Friday, May 5, 2017

Friday the 13th marathon


Now that Friday the 13th: The Game finally has a release date, it's time to marathon the movies. I love movie marathons, but we didn't even attempt to watch them all in one sitting because that would be more than eighteen hours of movie watching, not including bathroom and popcorn breaks. I'm too old for that kind of shit these days.

I used to be Team Freddy all the way. Freddy was funny, Freddy had style, and Freddy would laugh his ass off as he shredded you into a million pieces. Jason just kind of ambled everywhere he went, but managed to catch his victims because A) they had no idea he was after them in the first place or B) they were far behind the curve in Survival 101, which made you wonder: Why would people like that go camping anyway?

Yet I've grown to appreciate Jason the older I get. Yeah, a glorified zombie brandishing a machete isn't as scary than a horde of zombies, but the fact that he's going to get you, no matter what you do, has become an allegory for death itself—whether the filmmakers intended it or not.

A note about the titles: Sometimes they're numbered, sometimes they're not. Sometimes the numbers are roman numerals, sometimes they're not. I referenced the styling on the movie posters, which I feel are a pretty good, if nonuniform, benchmark.



Friday the 13th (1980) 95 minutes

A brutally honest quote from director Sean S. Cunningham: "The movie has no emotional impact on me at all. The characters were thin at best." Ouch.

So why did it take me so long to marathon the movies in chronological order? Quite simply, the first one used to bore me to death, so I wasn't exactly looking forward to it. Sure, there were Tom Savini effects and the novelty of seeing a young Kevin Bacon die was a lot of fun, but already knowing the big reveal at the end made the rest of the movie seem like a chore. I also get frustrated not seeing the killer in movies like this. I know there's a decent excuse for it, as there was in Sleepaway Camp (a movie I liked much better than this one), but all those shots of shambling feet get mighty tedious.

Having said that, I probably enjoyed the movie more than I ever have before. It was the first time I saw it in HD so it looks way better than my previous viewings. I was always under the impression it was just another slasher movie—and most of it is—but despite everything they ripped off from other horror movies, they did an awful lot right.

The pacing doesn't drag as much as I remembered and the gore effects are legit. So I'm giving this one a passing grade, even though I probably won't watch it again for a very long time, if ever.

Girlfriend's review: "Why did you start this when I said I didn't want to watch a movie right now?"


Friday the 13th Part II (1981) 87 minutes

(Spoilers for the first film follow.)

Now it's time for Pillow Case Jason. Cunningham steps down as director and defers to Steve Miner, who made some good horror movies (House, Warlock) and some questionable ones (Lake Placid, Halloween H2O) in between shooting episodes of Wonder Years and, uh, Dawson's Creek. He also made the Mel Gibson melodrama Forever Young, which is a bizarre career trajectory if you ask me.

Part 2 takes place five years after the events of the first one. Jason is all grown up—far more than five years worth of aging—which suggests the little boy we saw at the Carrie-like ending of the original film was only a nightmare. The movie also implies Jason saw his mother decapitated, which only creates more confusion: Jason's mother was killing camp counselors to avenge her son's death, but if Jason was dead, how did he witness his mother's decapitation? Was she mistaken about his death? Was he actually a runaway who was only presumed dead? (Keep in mind the supernatural elements hadn't been introduced yet. He's very much human in this one... probably... maybe... I don't know at this point.)

This version of Jason makes phone calls and stalks his prey to the city where he murders the previous film's heroine with an ice pick. He's not yet the Jason we all know and love, not only because he hasn't picked up his trademark mask. Still, I find this one much more entertaining than the previous entry. Miner ups the kill count, picks up the pace, and piles on plenty of sex and thrills if you're into that kinda thing. It's not a great slasher film, but a solid one.

Girlfriend's review: "Jason running is stupid. I don't like the ending. Why did the cops and paramedics show up out of nowhere again? I liked the first one better."


Friday the 13th Part 3 (1982) 95 minutes

Steve Miner returns as director and Jason inherits his trademark hockey mask. It's a landmark moment in the franchise, born out of the filmmakers's desire to save time and money on makeup effects. While I still think Part 3 is a better movie than the original, it's not as good as the previous entry. Miner seems obsessed with increasing the body count, made evident by the trio of bikers who have no purpose being in this movie, and the cold opening in which Jason murders a couple of store owners.

