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Rankfest: Friday the 13th

You know when you go on IMDb or whatever and there’s always a thread titled “Rank the [insert series here] best to worst”, well let’s do summa that.

Of course the infamous Top 100 ranks my favourites across the board up to Spring of 2014 (Lost After Dark and The Final Girls might now force a few of the bottom dwellers out), but franchise-to-franchise, what is the most logical place to start?

Duh, Crystal Lake obvs.

12th Best: Jason X (2001)

jason2Bringing Jason back after eight years in limbo (nine, if we’re going to count the delayed release) is a bold step. On top of that, putting him in space proved just a step too far. This film is hokey and enjoyable at times, annoying and lazy at others.

Best Bit: Holodeck Crystal Lake, circa 1980.

11th: Jason Goes to Hell (1993)

jgth6I maintain that certain scenes in JGTH out-awesome the previous few films – the trio of campers at the lake, and the opening gag with the sexy chick alone in the creaky old house: Pure Friday. It’s just a shame the rest of it veers off course with all that Hidden crap.

Best Bit: Tentpole. Schwing.

10th: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

jtm3The late-80s-ness of Manhattan is undeniably bodacious, but it’s too long, too tame, and too timid to max out its potential: At the time this must’ve had the highest bodycount of the lot, and is there but a speck of blood?

Best Bit: JJ’s awesome-or-what axe.

9th: Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

fvj-cornfield-stonersLike Jason X, this one is worth a look every decade or so. The WWE-ness of it all is juvenile and irritating, but high-end production values, a love for the series, and a game cast almost make up for that.

Best Bit: Cornfield rave hi-jinks.

8th: The Final Chapter (1984)

fc5I’ll stand by for the townsfolk to come with their torches and pitchforks. The Final Chapter was the last of the Paramount films I saw and by that time the formula was so ingrained it just never resonated much with me. The plot is too derivative of Part III and the characters indistinguishably expendable. Yes, the grue is top of its game, but this alone does not a great film make.

Best Bit: The story so far… “you can’t be alive!”

7th: A New Beginning (1985)

fri6Tatty, sleazy, trashy Part V, a guilty pleasure if ever there was. The leap in production gloss from The Final Chapter was, at least on the old VHS’s I owned, significant, but maybe that’s just because 1985 was a year I actually remember, so the fashions and hair didn’t all look horrific. No Jason? Meh, who cares!? The appeal of this film is how fucking stupid it all is.

Best Bit: “There’s a man with no life in his eyezzzzz…”

6th: The New Blood (1988)

friday the 13th part vii the new blood jason voorheesDry and a ‘lil bit wintry in feel, The New Blood has grown on me over the years like a fungus that won’t quit. While many of the bloodthirsty demises were ultimately cut, leaving us a film drier than a shot of sand, the through-the-motions slashings are almost hypnotically entertaining and several of the background characters unpredictably likeable.

Best Bit: “There’s a legend ’round here…”

5th: Part III (1982)

f3-8A major step down from the dizzy heights of the first two, Part III nonetheless provides Jason with his mask and the audience with cheesy 3D FX. The production shift from the north east greenery to a sandy Californian mud-hole (removing all the Crystal from Crystal Lake) lets it down, but the amateur-night performances and Dana Kimmell’s gloriously rubbish final girl schtick atone.

Best Bit: Dana vs. Jason

4th: The Reboot (2009)

fri1aMost hated it, but it captured the spirit of Fridays past for me – especially those first 20 minutes – making enough changes to give a contemporary feel without entirely abandoning the unmovable elements that make Friday what it is. Of the glut of remakes, reboots, recalibrations, reimaginings etc, it was easily the best.

Best Bit: Campfire tales and nostalgia.

3rd: Jason Lives (1986)

friday the 13th part vi jason livesWho would ever have thought a fifth sequel could land a sucker punch of awesomeness? Tom McLaughlin, that’s who! Wisely taking a step into the humorous side of the genre, after the po-faced exploits of The Final Chapter and A New Beginning, Jason needed a shot of slapstick just to overcome the embarrassment of the previous film. It works perfectly as a pivot for the mayhem and contrived story, resulting in the best Friday outing since the early days.

