horror

IT FOLLOWS

it-follows

2014 – After an ill-advised sexual tryst, Jay (Maika Monroe) is told she’s caught the worst STD imaginable: a shape-shifting supernatural creature who will relentlessly pursue her… unless she can “pass it on” to someone else…

This is a “rules” horror movie, like Gremlins (don’t get them wet, don’t feed them after midnight) or The Ring (watch the tape and you die in seven days). Within the self-contained worlds of such movies, these rules function just fine. Unfortunately, killjoy know-it-all rules lawyer types flock to this genre like distressed patrons to the bathroom of a Chinese buffet.

Just look at the IMDB message boards for It Follows: “Trap it in a vault, then brick up the wall.” “Gay sex?” “Just pass it to a successful hooker.” “Semi simple problem to solve to be honest.” “What if you constantly stayed airborne?”

*SIGH* Yeah, you’re all geniuses. Now shut up. The point is, you have to accept a movie like this on its own terms. If you do, it’s a genuinely frightening and disturbing experience.

There’s a sense of bleak desolation that hangs over everything, even the few “happy” scenes. Our heroine Jay, her sister Kelli (Lili Sepe), and their friends Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and Yara (Olivia Luccardi), live in Detroit, and the area hasn’t looked this bad since OCP ran things.

Jay, who seems to be the object of desire for every male character in the movie, decides to get intimate with her new boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary). Things go well until he chloroforms her, ties her to a wheelchair, and explains that she’ll now be stalked by the titular “it.”

“It” moves toward you at a walking pace and can look like anyone, from a total stranger to a loved one – but most often like a creepy naked person. Once “it” catches you, you die and “it” goes back to following whoever came before you in the chain. Honestly, I don’t feel too bad for Jay. I’ve been told worse things on dates.

Fear, paranoia, and a sense of steadily encroaching doom pervade the rest of the whole production. While Maika Monroe turns in the best performance, balancing vulnerability with an endearing resilience, all of the relatively young cast does a fine job. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell largely eschews cheap “jump scares” in favor of steadily building tension and atmosphere.

What’s most fascinating, however, is Mitchell’s inspiration for the film – a recurring dream from his youth in which he was hounded by multi-level marketers. Mitchell acknowledges that he used “the basic idea and feeling” of this constant pursuit and harassment, and adds that his parents “got involved in a multi-level marketing scheme around that age, so I imagine it was something to do with that.”

When viewed through this lens, the movie becomes less a fable about the dangers of casual sex and more a cautionary tale about the agony caused by someone constantly hawking special makeup or “health” supplements.

Just as “it” follows its victims based on an ongoing chain of sexual encounters, so loathsome multi-level marketers pursue one person after another to add to their “downstream.” Just when you think you’ve satisfied them by ordering some junk jewelry or skin cream, BOOM! They’re back, having exhausted the rest of their pipeline. Just as “it” takes the form of friends and loved ones, you can easily come home one day to find your friend, your lover, or your spouse transformed into something monstrous, greedy, and inhuman.

Strains the mind a bit, doesn’t it? But filmmakers have used far more innocuous things as a source for scares. And like its own silent, faceless antagonist, the unsettling effect of It Follows will stick with you long after you’ve watched it.

THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR

The Purge Election Year

2016 – On a night when all crime, including murder, is legal, a rag-tag group of soda-commercial-level diversity must protect a presidential candidate who wants to end the Purge.

I haven’t seen either of the previous Purge movies (2013’s The Purge and 2014’s The Purge: Anarchy), but I think this is likely the best of the lot. Channeling a little early George Romero magic, The Purge: Election Year is a summery blend of action and horror, with a dash of straw political commentary.

The movie takes its time setting up a number of intersecting plots. We have reform-minded Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell – from LOST!) and her security chief Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo – from… uh…), who are trying to evade both the “purgers” and government troops who want to end her candidacy. There’s also deli owner Joe (Mykelti Williamson, who I was trying to place the whole movie and then realized was Bubba from Forrest Gump!), who just wants to defend his store, and former Purge celebrity Laney (Betty Gabriel), who drives around in an armored van trying to help the injured.

The villains are lifted straight from everything Stephen King has ever written: an over-the-top insane minister (Kyle Secor), a white supremacist mercenary (Terry Serpico), and an all-white cadre of politicians called the “New Founding Fathers.” Senator Roan argues that the Purge harms low-income citizens and minorities the most – sorta like the Obama administration – and that the government promotes it to keep the population down and increase gun sales – sorta like the Obama administration.

