The Fine Art of Tactical Retreat
Apr. 10th, 2019
11:46 am - For clarity's sake
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(This blog is licensed under a Creative-Commons-Licence).
Oct. 24th, 2014
Oh yes, or rather OH NO!, not even the venerable and classy Exploder Button is spared my seasonal slasher mania, so just click on through to read quite a few words more than you ever wanted to read about Halloween 6.
Oct. 23rd, 2014
To nobody’s surprise, Michael Myers (this time around Don Shanks) has survived the events of the last movie and – that part is rather surprising - has spent the year until the next Halloween cohabiting with a hermit or something. His niece Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris), on the other hand, following her attack on her adoptive mother at the end of the last movie, is now mute, and has spent the same time in a mental health facility for kids, in part guarded, in part observed as a Michael seismograph by an increasingly crazed Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) who wavers between genuinely nice and caring and ruthless bastard depending on what the script needs in any given scene.
Jamie is useful as a seismograph because her implied mental connection to her uncle from the last film is now a genuine thing that will see her writhing and mumbling a lot until someone puzzles out where the attack she describes happens, and nobody gets saved by it. In theory, Michael is out to kill Jamie but unlike the slasher mastermind he was in the last outing, he’s now drifting pointlessly through town, from time to time killing people connected to Jamie, without actually getting any closer to her through it. Then there’s a mysterious guy who dresses like the Exorcist sneaking through town who is only there to set up the thoroughly stupid ending, and really, nothing much that adds up to a plot happening at all. Loomis has a “plan” to catch Michael, but said plan makes even less sense then the rest of the film.
So yeah, all the goodwill the series won through the very decent fourth entry quickly evaporated in Halloween 5 once it became clear to me that Swiss director Dominique Othenin-Girard really didn’t know what story he wanted to tell, or how to tell it, or even just what the point of any given scene was, with characters changing traits from scene to scene for reasons of plot convenience, and many scenes that look as if they were setting up something that never get any follow-through.
I can’t even gush about Donald Pleasence this time around, even though he and a Danielle Harris who has seriously improved in the short time between the last film and this one, are clearly the best thing Halloween 5 has to offer. Unfortunately, like with anything else in the film, it doesn’t really seem to know what it wants to do with Pleasence, so it’s just wavering, dragging its feet and wasting him.
This is also another slasher sequel that contains a lot of elements that, if treated by talented scriptwriters, or writers who cared, could have made a wonderful movie – the psychic connection between Jamie and Michael, the fear she will turn into him or something very much like him, the toll the eternal hunt for an indestructible enemy has taken on Loomis are all elements that scream for a script that explores concepts like evil or innocence (or the price of trauma) via the nastiness of horror. Unfortunately, Halloween 5 isn’t that film. In fact, I find it difficult to pretend this is much of a film at all. Apart from lacking niceties like plot and character. the film doesn’t even succeed as a delivery machine for killing scenes, mostly because it prefers dragging its feet and boring its audience to anything else, blowing forty minutes of plot up to a hundred.
This is particularly frustrating because the final fifteen minutes or so suggest that Othenin-Girard would well have been able to at least make an effective conventional slasher, for the final confrontation with Michael may make little sense on a logical level but is an excellent example of tense suspense that works a bit like a nightmare.
Too bad there’s the rest of the film to get through before it.
Oct. 22nd, 2014
It’s ten years after the occurrences of Halloween and its sequel, and Doctor Loomis (Donald Pleasence) and Michel Myers (given shape by George P. Wilbur who isn’t one of the great silent slasher bodies but serviceable enough) have both survived film number two.
Michael has spent the time in a coma, but of course wakes up while being moved to a different facility behind Loomis’s back, and starts killing his way to Haddonfield, with a bent but not broken Loomis quickly following on his trail. For Michael is still attempting to do what film number two has established as his modus operandi – killing off his relatives. Poor Laurie Strode has died in a car accident in the meantime – together with whoever her husband was – leaving behind her daughter Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris already practicing for her future in horror movies). Loomis knows that Jamie will be Michael’s main victim of choice.