Best Bit: Paula’s paranoia. Didn’t she leave the bloody machete right there on the floor?

2nd: The Original (1980)

f13-11aRough n’ ready, Friday the 13th has got to be the most copied slasher film ever; from genuine attempts to replicate the formula to sketch show parodies, this is the film they turn to. It’s perfection lies in its innate imperfection – clunky acting, ludicrous plot twists, semi-competent production, and yet it works far beyond the reach of many of its contemporaries and today’s low-end slasher pics.

Best Bit: Rinse n’ repeat stalk n’ slash during the storm.

THE BEST FRIDAY!: Part 2 (1981)

cut2_double-2Yeah, like, big shock, right? I just love this film to death. Taking all that was good about the first one, polishing the production assets, casting the perfect final girl, introducing Jason as an actually quite scary super villain prototype form: That burlap sack gives me the creeps far more than the hockey mask. Whether those infuriating cut scenes will ever see the light of day, who knows, but it detracts not from the slasherific perfection that is Friday the 13th Part 2.

Best Bit: Amy Steel on the run.

Next time: Halloweeeeeeen

A time for family, forgiveness, and foul play

hfth dvdHOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

3 Stars  1972/74m

“There’s nothing more chilling than a warm family gathering.”

Director: John Llewelyn Moxey / Writer: Joseph Stefano / Cast: Eleanor Parker, Sally Field, Jill Haworth, Jessica Walter, Julie Harris, Walter Brennan, John Fink.

Body Count: 3


Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano penned this star-studded made-for-TV proto-slasher, which gives new meaning to uncomfortable festive family get-togethers.

Dying patriarch Benjamin Morgan instructs his eldest daughter, Alex, to gather her three sisters at the old family ranch for Christmas before he succumbs to his old age. So to the house cometh acid-tongued, trice-divorced Jo, pill and booze swilling Freddie, and sweet-natured youngest Christine, none of whom have been back to the house in some years.

Ben tells his offspring that his new wife, Elizabeth, is poisoning him to death. While Alex can’t decide if this is a desperate male-pride rejection of his age, or true due to the gossip that the woman poisoned her previous husband, the other sisters are a little more black and white, with only Christine willing to get to know her stepmother.

hfth2Before long, Jo decides to leave and is hijacked by a rain-macked, pitchfork-toting assailant outside. The next day, Freddie is drowned in the bath, a tragedy written off as either suicide or an accident waiting to happen. But suspicion runs rife and the remaining sisters can’t help but suspect Elizabeth, more so when Christine is chased through the woods by the rain-mack figure, the very coat belonging to Elizabeth. Giallo-tastic.

On TV in 1972, this mystery might’ve been a head-scratcher, but with hundreds of slasher films between then and when I saw it this week, it was no more difficult to solve than a Scooby Doo episode.

Home for the Holidays has barely a drop of blood, no real horror, and, at a thin 74 minutes, tends to drag here and there – it’s certainly not Black Christmas - but the winner here is the casting: Parker, Walter, Haworth, and Field are all on form as the sisters Morgan. The former two were reunited for another TV sort-of slasher film in 1979 in She’s Dressed to Kill, and it’s easy to see why Sean Cunningham was keen on Sally Field donning the lead role in Friday the 13th, her means-well good-girl vibe and screamability is quite similar to Adrienne King’s take on Alice, albeit with less fighting back required, though it’s worth noting Field would’ve been in her mid-thirties by then.

hfth1It’s rare to see such a competent collective of actresses working together. Menfolk are sidelined into virtual irrelevance by the film – it belongs to the quintet of leading ladies. Amusingly, Parker was older than the woman playing her father’s new wife, plus old enough to be Field’s own mother!

