Sep 18, 2019

VAMPIRES (1998)


  
John Carpenter grew up watching westerns. 

One of his very first short films, The Resurrection of Billy Bronco, was inspired by them. And although known as a horror director, he’s really been making westerns since the very beginning: Assault on Precinct 13, They Live, Escape from New York/L.A., Ghosts of Mars and there are even more. But when it comes to the weary and embattled few taking on many in the dusty, sandy landscapes of the Midwest, complemented by the appropriate acoustic-guitar-driven musical score, it’s Vampires that claims the top spot as the western Carpenter always wanted to make. Sure, the enemy might be sunlight-avoiding bloodsuckers, but they spring up from everywhere – from behind buildings, or elevator shafts – and it’s up to Woods’ Malcolm Crow and his desperadoes to mow them down with a glorious collection of weaponry. The only thing scarier than facing your certain death in the OK Corral at sundown is being out there in the New Mexico desert at all once the sun begins to set, allowing the legion of vampires beneath the sandy surface to rise, looking for necks to suck on.


Vampires is a hell of a lot of fun – the type of fun of which only Carpenter is capable – the type of fun that is completely without pretension, and which only wants to entertain, emboldened by that “to hell with mainstream audiences” mentality that Carpenter has been rocking since The Fog. It’s never spoken of fondly among cinephiles, but for the ardent Carpenter fan, it’s generally regarded as the last great feature from the filmmaker. It opened # 1 at the box office its debut weekend and enjoyed a laudable collection of favorable reviews – again, and sadly, it may be the last time of Carpenter’s career. To follow would be the box-office and critical bomb Ghosts of Mars, followed by the little-seen The Ward, and then endless speculation of just what projects Carpenter might tackle next, should the necessary funding come together (which seems more and more like a red herring as time goes on).

Carpenter films contain a certain energy and swagger that’s not commonly seen in other films of the genre. There’s something about the way he crafts the story and develops the lead that feels different – that establish their own identity. His siege-like tales always center around that one strong lead fighting back against adversity; heroes either anti or reluctant leading a small squad of people against the threat coming down hard upon them; heroes taking on the establishment with little hope for success.


Malcolm Crow is among them, and he is brought to boisterous, cigar-chomping, scenery-chewing life by James Woods, not only enjoying a rare lead performance, but enjoying one in which he gets to play the hero. And man is he shooting for the rafters. Woods’ performance exudes a kind of energy rarely seen in a genre project within the confines of a major studio release. (Watching him stake vampires while screaming, “Motherfucker, die! Die!” over and over is the stuff of dreams.) This wasn’t just a relatively unknown Kurt Russell taking on Snake Plissken, free of the constraints of having achieved mainstream success and straddling that line between risk-taking and reputation-maintaining. This was James Woods, a twice Oscar-nominated actor (the second nomination having been the year prior for Ghosts of Mississippi); who had, in the few years leading up to Vampires‘ release, worked with Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, and Robert Zemeckis; who, in the following year, would work with Clint Eastwood. Not to belabor the point, but this was an actor who had a lot to lose, creatively, by taking on a project of such potential embarrassment. But he threw caution to the wind, likely so he could let back his proverbial hair and just have fun.

And man, that’s what Vampires is. It’s fun.

As for the supporting cast, Daniel Baldwin (the most underrated Baldwin, for serious) as Montoya doesn’t get enough credit for his abilities as an actor. His contributions to the film are to offer a believable and somewhat restrained counterpart to Crow’s eccentric and bigger-than-life persona. That he begins to slowly fall for Katrina (Sheryl Lee), a prostitute bitten by the film’s main baddie, only adds to his likability. He’s written as the loyal and dependable partner – the ideal person to have in your corner when you’re up against it – and you completely buy the rapport he shares with his fellow vamp-killer. 


