Cinemax Friday: Meatballs IV (1992, directed by Bob Logan)

Neil (Jack Nance … yes, Eraserhead Jack Nance) owns a summer camp where he teaches people how to water ski.  Unfortunately, it’s been a while since Neil’s been a success.  The camp is old and run down and Neil is just too good-hearted to enforce any discipline on his campers or his counselors.  The evil Monica Shavetts (Sarah Douglas) owns the water ski camp on the other side of the lake and she is determined to put Neil out of business.  Fortunately, Neil does have one ace up his sleeve.  One of his former campers, Ricky Wade (Corey Feldman), has gone to become one of the top water skiers in the world and he has returned to help Neil save the camp!

Meatballs IV covers all the usual summer camp hijinks.  The fat kid learns how to believe in himself.  The female counselors all appear in topless.  There’s a shower scene, of course, and there’s also a lot of humor centering around flatulence.  When you’re 11 years old, this movie is pretty cool.  Of course, saving the camp means winning a competition against the evil camp.  At least Sarah Douglas appears to be relishing her evil role.  There is one funny joke where Corey Feldman attempts to hit on a girl by telling her, “I was in Goonies.”  I guess even back then, Feldman knew which one of his movies people would actually remember.

Jack Nance is his usual eccentric self in the role of Neil but he doesn’t get to do much.  Sadly, it was while he was in upstate New York making this film that his then-wife, Kelly Van Dyke, committed suicide in Los Angeles.  Reportedly, Nance had been on the phone consoling her and trying to talk her down.  Unfortunately, a lightning storm knocked out the phones in the middle of Nance’s conversation with Kelly and she hung herself immediately afterwards.  For many of us, Jack Nance would be the main reason we would sit through something like Meatballs IV but knowing that story makes it difficult to watch him in this film.  Both Jack Nance and his wife deserved better.

Meatballs IV started out as a movie called Happy Campers, which was intended to be a low-budget rip-off of the original Meatballs.  Then, someone realized that an even better idea than ripping off a successful film would simply be to change your movie’s title and turn it into a sequel.  Meatballs IV tells the same basic story as the original Meatballs, with a bunch of plucky outsiders proving themselves over the summer.  The main difference is that Meatballs IV has a lot more T&A than the original film and that the first film has Bill Murray as a camp counselor while this one has to settle for Corey Feldman.  It’s not that Feldman’s bad in the role, of course.  Despite what happened to his career in the 90s and beyond, Corey Feldman has always been capable of giving good performances, even if he often didn’t.  (I can’t really blame him.  Would you make much of an effort if you were appearing something like Dream A Little Dream 2?)  It’s just that Corey Feldman is no Bill Murray.  When Ricky first shows up at the camp, he energizes the campers by doing an elaborate dance routine, which he ends by shouting, “Elvis has left the building!”  It has the same energy as that episode of The Simpsons where Homer is hired to voice Poochie on Itchy & Scratchy.  It feels desperate, like the film is trying too hard to convince us that Ricky Wade is as cool as everyone says he is.  If you have to work that hard to convince people that you’re cool, then you’re probably not.

Cinemax Friday: Blown Away (1993, directed by Brenton Spencer)

Rich Gardner (Corey Haim) and his brother, Wes (Corey Feldman) both work at a ski resort in Canada.  When Rich rescues the wealthy Megan (Nicole Eggert) from being trampled by a horse, she invites him to attend her 17th birthday party.  Despite the fact that he’s already dating Darla (Kathleen Robertson), Rich goes to Nicole’s party.  Nicole greets him in her underwear and soon, the two of them are having softcore, late night Cinemax-style sex.  It’s only in the morning that Rich discovers that Megan is the daughter of his boss, Cy (Jean LeClerc).

With Wes’s encouragement, Rich continues the affair, even after Cy demands that Rich never see his daughter again.  Megan eventually tells Rich that she believes that Cy was responsible for the death of her mother and that she thinks they should kill Cy and, after Megan has gotten her inheritance, run off together.  At first, Rich is hesitant but when Megan turns up bruised and claiming that her father beat her up, Rich reconsiders Megan’s proposition.

In many ways, Blown Away is typical of the neo-noirs that used to dominate late night Cinemax in the 90s.  Take a faded TV or a film star.  Toss in an up-and-coming starlet who is willing to do nudity.  Add a dimly lit sex scene or two and a surprise twist at the end.  In this case, the surprise twist was actually a good one, the faded stars were the Two Coreys, and the up-and-coming starlet was Nicole Eggert.

