Friday, November 5, 2010

Something Rank (#24-21)

Continuing countdown...

Four franchise favorites.
36 cinematic crime scenes.

Previous installments:
(#36-33) / (#32-29) / (#28-25)

(#24) Halloween (2007)

Rob Zombie's revisionist take on John Carpenter's classic is an unwieldy object. As blunt as a fist and grimy as a truckstop bathroom. It's part origin story, part remake... mostly a mess. But there's some intrigue in trying to grasp what exactly Rob Zombie was thinking. His Michael Myers is a battered child, bullied by peers and family. His only touchstones his soulful stripper mom (Sherri Moon Zombie) and bouncing baby sister, Boo (see: Laurie Strode). Living amidst the absolute smut and degradation that seems to pervade every facet of Zombie's worldview, little Mikey Myers turns to murder.

A large span of the large runtime is devoted to Michael's maniacal beginnings, but it adds no more to the outcome of his killing spree than if he had remained the faceless void that began this series. By the time the film enters full on remake territory, it functions as a film divided in two. Infamous scenes are streamlined, made gratuitous, and then the film ends. If Zombie had stuck to his vision, it may have been hideously ugly, but it would have seemed less trivial. His characters would still have the chance to say "fuck" ALOT.

A sample of Zombie's redneck "wit":

  • "Maybe I'll choke the chicken. Purge my snorkel all over them flappy ass tits."
  • "Bitch, I will crawl over there and skull fuck the shit out of you!"
  • "Man, that bitch got herself a nice little donk."
  • "He's probably a queer. Gonna grow up, end up cuttin' his dick and balls off and changin' his name to Mee-shell."

Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor Compton) and her babysitter's club of slutty friends are no more compassionate than the white trash we've seen parading elsewhere in Haddonfield. I don't believe for one second these girls would spend time in a library. And I certainly want no part of their inane clique, which is most troublesome when I'm supposed to fear for their fates. Take for example the girls first sighting of the brooding boogeyman. It can't be fearful when they're so quick to be crude, "It's some pervert cruising school poontang... Hey freak, you want some of the young stuff?"

Zombie's take is infuriating and fascinating for all these reasons, and admittedly he's gone further with originality than most in the slew of recent horror remakes. He never glamorizes the violence, he strips much of the suspense for visceral repulsion, and treads a very nihilistic tone. It's his greatest weakness (along with the completely extraneous rape and murder), but also his greatest strength. Cool cameos (Dee Wallace, Udo Kier, Ken Foree, Brad Dourif and Danny Trejo) and unrelenting grimness are his forte. It worked smashingly for The Devil's Rejects, but Halloween has always seemed a more subdued scare. The few strengths of this otherwise depressing sequel are the images of a frighteningly small Michael Myers weighed down by the infamous mask, or Laurie crossing the street to find her friend Annie (Halloween veteran Danielle Harris) still alive but just barely. These sorts of changes play on our knowledge of the original while spinning new terror out of its scenarios. Something fresh amongst all the rotten.

Killer Looks:

Michael has "the blackest eyes, the Devil's eyes..."
And a great eye for decoupage.

My Thoughts Exactly...

(#23) Friday the 13th Part V:
A New Beginning (1985)

Little Tommy Jarvis, scarred from the last Crystal Lake slaughter, grows up and enters Pinehurst Rehab (and ironically is no longer Corey Feldman). As Jason's legacy haunts the surrounding area, Tommy struggles with the psychotic voices in his head. The pseudo-inmates flirt, fuck and run afoul of a maniac whose sole agenda is to off anyone caught flirting or fucking. But if Jason's really dead, who's this new man behind the mask?

With little to no suspense and just adequate death scenes, this fifth entry's meager moments of pleasure are largely its most questionable -- like Ethel Hubbard and her hick children. They'd feel right at home in a Rob Zombie film, but there's limitless love behind their redneck ways. It's the kind of terrible that can only be described as terrific.

"You big dildo, eat your fuckin' slop."

A New Beginning? Maybe. Same old story? Undeniably. The only thing revelatory is that Jason's not actually Jason, but Roy. Just one of the many madmen that populate the area. While that surprise reveal would seem a nice detour from the series cliches, the entirety of the film is as bloated and soggy as Jason after years of being lodged in the middle of a lake.

