Friday, February 25, 2011

Something Rank (#10-9)

4 Icons, 36 Outings, Innocuous Screencaps

Previous Entries:
(#36-33) (#32-29) (#28-25)(#24-21)
(#20-17) (#16-15) (#14-13) (#12-11)

(#10) Jason Lives:
Friday the 13th Part VI

"Why'd they have to go and dig up Jason?
Some folks have a strange idea of entertainment."
-- Local Wino

Maybe it's about time the Friday franchise became self-aware. With what little substance exists in the extraneous tits and lobbed heads, there's substantial wealth of material for mockery. Jason Lives then cleverly uses its self-referential side as a precursor to Scream. A fanboy film that loves its source material and still seems to get the joke. There are rules one must abide by in order to successfully survive a Friday film: don't drive through the endless backwoods without car maintenance, never openly harass a man wielding a spear, and tend to the children before taking your top off.

"So, what WERE you gonna be when you grew up?"
-- Emotionally Scarred Camper

Tommy Jarvis is free from the mental ward but still babbling his mad tale of backwoods brute Jason Voorhees. An attempt to put Jason to his final rest sees him reanimated and back in the habit. That habit, of course, is serial murder on epic scale. Jason's hardly interested in the hunt, more the capture and the inevitably gratuitous kill. His kills here, as inspired and ironic as they are, hardly hit the series standard for gore. Joyfully there's still plenty of fodder in the new class of Camp Crystal Lake and its dependably sex-hungry staff. Besides, it's more shocking to see actual children at this point than it is to see Jason split someone in half. The protective counselors opposite Tommy's age-old vengeance make for a tighter setup than most Friday films. Action-packed, amusing and aggressively violent, Jason Lives brings back this series' pulse after a less satisfying New Beginning. Jason ends up back in the lake where he began, a soggy mutant with some serious mother issues. At least now he's in on the joke.

The Face of Fear:

Killer Looks:

1) A Fulci sort of Friday

2) Local Legend Cleans Up State Park

3) Bond. Jason Bond.

My Thoughts Exactly...

(#9) Halloween H20:
20 Years Later

Revenge is a dish best served when your series has gotten stale. Michael Myers finally finds Laurie Strode for their twenty-year family reunion. There will be heavy drinking, harsh memories shared, and maybe even... closure. Mr. Sandman brought Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) the dream of being a babysitter forever brutalized by a boogeyman brother. Their first meeting was that fateful, seemingly endless Halloween night that began on the backstreets of Haddonfield, Illinois, and ended up charred on the walls of Haddonfield Memorial Hospital. That last attempt at bonding saw Laurie stabbing, torching and shooting out the eyes of her immortal brother. Indeed blood is thicker than water.

Bright and bookish Laurie Strode is now an alcoholic, pill-popping mother, but also headmistress of a posh private school. Haunted by ironically thematic visions of her past, Laurie remains broken by her brother's tendency to kill everything she loves. Michael Myers is at least gracious enough to wait till his nephew (Josh Hartnett) turns 17 before doing so. It's a bloodcurdling reality for Laurie, but a boisterous one for fans.

Steve Miner is an unofficial posterboy for this countdown, having created three of the better franchise films. He's responsible for fan favorite Friday the 13th Part 2, the stupidly sensational and sensationally stupid Friday the 13th Part III, and this mildly historic sequel. Miner's films are taut, but certainly tinged with less elegance than John Carpenter's classic, which nowadays seems almost untouchably pure. H20 at least tries to place suspense and story equally amidst the savagery. Also some gracious but appropriate appearances from the likes of Michelle Williams, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Janet Leigh, and (why not) LL Cool J.

Much credit for this sequel goes to the hand of writer Kevin Williamson, still off the height of Scream's success. While it does mean hyper-verbose teens, it also means a solid premise fully tied to the film which it pays tribute. There's notably more soul to this script, with Laurie Strode's arc among the more rich in Final Girl history. Jamie Lee Curtis's creation has far surpassed her character's seeming simplicity, giving Laurie a tenderness that only empowers her more. Her strength is human and her humanity is her strength against an unstoppable evil. By the time these icons reunite (and yes Laurie Strode deserves that credit), it's a chilling and exuberant moment worth the twenty year wait. There's poignancy caught even in the void of Michael's gaping eye sockets. The vision of a horror legacy back in full throttle. "I guess everyone's entitled to one good scare," at least every twenty years or so.