Before they become direct-to-video mainstays in the 90s, both Corey Haim and Corey Feldman had a good, if brief, run as legitimate film stars.  With their subsequent notoriety, it’s easy to forget that they were two of the busiest and most critically acclaimed child actors of the 80s.  Corey Haim appeared in movies like Murphy’s Romance and Lucas while Corey Feldman did The Goonies and Stand By Me.  They co-starred in films like The Lost Boys and License to Drive.  Unfortunately, neither one of them was able to make the transition from being child stars to adult actors.  (It didn’t help that both of them had very public struggles with substance abuse and that the 90s saw both of them developing a unique talent for tracking down the worst projects possible and agreeing to star in them.)  Blown Away was one of the first of their post-stardom films and, whatever else you may say about it, it’s definitely better than the majority of the films that the pair made afterwards.  (Just try sitting through Dream A Little Dream 2.)  After years of playing best friends, Blown Away cast them as brothers who always seem to be on the verge of throwing a punch at each other.  When Rich and Wes say that they secretly hate each other, it feels less like a movie and more like real-life couples therapy.

Blown Away is a classic of its kind.  Though Rich is not a very sympathetic hero and there’s a few scenes where Haim’s tendency to overact gets in the way of the film, Nicole Eggert is a perfect femme fatale and Corey Feldman again shows that he had more talent than he was usually given credit for.  If you can overlook a few plot holes (and not spend too much time worrying about how a bunch of teenagers became experts in setting explosives), the film’s storyline is interesting and far darker than the usual late night Cinemax fare.  When people like me talk about being nostalgic for the old days of watching Cinemax after midnight, this is the type of film that we’re talking about.

Cinemax Friday: Lipstick Camera (1994, directed by Mike Bonifer)

Omy Clark (Ele Keats) is an aspiring journalist who wants to work with the world famous videographer, Flynn Dailey (Brian Wimmer).  When she shows up at Flynn’s studio and marvels at how much power the filmed image can wield, Flynn blows her off.  While Flynn is busy ignoring Omy, Lily Miller (Sandahl Bergman) drops by and tries to hire Flynn to film her and her husband, Raymond (Terry O’Quinn), making love.  When Flynn heads out to the Miller residence, Omy tags along as an uninvited guest.  She happens to have a tiny camera that she stole from her best friend, Joule (Corey Feldman, sporting a beard and a beret).  Omy plants the camera in Lily’s bedroom.  Later, when Flynn, Omy, and Joule all return to the Miller house to retrieve the tiny camera, they discover that Lily has been murdered and that Raymond is a communist war criminal who fled East Germany following the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Lipstick Camera has an intriguing premise and, even in 1994, it was trying to say something about media manipulation and what is today referred to as being “fake news.”  You could say that it was a film that was ahead of its time.  You could also say that it’s a complete mess or that it’s an erotic thriller that is neither erotic nor thrilling and you would be just as correct.  The main problem with the film is that almost every plot development is set in motion by Omy being either extremely self-absorbed or extremely stupid.  When she’s not manipulating Joule (who is not too secretly in love with her), she’s stalking Flynn and carelessly losing an expensive camera that didn’t even belong to her in the first place.  And she, of course, is meant to be our hero!

In the 90s, former teen idol Corey Feldman was one of the mainstays of late night Cinemax.  Even during his Cinemax years, Feldman would occasionally give a good performance.  Lipstick Camera was not one of those occasions.  In Lipstick Camera, Feldman wears a beard and a beret and spends a lot of time in a room that’s full of computer monitors and TV screens and that’s the extent of his characterization.  He does get a dramatic death scene, in which Joule appears to be determined to stave off the grim reaper by giving a monologue of Shakespearean proportions but otherwise, this is Corey Feldman at his worst.  Faring slightly better is Terry O’Quinn, who, at least, gets to deliver his lines in a light German accent.

With its focus on the media and communist war criminals, Lipstick Camera is an example of a direct-to-video film that tried to be about something more than just sex and murder.  (Though, this being a DTV film, there is one brief sex scene that takes place in front of a TV that’s showing a video of a fireplace.)  Unfortunately, nobody involved seems to know what that something was supposed to be.

All Hail Jan-Michael Vincent: Red Line (1996, directed by John Sjogren)

Jan-Michael Vincent, back in the day

When Jan-Michael Vincent died on February 10th, we lost a legend.