Thomas Ian Griffith also does a fine job retreading very old and established ground with his take on Valek, likely the fifth hundred vampire to hit the screen since the film medium began. With one foot each in the sexual-being and the monstrous-killer camps, his Valek is an interesting addition to the vampire sub-genre, which, by now, is in desperate need of rejuvenation following too many years of so many pretty bloodsucking boys. (Also look for brief appearances by Mark Boone Junior of Sons of Anarchy and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, a.k.a. Shang Tsung of Mortal Kombat.)

To suggest that Vampires is within throwing distance of Carpenter’s top films wouldn’t be accurate, but it’s deserving of so much more respect than it receives – not just from the genre community, but audiences in general. Allegedly, Carpenter, at this point in his career, had become burned out by the filmmaking process; however, it would be his experience making Vampires that would cause him to reassess his feelings and decided to stick with it. Only when Ghosts of Mars came along three years later would the director lapse into a half-retirement/hiatus for nine years before returning to feature filmmaking with The Ward.

Spoiler.
With each passing day, as Carpenter prefers to focus on graphic novels, video games, and his beloved Lakers, it seems more and more to be the case that he could very well be done with the film business for good. While it would be terrible for The Ward to serve as his swan song, perhaps it would offer the opportunity for the ’90s portion of his career – one not nearly as celebrated as his two previous decades – to enjoy the same kind of rightful adoration. Second only to In the Mouth of Madness in terms of ’90s era-Carpenter, Vampires is deserving of that kind of adoration.

If, for whatever reason, you may have dismissed Vampires after a one-time viewing, or perhaps none at all, it's time for you to consider a reevaluation. A manic performance from James Woods, a healthy dose of violence and blood-covered grue, and a full-on embracing of western aesthetics makes Vampires an underrated addition to Carpenter’s filmography and one of the more unique contributions to the vampire genre.


Sep 17, 2019

DO YOU READ SUTTER CANE?

SUTTER CANE TAKES US HOME TO HOBB’S END FOR THE FINAL CONFRONTATION. THIS TIME NO ONE GETS OUT OF HERE ALIVE AND THAT INCLUDES YOU! 

Excerpt: And then, suddenly, he felt a greater terror than that which any of the Forms could give – a terror from which he could not flee, because it was connected with himself. In a chaos of scenes, whose infinite multiplicity and monstrous diversity brought him close to the brink of madness, were a limitless confusion of beings which he knew were himself. Forms both human and non-human.

He reeled in the clutch of supreme horror. He was no longer a being distinguished from other beings. He had reached the nameless summit of agony and dread…

The picturesque town hadn’t changed much since the turn-of-the-century. Even the people seemed out of time. There’s something about being in a small, rural community which Carl found both refreshing, and at the same time, a little unnerving. But there was something about this place which was making him feel more unnerved than anything else. Helen said it was withdrawal, not enough neon and police sirens. Maybe she was right, maybe Carl was just wound a little too tight. But Carl’s gut said otherwise, and it was never wrong. He had made a fortune relying on his instinct, and now it was telling him that here was something very wrong with this place. Helen called it nervous stomach, a symptom of post-retirement withdrawal. But Carl wasn’t nervous, he was scared. There was something in Hobb’s End which was making him sick. Maybe this was one of those quaint little towns which was being used as a dump site for toxic waste. That could explain the bleeding ulcer which was devouring Carl from the inside out. But the truth was far more terrifying than industrial pollutants. Carl knew the truth, always had, it was ingrained deep within his psyche. Psychologists called it social conscience, Carl called it his gut, and it was as much a part of his genetic makeup as the gene which had given him his white forelock. Unfortunately, Carl had also inherited the gene for male patterned baldness and lost his distinctive white forelock, along with the rest of his hair, several years ago. But he hadn’t lost the knowledge. He couldn’t. It was a part of him, and every other member of his species. It was what they had been created for.

IF THIS BOOK DOESN'T SCARE YOU TO DEATH... 

YOU’RE ALREADY DEAD.

The sleepy colonial town of Hobb’s End was right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. 

