The Great Impostor

My word, I sure am getting a lot of mileage out of Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, a movie that always gets a bad rap (not least from me!). But it’s an entertaining entry in the slasher saga nonetheless—in an inept, groan-inducing sort of way.

Yo, dude! Ever hear of knocking?

What passes for a story is riddled with idiotic elements, including a grotesque backwoods mother and her semi-retarded son, an apathetic drifter who’s the most useless red herring ever committed to celluloid, and some seriously lackadaisical counselors. The major gripe for most fans, though, is undoubtedly the lack of Jason. After suffering the fabled “machete slide” at the end of part four, the real deal spends part five in his grave while an impersonator does the dirty work. (Actually, the misinformed mayor remarks that Jason was cremated, but six subsequent sequels would indicate that he’s a tad misinformed.) If you ask me, however, the fraudulent fruitcake is the least of part five’s problems.

If you're not the real Jason, please raise your hand.

Jason is an icon. His hockey mask is one of the most potent images in horror history. Even wet blankets who wouldn’t be caught dead actually watching a Friday flick, instantly recognize the mask. It’s narrative shorthand for death, carnage and epic fail camping trips. Add grubby coveralls and a bloody machete to the equation, and you’ve got an indelible presence to match that of Lugosi’s Dracula or Karloff’s Monster. Of course, only a moron would argue that Jason’s bloodbaths could ever hold a candle to the Universal classics, but there’s something to be said for his level of pop culture notoriety. When you consider that six men have so far played the masked, adult Jason, you begin to realize the potency of the imagery—with the right accoutrements and body language, any big guy can be Jason Voorhees, homicidal mama’s boy.

A mask in the mud.

From People magazine, by way of Fangoria #69 (1987):

“When I put on Jason’s clothes, I felt strange, like I had lived other lives. How I got the part is beyond me, because I really did not belong in Jason’s shoes. I am absolutely not a scary person.

Richard Wieand

See? Even the actor who played the phony, despite his reservations, could feel the power of the costume. So what if the real Jason was taking a dirt nap? SPOILER WARNING: Vengeful paramedic Roy dispatches his victims in the spirit of the genuine article, and that’s good enough for me. I even like the new, unscathed mask with the blue diamonds—as you may remember, Jason’s mask has red diamonds and a slit above the left temple.

Impostor Jason, I salute you!

From the Trailer Park, Vol. II

Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III may have been the most eagerly anticipated horror movie of 1990. But it came, it flopped, it passed into relative obscurity. And while this third dose of Texas backwoods mayhem is no classic, it’s still a lot of fun. You get some suitably black humor, ominous locations, an early role for Viggo Mortensen, and Ken Foree, who was such a formidable presence in the original Dawn of the Dead. There’s even a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from part two’s Caroline Williams. The movie also had one of the best trailers ever, regardless of genre:

From the Trailer Park, Vol. I

Hmm … four Friday the 13th posts in a row? What say we make it five? Not about the movies themselves this time, but about the trailers. The Friday the 13th trailers are a master class in generating audience excitement. Even if you’re not a fan, they’re presented in a way that piques your interest. And below you’ll find perhaps the best example. While the film itself is pretty good, the trailer for part seven is better. Well, almost. It even introduces a humorous element largely lacking from the finished product. Shows you what clever editing can do!

Machete Mania (Part III)

The bonanza ends with the series’ dregs. Sure, there’s a memorable scene here and there, but these installments are rather poor overall. If you’re curious about Jason’s exploits, this is definitely not the place to begin.

Today, the three pretty bad ones …

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Jason X (2002) – Jason is freed from cryogenic stasis and sent into space, where he terrorizes vapid teenagers on a spaceship. The technologically enhanced über-Jason is a nice touch, and horror buffs will surely appreciate the cameo from David Cronenberg, but Jason X mostly just feels rushed and uninspired. This is the one where Jason freezes a scientist’s face with liquid nitrogen and smashes it to bits against a countertop.

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Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985) – The most imaginative/cynical title of them all! A noticeably older Corey Feldman returns for the exciting pre-credits sequence, but it’s all downhill from there. The acting is el-stinko terrible, and the real Jason is nowhere to be seen. This is the one where a girl sings to her boyfriend while he’s taking a crap. Lovely.

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Friday the 13th (1980) – The first … and probably the worst. When the killer is revealed at the end, it feels like a cheat. And the climactic beheading isn’t as cool as you remember. The famous canoe scene still packs a punch, though. This is the one where Kevin Bacon gets an arrow through the neck in a memorably gory Tom Savini set piece. This is also the one where a live snake gets chopped to pieces—was it really that difficult to buy a rubber snake for $2?

Even homicidal maniacs need their rest.

"Phew! I need a rest!"

Machete Mania (Part II)

The bonanza continues! Yesterday’s top four are the ones that movie fans in general, free of preconceived notions, might like. The selection this time around is for those of a more specialist bent. There’s still plenty to enjoy, but the quality is highly variable.

