Friday, March 13, 2015

The 13 Days of Friday the 13th: Day Thirteen

Happy Friday the 13th, all.

Despite a few bumps in the road, we've finally arrived at our final destination; back to Camp Crystal Lake where it all began. The place where a young boy drowned once upon a time, and the monster known as Jason Voorhees was born.

Actually, that's not entirely true.

The part about Jason and Crystal Lake is totally true, but it's the talk about arrivals and destinations that's pretty much false. See, my own journey through the Friday the 13th series might be over, but the real adventure is just getting started. I should be, at the time of this scheduled posting, somewhere about half-way between my home and Cherry Hill, New Jersey. What's waiting for me there is Monster Mania XXX, a weekend long celebration of everything macabre.

Sean Cunningham, the man most responsible for creating the series, will be there. Kane Hodder, the most famous actor to portray Jason, will be there, too. So will the franchise's very first "final girl", Adrienne King. Oh, and let's not forget Ari Lehman, who was the original, water-logged, kid-version of Jason. There may also be a Tommy Jarvis or two, but since Corey Feldman won't be there, well, who cares?

Nah, I'm just playing, John Shepherd. You did the best you could with Part V.

So, obviously, with me away and no films left to cover [except for the ones I watched and neglected to write about?], today's entry is a festive place-holder. I'll be back from Monster Mania on Sunday, and I'm hoping to have lots to share following a weekend of horrors, cosplayers and Judge Reinhold.

Stay tuned, kids, and I hope you have the merriest of Friday the 13ths..!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The 13 Days of Friday the 13th: Day Seven

You may have noticed the sudden drop in posts, the daily updates that stopped several days back. I'll admit, I wasn't expecting The 13 Days of Friday the 13th to be such a daunting task. Really, how tough is it to watch one movie a day and then write a little something about it? Probably not that difficult if I'd been mixing up the play-list a little, but when you're tackling a twelve-film franchise, one where the basic formula doesn't change much from entry to entry, it gets old fast. I could only take so much murder and mayhem, so many jump scares and final girls and, man, that theme can get repetitive and obnoxious really fast.

So, yes, I cheated a little bit and skipped a few days. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988) was viewed on Saturday, but I left a draft unfinished into the next day, and then the next one, and here we are on Day 12 and I've got to try and wrap this series up.

The rest of my day today will involve watching the remainder of the Friday the 13th films. I'll be posting about them later, though it will all be encompassed in a single entry, and it'll probably just be some quick thoughts and impressions. The idea was to familiarize myself with the entire series before tomorrow, because, well, I guess you'll just have to wait and see why. I promise not to skip out and leave you high and dry.

Oh, and here's what I had for Part VII so far.


Here we are, the seventh day, and we've reached the last of the series that's brand-new to me. Continuing on through the remainder will be retreading old territory, though it's been several years since I've watched the majority of them. Oddly enough, it's Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988) that I knew the least about going into. Except for the addition of Tina Shepard (Lar Park Lincoln), the girl with psychic abilities that put Carrie's to shame, I didn't know what else to expect.

Stunt-man turned actor, Kane Hodder, finally tackles the role of Jason Voorhees, picking up the mask and the machete for the first of his record four appearances. Where he's always been terrifying before, it's this particular entry that Jason becomes a much more intimidating physical presence. Hodder adds this weight to the character, his every step, and every swing of an axe or knife, feels heavy, powerful. Despite his decayed appearance, Jason has finally reached the pinnacle of his transformation through the series, becoming the unstoppable undead monster with superhuman strength.

No wonder the filmmakers had to give poor Tina her own special abilities in order to stand up to and to survive Jason's wrath.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The 13 Days of Friday the 13th: Day Six

Despite having never seen Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) before today, the version of Jason Voorhees presented here is the one most familiar to me. Sure, he may have donned the trademark hockey mask a few films back, but it wasn't until his unnatural resurrection that he would become the Jason from my childhood. The undead killer with superhuman strength, impervious to pain and completely unstoppable. A shambling corpse, hellbent on murder and mayhem, who refuses to truly die.

The filmmakers, director Tom McLoughlin and the producers at Paramount, decided to ignore the events at the end of the previous installment. Tommy Jarvis is back, this time portrayed by Thom Mathews, but instead of picking up where he left off in A New Beginning (1985), taking up the mask and the mantle, instead he's determined to destroy the evil once and for all. Digging up Jason's grave in an attempt to burn the body, Tommy accidentally brings the killer back to life.

