Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Great Pic

Perhaps Snyder's most famous TOMORROW moment was his interview with Charles Manson. Can you imagine a TV journalist doing this today in a non-exploitive manner? T.S. did it.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Last Colortini

I have to mention the late Tom Snyder tonight. Snyder, who died yesterday of leukemia at the age of 71, was a truly great broadcasting personality, first as a local news anchor in markets like Savannah, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, but most notably as host of NBC's TOMORROW, a scintillating talk show that followed Johnny Carson's TONIGHT SHOW at 12:30am Eastern.

I was quite young when TOMORROW was on the air, and knew him mostly from Dan Aykroyd's spot-on parody of him on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (an impersonation that Snyder despised, by the way). However, I grew to appreciate Snyder when he broadcast a nightly talk show on radio during the early '90s, and then as the host of intelligent talk shows on CNBC and then CBS, where his LATE LATE SHOW was created to follow David Letterman (Craig Ferguson hosts it now, as it has become interchangeable with every other damn late-night show). One of the most human television personalities of his era, Snyder was unpredictable, emotional, sometimes acerbic, good-humored, smart, confrontational. TV misses him and so do we.

If you do a YouTube search, you'll find a lot of interesting stuff, including full shows with cast members of STAR TREK and THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN. A search for "NBC News" or something similar will bring up some old NBC News Updates: 60-second casts that ran during prime time (although one of my favorites featuring Snyder I now notice has been removed by YouTube). Also, a portion of Snyder's electrifying interview with Howard Stern, done when Snyder subbed for Bob Costas on NBC's LATER, is there.

Several of Snyder's TOMORROW interviews with punk rockers like Wendy O. Williams and John Lydon are now available on DVD. Hopefully, more TOMORROW episodes will see the light of day once again, as they have never been rebroadcast or released on home video to the best of my knowledge, nor have any LATE LATE SHOWs. I certainly have great memories of recording the latter show during my time as an overnight radio disc jockey, then coming home early in the morning and watching T.S. before going to bed. It was a true "talk" show, in which guests would come on, often with nothing to plug, but just to be entertaining. I remember Ned Beatty and Snyder, flustered like old guys, trying to figure out why PULP FICTION was so popular. Raconteurs like James Woods and Malcolm McDowell would tell marvelously candid Hollywood stories (McDowell's raucous tales of working with Sir John Gielgud and Peter O'Toole in the "porno movie" CALIGULA are immortal). Alec Baldwin once acted out a marvelously funny story about playing baseball as a kid. Newt Gingrich's parents came on after calling Hillary Clinton a "bitch" on TV and were fascinatingly boring. Old stars that nobody in Hollywood gave a damn about, like Robert Blake and Orson Bean, would come on and be entertaining. It was great stuff...and it was only the second best network TV series that Snyder ever did.

Here's a TOMORROW highlight reel hosted by Conan O'Brien that should give you some idea of what Snyder was like:

On the movie front, it's interesting the way some films come and go and are quickly forgotten. CONTINENTAL DIVIDE was written by Lawrence Kasdan, executive-produced by Steven Spielberg, directed by Michael Apted, stars John Belushi, and you probably never heard of it. It was likely a bold attempt by Belushi to play "not John Belushi" as a follow-up to 1941 and THE BLUES BROTHERS. It's a meandering romantic comedy in which Belushi plays a man-about-town Chicago newspaperman (think Mike Royko) who pursues a human-interest story about an ornithologist (Blair Brown, a good actress who never again got a feature role this big) living alone away from civilization in a cabin in the Rockies. The concept of pudgy, chain-smoking Belushi mountain-climbing is a good one, feeding the standard romcom formula of a mismatched couple with nothing in common that end up falling in love. Kasdan, who had written RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and whose directorial debut, BODY HEAT, also came out in 1981, adds a distracting subplot about Belushi using his column to bring down a corrupt Chicago alderman (Val Avery) that ends up not really going anywhere and could have used another polish. Aside from the presence of Belushi, who, after all, only really appeared in a mere seven films, CONTINENTAL DIVIDE is indeed forgettable. But Belushi is in it, and he is charming. It's hard to believe that, only a few months after CONTINENTAL DIVIDE was in theaters, Belushi was dead.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Where's Cindy Crawford?

I spent the weekend in DeKalb, Illinois. Not the most exciting place in the world, but I got to spend some time with Tolemite and experience a bit of the DeKalb nightlife. Well, it ain't the Viper Room, but there surely are a lot of cute girls at The Annex. I think we might have gotten more entertainment value out of the fat guy in the Spider-Man T-shirt, the white guy with the gigantic Afro, and the maybe-retarded guy with the dirty cap, tank top and crossed eyes. I also sat through three long trains in less than two days, ate my first Baconnator at Wendy's (criminy, two patties, two slices of cheese and six pieces of bacon), and fell in love with the scrumptious hostess at the Hillside (where I had excellent chicken parmesan).

The big score of the weekend was found at Bargain Addict, which is this dirty, grimy, sweltering junk shop/pawn shop where they also hold AA meetings. I picked up a few used VHS tapes, but the major haul was all five seasons of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, the extras-laden box sets from Image Entertainment. What retails for about $69.99 apiece was sitting on the shelf there for $10! Yep, I snared the entire run of DICK VAN DYKE for $50, which will probably be the best DVD bargain I find this year.