After seeing the movie, this doesn’t seem like a very good plan. Sure a lot of people get killed, but there’s also a hell of a lot to clean up the next morning. There are fires and corpses all over the place. There’s at least one giant pendulum blade set up in an alleyway. Someone paints “PURGE” in blood on the Lincoln Memorial. I’m guessing the cost of post-Purge cleanup would far outweigh the savings in healthcare and housing… but maybe this is why I’m not a New Founding Father.

Speaking of the NFF, the movie does a really good job of making them as detestable as possible. They’re always filmed in harsh, stony blues and grays, and they refer to our hero Charlie as a “c-word” right away. There’s also something subtly off about them – they’re old, or fat, or sickly-looking, or have a mustache. They’re like those golf course pricks that Michael Douglas runs across in Falling Down.  I like a movie where it’s easy to identify who you need to root for.

The main cast, especially Mitchell, Grillo, and Williamson, turn in surprisingly heartfelt performances. The supporting players… good lord. I haven’t seen that much chewing outside of the Grand Floridian lagoon. Special mention goes to Britany Mirabile, who plays a homicidal schoolgirl with all the subtlety of William Shatner on a coke binge. There’s a lot of violence but surprisingly little gore – even a horror movie novice will find little to wince at here. It plays more like a thriller than a true horror film, in that regard.

It also features the best in-movie use of “Party in the USA” I’ve ever heard.

CRIMSON PEAK

Note: Despite its size, this house is comprised of no more than 5 rooms

Note: Despite its size, this house is comprised of no more than 5 rooms

2015 – Heiress Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is swept away to an obviously sinister mansion by the equally obviously sinister Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Everything you expect to happen, happens. 

“But basically what it is is a really, really, almost classical Gothic romance ghost story, but then it has two or three scenes that are really, really disturbing in a very, very modern way. Very, very disturbing, it’s a proper R rating. And it’s adult.” For those keeping score, that’s four “really”s, four “very”s, and two “disturbing”s dropped by director Guillermo Del Toro, who is trying really, really hard to make us think this movie is very, very good.

It’s not.

Allow me to get a little English major on you by telling you about an author named Anne Radcliffe. She blazed the trail for the Gothic novel, which were stories about innocent heroines trapped in big, scary houses filled with creepy people and, possibly, ghosts. Her books sold incredibly well… in 1794. Nowadays, they’re derided for their reliance on stale, predictable tropes (despite the fact that she invented most of them).

Crimson Peak plays like a straight Anne Radcliffe novel. It has absolutely no awareness that every one of its “twists” and “turns” is a cliche that has been telegraphed to the audience well in advance. If you’ve read any fiction or watched any movie in the past 75 years or so, there are no surprises waiting for you.

For instance: in the opening scenes, a young Edith is visited by her mother’s ghost, who warns her to “beware of Crimson Peak.” Later on, after she’s moved into the world’s most preposterously awful house, Sir Thomas casually mentions that all the red clay in the soil led to the place’s nickname: Crimson Peak. There’s an ominous rumble of music. Our heroine is shocked. The savvy viewer is left wondering whether the filmmakers actually thought this was a surprise.

The movie is littered with non-shockers like this. The “stray” dog that shows up. The tea that the Sharpes insist Edith drink. The way Lucille is so concerned with whether Thomas and Edith have slept together yet. All the luggage in the off-limits basement. Duuuuhhh gee, what could dese tings mean?

Del Toro seems to have lavished so much attention on the baroque atmosphere and extravagant costumes that he forgot what the hell was happening in his own movie. One character is killed by having his head repeatedly bashed into a sink; the other characters conclude that he “slipped.” It’s repeatedly mentioned that the house itself is slowly sinking into the red clay; this fact never comes into play.

Crimson Peak is a scary ghost story with no scary ghosts; it’s a psychological thriller with no psychology or thrills. Spend your two hours on a couple Twilight Zone episodes instead.

THE BABADOOK

The Babadook dead

2014 – A single mother believes she is being stalked by “Mr. Babadook,” the sinister character from one of her son’s storybooks.

I’m no stranger to kooky foreign films – I mean, I’ve seen Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. They’re fun! The people may look funny and wear unconventional clothes, but you can usually find a few moments that will keep you grounded (like when the fat guy from Dead Snow says, “I’m going for a shit”).