Hilarity ensues.

Actually, that's only partially untrue. I mean, really, talk about your drastic tonal shifts from film to film. Where Part V bordered on unpleasant, here the viewers are given an almost goofy, tongue-in-cheek slasher. It's still drenched in gore and death, but there's definitely more humor on display than any of the previous entries. There are even moments of breaking the fourth wall, like when the graveyard caretaker questions "why they had to go and dig up Jason" while looking directly at the audience.

It's all very meta.

One of my favorite elements is the inclusion of Sheriff Mike Garris (David Kagen) as one of the main characters. His daughter, Megan (Jennifer Cooke), fills the role of "final girl" for Part VI, but the sheriff himself is more than just another victim for Jason to slaughter. And while, no, he doesn't survive until the film's end, Sheriff Garris is the only adult in the franchise so far to truly take a stand against the relentless horror of Jason Voorhees.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The 13 Days of Friday the 13th: Day Five

Five films into the series and we've finally found one that I've seen before.

Flashback to September 13th, 2013. A younger Trash Man decides to properly celebrate the holiday by viewing Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985) on VHS. Don't question why he chose this particular entry, especially considering he already knew the "twist" that the killer [spoiler ahead, mates] wasn't Jason Voorhees at all, but instead someone else posing as him. Especially considering the fact he hadn't seen any of the four films that proceeded it. What a weird kid, that Trash Man, arbitrarily deciding to view this installment back then and really liking it, too.

Now, however, having seen it for a second time and less than twenty-four hours after watching Part IV (1984), I'm feeling a little less generous. It doesn't come close, not even remotely so, to being anywhere near as enjoyable as the films that came before. The movie's major flaw is its overwhelming cast of characters, many of whom add nothing to further the plot, and serve only to ensure a high body-count and constant, gruesome deaths. Taking the concept of throwaway characters to ludicrous extremes, the ensemble includes a coke-snorting hospital attendant and his random waitress girlfriend, an apparent red-herring who's killed off almost immediately, and two leather-clad greasers who appear to have stepped out of a completely different movie.

It's a stark contrast to the previous film in that there doesn't seem to be any likable characters present, especially the now older Tommy Jarvis (John Shepherd). There are moments when Tommy is almost sympathetic; his earlier confrontation with Jason has obviously left him emotionally and mentally battered. After spending years in an institution, he's finally released into the care of Pam Roberts (Melanie Kinnaman) and Matt (Richard Young), directors at Pinehurst, a halfway house designed to reintegrate him back into normal society. Tommy seems too far gone, though, and quickly goes from troubled kid to full-blown wreck; constantly hallucinating of Jason, and even attacking one of his housemates.

The only interesting character addition to the franchise is Reggie (Shavar Ross), a charismatic youth whose grandfather works at Pinehurst as a cook. Unfortunately, he's saddled with playing sidekick to Pam and Tommy, and, aside from a fantastic scene where he hits Faux-Jason with a tractor, does little else.

Speaking of The Jason Who Wasn't Really Jason.

I know that many fans didn't care for the fact that another character dressed up as and pretended to be Jason, but I'm not one of them. I sorta' enjoy what it adds to the franchise's mythos; that Jason Voorhees has become a notorious "celebrity" within this universe. So much a legend that it's inspired a copycat killer in Roy Burns (Dick Wieand). Plus, I love the fact that Roy is motivated to take on the mantle of Jason and murder the residents of Pinehurst in order to avenge the death of his son, Joey (Dominick Brascia). It echoes back to the original film, to Pamela Voorhees' rampage at Camp Crystal Lake, the very same event that lead to Jason's transformation into a masked murderer.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The 13 Days of Friday the 13th: Day Four

Holy Jesus jumping Christmas shit!

I was already aware the reputation of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) as the fan-favorite sequel. I've read multiple reviews; all the other blogs and sites raving about this particular installment. Hell, I even caught the last ten minutes or so a couple years back and really dug it. I was not, however, expecting it to instantly become one of my all-time favorite slasher films.

And yet, here we are.

