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Murder, She Wrote: The Prep School Years

deadlylessonsDEADLY LESSONS

2.5 Stars  1983/94m

“Kiss the girls and make them sigh. Hunt them down and watch them die.”

Director: William Wiard / Writer: Jennifer A. Miller / Cast: Donna Reed, Larry Wilcox, Diane Franklin, Ally Sheedy, David Ackroyd, Renée Jones, Bill Paxton, Vicki Kriegler, Nancy Cartwright, Deena Freeman, Sally Klein, Donald Hotton.

Body Count: 3

Laughter Lines: “If we get caught we’re dead… Sorry, poor choice of words.”


Look. At. That. Cast. Bill Paxton! Ally Sheedy! Diane Franklin! Sissy from Jason Lives! The future voice of Bart Simpson! Deadly Lessons is the TV movie that just gives, gives, gives!

The first words uttered tell us all we need to know: “I’ve never been to a boarding school before, but this is one of the best schools in the country and they’re giving me a free scholarship! I just hope the other girls like me!”

These come from Stephanie (Franklin) to her cab driver as they approach the prestigious Starkwater Hall prep, where she’s joining the summer session early along with a small group of other girls who need to buck up their ideas.

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Ally Sheedy, Vicki Kriegler, and Diane Franklin go corpse spotting

No sooner does Stephanie arrive, than one of bitchy girls is found drowned in the lake. Everyone says it’s an accident bar local detective Russ Kemper, who doesn’t take kindly to headmistress Miss Wade’s insistence that the school is not damaged by bad press.

Stephanie, meanwhile, begins to play detective, thanks in part to her obsession with a Clue-esque boardgame called Evidence. Suspects include the horse riding teacher, the stable boy (Paxton), other teachers, the requisite creepy handyman, plus all the girls who hated the victim, and victim No. 2…

There’s not a spot of blood to be seen in all of Deadly Lessons, it really is as if we’re watching Jessica Fletcher’s youthful memoirs for all the red herrings, questionable performances, and absence of violence. All that was missing was that judgmental shake of the head thing she did after the killer freely admitted how and why they did it – although in this case, the mystery is not so easy to solve.

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A pre-Simpsons Nancy Cartwright and pre-Jason Renée Jones

Without a doubt, the primary appeal is in the cast, from Sheedy’s pre-Breakfast Club rich girl, to Nancy Cartwright’s (Bart!!) unwanted over-eater, though you wonder how many highlight it on their respective resumes. This could be shown on TV any Saturday afternoon and cause zero offense. An interesting one time affair, but not a class you’d want to repeat.

No home video release (beyond a German one under the name High School Killer) has surfaced, hence the significant lack of artwork.

Blurbs-of-interest: Paxton was also in Night Warning, Mortuary, and later Club Dread; Jones was perky camp counsellor Sissy in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives.

Quite a long review of Freddy vs Jason

fvjdvdFREDDY VS JASON

3 Stars  2003/18/93m

“Even a killer has something to fear.”

Director: Ronny Yu / Writers: David S. Goyer, Damian Shannon & Mark Swift / Cast: Robert Englund, Monica Keena, Kelly Rowland, Jason Ritter, Ken Kirzinger, Christopher George Marquette, Brendan Fletcher, Lochlyn Munro, Katharine Isabelle, Kyle Labine, David Kopp, Jesse Hutch, Paula Shaw, Tom Butler.

Body Count: at least 24

Laughter Lines: “I’ve got some good advice for you. Coffee. Make friends with it.”


I’m just gonna say it: Jason came first, his name should be first. New Line, Schmyoo Line.

The concept of Freddy Krueger facing off against Jason Voorhees was every fanboy’s dream back in the 80s when it was first pitched. Though I always considered Jason vs Michael Myers as a more viable outing, as both exist in the ‘real’ world.

Back in 1988 when the concept was first suggested, squabbles between Schmyoo Line and Paramount knocked it on the head and, instead, Jason was pit against a telekinetic teenager in the seventh Friday, The New Blood, to ever-profitable but diminishing box office receipts, while Freddy hit his peak offing the remaining Elm Street kids in the then-ridiculously-successful fourth Elm Street outing, The Dream Child.

fvj-freddyAs the decade ended and people got bored of the same-old-same-old, Schmyoo Line purchased the rights to the Jason franchise and everybody supposed this would be the time the two would finally meet. But like a romance doomed to fail, it was still not meant to be, and, instead, Schmyoo Line ended both series in 1991 and 93 respectively, although Jason Goes to Hell was polished off with the coda of a razor-fingered glove dragging the hockey mask into the earth, suggesting anything was still possible.