Jamie has found a rather good home with the Carruthers, including a teenage step sister named Rachel (Ellie Cornell) who will turn out to be willing and able to step between Jamie and someone like Michael. However it’s questionable if Rachel, a damaged psychiatrist and the reasonably competent yet completely outgunned police force of Sheriff Meeker (Beau Starr) will be enough to stop Michael.
After the last few Friday the 13th films, Halloween 4 is classing up the joint here, featuring a script that is generally sensibly building on what came in the first two movies, hitting some of the first two films’ favourite beats yet not feeling slavishly beholden to just repeating what came before. The film is at its best when it makes clear the first two movies actually happened to the people in its world, leaving Loomis half-broken and obsessed, and having had an influence on the society of Haddonfield as a whole. Sure, the latter is mostly in the movie to provide a plot relevant lynch mob (no torches, alas) once Michael has taken out the police force, but it’s more thought than ninety percent of slasher sequels ever put into this sort of thing. It does at least give a decent explanation for things like spontaneous lynch mobs in a contemporary small town, or cops willing to trust a crazy old man like Loomis.
Even though I’ve never been a fan of the second film’s revelation of Michael having an actual motive for his deeds, turning him into something much less frightening than the boogieman of the first film because he becomes understandable to a degree, I do like how Halloween 4 runs with these now established facts, and makes Michael not just frightening and dangerous but also conniving in the way he effectively destroys the parts of Haddonfield’s infrastructure most dangerous to him. If you can’t make your monster irrationally frightening anymore, it’s a good idea to make it threatening by having it act intelligently, even if won’t keep for further sequels (which it doesn’t).
Because I’m a sensible guy, I am of course wildly in love with Pleasence’s performance as Loomis here, the way he manages to squeeze real pathos out of at times stupid dialogue (“evil on two legs!”), creating a tragic figure whose whole life has been spent in a fight he just doesn’t seem to be able to win, a fight that has cost him a lot physically, mentally and in his chosen career, and that has left him determined and afraid and painfully human. Most of this isn’t as much in the script as a result of Pleasence being an actor who only very seldom let his audience see when the material he was working with was below him, adding a veneer of truth to the silly and the dubious. If Pleasence can believe in this Loomis, so can the audience.
Consequently, one of the film’s main weak spots are the various contrivances the script makes for his frequent absences from the plot, even at moments when Loomis’s absence really doesn’t make a lick of sense, with Harris just not the kind of child actor who can carry a scene on her shoulders alone, and nobody else involved quite interesting or good enough to step into Pleasence’s shoes.
However, even when Pleasence isn’t on screen, Halloween 4 is never less than an entertaining, often atmospheric slasher movie, with director Dwight H. Little surely no John Carpenter yet at the very least someone who knows how to build a mood before the killing starts as well as able to make the traditional stalking and slashing suspenseful beyond the (nice enough) bloody effects. It helps Little’s case that Halloween 4 isn’t very interested in the killing of teenagers (we already had the in the first film and dozens of epigones, after all) and does its best to set up some variety in the victims of its violence. Why, this is even a slasher sure enough of itself it doesn’t feel the need to show the audience every single kill.
On the negative side, the film’s pace drags a little in the twenty minutes or so before the climactic confrontation with Michael, there are one or two really stupid moments of false scares present and annoying, and the final twist has little – if anything at all – to do with what came before. But hey, for the kind of film Halloween 4 is, it really is as good as anyone could reasonably have expected.
Oct. 21st, 2014
04:11 pm - In short: Jason X (2001)
In the near future – and an undisclosed number of teen-murdering adventures after the last film - the authorities have caught up with good old Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder), yet still can’t manage to kill him. Their final resort is to have a team of scientists around one Rowan (Lexa Doig) freeze him cryogenically. Thanks to the usual super weapon shenanigans things don’t quite go as planned, and Rowan ends up badly wounded and just as frozen as Jason.
