October 2nd, 2009

FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) ****

<Folks, I’m back with another movie in the Horror Franchise Marathon.  Not only will this review be the first of many Friday the 13th movies I’ll be reviewing over the next few days, it also marks the return of the popular ongoing series:>




Watching the original Friday the 13th after over 25 years, 10 sequels, and a remake is still a special experience.  It’s a brutally effective slasher movie; one that set the benchmark for all slashers to come.  Like the seminal Halloween; Friday the 13th has a prologue where someone got killed years earlier that sets up the murderer’s motive.  It also firmly establishes The Final Girl, the fact that it’s mandatory for The Final Girl to drop a murder weapon whenever she renders her attacker unconscious, the creepy music, the idea that fornication leads to death, the hungry young actor Before They Were Famous, and the customary POV shots of the killer. 


What Friday adds to the mix is the setting.  It took the terror out of small town USA and planted it in the woods of summer camp.  Everybody hates summer camp, so turning a killer loose in the cabins is an inspired touch; one that would go on to be imitated countless times.  It also establishes the need for the town drunk (in this case, Crazy Ralph) to warn the impending victims that they are “Doomed”.  Friday even contains what I think is the first case of the Jokester character who goes around goofing off and isn’t missed when he gets killed.


More than anything, Friday the 13th is a showcase for Tom Savani’s excellent gore effects.  Savani was hired after the producers saw his great FX work in Dawn of the Dead.  Unlike the effects in that movie, the gore here is more personal because it’s happening to a smaller group of people you actually care about and not to a bunch of zombies.  Savani gives us multiple throat slashings, axes to the face, and arrows to the eyeball, and a decapitation that is truly one of the crowning achievements for FX in the slasher era.


Some of the film’s critics said that director Sean S. Cunningham favored the gore over the suspense but I don’t buy that.  The original Friday the 13th is extremely suspenseful.  The difference between this and many of the lame sequels is that Cunningham could actually direct the suspense scenes.  Savani’s groundbreaking work does not outshine Cunningham’s suspense; it perfectly compliments it.  Watch the film on broadcast TV after the network censors have cut out all the gore and it’s still effective.  While my favorite Friday is still Part 3-D (this one is a close second), the original still packs one heck of a wallop and the climatic confrontation between The Final Girl Alice and Mrs. Vorhees is dynamite stuff.  Not to mention The Last Scare; which is one of the best in horror history.  This scene fucked me up so bad when I was a kid.  No scene before or since has come close (well, maybe the end of Sleepaway Camp).


Speaking of historical landmarks, how about Harry Manfredini’s score?  The Chi-Chi-Chi-Ha-Ha-Ha music ranks right up there with the DA-dum DA-dum score from Jaws.  It’s part of pop culture now.  Tell me you’ve never been walking with someone in the woods and made the Chi-Chi-Chi-Ha-Ha-Ha sound.


Cunningham’s real inspiration for Friday the 13th wasn’t Halloween though.  At heart, the movie is a simple twist on Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve with nearly a dozen apparently motiveless murders happening in an isolated area.  The only difference is that the killer is getting revenge for the death of her son and not trying to get their hands on a piece of property.  In fact, Twitch’s signature kill was blatantly ripped off in Friday the 13th Part 2; further proving that the Friday series would’ve been lacking something had it not been for Bava’s film.


As with Twitch of the Death Nerve, the killer’s identity is almost an afterthought.  There are no typical whodunit scenes where red herrings are introduced.  It’s just a killer killing people.  While some clues are laid out (there’s a brief mention of a boy drowning); Cunningham doesn’t beat the audience over the head with it.  The fact the murders are more or less random (until the end at least) makes it that much scarier to me.  Later installments of the Friday saga are steeped in the mystique of the larger than life legend of Jason, so this one is refreshing because the counselors don’t know who is killing them or why until the very end.