The prologue is a flashback to the last movie's finale. It goes on for far too long and it's really not that important to the plot considering Jason is the only returning character. Then the credits come soaring at your face and you remember the movie was originally released in 3-D, as third franchise entries were wont to do. The rest of the story is pretty much rinse and repeat: a handful of teens head out to the woods for dope-smoking shenanigans. Speaking of dope-smoking, the hippy couple in the movie have apparently never smoked pot in their lives; the constant joint-puffing becomes one of the most distracting crutches in the history of acting.

The film is desperate to take advantage of its 3-D, which frequently results in dumb, in-your-face gimmicks involving makeshift weapons, juggling balls, and yo-yos. Despite these distractions, I actually like that the camerawork is a little more creative and layered this time around, and it's at its best in the early scene filmed among clothes lines. My biggest complaint about the movie is all the fake scares and cop-outs. Tricking the audience so frequently doesn't build suspense, it only builds annoyance, particularly on additional viewings.

There are two memorable gore gags: one for how awesome it looks (the partial bisection of a young man doing a handstand) and one for how shitty it looks (a head-crushing in which the eyeball shoots out of the head on what appears to be a rigid optic nerve). And you would assume a lot of bare breasts would feature in a 3-D Jason movie, but the film never really goes there.

Girlfriend's review: "ZZZzzzz."


Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) 91 minutes

Something tells me this isn't going to be the final chapter... call it a hunch.

The third film in the franchise was originally intended to be the final chapter, which might be why there wasn't an entry in '83 (the first time Jason skipped a year), but when your two million dollar movie makes over thirty million at the box office, a sequel is a no-brainer. This one is directed by Joseph Zito, whose hyper-violent entertainments are typically elevated by a sense of gleeful fun. (He also directed The Prowler, another essential slasher film.)

Maybe that year off helped because The Final Chapter is much richer than the movies preceding it. Tom Savini is back and the gore gags are as thrilling as they are plentiful. The fake scares and cop-outs are pulled back dramatically, which benefits the pace, and Zito doesn't shy away from the premarital sex nearly as much as Miner did in the last film.

Crispin Glover's bizarre delivery and Corey Feldman's Tommy Jarvis help make The Final Chapter one of the best movies in the franchise.

Girlfriend's review: "Best one yet."


Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985) 92 minutes

Little Tommy Jarvis is all grown up now and, inexplicably, his hair has turned blonde. (I like that the filmmakers thought this guy is what Corey Feldman might look like in the future, while in reality Feldman still looks the same as he did back then.) Jarvis is so pointless to the plot, you'll wonder why they bothered to squeeze him in at all, much less make him older. In fact, the Jason timeline is so screwed up by these nonsensical time jumps, a YouTuber struggled to figure it all out and estimated this one takes place in 1990.

The premise is different than the previous movies: Jarvis goes to a halfway house for troubled kids. Jason starts killing people. No, wait... this is just the same old shit.

The kills aren't as good, the pacing stinks, and I would say this one's worse than any Jason movie which came before it. The reveal at the end is so lame, I actually forgot about it since my last viewing. Still, there's a little bit of fun to be had by Jason fans.

Girlfriend's review: "No more Jason movies tonight."


Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (1986) 87 minutes

I was a little nervous about starting Jason Lives because I remember disliking it the last time I saw it. Fortunately, I'm either getting softer on movies like this or it's better than I remember. Compared to A New Beginning, it's Oscar-worthy. On the downside, there's an awful lot of stupid humor shoved into it. It's as if the producers wanted a Meatballs sequel with Jason in it.

Come to think of it, maybe the humor is a little better than some of the other movies, if only because it's so bizarre. At one point, Jason slams a man's face against a tree, which leaves a perfect smiley face imprint behind. This level of spoof-humor feels entirely out of place for a Jason movie, but whatever. The effort is appreciated, I guess.

Tommy Jarvis is back and this time he's played by Return of the Living Dead's Thom Mathews. The movie opens with Tommy digging Jason's body up so he can burn it down to ashes. Why he decided to bring Jason's mask along for the task can't be explained in-universe, but the real world answer is obvious: you can't have Jason without his hockey mask and he can't exactly walk into Academy to buy another one. After Tommy drives a metal rod through Jason's body, a bolt of lightning conveniently strikes the rod, bringing Jason back Frankenstein-style.

