30 September 2015

September 30th

The Walking Dead 5.01: "No Sanctuary" (2014) directed by Greg Nicotero
I was pretty geeked about the show by the end of season 4, feeling that it had gotten to a great place of tension and drama. That mostly continues with the start of season 5, which finds the gang trapped in a train car in Terminus, the cannibal city. Though ready to fight their captors as soon as the doors open, they are disabled by a teargas canister and taken to a slaughter room instead. There, a man systematically cracks each person on the back of the head while another slits their throat over a trough. It's brutal and probably purposefully reminiscent of ISIS videos. With the help of a Rambo-ish version of Carol, our main characters manage to escape and leave Terminus burning.

Though is this is all very exciting, I'm not sure I like how they're using the cannibals as compared to the comic series. In the comics, they were just a small group of nuts who would secretly kidnap people for food. They even grab and eat a part of Dale! I actually can't see the TV series going that far. Here, they're more of the stereotypical "small town with the dark secret" thing in the mold of Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I dunno. Maybe I'm just pissed that the group talked Rick out of going back to town to finish off the rest of the cannibals, like they so effectively -- and correctly -- did in the comic.

27 September 2015

September 27th

Halloweentown II: Kalabar's Revenge (2001) directed by Mary Lambert
I'm still sticking with my theory that I came up with after watching the first one: little Sophie is the true power in the family. While Marnie is being easily seduced by Kalabar's son -- who uses the opportunity to steal her grandma's spellbook and almost end normal human existence as we know it -- Sophie is immediately aware that something is not right. Later, she easily flies herself and her brother on a broom without any prior training. Sophie is also the one to figure out that her mom's crush is actually a golem made up of frogs. Meanwhile, her grandma continues to fawn over her screw-up older sister -- the so-called future leader of the Cromwell witches -- who loses and fails to memorize a time travel spell and is only required to figure out a ridiculously easy one-word spell to reverse the damage her boyfriend has done to both worlds.

My girls enjoyed the show well enough. They got a little embarrassed during the flirty bits with Kalabar's son and his fake frog-dad, but nothing was remotely scary for them this time out. It's a completely harmless little movie. My main complaint would be we didn't spend any time at all in the non-cursed version of Halloweentown, which is, you know, the name of the series and the big, fun draw to these things.

Friday the 13th Part III (1982) directed by Steve Miner
Richard Brooker as Jason
13 Aug 1982
Freddy vs. Jason, Part III: New Jersey Barnyard Massacre
For me, Friday the 13th 3 to 8 are the meat of the series. This is where Jason is the Jason as we know and love him: relentless, nearly indestructible, and wearing a hockey mask. If I'm going to randomly pop in a Jason movie to relax one fall night, it's gonna be one of these (OK: not typically 8).

Though, Jason seems to be in a weird mood in this one. Maybe it's because he's run out of camp counselors to take revenge on? He doesn't exactly seem to know what to do with himself. He tries out killing middle-aged grocery store owners at the beginning of the movie, but that doesn't seem to be a path he's interested in pursuing further. Luckily, some horny young people arrive at a nearby farm and he's allowed to go back to his killing comfort zone.

Still, his approach is very business-like in this movie. He marches around, calmly and quickly killing everyone in his path. There's little malice in what he's doing. Jason's simply performing the job he was made to do, as if he were a factory worker tightening bolts. A poke with a hayfork here, a slash with a machete there...

We even get a glimpse at his process at one point. Near the end of the movie when he's chasing Chris and Rick, the two are split up. When Chris opens up the door of the house to look for Rick, the camera pans right and we see Jason has caught him. But, Rick isn't dead and Jason isn't in the process of killing him; instead, Jason has a hand clasped over Rick's mouth to prevent him from making any noise. Clearly, he doesn't want Rick's screams to alert Chris. He hasn't had time to get to the business of killing Rick and wants to ensure he can later do the same to Chris. This nicely demonstrates Jason's low time preference. He's not a creature of pure id, wandering the woods and murdering whenever the urge strikes him. No, he's an intelligent planner with a goal. That actually makes the guy even scarier.