Fan-Baiting Nostalgia:

1) Sassy, chain-smoking nurse Marion Chambers Whittington.

2) The original, more maternal Marion Crane.

3) Dr. Loomis has been framed!

The Face of Fear:

Killer Looks:

1) Stocky, chalky and stalky.

2) Reunited and it feels so good much like decapitation.

My Thoughts Exactly...

Up Next: #8-7

A mother's failed vengeance.
A son's heady interior design.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Something Rank (#12-11)

4 Freaks, 36 Films, Infinitely Inappropriate

Previous Entries:
(#36-33) (#32-29) (#28-25)(#24-21)
(#20-17) (#16-15) (#14-13)

(#12) Friday the 13th Part III (1982)

Yo-yo has never been this in your face! Part III gleefully juggles fruit, hippies, biker gangs and brand name slaughter fare. One-dimensional characters are thrust into the third dimension, with brainless thrills in bombastic excess. Cheap scares and even cheaper effects make this one of the series most efficient exercises in formula. It wouldn't be a stretch to imagine this film cut with stock footage, it's that much of a tailored product. But for every element that feels by-the-numbers, there's countless worthwhile carnage and camp.

Jason finally trades in his homely bagface beginnings -- now a hockey goalie with one simple goal: mass homicide. His opponents range of pregnant women, stoners and a Final Girl he encountered in his youth. Oh those calm, collected days when Jason would apparently abduct his lady victims and return them safely to their beds (rape merely a presumption). Chaste Chris returns to the site of their moonlit rendezvous only to find herself with an undesired second date. But Jason's weathered the Crystal Lake storm long enough to have little patience for even the most sexless of the topless, transient teens.

Part III literally (and wisely) passes you a joint. One should always heed its hippie advice to "Mellow out, man," and its easy to do with all this extraneous distraction. Snakes, baseball bats, and grimy backwoods fists burst off the screen, while characterization and plot seep into the cardboard backdrop. This entry's not clever enough to come up with a new ending, but it's clever enough to steal one from the first film and turn it into absolute nonsense. Druggie, disco-infused nonsense.

The Face of Fear:

Killer Looks:

1) Even backwoods fashion evolves.

2) Hanging with our favorite homicidal hermit.

3) Pallin' around with Pamela.

My Thoughts Exactly...

(#11) A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2:
Freddy's Revenge

Freddy Krueger is coming out. Out of the closet and out of the chest of some poor gay kid in Springwood, Ohio. At this point we know that Freddy Krueger is a menace to the mindscape of troubled teens, and likely a subpar janitor as well. Turns out that Freddy's also a counselor of sorts -- helping local boy Jesse come to terms with his sexuality... or rather deny it until it comes bursting through his bowels and into the bedroom of a jock he could only hope to bang.

It's among the gayest horror films ever made -- uncomfortably homophobic but undeniably homo-centric. Curiously bent, fascinating for its demographic, and dreadfully inadequate as a sequel, Part 2 is a flamboyantly fun mess of a movie. Jesse's gay desires manifest in the form of Freddy Krueger, a self-loathing sinner that can only be stopped with the love of a good woman. As misguided as its approach is at (all) times, Jesse's coming out process is a smart conceit. Jesse's stifling of self and his sexuality fuels a demon inside of him that threatens to wreak havoc on the world around him. His judgemental father, his clueless crush, and the coach that desperately wants him to play ball... Jesse's world is a wasteland of wanton lust and weary attempts at being with a woman, despite his tell-all music collection. Bedroom dancing and locker room bondage are only the beginning as Freddy tries Jesse's body on for size faster than you can say, "Banana Republic."

As a film it's more shame-filled than its lead character and probably even more confused. Comparing it to any entry in the Nightmare series or most genre fare, Part 2 is about as gay as possible without the aid of glitter. There's some deep-seated repression in this screenplay! Even though Jesse's sexuality seems innate, it also seems to leave him contently in the closet by the film's close. While it's unclear if this was intended as a masturbatory, ex-gay movie-of-the-week, or a bold way to broach the subject of internal homophobia, Part 2 ensures that young male horror fans will be made extremely uncomfortable and/or extremely aroused for years to come. For that we can be both gracious and harshly mocking.

Gay Highlights:

A more detailed breakdown here...

