Monday, October 30, 2006

"Karloff? Sidekick?"

I was excited to record Edward D. Wood Jr.'s amazing BRIDE OF THE MONSTER on Turner Classic Movies this month. To celebrate Halloween, here's a short clip of Bela Lugosi, um, emoting during the film:

And here's Martin Landau in his Oscar-winning performance as Lugosi in Tim Burton's autobiographical film ED WOOD. This clip may not be safe for work, so headphones on, please:

And switching gears, here's the very good trailer for FRIDAY THE 13TH, one of the most influential and financially successful horror movies ever made. One reason it's a great trailer is that it lays out for you exactly what the movie is about. It's to director Sean Cunningham's credit that the actual film lives up to the spooky trailer.

Although technically not the very first "body count" film (I suppose 1964's Italian BLOOD AND BLACK LACE may have been the first), it was the first to reach a wide mainstream American audience via a major Hollywood distributor, Paramount. Cunningham's ragged slasher has spawned ten sequels to date, as well as countless homages, ripoffs and parodies. What's tricky about watching it today is trying to see it through 1980 eyes, when the storyline of vapid teenage camp counselors being systematically sliced and diced (courtesy of Tom Savini's makeup expertise) must have seemed fresh and exciting. I didn't find the film to be terribly good, and it really plays more like a copy of F13, rather than the massively influential moneymaker that it is. Tolemite and I were excited a few months ago to watch an uncut "X-rated" version that contains more of Savini's gore, and I think the movie plays even better that way, if only to admire the technical finesse involved in the special effects.

The plot is fairly simple, drawing as it does from a variety of influences, including PSYCHO, BLACK CHRISTMAS and the Italian horror movies of Dario Argento and Mario Bava. Seven good-looking teens (presumably college aged) hire on to serve as summer camp counselors at Camp Crystal Lake, nicknamed "Camp Blood" by the locals because of a pair of unsolved murders that occurred there more than 20 years before that has left the facility abandoned until now. Haunted by the camp's grisly legend, as well as the drowning death of a young boy named Jason Voorhees that happened a year before the murders, the seven kids decide to spend the two weeks before the campers are due to arrive drinking, getting high and having sex. And by now, you all know what happens to teens who engage in that sort of activity in a remote area where a serial killer may be loose.

What's surprising about F13 all these years later is how tame Savini's gore effects seem. Whereas they were quite notorious in 1980, leading to much controversy and protests, the FX were clearly cut somewhat to appease the MPAA and earn the film an R rating for Paramount. He's done better work elsewhere, such as in the unrated MANIAC and DAWN OF THE DEAD, but those films were likely seen only by horror buffs. Paramount's push and the R rating opened Savini's craft up to countless audiences who had probably never seen throats slit or bodies slashed with such graphic impunity, and the shocking death of one character who has his throat punctured by an arrow was probably quite a shocker to them. F13's secret weapon may be Harry Manfredini, however, the composer whose "ch-ch-ch-ch ha-ha-ha-ha" score has since been copied to death. Manfredini's music is very good and keeps one's nerves consistently jangled, even when not much is happening on screen. That much of F13's success is due to Manfredini's music is clear when you consider he became typecast as a "horror composer" and was invited back for nearly all the sequels.

FRIDAY THE 13TH does what it sets out to do--kill many young people in relatively shocking fashion--and it does so reasonably well. The killer's revelation had long been spoiled for me (by SCREAM, if nothing else), and the very effective final shock was a staple of the period (see PHANTASM, CARRIE...) and was reenacted in I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, as well as FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2. Believe it or not, FRIDAY THE 13TH was the 18th highest-grossing film of 1980.

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