A mild, bleakly festive affair (hey, there’s a tree and a wreath!), with more in common with Murder, She Wrote than Silent Night, Deadly Night but intriguing in its own way and could benefit from a decent remake. If you want a fun game, count the number of ominous zooms used to create suspicion.

Meeeeerry Christmas!

Taglinus accuratus

TRICK OR TREATS

1 Stars  1982/92m

“…when Halloween night stopped being fun!”

Director/Writer: Gary Graver / Cast: Jackelyn Giroux, Peter Jason, Chris Graver, Carrie Snodgress, David Carradine, Stave Railsback, Jillian Kesner, Paul Bartel.

Body Count: 3 (!)

Laughter Lines: “These horror movies… they make me scared to drive home alone at night!”


“When Halloween night stopped being fun,” goes the tagline. Darn tootin’. Short of falling ass-first on a running power drill, I can’t think of a less fun way to spend Halloween night, or any other given night, than watching Trick or Treats.

Carrie Snodgress gets her husband carted off to an institution in the opening scene. Why? No clue, ToT doesn’t care about in-filling its plot holes. The scene is slapstick heavy, with two orderlies struggling with the flailing hubby, who tries to climb a tree at one point to escape. They all end up falling in the pool. The only thing missing was a table of cream pies.

‘Several years later’, struggling actress-cum-babysitter Linda (Giroux) accepts a Halloween night job to look after the couple’s horrible, horrible son, while Mom and her new squeeze (Carradine), head off to a party. Meanwhile, Hubby has broken out of the institute disguised as a female nurse, and is heading home to murder his wife and anyone else who gets in his way and nobody else.

Yeah that’s right, this is the slasher movie without any slashing. Hubby punches out a security guard rather than stabs him, threatens a couple of homeless guys (one of whom is horror-fixture Bartel), and eventually mistakenly kills a random blonde chick whom he mistakes for his wife.

This might sound okay, but nothing remotely resembling a threat of violence happens for well over an hour into the 92 minute film. Until then, it’s a never ending cycle of the bratty kid playing a prank on Linda, that she always falls for, and some trick or treaters coming to the door. Again. And again. And again. Until death. Your death. From boredom.

With just 15 minutes remaining, Hubby finally catches up with Linda, thinking her to be Carrie Snodgress, and chases her a bit. Although the film is so darkly turned out you may as well close your eyes and rest for all the good they’ll do you open.

A fittingly annoying twist for a fittingly annoying child in the world’s most disappointing ‘slasher’ film is the shitty icing on this cake. A cake made of the shittiest shit one might dredge up from a shit-filled canal in Shitsville, Tennessee.

Blurbs-of-interest: Carradine was in Children of the Corn V and Detention (2010); Steve Railsback was in Deadly Games and Slash; Paul Bartel was in Killer Party. Graver later directed the equally awful Moon in Scorpio.

Daily Double: Hayride vs. Hazard Jack

Merry Christmas you people! As I spent the day recuperating from the previous night’s work party and its 3am finish, while I wrapped up gifts and sipped alka-seltzer, I caught up on a couple of slasher films from my stack of to-be-watched.

My “gift” to you, therefore, is a double review of these undisputed classics*

Happy holidays!

*I dispute this

HAYRIDE

2 Stars  2012/18/90m

“Southern fried horror.”

A.k.a. Halloween Haunting (UK DVD); The Pitchfork Murders

Director/Writer: Terron R. Parsons / Cast: Richard Tyson, Jeremy D. Ivy, Sherri Eakin, Jeremy Sande, Corlandos Scott, Randy Hicks, Shannon Box.

Body Count: 23


“Sometimes something can happen that is so traumatic that it becomes a legend,” says Captain Morgan (Richard Tyson) around a campfire concerning the local legend of a crazed farmer who went ape and killed a load of people in the unending search for his runaway daughter…

Morgan runs the popular annual Haunted Hayride attraction at his farm in Alabama, where college boy Steven returns along with girlfriend Amanda to help out. Meanwhile, a recently apprehended serial killer has escaped from police custody a few miles away and appears to be axing, impaling, and pitchforking his way through randoms and the police who accost him.