450 years later, the archaeological expedition of Professor Lowe (Jonathan Potts) finds the two and brings them on board their space ship. Thanks to awesome plot-relevant characters only nanobot technology nobody will use on most of Jason’s other victims, Rowan is on her feet again soon after. Of course, Jason quickly follows suite – though he doesn’t need the nanobots - and has his work cut out for him. The spaceship, after all, contains a bunch of horny students, and only the crap space marines of Sergeant Brodski (Peter Mensah), and one android (Lisa Ryder) in a very anime-inspired relationship with her maker are standing between him and his favourite hobby. The future looks bright.
I’m the first one to admit that Jason V.’s detour into the realm of crap SF horror as directed by James Isaac is an outing of dubious quality, but unlike the last two films in the series it is at once thoroughly entertaining in its own brain-dead manner and does actually contain Jason Voorhees, which clearly gives it a leg up on its predecessors.
While this won’t be everybody’s thing, I really enjoy how Todd Farmer’s script seems to grow increasingly desperate to actually get up to length the longer the film goes on. So, after going through the expected Aliens motions (and truly, is there something more joyous than films ripping off the Cameron movie without ever getting even to a fraction of the impact of the film they’re trying to rip off?), if ones broken up by moments of idiotic comedy (the whole business about comic relief guy and his arm, or the sexual proclivities of Lowe is particularly embarrassing and so unfunny I found myself laughing at it quite a bit), Jason X soon arrives at androids reprogrammed to fight in latex and leather, Jason turning into a last minute cyborg the film’s titles honestly dub “Uber Jason”, and last but not least Jason’s adventures with holodeck technology.
It’s probably not a script that’ll get much praise in film studies courses, but watching this, I found myself giggling and cringing at every idiotic one-liner, nodding happily at various gory deaths, shaking my head at the film’s attempts to get another plot twist out of what we can only call SPACE SCIENCE(!), marvelling at an honest to gosh David Cronenberg cameo, and having what I believe is called a good time among earthlings. Or I have watched so many Friday the 13th films in so short a time I’ve now arrived at Slasher Sequel Stockholm Syndrome, but hey, it’s the last Jason outing for me for now (unless I’ll do Jason’s meet-up with Freddy Krueger, a film I’ve grown to love over the years later in this act of cinematic masochism).
Next up on my journey into slasher hell, Halloween IV.
Oct. 20th, 2014
08:23 am - Music Monday: Ripping Edition
Oct. 19th, 2014
Warning: spoilers are inevitable with this one
Clearly, new Friday the 13th owners New Line Cinema did want to forget about the eighth film as much as anyone else who watched it; this film’s beginning doesn’t fit the ending of any of the other movies either, though, so make of Friday the 13th continuity what you want. I for my part will try not to have too many sleepless nights about it. So Jason (Kane Hodder) is undead and well, and killing people around Crystal Lake, at least until, right in the film’s very first sequence, a minor army of FBI people sets an oh so clever trap and blasts our hero into quite a lot of pieces.
This time, that should truly be that, yet the script writing gods – or rather Dean Lorey and Jay Huguely whom nobody will actually mistake for the gods of scriptwriting – decide that the coroner responsible for the autopsy develops a sudden and intense taste for Jason’s hypnotically beating heart, and begins killing people while making his way to Crystal Lake, at least until his body is worn out and the parasite thingy that seems to be the real Jason takes over the next host.
Jason the worm is out to catch, kill and take over either his sister Diana (Erin Gray), Diana’s daughter Jessica (Kari Keegan), or Jessica’s baby, for only the body of a Voorhees can be a long-time host for the thing. Why? I have not the faintest idea, and I don’t think the script knows. On the plus side, another Voorhees will also be able to destroy Jason forever with the help of – of course – a random instant magical dagger. Diana’s getting offed by Jason rather quickly, but Jessica – with the help of her ex-boyfriend Steve (John D. LeMay) and crazy expositional bounty hunter Creighton Duke (Steven Williams) – just might be able to put up a fight against her uncle.