Released two years after Part III (1982), it was originally billed as being the last in the series. One final trip to Camp Crystal Lake for all the not-so-good boys and girls, sitting around campfires and sneaking off to skinny dip when the sun goes down. Just enough time left to play some pranks, smoke some pot, and really enjoy all the fresh air and the crickets chirping. Oh, and bid a fond farewell to Jason Voorhees and his unparallelled murder record.

The film begins where the previous one left off, with Jason seemingly killed by an axe to the head thanks to Chris Higgins (Dana Kimmell). His body is brought to a local morgue, where we meet Axel, who is possibly the wackiest and creepiest mortician ever committed to film. A brief, comedic scene between Axel and a nurse leads into Jason's "resurrection", and the pairs' quick and violent demise. It's obvious from the film's first kill that the quota of gore has increased exponentially, due mostly to the return of special-effects master, Tom Savini. This would be the second time he'd team-up with director, Joseph Vito, after the atmospheric slasher The Prowler (1981), which was released a few years prior.

Before Jason is able to make his way back to Crystal Lake, the audience is introduced to the latest group of kids doomed to run afoul of the masked murderer. It's easily the most likable cast of characters so far in the series, and includes Crispin Glover in one of his earliest roles as the "dead-fuck" Jimmy. There's also the unlucky-in-love, Teddy (Lawrence Monoson), a pair of twins named Tina and Terri, and the absolutely adorable Samantha (Judie Aronson). Of course, they're all just there to die horribly at the hands of Jason after a night of drinking, sex and watching stag films.

Also present for the carnage and bloodshed is the Jarvis' family. The daughter, Trish (Kimberly Beck), is technically the "final girl" for this installment, but it's her brother, Tommy (Corey Feldman), who steals the show. It's in Tommy Jarvis that the audience can most relate; he's the odd kid obsessed with monster movies, video games and voyeurism. While the teens and twenty-somethings are being slaughtered, Tommy is safe from Jason's wrath, and it isn't until the film's final moments that he must step up and finally put the serial killer to rest.

The Final Chapter is regarded by some as one of the darker entries in the franchise and based on the brutality on display, it isn't difficult to see why. It's easier to feel sympathetic and sad when a character is killed off, because they're portrayed with a little more depth than in the previous films. The cast has a real chemistry, a camaraderie that's uncommon in most early slashers and practically non-existant in modern ones. Whether it's Teddy and Jimbo playfully bickering or the blossoming relationship between Doug (Peter Barton) and Sara (Barbara Howard), you finally care for a bunch of characters that would otherwise be considered cannon-fodder.

My only real complaint is Trish Jarvis' potential love-interest, Rob Dier (Erich Anderson), who claims to be out in the wild hunting bear. The truth is so much better; he's actually searching for Jason Voorhees, looking to avenge the death of his sister, Sandra, who was murdered in Friday the 13th Part II (1981). The character himself is fine, though nothing special, but it's the wasted potential of a pretty fantastic concept that bothers me. Adding this small thread, tying it back into the continuity of the original sequel, is a great way to honor the films that came before. Unfortunately, there's no real payoff to this subplot when Rob is unceremoniously beaten to death by Jason in the film's final act.

Besides that minor gripe, I have no zero reservations in naming The Final Chapter my favorite in the series so far. Of course, having already seen tomorrow's entry and several of the later sequels, well, I don't think I'm gonna find one that's gonna top this.

I think I'm in heaven.

I think I'm in love.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The 13 Days of Friday the 13th: Day Three

Another year and another entry in the Friday the 13th series.

Jason Voorhees returns for the third installment in the franchise, bringing director Steve Miner back with him, on another rage-fueled murder spree. Picking up only a day after the events from the second film, Friday the 13th Part III (1982) would prove to be one of the most successful sequels, larger in scope and in execution than its predecessors. While moving the carnage away from Camp Crystal Lake, it otherwise maintained the familiar plot and structure; introducing a new batch of fun-loving twenty-somethings, content to spend a weekend away, smoking copious amounts of dope and enjoying casual, premarital sex.

There's also a random trio of bikers with names like Fox and Loco, and a shopkeeper who talks to rabbits and eats fish food.

Spoilers: They all die.