It seemed like the perfect retirement community for Carl and Helen Pickman, who had always dreamed of running a cozy little bed and breakfast inn. 

But there is something which is making Carl sick to his stomach… something which is changing his wife.

IT KNOWS NO FEARS.

IT HAS NO WEAKNESS.

IT LIVES TO KILL.

WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T GO DOWNSTAIRS 

After losing both her job, and her boyfriend, Lauren Mitchell is confronted with her worst fear – she must move back in with her parents. But her nightmare is just beginning. For things have changed back home. Her parents have a new border living in their basement, and he’s not very friendly. In fact, he’s not even human. But that doesn’t stop the ghastly creature from wanting Lauren for it’s mate. It has chosen her to bear it’s parasitic offspring - a hideous new brood of creatures – a vicious new breed of evil. Lauren isn’t giving up without one hell of a fight. But even then, she may wind up dead… if she’s lucky.

THE REIGNING KING OF HORROR IS ABOUT TO TAKE YOU TO HELL… HANG ON FOR YOUR LIFE!

Tourist guides say that it was part of the underground railroad – a secret route to freedom for Southern slaves. But there are those who know otherwise. Many families fled into the tunnel in a desperate flight to liberty, but very few ever came back out. 

Jesse Washington’s grandfather was one of the few who survived. He told stories of a cavernous labyrinth which led to the very bowels of the earth… And of something living deep within the darkness, more terrifying than death itself; something which fed upon his entire family. But Jesse never paid much attention to the old man’s stories. The tunnel had been closed up long ago for safety reasons, and no one had ventured inside for years. But it was sealed not to keep people out, but to keep something in. And that something has gotten lonely over the years… lonely and hungry. And now it’s coming to the surface to hunt… and to feed. Now Jesse believes, but now it may already be too late…


SIX-YEAR-OLD JOSH TANNER LIKED HIS DOG SCOUT. BUT THE LITTLE BEAGLE DIDN’T TASTE NEARLY AS GOOD AS MARY WALKER’S CAT… YOU MAY NEVER WANT TO BABYSIT AGAIN

Summer has finally come, and for the first time since the divorce, Jack Sullivan is getting custody of his two children, Max and Amanda, for an entire month. But soon after the arrival, Jack notices a sudden and dramatic change come over his children. The games they play grow increasingly dangerous. And their behavior becomes more violent and cruel with each passing day. But it’s not just Max and Amanda. Every kid in town is changing, becoming more and more vicious. In desperation the town’s people gather to decide upon a plan. But the children have already chosen their fate. It’s time to get rid of the adults once and for all, by any means possible. Jack and the rest of the adults soon find themselves being hunted down by sadistic hordes of their very own children. And what the children have in store for them is even more horrifying than the most frightening childhood nightmare.

THE WEATHER BUREAU IS CALLING IT, ‘THE MOST VISCIOUS STORM OF THE CENTURY.’ THEY DON’T KNOW HOW RIGHT THEY ARE

Plague and Pestilence, War and Famine… Throughout history, mankind has been ravaged with horrific tragedy. And on each and every occasion it was there, gorging itself on humanity’s pain and suffering. Since the dawn of civilization, it has haunted the shadows of human existence, infecting agony and death upon all it embraces. It has been more than a hundred years since the darkness fell upon the new world. But the hour of evil is upon us once again. There is a vicious storm brewing, bringing winds of torment and a rain of terror. And with it comes the haunter, a parasitic monster who feeds on man’s most primal emotions; seeking ecstasy in the torturous throes of human misery. No man, woman or child is safe from its wickedness. And only the strongest will survive… The question is, survive as what? 

SUTTER CANE WELCOMES YOU TO THE PLACE WHERE NIGHTMARES ARE BORN AND DEATH COMES IN A WHISPER

The rugged wilderness is a haven for hikers and nature lovers who enjoy it’s natural beauty and unspoiled majesty. And as autumn sets in, the forests come alive with their beautiful palettes of fall colors. But there’s something else which comes alive as the sun goes down, and the woods become a nocturnal playground for the creatures of the night.