First things first, after the horrors of Jason Takes Manhattan, (of course not the) Final Friday can only be an improvement but then, so would the Star Wars Christmas Special. Adam Marcus’s movie is a curious thing, really. I understand the new producers’ impulse to want to “fix” the Friday franchise, to find a viable way to not have to tell exactly the same story at best in a slightly different place (though I’m still holding out for Jason Heats up Antarctica) but the actual thing they want to replace the core of the series with seems even less useful in the long term as what they had at the beginning, particular in the random and under-explained way the script introduces and uses it (instant magical dagger!). Or how exactly is a cheap rip-off of the Terminator just with demonic/alien (the Antarctica expedition crate in the Voorhees cellar suggests the latter, the whole getting dragged to hell business and the magic dagger the former) body snatchers any better than the very basic slasher set-up of the series thus far?
Then there’s the little fact that this whole retcon approach to Friday the 13th as a series leads to another entry that lacks the actual iconic element of the whole franchise, Jason the hockey-masked killer, replacing him with a series of possessed people that just don’t have an ounce of the big guy’s menace and are just as desperately lacking in originality as he is. I suppose a more clever script, that is, one that either really went for broke with the moments of comic book grand guignol a few of the film’s better scenes aim for, or one that had thought through the whole parasite possession angle (I can’t believe I’m asking for more exposition here, but I kind of do, don’t I?) a little better, could have gotten away with it. As it stands, however, a random series of possessed people involved in a long series of chases that are only broken up by sub-plots that are prematurely ended via character deaths (see Jessica’s evil TV personality boyfriend) does not a new, improved Friday the 13th film make.
If I’m trying to look at it as a series independent film – change the names and take away the hockey mask and you’re already there, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if the script wasn’t initially meant to be a Friday film – Jason Goes to Hell is a bit more palatable, the kind of early 90s low budget horror that has competent direction, some icky and fun special effects but not enough brains to be either dumber or cleverer, the sort of thing you can spend ninety minutes on without railing against the universe afterwards and that is decent enough entertainment if you manage not to think about it.
Oct. 18th, 2014
This, the last Friday film under the auspices of Paramount, is generally treated as the worst among a bunch that’s all over the place in quality and disliked on general principle by most anyhow. And the general horror public’s right on the money here, because honestly, I have a hard time imagining how any of the following films could be worse than Jason Takes Manhattan.
Plot-wise, we see Jason revived by an anchor that doesn’t act like anchors actually work hitting an underwater electricity cable that also doesn’t work as these things do that electrocutes Jason’s body which has been hanging around down in Crystal Lake after the end of the last movie, and revives him. Because getting our slasher back to the surface via the local officials finally wanting to drag all those dead bodies out of the lake (can’t be good for the water quality) would have been too clever, I guess. Anyway, for reasons only known to the script, Jason sneaks onto a cruise ship/ferry/whatever – commanded by an Admiral, no less – full of late teens going on a school field trip to New York, which is a thing US small town classes do, I’m sure. Just as obviously, he begins doing what he always does, this time around imbued with slasher teleportation powers so heavy they are actually happening on-screen, and making snoring noises from time to time. Can’t blame him for the latter.
A few survivors actually manage to escape and land in the promised Manhattan for the final thirty minutes of the movie or so, so Jason can continue his thing on some damp New York street sets probably located in Vancouver where most of this was shot.
Yes, this Friday really is so crummy, even its title is more or less a lie, probably because “Jason burns down a cruise ship and wanders around Manhattan a bit” wouldn’t have had quite the right commercial ring to it. Now, I’d be perfectly alright with a lying title, if anything of the stuff that happens on the cruise ship had any kind of impact on any level, but nothing that happens there – or in New York, for that matter – is in any way, shape or form scary, or horrific, or exciting, or even very funny. Well, if you’re really straining for inadvertent comedy, you might get a kick and a half out of Jason dying by drowning in the toxic sludge that is nightly flooding the New York Sewer system at midnight (because that’s how sewers work on the planet this mess takes place on, hooray) and turning into little Jason again when dead.