Damn it, Tommy. You damned fool.

Meanwhile, Camp Crystal's trying to do some PR repair, and even goes so far as renaming itself Forest Green. When Jason's latest killing spree begins, the cops of Forest Green decide to blame it all on Tommy, even though he spends the first half of the movie in a jail cell. Luckily, the sheriff's teenage daughter has a crush on Tommy and helps bust him out.

One of the more peculiar aspects of the movie is the fact the adults have convinced the local kids Jason is just an urban legend. This made sense in A Nightmare on Elm Street because Freddy's crimes had been committed long before the children were ever born. This doesn't make sense in Jason Lives because it takes place a year after the previous film. Or do all of the kids suffer from amnesia?

None of that matters. What justifies this one (compared to the previous film especially) is the fact Jason is officially undead, which means his growing pains as a horror icon are pretty much over. That and the Alice Cooper music is downright fun.

Girlfriend's review: "That was fucking lame. We weren't even laughing at the stupid parts as much as we usually do." (I disagree... we laughed at the stupid parts plenty.)


Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988) 88 minutes

Sometimes, what's popular is popular because people are stupid. Sometimes, what's popular is popular for good reason, which is the case with Kane Hodder's portrayal of Jason. He makes his first appearance as Jason in The New Blood and proves he was great at it from the get-go. My only complaint is he doesn't throw bodies through windows with the same gusto as The Final Chapter's Jason, but I think that's more of a director issue.

So Jason's been chained to the bottom of Crystal Lake ever since Tommy Jarvis put him there several years ago... I think. (Here's a fantastic comic which suggests Jason has had some adventures in between movie appearances.) The movie implies it's been something like ten years since its predecessor, but the teenage characters still follow the fashion trends of the film's production year. Whatever. That's an awfully minor issue to point out in a franchise full of issues.

Forest Green is calling itself Camp Crystal again and no explanation is given for it. No explanation is given as to where Tommy Jarvis has gone either, which hurts more than it should considering he's a paper-thin character who's been played by a different actor each time. The new protagonist is Tina Shepard, who we first see as a telekinetic child, played by a little girl who's a shoe-in for Poltergeist's Carol Anne. She gets into an argument with her father, wishes him dead, and accidentally kills him with her unexplained abilities. (It's not the first time the franchise has ripped off Carrie.)

When you see these movies as a kid, and they abruptly introduce Jedi mind tricks, you barely bat an eye. So I was surprised when my girlfriend said "What the fuck?" during the scene in which Tina's superpowers are introduced. In retrospect it is kind of jarring, even though a supernatural context has already been established in the franchise. Doesn't matter, I'm used to this kind of shit by now.

Tina grows up under the psychiatric care of a psychiatric doctor (Weekend at Bernie's Terry Kiser) who's an asshole for the sole purpose of giving us a character whose inevitable death we can all root for; at one point he even uses Tina's mother as a human shield against one of Jason's attacks. (Great scene, by the way.) The first three-quarters of the movie are decent if not routine... and then the magic happens. After killing kids and adults alike, Jason comes after Tina for a knock-down, drag-out fight.

Here's the problem with making your bad guy indestructible: he's fuckin' indestructible. This means it's not very believable when average folk go mano a mano with him unless you're willing to look past several layers of plot armor. Tina, however, can use her telekinetic powers to wrap vines and power lines around the killer, and the two square off in what has to be the most satisfying battle thus far. Kane Hodder is a fantastic stuntman and he's eager to prove it, too. (It's a shame about the rest of the movie.) We can only hope the upcoming video game makes Tina Shepard a playable character.

Girlfriend's review: "Was all that telekinetic stuff really necessary?" (I thought so, if only because it led to the best fight of the series.)


Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) 100 minutes

When all my friends were going apeshit for Batman in 1989, I was stoked to see Jason take on Manhattan. (I remember the trailer for the movie was one of the most exciting things I'd ever seen.) Other than a detour to the city in Part 2, Jason has been a homebody for far too much of his killing career. The Camp Crystal setting was getting stale. Now, almost thirty years later, Jason Takes Manhattan is the movie I wanted to re-watch most.