Cody Youngblood’s people also believed the Wanago could come into the land of the living if enough people shared the infectious nightmares. Cody, however, has spent his entire life trying to distance himself from his native roots. But as his nightmares, and those of his friends, start taking shape in the real world; he soon finds himself forced to embrace the Shamanistic teachings of his ancestors. To save himself and the ones he loves he must believe in the Indian magic he denounced as a young man. And even that may not be enough to save them from the savage terror which whispers in the dark.


Sep 15, 2019

MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN (1992)


Memoirs of Invisible Man is probably the least discussed film of John Carpenter’s career outside of his first feature credit, Dark Star. There are a handful of reasons for this, which may be due to its so-so reputation, but it’s likely because it just doesn’t feel like a Carpenter film. Stepping in after original director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters) left the production over disagreements with Chevy Chase about its tone, Memoirs of an Invisible Man remains the only film Carpenter made for Warner Bros. That may sound like random boring trivia, but considering his terrible experience with the production, which he’s talked about freely over the years, it serves as a reminder as to why he avoided working with major studios whenever feasible — and they don’t get more major than Warner Bros.

A byproduct of Carpenter becoming a senior citizen has been his adorable irascibility and his total loss of a social filter. He publicly called Rob Zombie a “piece of shit” for the shock-rocker’s fudging of reality regarding how Carpenter allegedly responded to Zombie’s intent to remake Halloween. (The two later mended fences.) In addition, his candid misery on the set of The Fog remake (on which he served as producer) became legendary around the horror community for how salty one human being could be for being paid handsomely to sit in a corner. In keeping with all this, he’s made it pretty clear over the years that there’s one actor, above all others, he absolutely hated working with, and though you’ll never find any written confirmation of this, it was most assuredly Chevy Chase. 


If you’ve read up on the comedian and actor, followed his behavior on the set of Community, or tangled with the gigantic tome Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests, then you know he’s an extremely difficult personality to wrangle. Carpenter, not naming names, once said during an interview on the set of Escape from L.A. that an actor he’d just finished working with could “burn in hell for all eternity.” (I once pointedly asked Carpenter which actor this was, and if that same actor happened to share the name of a city in Maryland, and I received “no comment” as a response. However, he later disclosed during an interview that Chase “still sends [him] a Christmas card every year.”)

All that tabloid fodder aside, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, as a film, is very very…okay. Perhaps the most jarring thing about it is its somewhat confused tone. Though marketed as a comedy/romance, and in spite of its moments of levity (all, naturally, deriving from Chase’s invisible antics), the tone is fairly straight and even a bit dark. Memoirs of an Invisible Man just might be the only comedy/drama/thriller/romance/film noir in existence. (Chase’s character recording a pseudo-memoir of the events of his life over the last few days is a clear callback to Double Indemnity.) Chase and love interest Daryl Hannah show close to zero chemistry, but Michael McKean is typically great, if underused, and Sam Neill (yay!) as a shadowy government official in steady pursuit of Chase’s invisi-dude offers the best character – he’s certainly one of the main reasons to watch.


Memoirs of an Invisible Man has unfairly garnered a shitty reputation over the years – as a title that’s easy to dismiss and a very minor footnote in an otherwise celebrated artist’s career. I can somewhat understand why: as someone who considers Carpenter his all-time favorite filmmaker, Memoirs of an Invisible Man doesn’t feel like a Carpenter flick at all, and as any cinephile will tell you, one of the joys of watching films is to zero in on a filmmaker or writer’s style that speaks to you and to revel in that style for every one of his or her creations. (That the director’s name doesn’t precede the title, as it has otherwise ever since 1976’s Assault on Precinct 13, seems to suggest that Carpenter feels the same.) It very much embodies the kind of too-many-cooks, compromised, and flavorless productions that studios pump out dozens of times per year. Carpenter doesn’t script, ghost-script, or score, and his usual cadre of cast and crew aren’t on board. There’s a new director of photography, a new composer, a new editor…and no Peter Jason.