For obvious reasons, the life and career of Jan-Michael Vincent is often held up as a cautionary tale.  Vincent went from being a rising star in the 70s to being nearly unemployable in the 90s.  When you watch Vincent in one of his early film, like The Mechanic or Big Wednesday, you see an actor who had both the talent and the looks to be a major star.  He was such a natural and deceptively low-key performer that it is not a surprise that he was twice cast as Robert Mitchum’s son.  He could play everyone from a hippie to a cowboy to a surfer to an assassin.  Unfortunately, once the 80s rolled around, Vincent became better known for his struggles with drugs and alcohol than for his talent.  After a brief but profitable stint starring in Airwolf, Jan-Michael Vincent found himself appearing mostly in straight-to-video action films.  By the mid-90s, he was a mainstay on late night Cinemax.  Even though the films had gotten smaller and his famous good looks had been ravaged by years of hard living, Vincent was still capable of giving a good performance.

It is impossible to talk about the legend of Jan-Michael Vincent without talking about Red Line.  In this direct-to-video car chase film, Vincent was cast as a gangster named Keller.  When an auto mechanic named Jim (Chad “Son of Steve” McQueen) makes the mistake of taking one of Keller’s cars for a joyride, Keller blackmails Jim into stealing a corvette from a police impound lot.  Red Line was typical of the type of films that Vincent was usually offered in the 90s, an action-filled crime film with a handful of recognizable faces.

It was also a film that Vincent nearly didn’t live to make.  Two days before filming was to begin, Jan-Michael Vincent was nearly killed when he crashed his motorcycle.  Vincent suffered severe facial lacerations and he would later tell Howard Stern that his eye was nearly popped out of his head as a result of the accident.  Vincent was rushed to the hospital and put in intensive care.

However, Jan-Michael Vincent still had a movie to make.  So, what did he do?  Two days after his accident, he checked himself out of the hospital and, unexpectedly, showed up on set.  With his face noticeable bruised and swollen and with the stitches and sutures still visible, Vincent played the role of Keller.  If you watch carefully, you can even spot his hospital ID, still hanging around his wrist.  The script was hastily rewritten to explain Vincent’s injuries and, though he could barely speak or walk, he still delivered his lines and filmed his scenes.  And goddamn if Jan-Michael Vincent didn’t steal the entire movie.  Even after years of hard-living (not to mention just two days after nearly dying), Jan-Michael Vincent still had it.  Even though he had to whisper his lines and film most of his scenes sitting down, Vincent was still credibly threatening in the role of Keller. He even points out his own injuries, saying, “I’m sick of looking like Frankenstein!”

Jan-Michael Vincent in Red Line

The rest of the cast was made up of an eclectic collection of familiar faces.  Dom DeLuise played Chad McQueen’s boss.  Michael Madsen and Corey Feldman (!) both played rival gangsters while Roxanna Zal played the young woman who becomes McQueen’s partner in crime.  B-movie fans will want to keep an eye out for Julie Strain, Robert Z’Dar, and Chuck Zito.  None of them make as much of an impression as Vincent, though.

Red Line was meant to be an homage to the type of car chase films that Steve McQueen made famous.  Chad McQueen even gets to drive a replica of the car that his father drove in Bullitt.  Some of the chase scenes are exciting but Chad doesn’t have his father’s screen presence and the film never overcomes its low-budget.  Watching the movie is a lot like watching someone else play Grand Theft Auto.  Red Line is a forgettable movie but it will always be remembered as an important chapter in the legend of Jan-Michael Vincent.

Jan-Michael Vincnet, RIP

Corey Feldman Goes To College: Voodoo (1995, directed by Rene Eram)

Andy Chadway (Corey Feldman) is an aspiring writer who is attending college in the UK.  When he meets Rebecca (Diane Nadeau), he is so smitten with her that he transfers to a school back in the States so that he can be near her.  Of course, Andy doesn’t bother to tell her ahead of time so, when he arrives at his new school, he’s shocked to discover that Rebecca doesn’t seem to be happy to see him and that, since she lives in a sorority house, he can’t stay with her.

Desperately needing a place to live, Andy checks out the local fraternities but he discovers that there’s only one frat that is willing to take him.  It’s the worst frat on campus, a collection of weirdos led by Cassian Marsh (Joel J. Edwards).  Andy joins anyway but soon discovers that the frat is actually a voodoo cult that is more interested in human sacrifice than raging keggers.

Corey Feldman made a huge number of strange movies in the 90s.  They were all released straight-to-video and almost all of them featured Feldman trying to get away from his teen idol image.  In Voodoo, Feldman battles zombies and voodoo priests and Corey Haim is nowhere to be seen.  Feldman is actually not bad in Voodoo.  He’s always been a better actor than he’s given credit for but he also brings so much personal baggage to every role that it’s impossible to see him as being anyone other than Corey Feldman.  That is definitely the case with Voodoo.