Tolemite and I found time to, of course, watch some crappy movies:
  • BIGFOOT: THE MYSTERIOUS MONSTER--Peter Graves hosts this hilarious 1976 "documentary" from Sunn Classics, in which he convinces us that, yes, he too once was skeptical, but once you've seen the conclusive evidence, you'll have no choice but to believe that Sasquatch is real. Complete with psychics, plaster footprints, dramatizations, and Graves peering at Sasquatch feces through a microscope. The trailer is on YouTube. "This may be the most startling film you ever see!"
  • BIGFOOT is a lame 1970 horror movie starring John Carradine, Robert Mitchum's brother John and son Chris, Bing Crosby's son Lindsay and pneumatic Joi Lansing. A whole family of Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) kidnap bikini chicks for procreation purposes. Carradine and John Mitchum are peddlers who team up with bikers to stop them. A bad, boring film.
  • GOING TO PIECES: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SLASHER FILM is a documentary made last year by the Starz cable network. Worth watching if you're a fan of the genre, though you should be warned that the twist endings of films like APRIL FOOL'S DAY, FRIDAY THE 13TH, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME and SLEEPAWAY CAMP are revealed, so if you haven't seen these films, you should probably avoid this documentary.
  • SHARKS' TREASURE was written, produced and directed by its star, Cornel Wilde, who walks around with no shirt and tiny shorts, doing one-handed pushups, for no reason than to show off how buff he is. Matter of fact, everyone, including Yaphet Kotto, wears tiny shorts. Some treasure-hunters in the Caribbean are waylaid by (gay) escaped convicts who force their "bitch" to wear a bikini and do a striptease. The climax takes place on a deserted island. I'm a Wilde fan and this PG adventure is actually kinda entertaining, if not weird.
  • HOME MOVIE is a short documentary by the director of AMERICAN MOVIE that looks at five psychopaths and their weird houses. A Louisiana Cajun lives on a houseboat in the middle of the gulf (I bet that shack is long gone now), an Illinois man has a completely electronic house and a talking robot (!) to go with it, a weird cat couple has cat stuff everywhere to complement their 13 kitties, a hippie couple lives in a Kansas missile silo (that actually seems cool), and a crazy old lady has a treehouse a zillion miles from civilization in Hawaii. We got curious and Googled the robot guy, learning he lives only an hour from DeKalb. We got his phone number and address, but didn't go visit him. Maybe next time.
  • BRUCE LEE THE INVINCIBLE--Not entirely sure what the hell was happening in this Chinese kung fu flick (which is not unusual for the genre), but it had some cute women, no Bruce Lee, and a wild battle scene where two Chinese guys have a karate fight with a pair of apes! KFA--these are on YouTube too!
  • THE FOOD OF THE GODS was directed by Bert I. Gordon and stars Marjoe Gortner as an NFL quarterback who punches out a giant chicken (!) and then helps a pregnant woman, an old lady, an asshole and some others escape an army of giant rats. Great entertainment and great looking on the Japanese DVD I have. PETA would shit if it saw this movie, because Gordon films actors firing guns at the giant rats by either squibbing real rats, shooting rats with paintballs, or just blowing away rats in front of the camera. However, he did, the rats don't like it, that's for damn sure.
  • A few years before he became a Crappy Movie Star--robbing banks with a topless Lynda Carter in BOBBIE JO AND THE OUTLAW, killing hippies with crazy Andy Griffith in PRAY FOR THE WILDCATS, and getting jealous of Evel Knievel in the genius crapfast VIVA KNIEVEL!--Marjoe Gortner was the star of MARJOE, a documentary about his life as a child evangelist who performed wedding ceremonies at age 4. After getting out of the biz in his teens, Gortner returned to the roadshow circuit to fleece a few bucks from naive Christians, and he allowed a documentary film crew to film him doing it. Interesting stuff.
  • THE DEVIL BAT is a hilarious 67-minute wonder from 1940, starring Bela Lugosi as a mad scientist who trains a giant bat to attack people wearing his experimental new shaving lotion. He offers his enemies free samples, and then cackles when they are chomped by his swooping pets. He calls someone a "bombastic ignoramus"--best insult ever. This PRC cheapie is a great film and would kill at B-Fest

Thursday, July 26, 2007

How I Know I'm Getting Old

I'm listening to two new young co-workers, say 23, 24 years old, try to figure out some song that's going through their heads.

"What is that song? It's an old song...really old."

I'm thinking, "Stones? The Who? Beatles?"

Nope. It's "Peaches". By The Presidents of the United States of America. Released in 1995.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Spending A Little Time With Mr. B.I.G.

I was reading an old issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG this morning, when I ran across Dave Del Valle's interview with filmmaker Bert I. Gordon. Although Gordon (also known, for obvious reasons, as "Mr. B.I.G.") was one of the most prolific and popular (if not necessarily talented) genre directors of the 1950s, he has, to the best of my knowledge, given only two major interviews of any great depth. One was Del Valle's, published by VW in 2000. The other was with me in 2003.

Though my Q&A with Bert Gordon has been available on the Interweb tubes for a few years, I have neither mentioned nor linked to it from this blog. It's a piece I'm quite proud of, so I thought I would dust it off and introduce it to a new audience. What follows is my original introduction to the interview, which took place in February 2003 and was posted in March 2003 on the original Mobius Home Video Forum:

ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE. THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN. FOOD OF THE GODS. These films rank among the most fondly remembered “monster movies” of their eras. And the man responsible for them--the man who served as director, producer, special effects master and often writer--is Bert I. Gordon, one of science fiction’s most idiosyncratic filmmakers.

I met “Mr. B.I.G.“ at the University of Illinois' 20th Annual Insect Fear Film Festival. Each year, the U of I’s entomology department shows three films, sometimes mixed with a few shorts, with insect themes, usually of the science fiction/horror variety. This year's slate was BEGINNING OF THE END, EARTH VS. THE SPIDER and EMPIRE OF THE ANTS, and as a special bonus, the man who directed all three, Bert I. Gordon, was in attendance as a special guest.

Earlier in the day, I got to interview Mr. Gordon, sitting down with him for about an hour and fifteen minutes and discussing his entire career. For a man in his eighties, he looks incredibly young. His memory was spotty on occasion, not surprising considering some of these films were made more than fifty years ago, but he was alert, quite affable and often candid during our conversation. Even perhaps too candid in some moments when he asked me to turn off my tape recorder so he could tell a juicy story off the record. Although he wasn't terribly talkative, and maybe even shy, Gordon’s face would really light up when he got into a story about creating a particular special effect or getting into a scene, just like when he was a kid making shorts in his backyard in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He smiled and laughed often during our conversation, and I was glad he was having a good time.

Although Mr. Gordon was friendly and open during our conversation, he informed me beforehand of a couple of ground rules. He didn’t want to discuss his career in terms of “years” or “how long ago” anything was, and he refused to speak about his family, including his former wife Flora and daughter Susan, both of whom worked on many Gordon films in various capacities. I, of course, respected his wishes.

Please click here to read my career-length interview with Bert I. Gordon.

POSTSCRIPT: Del Valle's Gordon interview is in VW #56. Re-reading both, I noticed several of my questions are similar to Del Valle's (though Gordon's answers are sometimes different). While I had certainly read Del Valle's piece long before my meeting with Gordon (and I probably read it again during my pre-interview research), any similarities are, I assure you, completely coincidental. I urge you to read the VW piece if you can, since it covers some material that mine doesn't (and vice versa).

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Dominic In Danger!

The world's greatest misanthropic cello-playing helicopter pilot...Jan-Michael Vincent is Stringfellow Hawke.

The first two seasons of AIRWOLF are on DVD, believe it or not. Anyone have strong memories of this series?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Also Starring Gordon Gekko

Before Michael Douglas was a huge movie star and producer, he was a television star. Here's the kickass open to a STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO episode guest-starring Martin Sheen. Patrick Williams composed the energetic theme. Man, I really do miss these Quinn Martin opening titles.

Pre"Kersey" To Death Wish

In 1974, Charles Bronson became a late-in-life movie superstar on the basis of DEATH WISH, a monster Paramount hit in which the actor portrayed Paul Kersey, a liberal architect who picks up a gun and shoots punks dead to protect his family from street vermin. DEATH WISH made money all over the world and became one of the most-imitated films of its day, inspiring FIGHTING BACK, FIGHTING MAD, STAND ALONE, BREAKING POINT and dozens more, not to mention four DEATH WISH sequels.

Bronson was 37 years old and not yet a movie star when he landed the lead role in GANG WAR, produced by Regal and released by 20th Century Fox in 1958. What's curious about GANG WAR in retrospect is the way it anticipates DEATH WISH, still sixteen years down the pike. As ordinary schoolteacher Alan, Bronson witnesses a gangland slaying in a parking lot (located close to Los Angeles’ famous Capitol Records building) and reports it to the police. Though initially reluctant, he identifies the killers, who are arrested and held with no bail on murder charges. The cops assure Alan his identity will remain unknown to the public until he testifies at their trial, but a mole within the department leaks his name and photo to the press, as well as to mobster Maxie (John Doucette), for whom the killers work. When Maxie uses violence in order to ensure the witness’ silence, Alan decides the best defense is an effective offense, and uses his unborn child’s college fund to purchase a gun.