Today, the four pretty good ones …

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Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988) – It seems a tad cheeky to put the word “New” in the seventh installment of anything, but they did it anyway. The New Blood is fairly humdrum on the whole, but the psycho vs. psychic showdown is thrilling stuff. And Jason’s hulking frame, complete with exposed bones, has never looked more imposing. This is the one where he smashes an occupied sleeping bag against a tree, a trick that’s repeated to intentionally comic effect in Jason X.

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Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3-D (1982) – An entertaining but terribly acted entry, significant for being the first time Jason dons his famous hockey mask. The final scene, in which his dead mother makes a brief appearance, is both nicely executed and a pointless rip-off of part one. This is the one where Jason squeezes a guy’s head until his eyeball pops out. Must have looked nice in 3-D on the big screen!

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Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993) – This attempted reboot gets brownie points for trying to do something new, but who really cares about a body-hopping Jason? The fans want to see their favorite unkillable sociopath go nuts, not a succession of regular people possessed by his evil spirit. This is the one where a girl gets cleft in two by a long spike while she’s having sex. Yikes!

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Freddy Vs. Jason (2003) – Yes, the battle royale between the terror titans is very entertaining … too bad about the rest of the movie. Pointlessly convoluted exposition, some appalling acting and the redundant dialogue come close to sinking what should have been a series highlight. Also, Ken Kirzinger is too tall and lean to play Jason, and the redesigned mask doesn’t look right. This is the one where a giant caterpillar smokes a hookah—believe me, I wish I were kidding.

"Y'all come back, now!"

"Y'all come back, now!"

Machete Mania (Part I)

And so the weekend blogging bonanza begins! Yesterday’s image was from the teaser trailer for Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI, and my subject for the next three days is the blood-soaked oeuvre of Jason Voorhees … even though today’s date is the somewhat less ominous Friday the 8th. My original, lazy plan was simply to make a no-frills ranking of the 11 movies. But things mutated, as is only fitting for a horror blog, and thus the bonanza was born.

Today, the four really good ones …

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Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (1986) – Writer-director Tom McLoughlin pokes good-natured fun at the slasher genre while staying true to the series’ spirit. Superb in the technical departments and nicely acted by an enthusiastic cast, Jason Lives offers foggy ambience, some laughs and a generous body count. This is the one where Jason thrusts his fist straight through a guy’s chest, and later bends the local sheriff so far backwards that his spine snaps. Youch!

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Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) – Makeup maestro Tom Savini returns from the original to supply the blood and guts, and the eerie woods are shrouded in mist throughout. Director Joseph Zito lends an almost Hitchcockian flair to a couple of scenes, but a young Corey Feldman is the only actor who rises above mediocrity. This is the one where a backpacker feels the bizarre urge to scream, “Oh, God! He’s killing me! He’s killing me!” as Jason, you know, kills him.

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Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) – Has a cool pre-credits sequence and cameo from Adrienne King (the heroine of the first entry). This was director Steve Miner’s feature debut, but there are few signs of freshman jitters. Viewers unfamiliar with the movies may be disappointed to discover that Jason only wears a sack over his head, though. This is the one where he shows himself to be an equal opportunities maniac, by driving a machete into the face of a guy in a wheelchair.

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Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) – Many Friday fans sniff at this entry, but it’s not bad at all, sporting a decent cast and unfamiliar settings—most of the running time takes place on a boat, and how could it not be fun to see Jason stomping through subway cars and roaming the mean streets of New York? The symbolic ending is a misfire, though. This is the one where Jason punches a dude’s head clean off and sends it rolling into a dumpster.

"See you tomorrow, kids!"

"See you tomorrow, kids!"

Early Warning

It’s always fun to see a director’s humble beginnings and recognize imagery that crops up in later, more famous output. Killer’s Kiss, Stanley Kubrick’s feature debut from 1955, shows that his distinct talent for framing shots was already in place. In addition, this film noir has a couple of visual cues that are too striking to go unnoticed by the seasoned film buff.

A man with an axe.

A man with an axe.

A short, solarized dream sequence, in which the camera moves through empty New York streets, is a clear precursor to the tunnel of light/Star Gate in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The fight at the end, meanwhile, is of even greater interest, at least to horror fans. As Frank Silvera’s villainous dancehall owner grabs an axe from the wall, intent on killing the virtuous boxer played by Jamie Smith, it’s hard not to be reminded of Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

Another man with an axe.

Another man with an axe, 25 years later.

The finale to Killer’s Kiss manages its own brand of surreal creepiness, however, thanks to the highly unusual setting—a cavernous storage room full of mannequins. Legs, torsos and heads fly in a surprisingly brutal brawl, observed by an impassive, more or less sexless audience. And although Killer’s Kiss is a gritty crime drama, you might get a bad dream or two out of it if you suffer from pediophobia.

How would you like to be locked up here for the night?

How would you like to be locked up here for the night?

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