In the 90s, when Freddy’s sire Wes Craven re-invented the slasher wheel with Scream, the idea was floated again. Although Michael Myers was rejuvenated along self-referential lines in 1998, audiences seemed to be more into earth-bound concepts of regular people going nuts and killing a bunch of folk, as witnessed by the you-upset-me motives across the Scream / I Know What You Did Last Summer / Urban Legend spectrum of loons. No room for dream demons and unkillable mama’s boys.

fvj-cornfield-stonersOnce again, the genre petered out thanks to the olde logjam effect, including the ill-conceived and ill-received attempt to put Jason is space for his tenth venture (eighth, if we’re going to be pedantic), which opened in 2002. However, something good clearly had come from all this (if anyone knows what it was, please write me), because in 2003 the fifteen-year-old idea only went into motherfucking production!

How? We squawked, how will Freddy and Jason exist in the same realm? From the gazillions of spec-scripts ranging from a cult that worships Jason to characters like Tommy Jarvis and Alice Johnson returning, the eventual choice was an impressively simple proposition…

fvj-freddy-markPeter Jackson – that Peter Jackson – offered up a script for 1991’s Freddy’s Dead in which the disempowered Krueger wasn’t scary enough to haunt anybody’s dreams and so teens sought him out in their slumber to kick his ass. Part of the concept held up; in FvJ Freddy has indeed been successfully banished by the residents of Springwood thanks to a concoction of Hypnocil-doping the teen population and never mentioning his name, so no fear can spread = no bad dreams = no deaths.

Irked by this resolution, Freddy engineers a plan of his own and, posing as Mrs Voorhees, resurrects the undead Jason, sending him off to Springwood to cause a bit of mayhem that will, he hopes, instil a near fear into the teen populace that will allow him to return and slash anew.

fvj-2picsThis all goes well until Jason continues killing anybody and everybody, and Freddy realises he needs to be removed from the picture. Caught in the middle of the mess is the usual group of mostly-doomed teens: Doe-eyed Lori, who lives at 1428 Elm Street, her BFF Kia (Rowland, of RnB shriekers Destiny’s Child), Lori’s until-recently institutionalized beau Will, and a few others who matter less, although special mention should go to their drug n’ booze loving friend, Gibb (Isabelle, fresh out of Ginger Snaps).

Freddy manipulates his way into destroying the town’s stockpile of Hypnocil that the kids make a bid for, and tranqs Jason in order to penetrate his dreams. The teens take Jason’s zonked body off to Camp Crystal Lake in the hope of bringing Freddy across to the real world (the same way Nancy did in the original that nobody thought of in any of the sequels) where they will hopefully occupy each other and leave Springwood alone.

fvj-trey-markThe final third of the films descends into WWE anarchy, with the two going at each other for what seems like an eternity of machete slashes, razor stabs, impalings, limb-removal, and even decapitation. It’s liberally bloody, increasingly wearisome, and 100% stupid.

While the film wisely adopts to parody itself before anyone else can, thanks largely to Ronny Yu’s direction after his mini-miracle with Bride of Chucky, it’s dumb even by slasher movie standards: Dialogue is persistently overwrought to explain what we can see occurring on screen as if the audience is going to be too mentally challenged to comprehend for themselves…

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Not quite Laurie, Annie, and Lynda, but the FvJ girls are appealing leads

Example: The first teen to encounter Freddy in a dream gets away unscathed and has to utter the lines “I’m alright! I’m OK!” followed by Freddy saying “Not strong enough yet…” Yeah. We kinda realised that. Later, the depleting teen posse look up Hypnocil online to see what it does. The screen we’re shown says ‘Suppress your dreams’ in big letters, yet the character reading from the screen mentions this last, after a load of inconsequential gobbledegook, despite the fact it’s written in huge font in front of everyone!

IQ-assumptions notwithstanding, the film works best before the two face off. Although Freddy only succeeds in slashing one victim for the whole movie, the dream sequences are good, as are the early murders dealt out by Jason, and the Scooby Doo meeting (and van!) the teens use was amusing. There are countless nods to earlier films in both series (something Halloween completely opted out of), with Westin Hills Psych Hospital back after the Dream Warriors, young Jason is seen with a sack put over his head by nasty campers, although Camp Crystal Lake seen as an untouched 50s relic was strange considering all of the films were set from 1979 onwards.

fvj-dockUltimately entertaining and operating as promised, not to mention phenomenally successful, outperforming all previous installments in both franchises combined. What Freddy vs Jason lacks in subtlety and scares (virtually everything), it makes up for in enthusiasm and loyalty to both sets of earlier films, wherever possible.