Yep, Jason doesn’t kill people in the movie.  His mother does.  Some fans don’t like that Jason only makes a cameo in this one but I don’t care.  I like Mrs. Vorhees a lot.  What makes the original Friday the 13th different from its sequels is that Mrs. Vorhees is able to pull tricks on her victims that her son Jason couldn’t even dream of doing.  Jason couldn’t pick up hitchhikers and scare the shit out of them before killing them.  I dig that about her.  And what about the creepy scene in which Mrs. Vorhees lures an unsuspecting chick into the archery range by yelling “Help me” in an eerie childlike voice?  Bet you all forgot about that little ditty.  That’s some freaky stuff.  Then there’s the awesome finale where she’s chasing Alice around the camp speaking in Jason’s voice saying, “Kill her mommy!  Kill her!”  That shit is scary.  They can bring Mrs. Vorhees back to the series any time.


While I’m we’re on the subject of strong willed women, I do have to get something off my chest.  It has to do with all those feminists who condemned the slasher movies of the 80’s.  Now I don’t want to get off on an anti-feminist rant here but it always pissed me off how those broads would get their bras in a bunch (the ones they didn’t burn, that is) and say that slasher movies were misogynistic.  They’d always protest and say things like the filmmakers were all moralistic, depraved lunatics who got off on the suffering of women and systematically butchered them for smoking pot and having sex out of wedlock.  I have nothing against feminists in general (especially the ones that actually LOOK like females), but their claims are thoroughly ridiculous.  Look ladies, I don’t know if any of y’all have actually sat down and watched a horror film, but it’s not the directors of horror films who get off on the suffering of women and systematically butchered them for smoking pot and having sex out of wedlock; its the killers IN the horror films that get off on the suffering of women and systematically butchered them for smoking pot and having sex out of wedlock.  I thought that was obvious. 


It REALLY infuriated me whenever the feminists singled out the Friday the 13th movies as being the most misogynistic of the bunch.  Actually, nothing can be further from the truth.  Feminists, allow me to now set the record straight once and for all.


Friday the 13th can’t be misogynistic because there’s a goddamned WOMAN doing all the killing. 


That’s right, before the potato sack, before the hockey mask, before match-up with Freddy Krueger, heck before there even WAS Jason, there was Mrs. Vorhees.  You feminists didn’t know that did you?  That’s because you never bothered watching the first Friday movie; you just condemned it on general principals. 


And I hate to tell you this girls but Mrs. Vorhees was a card carrying FEMINIST!  You can tell she’s a feminist not only by her close-cropped hairdo, ill-fitting sweaters and over-sized combat boots, but because of her convictions.  The best feminists saw a problem with the way the world was and set out to change it.  In the 60’s, they wrote folk songs, protested, and went on talk shows declaring their equality.  In 1980, Mrs. Vorhees did all that with a vengeance.  Except that instead of burning her bra and going on marches, and demanding equal rights, she stabs people through the throat, buries an axe into someone’s face, and shoots an arrow into their eye.  Mrs. Vorhees showed that equality among the sexes wasn’t just a dream; she set out to prove that a woman could be just as fine a killer as any male slasher in the movies.  As it turns out, she was right.  She was one of the best. 


Okay so she was ostensibly murdering people at Camp Crystal Lake for having sex because the counselors were too busy having sex and let her son Jason drown.  But let me break it down even further for you.  We know why she killed the men (scum) but the reason why she killed the women isn’t obvious at first, but it’s downright simple:  THEY WEREN'T FEMINISTS.  They weren’t independent minded females.  They relied too much on their boyfriends to supply them with pot and screw them.  They didn’t have that “You Go Girl” spunk.  Therefore, they had to die.  That’s why during the final reel, Mrs. Vorhees doesn’t kill Alice right away because Alice at first doesn’t seem like all the rest.  Since Alice has a tomboy haircut and wears pants, Mrs. Vorhees initially thinks she’s a feminist too.  Ultimately though, Mrs. V sees through Alice (she must’ve smelled weed on her breath) and decides to try to make veal cutlets out of her. 


And if you can get buy that argument, I beg you to consider the fact that Jason wasn’t a misogynist either as he was merely carrying out the work of his dear departed mama.  If you can believe that, then you have no reason to hate the sequels either.  (Well except for Jason Takes Manhattan and Jason Goes to Hell; they suck.)