While the story is simple enough, director Gene Fowler Jr. (I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF) and writer Louis Vittes’ approach isn’t, playing several scenes in long, unbroken takes and giving the performers more to do than just follow the plot from point to point. Dependable Kent Taylor is touching as an unhappy, broken-down mob lawyer, and Doucette, normally confined to simple heavy roles, hams it up as a rough-around-the-edges gangster looking for respectability from his civilian neighbors. Fowler shot GANG WAR in widescreen Regalscope, and its black-and-white photography looks quite nice in the letterboxed print shown on Fox Movie Channel. With so many noirs and B-pictures of the 1950s receiving stellar DVD releases recently, one holds out hope that Fox has similar plans for GANG WAR.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Here's the cover of MGM's first RED DAWN DVD:
Wouldn't you have to agree that MGM should have used this kickass original poster art instead of Swayze's mullet?

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Glove

THE GLOVE is an odd little drive-in movie. Despite its R rating, it's not particularly exploitative--it doesn't contain any nudity, profanity or excessive violence. Come to think of it, how the hell did THE GLOVE earn an R? It's not a fast-paced, hard-driving movie. In fact, it just kinda meanders along from one scene to the next. It was directed by an actor, Ross Hagen, well known for trashy movies like WONDER WOMEN and THE SIDEHACKERS, and he allows his performers to take their time and add an occasional flourish. Hagen's direction is leisurely that, amazingly, there's a scene in which character actor Keenan Wynn is trading dialogue with star John Saxon. Wynn blows his line, but instead of cutting, Hagen lets the scene continue with Wynn and Saxon laughing, Wynn turning to look off-camera, then looking back at Saxon to repeat the line and continue the scene. It's bizarre and makes no sense within the context of the film, but it certainly is one of those moments that makes THE GLOVE memorable.

Saxon (not long after MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS) stars as down-on-his-luck bounty hunter Sam Kellogg, who stands to lose custody of his daughter if he doesn't come up with some quick bread to pay off his back alimony. Opportunity falls from the sky in the form of hulking ex-con Victor Hale (former football star Rosey Grier), a pissed-off brute who's laying the smackdown on some prison guards who beat him up in the joint. Not content to wallop these apes with his fists, Victor has gotten hold of an old-fashioned riot glove--a five-pound metal gauntlet--that he uses to cause some serious damage to the faces and skulls of his victims. Weary of roughing up homosexual check bouncers for a $300 fee and with a $20,000 reward on the line, Sam puts all his effort into one final case, hoping he can stop Victor's rampage before The Glove can stop him.

Two great disappointments right off the bat. First off, the glove used by Grier looks nothing like the one pictured on the video box, which sports sharp metal spikes. And, secondly, if you're going to call your movie THE GLOVE, it had damn well better showcase a glove. We only really see Grier use it twice, near the beginning of the film, and it doesn't really come into play until the climax, where Grier freely gives it up to Saxon. There are also long stretches in which Grier doesn't even appear, as Hagen chooses to develop a relationship between Kellogg and a red-haired beauty named Sheila Michaels (auburn-tressed Joanna Cassidy). Still, any movie with Saxon in a leading role is going to be worth watching on some level, and there's an occasional action scene or appearance by a familiar character actor to jolt you out of your slumber.

Nothing in THE GLOVE quite lives up to its hilarious theme song, sung by jazz great Ernie Andrews and featuring some of the most overwrought nonsense lyrics on record. Remember: you can't escape the kiss and the rape of...The Glove!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Blind As Titwell's Goat

DIGGSTOWN is one of the best movies of the last twenty years that you've probably never seen nor likely even heard of. It was directed by the late Michael Ritchie, a terrific filmmaker who made SMILE, THE BAD NEWS BEARS, THE CANDIDATE, SEMI-TOUGH and FLETCH. With Ritchie's track record and a cast that includes James Woods, Lou Gossett Jr. and Bruce Dern, DIGGSTOWN, which opened at goddamn #12 at the box office on August 14, 1992, should have been a huge smash. Instead, MGM, which couldn't sell a damn thing in those days (even its 007 franchise was stalled), barely released it on 700 screens with a boring ad campaign. It ended up as the 118th top-grossing film of the year, far below such stellar offerings as STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT, MO' MONEY and 3 NINJAS. DIGGSTOWN is a fast, funny, smart, violent comedy anchored by its three leading men and a remarkable premise based on Leonard Wise's novel THE DIGGSTOWN RINGERS.

Fast-talking conman Gabriel Cane (tailor-made for Jimmy Woods), upon being released from prison, heads to tiny Diggstown, Georgia, which is run by corrupt town boss John Gillon (Dern), who seized his li'l fiefdom after betting against the town's heavyweight champion--whom Gillon trained--and spiking his nose spray, earning Gillon the deeds to every property in town and the boxer permanent brain damage. Sending his partner Fitz (Oliver Platt) down in advance to stir the pot, Cane's scheme involves his old partner, retired boxer "Honey" Roy Palmer (Gossett). Cane bets that his man can knock out ten of Diggstown's finest fighters in less than 24 hours. The greedy Gillon takes the bait, even offering up his own son as one of his fighters. 22-year-old Heather Graham, who began a relationship with the much older Woods on this shoot, looks nice in cutoffs, but really isn't given much of a part as the sister of Woods' friend in prison.

Almost all of Ritchie's best films involve macho competition, and DIGGSTOWN is no exception. Steven McKay's screenplay contains plenty of interesting twists (as the best caper films do), and it's funny enough and moves fast enough that you'll barely notice that the concept of a 48-year-old boxer knocking out ten locals in a day is a tough sell. As usual, it's nigh impossible to take your eyes off of Woods, who's nearly always the smartest guy in the room and usually seems to be thinking four steps ahead of everyone else. He and Gossett have nice chemistry together, while Dern is properly venal. Surprisingly, McKay and Ritchie resist the urge to add a romantic subplot between Woods and Graham, which only would have taken away from the harder-edged main story. It's also fun to peek at the supporting cast, which includes Randall "Tex" Cobb (RAISING ARIZONA), Jim Caviezel (THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST), Michael DeLorenzo (NEW YORK UNDERCOVER) and Benny "The Jet" Urquidez as the referee.

I had the urge to put DIGGSTOWN on after reading Bruce Dern's autobiography last week. THINGS I'VE SAID, BUT PROBABLY SHOULDN'T HAVE: AN UNREPENTANT MEMOIR is a heckuva lot of fun and a total breeze to read. It's not heavy or tightly researched, it's just Dern talking for 300 pages. That's really how it reads, like one really long talk show appearance. Sometimes he goes off on a tangent, but you don't care, because it's so entertaining. If you've been a fan of Bruce Dern and his movies, whether it's COMING HOME or CYCLE SAVAGES, you're going to want to read this book.