Unless, of course, you’re watching one of those really foreign foreign films where everyone acts weird and you’re completely baffled by the plot. The Babadook, an Australian-Canadian psychological horror film, falls into that category. I was lost. Perhaps the melding of two such alien cultures was too much for me. For one thing, I could have done with a few subtitles. Half the dialogue consists of a truly disturbing-looking little Australian boy yelling, “Mem! Mem! Is thees theh Bahbahduk? Theh Bahbahduk deed eet, Mem! Mem! Ees eet undah theh beed?”

Australia: much more depressing than you'd assume

Australia: much more depressing than you’d assume

As close as I can figure it, the movie is about a woman named Amelia (Essie Davis), who lives in a depressing Tim Burton-type town where all the buildings are old and the people dress in muted grays and blues and have rings under their eyes. Her husband got killed in a car accident (which is no surprise since the cars everyone drives are rattling shit-heaps), so she’s stuck with her truly awful son Sam, pronounced “Sem” or “Syyym” (Noah Wiseman).

More terrifying than the actual monster in the movie.

More terrifying than the actual monster in the movie.

It seems that in the rest of the world, every little boy is required to wear the following uniform: clompy lace-up shoes, knee-high socks, shorts, and any combination of oversize sweater, tie, and blazer. That’s a cruel thing to do to a child. Sam, however, is the kind of child you’d want to be cruel to. He’s highly annoying, screaming and writhing about and detested by every other child and adult in the movie, including his own mother. He makes dangerous “anti-monster” weapons and brings them to school. Amelia understandably wants to kill him.

There are almost two movies going on here. One movie is about a depressed mom and her mutant boy being picked on by the town’s more attractive, normal populace. The difference between our beleaguered “heroine” and everyone else is so drastic that it verges on parody. When Amelia visits her sister’s house, it’s bright, spotless, and populated by the Hot Bitchy Mom Quintet. Amelia’s house, meanwhile, is a cluttered, shadowy dump.

They'd get it.

They’d get it.

The other movie has a monster in it. Unflinchingly polite (it always knocks before entering) and unhealthily pale, Mister Babadook is the sort of vague, Canadian-ish monster that can be defeated by yelling at it loudly enough. But like a typical Australian, the thing shows up uninvited, loafs around the house, tries to kill the dog, and does unfunny impressions of the dead husband (these are all things I assume most Australians do – I’m basing it on information gleaned from watching Flight of the Conchords).

Babadook monster

I’m gonna get you, eh?

The Babadook arrives after Amelia reads Sam its traumatizing, self-published popup book. I won’t spoil exactly what happens because, let’s face it, I can’t. I have no idea what is going on. Why are there so many coats and hats hanging against the wall to provide false scares? What’s up with the palsied old woman next door? How come the monster seems really flexible and fast sometimes, but other times like empty clothes draped over a wooden frame mounted on a skateboard?

Maybe I’m just not cosmopolitan enough to understand this kind of art-house fare. At least it’s better than Life Is Beautiful.

FRIDAY THE 13th PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD

Friday the 13th Part 7 buzzsaw

1988 – A disturbed young woman with telekinetic powers accidentally frees Jason Voorhees from his watery prison, sparking yet another murderous rampage.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD

You give the people what they want, and the people want Jason.

Like Madonna at the age of 50, the Friday the 13th series decided to reinvent itself for a hip new generation. Gone are the days of Jason remaining unseen for half the movie or being hidden behind constant POV shots. Now the big guy is on-screen constantly, and while this might drain the suspense and horror from the film, Part VII makes up for it with sheer entertainment.

Tent spikes! Machetes! Boobs! Spines punched out Mortal Kombat-style! Party horns to the eye! More boobs! Axes! Tree trimmers! Jason is like a flamboyant stage magician, daring us to question whether he can use any object for purposes of butchery. This is the perfect entry in the series to show a 13-year-old kid. “Want to stay up late, watch a ‘scary movie’ and see your first pair(s) of breasts? Well buckle up!”

Fragile, virginal Tina (Lar Park-Lincoln) is headed to her family’s old home at Crystal Lake with her mother (Susan Blu, a.k.a. Arcee from Transformers the Movie) at the urging of her obviously evil psychologist, Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser). Years ago (shortly after the end of Part VI), Tina’s latent telekinetic powers resulted in the accidental death of her father, and she’s been in the nuthouse trying to get over it. Crews secretly schemes to heighten her stress and anxiety, which causes her abilities to manifest more strongly. Why? Uh… it’s sort of a “Step 1: patient has telekinesis; Step 2: ?; Step 3: PROFIT” plan. After a traumatic therapy session, Tina’s wild powers accidentally release Jason from his chains at the bottom of the lake. Whoops! There’s also a rowdy band of teens next door, waiting to throw a surprise party for their friend. Double whoops!