The premise of Voodoo is an interesting one and it had a lot of potential.  The film deserves credit for taking its plot seriously and there is one good sequence where Marsh uses mind control to destroy a rival fraternity.  However, Voodoo has too many scenes that seem like filler and it never fully explores its premise.

Keep an eye out, however, for Jack Nance.  One of the original members of David Lynch’s stock company, Nance played the title role in Eraserhead and also played Pete Martell on Twin Peaks.  Nance plays the father of a former member of the fraternity and he’s the one who warns Andy to be weary of Marsh.  Nance and Feldman previously co-starred in Meatballs 4 and Nance’s eccentric presence livens up their scenes in Voodoo.  This was one of Nance’s final roles before his untimely death in 1996.

12 Things You May Or May Not Have Known About Friday the 13th!

As we all know, with one notable exception, the majority of the cast of the original Friday the 13th didn’t exactly go on to greater heights of stardom.  The movie may have made a lot of money but it didn’t lead to bigger roles for Laurie Bartram and Mark Nelson.  When the movie was released in 1980, Betsy Palmer was the best known member of the cast and, according to the book Crystal Lake Memories, the cast of Friday the 13th Part 2 used to joke that maybe the cast of the first film actually had been murdered in the woods because no one ever saw them again.

Of course, today, no one can watch Friday the 13th without saying, “Oh my God, Kevin Bacon’s wearing a speedo!” but, at the time he was cast as doomed Jack, he was just another struggling actor.  However, if things had gone as originally planned, today Bacon would not be the only respected actor with Friday the 13th on his resume.  When the film was in pre-production, director Sean Cunningham originally tried to get a star to play the role of Alice, the only camp counselor to make it out of Camp Crystal Lake alive.

Who was that star?

Sally Field.

The future multiple Oscar-winner was seriously pursued for the role of Alice.  She did not, as some sources claim, audition for the role.  Instead, she merely turned it down and went on to win her first Oscar for Norma Rae.  Once it became obvious that Field had no interest in going to Camp Crystal Lake, Cunningham decided to go with a cast of unknowns and Adrienne King was given the role of Alice.

Personally, I think that worked out for the best.  Not only was Adrienne King perfect for the role but the use of unknowns undoubtedly made the film more effective when it was released.  After all, everyone knows that a star is going to survive.  (That’s one reason why, when seen today, it’s still jarring to see Kevin Bacon get dispatched.)

Here’s a few more bits of trivia to make your Friday the 13th a good one:

2. After the success of Friday the 13th, Adrienne King was stalked by an obsessed fan and, when she was asked to return for 1981’s Friday the 13th Part 2, she requested that her role be as small as possible.  As a result, Alice showed up just long enough to be killed off.  Amy Steel replaced King as the film’s heroine.  Steel would later go on to star in another classic slasher film, April Fool’s Day.

3. Originally, 1982’s Friday the 13th Part 3 was envisioned with Steel returning to play Ginny.  However, Steel turned down the chance to return, leading to the filmmakers instead simply remaking the first film (in 3D!).  After being cast in the lead role, Dana Kimmel requested that the sex and drugs featured in the original script be toned down.  That’s just one of many reasons why many consider Friday the 13th Part 3 to be the worst film in the series.

4. Even if she didn’t return for Part 3, Amy Steel was instrumental in convincing her friend, actor Peter Barton, to appear in 1984’s Friday the 13th — The Final Chapter.  Barton’s likable performance as the handsome but definitely doomed Doug was a highlight of the film.  Another highlight was Ted White’s performance as Jason.  As opposed to the character he played, White once threatened to quit the film because he didn’t like the way the director was treating the film’s cast.

5. The working title for 1985’s Friday the 13th: A New Beginning was Repitition.  Having killed Jason at the end of The Final Chapter, Corey Feldman returned for a cameo that he shot at the same time that he was filming The Goonies for Richard Donner.  Along with the first film, this is the only one to not feature Jason Voorhees committing any murders (unless you count the ones that he committed in Tommy’s nightmare) and the film’s ending was specifically set up so that Tommy could take over Jason’s murderous ways.  However, the film’s disappointing box office reception led to Jason returning as a zombie in the next film.

6. With its intentional comedy and its emphasis on action over blood, 1986’s Friday the 13th: Jason’s Lives is a rarity in that it was a Friday the 13th film that actually got somewhat good reviews.  John Shepherd, who played Tommy in a New Beginning, was offered a chance to return to the role but turned it down, saying that the film’s went against his religious beliefs.  As a result, Thom Matthews was cast as Tommy.  Matthews also played the lead in another horror comedy, Return of the Living Dead.