Unfortunately, I'm utterly disappointed.

I like how the franchise ran out of ideas for how to resurrect Jason long before it ever had a good one. This time, a boat anchor snags an electric cable which just happens to be making contact with Jason's body. This brings Jason back because electricity... yeah. Luckily, there's a hockey mask on board the boat because... oh fuck it, who cares? Logic has been tossed out the window like one of Jason's victims.

The next time we see Jason he's climbing onto a small cruise ship, which has been chartered by a handful of high school seniors. This is where most of the movie takes place. In fact, here's a better title: Jason Goes on a Cruise. Like real life cruises, it's an excruciatingly boring trip which serves no purpose other than reducing the amount of time you get to spend at the ultimate destination. (Apparently the movie was supposed to spend a lot more time in Manhattan, but the script had to be rewritten due to budgetary issues... can't fault them for that.)

The teenagers are duller than they've ever been before, the heroine is so plain she'll make you miss Tina Shepard, and the obligatory evil adult looks like a cross between Ricardo Montalb√°n and Bill Nye. Characters die in exactly the order you expect them to and Jason is so inexplicably focused on killing the main characters, he steps around several potential victims who are just kind of standing around for no reason (sometimes they look less like extras and more like people who were actually just standing around on the street when the filming began). And it all culminates in what could very well be the dumbest villain death in movie history.

No, it is the dumbest villain death in movie history because it asks you to believe that a deluge of toxic waste fills the tunnels beneath Manhattan so regularly, you can set your watch to it. The ending couldn't have been more of a cheat if a colony of toilet-flushed alligators suddenly showed up and ripped Jason apart limb by limb. Having aliens abduct him would have been less insulting to the intelligence.

Not only is Jason Takes Manhattan longer than any Jason movie before it, it's the slowest one, too. The actors' dialogue is oddly paced, several scenes and shots could have easily been trimmed, and most of the kills just aren't worth the long wait times in between. I love the image of childlike Jason roaming The Big Apple, but there's way too little of it. Outside of a minute spent in Times Square, the belated payoff is almost entirely filmed in generic alleys and rooftops. Then the film goes to a diner of all places, which is a location we've seen already seen in previous movies. (The guy Jason throws into the diner mirror, by the way, is the stuntman who plays Jason in Freddy vs. Jason.)

The movie made back its budget and then some, but Paramount decided it was a financial disappointment, which led to the rights going to New Line Cinema. And considering New Line already had Freddy in its stable, you'd think the long-awaited Freddy vs. Jason movie would be a no-brainer, right? Nope. Because fuck the fans.

Girlfriend's review: "Dull. Could've used a lot more blood."


Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993) 88 minutes

So how is it that New Line Cinema gets Jason and decides to make a movie—supposedly the last one—with very little Jason in it? Beats me. It's a risky move and whether or not it paid off is a topic of debate among many fans.

I happen to think Jason Goes to Hell is the best one since The Final Chapter. Yeah, it's weird that Jason's hardly in it, but it's not nearly as mind-boggling as Halloween 3's decision to dispense of their horror icon entirely. Jason himself is the pay-off in this one, which I thought was an interesting creative decision. It's just a shame Jason is dispatched mere minutes after his glorious return.

Whereas Jason is usually killed at the end of the movies, this time he's killed right up front in explosive fashion. A morgue worker who autopsies the smithereens is somehow hypnotized by Jason's disembodied heart and becomes a surrogate for Jason's essence... or something. Now a black man, Jason wanders the countryside killing anyone who gets in his path.

Q: Why doesn't Jason bring along his trademark mask? A: So he can rip off some of the T-1000's tricks from Terminator 2.

There's an awful lot going on in this movie. Although there's a character who explains the rules (Jason can only be killed by another Voorhees, etc.), it's never explained how he knows the rules or why things got to be the way they are. Is Jason a demon now? A vengeful spirit? How did he come back after drowning in age-reversing toxic waste in the previous film? More importantly, how does Jason himself know all the new rules?