Because yes, writer/director Rob Hedden wasn’t even competent enough to understand the really very simple mythology of the Friday the 13th films; you can’t even call it a retcon, because retcons generally are supposed to have a point beyond putting in hallucinations of young Jason drowning, and are generally made by people with a working knowledge of the stuff they are re-jigging. Speaking of Hedden, he does at least manage to produce a pretty slick looking film, but when that’s combined with a script too dumb for even a Friday movie, something so dire it makes me sorry to have criticized the writing of Part five, and no visible talent at all for making an actual horror movie, it still results in a film very much worth avoiding with utmost care.
Oct. 17th, 2014
Her psychiatrist Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser) and her mother Amanda (Susan Blu) bring Tina Shepard (Lar Park-Lincoln) to Crystal Lake (now called Crystal Lake again after the unfortunate Pleasant Green episode, it seems) help her get over the psychological consequences of a tragic event of ten years ago. When she was a girl, Tina killed her father with her uncontrolled telekinetic powers; his body must still be down under the lake somewhere. It is pretty obvious to anyone but Tina’s mum though that Crews isn’t all that interested in helping Tina as much as he is in invoking her telekinetic powers again and again and again. And since her telekinetic powers mostly work when she’s under strong emotional pressure, Crews is more or less concerned with the exact opposite of helping his charge.
When Crews provokes a particularly big telekinetic sulk, Tina goes to the lake and mentally drags a body to the surface she believes to be her dead father. It is – surprise? - instead Jason (now embodied by fan favourite – and for once the fans are right, because he really gives Jason a personality, not just a body - Kane Hodder), who must have been gnawed at by fishes for a few years since last we saw him, and looks a bit over-ripe by now. Obviously, Jason is quickly back to his old ways again, and in an incredible stroke of luck, there’s a cabin full of teenagers right next to Tina’s!
Not surprisingly, neither Crews nor her mother believe Tina when she tells them what happened, and they don’t exactly become less sceptic once the young woman begins having visions of Jason’s murders. It is only a matter of time until our telekinetic heroine and Jason will face off, and this time, being an undead killing machine might actually make one the underdog in a fight.
The New Blood continues the attempts to provide the increasingly rotten corpse of the Friday series with some fresh new meat, or ideas if you’re less food obsessed, and not making the same damn movie again and again. For my tastes, John Carl Buechler’s entry into the series is one of the strongest and most enjoyable ones, seemingly born out of the idea that, seeing as how the Friday the 13th films take place in a horror comic book version of reality, you might just add other pieces from comic books too, so what about a mutant? “Jason versus Carrie” has a certain ring to it, too, doesn’t it?
Well, at least that’s how I imagine the thought process behind the film’s main concept to have gone. There might also have been something about the sweet, sweet scent of money involved, but no matter, because Buechler’s film is – and that’s the first time I would say that about a Friday movie since part 2 – not just good for a Friday the 13th film but actually a good horror film. A film with an actual plot that mostly (as long as you don’t think about Dr Crews’s motivations and behaviour for too long, or at all) makes sense if you buy into its basic concepts of undead serial killers and emotional telekinetic. Also a film graced with a director who actually knows how to stage a stalk and slash sequence in a suspenseful, though not necessarily a logical, manner, and who actually manages the melodramatics surrounding Tina quite well too. As I’ve said before, melodrama and horror, like melodrama and action, are genres that work very well together if the right people are involved in front of and behind the camera, the genres of heightened emotional and physical states being so obvious siblings I’m always surprised when films don’t use the opportunity to cross these genres.
I’m a big admirer of Park-Lincoln’s performance here too, the way she just throws herself into the sulking, the screeching hysterics and the determined braveness of the final girl sequence. It’s probably not great acting from a perspective more interested in technique than mine, but it is one that turns Tina into the first Final Girl of the Friday films since Part II’s Chris I found myself really rooting for. Turns out, rooting for a slasher film’s actual heroine instead of the killer makes a film much more effective and suspenseful. Who’d have thunk? (Not the directors and writers of many other slashers, that’s for sure).