Miner and company appear to be having a lot more fun this time around. There's an incredible, disco-inspired theme for the opening and closing credits. The group of fodder youths includes a pair of stoners obviously inspired by Cheech & Chong. We have Abel stepping in as the resident eye-wielding doomsayer, replacing the dearly departed Crazy Ralph. There are gratuitous scenes of fruit juggling and yo-yos, because, yes, Part III was shot in and intended to be viewed in 3-D.

It's sorta' a mess, absolutely, but it's an enjoyable mess.

Oh, and about midway through, nearly two and a half films in, we finally get the iconic version of Jason, once he's introduced to his hockey mask thanks to perennial loser and overweight prankster, Shelly (Larry Zerner). I doubt Miner or anyone else involved realized that the simple prop mask would eventually become an instantly recognizable pop culture image in the years that followed. As closely associated with the franchise, with the entire horror genre, as anything else in the series' decades-long history.

Three down, with nine left to go, I'm still feeling good about this undertaking. I was initially concerned that, without nostalgia playing a real role, I wouldn't find much appeal to the earlier entries in the series, but that's hardly the case. I've actually enjoyed each film a little more than the one before, and heading into Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984), I know my luck will hold out for just a bit longer.

Tomorrow introduces Tommy Jarvis after all.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The 13 Days of Friday the 13th: Day Two

Released within a year of the original film, Friday the 13th Part 2 (1980) brings nothing new to the table, but somehow manages to outdo its predecessor in almost every way.

Tales around the campfire. The small group of young camp counselors huddle together, roasting marshmallows and telling tales of Jason Voorhees, the youth who seemingly drowned decades before. The events from the previous film, in-continuity having occurred five years prior, are simply regarded as an urban legend. A scary story to pass the time before a night on the town. There's no reason for the kids to think that they're in any danger.

Except that there really is.

Of course, any semblance of a whodunnit murder mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians (1965) or the Italian giallos is quickly tossed aside, as a bulk of the film is spent discussing the possibility of Jason surviving his supposed fatal accident. Our "final girl" this time around, Ginny, theorizes that Jason grew up in the woods surrounding Camp Crystal Lake, never knowing anyone except for his mother, Pamela. She also speculates that he must have witnessed Pamela's decapitation at the hands of Alice, and that it drove him into a murderous rage.

No surprise then when it's revealed, in the film's final act, that, yes, this is precisely what has happened.

The rules from the previous installment, that sex and drugs result in a character's demise, don't seem to apply this time around.

Jason seems less concerned in meting out punishment on wicked teens; the surrogate counselors, standing in for those who ignored him as a child, who were responsible for his near-drowning, the same event that unhinged Pamela and drove her to maim and murder. In fact, the film's second victim isn't one of the young, attractive counselors, but instead Crazy Ralph, the prophet of doom from the original movie. Unlike his mother, Jason acts more like a wild animal, killing anyone who trespasses on his land. It seems happenstance that most of his victims are lustful youths or "dope-fiends". The simple case of "wrong place, wrong time".

There's so much more to love in Part II than the original Friday the 13th, and I'll gladly herald it as a far superior movie. Setting up the tradition of the previous film's sole survivor, here it's Alice (Adrienne King), as the first victim. A much more likable group of kids, including short-shorts Terry, goofball Ted, and Scott offering to dance with a dog. Poor Mark taking a machete to the face and then tumbling down a flight of stairs, even when he refused to smoke pot because of his "training". There's Hillbilly Jason wearing a sack over his deformed face, wielding a pitchfork and chasing Ginny all about the campground. The pair ending up at Jason's decrepit shack, where his shrine to Pamela, complete with her decapitated head, is revealed.

Oh, and her sweater, too.

My only real complaint is the death of Crazy Ralph, who I will miss dearly as I continue my journey through the franchise.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The 13 Days of Friday the 13th: Day One

I had never seen Friday the 13th (1980) before today.

That is mostly true, at least. There's one instance, several years back, where the film was playing randomly on television and I left it on while I wandered around my shared townhouse. Viewed in bits and pieces, already aware the killer's identity and most of the characters' fates, it barely held my attention. There were just too many hurdles to overcome; the biggest one the lack of a hockey-mask clad, undead killer in Jason Voorhees.

Hold on, let me backtrack for a moment, yeah?