The title promises a lot of dirt, but there really isn't any. There's no discussion of sex lives or debauchery, even if Jack Nicholson is a good friend. He talks a lot about his fellow actors, mostly the ones he likes, but some that he doesn't (Oliver Platt). It's refreshing to hear an old-timer like Dern be open with his admiration for today's stars; Charlize Theron, Matt Damon and Matthew Modine receive honest compliments, even though he misses the old days when everyone on the set was focused on making a great film and not babbling on cell phones, running off to their trailers, and directing through a monitor positioned 100 yards from the set.

Yeah, a lot of what he says is b.s., but it's Bruce Dern, and he's cool, and you go with it. He tells an anecdote about John Frankenheimer directing a PLAYHOUSE 90 starring Lon Chaney Jr. in OF MICE AND MEN. Lon was so drunk that he spent the first eight minutes of the live drama stumbling around the set, knocking over walls, and wandering behind the camera crew, but he totally nailed the next 82 minutes and was nominated for an Emmy. Probably the only true part of that story is that Frankenheimer was a director on PLAYHOUSE 90, but, hey, it's Bruce Dern.

There are a lot of very funny stories in the book, and he even talks about hosting SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE the night Buckwheat was assassinated. Surprisingly, Dern comes off as not particularly self-confident. Maybe it's self-deprecation, but he often talks about himself as though he were not a movie star, not an important actor, not a performer who can elevate a film just by being in it. We know differently. The boy's got game. I've never seen a Dern movie that wasn't better just by virtue of the fact that he was in it.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Freddy Vs. Jason

Who would have thought any life was left in these 20-year-old franchises? Considering the seventh NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movie was released in 1994 and the tenth FRIDAY THE 13TH thriller, JASON X, grossed less than its $14 million budget just two years earlier, why would anyone believe that a battle royal between the villains of each would hit #1 at the U.S. box office? But it did, as FREDDY VS. JASON collected more than $60 million in its first two weekends in wide release.

Murdered child molester and supernatural dream killer Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund, of course) is ready to continue murdering teenagers on Elm Street, but can't, since adults in the intervening years since Freddy's last siege have covered up his crimes. Since today's teens haven't heard of Freddy's exploits, they can't fear him and are thus invulnerable to his sleep attacks. So Krueger resurrects hockey-masked slasher Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger, who replaced fan favorite Kane Hodder in a very controversial move by director Ronny Yu) and manipulates him into slicing up a few teenagers, striking fear once again into their vapid little hearts. However, once Freddy arrives to begin a new reign of terror, Jason refuses to leave. Since Elm Street is only big enough for one unstoppable killing machine, the stage is set for a pair of raging battles between these twin towers of evil, one in Freddy's dream "world" and another at Jason's old killing fields of Camp Crystal Lake.

FREDDY VS. JASON is probably the best "Freddy fights Jason" movie anyone could have made. Of course, the teenagers are insipid, plagued by boring dialogue by actors of limited resources, but aren't they usually in slasher movies? Monica Keena (UNDECLARED), she of the Hewittian knockers, and Jason Ritter (son of John), the young leads, are at least likable, which is more than I can say for the rest of the cast, including a blatant Jason-Mewes-ripoff stoner dude. Yu is the real hero here, crafting a surprisingly fun old-fashioned slasher movie with enough arterial spray and nudity to send my imagination back in time to 1983, back when exploitation movies actually contained exploitative elements. I still can't believe how much fun I had at this movie, especially the final half-hour or so, which is splendidly silly. I'm not exactly sure how New Line Cinema bribed the MPAA into bestowing an R rating, but I'm glad they did, since wallowing in the excessive gore and topless nudity provides most of the fun. And since FvsJ is so profitable, you can guess that New Line is already lining up its next monster mash. Hmmmm...the studio also owns the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE franchise. Could FREDDY VS. JASON VS. LEATHERFACE be next?

If you're curious in reading more about FRIDAY THE 13TH, go check out Final Girl's FRIDAY THE 13TH Blog-O-Thon and see what everyone else in the blogosphere has to say.

Jason X

Jason goes to outer space. Who’da thunk it? Well, you have to admit—it’s creative. In 2002, after quite some time languishing on New Line Cinema’s dusty shelf, JASON X hit theaters. Yes, it’s a stupid title, made even more stupid by the fact that it’s actually pronounced “Jason Ex” instead of “Jason Ten” for some reason I can’t even imagine.

For awhile, it looked as though we Americans may not see JASON X at all. It opened in Europe during the summer of 2001, but it wasn’t until almost a year later that New Line released the film on 1800 screens in the U.S., where it was the #3 grosser. JASON X isn’t really very good, but I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did, and I’d rather watch it again than, say, HALLOWEEN H20 or I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER.

That hockey-masked madman, Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder in his fourth straight outing), is back at it again, escaping certain death to slice and dice more beautiful young people in a secluded setting--this time in outer space. Jason, along with a comely scientist named Rowan (cutie Lexa Doig from the ANDROMEDA TV series), was cryogenically frozen in 2008 and then thawed out more than four hundred years later--2455--by a spacefaring research team comprised of horny teenagers and gung-ho space Marines. You would think that, four centuries from now, young people from Earth would have gotten smarter and less obnoxious, but nooooooo. Something else you would naturally assume is that they would no longer wear 21st-century hairstyles and fashions or use 21st-century slang, but you’d be wrong there too.

As ridiculous as the premise is, where else could Jason go by this point in the series except outer space? He’s more powerful than ever, resisting a barrage of gunfire and even a frontal attack by a sexy robot (!), the mega-powered KM-14 (Lisa Ryder). The big disappointment comes near the end, after Jason has been chemically transformed into a super-Jason. RoboJason, if you will. RoboJason receives precious little screen time and proves surprisingly easy to dispatch. Don’t get me wrong. RoboJason (or, as I think he’s called in the press notes, UberJason) is not a terrible concept. Silly, of course, but not much so when you consider all the FRIDAY THE 13TH films that came before this one. At this point, hell, why not a superpowered Jason? The problem is that the transformation doesn’t occur until very late in the movie, and very little is done with him. RoboJason does endure a pretty goofy death scene. I can’t imagine how any screenwriter could write his way outta that one.

Of course, Jason can never die so long as executive producer Sean Cunningham smells a buck, and the blade-slinger soon returned to battle Freddy Krueger in FREDDY VS. JASON, which may have been the most anticipated battle in modern monster-movie history.

Go See Sicko

If you watch this movie, and you still believe that the American health care system is perfect, that there's no need for it to be improved, there's no hope for you. I don't even know when was the last time I felt this hopeless, this guilty, this sick. I don't feel good about myself right now, and I certainly don't feel all that great about my country.

Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday

After 1988’s dismal FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, Paramount sold the franchise to New Line, which had done very well with its A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET horror series. In an attempt to juice up FRIDAY, New Line brought back Sean Cunningham, who directed the first FRIDAY THE 13TH, as producer and hired a 23-year-old fan, Adam Marcus, an NYC film school grad with no feature experience, to direct.

