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Here at Four Horsemen Films, we're dedicated to some of the very best and worst cinematic masterpieces you know, love, and despise. Think of us as Bad Movies for Bad People, or as a liaison to the inner sanctum of cinema. Or, just think of us as quick and entertaining reads. That's what Four Horsemen Films is all about.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

Friday the 13th, Part 2 (1981)
Written By: Ron Kurz

Directed By: Steve Miner

Starring: Amy Steel, John Furey, Adrienne King

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
It has become the prototypical device of any major Hollywood venture to produces sequels, prequels, and remakes in an effort to drive up sales on the original franchise for any 90-minute picture. Motion picture sequels got their start when Son of Kong made its debut the same year as King Kong, signaling the start of a glorious and altogether tainted legacy for any movie with a minimum of one follow-up.

Moviemakers worldwide pull no punches when making a new installment to capitalize on the previous one. How many sequels can you name that lived up to (or even surpassed) their predecessor? The short list may include The Godfather, Part II, The Empire Strikes Back, and arguable titles like Bad Boys 2 and Toy Story 2. To put it simply, that’s four titles in over 100 years of American cinema, making the list of cosmic failures desperately immense.

No genre has been slighted as badly by these macabre offspring quite like the horror genre. When talking about the pioneers of modern horror, you seldom hear of a film that left a legacy of sequels that were even “watchable,” much less decent. Each franchise gained its own cult status with a contingency of loyal fans dedicated to exploring the canon and background of their selected monsters, murderers, and madmen. But the same sentiments are echoed throughout all of this niche communities: the sequels fumbled where the originals scored.

Friday the 13th Part 2 is by no means a bad movie, but it is also not a very good one. Hurried along creatively in an effort to collect on the Summer success of the original, Part 2 diligently attempts to take on a brand new face (literally) and bridge the gap for further franchise exploitation. Using a clever plot device to go over the previous film’s events, Alice Hardy, the sole survivor of Pamela Voorhees’ gruesome Crystal Lake rampage, is attempting to salvage her life and put the pieces back together just months later. She fails, and is killed in a manner most anticlimactic just a scant 15 minutes into the production. I’d say that this was one of the moer disappointing aspects of Part 2’s mindless violence, but the same could be said of Count Dooku’s abrupt sendoff in Episode 3 after nearly all of Attack of the Clones was spent building his character. George Lucas stealing from horror movies? No wonder folks want him to skip on the Indy 5 discussion.

While we are led to believe that Alice’s death comes just months after the first massacre, the remainder of this movie is set five years afterward despite the filming having taken place just months after. Remember when the Jeepers Creepers sequel came out just a few years after the first despite the fact that the Creeper only comes out every 23 years? When you’re making money, you’re allowed to balk at continuity. Moving on.

Our new bunch of camp counselors are stationed at a campground adjacent to the condemned Camp Crystal Lake (what is this, Summer Camp Central?). They’re all given the horrifying details of what once happened over the hills and through the woods, but with a new twist: the townspeople apparently believe that Jason, the young boy who drowned and whose mother went on a killing spree, is still alive. Some say he’s protecting the woods from further deviance, and others claim he’s just fashioning himself an entrepreneurial business out of bear skins.

Basically, all you really need to know about our back story is that Jason is out for revenge for his drowning, the death of his mother, and any other things that piss him off on a day-to-day basis. With Jason in the fold, it is time to sit back and enjoy the bloodshed.

Body Count Roll Call:
Billy Hardy, Alice’s Son: Decapitated off-screen, the remaining head was stuffed into a refrigerator.
Alice Hardy, Former Camp Counselor, Sole Survivor of Friday the 13th: Gored with a screwdriver in the head.
Crazy Ralph, Superstitious Townsperson: Strangled against a tree with a wire.
Cop: Struck in the head with a claw hammer.
Scott, Camp Counselor: Throat slit with backend of a machete whilst hanging upside down.
Terry, Camp Counselor: Killed off-screen.
Mark, Handicapped Camp Counselor: Slashed in the face with the backend of a machete, then sent plummeting down a staircase in his wheelchair in the rain.
Jeff, Camp Counselor: Impaled with a spear while cuddling naked with Sandra (he was on top).
Sandra, Camp Counselor: Impaled with a spear while cuddling naked with Jeff (she was on bottom).
Vickie, Camp Counselor: Stabbed in the leg and chest.

The Numbers:
Murders by Pamela Voorhees: 9 in Part 1
Murders by Jason Voorhees: 10
Men Killed: 6 (11 Total)
Women Killed: 4 (9 Total)
Camp Counselors Killed: 6 (15 Total)
Animals Killed: 1 unidentified, assumed to be a dog (2 Total)
Total Body Count for the Series: 20 (not including animals)

Final Thoughts:
Much of what you see in Friday the 13th Part 2 could actually have been far superior, and, if anything, this film had numerous missed opportunities that leave you in disbelief rather than terror. The producers are much more in it for the psych-out and cheap scares than the overall plot, which for the first hour, is a carbon copy of the original film. The end product is truly rushed and seems to disregard a number of important plotlines and cast members towards the end. In a way, Jason isn’t made to look like anything but an incompetent killer rather than the unstoppable lunatic. Wearing a burlap potato sack instead of the signature hockey mask (which had yet to be revealed in the series) didn’t help matters, making our antagonist look ridiculous rather than menacing. Several camp counselors are unaccounted for in the final 10 minutes, giving this movie the highest technical survival count of any in the series. In fact, those counselors were off in town drinking and smoking, a chronic no-no of anyone who dares survive one of these movies. Some of the death scenes treaded the same water as Friday the 13th, while others, like Mark’s wheelchair freefall, were easily the most sadistic in the series. And the ending is more confusing than decisive, a motif that would haunt audiences for years to come. At the time of its release, Friday the 13th Part 2 had to compete with any number of slasher rip-offs trying to make a quick buck off of the original film. Too bad it ended up looking just like one of them.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Friday the 13th (1980)

Friday the 13th (1980)
Written By: Victor Miller

Directed By: Sean S. Cunningham

Starring: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartham, Mark Nelson

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
Friday the 13th. What can I possibly say that will offer up a new dimension to the most exhausted, most lucrative horror franchise in the history of American cinema? The Jason Voorhees hockey mask is as iconic to the silver screen as the three circles that form a Mickey Mouse emblem is to children. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a series as important to the genre that specializes in blood, guts, and gore as Friday the 13th.