I’m telling you feminists, watch the ORIGINAL Friday the 13th again (not while you’re on your period of course) and see if I’m not right.  Then get back to me.  I’d love to hear from you.


Friday the 13th is a solid Number 10 on The Video Vacuum Top Ten for the Year 1980, ranking just below The Exterminator.


<Tomorrow’s Horror Franchise Movie:  Friday the 13th Part 2>


Before HBO there was Z Channel.  Z was the first television station to play nothing but movies commercial free.  Since Z Channel was only an LA thing, I never got to see it but after watching this documentary, it seemed pretty damn cool.  They played everything from The Wild Bunch to art films from Empire Strikes Back to European sex flicks.  That shit would be right up my alley.


One of the reasons Z Channel had such an eclectic line-up was because of its programmer, Jerry Harvey.  He wrote a couple of movies but never really made it as a filmmaker.  That was OK though because his vast knowledge of movies made him an ideal programmer for the channel.  Harvey was a true innovator.  He was the first guy to show director’s cuts of films.  Before Special Edition DVD’s, the only place you could see a director’s cut was on the Z Channel.  Harvey even had enough clout to show Salvador on Z Channel during Oscar season, which resulted in James Woods getting a nomination.


Harvey had a messed up personal life though.  He came from a terrible family situation and drank a lot.  When Z Channel got bought out and started broadcasting baseball games to make money, he fell into a great depression and shot and murdered his wife before turning the gun on himself.


The scenes chronicling Harvey’s descent aren’t nearly as involving as the parts about Z Channel itself.  The details of Harvey’s personal life seemed like outtakes from City Confidential of something.  I didn’t mind them too much because this documentary showed a lot of tantalizing clips of movies I always wanted to see but never got around to checking out.  Films like Once Upon a Time in America, Bad Timing, and Heaven’s Gate (which is praised here despite its horrendous reputation) looked pretty tight from what they showed here.  I’ll have to Netflix them at some point. 


The requisite celebrity talking heads are fun to listen to.  They consist of mainly directors like Robert Altman whose films gained a second life from airing on Z Channel.  Younger filmmakers like Alexander Payne are also seen talking about Z Channel’s influence.  And of course Quentin Tarantino has to show up babbling on about some damn film you’ve never heard of.

DEATH OF A NINJA (1982) ** ½

Jotaro is a bad ass ninja who is in love with a hot chick.  When an old wizard makes a prophecy that whoever marries her will rule the world, a bunch of bad guys get together and make an aphrodisiac using the tears of her twin sister.  When the twin commits suicide by cutting her own head off, the villains swap out her head with that of a servant girl’s.  The newly put together woman is now known as Lady Hellfire who sends out the evil Five Devil Monks to kidnap the babe.  Jotaro doesn’t want those assholes messing with his woman so he sets out on a quest for vengeance.


Just coming up with a plot description for Death of a Ninja was kinda difficult.  This movie is all over the place and makes little sense.  The lack of coherency, erratic pacing and bloated running time took away from what could’ve been an enormously fun flick. 


I mean we have a ninja assassin who wears a big black wicker hat that tosses around a bad ass boomerang, a dude who shoots needles out of his eyes, and a monk whose fighting specialty is projectile vomiting.  The flick also has a number of quality decapitations followed by impressive geysers of blood spurting out of the neck hole.  Too bad most of the movie didn’t make a lick of sense.  On top of that, the dubbing is just plain awful.  (The villain’s evil laugh makes him sound like Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit.)  Oh and if you sneeze, you’ll miss Sonny Chiba.


AKA:  Black Magic Wars.  AKA:  Iga Magic Story.  AKA:  The Ninja Wars.


As a boy, Jackie Chan’s father forbids him to fight so he has to take lessons from an old homeless man in the woods.  He grows up to be a waiter in his uncle’s tea house and keeps his martial arts skills a secret.  One day, he helps a lowly thief who is getting beaten up by his partners in crime by kicking the snot out of them.  Jackie’s dad finds out and gets pissed so he makes his son stick his fist in a bucket of broken glass.  When Jackie’s uncle gets targeted by the local crime boss, his father finally lets him go toe to toe with the no-good syndicate.