The result is one of the series’ strangest films and in many ways its least satisfying. It probably seemed like a good idea to shake up the formula with a new mystical backstory for Jason Voorhees, but JASON GOES TO HELL just doesn’t feel much like a Jason movie. In lifting plot elements from better films like THE HIDDEN and THE EVIL DEAD and introducing a supernatural element where none had been present before, Marcus doesn’t provide enough of what we come to these movies for in the first place—a guy in a hockey mask butchering naked teenagers.

JASON opens sharply with an FBI unit blasting Voorhees (played by stunt coordinator Kane Hodder for the third time) into a thousand gooey pieces. Jason is a nationally known serial killer, landing a segment on tabloid host Robert Campbell’s (Steven Culp) AMERICAN CASELINE show. Obsessed bounty hunter Creighton Duke (Steven Williams) vows that Voorhees will return from beyond the grave to continue his killing and that, for $500,000, he will guarantee to destroy the madman forever.

Although it was never stated in eight previous films, the body of Jason Voorhees is just a shell for a mystical evil force that can only be destroyed (sent to Hell) by another member of the Voorhees family using a magic dagger. Even though Jason’s mother said in the first film that Jason was an only child, Marcus and co-writer Dean Lorey introduce us to Jason’s sister Diana (Erin Gray), whose daughter Jessica (Kari Keegan) and baby granddaughter are in danger of being slaughtered by Jason.

JASON goes astray in its decision to ditch its “hero” for most of the film. Producer Cunningham laid down a mandate to Marcus to “get rid of that hockey mask,” leading the director to create Jason’s new power of jumping from one body to the next by slithering down his victims’ throats. Setting aside the fact that this isn’t a novel idea, it cheats the audience out of seeing their icon bully his way through the movie, as Jason takes the form of other characters, such as a middle-aged coroner and a fat deputy. Hodder only appears as Jason during the precredits sequence and the cuckoo finale.

The cast does its best to sell the premise, even though John D. LeMay, who starred in the unrelated FRIDAY THE 13TH syndicated TV series, is a weak lead, and Keegan not memorable as the Final Girl. Williams snarls his way through his part as Creighton Duke and is so good that it makes you wonder why Marcus didn’t make a film about him instead. Culp is credible in his difficult part, and it’s always charming to see the fetching Gray (BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY) onscreen. New Line’s unrated version retains all of KNB’s marvelously expressive makeup effects, including a particularly gooey melting man, and the most graphic sex scene in the history of the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise.

By the way, all that rot about JASON GOES TO HELL being THE FINAL FRIDAY? It wasn’t. Although it was not well-received critically or at the box office, New Line brought Jason back to the big screen in JASON X and FREDDY VS. JASON.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Friday the 13th Part VIII -- Jason Takes Manhattan

By the eighth film in Paramount’s increasingly less profitable FRIDAY THE 13TH series, the decision was made to change the setting and take Jason someplace he’d never been before. Unfortunately, Paramount’s tight pursestrings and director Rob Hedden’s derivative screenplay combine to make 1989’s FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN the worst of the 11-film (to date) series. "Jason takes Manhattan"--that's a joke. It takes about 70 minutes for the action to come anywhere near New York City, and when it finally does, the back alleys and backlots of Toronto fill in for the Big Apple. A few shots of menacing masked madman Jason Voorhees roaming Times Square are impressive, but too few too late to save the last FRIDAY THE 13TH thriller to be produced at Paramount. This movie literally has only thirty good seconds in it, and if you’ve seen it, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

Somehow, through some truly idiotic plot machinations, Jason (Kane Hodder is back) finds himself escaping his watery grave at the bottom of Crystal Lake and on a cruise ship bound for New York City. Well, it isn't really a cruise ship, it's actually a rusty old freighter, and the only passengers aboard are a (unusually small) group of high-school graduates and their very uptight teacher (familiar TV guest star Peter Mark Richman). Our heroine is Rennie (Jensen Daggett), who has an unnatural fear of the water, thanks to being tossed into Crystal Lake as a child and pulled under by a ten-year-old Jason. Never mind that, according to the FRIDAY THE 13TH chronology, Jason was ten years old thirty years before this movie could have taken place (although, admittedly, all eight Paramount features play pretty loosely with continuity). The usual slash-and-hack antics ensue until a handful of survivors manage to row (!) their way past the Statue of Liberty, only to meet up with Jason again in the sewers armed with a barrel of toxic waste!

While PART VIII is truly too stupid for words, I believe that it would probably have a better reputation if it hadn't overpromised and underdelivered. If you make a film called JASON TAKES MANHATTAN and design the trailers and one-sheets in such a way that audiences expect Jason to, well, "take" Manhattan, you'd better not spend an hour on a cheap-looking ship and another half-hour on unconvincing Canadian sets. The New York City setting is the only thing that sets this entry apart from the others; the script, acting and gore effects are routine at best. Not even the score is worth listening for, since Fred Mollin replaced Harry Manfredini's familiar "ch-ch-ch-ch ha-ha-ha-ha" with a bland synth score. If nothing else, PART VIII is notable as actress Kelly Hu’s film debut; you may remember her from X-MEN 2 and THE SCORPION KING.

Not surprisingly, this was the end of the line for Jason Voorhees as far as Paramount was concerned. After eight features in nine years, it would be another four before New Line Cinema, Jason’s new owner, continued the series with the most unusual FRIDAY THE 13TH movie yet.

It does have an amusing teaser trailer, though, like I said, the movie never delivers on its promise.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Friday The 13th Part VII -- The New Blood

Paramount skipped a year in its FRIDAY THE 13TH series, maybe because no Fridays in 1987 landed on the 13th day of the month. So it wasn’t until May 13, 1988 that FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD hit theaters all over the U.S., when it debuted at number one at the box office. This time, Jason Voorhees (stunt coordinator Kane Hodder, who went on to play Jason four times in all) meets CARRIE, as the hockey-mask-wearing killing machine, last seen chained to a rock at the bottom of Crystal Lake, is again resurrected from the dead to face a blond teen with telekinetic powers.

As a child, Tina accidentally killed her abusive father just by wishing him dead. Years later, Tina (Lar Park Lincoln, a regular on KNOTS LANDING at the time) is undergoing psychiatric therapy under the tutelage of Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser, the corpse in the WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S movies), whose brilliant idea of treatment is to take Tina and her mother (Susan Blu) back to the Crystal Lake cabin where her trauma first began. Wouldn't you know that the cabin next door is being rented out by a group of partying teens, who get high, have sex, argue, and...well, you know what happens next.

Continuity and plot logic are given short shrift in the screenplay by Daryl Haney (XTRO 3) and Manuel Fidello. For instance, PART VI established that the community of Crystal Lake had changed its name in an effort to forget its bloody past. That said, director John Carl Buechler (TROLL), a special makeup effects artist by trade, adds a new twist or two to the FRIDAY formula, ditching Jason's familiar hockey mask during the climax and showing off a creepy new visage akin to the rotting cadaver Jason actually was by that time.

The first film to introduce elements of science fiction, THE NEW BLOOD closes with a battle between big, menacing Jason and tiny, vulnerable Tina that is one of the series’ most exciting climaxes. Buechler offers slightly more gore and nudity than the previous film, although it, like many others in the series, was eviscerated by the MPAA much worse than Jason ever did to any of his victims.