Memoirs of an Invisible is the definition of disposable entertainment. It’s not offensive enough to be terrible, but if you’re someone like me who’d sooner watch a lesser Carpenter film that at least feels like a Carpenter film, then you may wonder when you’d ever get the urge to watch it at all. Memoirs of an Invisible Man is a lot like its titular character: you know he’s there in the room with you, but you can’t see him at all.

Sep 13, 2019

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, YOU PIECE OF SHIT: FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009)

We're briefly hitting pause on Carptember in honor of today's date: Friday the 13th. And on this day, I like to kick back, watch a few of my favorite Friday titles from the Paramount era, and also talk about how fucking shitty the 2009 remake is. Plus it's somewhat Carpenter-related since he gets name-dropped in this piece while recognizing that the Friday the 13th series wouldn't exist were it not for him, anyway. 

Either way, let's get hatin'.


I’ve been watching Jason Voorhees murder human beings ever since I was a wee one. Too young and poor to own actual copies of the films, I was reduced to watching versions recorded off television from ABC’s “Million Dollar Movie” and USA’s “Up All Night.” The gore was heavily edited, the nudity had vanished, and even benign lines of dialogue like “thank God” were edited down to “thank ___.” But at that time, I took anything I could get, and I wore out those tapes without much effort.

Jason Voorhees, both pre- and post-zombie, was kind of my hero. He was a monstrous force of nature with which to be reckoned. He crushed heads and introduced axes to bodies without prejudice. He cared little for the half-naked nubiles that were helplessly straddled on the floor in front of him — he wanted nothing more than to throw them out the window, bash them against a tree, or stab them…you know…down there. The Friday the 13th series was even, in essence, my first exposure to sex (and in a largely overblown way, its consequences), since it predated my father’s birds-and-the-bees talk, the 37th-generation porn tape that circulated among my friends, and my public school’s laughably tardy sex ed class. No sir, I learned all about female anatomy from The Final Chapter.

Funny and inappropriate as it may sound, the series was a large part of my childhood, but despite my adoration, I would never describe the series as art — not even the first film. Slasher movies that result in legitimately good cinema are a rarity — John Carpenter's Halloween naturally comes to mind. Sure, slashers are “good” in the sense that you like them, and they are certainly entertaining, but they’re not written to trigger any emotional response other than screaming. They don’t want to push you to question society. They just want you to laugh as the fat chick on the side of the road gets a pick-axe through her neck, or to fear for Final Girl who is completely alone, knowing the masked maniac could be around any corner. Post-Halloween slashers were willing to show you anything to earn that response. They are buffalo wings and beer: they’re an option, they really hit the spot, but at the end of the day, they’re junk. (But that’s okay!)


Unlike Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th isn’t a series where most fans point to the first film as their favorite, simply because the series didn’t really come into its own until the sequel, which introduced a masked Jason as the primary maniac. Now that the baggage of “the original” was no longer on the table, fans were free to choose which chapter was their favorite. Pretty sure it’s The Final Chapter, and also pretty sure that’s because of all the Crispin Glover dancing. (It’s my preferred entry, anyway.)

Despite the lack of “quality” in each successive sequel, insofar as could be expected of Friday the 13th, and despite the stick-in-the-mud claims that each sequel was the same movie over and over, you can’t claim that each entry following The Final Chapter wasn’t trying something new.

A New Beginning pissed off fans by removing Jason from the equation and replacing him with a copycat killer. Luckily, the movie boasts a healthy amount of the red stuff, and director Danny Steiner leans on a slimy yet effective grindhouse aesthetic that feels right at home in the franchise. Even with the disappointing fake killer reveal, it’s a natural continuation of the Tommy Jarvis saga, which began in The Final Chapter. It’s effectively directed, and if the real Jason had actually been the killer, I’m confident A New Beginning would be considered a series high-point.