Blurbs-of-interest: Robert Englund’s other slasher flicks include Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Heartstopper, Hatchet, The Phantom of the Opera, and Urban Legend; Katharine Isabelle was in Bones and See No Evil 2; Jesse Hutch was also in The Tooth Fairy; Ken Kirzinger was a stuntman in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, and acted in Wrong Turn 2, and Stan Helsing (as the Jason rip-off, ‘Mason’); Lochlyn Munro was also in The Tooth Fairy, Scary Movie, and Hack! (with Kane Hodder).

Who you gonna call? Diana Prince!

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HOTLINE

3 Stars  1982/97m

“Hang up! Before HE comes to cut you off… DEAD.”

Director: Jerry Jameson / Writers: David E. Peckinpah & Stancil E.D. Johnson / Cast: Lynda Carter, Granville Van Dusen, Steve Forrest, Monte Markham, Harry Waters Jr., Joy Garrett, James Reynolds, Jerry Booth.

Body Count: 2

Laughter Lines: “The fanny-grabbers are out in force tonight!”


Woman Woman Lynda Carter shoulders much of the weight in this slasher-rooted TV thriller, in which she plays barmaid-cum-student Brianne (pronounced Brian), who takes a voluntary role at a crisis center hotline for sexy doc Justin (Van Dusen), where she is soon the target of a series of creepy calls.

Are the repeat calls related to the murder of a hooker close to where Brianne lives? On her own. In a big house. As they continue and the hissy voice gives her clues about a series of unsolved murders, Brianne becomes more and more curious and is soon channeling her inner Lois Lane to find out who it might be and why…

As anyone who’s seen more than a few such thrillers will know, it’s going to be somebody close to her – but who? The obvious choice is Justin, conveniently ‘away’ whenever there’s a call, or the bar owner she works for, his right-hand man, any of the random bit-parters?

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Hotline is kinda like a slasher film that never gets started, which would be annoying if it weren’t as tightly scripted and well acted as it is. Lynda avoids spinning into Wonder Woman mode, but steps into the final girl shoes with suitable accomplishment and no need for her super lasso thingy.

If you fancy a break from counting bodies dropped but still want an of-the-era taut thriller, this is a great starting place.

Final Face-Off: Final Nightmare vs Final Friday

Happy Star Wars day! But let’s turn our attention to a couple of less boring franchises…

jayfred-2.0Before Freddy vs Jason, New Line had officially killed both of their bad guys off in a pair of, at best, divisive ‘final’ instalments…

Disappointing box office returns for both of the 1989 sequels (Jason Takes Manhattan and The Dream Child – $14 and $22million respectively) were the writing on the wall for cinemas biggest slasher names (Michael Myers was faring even less well at the time) and so New Line purchased the rights on Jason from Paramount and decided to lay both to rest over a couple of years.

Goodbye 80s, hello 90s: Nobody wanted a masked maniac or a quippy dream stalker on the screen anymore. Well, not for a few years anyway.

First on the chopping block was Freddy. It’s worth noting that the film was released in the UK in early 1992, a matter of weeks after Queen frontman Freddy Mercury died, so his passing was unfortunately paired with a string of TV commercials bellowing “Freddy’s dead!”

FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE

2.5 Stars 1991/18/85m

“They saved the best for last.”

A.k.a. A Nightmare on Elm Street 6

Director: Rachel Talalay / Writer: Michael De Luca / Cast: Robert Englund, Lisa Zane, Lezlie Deane, Yaphet Kotto, Shon Greenblatt, Breckin Meyer, Ricky Dean Logan.

Body Count: 5


Ten years after the events of The Dream Child, Springwood is a childless burg after the relentless spate of weird deaths and ‘suicides’. Only one teenager remains, and he’s being tormented in his sleep by dreams of Freddy Krueger, who seems just a little reluctant to seal the deal and slay him.

Said teen wakes up beyond the city limits and is picked up by cops and dumped at a city juvie hall where in-house shrink-cum-social worker Maggie (Zane) works. New teen has amnesia, no I.D., and is sleep deprived. From the contents of his pockets, Maggie thinks it’s a good idea to drive him back to Springwood to jog the olde memory. It’s not a good idea at all, Maggie. It’s a bad idea.