7. 1988’s Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood was originally envisioned as being a cross-over with A Nightmare on Elm Street.  However, when Paramount (who held the rights to Jason) and New Line Cinema (who held the rights to Freddy) could not come to an agreement, the project was temporarily abandoned.  According to Crystal Lake Memories, the film’s executive producer, Barbara Sachs, wanted Friday the 13th Part VII to be the first Friday the 13th to win an Academy Award and came with an extremely ambitious storyline that she envisioned being directed by none other than Federico Fellini.  Cooler heads prevailed and, instead, The New Blood found Jason battling a young woman with psychic powers.

8. The initial working script for 1989’s Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan was entitled “Ashes to Ashes.”  The film’s anemic box office convinced Paramount to sell the franchise to New Line Cinema.

9. After New Line purchased the franchise, the first film’s director, Sean S. Cunningham, returned to produce 1993’s Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday.  Much like The New Blood, this was originally envisioned as being a Freddy vs. Jason film but that plan was, again, abandoned.  Freddy Krueger does make one brief appearance, when his clawed hand appears and drags Jason’s hockey mask to Hell.  Director Adam Marcus also included a shot of a book that was meant to be the Necronomicon as an attempt to link Jason to the Evil Dead universe as well.  Because New Line did not own the rights to Evil Dead, Marcus did not tell them what he was planning to do and instead asked Sam Raimi if he could borrow the prop.  Raimi thought it was a great idea.  Less amused was Tom Sullivan, the man who actually created the prop and who received no money for its use in Jason Goes To Hell.

10. The 8 year gap between the release of Jason Goes To Hell and 2001’s Jason X was a result of Freddy vs. Jason being stuck in development Hell.  Jason X was largely produced to keep audiences from forgetting about Jason.  Screenwriter Todd Farmer appeared in Jason X, playing a character named Dallas (a nod to the original Alien).

11. After spending two decades in development, 2003’s Freddy vs Jason finally brought the two infamous serial killers together.  Kane Hodder, who had played Jason in every film since New Blood, was not asked to return for Freddy vs. Jason, supposedly because the film’s director wanted Jason to tower over Freddy and it was felt that Hodder was not tall enough.  At one point, Freddy vs. Jason was envisioned as ending with Pinhead appearing and defeating both of them but New Line could not secure the rights to the Hellraiser character.

12. 2009’s Friday the 13th was meant to reboot the series.  Perhaps the less said about it, the better.  Plans for a sequel to the reboot are currently trapped in the same development Hell that once imprisoned Freddy vs. Jason.

Happy Friday the 13th!


Horror on TV: Dark Realm 1.9 “Johnny’s Guitar” (dir by Eric Summer)

For tonight’s excursion into televised horror, we have the ninth episode of Dark Realm!

Of what?

Dark Realm was a horror anthology series that aired in syndication back in 2001.  Thirteen episodes were produced.  Each episode was introduced by Eric Roberts, which alone is worth the price of admission!

Anyway, the only episode of Dark Realm that is available on YouTube is Johnny’s Guitar.  Johnny (Corey Feldman) is an aspiring rock star who comes to possess the guitar of recently deceased rock star, Leon (Joe Elliott).

OR … does the guitar come to possess him?

Watch and find out!

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #62: Time After Time (dir by Nicholas Meyer)

TimeAfterTime79So, I just gave the 1979 film Home Before Midnight a fairly negative review but I simply cannot end the 70s section of Embracing the Melodrama on such a negative note!  So, before we move on to the 80s, allow me to suggest another film from 1979 that you could watch while you’re not watching Home Before Midnight!

Time After Time opens in London.  The year is 1893.  Writer H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) is having a dinner party so that he can show off his latest invention, a time machine.  Among his guests is a surgeon named John Stevenson (David Warner).  What nobody at the party suspects is that Stevenson also goes by the name Jack the Ripper and that he enjoys killing prostitutes.  When a detective from Scotland Yard shows up at Wells’s home, Stevenson jumps into the time machine and escapes into the future.  Since Stevenson does not have the “non-return key,” the machine returns back to 1893 but Stevenson has apparently escaped.

Wells uses the machine to pursue Stevenson and soon finds himself in 1979 San Francisco.  Wells had expected to find that the future would be a utopia but instead, he discovers the world of 1979 is loud, polluted, violent, angry, and dangerous.  (Kinda like the world of 2015…)  As Wells pursues Stevenson, he struggles to adjust to the world of the “future,” and he also meets a bank clerk, Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen).