What separates Jason Goes to Hell from everything which came before it is the fact it feels like a completely different movie, partly because of New Line Cinema and partly because of the 90s. There's only a handful of minutes spent in the boring ol' woods and it's obvious the director is more passionate about his subject than most. The camerawork is a lot more creative, there's a lot less fat between the killings, and there are even a handful of fun (though kind of forced) easter eggs for horror fans. There's also great gore gags from the KNB EFX Group, indicating the MPAA finally cut the franchise some slack.

My only problem is sending Jason to hell seems kind of cruel. Maybe I'm alone here, but Jason doesn't seem all that evil to me. He seems more like a force of nature that just happens to kill people, like tornadoes or earthquakes. It also doesn't help that I think of him as a child, so eternal pain and suffering is a little extreme in my opinion.

Girlfriend review: "I think it had the best gore so far. It was the most entertaining of the sequels."



Jason X (2001) 92 minutes

2001 was the year I graduated high school so I temporarily didn't give a shit about Jason movies anymore. The trailer, complete with hilariously awful music, seemed to suggest the franchise was turning its back on its 80s horror roots, so you can forgive me for initially giving it a pass. I know I just gave Jason Goes to Hell a recommendation for trying something different, but I didn't mean tonally different. Moving the series to space was only a radical idea for a Jason movie, not so much for horror franchises in general. Critters, Leprechaun, and Hellraiser had already done it, none with great results.

Oh, who am I kidding? I actually enjoyed those stupid space sequels.

This isn't the first time I've seen Jason X, but it's probably the first time I paid attention. There's a pleasant surprise in the beginning with a David Cronenberg cameo, but there's a big disappointment right up front, too: this is my least favorite Jason design of the Kane Hodder era. Come to think of it, this movie manages to include my two least favorite designs for the actor, as later in the movie Jason is inexplicably updated by nanotechnology and... well, he simply looks stupid.

Here's the paper-thin plot: there's a top secret research facility in Camp Crystal now. There, military scientists cryogenically freeze Jason since they can't kill him. Four hundred years later, Earth is a wasteland and humans have moved to greener pastures elsewhere in the galaxy. A team of futuristic high school students are on a field trip to Earth when they discover the cryogenic capsule containing Jason and bring him aboard their shuttle. Things get disappointingly predictable from there on out, but I will say this entry has some of the best kills in the entire series.

I've heard people go easy on this movie because "It's just trying to be fun," and I'm no stranger to fun horror movies, but when I think about the ones that worked for me the most, they weren't just trying to be fun and they were all a lot more creative than this. The jokes in this movie are often way too forced, which doesn't help when delivered by actors who aren't even cut out for supporting roles in television commercials. "It's okay, he just wanted his machete back!" is the kind of joke a child could come up with and the punchline is far too predictable. There's more laughter to be had laughing at it than with it.

Jason X isn't a boring movie, it's just a severely misguided one. It's like the cinematic equivalent of frosted tips and JNCO jeans. I've got a better title: Jason Resurrected... because it reminds me of the shittiest Alien movie.

Girlfriend's review: "This one's the worst of them all."


Freddy vs. Jason (2003) 97 minutes

I think Freddy vs. Jason came out way too late for the original fans to give a shit, myself included. As I've stated far too many times on this blog, I just disliked American horror movies of the 2000s and spent most of the decade catching up on foreign and older titles. Judging from the trailer, it looked like the whole thing was contaminated by the same disingenuous trends which produced Resident Evil movies and Urban Legends. News that the arrogant director had replaced Kane Hodder for bullshit reasons was the final straw for me, which was a shame because had this movie come out in the 80s or 90s, I would have been there opening night.

I caught the movie on Starz several years ago and was left absolutely disappointed. This time I went into it with an extremely open mind (my cynical 'tude softens the older I get) and I'm happy to say I enjoyed it this time. The acting is a lot better than it's been in previous flicks and the Asian-style, over-the-top blood sprays are actually awesome when the effects aren't cheated with CGI. (At one point Freddy turns into a hookah-smoking caterpillar and the visual's not even good enough to pass on a television production, much less a multi-million dollar movie.)

In the intro, Freddy explains to the audience that he's lost all his power because nobody remembers him anymore. So he appears as Jason's mother in a dream and tells the slasher to go kill teenagers on and around Elm Street. Jason, always the mama's boy, does as he's told. And with every kill, Freddy becomes a little more powerful.