Jason Lives is the “funnest” of the series, with its tongue firmly planted in cheek, and it shows on both the page and the screen. Having said that, (and putting aside the goofy but lovable James Bond-esque opening title sequence), let it not be said that Jason Lives doesn’t live up to the Friday the 13th brand. Jason, newly resurrected, is back with a vengeance. People are smashed through RV walls, ripped apart, and bent in half. Heads are stabbed and triple decapitations are on the menu. “Fun” tone notwithstanding, the threat is still very real. Thom Mathews (Return of the Living Dead) caps off the Tommy Jarvis story with the best iteration of the character and puts Jason back in the lake for good (haha, not). Director Tom McLoughlin keeps things light, channeling Joe Dante and Amblin Films, delivering a hoot-and-a-half of a Friday. With a diverse cast that doesn’t just focus on teenagers, McLoughlin manages to make Jason Lives feel less like a slasher flick and more like an honest-to-gosh horror film geared toward everyone. (It actually got some decent reviews, too, which in the land of Friday the 13th is usually unheard of.)

The whole Jason vs. Carrie gimmick of The New Blood is a little absurd, but most fans have been pretty forgiving of that plot point. It’s what the MPAA did to poor director John Carl Buechler, and all his gory set pieces, that they can’t forgive. Still, despite being tame with the gore, The New Blood is fun, and if nothing else, depicted the most bad-ass Jason so far (played for the first of four times by fan favorite Kane Hodder) — exposed spine and all.

Jason Takes A Cruise Ship Toronto Manhattan would unceremoniously serve as the last entry produced by Paramount Pictures (the same studio that gave the world the Godfather trilogy), who had distributed the original and funded every sequel. Following the series’ declining box office receipts, Jason Takes Manhattan would prove to be the studio’s last go-around with their hideous and embarrassing cash cow. Unfortunately, what sounded like a clever and exciting script was hacked apart to reduce the budget, forcing writer/director Rob Hedden to sacrifice much of his vision, which included scenes in Madison Square Garden (where Julius was supposed to get his head punched off), a chase scene on the Brooklyn Bridge, and a finale in the Statue of Liberty. Instead, Hedden shifted most of the action to that goddamn cruise ship, where Jason miraculously negotiates tight hallways and cabins without anyone ever seeing him. (In case you were wondering, 34 minutes of the movie’s 96-minute running time “takes place” in New York, and two minutes of that time is actually shot there.) What Hedden can be blamed for, however, is shitting the Friday the 13th mythology bed by impossibly suggesting that Final Girl and Jason were children around the same time period, making Jason either both a zombie killer AND a lake-haunting boy ghost, or Final Girl the oldest high school senior on record. Also, while Jason’s uncanny talent for taking lives has always bordered on absurd, Jason Takes Manhattan takes it one step further and bestows on him the completely ludicrous ability to teleport.

At film’s end, Jason screams like an elephant and drowns in toxic waste.

It had a really fun teaser poster, though:

 

Once the Paramount reign of Friday the 13th ended and New Line Cinema stepped in to adopt the rotting hulk, Jason went to Hell, space, and Elm Street. Most would agree none of them were a return to form for the masked killer (though it’s easy to love Freddy vs. Jason).

And then 2009’s Friday the 13th happened to us all, which came out ten years ago.

Happy birthday, you piece of shit.