Jesse's jock itch...

Jesse doesn't dig chicks but likes to play 'Probe'...

Jesse butt bumps and pops his cork...

Foul play on the field...
And suffocating snakes during classroom talk of the colon...

A night out in Springwood's leather district...
And cruised by Coach Schenider...

Teacher/student towel snapping...

Jesse goes down... and out.

The Face of Fear:

Killer Looks:

1) Freddy outs Jesse.

2) Freddy is flaming.

My Thoughts Exactly...

Up Next: #10-9

Jason Lives! And dies. Again.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Something Rank (#14-13)

4 Psychos, 36 Films, Endless Exploitation!

Previous entries:
(#36-33) (#32-29) (#28-25)
(#24-21) (#20-17) (#16-15)

(#14) A Nightmare on Elm Street 3:
The Dream Warriors

Of these franchise favorites, Freddy is the most foul-mouthed and fantastical, also the most grandiose in conceit. His bloodletting is equaled only by his ability to manifest the innermost fears of troubled teens - for the purpose of grand setpieces and, oh yeah, thematic purpose. The first film dabbles in divorce, alcoholism and insinuations of pedophilia. The second conquers a uniquely bent state of sexual confusion and self-loathing. This third entry continues the trend by slicing and dicing through topics of teen suicide, drug addiction and mental illness. The series, perhaps unexpectedly, empowers its adolescent characters to fight their shared inner demons. Likewise some will fail, while a few find the strength to wage war within and ultimately survive (at least until early on in Part 4). Resonance and depth are easily glossed over with ghostly visions of Freddy's mother, maybe even the pun-laden special effects sequences (which are at their innovative peak), but conceptually the series is a deviously clever approach to adolescent turmoil. As a philosopher once said, "Welcome to primetime, bitch!"

Part 3 expands Krueger's legacy while hyper-expanding its budget and scope. In doing so Freddy is now an unholy supervillain, clawed from the loins of his holy mother. Springwood teens are still his choice playmates, and who better than the mental cases already set on self-mutilation. Freddy's always been a cutter. Their desires and dread provide plenty of fodder for Freddy to play puppet master with a boy's veins and inject those of a one-time addict. Oh, and Zsa Zsa Gabor's in there somewhere. In fact the entire cast is a veritable who's who of people who were once nobodies. Patricia Arquette, Laurence Fishburne and Priscilla Pointer appear alongside John Saxon, reprising his role as disconcerting Dad to Nancy. Heather Langenkamp returns as well to the iconic Final Girl, still streaked of grey and swapping her sweet wisdoms about how to stop that pesky dream demon. United they stand, warriors in a madman's realm that also happens to be their minds.

The Face of Fear:

Killer Looks:

1) Puppet Master

2) Naughty Nurse to Needle Junkie

3) Freddy from Above and Below

4) High-Tech to Bare Bones

My Thoughts Exactly...

(#13) A Nightmare on Elm Street 4:
The Dream Master

In one of the film's most surreal and sensational moments, Alice takes in a screening of Reefer Madness. Lulled into a stoned sleep at the cineplex, Alice's inner monologue of, "This sucks," literally sucks her into the screen. From behind the celluloid projection, Alice watches herself doze off to friends' eerie applause. It's a monstrously clever meta moment that's totally aware of its audience. Some viewers are admittedly experiencing reefer madness, while the film's critics are given some ironic relief. No, this isn't high art, but it's made artful for those who are high.

Film fans in general can rejoice at the knowing wit and playfulness that makes this otherwise inessential entry so innovative. For every admittedly stupid joke or grotesquerie, there's a willingness here to toy with extremes and delight in excess. We descend through Freddy's bowels, watch the film loop back on itself (another smart "high" point), and have the winking use of Heather Langenkamp's Just the Ten of Us co-star check in to a roach motel. The practical effects are ghastly and lame in equal measure, and the same could be said for Freddy. Robert Englund dons drag and sucks face with a student -- he's an even more malicious prankster now, as crude as he is cruel. It's fitting that this entry has him reanimated by a dog pissing fire in a junkyard. It's surrounded by trash but no less impressive for it.

The Face of Fear:

Killer Looks:

1) Robert(a) Englund
2) Jaws to Claws

3) A shady character

My Thoughts Exactly...

Up Next: #12-11
Freddy's so gay. So very, very gay...