On a different subject, I love the incredibly cheezy 3-D effects in this film. Even though I watched it in 2-D, the "wooo, this is 3-D" shots are awesome. People are constantly shoving things directly at the camera: sticks, yo-yos, snakes, weapons, eyeballs... Even without the 3-D effect, it's still a ton of fun.

Favorite Character
Shelly (Larry Zerner): the chubby, socially awkward, horrible-with-girls, practical-joking dork. Or, the representation of all of us horror geeks in the Jason universe. That he is the one who gives Jason his iconic mask: icing on the nerd cake.

Favorite Sin
Eating and drinking bits of food from your own grocery store and putting the rest back on the shelf.

Favorite Kill
Rick (Paul Kratka) getting his head squeezed between Jason's hands until his eyeball pops out in 3-D!

Jason's Mood
Taking care of business.

24 September 2015

September 24th

Friday the 13 Part 2 (1981) directed by Steve Miner
Warrington Gillette as Jason
Steve Dash as Masked Jason
1 May 1981
Freddy vs. Jason, Part II: Revenge for Mommy
More or less, the same movie as Part 1. Someone who's face we're not allowed to see stalks and kills a bunch of horny camp counselors around Crystal Lake. Crazy Ralph tells people they're doomed. There's a downpour right before the climax. One or some of the counselors go into town to a restaurant, only to return to camp to be killed. A woman uses a machete to defeat the killer, but -- surprise, surprise -- Jason jumps out of nowhere to grab her. The second time around, it's all a little duller.

Not that I hated the movie. I found myself really enjoying backwoods Jason. Normally, I'm in the "Zombie Jason is Best Jason" camp, but living Jason grew on me. As a kid, had I been allowed to watch these, I think I might have found The Town That Dreaded Sundown rip-off Jason to be the scariest. I remember stories of crazy hermits who lived in shacks in the woods just like Jason's shack in this one (and there's a lotta woods here in Michigan). Nothing would be scarier than getting lost in those woods and accidentally stumbling upon a shack and its occupant. More scary even, if he's wearing a bag on his head with just one eye hole. "The man who's gone wild" is a classic trope and great for use in a horror movie.

We also have Part 2 to thank for several slasher cliches. Killing off the main character from the previous movie at the start of the sequel is something that -- correct me if I'm wrong -- started here. There's also the first instance of nighttime skinny dipping, to be repeated and then even parodied within the series. My favorite of the cliches, the vast variety of killing implements used by the killer, begins with this film as well. Joining Part 1's rather standard machete and knife tool set is a pitch fork, a wire garrote, a rope snare, and a toy spear used as you would a real spear.

Now that they've got all of the bits and pieces they need -- an adult Jason, creative kills, unnecessary nudity -- the series can enter its golden age. Still, there's just one more iconic bit missing...

Favorite Character
Ted (Stuart Charno): the lanky, red-headed prankster who escapes death simply by getting utterly wasted at the bar in town

Favorite Sin
Primitive handheld sports video game innuendo

Favorite Kill
Mark (Tom McBride) getting a machete buried in his face and then pushed down an enormously long flight of stairs in his wheelchair.

Jason's Mood
"Git off ma land!"

Tales from the Darkside: "The Devil's Advocate" (1985) directed by Michael Gornick
Jerry Stiller plays an angry shock-jock in the Dr. Laura mold who does nothing but berate people on his talk show. I was excited when I saw this episode was written by George himself, but I soon found myself disappointed. While Stiller's performance is excellent and he was the perfect casting choice for this part, the story is a pretty standard "asshole gets his just desserts" tale. Through the course of the episode, the shock-jock demonstrates how much of a jerk he is while slowly discovering that he has died and is in Hell, doomed to listen to whiny callers for eternity. It's far too predictable and the audience is going to be way ahead of the main character for most of the story.

21 September 2015

September 21st

Friday the 13th (1980) directed by Sean S. Cunningham
Ari Lehman as Jason
9 May 1980
Freddy vs. Jason, Part I: Mommy's Revenge
The most successful of the Halloween rip-offs and arguably the starter pistol shot that kicked off the early '80s slasher boom. All of the stereotypical slasher tropes are in place in this film: the sinning teens, the killer's POV shots, the lone female survivor, the over-the-top kills created by a special effects genius. It's this last bit that made Friday the 13th special at the time; it was something a little more titillating than the mostly bloodless Halloween and just the thing to get audiences wanting more. Even if the series had not continued, people would still be watching Friday the 13th as they do Prom Night and Maniac and My Bloody Valentine.