With the next movie, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII — JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, Hodder became the first performer to play Jason in back-to-back films. Also making his F13 debut here is composer Fred Mollin, who took over from Harry Manfredini after six films, although some of Manfredini's cues from PART VI were used on the soundtrack.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Jason Lives: Friday The 13th Part VI

After the disappointing narrative of the fifth FRIDAY THE 13TH movie, which promised a "new beginning", Paramount brought in writer/director Tom McLoughlin (ONE DARK NIGHT) to bring the series back to its basics and--most importantly--bring back its hockey-masked horror icon, machete-wielding Jason Voorhees.

The result was 1986’s JASON LIVES: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI, which represented the series’ first foray into comedy. Up to this point, the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies had been fairly humorless, which makes sense considering that they’re about a homicidal maniac indiscriminately slaughtering teenagers. However, McLoughlin believed that the only way to make a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie that wasn’t like the others was to add humor to the mix. And JASON LIVES succeeds fairly well.

Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews, who became something of a horror icon after starring in this and RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD), the emotionally disturbed young man played by Corey Feldman as a kid in the fourth movie and John Shepherd as a teen in the fifth, is still unable to put his memories of Jason's killing sprees behind him. He chooses to exorcise his demons by visiting the Voorhees grave on a dark and stormy night in a witty precredit sequence that stands as one of the most thrilling and frightening scenes of any FRIDAY THE 13TH movie. Tommy's plan doesn't quite work out the way he had hoped, as a bolt of lightning turns the maggot-ridden corpse of Jason into a pissed-off zombie, who leaps out of his coffin to resume mowing down the residents of Forest Green, the town formerly known as Crystal Lake.

While the frequent murders are just as bloodless as in A NEW BEGINNING, McLoughlin at least counterbalances the lack of gore (and nudity, for that matter) with a welcome sense of humor and a greater variety of gags, including the franchise's first car stunts. Jennifer Cooke is a terrific Final Girl, fun-loving and likable, and it's a shame that McLoughlin chose to focus more on the dour Tommy Jarvis character than her Megan, who's also the daughter of the local sheriff (David Kagan) who believes Tommy is to blame for the sudden rash of deadness going on around Forest Green.

Harry Manfredini certainly seems rejuvenated, lending the atmospheric opening sequence a dramatic score that prepares the audience for a spooky thrill ride. That the rest of the film, as interesting as it is, never quite lives up to its opening is not Manfredini's fault. Also, look for WELCOME BACK, KOTTER star Ron Palillo (!) as a Jason victim. Tony Goldwyn, later a popular movie actor (GHOST) and TV director (WITHOUT A TRACE), made his film debut here. And C.J. Graham is the zombified Jason.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Friday The 13th: A New Beginning

One year after Paramount released the “final chapter” of its lucrative FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise, the man in the hockey mask returned in FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING. Sort of. To properly discuss this movie, I’ll have to spoil the movie’s big twist, so if you don’t want to know how this terrible thriller ends, look away now.

At the end of the previous film, madman Jason Voorhees appeared to be very clearly dead, hacked to bits and definitely unable to continue in additional movies. So how did scripters Martin Kitrosser (who helped kill Jason in the fourth movie), David Cohen, and Danny Steinmann (who also directed the film) bring him back to life? They didn’t. A NEW BEGINNING is the only FRIDAY THE 13TH movie (to date, anyway) not to feature Jason at all.

The killer, who roams around wearing Jason’s mask and slicing people up with a machete, is not Jason, but actually an ambulance attendant driven mad after his son was murdered. The big revelation comes during a rainy climax severely fumbled by Steinmann, in which the mask comes off and a large question mark forms above the audience’s heads while they try to remember the face of a bit player who had one short close-up over an hour earlier. The mystery is not satisfying, mainly because it doesn’t play fair by letting the audience know it is one.

Tommy Jarvis, 12 years old and played by Corey Feldman in THE FINAL CHAPTER (and a cameo here), is now a teenager (John Shepherd) suffering from psychological trauma as a result of the horror he experienced. He experiences bad dreams and hallucinations, and finds it difficult to relate to other human beings, choosing instead to remain a loner with just his homemade monster masks to keep him company.

Tommy’s nightmares continue at his new home, a halfway house for troubled teens that happens to be located close to Crystal Lake, where Jason Voorhees was believed to have drowned nearly thirty years earlier. Hours after Tommy's arrival, the killings begin again. Bodies are torn, ripped, slashed, and hacked apart by a mysterious killer with Jason's unique M.O.

A NEW BEGINNING is among the weakest films of the franchise, despite one of the series' highest body counts and boob counts. Steinmann (SAVAGE STREETS) delivers a lot of killings all right, but they're neither creative nor gory (thanks, MPAA), and they’re leavened by embarrassing lowbrow humor that doesn’t work at all. Instead of Tom Savini, who provided THE FINAL CHAPTER with one of the series' wettest entries, special makeup effects artist Martin Becker was retained to sprinkle a bit of Karo syrup across the throats of the actors. Blood and gore are not necessarily essential for a good horror movie, but let's face it — we're not watching a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie for anything else.

Steinmann's direction offers little suspense or thrills, and is further weighted down by some of the franchise's worst performances, particularly Carol Locatell and Ron Sloan as a hillbilly family who never saw a hunk of scenery they didn't like to chomp on. Harry Manfredini is back as composer, although his formula is starting to wear thin after five movies. Stuntman Tom Morga (STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE) portrays “Jason” beneath the mask, and Dick Wieand (PATERNITY) plays the killer unmasked.

Swamp Country

1966's SWAMP COUNTRY was filmed on location in the Okefenokee near Waycross, Georgia and probably never played a theater or drive-in north of the Mason-Dixon. Regional filmmaking used to be quite common back in the days before Hollywood soaked up all the theater screens and independent distributors were still able to peddle their low-budget pictures from town to town.

SWAMP COUNTRY toplines a middle-aged country-western singer: Rex Allen, who played singing cowboys in a bunch of Republic B-westerns in the 1950s. Strangely, Allen doesn't do any singing in the movie, leaving the many musical interludes to another country star. Baker Knight, who made music history by writing hit songs like "Lonesome Town" (a hit for Ricky Nelson) and "The Wonder of You" (Elvis took it into the Top Ten), stars as Baker Knight, a slacker with a penchant for singing songs and getting into trouble. He's also dating Nora Cox (Carole Gilbert), who can't decide between the roguish Baker or the straight-arrow town sheriff Jim (Allen). Adding to our fun is the fact that Gilbert is supposedly playing a young woman, but oddly looks older than Sue Casey (THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER), the actress playing her alcoholic mom. At one point, Casey tells Allen that he's "old enough to be (Nora's) daddy," although siblings seem more plausible from their appearances.

SWAMP COUNTRY is all over the place during its 93 minutes. The main story concerns Dave Wetzel (David DeLie), a guest at the local motel accused of strangling the hotsy-totsy chick staying in the room next door. Panicky, he overpowers sheriff Mel (Lyle Waggoner, later to star in THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW and WONDER WOMAN)--and, no, I don't know why the town has two sheriffs--and escapes into the swamp. While Jim, Mel and their posse roam through the swamp on Dave's tail, the shiftless Baker finds himself the target of an Italian bootlegger (Vince Barbi, who has either the thickest real accent or the worst fake accent I've ever heard) who wants to cut his fingers off.