"...Surprise."

“…I didn’t bring a present.”

That’s all the set-up we need. You don’t have to be concerned about whether any of these people will survive because you know most of them won’t. Oh, there’s a hunky nice guy named Nick (Kevin Spirtas) and an over-the-top hostile bitch named Melissa (Susan Jennifer Sullivan), but beyond that the characters are just “the stoner” and “the nerd” and “the quarreling black couple.” Why are they quarreling? Who cares! They’re just here to die. And die they will. Horribly.

Every murder is a set-piece. In one scene Jason slashes through a tent with his machete – but he’s gonna save that machete for later because he can simply batter his victim to death inside her sleeping bag:

Friday the 13th Part 7 sleeping bag

When I saw Kane Hodder at an event in college, he noted that this was one of his favorite kills. Jason will often dispatch a victim in one location, then plant their corpse somewhere else for later, but here he makes that trick an art form. In one sequence he kills a guy in the kitchen, decapitates him off-screen, and plants the head on the window seat of an empty room upstairs – just knowing that someone is going to wander in there and discover it. Then he cuts another guy’s head off and puts it in a potted plant! For no reason! Who does this? WHO DOES THIS?!?

Jason does this.

The performances are mixed. While the supporting characters are a forgettable dump, the main cast is strong. Hodder gives Jason an aura of enormous size, strength, and fury. When people flee him, he stomps after them like an irate father after his recalcitrant son – the kid can run, but inevitably he’ll be caught and he’s only making his punishment worse. Susan Jennifer Sullivan makes Melissa THE archetypal horror movie “bad girl” – petty manipulative, spoiled, and unrelentingly antagonistic to Tina. I first saw this movie over a decade ago, and I still remembered Melissa’s character. Looking at these images, there’s no doubt which character deserves our sympathy and which one’s death we should be rooting for. Lar Park-Lincoln manages to convey kindness and vulnerability with each look, while her rival radiates an empty, icy contempt:

Friday the 13th Part 7 girls

Tina’s showdown with Jason is, of course, the centerpiece of the film. Chris from Part 3 (Dana Kimmell) might be my favorite “final girl,” but Tina is Jason’s worthiest opponent. The final duel between the two elevates Part VII from horror movie to super hero origin story, as Tina finally takes control of her powers and unleashes them on her antagonist. It’s the most action-packed climax in the series, and it helps make The New Blood the last true standout for the franchise. Sure, there are entries that are scarier and have more emotional resonance, but if you want to have fun – this is the one to see.

THE OUIJA EXPERIMENT

Ouija Experiment poster2011 – An unlikeable, bickering group of idiots randomly decides to SHOCK THE WORLD by playing with that most terrible of forbidden artifacts, a ouija board (available for $19.99 at Target).

Is there any format more loathsome than “found footage”? I hate the way the camera jitters around. I hate the cheesy “video distortion” effects. I hate the constant thumping, creaking, and clicking in the audio track. Most of all, I hate the way that filmmakers use it as an excuse for poor cinematography, slipshod production, poor acting, and bad writing.

The Ouija Experiment is guilty of all these failings and more, but I have to admit that it’s an almost delightful failure. You’d be hard-pressed to find a cast of characters more absurd: Calvin the Promiscuous Black Guy (Eric Window), Lynette the No-Nonsense Black Chick (Swisyzinna), Shay the Ditzy Asian (Belmarie Huynh), Brandon the Obnoxious Youtuber (Carson Underwood), and Michael the… uh… Guy (Justin Armstrong). Taking their cue from slumber parties everywhere, they decide to play around with a ouija board. Dire consequences ensue.

The adventure begins with one of those “this shit is real” warning message things:

Ouija Experiment warningPffffff. Scientists. With their “science.” When will they learn?

We’re quickly introduced to the movie’s trademark laughable dialog. As Brandon films the introduction to his latest attempt to create a viral online video, he remarks: “We are in Dallas Texas. I don’t know if too many people are familiar with that and what takes place down here. I don’t really know either.” What the hell? Who doesn’t know about Dallas? And what exactly “takes place down there” that is so unique?

May I ask: does nobody know how a camera works? Shay’s first line, as she flips on the camera, is, “Is this thing even ON?” Then: “How do you use this thing?” THIS THING??? It’s a video camera! When Brandon meets Michael, the latter’s first question is, “What is that?” Later, Shay spots another camera in Calvin’s bedroom and demands, “What’s that?” She then notes that she knows how to tell if it’s on: “I’ve learned about that from Brandon! That red dot right there.” This is just ridiculous. How stupid are we supposed to think these people are?