Of course, we all know things will culminate on Halloween night when the hayride goes into action, Morgan’s extensive cast of actors and crew will provide ample fodder, and Steven and Amanda will be thrust into the center of things.

Well, this all happens in the usual way, although most of the killings are knife-in-the-back affairs or off camera completely, resulting in little bloodletting. When it is on screen, it’s a bit sloppy and amateurish to witness; a testament to Hayride as a whole unfortunately.

While the film is a bit of a dud in terms of production quality or originality, there are a couple of good scenes, namely when the killer attacks the hapless tourists with a chainsaw as they’re sat in the trailer, and a good performance from Ivy as Steven, channeling a youthful sounding (and looking) Matthew McConaughey (who is a Texan, I know).

<<< UK browsers be forewarned of the misleading artwork (check out that font!), this hockey masked chap is not the killer. Although, the maniac’s choice of face-wear is a burlap sack, so not entirely unworthy of Jason…

Hayride finally unleashes a twist that, while I didn’t predict, isn’t so out of the blue to throw you off. It’s ultimately too little too late, but handled well enough to elevate the overall experience a notch. Though, once the killer is reprimanded, the survivors share a kiss and a joke (!) and are ambushed by another survivor who’s freaking out over the seventeen murders that have just occurred. They’re response: “Calm down, we know.”

I don’t quite remember the “two dozen murders” the deputy announces (several of the 23 noted occur in a flashback), but Pitchfork dude was quite handy at snapping necks and skewering cops, it’s totally possible. Hayride 2 has since followed.

 

* * *

HAZARD JACK

   1.5 Stars  2013/15/80m

“Fear has a new name.”

Director: David Worth / Writers: David Worth & Doug Vandegrift / Cast: Amanda Maddox, Kevin Sporman, Alison Lani, Macauley Gray, Jason O’Neil Hudson, Aimee Bello, Zachary Meyer, Deanna Meske/Mandy Lane, Josh Jacques, Jeremy Ebenstein, Ashley Walsh, Daniel Rivera, Quincy Taylor, Will Harris.

Body Count: 10


Pretty much every Stock Background Character there ever was crops up in this cheapo quickie, in which an unlikely group of college friends descend on an abandoned hospital for a game of paintball.

Residing there already is a hulking veteran with PTSD who is susceptible to violent outbursts (of course, this occurs in slasherdom after all, where all mental illnesses are fatal to those around said individuals), loses his job in construction, and delights in torturing a woman he’s abducted.

The young folk come, banter, strip off (yawn), pick teams in anticipation of a midnight kick-off, and so spend the remaining hours having sex with each other and getting murdered by Hazard Jack. So no paintball at all.

Victims include two chesty blonde chicks (Barbie and Muffy!), two jock jerks, a gay couple who repeatedly mention they’re respectively Latino and Jewish, the black guy who wants to be a director and Asian girlfriend who wants to be his starlet, the normal (dull) couple, a dweeby voiced geek, and his new friend, suspect-lezzer, Stella. Somewhat surprisingly, the booby, sexy, jerky ones who disrobed are done in first: Nailgunned, cleavered, drilled, but in spite of the declaration on the box, it’s not that gory. In fact, I don’t remember this even happening:

The film begins pandering towards the non-PC: the Latino gay chap is burned alive in a church, the lesbian is ‘cured’ by sex with a man, and is thus allowed to survive intact. The message is depressingly clear: Lesbianism isn’t real and can be undone; gay men should be gruesomely slain.

Things wrap up all too quickly and nearly, leaving a whopping four survivors – the only ones afforded any semblance of depth, whereas their friends are just obsessed with sex (bar the gays, they remain fully clothed at all times). A bit of gusto as they fight back at the end comes too late to save it.

I normally hate quippy killers in slasher films, but this could’ve done with a few witty military puns from the loon as he dispatched the victims. As he is, masked, slow, and invincible in a sub-Jason manner, there’s just not that much-needed hook.