Killer Looks:

Will the real Jason Voorhees please stand up?

(Left: Jason, Right: Roy)

Roy immortalized Jason.
Too bad Roy's not immortal.

My Thoughts Exactly...

(#22) Halloween 6:
The Curse of Michael Myers

Like her mother Laurie Strode before her, Jamie has become the repeat target for her uncle's unplanned family reunions. And much like Laurie she's knocked off in reel one without any sense of sympathy, innovation, or respect for her role in the franchise. Jamie's death merely spurs the film's plot of a new baby -- new to the cursed bloodline and about to meet her less than well-wishing Great Uncle. Perhaps it's not Michael's fault. He's apparently at the whim of a Druid cult known as "Thorn" -- a powerful group tied to an ancient supernatural evil and the Haddonfield, Illinois medical community. The new tangent tries to keep the plot threads and franchise expanding, but it ultimately makes the series seem more simple-minded than when Michael was merely a shape stalking babysitters. Confounding, stupid... but arguably more ambitious than several of these sequels. And look, Paul Rudd!

Paul "Stephen" Rudd to be more accurate. It's pretty Paul's introductory role and it's... a role. Not yet at the height of his talents, Paul's awkward narration made him seem clueless before he was ever in Clueless, but at least it's a part central to Halloween lore. He plays Tommy Doyle, once babysat by Laurie Strode, now a twenty-something stalker to Michael Myers the stalker. Tommy tags along as Michael severs ties with his few remaining family members and tries to put an end to the (embarrassing) curse.

"Little Lindsey Wallace won't know what hit her."

(Much like her babysitter Annie, it seems the
Haddonfield press also forgot about Lindsey.)

The film's final cut was left in tatters and thus an infamous "Producer's Cut" remains in circulation amongst fans. The theatrical cut the more flashy, the extended more subdued, but both exchange moments of good for bad and vice versa. Combine the two cuts and see some of the series most memorably graphic deaths (electrically exploded heads, a security guard's splitting headache), Donald Pleasence putting a bitter end to a beautiful doctor/patient bond, and a crush-worthy Paul Rudd in danger of being crushed.

Killer Looks:

"The Druids made me do it."

My Thoughts Exactly...

(#21) Friday the 13th Part VII:
The New Blood (1988)

Tina, a telekinetic teen with daddy issues, returns to the lake where she unwittingly caused her father's drowning. Amidst some therapeutic amends, Tina's mental mojo causes Jason to rise from the waters and wreak havoc once again. Imagine if Carrie White had taken Jason Voorhees to prom...

Jason's back and more of a brute than ever. Featuring some of the series best makeup effects, number seven in the series is by-the-numbers but embracing. Tina, too, makes for a mindful match with Jason. Her mental prowess offsets his mindless massacring of all the one-note characters. Although much like the hapless cast, the film suffers some serious cuts. Many of the death scenes are series highlights, but they feel like the wraith of the MPAA as much as Jason. Girls in sleeping bags battered against tree bark and machetes mangling heads left and right, it's a brutal outing to be sure. While numbing to some degree, it also exploits the franchise's most fun elements: obnoxious people, nudity and unnecessary cruelty.

Killer Looks:

1) Back from the dead...

2) But still dead.

My Thoughts Exactly...

Up Next: (#20-17)

"It's a boy!" -- Freddy Krueger

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Something Rank (#28-25)

The countdown continues...
Four franchise favorites face off!

Check out: #36-33, #32-29

(#28) Freddy Vs. Jason (2003)

Apparently somebody out there wanted this to happen. Apparently a lot of people did. Who are you people? Two legends of laceration take it into the ring to battle it out as reigning champion of teen trauma. In one corner: Jason Voorhees, backwoods brute and wonky-eyed momma's boy. In the other: Freddy Krueger, violater of the playground and the sleep-deprived. Who will win? Apparently somebody cares...