The mere appearance of a ouija board causes characters to flee in terror.

The mere appearance of a ouija board causes characters to flee in terror.

Next question: is a ouija board really this much of an exotic item? When Michael reveals that he’s called everyone together to play with one, Brandon replies with a breathless “OH MY GOD are you serious?” Like nobody has ever heard of this. Michael’s board is wrapped in white paper and string, as though it’s an arcane artifact and not a board game available from almost any retailer.

One more quick note: the character of Calvin is supposed to be “a player” with the ladies, but his excuses are hilariously inept. Caught having a phone conversation with a second girlfriend, he tells the group he was talking to his “mother”… but can’t come up with her name. Another time he’s discovered trying to film sex: “That’s a toy store camera, I was playing with toys in the house today.” When asked why the red light is on: “That’s just fingernail polish!” This guy is among the worst.

I don’t want to be unfair to the actors… it looks as though most of them were appearing in their first film here, and their performances, while not Oscar-worthy, wouldn’t seem as bad if the material they had to work with wasn’t so horrendous. Still, The Ouija Experiment fails not just as a horror movie but as a coherent story, period. I suppose it’s unfair to expect too much from the writer/director of 2010’s Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives, but there’s a flashback sequence… in a found footage movie. Who was back there recording it in black and white? Not to mention the fact that one of the people in it is a dead ringer for the Angry Video Game Nerd:

Ouija Experiment nerds

“He’s gonna take you back to the past / To solve a mystery that sucks ass!”

Credit where credit is due: no opportunity for a “whoops that was unintentional” cleavage or butt shot is passed up. There are a few jump scares that work and a genuinely creepy “little ghost girl” sequence midway through, but horror movie fanatics won’t find much meat here. Unless you and your friends are really committed to mining this one for it’s unintentionally hilarious script, I can’t recommend it very highly.

ABANDONED MINE

Abandoned Mine Poster

2013: Four friends and one stereotypical Indian spend Halloween night inside the spooky Jarvis Mine. It’s supposedly haunted (it isn’t haunted [OR IS IT??? {No, it’s not (Well, maybe)}]).

I’m going to spoil this one, but trust me, you’re never going to want to see it. Imagine an episode of Dawson’s Creek and an episode of Scooby-Doo mating; this movie would be their deformed, tedious offspring. It can’t decide whether it wants to be an angsty teen drama or a creepy ghost adventure, so, like a blindfolded kid attacking a pinata, it takes halfhearted swipes at both and ends up hitting itself in the nuts.

The viewing experience was like taking a 95-minute dump without a book or cell phone to entertain myself; it was that appallingly dull. No opportunity to drag things out is squandered, like the montage of the girls trying on Halloween costumes accompanied by a song repeating “I’m going craaaaazy o-ver you” again and again. Or the scene where one of the girls gets up to pee and we watch her do so in real-time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie portray the full experience of urinating. Now I have (the movie is Abandoned Mine).

The premise, with annoying jock Brad (Reiley McClendon) setting up a spend-the-night-at-the-haunted-mine adventure for his friends, is promising. The characters themselves are not. The gang consists of Brad’s current girlfriend Sharon (Alexa Vega), football henchman Jimmy (Adam Hendershott), ex-girlfriend Laurie (Sage Thompson), and Laurie’s friend Ethan (Charan Prabhakar). Note that Ms. Vega appeared in 1996’s The Glimmer Man as Steven Seagal’s daughter, immediately making her the most accomplished member of the cast.

Did I mention Ethan is Indian? I feel I should, because that is his character. Being Indian, he is of course extremely smart and emotionless. Much “fun” is had with how his real name is hard to pronounce. He tells everyone that he worked in a call center in Calcutta, but later admits he never did (huh?). He also knows a lot about mines – because he’s smart, remember? Random mine trivia about how sound travels and how air flows and how the tunnels are constructed. At one point he determines how far below the surface they are. “How did you know that?” one of them asks. “Calculation,” he replies. OF COURSE!

