Showing posts with label slasher movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label slasher movies. Show all posts

Oct 30, 2020

TRICK (2019)


At one point, before David Gordon Green and Danny McBride helped to restore some class to the Halloween franchise with 2018’s successful rebootquel, Dimension Films had been trying to get a sequel off the ground for years—at first trying to continue Rob Zombie’s completely awful saga before going back to the original series and trying their hand at what was going to be called Halloween Returns, a direct sequel to 1981’s Halloween 2. Obviously, this didn’t happen, but a whole lot of folks were taking meetings with Dimension Films to pitch their approach. Among these filmmakers was frequent collaborators Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer, who had directed and written, respectively, 2009’s My Bloody Valentine and 2011’s Drive Angry. Their version, pitched as Halloween 3D, would’ve followed the exploits of Zombie’s version of Laurie Strode, played by Scout Taylor Compton, as she was confined to a psychiatric hospital following the events of whatever the hell was happening in 2009’s Halloween 2. The duo seemed like such a sure thing that they had confidently told another frequent collaborator, Tom Atkins, that he would have the role of Laurie’s doctor. As we all know, this didn’t come to pass, and I have to wonder how much of their original concept for Halloween 3D was rewritten to become this year’s Halloween-set slasher, Trick. It does, after all, feature a maniac (Thom Niemann) in a Halloween costume going crazy one Halloween night and slaughtering several teenagers, only to be sent away to a hospital for the criminally insane before escaping again on—you guessed it, Halloween—to pick up where he left off. 

It also features Tom Atkins.


Naturally, we can only speculate on this. Perhaps Trick was built from the ground up to serve as a standalone movie without relying on the scraps of a previous script. Either way you look at it, Trick is a very okay movie, presenting a story that’s reasonably engaging although not altogether original. A killer’s on the loose on Halloween night and there’s a cop on his trail (“You’re the new Loomis”), played by Omar Epps, who also appeared in Lussier’s Dracula 2000  Despite Detective Mike Denver’s best efforts, the titular killer slices and dices his way through all kinds of people, from the teens who helped subdue him at the Halloween party where Patrick “Trick” Weaver went crazy all those years ago (I think because he almost had to kiss another dude) to even a member or two of Denver’s police team. And if you’re already thinking that only one plucky final-girl heroine (Kristina Reyes) can stop him, then hey—something tells me you’ve seen a slasher movie before. Maybe even Halloween!

As a slice of pure escapism, and as a throwback slasher flick that has some imaginative and gory kills to satiate your bloodlust, you can do worse than Trick. For someone like me who considers Halloween to be his favorite day of the year, I tend to be very forgiving when it comes to Halloween-set flicks that offer a palpable October/autumn environment and finds a way to tie its central conflict to Halloween in at least some minor way. I mention this because if this had been the same exact movie, but was called Kringle Kills and took place on Christmas , I’d be far less kind to it...but since the killer calls himself “Trick” and wears a jack-o-lantern mask and the last act takes place in a Halloween haunt walk-through...well, I'm a sucker and I fall for that kinda stuff. 


For most of its running time, Trick is competently made and hits all the beats you’d expect, but once the “twist” is revealed—followed by another “twist” at the very end that you can definitely see coming—your palms will end up pressed against your face not just at the pure silliness, but at the way the twist actually manages to ruin the killer’s mystique, rendering him less intimidating.  

Still, I won’t kick Trick off my yearly Halloween shelf, and it certainly has more of a chance of getting annual October play than Rob Zombie’s garbage or Halloween: Resurrection, but it’s definitely the weakest collaboration yet from Lussier and Farmer. The ending of Trick is a clear set-up for a sequel, and should that ever come to pass, here's hoping they have a firmer grasp on their concept now that the cat is out of the bag. Here’s hoping their next effort retains the uniqueness and their adherence to old school slasher formulas as essayed in their previous flicks. 