What was once a scarier-than-hell exercise in torture and panic has become an almost essential date movie, luring in fans of all ages to jampacked theaters in hopes of seeing their least favorite counselor get strewn across the screen in a violent rampage. It has been deemed everything from revolutionary to obscene and holds as many special awards from around the globe as it does cease-and-desist letters. When you’re talking about horror movies, it would be impossible to ignore the mammoth contributions of the series that brought red meat back to the American movie theater.

As a reviewer for a website that specializes in bad movies (or good movies people think are bad), it has been a long, strenuous battle as to whether or not the Friday the 13th series belongs as a prominently featured piece. The fact of the matter is that with all the references, rip-offs, and wannabes flooding the market nearly thirty years later, an important history lesson might well be the best way to tackle the franchise, one film at a time. With that in mind, we begin with the movie that notoriously knocked The Empire Strikes Back from its box office pedestal in the Summer of 1980, Friday the 13th.

Starting with a 1958 flashback, Friday the 13th wastes little time setting the tone for a creepy and violent exhibition for the macabre only. The first in a slew of counselor purges occurs when an unidentified stalker leaps out of the shadows with a butcher knife and thirst of blood. Fast forward to present day (or 1980), and it appears as if the new class of counselors for Camp Crystal Lake are reading to begin again despite the history of the infamously named “Camp Blood.”

And now, I will attempt to give you a brief but not too confusing history lesson on Camp Crystal Lake. In 1957, the camp experienced a major tragedy when a young boy drowned in Crystal Lake. The following year, our aforementioned double murders took place, making the came uninhabitable for over 20 years. No one ever found the murderer on that evening, but since time has aged the old campground past the point for “Reasonable Suspicion,” these young up and comers believe they can revive it to a prosperous summer oasis once again. The townspeople respectfully disagree, hence the bastardization “Camp Blood.”

Now that you’ve been given the basics of the story, I guess there’s nothing left do but watch the heads fly as the campers get dead one by one like they’re part of an Agatha Christie epic. Rather than keep you preoccupied with minute details, I’ve decided that this series requires a different sort of review, so spoilers abound in the next few sections.

Body Count Roll Call:
Barry, 1958 Camp Counselor: Stabbed in the abdomen while attempting to defend himself from sexual prosecution.
Claudette, 1958 Camp Counselor: Killed during ensuing struggle, death not shown.
Alice, Camp Counselor/Cook: Throat slashed in the woods.
Ned, Camp Counselor: Throat slashed in a cabin.
Jack, Camp Counselor: Gored through the throat with an arrow.
Marcie, Camp Counselor: Axed in the face.
Brenda, Camp Counselor: Murdered off-screen, later thrown through a window.
Steve, Camp Owner and Counselor: Murdered off-screen, strung upside down in a later scene.
Bill, Camp Counselor: Shot repeatedly with arrows.
Pamela Voorhees, Killer: Decapitated.

The Numbers:
Murders by Pamela Voorhees: 9
Murders by Jason Voorhees: 0 (though a pretty traumatic attempted drowning at the end)
Men Killed: 5
Women Killed: 5
Camp Counselors Killed: 9
Animals Killed: 1 snake
Total Body Count for the Series: 10, including Mrs. Voorhees but not including animals.

Final Thoughts:
The original Friday the 13th is everything that’s right with horror encapsulated in a 90-minute free ride. The story is loosely tied together by an “urban legend” style haunting that keeps you spellbound while the producers create cheap scares in between death scenes. The counselors are believable enough as a crew of ragtag misfits assigned to keep the place from burning down, if they don’t do it first by partying too hard. The acting isn’t great, but it isn’t terrible either, and that’s not just because of Betsy Palmer and Kevin Bacon. Musically, this movie was one of the first to understand that a dramatic score can make a suspenseful sequence that much better. Original credit for that should probably go to John Carpenter’s Halloween, but the perfect execution of sound and sight is truly here. We’re even treated to the incarnation of one of the greatest standards in horror: Do bad things and you die. Taking in pleasures of the flesh, or enjoying drugs and alcohol is a nice way to mark yourself for termination. And of course, let us never forget that in a genre obsessed with pseudo-endings and swerve surprises, this was always one of the best. Pamela Voorhees’ emergence as the lead antagonist borrowed elements from the twisted Psycho while keeping the same tongue-in-cheek dark humor that gave The Last House on the Left a reputation. Tom Savini was at the top of the peak with makeup and special effects artistry here and two years previous on the set of Dawn of the Dead. Commercially speaking, it seems highly unlikely that we will ever see such a perfect collaboration hit the screen for a genre that lately makes its money by rebooting and rehashing everything in sight. Then again, the most lucrative parts of the Friday the 13th franchise stem directly from such an idea, so perhaps it is “point proven” for executives looking to slash budgets as well as fresh teenagers.