Eventually everyone wanders into the mine, falls down a shaft, and panics. They are beset by bone-chilling horrors like MUSIC PLAYING! DRAFTS! OLD BOXES! And NARROW TUNNELS! They wander about, encounter some spoooooky bats, and at the 56 minute mark it becomes painfully obvious what the “twist” is going to be. Surprise, everybody! There are no ghosts, and Brad is masterminding an elaborate (if illogical) practical joke on everyone. The movie unveils this unsurprising development in a series of “reveal” shots like it’s The Sixth Sense or something

After over an hour of listless attempts at horror – a character puts on an old miner’s hat OH NO nothing happens – the movie throws us another curve: Brad’s prank has worked all too well, with Laurie and Ethan running terrified into the bowels of the mine. Convinced that the ghosts are going to get her, Laurie goes nuts, puts on a feathered headdress, bites the head off a rat (no kidding), and beats Brad to death with a metal pole when he comes looking for her. Brad also sees the oft-referenced ghosts of the miner and his daughters before he dies. What? It doesn’t matter.

Pfffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff

Pfffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff

Everyone else lives. There’s a sad little wrap-up about Brad basically being a loser who would have been trapped forever in their piss-ant mountain town, and then we cut to Laurie editing together the footage from the tragic night. She looks out the window and sees the ghosts from the mine. What? Nobody cares.

Now, I ask you… why make a movie like this? Why start with a premise like “haunted mine” and try to pull off a coming-of-age drama instead? Why include two brief shots of (maybe) actual ghosts at the very end? Were the ghosts there the whole time or merely the product of the characters’ over-stressed minds? Was Brad really just a prankster or did he have darker motivations? Did any of the friends notice or care that Laurie killed him? Did the police? His parents? Anyone?

You'll wait 88 minutes for this. Worth it? No.

You’ll wait 88 minutes for this. Worth it? No.

More like A-BAD-oned Mine, am I right?

 

FRIDAY THE 13th: THE FINAL CHAPTER

Friday the 13th Part 4 Gordon

1984 – A merry band of sex-starved teenagers rents a cabin for the weekend. Jason Voorhees wakes up in the morgue. A single-parent household can’t find their dog. Heartbreak ensues. 

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD

Young love is beautiful because it’s so fleeting. I’m sure everyone can remember their first dizzying foray into love, that unfamiliar rush of excitement. But along with those pleasant memories come some sad ones, because unless you’re one of a lucky few, that first love didn’t last. Sometimes you break up over a little fight, a minor disagreement. In the world of Friday the 13th, you break up because you get impaled through the groin with a harpoon. Same words, different language.

As I mentioned in my review of Friday the 13th Part 2, these movies have a lot to tell us about life, youth, love, and loss. So what lessons can The Final Chapter teach us?

Lesson #1: You can only really count on your (human) family. The Jarvis family is a tight-knit group. Mom, Trish, and the loathsome Tommy (Corey Feldman) are always doing group hugs and taking idyllic strolls together. Then there’s their dog, Gordon. Gordon is never around, and everyone is constantly looking for him. The mom gets killed going out to look for him, for Pete’s sake. If I was this family, I’d just stop looking for Gordon.

Toward the end of the movie, when Trish is creeping through a dark, corpse-filled house and needs a friend the most, what does Gordon do? He runs upstairs, freaks out, hurls himself through the window, and heads for the hills never to be seen again. Probably the least loyal dog in film history.

Lesson #2: Tell the people you love that you love them, before it’s too late. This one might seem a little trite, but consider the sad tale of Doug and Sara. Sara is a little bit shy and has never been with a guy. She makes up her mind to spend the night with Doug, and it seems like these two genuinely nice people are about to experience something wonderful. “I think I’m in heaven,” Doug says as Sara goes to get ready. “I think I’m in love,” she replies… but poor Doug doesn’t hear her. By the time Sara gets back, Jason has crushed Doug’s head against the shower wall.

Lesson #3: Stay with the people you love and don’t let go. Poor George McFly (a.k.a. Jimmy, played by the inimitable Crispin Glover)! The whole movie he’s shy and anxious, getting mocked for his lack of sexual prowess by his insensitive buddy. Then he manages to bed one of a set of twins, and she tells him he’s incredible. This is possibly the greatest night of his life. He decides to slip downstairs and have a celebratory drink of wine with the boys. Unfortunately can’t find the corkscrew; Jason has it. Exit Jimmy. Neither of the twins survives, either.

Lesson #4: Things don’t always end the way you want. Meet Rob, the tough young stud who is smitten with Trish. He’s the brother of Sandra from Part 2 (remember her? Neither did I… she’s the chesty girl who got speared in bed with her boyfriend) and is looking for revenge. The whole movie we think Rob’s going to have a dramatic showdown with Jason. Then he wanders into the dark basement and dies screaming pathetically: “Oh God he’s killing me! He’s killing me! Run, Trish, run! He’s killing me!” Man. What a let-down.