"Welcome to my world, bitch!"
--Freddy Krueger

I'm partial to these fright icons when they're at their most menacing. But if you're a fan of these series at this point of convergence, you've pretty much (forcibly) embraced the joke. There's nothing left to terrify with Freddy or Jason, thus the inevitable franchise renovations. They crack jokes, grunt, call each other "bitch," and sever something or other. This is obviously the winking intent. Two film series that are so tied to their generation are ushered into a new one, mockingly and with epic proportions. It thinks it's funny, it thinks it's Thunderdome. Apparently somebody cares...

Killer Looks:

Freddy's career trajectory:
High School Janitor to Dream Demon

Jason's career trajectory:
Handicapped kid to Handicapping kids

My Thoughts Exactly...

(#27) Friday the 13th Part VIII:
Jason Takes Manhattan

Jason Voorhees does it up Broadway style! More like off off Broadway style... Taking Jason to the Big Apple seems it would promise something bigger and better, but it's more of the same only worse. From cruise liner to cruising public transportation, Jason hulks his way through this mundane film, lazily offing people to faint late-eighties rock.

It's as lame and overly-teased as its characters hair and wardrobe. Jason's mutant child past gets regrettably placed front and center while the New York backdrop may as well be made of Styrofoam. It's tourism with no sense of direction.

Killer Looks:

1) Humble beginnings at Crystal Lake

2) Jason's New York state of mind

My Thoughts Exactly...

(#26) Jason Goes to Hell:
The Final Friday

Let's be honest -- it all goes to hell. Inspired as several of the plot turns and death scenes are here, this entry (like Jason moonlighting in Manhattan) accentuates just how strained this series has become. Not that we should expect more from of a number nine in any series, or any entry promising to be THE final face-off (Part IV: The Final Chapter, anyone?) Somehow each chapter grows more and more self-aware while feeling less and less substantial.

Gone is Harry Manfredini's stirring score as Jason's vomited from one stranger to the next, passing on his horrific legacy while leaving everyone nauseous. Fans seem satiated with some innovative slaughter and token T&A (a bit of beefcake keeps the campfire going), but I need a bit more fuel behind the fodder.

We can also blame Freddy Vs. Jason on this incarnation, which highlights the possibility for the pairing in its final moments. It's all for the sake of a joke of course, but then so is Freddy Vs. Jason. Then again Freddy isn't the only fanboy cameo. Jason Goes to Hell is full of in-joke references to vastly superior horror films. Even if this entry isn't worth recommending, it recommends a few bare essentials...

Freddy makes a collect call from hell

The Evil Dead's gnarly Necronomicon
and a Carpenter-stamped crate from The Thing

Jason's being passed around
like he's a sex parasite from Shivers

Killer Looks:

1) Jason in the flesh

2) Jason in the flesh of everyone else

My Thoughts Exactly...

(#25) Halloween 5:
The Revenge of Michael Myers

Notable as being one of the more aggressive sequels in its attempt to traumatize a child and put her into jeopardy for the majority of its runtime. I guess that's a plot. Even the Haddonfield police and Dr. Loomis himself (Donald Pleasence feeling not so pleasant) place little Jamie right in front of Michael's knife-wielding hands on several occasions. They may be family, but hugs don't exactly seem in order.

Danielle Harris makes for a marvelous child actor, carving a career out being brutalized by this bastard boogeyman. Their bond though is less poignant than it is completely nonsensical. Donald Pleasence, too, seems so tied to this series that it's quite sad to see the progression of embarrassment on his face at his continual involvement. At this point his paycheck was performing stronger than he was. And by the time the film tacks on extraneous elements like the mysterious man in black with the "Thorn" tattoo, all that's left is to shrug and say, "Well, that happened." But a child is permanently scarred so... there's that.

Killer Looks:

All along, behind that expressionless mask...

Michael was masking back tears.

My Thoughts Exactly:

Up Next: #24-21

Michael disposes of some white trash...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Something Rank (#32-29)

The countdown continues...
The franchise favorites face off!

#33-36 here.

(#32) Halloween II (2010)

Starring Scout Taylor Compton, Malcolm McDowell and expletives! Why is Haddonfield, Illinois now a miserable trailer park?