With three juvie hall stowaways onboard, the group soon find out how weird Springwood is: Roseanne and Tom Arnold live there! Everyone else has gone loopy, there’s not a child or teenager in sight, and before long, the group are being stalked and done in by Freddy, who hitches a ride in Maggie’s subconscious (or some other unexplained shit) to escape the town where he can stalk and kill anew. ‘Inventive’ demises include a deaf kid’s head blown up when Freddy tinkers with his hearing aid and makes a lotta noise, and another is sucked into a Nintendo.

How does he do this? Well, Maggie is his daughter! Gasp! This alleged twist can be seen coming miles off, as John Doe soon suspects he is Krueger Jr., but no sooner than Maggie is introduced are her issues and ‘dreams’ are brought up. It’s pretty damn obvious it’s going to be her.

Anyway, with this knowledge, she is able to enter Freddy’s head – in 3D! –  pull him out like Nancy did all those years ago, and finish him off. Freddy is dead.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey…

*

JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY

3 Stars 1993/18/87m

“Evil has finally found a home.”

A.k.a. Friday the 13th Part IX

Director/Writer: Adam Marcus / Writers: Jay Hugeley & Dean Lorey / Cast: John D. LeMay, Kari Keegan, Steven Williams, Steven Culp, Erin Gray, Kane Hodder, Allison Smith, Billy Green Bush, Kipp Marcus, Rusty Schwimmer, Richard Gant, Leslie Jordan, Julie Michaels.

Body Count: approx 23

Laughter Lines:  “Looking to smoke some dope, have a little pre-marital sex and get slaughtered?”


A SWAT team take out Jason Voorhees, blowing him into numerous pieces. However, during the postmortem examination of his remains, his still-beating heart possesses the coroner, who takes a big bite out of it and becomes a vessel for Jason to use. Death for almost everyone else follows.

Meanwhile, Crystal Lake is celebrating the demise of their most notable resident, although news of the murders at the morgue and several others on a trail back to town worries local waitress Diana, who turns out to be Jason’s lil sister. Her daughter, Jessica, and infant granddaughter, are due to visit soon, but Diana fears the worst and contacts the baby’s oblivious father, Steven, to tell him all.

Sadly for Diana, “Jason” gets to her first, now bodyhopping at will. Steven is found with blood on his hands and arrested for the murder. In jail, he meets bounty hunter and Voorhees-expert Creighton Duke, who tells him that Jason can only be stopped by one of his bloodline and needs said family member to regain his usual form. Save Jessica and the baby, save the world. Well, Crystal Lake anyway.

Jason hops into the body of Jessica’s TV anchor boyfriend, killing half the cops in town, rampaging through a restaurant, before switching again for the big confrontation at the Voorhees house. Needless to say, Jessica is successful in killing her uncle and he is sucked into hell for good.

* * *

Both films are objectively bad, more so within their respective franchises. One the one hand, Freddy is presented in an even more watered down, high-comedy, low-scare way, with more jokes than kills, some cringey quips, and a whole lotta scattergun efforts to pad out his swan song.

Jason’s treatment is a severe retconning of what began as a B-movie about an axe murderer, now there’s not only the body-jumping mini-demon, but all manner of lore, magical daggers, and a sub-Evil Dead How to Kill Jason book in the mix. It’s barely a Friday the 13th film at all.

Next to one another – and I watched both over two days – Jason’s adventure is that tiny bit more enjoyable, BUT solely down to a couple of very good scenes, the rest is an undeniable suckfest. Freddy, on the other hand, has a good first ten or twenty minutes and some interesting origin tale stuff (undermined by the dismal 3D dream creature things), but it all seems so forced in. And at least The Final Friday doesn’t shy away from pushing it’s R-rating to the hilt, although some of it is too gooey.

Peter Jackson wrote one of the many scripts considered for The Final Nightmare, but the production team steered away from darker themes – possibly having been stung with their ill-conceived attempt to make The Dream Child a back-to-basics affair – and opt for a lighter route, which resulted in a very dry, low-body count film, where the chintzy 3D final ten minutes or so were pushed heavily in the TV spots, but ultimately are inconsequential and cheap looking. Freddy had ceased being scary after Dream Warriors, as his series outperformed the competition in bounds, but the bizarrely adopted concept of an undead child molester and killer had just become too big for its boots and no power in heaven or earth would ever make it scary again.

The film has a few cameos: Johnny Depp appears on TV frying an egg, and Alice Cooper is drafted in as Fred’s foster-dad. Breckin Meyer also marked his big screen debut here, and possibly regrets it. But if you’re going to end a film with a Greatest Hits compilation of highlights from the previous instalments, it’s going to make said movie look rubbish in comparison.