And again, like with the – inferior yet still fun – Part VI, New Blood can really delight through a lot of minor details, like Hodder’s initial “what the fuck!?” body language when Tina first attacks him telekinetically, or the way Jason becomes increasingly angry the more often Tina thwarts him, or the inspired final dispatch of our beloved killer that doesn’t make much logical sense but really closes the story in its melodramatic guise nicely, and pretty much comes out of nowhere too. But then, I’m a sucker for a happy ending.
Oct. 16th, 2014
Tommy Jarvis (now Thom Mathews), one of the unluckiest surviving characters in slasher movie history, still hasn’t gotten over his Jason Voorhees fixation, so he decides to do the obvious thing to solve his mental health issues once and for all. He breaks into the graveyard where Jason is buried, digs him out and plans to burn his body. Alas, our hero decides to stake Jason with a nice pointy graveyard accoutrement before that, which obviously results in said pointy accoutrement being hit by lighting bolts which in their turn do of course revive Jason as a now finally officially undead creature.
Tommy escapes Jason, but the hockey fan is quite content with continuing his work, that is, he proceeds to kill whoever crosses his path in ridiculous and violent ways. Tommy for his part continues along the path of his own very special logic that has worked out so well for him, and goes to the local sheriff (David Kagen) to tell him all about how he accidentally revived a dead spree killer with lightning. Needless to say, the sheriff believes Tommy is nuts, and once he encounters the first of many dead bodies to follow, also believes that Tommy is the one going around slaughtering people, which, hey, does sound vaguely more reasonable than Tommy’s story.
Fortunately for Tommy, the sheriff’s daughter Megan (Jennifer Cooke) has fallen in instant lust with him and is willing to do just about anything to help him, including arranging jail breaks and committing acts of traffic endangerment. Quite economically, Megan is also a camp counsellor, so she’s perfectly positioned to know a lot of the people Jason is surely going to kill while Tommy applies all the knowledge he gained from an occultist how to book to stop the now even more dangerous killer.
Even though it continues with the shoddy production values of part five, Jason Lives has clear – and not completely unfulfilled – ambitions at being an actual movie again. It still suffers from an over-inflated body count, with early impact-less and generally not very interesting scenes of random people getting killed off in the least empty woods ever encountered that reminded me of Don’t Go In the Woods…Alone, which is not a good thing for a film that wants to be taken seriously.
However, particularly once the plot has gotten rolling and the film seems to have gotten the need to kill somebody off every two minutes out of its system a little, director Tom McLoughlin also manages to produce some rather effective scenes, based on actual suspense, with the kills actually a comparatively sensible part of what’s going on around them (at least sensible for a world where people act like the characters here do and where the method of Jason’s revival seems perfectly reasonable), and staged not only with an interest in getting characters killed but also with an eye for a bit of mood and style.
I also really enjoyed McLoughlin’s attempts at varying at least a few of the eternal rules of the slasher movie – and especially of this franchise – a bit, with the film not culminating in a classic final girl sequence but first with Tommy repeatedly trying and failing to be heroic and Megan then jumping into the breach and surviving despite lacking all of the shy virginity all Final Girls are supposed to have. The latter is a particularly pleasant development after Megan has already descended into hysterics (for understandable reasons), usually the point where the Male Hero™ takes things into his own hands, and suggests that McLoughlin has put a bit more thought into this than many of his predecessors.
There are some other aspects of the film that suggest a degree of thoughtfulness, like the nice flourish that sees the local populace renaming Crystal Lake into “Forest Green” because they don’t want to be connected with the Voorhees murders anymore. This sort of thing doesn’t sound like much, but in the long and sometimes painful run of the Friday the 13th series, it makes the difference between another tired piece of crap and an entertaining and not completely stupid (yet generally dumb) slasher movie.
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