Jun 26, 2020

PAGANINI HORROR (1989)


Luigi Cozzi’s Paganini Horror is one of those movies that doesn’t serve much of a purpose—an Italian horror curiosity that’s neither good in general, nor bad enough to be “good.” Though it’s based on a lunatic concept—the “ghost” of long-dead Italian composer Niccolò Paganini coming back from the grave to avenge an ‘80s girl-pop band for stealing one of his last and unreleased compositions to save their fledgling new album—the movie simply doesn’t do enough with it. You might be thinking, “What more could you want?” but you’ve just answered your own question: more. Paganini Horror simply doesn’t know what to do, spending long, looong sequences with characters creeping through hallways of the crumbling estate where they’re staying while they record their new album, only intermittently killed by a masked madman dressed in old timey Halloween costume dudes. Is it truly the enraged spirit of the composer, or a member of the girls’ own party donning the garb to exact some kind of personal revenge, or is it none of the above? Being that this is Italian, just know one thing: regardless of the reveal, it won’t make a lot of sense, but the flick will be so in love with itself that it doesn’t care whether you buy it or not.

Paganini Horror actually proves to be fairly frustrating after a while being that the death scenes contain that perfect combination of gore and incompetence. In fact, the entire movie almost works as a garbage classic because of the hilarious, over the top dubbing, making the performances strange and heightened, along with the too-dramatic camerawork. (Italians love that zoom lens.) Among the cast is Daria Nicolodi, the ‘80s Italian equivalent of Adrienne Barbeau, in that she was romantically involved with a famous horror director (Dario Argento and John Carpenter, respectively), and appeared in many of her husband’s works, though it’s hard to comment on her performance, as it’s mostly overtaken by the hilarious dubbing. Sadly, the same can be said for Donald Pleasence’s very brief appearance as Mr. Pickett, which runs the gamut from appearing to be completely useless to being completely beyond belief. (Pleasence did not dub his own voice in post-production, so unfortunately it’s one less reason to ever try sitting through this mess.)


Even with a scant running time of 83 minutes, Paganini Horror feels like it’s crawling across the finish line. Among the more almost-trash-classic Italian flicks I can think of, they share one thing in common: a strong first act, a stronger third act, and a pitifully drawn out second act. Paganini Horror can’t even claim that, as after a very amusing and engaging opening act, the film remains a flatline through the very end, and not even a dummy crashing through a windshield and bursting into flames can save it.

Just after directing Paganini Horror, Cozzi directed 1989’s The Black Cat, also known as Demons 6: De Profundis, which actually has nothing to do with the Demons series, but was made to serve as an unofficial sequel to Dario Argento’s Suspiria. (Don’t ask. Fake sequels are a hallmark of Italian genre cinema.) Though it’s just as ham-fisted as Paganini Horror, it offers a better pace and a more engaging plot (being loosely based on the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name), and I hope it proves to be a future release from any of our Italian-horror-resurrecting distributors. I was hoping for a fun, silly, and campy good time as essayed in other Italian horror flicks from this era, but Paganini Horror only proved to B flat ha ha! 



[Reprinted from Daily Grindhouse.]

Jun 13, 2020

HER NAME WAS PAMELA: 'FRIDAY THE 13TH' (1980) TURNS FORTY


The Friday the 13th series will always hold a special place in my heart, regardless of how dumb it became once Paramount Pictures’ eight-film reign ended and the franchise ended up with New Line Cinema. (Jason Goes to Hell is enough to cement my point, but the remake easily earned my hatred.) As a kid, and once the calendar fell on Friday the 13th, catching a mini marathon of the series on TNT, USA Network, or what was then known as the Sci-Fi Channel was always an event. I’d fire up the VCR, grab a VHS tape from the cabinet to sacrifice, and record as many entries as I could, stretching EP mode to its breaking point. Growing up with an old-school mother, the hammer often came down on the movies I rented, so I worked with what I was given, which were edited-for-content, commercial-ridden airings of the least mother-friendly horror series on the planet. 

Slasher fans seldom point to the first Friday the 13th as their favorite series entry, or even the best, which flies in the face of how these things usually go with long-running franchises: the original is almost always the favorite, and almost always the best, but with the franchise not even introducing infamous masked killer Jason Voorhees until the second entry, nor putting him in his famous hockey mask until the third, and with the overall series also going through an odd metamorphosis that saw entries vying to be murder mysteries (Friday the 13th), grindhouse sleaze (Friday the 13th: A New Beginning), gothic monster movies of the golden age (Friday the 13th: Part VI – Jason Lives), paranormal tales (Friday the 13th: Part VII – A New Blood), or self-aware dark comedies (Jason X), it’s easy to see why certain entries appeal to certain people. Overall, and even extending into the lesser heralded New Line era, the Friday the 13th series is like a Rorschach Test: if you look deep enough, you’ll find something that calls to you.