Time After Time is probably the sweetest movie ever made about Jack the Ripper and that’s largely because of the romance between both Wells and Amy and the two actors who played them.  After watching Time After Time, I was not surprised to learn that McDowell and Steenburgen got married shortly after appearing in this film.  They were so incredibly sweet together!

Add to that, considering the he’s best known for playing villains and other menacing types, it’s interesting to see Malcolm McDowell plays such a gentle and nice character.  Wells’ befuddlement is charming to watch.  There’s a great scene where Amy calls Wells on a landline phone and Wells stares down at the receiver in frightened amazement.

Time After Time is a really good and likable movie.  It’s sweet and it proves that even hunting for Jack the Ripper can be a romantic experience if it’s done with the right person.  Watch it and enjoy!

Film Review: Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (dir. by Danny Steinmann)

(Spoilers Ahead.  So there.)

So, imagine that you’ve got a huge film franchise that was built around one iconic character.  And guess what?  In the previous installment of your huge film franchise, that iconic character was killed so graphically that there’s no possible way that he could just pop up and go, “It was just a flesh wound.”  What do you do?

This is the problem that was facing Paramount Pictures when it came to making a fifth Friday the 13th film.  The previous installment made a lot of money but it also ended with Jason pretty decisively dead.  Paramount’s solution?   Friday the 13th without Jason.  Released (much like me) in 1985 and directed by Danny Steinmann, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning remains a controversial film among fans of the franchise.  A lot of people claim that it’s the worst installment.  Myself, I consider it to be one of the best.

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning opens (like many great B-movies) with a cemetery in the rain.  Wearing a yellow raincoat,   Tommy Jarvis (played in a cameo by Corey Feldman) approaches a grave that is marked “Jason Voorhees.”  Suddenly, two rather moronic gravediggers come running up.  While Tommy hides in the nearby bushes, the gravediggers dig Jason up.  “Yee-haw!” one of them shouts.

(I know this because I turned on the close captioning as I watched the film.  It’s one thing to hear the dialogue in a Friday the 13th film being spoken.  It’s another thing to see it actually written out at the bottom of your screen.)

Suddenly, Jason — complete with hockey mask and machete — pops out of the grave and kills the two grave robbers.  He walks over to where Tommy is hiding, lifts up his machete, and — suddenly, Tommy(now played by a brooding and sexy John Shepherd) wakes up!  It turns out that several years have passed and Tommy, after spending five years in a mental asylum, is now on his way to Pinehurst, a halfway house that just happens to be located in the Crystal Lake area.

A New Beginning has such a bad reputation that it’s often forgotten that this opening sequence is one of the few genuinely scary sequences to be found in the entire franchise.  Everything from the ominous dark skies to the lushly green bushes that Tommy hides in to the artful way the lightning storm is used to punctuate the sense of danger contributes to making this sequence feel very ominous and genuinely nightmarish.  It’s a bit shocking (yet undeniably effective) to go from the impressionistic lushness of Tommy’s dream to the rather harsh and grainy look of the rest of the film. 

(For those of you who are familiar with Italian horror, it almost feels like the dream was directed by Dario Argento while the rest of the film was done by Joe D’Amato.)  

Anyway, Tommy gets dropped off at Pinehurst where he meets the two liberal do-gooders who are in charge of the facility, Matt (Richard Young) and Pam (Melanie Kinnaman).   He also meets “Reggie the Reckless” (Shavar Ross), the bratty little grandson of Pinehurst’s cook, as well as the other residents of Pinehurst.  Pam and Matt inform Tommy that Pinehurst has no rules.  Or as they inform him, “It’s an honor system.”

It quickly becomes apparent that they might want to reconsider that honor system because not only do Eddie (John Robert Dixon) and Tina (DebbiSue Voorhees) get caught having sex on the neighbor’s property but Vic (played by Mark Venturini, who was all sexy and dangerous in his 2 minutes of screen time) ends up hacking the annoying Joey (Dominick Brascia) up into little pieces with an axe. 

(In Vic’s defense, he looked really good with an axe and Joey was really annoying.)

While Vic is whisked off to jail (Sadly, never to be seen again) two paramedics scoop up remains of Joey.  One of the paramedics — Roy (Dick Wieand) — stares at the body for a long time and doesn’t seem to find his coworkers jokes humorous.  Hmmm…wonder what’s up with that?

As tragic as the death of Joey is, it does lead to one of my favorite lines of all time when, the morning after the murders, the remaining residents of Pinehurst gather for breakfast and they notice that two extra places have been set for the dead Joey and the incarcerated Vic.  Stuttering Jake (Jerry Pavlon) exclaims, “You don’t set a place for a dead person!”  And you know what?  He’s right.