Jason doesn't knock.

Jason doesn’t knock.

Everybody seems to love this installment, but I wasn’t so high on it. There’s one sequence of kills that barely makes sense: Jason kills one twin at the “party house.” Then he goes across the street and kills Mrs. Jarvis. He comes back and kills Jimmy in the kitchen, then climbs up onto the porch roof (?) to throw the other twin out the window. Back downstairs to kill Ted! Back upstairs to kill Doug! Back downstairs (and outside) to kill Sara! I know Jason is always able to pop up where he’s least expected, but come on. Some of these characters were in adjacent rooms and didn’t hear a thing. This wasn’t a very big house. I just didn’t buy it.

Note the hideous couch and quilt.

Note the hideous couch and quilt.

It would have been an interesting twist to have a little kid as the main character in a Friday the 13th movie, but by the end I felt like I barely got to know little Tommy. Actually he seems to be a bit of a pervert, always spying on naked girls. Trish was a pretty forgettable final girl, although she gets an impressive moment when she waves a machete at Jason and snarls, “You son of a bitch, I’m gonna give you something to remember us by.” Really, I’m thinking Crispin Glover’s character should have been the “final guy.” He was by far the most interesting person in the movie.

One highlight for me: the brief glimpse we get of Chris from Part 3 being comforted by her parents in the hospital. Don’t cry, Chris: Jason won’t ever be coming back…

OR WILL HE?

FRIDAY THE 13th PART 3

Friday the 13th Part 3 Jason

1982 – The day after the events of Part 2, a group of friends journeys to a lakefront cabin, unaware that killer Jason Voorhees is still alive and seeking shelter in the area.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD

This is “the one where Jason gets his hockey mask.” Also “the one in 3-D” and therefore “the one where random stuff gets thrown at the camera.” I had seen this movie (or at least parts of it) years ago on television. Maybe something of my more vulnerable childhood was sparked by watching it again, because I found this installment to be the most frightening.

There’s an eerie sense of unrelenting menace. Jason moves around in broad daylight, peering into homes, hiding among the laundry. You may not be sure where he is, but you know he’s always around. A barn door slowly swinging on its hinges on a sunny afternoon was never so unsettling. The late Richard Brooker, who portrays Jason in this film, does a superb job, combining moments of inhuman motionlessness with explosions of violent action.

This hippie is toast.

This hippie is toast.

The movie starts out with a flashback to Part 2, and it’s slightly re-shot to indicate that the bizarre ending really was a dream. Viewed through the lens of Part 3, I’m going to say that Muffin and Paul really did survive, and Jason attacking Ginny through the window was just one of the series’ trademark “scary dream endings.”

There are two really outstanding characters this time around. The first is our final girl, Chris. She’s returning to her family’s cabin for the first time since a deformed, knife-wielding man (gee, who could that be?) attacked her in the nearby woods. She’s vulnerable and painfully straight-laced for the first part of the film – but when she squares off against Jason, she really comes to life. She batters him with a bookshelf, stabs him, hits him with a log, bashes him with a shovel, and hangs him. Jason just keeps getting up, but Chris keeps fighting back, just as indefatigable as her antagonist. When she grabs an ax to finish him off for good, I wanted to shout at the screen like an obnoxious black woman in a movie theater.

Fuck him up, girl FUCK HIM UP!

“Fuck him up, girl, FUCK HIM UP!”

This girl is amazing – Dana Kimmell is outstanding in the role. When Jason lifts his mask and grins, revealing himself to be the same man who menaced her years before, her horrified “You!” rings completely true. I love the backstory they gave the character, even if it doesn’t make much sense.

The other great character is the iconic slasher movie prankster, Shelly. The way the writers flesh this guy out is especially touching: Shelly is an aspiring actor who loves creating false scares for his friends, much to their annoyance… but he’s also shy and insecure while trying to impress his spunky “date,” Vera.  When she gently turns away his advances, he sadly describes himself as “a nothing.” “I never said you’re a nothing!” she protests. “You didn’t have to say it,” he replies, “I can tell.” Jeez, don’t kill this poor guy! His life is hard enough already!

There’s one moment that has always haunted me from Part 3: after the final showdown, Chris gets into a boat and pushes herself out onto the lake. She wakes up the next morning and gets a few more false scares, courtesy of a log (come on, now) and a duck. Then she looks up and SWEET MOTHER OF MOSES:

Friday the 13th Part 3 Jason window

Chris just can’t catch a break! It turns out to be yet another dream, but the scene absolutely terrified me as a kid – the idea that this lunatic could just be hanging out inside, happen to look out the window, and spot you. Then, just to add insult to injury, Mrs. Voorhees pops out of the water and drags Chris in. Is it any wonder she comes completely unhinged and starts laughing as the police drive her away?

