Monday, October 12, 2015

Slasher Rankings: Friday the 13th

            Killer mommy...

            No other series truly defines the slasher genre quite like Friday the 13th. Unlike its siblings, the Friday series never produced a truly great movie like the classic first Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street, but what it lacks in class, it makes up for in sheer entertainment value. There can be no defense made of the series’ seedier elements other than just how much damn fun it is. And he may be a rather obvious Michael Myers clone, but Jason Voorhees has survived throughout the decades, eventually developing a style that has kept us coming back for more, even when we should know better. 

12. Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning

           Many fans are quick to dismiss this one due to its lack of Jason, but that’s honestly the least of the film’s many, many problems. Tommy Jarvis returns this outing, albeit older and committed to a house for troubled young teens. For the majority of its running time, the film wants us to believe that Tommy is the killer, thus following up on the least successful element of the last installment, and already the filmmakers shoot themselves in the foot before they can even begin. When you make your lead character into a murder suspect, it makes it hard to care what happens to them in any way, shape or form. Not helping matters are the film’s other annoying characters, most of which are introduced only to take off their tops (if they’re female) and then promptly die. The success of each Friday film truly relies upon assembling a likeable cast of goofy-yet-endearing teens, something that can hardly be said about the yahoos gathered here - when these morons bite it, it’s almost a relief. And as for Not-Jason himself, it’s an interesting direction to take the franchise, returning the series to its “whodunit” roots of a mystery killer on the loose. But even the first Friday couldn’t pull off that type of story successfully, so of course the fifth installment also falls prey to the same kind of cheap and lazy reveal of who the killer is at the end.

11. Jason X

            Leprechaun 4Hellraiser: Bloodlines… There is no greater death knell for a horror franchise than to take it into outer space, and Jason X is no different. The idea of Jason stumbling around a spaceship and picking crew members off one by one doesn’t sound like the worst direction for a series on its tenth installment to take, but the problem here lies entirely in the execution. I realize that the movie was likely short on time and money, but surely the filmmakers could have come up with something better than what we get here, which looks like an especially gory episode of Power Rangers. The CGI was bad even by 2002 standards, and it’s not hard to see why New Line sat on this movie for over two years before finally giving it a (baffling) theatrical release. Of course the movie’s not all bad: the opening scene is rather genuinely creepy, and the futuristic space setting allows for some especially creative kills (although not as many as you’d hope). But by the time Android Lady shows up in a leather corset with giant guns that seem to be swiped from a Syfy original movie, pretty much all hope is lost. I’ll say this for Jason X: it features the involvement of the absolute best director to ever be involved with the series… too bad he was only in front of the camera instead of behind it.

10. Friday the 13th Part III

            You might think that Friday III would be one of the better entries, being that this is the one where Jason gets his iconic hockey mask and the Friday formula is truly established. But much like the how and why of the moment Jason gets said mask, the film is little more than a confusing series of events that barely hang together. A big part of the problem this go-round are the main kids. The first and second Friday’s may not have been great cinema, but they got a lot of mileage out of populating the films with likable young actors. The characters here stretch the limit of the audience’s patience with their idiocy, the chief example being the wannabe actor (and possible future Men’s Right Activist) Shelly, who is constantly acting like a dumbass with his moronic pranks. You might think that watching these annoying kids get picked off by Jason would make the film worthwhile after all, but while this entry has some good kills, much of them are ruined by the film’s constant need to remind you that it was shot in 3D by hurling shit at the camera every five minutes. Also, the formula of killing off the entire cast and leaving the main girl to be chased by Jason for the remaining thirty minutes had really started to wear thin by the time this third entry rolled around. You’d think the filmmakers would have figured out that is the worst possible way to break the tension, as we all know that the girl’s going to win out over Jason at the end and thus have to suffer through endless “He’s finally dead now” fake-outs, but whatever. Throw in the completely useless sub-plot about the biker gang, and you have one of the worst entries in the whole series.

9. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

            Numero Ocho finally gets Jason out of Crystal Lake and into the Big Apple… or at least, it does in the last twenty minutes or so. Before then, we’re subject to a bunch of partying high school seniors celebrating their recent graduation on a yacht trip to Manhattan, where they are terrorized by everybody’s favorite hockey mask-wearing, unstoppable killing machine. Certainly a movie featuring Jason set loose in the big city have been preferable (as was promised in this film’s rather excellent trailer), but Jason on the high seas isn’t a bad route to go, either. The problem with this outing, as it is with all the lesser Friday movies, are the characters. I mean, the series was never exactly known for its searing insight into the youth of America, but the ones that work do so through one simple reason: they give you characters to care about, even if their capacity for logical thinking is sometimes not always optimal. For this outing, it seems as though the filmmakers just completely gave up. Take our main heroine Rennie, who is conveyed to us in only the broadest strokes, like the fact that she wants to be a writer, although we never once see her express any interest in writing outside of her introduction. All the characters are given this treatment, but most annoying of all is Rennie’s uncle Charles, who exists as the ultimate asshole naysayer so everyone else around him can look smarter and therefore not as much of an asshole. He gets what is coming to him, albeit bloodlessly, like most all of the kills this time out (as was the series’ heavily-censored nature at the time). To be sure, the film does make good use of the maybe five minutes of screen-time they actually shot in New York, as the awesome shot of Jason traipsing about Times Square will attest, but the film is so half-hearted everywhere else it’s hard to put much of a care into any of it as a viewer.  

8. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood

            Billed early on as essentially “Jason vs. Carrie,” The New Blood has a lot going on in its favor, but ultimately just doesn’t quite cut the mustard in the end. The biggest reason would have to be its severely-edited nature: the MPAA was always on the Friday series’ ass since the beginning, but by the time part 7 rolled around they really put their foot down, forcing director John Carl Buechler (a make-up artist turned horror director) to trim out essentially all of the gore in order to get that all-important R rating. With most of the good stuff taken out, that leaves us to focus on things like plot and character motivation, which is just all over the place. This has got to be the single most schizophrenic movie ever made - characters express one view in one scene only to then state the complete opposite in another, making the film seem as if it was pieced together randomly from different takes where the actors where trying every possible angle on the scene. It’s a shame, as there’s some stuff here that would have made for a fascinating movie - most especially the doctor character who is treating our lead heroine for her psychosis/telekinesis/precognition (just go with it), but who is only acting in his own interests by coaxing out her abilities. Had he been ultimately revealed as the main villain, with Jason just a random hurricane thrown in to stir the pot, we could have had something special here. But alas, the film keeps to form and fills the movie to the brim with what feels like twenty young, horny kids who get only the most perfunctory development before being picked off in one bloodless kill after the next. But even with those faults, the film still has a good bit going for it: this was Kane Hodder’s debut, the most famous Jason of them all, and watching him here, it’s easy to see how he achieved that fame. Hodder isn’t just some burly stuntman to walk in scenes and intimidate the audience with his sheer size, but is a legitimate actor, and imbues Jason with a type of performance we haven’t really seen from the hockey mask-wearing killer yet… one he would continue for another three films.

7. Friday the 13th Part 2

            The second film was rushed into production after the enormous success of the original, and certainly feels like something made up on the fly at times. But Friday Part 2 is a bit of an oddity, in many ways improving upon the first film whilst still being a lesser offering overall. The movie’s in trouble right from the very start, as we open with a replay of the last film’s ending that eats up at least five minutes of the screen-time. From there, we catch up with Alice, the “Final Girl” of the last entry, and waste probably another ten minutes on her death scene, where she walks around her apartment doing menial tasks  in an attempt to build “tension” before getting a screwdriver to her temple. This opening serves no purpose whatsoever - take it out, and almost nothing changes. The film improves once the story starts in full, introducing us to a bunch of kids out at Crystal Lake and participating in a camp counselor training program (…whatever).  Once more, this is a mostly likable group of kids, and the film benefits greatly from spending a little time with them before they’re brutally murdered by what would become the series’ defining character, the potato-sack wearing Jason Voorhees himself. Everything is properly set-up, unlike with the previous chapter, as the characters all trade stories about the masked psycho who stalks the woods in search of revenge for his dead mother. It’s a great set-up, but the film starts to unravel as the kids get picked off and whatever hint of a story was previously there goes out the window completely. Characters disappear (without being killed, mind), logic is challenged, and there’s a gotcha ending that’s possibly even more confusing than the first one, tying up nothing the film set up previously. It’s a shame, as there’s some nice stuff along the way - the wheelchair kill, Jason’s shrine to his mother, etc., but those moments come as too little, too late.

6. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday

            Jason Goes to Hell has probably the best opening out of all the Friday’s, and possibly one of the best scenes in the entire series. It starts rather typically, with a beautiful young lady taking a bath all by her lonesome out at Crystal Lake, only to then be chased by the big guy himself. But it turns out the situation was all a ruse: the lady in question is actually an agent on an FBI sting, the end of which sees Jason blown to pieces in a spectacular scene. It’s a scene so great, the rest of the movie is constantly trying to keep up with its convention-breaking nature, to somewhat middling effect. Director Adam Marcus is not short on creativity, surely, and as a result this entry feels like it might be something approaching an actual movie, with character arcs and everything. But large swathes of Jason Goes to Hell still suffer from a lack of focus. The “ground rules” for Jason were never firmly established (and certainly changed from film to film), but having him be an evil worm that passes from one host to the next feels like a step too far, and the whole “The only person who can kill a Voorhees is another Voorhees” equally doesn’t feel like a natural way to wrap up the story, but rather a contrivance shoe-horned into the plot because they needed to end the movie somehow. That said, it is a fiendishly clever movie at times, and thus one of the series’ better entries.

5. Freddy vs. Jason

            While it’s true that this long in the works mash-up leans more heavily on New Line’s first bastard son that it does the adopted step-child, there’s still plenty of Jason goodness on display to appease Friday fans. Jason gets all the best kills, with the cornfield rave scene being an all-timer. It’s those such scenes that forgive the movie the rest of its many sins. Maybe every word that comes out of Kelly Rowland’s mouth might as well be nails on a chalkboard. Maybe Jason Ritter can’t deliver any line of dialogue without having some stupid grin plastered to his face. Maybe the Jason Mewes lookalike stoner dates the movie far worse than its horrid, Nu-metal laden soundtrack. But when it comes to the big two themselves, the filmmakers understand just what the fans want to see, and give Freddy and Jason to us in all of their blood-spattered glory. 

4. Friday the 13th

            It’s generally accepted that the first entry in any horror series is usually the best, but Friday the 13th isn’t just any old series. The original has its charms, and certainly many of the series’ hallmarks began right here, but this first Friday isn’t really representative of the series as a whole. Part of the problem is the rather weak reveal of the killer at the end, Ms. Pamela Voorhees. The film seems to be setting up a murder mystery, but by the time we get to the halfway point and nearly the entire cast is murdered, there’s not much suspense to be found in trying to figure out the “whodunit,” making the reveal that this strange middle-aged woman in a blue sweater who just shows up and is the killer kind of cheap (and speaking of cheap, while it is one of the great cinematic jump scares, the ending with Jason literally comes out of nowhere and makes no sense whatsoever). It might have worked if the story of her son Jason drowning had been properly set up early on, but when Pam Voorhees shows up at the end, we don’t know her from Adam, robbing the moment of any sort of dramatic heft. The whole movie is likewise thinly put together, taking place over the course of one night as one camp counselor after another is picked off during a particularly harsh thunderstorm. The counselors themselves are pretty enjoyable, but we don’t get to know a whole heck of a lot about them before they start dying off, which seems like a waste of an otherwise able young cast. The thinness of the story also might have been forgiven had the film been skillfully made, ala Halloween, but Sean Cunningham is no John Carpenter. All that said, the film still works, in its own, weird way: Tom Savini provides some of his best work ever in the elaborate death scenes, and there is a certain energy on display that remains undeniably creepy even to this day. 

3. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

            From the very expensive looking opening with cop cars, ambulances and helicopters flying overhead, we can tell already that this supposed “final” installment of the Friday franchise will be quite unlike the others we had seen thus far. The Friday movies were always cheap, but The Final Chapter is probably the first to feel like an actual production. Paramount hired the experienced exploitation filmmaker Joe Zito to handle the proceedings, and the filmmaker brings a professional touch that the other three movies never really attempted.  As such, what we wound up with here is one of the best in the whole series, a thoroughly satisfying entry where all the elements at play are realized to their fullest potential. All the sex and violence hallmarks of the series are there, amped up considerably from the last outing (especially the sex - this has got to be the perviest Friday movie of them all).

             More importantly, the characters are all pretty likable. This is a large cast, so not all of them get as much time to shine, but the filmmakers seemed to understand that the success of these movies truly lies in getting the audience to care about the film’s characters before they’re brutally murdered. Thus, the film is mostly populated the film by talented actors across the board, with an early Crispin Glover bringing a lot to his role as an otherwise sex-starved dweeb, and Corey Feldman as the young Tommy Jarvis, who is the closest thing this series has to a Laurie Strode - a character who appears in multiple entries who has a personal connection to the killer. Tommy’s a nice addition not only because he’s a genuine reflection of the type of horror fan that eats this type of movie up, but also that he’s a kid: for a series that has taken place predominantly at summer camps, it’s been remarkably free of children, but little Tommy Jarvis’ presence adds another layer of suspense previously unknown to the series. The return of Tom Savini also helps - you don’t realize how much Savini was missed until you see his ingenuity on display, as his work on this installment is arguably the best of his entire career. The film’s only problem is the wackadoo ending, in which Tommy shaves his head to somehow trick Jason into thinking he’s his younger self… or something (the film is never clear on Tommy’s reasoning here)? It feels as if the filmmakers were trying to make a comment by setting Tommy up as a killer himself, but nothing that came before supports this out-of-nowhere thesis statement. But the weak ending hardly matters - whether it’s due to Crispin Glover dancing or Jason’s awesome slide down that machete, The Final Chapter remains one of the Friday series’ most enjoyable entries.   

2. Friday the 13th (2009)

            Sometimes all you need are the basics, something that the filmmakers behind this reboot understand quite well. In that way, there is something kind of pure in Friday 2009’s intentions: you get exactly what you pay for. The reboot covers essentially the same ground as parts 1-4, taking what worked best and trimming out the fat, in the process creating what might be the leanest and truest version of the Friday the 13th mythos yet. Everything you could possibly want from one of these movies is on display here, from the opening with Mrs. Voorhees to the sackhead Jason to the iconic hockey mask, the filmmakers pick and choose their favorite elements of the series to great effect. The kills (13 in all!) are even better, satisfyingly gory and creative whilst also being rather tense and creepy at the same time (and the kids are all fairly likable and hilarious in their own right, which doesn't hurt). And the Jason on display here is a great force of nature, played by Dereck Mears not as a mindless zombie, but rather more survivalist,  Rambo-esque take on the character. Horror remakes rarely surpass the original, but in Friday 2009’s case, they wound up with one of the best entries in the entire series.
1. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives

            Iconography - that’s what writer/director Tom McLoughlin pushes to the fore above all else in his installment of the Friday franchise. A horror buff himself, McLoughlin understands that Jason was at this point a classic movie monster worthy of the ranks of Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, The Wolf Man and all the rest. The opening where the corpse of Jason is resurrected via lightning may seem silly to the uninitiated, but true horror fans will know where the director is tipping his cap. The film is filled with such winks, which may make the film appear to be nothing more than a lark at first glance, but look closer, and you’ll find a skillful hand at play behind the scenes. One thing the movie does right from the start is get rid of the whole “Tommy Jarvis as the next Jason” thing, instead making Tommy into a more traditional slasher movie lead. All the actors do a fine job, and are only enhanced by McLouglin’s tongue-in-cheek style, with the sleaziness toned back in favor of humorous scenes that are actually funny (seems like a no-brainer, but so much of the “comedy” in this series is anything but)… Which is not to say the movie isn’t without teeth. This is the only installment of the series to feature actual kids on the campground, and while nothing ultimately happens to any of them, having them in peril makes all the difference - the scene with Jason walking amongst the sleeping kids’ cabin is creepy in a very classic, Universal Horror way. It’s that perfect blend that makes Jason Lives the very best of all the Friday’s.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...