I've mentioned before, in the earliest days of this blog, that I wasn't particularly fond of horror films when I was younger. Always a little too skittish, too terrified to subject myself to the misadventures of Leatherface, Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers. I had friends, other kids in the neighborhood, who were braver than I. Whose parents didn't mind that they were viewing cinematic massacres, brutal slayings committed by maniacal dolls or people wearing other peoples' faces. These same friends would run over to tell me all about the latest in the Nightmare on Elm St. series, and that was enough to traumatize me. So, there was no way that I was ever planning to become a fan of horror movies.

And yet, here I am, less than two weeks away from attending my first Monster Mania, an annual horror convention.

Yeah, somewhere along the line, probably during my time spent working at our local video store, I started to really embrace the horror genre. Those late nights after work spent watching From Beyond (1986) and Halloween (1978), catching up with the Puppet Master franchise, or discovering flicks like Fade to Black (1980). It only got worse when I went off to college, meeting like-minded film freaks who would introduce me to to the works of Cronenberg and Henenlotter.

But there was still something missing.

Despite my newfound love for the genre, there were notable staples that I was completely ignoring. The boogeymen from my youth remained unvisited; Freddy, Chucky, Pinhead, and yes, even Jason Voorhees. I hadn't fully found the courage to watch their respective series. The fear from my youth still too overpowering. Memories that were far more terrifying than anything that appeared in any of those films. More years passed, years spent devouring more and more frightening flicks, but always avoiding that handful of franchises.

And then, only a couple years ago, around the time that I started actively collecting VHS, something happened. Something changed. Those horrors and undead killers that I spent most of my life in fear of, I realized that I had grown up with them constantly around. Older now, living a life that focused so much on nostalgia, I came to appreciate these monsters and madmen that I'd been so very scared of. Memories of playing Friday the 13th for the NES in my best friend's basement back in second grade. A sleepover just before middle school started, maybe our last real hurrah for those types of nights, watching Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993) on video cassette. Hell, I even remember seeing Jason's appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show a few years prior.

So, yes, I started to admire Jason for being such a massive pop cultural phenomenon. I collected memorabilia; toys and books, copies of his films on VHS and CED. I still hadn't, however, really delved into his filmography. The realization that I'd seen most of his later films, but only a few scenes from the earlier movies. If I was going to attend Monster Mania 30, which is celebrating the franchise by inviting several key talents from throughout its run, I really had to get going and immerse myself in the complete mythos.

Which brings us to now, to today, and to my very first viewing of Friday the 13th (1980) from beginning to end.

I mean, I knew what I was getting into. All about Kevin Bacon and the arrowhead, Betsy Palmer's sweater and the great debate about which film's main theme Manfredini apes more-- Psycho (1960) or Jaws (1975). I've read about Ari Lehman's wild theories, and I've heard the long list of influences and how screen-writer Victor Miller was told to simply "rip-off" Carpenter's Halloween (1978). The film some bizarre hybrid of several different influences, but it managed to rise above its origins as a quick, low-budget, cash-in slasher, spawning several sequels and eventually creating a media icon in Jason Voorhees. From these meager roots grew a financial juggernaut; a franchise that, three and a half decades later, still refuses to truly die.

You can sorta' see how it helped build the foundation of the '80s horror boom. It follows and expands on the rules laid out in the proto-slashers that came before, all the bits about kids paying the price for pre-marital sex and drug use, punished for their degenerate behavior by an unseen assailant. Instead of a sexually repressed mama's boy or a masked monster, however, the film's "evil" is revealed to be a mother unhinged by the death of her child. Bet you didn't see that one coming, did you?

No, of course you did, because you wouldn't be here, still reading this, unless you gave a shit about Friday the 13th. I can't say that I blame you; despite knowing most of the movie's major plot-points, I still found myself totally enjoying the proceedings. The Annie swerve that owes so much to Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). Ned's ridiculous antics, both while wearing a Native American headdress and not. Savini's practical effects work holds up and still has me wondering how they pulled it off. The cool little details like the electricity and running water constantly on the fritz because of curses, right?

Crazy Ralph!

Okay, so, let's just leave it at this-- it's a solid fucking start to a franchise that is only going to draw me further in with each passing film. I'm looking forward to spending the next two weeks educating myself more on the Voorhees, and to coming back here to share it with all of you.

We're doomed. We're all doomed.