When the soulless production team of Platninum Dunes, headed by Michael Bay, announced the remake of Friday the 13th, every horror enthusiast and their decapitated mother knew they weren’t actually remaking the first film. Instead, they were remaking the concept of Friday the 13th —Jason, with mask, cutting down teens in the woods. But I’ll admit, when the remake of Friday the 13th was announced, I was excited. By this time, Platinum Dunes had already given the world the remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which was shockingly good, along with The Amityville Horror and The Hitcher, which…weren’t, but each announcement in regards to Friday the 13th really seemed to indicate they knew what they were doing: the writers of Freddy Vs. Jason would be writing the script, Chainsaw director Marcus Nispel would be getting behind the camera, and Jared Padalecki, star of Supernatural, would be playing the lead role of Clay — basically a reiteration of Jason-hunter Rob from The Final Chapter. This trio of creative decisions tickled my horror fancy. In my eyes, that was some promising horror street cred all involved in this hotly anticipated remake, and this was only Friday the 13th — fucking that up would be like burning water. The movie was soon shot, set visit reports showed enthusiasm from all those involved, and the trailer masterfully captured the tone of the original movies, even going as far as mimicking the “thirteen deaths countdown” as the trailer for the original film did 30 years prior.

But the audience was doomed. They were alllll dooooomed. And on Friday the 13th, 2009, nothing would save them.


After all that, I have to ask…why? Why was the final product so awful? How did they get all of this seemingly so right and then flush it right down the toilet? How did the Friday the 13th flick with the highest budget, made by a studio finally unashamed of its ownership, and created by people who purported to love the franchise, become the worst entry in the series?

Let’s start with the script.

You’ll never (ever) have me bemoaning the lack of character development in a Friday the 13th because I don’t need that, and it’s not what I expect from a movie that’s essentially Part 12. Instead, I would have preferred a group of characters to be, in the most effortless way, at least a little bit likable. Ripping off my own face and begging for Jason to come down off the screen and vivisect me was tolerable compared to watching Funny Dick Guy say one putrid “the obnoxious character is always a gas!” line of dialogue after the other. Meanwhile, writers craft scripts like this and then grin at you and say, “These kids feel like real kids!” If Friday the 13th’s kids are based on real kids, Planet Earth is doomed.

And what’s with these kids and their utter masturbatory obsession with smoking weed? What’s with this needless, overbearing crusade to really reinforce that kids not only smoke week, but that smoking week is hysterical? Yeah, I get it. Teens smoke weed. Teens have always smoked weed, and will always smoke weed. You know who else smoked weed? My parents. And yours. We’re not doing anything new here, people. But Friday the 13th seems intent on beating their audience over the head with a thirty-pound bong. Not only does the movie open with kids hunting for a pot field, later on, an entirely different group of kids come along and smoke weed and laugh a lot, because weed is the BEST. Listen, the original Friday the 13th entries are horrendously dated, I’ll freely admit it. The environments are free of cell phones and flat screens. Kids dance “the robot” and have gigantic hair. The guys wear shorter shorts than the girls. For an entry or two, punk was “in.” But they were still way cooler than the kids of Friday the 13th 2009. They didn’t make their bongs and pipes do puppet shows. They didn’t go “awwww yeaaaah!” when someone took out an ounce and waved it around like a Polaroid. They didn’t say “this is some good shit!” or bellow “I am so stoned!” for comedic effect. They passed the joint, smoked, and played some acoustic. The end.

And if you think the film’s immature look at marijuana is the last of the pitfalls, think again.

Why does every single character in the film lack the social skills of a zoo-born gorilla? Did you really just take your tits out for no reason, Dumb Girl? Were you seriously going to do some common-area masturbating since no one was around, Other Kid? Are we really watching a redneck about to masturbate all over a naked mannequin as he feels its chest? To quote that YouTube child, is this real life?


Worse, most of the deaths are incredibly lazy, while some border on the kind of discomfort-causing dispatches from the world of Saw, Hostel, and all of those imitators so popular during the 2000s, which ain’t the Friday the 13th way. As a result, the deaths look merely unpleasant and somehow simultaneously boring. Case in point: Stoner Kid wanders around a dark garage looking for god-knows-what, spending almost five straight minutes talking to himself. The music is mounting, and you know Jason’s about to pop up and give this moron a death we all hope is glorious. And then…

Jason shoves a screwdriver into his neck.

Slowly.

As Stoner Kid begs for his life.