Meanwhile, Nora's ten-year-old sister (Marian Patrick) gets lost in the swamp chasing her damn dog, one of the posse is eaten by a bear (!), Dave saves the little girl from a panther attack (!), Baker sings more tunes in his Johnny Cash baritone, and Nora eventually solves the murder using a trick right out of a SCOOBY-DOO episode. No stunt doubling is used during the big fight at the end (or stunt choreography, for that matter).

I liked SWAMP COUNTRY a lot, though I'm not going so far as to call it a good film. It certainly isn't a Hollywood production, which is to its benefit, as the locations, accents and colloquialisms are authentically sweaty and colorful. Not only is it the first film for Waggoner (who screen-tested for Batman the year he shot this), but also for character actor Ted Gehring, whom you've seen in a zillion TV shows over the years.

Knight only appeared in this film, and while he isn't much of an actor, he is a heckuva singer, and it's interesting that his musical success was as a songwriter, rather than as a performer. I love the title song, which plays over a series of POV shots of the mysterious swamp. Michael Terresco's original score is pretty crazy, often just a plink-plank of a guitar that changes in tempo according to the on-screen action.

SWAMP COUNTRY represents something of a lost subgenre of exploitation movie, the Southern fried melodrama, which has nearly fallen extinct, much like the drive-ins that once upon a time played hundreds of them.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Starring Ferlin Husky

Because everybody should see at least one Ferlin Husky movie in his lifetime, I caught Something Weird Video's DVD of SWAMP GIRL tonight (paired with SWAMP COUNTRY, which I'll watch at a later date). Husky was a popular country-western singer of the 1950s who made sporadic film appearances, the most notorious likely being HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE (sic), which I know I'm going to have to see one of these days. He only gets to sing one song in 1971's SWAMP GIRL, which is a pretty decent theme staged with Ferlin and his guitar perched on a pavilion railing until he's interrupted by a redneck reporting the case of a snakebite victim who was dropped off by a mysterious, uh, swamp girl.

Rumors flow around the Okefenokee of a beautiful blond swamp girl who lives alone in the wilderness. When the snakebite victim is discovered by a trio of beer-swilling poachers, they believe he was killed by the swamp girl and mean to find her. Good ol' swamp ranger Jimmy (Husky) gets them to hold off while he spends the day tooling around on his airboat looking for her. Which he does...surprisingly easily.

Her backstory is right out of a sleazy paperback novel and is related to the swamp girl (her name is Jeanene) by her "pa"--a black man named Nat (Harrison Page of BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS and SLEDGE HAMMER!, hiding behind a pseudonym). The shack where Jeanene and Nat live deep in the swamp was once inhabited by a nasty, drunken old doctor who used it to perform illegal abortions. Sometimes, the women were too pregnant for an abortion, so after giving birth, they would leave their babies with the doctor, who sold them into white slavery. Nat, who hid out with the doctor after stealing a pair of jeans, took a liking to little Jeanene and protected her from the doctor. But one day, the lure of easy money overtook the doc, and he tried to sell her to a couple of ne'er-do-wells, who murdered the doc and stole the girl, only to have Nat smack them in the face with a hatchet.

As Jeanene ponders whether to take Jimmy up on his offer to introduce her to civilization, a female escaped convict and her boyfriend hide out in the swamp, blast Nat to death with a shotgun, and force Jeanene to guide them across the state line into Florida. Meanwhile, the convict's parents hire those three rednecks from the beginning of the movie to take them into the swamp, so they can find their girl killer before Jimmy and the sheriff (Claude King) do.

Whew. For a movie that runs only 78 minutes, there's a lot going on in SWAMP GIRL, including death by gator, death by gun, death by quicksand and death by snake. Despite the violence, SWAMP GIRL carries a GP (sic) rating card, which sadly means director Donald Davis (whose association with crappy movies goes all the way back to his gofer duties on PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE) blows the opportunity to probe the sleazier side of a beautiful blond virgin from the swamps.

Jeanene, by the way, is played by Simone Griffeth, who went on to play David Carradine's romantic lead in DEATH RACE 2000 and several television guest shots. Like most of SWAMP GIRL's cast, Griffeth is a Georgia native and was likely discovered by Davis. None of the acting is particularly good, but the accents and appearances are quite authentic, which goes a long way towards making the melodramatics feel real. Husky certainly isn't a natural actor--counting the number of times he fiddles with his hat would be a great drinking game--but his cornpone demeanor is likable and convincing. I liked his song too.

Davis has trouble stretching to 78 minutes, so he uses lots of shots of people getting on and off their boats or just cruising around. A climactic plot twist by producer/cinematographer/co-writer Jay Kulp is a little much to swallow, but it eats up a few more minutes until Husky can reprise the theme.

I ended up liking SWAMP GIRL, which must have been a bear to film. Except for the rustic set representing the doctor's cabin, everything was shot in the Okefenokee, where the gator wranglers likely earned every penny.

Under 17 Not Admitted

Here is a site that will "rate" your blog or MySpace page for you. Why? I don't know, but what the heck? This site received a:

However, their standards seem a little strict to me:

This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:

* crappy (6x)
* hell (5x)
* death (4x)
* kill (3x)
* stab (1x)

Good thing there are no photos of anyone smoking.

BTW, the MPAA would crap big time if they found out so many blogs were using their trademarked symbols.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter

FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER was, of course, the last movie of the series.

Ho ho, you don't really believe that, do you? I doubt Paramount thought so either, considering the film's hokey final scene.

Two things stand out about this fourth film of the FRIDAY franchise. One is that it's gorier than PARTs 2 and 3, thanks to makeup effects guru Tom Savini, who created the bloody demises on the original F13 (and worked with director Joseph Zito on THE PROWLER, which serves up some of the most horrible gore moments in any slasher movie). Another is that the FRIDAY film with the most professional and recognizable cast (up to that time at least) should also contain the least amount of characterization. Peter Barton, who had just come off HELL NIGHT and THE POWERS OF MATTHEW STAR and is billed as if he were the male lead, has perhaps the least amount of screen time among the main cast.

THE FINAL CHAPTER opens the day after the events of PART 3, meaning the second, third, and fourth films occur within the same week. You'd think the local hospital would be a lot busier than it's shown to be. Jason Voorhees (stuntman Ted White, the fourth actor to portray the role), still wearing his signature hockey mask, is taken to the morgue, presumed dead following the bloodbath that closed PART 3. After "waking up" or whatever he does, he wipes out a pair of horny hospital workers and returns to the Crystal Lake area to kill more young people.

These kids have rented a country home located across the road from the Jarvis family — pretty Trish (Kimberly Beck), her little brother Tommy (Corey Feldman), and their mother (Joan Freeman, who once upon a time played love scenes with both Don Knotts and Elvis). The six college kids — four guys and two girls — as well as a fat hitchhiker, a camper, and a pair of twin hotties, are no match for Jason, as he slashes, pokes, hacks, and smashes his way through the cast, leaving only Trish (who doesn't skinny-dip or have sex, making her the obvious candidate for Final Girl status) and Tommy (not even Jason kills little kids...does he?) to stop his reign.