This is not the way you'd expect the saga of Jason Voorhees to begin. If it weren't for the last minute addition of the Carrie rip-off shock ending, we wouldn't even have seen the character at all in this first film. This is great. I love the way this series just organically grew in whatever direction it felt was best, damn the continuity to Hell. I don't think our society would allow this anymore. Everything has to be pre-planned (into trilogies, or shared universes) and there are legions of nerds on the Internet ready to mercilessly pick apart anything that doesn't make perfect sense (how is Jason still a kid in 1979 and then grown up in the next movie?). There's no longer a lot of freedom in these series. Had Friday the 13th been released this decade, we probably would've had two sequels featuring two other killers with grudges against camp counselors (see: the Scream series).

I think this is actually a part of a larger change in society. We're losing the ability to accept magical thinking in our stories. Fairy tales are dead. It seems like everything has to have a logical explanation. How does the Force work? The Phantom Menace tells us it's generated by little organisms. What are vampires? Countless modern vampire movies tell us it's just a nasty disease, and that vampires' problems with garlic and silver are "allergies." This slavish allegiance to realism sucks the fun right out of everything. I hate when I catch myself thinking things like: "but zombies wouldn't be able to movie without active chemical processes in their muscles." No, brain, zombies move because it's scary. Full stop.

Favorite Character
Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney): "I'm a messenger of God. You're doomed if you stay here!"

Favorite Sin
Strip Monopoly.

Favorite Kill
Jack (Kevin Bacon) getting an arrow through the neck.

Jason's Mood
Wanting a hug.

20 September 2015

September 20th

Sunday is a great day to start the Six Weeks. No work for me, no school for the kids: we're free to wade into the holiday pool as we see fit. This year, that involved a morning shopping trip to the Halloween sections of several stores where we picked up all of the bits we needed for the kids' costumes (a witch and a black cat - thanks to the double-feature of Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Kiki's Delivery Service we had a few weeks back). After returning, we popped in the first movie of the season:

Halloweentown (1998) directed by Duwayne Dunham
"Well, I jumped the gun on this one.... Ah well, maybe I'll give it another shot with the daughters in 2015 or so..." I wrote back in 2012 when last I watched this.  I'll be damned, but I just happened to follow my own advice today without even knowing it. And, Past-Me was right; the daughters dug the movie just fine this time around and no one had to hide behind the couch.

Me, I feel the same as I did back then: it's a charming kids movie with some nice Halloween flavor. All of the adult actors seem to be having a hammy ball, especially Debbie Reynolds, who delivers every line just a hair over the line that divides serious from silly. I like the message of not ignoring your roots, no matter what they are. The classic trope of "you're not the normal kid you think you are" is always fun.

I did notice that, while the older daughter Marnie was supposed to be the main character, the younger daughter Sophie is the only one of the two showing any talent with magic. Sophie floats a cookie, changes a lock into a frog, and manages to perfectly memorize her grandma's spell to activate the wand-thing. Marnie doesn't do anything remotely as useful. We'll be watching a couple more of these movies, so I'd be curious to see if this becomes some kind of sibling rivalry side story. Though, I'm probably giving the writers too much credit, I suspect.

Six Weeks of Halloween 2015

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The best time of the year is upon us once again! For me, that means lots of horror movies, apple cider, and cool strolls through leaf-strewn streets. Though, life is a little busier than normal lately, so I will forego my usual goal of a movie per day. Still, there should be plenty of time for:
  • Halloween on Halloween, like I've done since '99.
  • The Walking Dead, season 5. Once this hits Netflix, I'll catch up on Rick & company's adventures with the cannibals.
  • Freddy vs. Jason: The Chronocinethon: all 20 classic (and not-so-classic) slasher movies in the order they were released to cinemas. (R.I.P. Wes Craven and thank you for so much)
  • The usual assortment of incredibly crappy flicks I seem to torture myself with every year. I've got a load of movies due to arrive from Vinegar Syndrome which should fit the bill nicely.

Opening Today:
Six Weeks of Halloween the 13th!