"One day at a time? One fuckin' day at a time! You know what, if I hear that fuckin' phrase one more fuckin' time... I mean she just fuckin' sits there in her fuckin' leather chair and judges me like she's fuckin' God... See? You don't fuckin' care."
--Laurie Strode

And why do the local stations only broadcast "Knights in White Satin?" If Rob Zombie's attempt is to show the ugliness of violence and death, and the affects on the living, he botches this by having everything seem so extraneous. The attempt to analyze the aftereffects of being a Final Girl is great in theory, dismal in practice. Doctor Loomis yawning on the sidelines, a needless role for Zombie's wife that would have seemed cheesy if it weren't already ridiculous, and so many superfluous deaths of characters we've no reason to take an interest in. Zombie seems to care more for Michael than his victims, and unfortunately Michael Myers is a human vacuum, a bulldozer. If there is forgiveness, Zombie is talented at creating some visceral moments. The remake portion does a fair job of echoing the original sequel with a grisly edge, and it's always clear the man loves horror films (though I often think the Halloween he loves is a completely different film than the one I love). Here are his usual fanboy cameos, this time the heartwarming trio of Caroline Williams (Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), Weird Al (?) and Margot "You Can't Rape a Townie" Kidder.

There's even a nice moment where Scout Taylor Compton does a full on Marilyn Burns sob scene just like that in 1974's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but even then it's all just a dream (Mr. Sandman, bring us a better dream). Zombie's shown in the past to carve some memorably gruesome imagery out of all the human garbage he creates, but here it mostly lays waste.

Killer Looks:

1) The lighter side of family homicide
2) The dark reality of growing up to be Grizzly Adams

2) "The Night HE Came Home..."
and overstayed his welcome.

My Thoughts Exactly...

(#31) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre:
The Beginning

I remember when origin stories used to have a story. Leatherface never really needed one. Picked on at school and the slaughterhouse for being noseless and having a really offputting family, little Leatherface takes to wearing people interchangeably throughout the day. Poor kid, he can't exactly invite friends over for dinner, we know how those always turn out... In fact that infamous "dinner scene" was the one iconic moment left out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. A surprise considering how many times that scene has been mimicked in other films, not to mention the whole Chainsaw franchise. Thus this film had to be made. Barring that, this is a sufficient exercise in savagery. Emotionless, decently shot sufficiency. With a few really good looking people.

Killer Looks:

And a lot of ugly people wearing a few really good looking people...

My Thoughts Exactly...

(#30) Freddy's Dead:
The Final Nightmare

Springwood is a town without teenagers. Freddy Krueger has torn the small haven to shreds with his razor-sharp fists and snarky puns. When a new group of teens enters Elm Street territory, Freddy finds himself with a whole new set of people to harass and mutilate, in a whole new dimension!

You want to admire a film that opens with a quote from Nietzsche, followed with Freddy's eloquent, "Welcome to prime time, bitch!" Alas... The occasional cheap 3-D effect and absurdity (see: cameos by Roseanne and Tom Arnold) would ideally make this a campy charm just like the rest of the Nightmare series, but Freddy's Dead in SO many ways.

Killer Looks:

1) Bedknobs, Broomsticks and Burn Victims

2) LA Bus Driver

3) Child Murdering: The Early Years

My Thoughts Exactly...

(#29) Jason X (2001)

Meta moment: Upon being pulled into outer space, a character cries, "This sucks on so many levels!" At least it has a sense of humor about it. Your mileage may vary depending on your taste for the SyFy Channel.

The gunplay, tech speak and genre sendups always feel uncomfortable. Admirably it tries to stay true to the franchise, with a knowing wink to the absolute stupidity at times. At least there are a couple death scenes worth the Friday namesake: a frozen face shattered and Jason utterly obliterated. Is a series not doomed once it's sending its icon into space? More importantly, do Jason and Leprechaun hang out?

Killer Looks:

Jason 2.0. Trading his trademark mask for a metallic reinvention. I don't think Jason really played hockey anyhow.

My Thoughts Exactly...

(Left: A dead ringer for David Cronenberg!)

Up Next: (#28-25)

Jason goes to hell and lives to tell about it!