Notable among the cast are Crispin Glover, one year before his breakout role in BACK TO THE FUTURE; LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN Lawrence Monoson (who doesn’t get any here either); Erich Anderson (still a busy TV actor thirty years later); FRIDAYS comedian Bruce Mahler; Judie Aronson (AMERICAN NINJA and WEIRD SCIENCE); and non-acting twins Camilla and Carey More.

Barney Cohen's screenplay is nothing if not efficient, stripping away all but the bare essentials of a plot and giving the cast just enough to do to keep them from becoming bored with their characters. The MPAA must have been more lenient with Paramount this time around, since more of Savini's creations are spared the cutting room floor. Machetes smack into foreheads, bodies hang from door frames, heads are smashed, and bodies are gutted. Zito also directs some nifty stunts, including a couple of high falls that appear as dangerous as they are thrilling. In addition to the gore, FINAL CHAPTER offers more nudity than any of the previous films.

Despite the promise of a “final chapter,” Zito leaves room for another sequel, which Paramount provided just a year later. Another lengthy pre-credit sequence provides flashback footage of Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Rex Everhart (FRIDAY THE 13TH), Amy Steel, Lauren-Marie Taylor, John Furey, Tom McBride (PART 2), Dana Kimmell, Nick Savage, Jeffrey Rogers (PART 3), and others.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Friday The 13th Part III

Friday, August 13, 1982—time for another FRIDAY THE 13TH movie. And in 3D. The surprising box office grosses of a junky Italian western called COMIN’ AT YA! made the concept of 3D movies hot like it hadn’t been since its faddish flameout in the 1950s. Paramount actually wanted to film its first STAR TREK sequel in 3D, but instead trusted its bulky equipment and stressful shooting schedule to director Steve Miner, who was rewarded for the success of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 with the opportunity to helm the next in the series.

PART III was very much a troubled shoot, as difficulties with the untested equipment, shooting delays, and much reshooting of scenes to get the focus correct and the special effects functioning properly caused the production to drag on for long hours over many months. The result of the cast and crew’s hard labor was an efficiently frightening picture that works even in 2D.

On the day after the events of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, more young people head out to the Crystal Lake area to party, get high, have sex, and die. The Virgin Who Vanquishes Jason At The Climax is Chris (Dana Kimmell, also in LONE WOLF MCQUADE that summer), whose groovy van (complete with shag carpeting) contributes to the exciting finale, as it runs out of gas and threatens to fall through a wooden bridge with masked madman Jason Voorhees (6’3” stuntman Richard Brooker) in foot pursuit.

Chris' comrades include her sex-crazed boyfriend, a perpetually horny couple, a Latina, a fat nerd prankster, and a racially diverse trio of bikers who pop into the story for the sole purpose of becoming Jason fodder. The more creative gore effects include a spear in the eye, a snake leaping out, and an eyeball being squeezed from its socket. That said, PART III is less gory than its predecessors, but the 3D effects provided an extra “jump” factor.

In terms of story and structure, writers Martin Kitrosser and Carol Watson pretty much follow the tried-and-true formula created by Sean Cunningham in the 1980 original. Characterization and logic go out the window and are replaced by a body count of a dozen or so. What differentiates this sequel from the others is the 3D, which is well handled by Miner, who shoves as much as he can into the camera lens, be it a sharp blade or a potful of popping corn. The novelty of seeing ordinary items thrust into the audience’s face for no apparent purpose lends a campy sheen to the film, and Gerald Feil's cinematography is clear enough to enjoyed without the benefit of cardboard glasses.

Harry Manfredini returns to score the proceedings, replacing his sinister-sounding main theme with a driving disco number that punctuates the in-your-face opening titles. Miner filmed in California, the third different location to represent the Crystal Lake area. As well, Brooker was the third different actor to essay the Jason Voorhees role. Betsy Palmer, Amy Steel and John Furey appear in flashback footage. Paramount released FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER two years later, but you know better that “final” nonsense, right?

More Republican Hypocrisy

When a Democrat is accused (not convicted) of perjury in a scandal involving sex between two consenting adults, he should be impeached.

When a Republican is convicted of perjury in a case where he and his bosses conspired to reveal the identity of an undercover CIA agent, he should receive no jail time.

Do you think this is in the best interest of the American people? 2/3 of the American people say no.

This is, of course, obstruction of justice. It's also an obvious maneuver to keep Libby's mouth shut, a deal worked out in advance to prevent Libby from going public with the fact that he lied to protect his boss Dick Cheney.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Better Than A Teddy Award

Big thanks to Neil Sarver at The Bleeding Tree who awarded me a Thinking Blogger Award. I'm not certain I deserve it, but I'll accept it in the spirit in which it was given. I considered awarding five of my own, but I read so many blogs on a regular basis--personal, comics, movies, television, sports--that I didn't want to narrow it down nor did I want to ignore some really great ones. And I'm pretty goddamn lazy.

Crane Shot--In Color

It's hard to imagine a time when a television series broadcast in color was a big deal. Around 1966, ABC created short bumpers that aired before their color shows, trumpeting the fact that they were "in color!" BATMAN and, I'm pretty sure, THE GREEN HORNET had them, but they aren't presented here. This short clip represents THE FUGITIVE, THE TIME TUNNEL, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, THE INVADERS and THE FBI...in color!

I Got A Hole In The Head Too

I had to make a trip to the post office yesterday to pick up a package. A big package. A big, heavy package. It was a box containing 157 paperback books that I won in an eBay auction. I only wanted about half of them, but for $10.95 plus shipping, how could I resist? I guess my mailman was too lazy to drop it off on my doorstep, so I had to go get it. Can't say as I blame him too much, as this box measured about four feet long and weighed probably thirty pounds.

The trouble with buying more books is that I have no place to put them. The majority of my book collection is stationed in a corner of my bedroom. Not on shelves, but in a couple dozen stacks shoved together, which means I can't really find anything I need in a hurry. I also have four more stacks on my dresser, another bagful on the floor, and now these 157 piled on a table. I separated the books I wanted to keep from the books I don't want, which I can hopefully unload at a used book store.

The books I plan to keep are mostly older "pulp fiction" titles, mysteries, sci-fi, horror. I have been collecting Edward S. Aaron's Sam Durell adventure novels lately, which are tight, exciting stories. I also picked up some Doc Savage and Remo Williams novels, none of which I've read. I got a couple of Shell Scott mysteries by Richard S. Prather, which are entertaining stories that read like spoofs. Also included in the lot were novelizations of movies like THE GAUNTLET, THE END, SLAUGHTER'S BIG RIP-OFF and WALKING TALL. And added to my collection are a few more novels by an author named John Whitlatch whom I recently discovered. Very little seems to be known about him, but the two books by him I've read are bizarre, tough, two-fisted, startlingly right-wing, slightly racist actioners that could easily have been adapted to 85-minute B-movies in 1970, which is about when they were written.