Though Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is the most popular entry in the series (I won’t argue with that), I often feel that the 1980 original gets overshadowed and dismissed as being that weird entry where the killer is Jason’s mom instead of the marquee maniac we’d all come to love. Even with the maestro of mayhem Tom Savini in charge of the blood and guts, it doesn’t contain the same kinds of outrageous kills that the series would later feature, much like in Savini’s return to the series with The Final Chapter, or 1993’s Jason Goes To Hell, which has nothing going for it except the violence. But there are all kinds of reasons to celebrate the original, even if its own creators still admit to this day that it was a blatant rip-off of John Carpenter’s Halloween.

Friday the 13th offers an honest-to-gosh attempt at creating backstories for its characters, regardless of their superficiality. Alice (Adrienne King) has unknown and unresolved issues in California, Marcie (Jeannine Taylor) had nightmares about raining blood as a kid, Ned (Mark Nelson) is the “funny one,” etc. There’s nothing earth-shattering going on here, and except for some outward capering, their backstories come solely from dialogue and not their performances, as Halloween was so keenly able to do. But that’s okay! Post-Halloween slashers didn’t strive for much beyond a passing resemblance to real life and some nifty kill scenes, and Friday the 13th handles that with ease. Though it’s primarily known as a slasher flick today, putting yourselves into the shoes of an unknowing audience those forty years ago instead reveals a murder mystery at its core, even if clumsily handled. Halloween never played around with “who” the killer was—it’s how the flick opens—and while Friday the 13th is happy to ape Halloween’s slasher aesthetic, it’s also eager to apply a bit of Ten Little Indians, sticking a bunch of characters in an isolated spot and painting several of them as potential killers. Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer), who has a vague romantic history with Alice and seems against her leaving to return home, disappears into town just before bodies being to drop at Camp Crystal Lake, and all while driving a jeep…just like the unseen killer. Crazy Ralph (an incredible Walt Gorney) prophesizes all across town about how the camp is doomed, and how all those who stay there will “never come back again.” These red herrings aside, a cheap final act reveals the killer to be…someone who hadn’t appeared as an on-screen character until that very moment, stepping out of her jeep wearing her best church sweater: Jason’s mother (Betsy Palmer), known only then as Mrs. Voorhees. (She’d be given the name Pamela in The Final Chapter.) Though this reveal is a total cheat, in that audiences couldn’t possibly have guessed that the killer was a character they didn’t know existed (and that the on-screen hands of the killer throughout the flick are definitely a man’s—see the below image), the machinations of the film up to that point were mired in mystery, successfully keeping the audience guessing up until that “oh…” reveal.


Sean S. Cunningham does a commendable job for someone only a handful of films into his directorial career and working in the horror genre for the first time. Prior to Friday the 13th, Cunningham had worked exclusively (and amusingly) in softcore porn and family films, with one of the latter being a Bad News Bears rip-off called Here Come the Tigers. If you’re sensing a disingenuous flair with how Cunningham produced his earlier projects, you’re not wrong, but if we’re being fair, he wasn’t doing anything then that Hollywood’s not doing now.

Cast, director, and special effects aside, the real star of Friday the 13th—and almost every entry produced by Paramount—is the musical score by longtime series composer Harry Manfredini. If there were any justice in this world, the exploitative reputation of the Friday the 13th series would be forgiven and his work would be just as celebrated as the compositions in JAWS, Halloween, Phantasm, and The Omen. During this era, low-budget filmmakers were seeking cost-cutting synthesizers, but Manfredini stuck with real-live strings, giving Friday the 13th a lush and propulsive orchestral score that, if we’re being honest, the sub-genre probably didn’t deserve. (He also scored the 1986 slasher Slaughter High, where he treads much of the same very recognizable ground.)

For the last few months, fans have whispered about the rumored Friday the 13th Complete Collection that seems to be in the works, and seems to be coming from Scream Factory, which stems from a couple series veterans getting a little too loose-lipped on social media. With the series celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year, it’s a ripe time for a new collection. Until that happens, Paramount’s steelbook reissue of the first film will have to do. While its release smacks of the kind of “blood from a stone” pattern of re-releasing the same titles over and over without new content, at least the studio, once ashamed of its affiliation with the series, is acknowledging its place in cinema history and celebrating its impact on the movie-going public. Interpret that as you will.



[Reprinted from Daily Grindhouse.]