown. It presents paranormal phenomena as they are: sometimes inexplicable, sometimes scary, sometimes curious, sometimes commentaries or physical manifestations of what’s unfolding in our own psyches. It is a film rich of ideas.

It begins with a thirteen-year-old named Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) who witnesses a mortician (Angus Scrimm) carry a coffin on his own without effort. Instead of proceeding with its burial, The Tall Man puts it back into the hearse. What is to be done with the body? Proceeding sequences follow this formula: a boy observes a seemingly strange event and he—and we—interpret what might be going on. At times there are overt answers—like what happens to the corpses The Tall Man collects—but there are other instances when there are none—like why the Tall Man takes a specific form of a woman (“Lady in Lavender” played by Kathy Lester) to lure men into Morningside Cemetery. The unpredictability of what will or won’t be explained adds to the mystique and joy of the experience. Cue the creepy but terrific soundtrack.

Remove the supernatural aspect of the story completely and therein lies an interesting relationship between two brothers, Mike and Jody (Bill Thornbury). Their parents have died recently, and Mike has developed an irrational fear—or is it?—that it is Jody’s turn to go away next. His solution is to follow his big brother everywhere he goes. Literally everywhere: at home, at a bar, in the cemetery—his eyes must be on his brother all the time. The work is a horror picture on the surface but deep down it is a story of loss and trauma.

Amongst the insanity that unfolds, the writer-director ensures that we have an appreciation of how the brothers are like around one another. We are shown Jody’s kindness and patience, his courage, how he is a role model for Mike. And so we understand why Jody is important to Mike outside of the fact that Jody is the only family left for the lonely teenager. Naturally, the two must team up against an antagonist that is beyond anything they’ve ever faced. But even then the villain itself… does not truly fit the mold of a typical antagonist.

The figure we come to know as The Tall Man minds his own business. When one really thinks about it, it is Mike and Jody who consistently get in the way of The Tall Man’s daily and nightly activities. At least initially, the mysterious mortician does not wish to go after them or their friends. Most of the time he is on the defensive: to protect whatever it is he does—which I will not reveal. When ignoring the problem seems to worsen it, attempting to silence the pesky brothers—always breaking into mausoleum, making mess, causing trouble for the dwarves (yes, there are dwarves)—is the last resort. This is an amusing, unexpected, and creative perspective. It is not just about delivering violence and gore.

“Phantasm” may not boast the best acting. The skill of editing is even questionable at times. Blood looks like cranberry juice. But it goes to show how inspired ideas and passion can take a work quite far. There is always something curious, nightmarish waiting at the end of a typical setup like when one goes down the basement, opens the front door, opens a casket, peers into a strange apparatus, flicks a lighter in the dark… Coupled with an increasing sense of dread, its images might be inexplicable on occasion but they stick in the mind and stay there.

The Vatican Tapes

The Vatican Tapes (2015)
★ / ★★★★

Modern exorcism movies are a dime a dozen and the bar is low. Yet still “The Vatican Tapes” fails to separate itself from the pack. This is because the screenplay by Christopher Borrelli and Michael C. Martin lacks imagination. It appears to be content in borrowing ideas from other supernatural movies, putting them in a blender, and then presenting them to us in the most ludicrous fashion possible. By the end of the picture, we are taken to the Vatican secret archives—polished, high-tech, bringing to mind posh offices in spy movies. It feels like a completely different film.

There is no scares to be had here, just a laborious descent to the inevitable confrontation between a man of the cloth and the person believed to be possessed by evil. Olivia Taylor Dudley plays Angela, an ordinary girl who begins to experience strange phenomenon—like losing control of her body—right on her twenty-fifth birthday. Soon ravens attack the bus she’s on. Her throat gets so dry at times, drinking a ton of water does not appear to help. At one point, her boyfriend, Pete (John Patrick Amedori), and father, Roger (Dougray Scott), are unable to wake her up from a deep sleep. There is something really wrong—not just with the woman but also the movie because all these strange happenings fail to generate suspense or tension.

“What makes a possessed person scary?,” I asked myself in the middle of boredom. It is not because of all special and visual effects involving cosmetics, like how the dark circles around Angela’s eyes would ebb and flow. It is not because of her video recordings undergoing “glitches” and when paused at the right time a demonic figure can be seen. Still, it is also not because of other people getting near Angela and suddenly they’re attempting to kill themselves. No. What makes a possessed person scary is rooted in something more realistic: That possibility the person we come to know and love is no longer there. The idea that a friend or a loved one’s physical body is still walking and talking but we can no longer relate with them, for whatever reason, is a universal fear. In other words, paranormal activity is merely a tool that can be used to amplify common fears. The writers do not have an understanding of this.

And so we go through the motions of following Angela’s ordinary journey from her apartment, to the hospital, to the psychiatric facility, and back home again. In between these change in locations, Father Lozano (Michael Peña) gives Pete and Roger assuring words and looks. Clearly, Angela’s condition is getting worse yet no one is angry at the incompetence of the would-be professionals involved. But I guess so long as the priest says everything will turn out all right, it must be so. When one looks at the big picture, it is amusing that a solid case can be made that it may be unwise to trust men of the cloth because they don’t know what’s happening either. It bothered me that not one of the doctors suggested that Angela, given her current condition and a big piece of her genetic history is unknown, may have some sort of mental illness like schizophrenia.

Aside from imagination and creativity, there is also a lack of energy in “The Vatican Tapes.” The dialogue is so flat, for instance, it borders on soporific. When objects move on their own or when animals act in a bizarre way, the camera just sits there. No passion can be felt from this project. I felt like the filmmakers decided to make a movie just because they could. Or for the money. Because if they really wished to entertain, they should have been the first ones to notice that what they have is dead on the water even before the first image is captured. It is without question the work requires major screenplay revisions. Or simply dump it in the trash.

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?