Despite some antiquated 3-D gimmicks, Part 3 holds up very well. It’s got the best final girl, the best Jason so far, and some of the more inventive kills (the scene where Jason crushes Rick’s head with his bare hands, popping his eyeball out… sheer genius). They could have ended the series right here, with those last lingering shots of Jason’s body in the barn and the still, murky lake… but for the sake of my Friday night, I’m glad they didn’t. On to the poorly-named and downright depressing “The Final Chapter”!

FRIDAY THE 13th PART 2

Friday the 13th Part 2 Ginny

1981 – Five years after the events of the first Friday the 13th, the counselors at a new camp near the ruins of Camp Crystal Lake are stalked by a mysterious masked figure.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD

This past week featured our second Friday the 13th of 2015, so I decided to spend it in the most depressing and cliched way possible: sitting at home alone, eating a microwave dinner, and drinking a bottle of wine while watching 80s slasher movies.

Slashers, and the Friday the 13th franchise in particular, get a bad rep. You’ve heard the now-familiar criticisms: they’re poorly acted, they’re voyeuristic, they’re misogynistic, they glorify death and violence. Well maybe it was my dreary mood and maybe it was the bottle of wine and maybe it was the Stouffer’s Three Cheese and Ham Panini, but I had a totally different reading of these films. They aren’t about death and violence. They’re about life, youth, love, and how fragile these precious gifts can be.

Take, for example, Friday the 13th Part 2 (I skipped the first one because I’ve seen it before). Alice (Adrienne King), the prototypical “final girl” and survivor of the first movie, walks around her apartment for a while, talks to her mom on the phone, gets scared by a cat, and then takes an ice pick to the temple after finding the head of Mrs. Voorhees in her refrigerator.

Damn. If that’s not a downer, I don’t know what is. This movie takes everything we “know” about the genre and subverts it. Ted, the “annoying prankster” character who is always dead meat, ends up getting drunk at a bar and probably sleeping with a waitress. For him, the pursuit of sex actually saves his life. Ginny, our heroine, gets drunk at the same bar – and aren’t we supposed to “know” that alcohol and drugs equal death in a movie like this? But her drunken ruminations actually lead her to an idea that, later, helps her defeat the killer and survive.

The script is filled with little moments of tragedy that just touched me to no end. Take the relationship between wheelchair-bound Mark and generic brunette Vickie. The two of them flirt, play a few video games, and seem to establish a real rapport. Despite his crippling motorcycle injury and a negative prognosis from his doctors, Mark is determined to walk again. “I don’t intend to be in this thing the rest of my life,” he tells Vickie. Unfortunately, he does spend the rest of his life in the chair – and his life lasts less than 5 minutes before he takes a machete to the face. Meanwhile, we see poor Vickie preparing herself for a night of romance with her new beau. Returning to the cabin, she is knifed to death.

Damn, I’m depressed.

One aspect that I really liked is that, when a character is killed, the screen fades to white. There’s a positive, uplifting feel to it. A fade to black would indicate an ending, a termination. But a fade to white seems to show us that there’s a release, perhaps even a peace. I may have been reading too far into things. I was drinking white wine.

Hockey mask or potato sack? The debate rages on.

Hockey mask or potato sack? The debate rages on.

You’ll notice I haven’t even mentioned the killer, Jason Voorhees. There’s a reason for that: he’s really the least important part of the movie. He’s just a force of nature, unreasonable, implacable. His killing spree is as random as a car accident and just as tragic.

Regarding the ending – what the hell? Ginny and head counselor Paul battle Jason in his creepy shed and drive a machete into him. They return to their cabin and get a false scare from Muffin, the little dog we thought had been killed earlier. Whew! What a relief (by the way, has any other horror movie ever featured a false scare via cat AND dog?). Then WHAM! Jason comes smashing through the window, machete still lodged in his body, grabs Ginny, and… She wakes up the next morning on a stretcher calling “Paul? Where’s Paul?” and gets driven away. The end.

This really bothered me. Is it a dream? What happens to Paul? If he’s alive, why isn’t he there with Ginny as she’s going into the ambulance? If he’s dead, why didn’t Jason kill Ginny too? I actually have a few theories, but none of them is completely satisfying. I’ll elaborate more when we discuss the next film.