This is less of a Jason movie and more of a Freddy movie which just happens to have Jason in it. Freddy's moves are pretty logical in this far-fetched context while Jason, as always, becomes inexplicably attracted to the idea of killing the lead characters, showing up when the script demands it, but never really having a reason. It feels very much like Jason Takes Manhattan in that regard. Fortunately, I didn't call bullshit nearly as much, but I did in the scene where Jason gets his machete stuck in a table which looks like a sheet of balsa wood.

Anyway, the people of Springwood have figured out that the idea of Freddy is a kind of contagion among children who live there. As a result, any teen who has ever uttered his name is institutionalized and placed on an experimental drug which keeps them from dreaming. I actually thought this was an interesting idea which could have stood alone in a movie that wasn't about Freddy or Jason, but the filmmakers manage to explore the idea sufficiently.

At one point Jason and Freddy battle each other in the dream world, where Freddy discovers Jason is terrified of water. Thematically, it makes sense to introduce the idea that one is terrified of water while the other is terrified of fire, but when did Jason develop this fear? The water is where he spends most of his downtime, not to mention he had zero problems with it in Jason Takes Manhattan (at one point in that movie, it's suggested he walks to Manhattan on the ocean floor, Godzilla style).

There's a scene in which Jason is set ablaze, and he pursues his victims through a cornfield, setting everything he touches on fire. It's a great visual, like nothing we've ever seen in a Jason movie, and I admit the final fight is both satisfying and appropriately brutal. The more I try to find things I disliked about this movie, the more I remember all the stuff I loved. Hell, I enjoyed the movie about as much as I enjoyed The Final Chapter... maybe more in some ways.

To those who maintain Jason X gets a pass because it was fun: Isn't this one a lot more fun? Not only that, it's a lot nicer to look at, too.

Girlfriend's review: "It was better than the last one."


Friday the 13th (2009) 97 minutes

This is it: the only Jason movie I hadn't seen prior to this marathon. Considering I was the one person who actually kind of liked Texas Chainsaw 3D, I wasn't dreading this reboot nearly as much as I probably should have been. It does seem like a step back, considering we've already had the Freddy/Jason fight we've been dreaming about for decades, but fuck it: I'm eleven movies deep at this point, might as well finish up.

So a group of friends go camping at Camp Crystal. Jason kills them all. Cue opening credits.

Six weeks later, another group of friends are heading to a remote cabin in the woods. Along the way, they meet the brother of one of Jason's victims, who's posting MISSING photos of his sister all over town. He's the dreamy haircut who's going to step up as the reluctant hero when the heroine's stereotypically douchey boyfriend nails her stereotypically promiscuous friend.

Speaking of haircuts, these teens are sweating their asses off in the middle of the summer heat, yet their hair always looks like they're ready for prom. These are not real people. These are supermodels. I don't like supermodels in my horror movies.

What makes this reboot less painful than most is the brief time spent examining Jason's origin. Literally everyone who wants to see a Jason movie knows how Jason came to be. There's no reason to explore his origin story anymore, ever. (The recently planned sequel was going to reopen that can of worms... I can't say I feel disappointed that it got canceled.)

There's a lot I disliked about this movie (the dialogue suggests the filmmakers have never been teenagers in their lives) and a lot I liked (plenty of stupid, gratuitous sex). I talk a lot about my dislike for CGI, but the CGI here is pretty tasteful... instead of using it to cheat gags which would have looked better with practical effects, it's used to show us things that literally couldn't have been accomplished without actually killing the talent. In fact, I can't think of any effects which made me laugh for the wrong reasons.

Though I'm glad it doesn't take place in space, I'm a little disappointed we're back in the woods. Not only has nearly every Jason movie taken place in the setting, nearly every slasher movie in general takes place there, too. The movie lags a little in spots, but overall I'm impressed. I kind of wish I saw it sooner.

This newer, quicker version of Jason is played by Derek Mears, who you might remember from Hatchet III. Mears, like Kane Hodder, seems to prove there's more to playing a slasher effectively than wearing a mask. (Come to think of it, the previous Jason actor was pretty good, too.)

Girlfriend's review: "Jason is quick, movie is slow." (I guess you can't please everybody.)

2 comments:

  1. Nice write up. The girlfriend's reviews are on point with what I remember of these films.

    ReplyDelete