The Final Friday was shot in 1992 and shelved for almost a year, originally clocked in at two-and-a-half hours, and didn’t feature the best scene: This is, of course, the teen-campers aside. Test audiences complained there were no teenagers, so the genial little sidebar tale of two girls and a boy camping at Crystal Lake was added. All three are summarily slashed up (see this earlier Icky Way to Go), but it – as well as the opening seven or eight minutes – really recaptures the stalk n’ slash ambience of the 80s movies. After that, it’s downhill fast, although during this re-watch, I noticed the subtle (and not so) homoerotic nuances lurking beneath a few scenes; Adam Marcus allegedly ‘made up’ for the girls-only nudity rule of the previous eight movies with more naked guys and the very obscure shaving scene. Maybe Jason is gay?

jgth-1.2Of course, both characters were revived to duke it out ten years later in the phenomenally successful Freddy vs Jason, mercifully putting this pair of duds in the shadows, and both have since seen remakes that all but halted the franchises again.

I wouldn’t choose to watch either of these, and probably won’t for another decade or so, by which time I hope both will have seen at least one new film each.

Blurbs-of-interest: Beyond his Krueger role, Robert Englund was also in Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie VernonHatchetHeartstopperThe Phantom of the Opera, and Urban Legend; Breckin Meyer was in Stag Night; Kane Hodder played Jason in Parts VIIX and was also in Behind the MaskChildren of the Corn V, all three Hatchet movies, and Hack!; Leslie Jordan was in Madhouse; Steven Culp had a cameo in Scream Queens; Adam Marcus later co-wrote Texas Chainsaw 3D.


Children of the railroad crossing

FINGERPRINTS

3.5 Stars 2006/18/92m

“Even the dead leave them.”

Director: Harry Basil / Writers: Brian Cleveland & Jason Cleveland / Cast:  Leah Pipes, Kristin Cavallari, Josh Henderson, Andrew Lawrence, Lou Diamond Phillips, Sally Kirkland, Geoffrey Lewis, Sydnee Harlan, Ashley Wyatt, Ginger Gilmartin, Darryl Cox.

Body Count: 8

Laughter Lines:  “A hair test is the only way to be sure that you’re drug free!”


In the small town on Emerald, Texas, in March 1957, a school bus is hit by a train at a level crossing, killing all onboard. In the years that follow, an urban legend is developed that states if you park on the tracks with the car in neutral, the ghosts of the dead children will push you to safety, leaving tiny handprints behind.

This is naturally laughed off by newcomer Melanie (Leah Pipes, pre-Sorority Row), when her sister Crystal (Cavallari) drives her to their new hometown after a stint in rehab. Her nasty mom doesn’t trust her with anything, but Crystal introduces her to the local high school rabble, one of whom decides to put the local legend to the test, nearly killing a car load of them in the process. At the last second, Mel sees a young girl (one we saw killed at the start) stood on the tracks. Twilight Zone music please.

As she tries to settle in as the new girl, battling her overbearing mother, high school bitches, and frickin’ Lou Diamond Phillips for a guidance counsellor, a couple of horny classmates get themselves skewered by a shadowy killer dressed as a railway conductor.

Mel finds herself haunted by the little girl, who clearly wants help, Sixth Sense-style. When she confides in Lou Diamond Phillips, he tells Mom, who of course goes off the deep end, even more so when the cops suspect Mel in the disappearances of the horny classmates: “You are going to your room for the rest of your life!”

Slowly, some people come around the accepting the legend is real – although its origins, it seems, have been completely made up and Fingerprints ventures down a path not too dissimilar to Elm Street, with mob-vengeance, vital information hidden from the next generation, and cover-ups. Melanie is thrown into the centre when the conductor kidnaps Crystal; finds out the truth and unmasks the lunatic. Happy days.

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The plot sounds overwrought and perhaps it is. Fingerprints is only a slasher film in the secondary sense, first and foremost it’s a tame ghost story, the gruesome slayings are a bit of an afterthought. Without them though, there’d be less motivation for the final girl to act, and it would simply be a fattened-up episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Good production unities, the Krueger-lite revelations, and eventual identity of the killer (plus their rather awesome flip out) more than make up for a bit of a slow start. It won’t please gorehounds by any means, but there’s a decent little flick here.

Blurbs-of-interest: Sally Kirkland was in Fatal Games way back in the 80s, and also Jack the Reaper; Josh Henderson was in the dreadful April Fool’s Day remake; Geoffrey Lewis was in Out of the Dark.

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