* * *

Not the merriest Christmas by any stretch, but where Hayride might lack the claret and nudity of Hazard Jack, the latter is just a litany of lazy, annoying cliches. Still, I plan on never watching either again, so it doesn’t matter.

Merry Christmas! xoxoxo

Football Fatale

VARSITY BLOOD

3 Stars  2014/15/84m

“School’s out forever.”

Director/Writer: Jake Helgren / Cast: Lexi Giovagnoli, Wesley Scott, Debbie Rochon, Chris Hlozek, Natalie Peyton, Melody Herron, Elyse Bigler, Blair Jackson, Jesse Ferraro, Payton Wood, Fabian Watkins, Kiarra Hogan, Taylor Moessinger, Manuel Chapa, Elle LaMont.

Body Count: 15

Laughter Lines: “Stop screwing with me and get in here and screw me already.”


Filmed in the same school as 1999 football-is-life flick Varsity Blues (and incidentally the high school of director Jake Helgren), this Texan ode to all things 80s-slasher follows a group of jocks and cheerleaders as they prepare for a private Halloween night shindig after a successful game.

It also happens to occur one year to the day since the principal’s daughter died in an alcohol-fueled mishap. Hmm, are you thinking what I’m thinking?

I was thinking about Moldova’s 2012 Eurovision entry. So probably not.

New girl-cum-cheerleading pro, Hannah (Lexi Geophysionomics), is under strict orders from Mom (Debbie Rochon) not to hang out with her sports pals, who are clearly colluding to keep the details of last year’s accident a big fat secret. But somebody knows… Somebody who dons the costume of the Hogeye Warriors’ mascot – a Native American Apache – and sets about laying the guilty teens to waste for their sins. And he’s nifty with a bow and arrow.

Requisite early-on murder aside, we wait until Hannah manages to convince Mom to let her go for a burger for the carnage to begin. Here, Helgren checks off some of the genre boxes: A scary farmhouse in the middle of nowhere (with no cellphone reception), horny teenagers, boobs, drugs, stupid rationales that ensure the group find reasons to KEEP GOING OUTSIDE!

While some viewers will doubtlessly want things to hurry up and get to the killin’, this section provided an engaging, almost celebratory look at Americana and the customs of small-town-high-school life before destroying it.

Who is the killer? We have a pretty good idea as to why he or she is doing what they are, but with an array of background suspects, Hannah is thrust into a real Scooby Doo of an unmasking. I didn’t guess correctly, but on the other hand I wasn’t blindsided either.

As a real love letter to all things slashtastic and 80s, Varsity Blood - just like its sister film Bloody Homecoming – harks back to the glory days, with a myriad of nods to Friday the 13th, Prom NightThe Prowler, and almost any other motive-driven teen slasher from 1981 (there was even House of Death vibe, albeit not as trippy).

While in the meta age we live in, where the pull of slasher films has reverted to their 1990s flatline status, it would be easy to poke fun at the dim-witted characters that populate Varsity Blood, there’s a sense of purity driving it that retains the kind of formula that is more often than not traded in for quippy, self-aware dialogue, torture porn, or parody in recent examples. It also helps that at least half the characters are far more likeable than the usual douchebags that dominate horror these days.

Some occasional wobbly acting notwithstanding (what 80s film would be complete without a line like “I thought I saw somebody watching us from behind those trees…”?), given that the production budget is a fraction of even Halloween‘s 1978 costs, the look of the film is pretty damn impressive.

It may not be difficult to predict the turns that VB makes, but therein lies its base appeal: It’s uncompromisingly a straight-up slasher film and pretends to be nothing else, and that’s what makes it a fun ride.

Blurbs-of-interest: Lexi Unpronounceable and Jesse Ferraro were both in Bloody Homecoming; Debbie Rochon’s low-budg. horror resume is extensive to say the least, including Bleed, Blood Relic, Head Cheerleader, Dead Cheerleader, and American Nightmare among others.

***SEE VEVO’S INTERVIEW WITH JAKE HELGREN***

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