It’s not fun, but boring — and uncomfortable. That’s not why we’re here. We’ve come for titillation, not revulsion. For the first time in a Friday the 13th, watching teens get slaughtered isn’t…fun.

As far as Jason’s killing capabilities go, I’m a little more lenient than some other fans. If Jason wants to shoot an arrow into some girl’s skull, that’s fine. In previous entries, I’ve seen him throw spikes directly into people’s faces from afar with deadly precision, so I won’t complain about the method, but to then flash to Jason’s old room and show us an archery trophy? Who fucking cares? Astoundingly, the writers thought they were clever enough to “explain” why Jason is good with a bow-and-arrow, yet when it came time for him to find his hockey mask for the first time — in a moment that should have been iconic — they write a scene where he literally finds the thing on the floor. Come on guys, really? That’s like Bruce Wayne deciding what his Batman costume will look like by buying a fucking Batman costume on Amazon.

Not helping matters is the lifeless “bum-bum-bum-bum” film score by Steve Jablonksy, who unfortunately sees fit to keep “ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma” and toss the rest — unaware of the effectiveness of Harry Manfredini’s original music. Manfredini’s awesome original score isn’t music you can hum, like Halloween, Phantasm, or JAWS. Notes are all over the place, and hardly repetitive — more Herrmann than Carpenter—and the collection of harsh strings, harps, and low brass is what made the not-that-scary events unfolding on screen seem pretty scary. It’s a superior film score that deserved just as much respect as Jason himself, but given the complete lack of understanding as to what made Jason a great character, it would seem the score never had a chance. (For an example of how to do this the right way, see Graeme Revell’s score for Freddy vs. Jason, which effectively marries Manfredini’s Friday stuff with Charles Bernstein’s Nightmare stuff, all while writing original compositions.)

The only worthy kudos is entirely dedicated to Derek Mears as Jason. A longtime fan of the series, he understood that — despite what people think — Jason Voorhees really is a “character,” and he did a great job bringing him to life. 


After a great opening weekend, Friday the 13th suffered such poor word of mouth that the following weekend saw a severe drop-off in box office, thus killing any plans for a follow up. (It takes a special kind of talent to make a lot of money from a Friday the 13th movie and not parlay that into an immediate sequel.)

Fans all have their own ideas for what makes or breaks a Friday the 13th entry, with many of the criticisms leveled at the remake being things I don’t have the time to care about. Jason runs and that’s weird? I don’t care, and no, it’s not, because he ran in the first three Jason chapters. How does he know how to keep his electricity running in his childhood home? I dunno, ask the Jason who had a working toilet in the second entry. I tend to overlook these details and focus on things that are obviously dumb, like establishing that the town of Crystal Lake knows that Jason is running around in the woods, but aren’t that concerned about it. Or that Jason doesn’t kill one particular female character because she resembles his mother, yet he does chain her up in a dungeon, which seems like a very bizarre way to treat a mother. Or that an abandoned summer camp is infested with a series of underground tunnels which the screenwriters couldn’t be bothered to explain with one line of dialogue.

How did making a Jason film get so hard? Why is the concept of a masked killer cutting off heads so uncrackable? (How did a bunch of kids make the Friday the 13th fan film Never Hike Alone with a fraction of the remake’s budget, resources, and Hollywood talent, and still create something vastly superior?)

Guys, this isn’t Don Corleone we’re talking about here. Nor Indiana Jones, John McClane, or the aforementioned Batman. It’s Jason Voorhees. Put a mask on him, dump him in the woods, give him some unannoying kids to kill in clever ways, add a twist of lemon for freshness, and holy shit, make it fun. As a lifelong Friday the 13th fan, who was able to find merit in every single entry up to Jason X (and I really had to reach for that one), 2009’s Friday the 13th was the first time I ever recall feeling embarrassed by my love for the franchise.

To all the folks who mucked this up: this is such an easy wheel to keep turning, and somehow, you totally blew it.



[Reprinted from Daily Grindhouse.]