IMDB says this flick was cobbled together from two unfinished movies but it seemed pretty fluid to me.  It’s got Jackie playing a more serious role and partaking in some damn fine Kung Fuing.  He does some incredible flips and has some pretty wicked maneuvers in this one.  Chan lets his homeless master do most of the comic relief stuff and he does a fairly good job of it.  (At one point he farts in the face of his enemy!)


Ten Fingers of Death is a solid meat and potatoes Kung Fu flick; nothing more nothing less.  The way that Jackie was torn between his pacifist father and his short-tempered master is nicely done and gives the movie a dramatic center most of these things lack.  The short running time (78 minutes) certainly helps and the flick moves along at an acceptable pace.  The WTF quotient is pretty high too as there is an unbelievable scene in which a bad guy eats spinach to gain strength and the theme from Popeye plays on the soundtrack. 


There’s nothing spectacular or groundbreaking about Ten Fingers of Death; but there’s nothing really bad about it either.  It contains plenty of fight scenes, so any Chan fan should be pleasantly entertained.  Jackie gets the best line of the flick after he kicks a guy in the balls, he says:  “That’s called getting your kicks!”


AKA:  Last Tiger from Canton.  AKA:  Little Tiger from Canton.  AKA:  Master with Cracked Fingers.  AKA:  Snake Fist Fighter.  AKA:  Snake Fist Ninja.  AKA:  Stranger from Hong Kong.

ZOMBIELAND (2009) *** ½

There was a time not too long ago when the only people making zombie movies were George Romero and Lucio Fulci.  Now Hollywood churns them out a dime a dozen.  They have gone to the well so many times that zombies have been pretty much been done to death (pardon the pun).  The best way to really go about making a zombie movie now is to play it for laughs.  Zombieland is the latest in the zombie-comedy subgenre.  It’s got plenty of big chuckles, a smattering of gore, and at least one truly awesome surprise cameo.  As zom-coms go, I’d say it’s better than Fido but not as good as Shaun of the Dead.


The flick takes place shortly after the zombie apocalypse where a loser kid named Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, the guy you hire when Michael Cera doesn’t return your calls) teams up with a cocky survivalist named Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) for a road trip across the zombie-infested USA.  Along the way they run into these two broads who scam them out of their car and guns multiple times but Columbus and Tallahassee are so dumb they keep falling for it.  When the two bitches wind up trapped on one of the rides in an amusement park surrounded by hungry zombies, Columbus and Tallassee come to their rescue and kill an assload of zombies.


Zombieland is a lot of fun mostly because the performers seem to be having a blast.  Harrelson hasn’t been this good since Natural Born Killers and is even able to lend some dimension to his otherwise cartoonish character.  Eisenberg also fares well as the nerdy sidekick.  After Adventureland, this is his second film in a row dealing with an amusement park with the word “land” in it.  Thank God this movie is a lot better than that piece of shit.  Then there is the surprise celebrity cameo.  I just can’t bring myself to spoil it for you.  Just be prepared to laugh.


The flick isn’t perfect though.  The two skanks that perpetually pull the wool over our heroes’ eyes got on my damn nerves PDQ.  I wish they had become Zombie Chow the first time they showed up.  I was also disappointed that the filmmakers didn’t take full advantage of the amusement park setting.  Tallahassee rides a rollercoaster and shoots zombies, Columbus gets chased by the flesh eaters through the Haunted House, and there’s a funny scene involving the Strongman’s hammer.  Other than that, not much is done with the place.  These are minor quibbles however and didn’t prevent me from thoroughly enjoying myself.

Harrelson gets the best line of the movie via his catchphrase, "Nut up or shut up!"


Zombieland has enough yuks for the bucks to place it on The Video Vacuum Top Ten Films of 2009 List at the Number 8 spot; sandwiching it right in between Watchmen and X-Men Origins:  Wolverine.