Soon, people all over town are getting murdered.  The guys who talks to himself while snorting cocaine (played, in a rather funny performance, by Bob DeSimone) gets an axe to the forehead.  The waitress (Rebecca Wood-Sharkey) who flashes her boobs at a mirror and goes, “It’s showtime!” gets murdered as she leaves work.  Two Jersey Shore wannabes are killed when their car stalls.  The Sheriff (Marco St. John) looks over one crime scene and says, “What the Hell’s going on here?”  Roy, standing behind him, says, “You talking to me, Sheriff?”  Hmmm…it’s odd how Roy keeps popping up in the movie for no reason…

The Mayor (played by Ric Mancini) confronts the Sheriff and demands to know who is killing everyone in town.  “Jason Voorhees,” the Sheriff slowly responds.  “Jason Voorhees is dead!  He was cremated” the Mayor screams as he empties on ashtray on the sheriff, “THIS IS JASON VOORHEES!”  This is probably my favorite scene in the entire movie because St. John underplays his entire role while Mancini overplays and delivers every line as if he’s in a community theater production of Lost in Yonkers.

That gets to the heart of what I really enjoy about A New Beginning — not only does this film have the largest body count of any film in the series, it also has the most genuinely eccentric cast of characters.  Absolutely nobody in this film behaves like a conventional human being.  It goes beyond just the normal odd slasher movie behavior.  Instead, watching this film is like peering into some sort of parallel universe where some minor shift in the Earth’s tilt has caused everyone to go a little crazy.  Probably the closest the film comes to a normal person is poor traumatized Tommy and he only says about ten lines in the entire film.  (That said, John Shepherd did a really good job and had a lot of presence of Tommy.  There’s an oddly eerie scene about halfway through the film where Tommy stares up at a neon sign and, as I looked at his face illuminated by the glowing blue of the sign, I realized that what I had always heard about good acting — that it all starts with expressive eyes — was true.) 

(In a perfect world, Tommy would have eventually ended up with Vi — played by Tiffany Helm — the new wave girl who spends almost the entire movie dancing in her room.  Seriously, they would have made a cute couple.)

Anyway, once our killer has gotten through killing random townspeople, he starts to kill off the residents at Pinehurst.  After taking part in one of the most explicit sex scene in the history of the franchise, Eddie and Tina are rather brutally killed off.  (That’s a shame because Voorhees and Dixon both had a really good and fun chemistry together and were both likable actors.  Unfortunately, their characters were sex-crazed and you know what that means…)  While Matt goes off to try to find the missing Eddie and Tina, Tommy, Pam, and Reggie go off to hang out with Reggie’s rather odd brother Demon (played by Miguel Nunez, Jr.) who wears more jewelry than I do and sings a duet with his girlfriend while he’s sitting on the most disgusting toilet in the history of film.  (Seriously, I had to look away…) 

Anyway, the remaining residents of Pinehurst are all killed by a seemingly resurrected Jason (however, Jake and Robin — played by Juliette Cummins —  do get to watch A Place In The Sun before they die so at least something good happened to them that night) and Pam ends up spending almost the entire rest of the movie running around in the rain and tripping in the mud whenever Jason shows up.  Jason eventually corners Pam, Tommy, and Reggie in a barn but then ends up falling out of a window and landing on some conveniently placed spikes.  Jason’s hockey mask falls off and — surprise! — it wasn’t Jason after all.  Instead, it was Roy, the weird Paramedic who kept showing up randomly and looking around kinda guilty-like whenever anyone mentioned anything about the murders.  Wow!

One of my favorite films book is Peter M. Bracke’s Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th.  Taking on the series on a film-by-film basis, Crystal Lake Memories is a fascinating oral history that is full of all sorts of interesting behind-the-scenes facts.  Reading the chapter on Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, one is left with the impression that 1) everyone on the film was constantly snorting cocaine and 2) director Danny Steinmann is perhaps the most enigmatic figure in the history of the films.

In Crystal Lake Memories, depending on who is being interviewed, Danny Steinman comes across as either a maniac, a bully, or an underappreciated genius.  Quite a few people claim that Steinmann was out-of-control.  However, actress DebiSue Voorhees (who you would expect to have all sorts of unpleasant stories about the film since she’s the one who had to spend an entire shooting day laying on the ground naked in front of a bunch of strangers) is a lot more complimentary, saying that Steinmann was a “gentleman” throughout the entire shoot.  What everyone seems to agree on is that he was the son of wealthy art dealer and that he got his start as a director by making a hardcore porn film before moving on to make two wonderfully trashy exploitation films — The Unseen and Savage Streets.  Steinmann was apparently hired to bring a certain rough edginess to A New Beginning and he obviously did just that as A New Beginning had more violent deaths and more nudity than any previous installment of the series.  Because of the need to get an R rating, a lot of bloody footage hit the cutting room floor but what was left is surprisingly effective.   (Pictures of what was cut can be found on several sites online and yes, it’s all pretty gruesome.)

Unlike most people, I actually think that A New Beginning is one of the best films in the franchise, precisely because it is so ludicrous and over-the-top.  What Danny Steinmann did with this film was that he took everything that one expected from a Friday the 13th film and he pushed it all to its most logical extreme.  Everyone knew that, regardless of whether the film was being made by a major studio or not, the Friday the 13th films were meant to trashy, ludicrous, sleazy, and fun.  Steinmann was just the only one who had the guts to admit it by making a film that not only admitted what it was but celebrated it as well.  Friday the 13th: A New Beginning is the most openly grindhouse of all of the Friday the 13th films and for that, it deserves more credit than it’s gotten.   

Despite upsetting a lot of fans (not to mention the critics), Friday the 13th: A New Beginning was a box office success which could only mean that there would be another installment in the franchise.  Coming tomorrow: my review of Friday the 13th: Jason Lives.

Film Review: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (dir. by Joseph Zito)

(spoilers below)

Today, continuing our look at the Friday the 13th horror franchise, we consider the misnamed Friday the 13th — The Final ChapterOriginally released in 1984, this film apparently was really sold as being the final chapter and Tom Savini even returned to do the gore effects because, supposedly, he wanted to kill off his most famous creation.  To be honest, that all sounds like a lot of hype and hucksterism to me but, regardless of the title’s insincerity, The Final Chapter is one of the best (some would say the best) installments in the series.

The Final Chapter begins less than an hour after the end of Part 3.  (One of the curious things about the Friday the 13th series is that the 2nd, 3rd, and fourth films all occur during the same long weekend.  It never seems to disturb anyone in the 3rd or 4th film that a bunch of people have just been murdered in the same general area.)  Jason, who was killed by the terrible Chris Higgins at the end of Part 3, is taken down to the county morgue where he promptly turns out to not be dead after all.  He kills a nurse and an orderly and then, instead of continuing to seek vengeance on Chris (with whom he was pretty much obsessed in Part 3) , he decides to go kill a whole bunch of other people who have just shown up at Crystal Lake for the weekend. 

Those other people are a group of dorky but rather likable college students who have rented a house on the lake.  This is probably the most quirky group of vacationers ever to come to Crystal Lake and it’s a credit to an unusually strong (and unsung) ensemble cast that you actually do believe that these people are friends.  In the group, we have Doug (a dreamy Peter Barton), shy virgin Sarah (Barbara Howard, who is so believable as a nice girl that I felt bad for her when she died), Paul (Alan Hayes), Paul’s slutty girlfriend Samantha (Judie Aronson), and finally heterosexual life partners Jimmy (Crispin Glover) and Ted (Lawrence Monoson).  Jimmy and Ted provide the film with its “comic relief,” the majority of which is pretty weak but Crispin Glover gives such an odd performance that he’s enjoyable nonetheless.  Eventually, our vacationers meet two twins, Tina and Terri (Camilla and Carey Moore) and then they all go back to the house to watch old nudie films and Crispin Glover does a hilariously spastic dance before losing his virginity to one of the twins.  (“Was I a dead fuck?” he asks after, with an aching sincerity.)  And then Sarah gets ready to lose her virginity to Doug but then that defender of purity, Jason (played here by Ted White), pops up and kills everyone.  Seriously, Jason had a busy weekend.

Unfortunately for Jason, Trish Jarvis (Kimberly Beck) and her little brother Tommy (Corey Feldman, who gives a pretty good performance here even if Tommy is kind of a brat when you get right down to it), happen to live next door.  Trish is prepared for Jason because she has previously met yet another camper — Rob (Erich Anderson),who specifically came up to Crystal Lake to track down and kill Jason because Jason killed his sister Sandra in Part 2.  (Of course, by the series chronology, Sandra only died two days ago so I guess Rob moves pretty quickly.)  Also unfortunate for Jason, Tommy is an aspiring makeup artist who makes himself up to look like Jason and, in the surprisingly exciting finale, uses his skills to fool Jason and then hack him up while screaming, “DIE!” all the while.

Plotwise, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is a pretty standard slasher film and, at times, it asks the audience to suspend its disbelief just a little bit too much.  Whenever I see the scene where Tina is pulled out the second story window, I always find myself wondering 1) how Jason managed to climb up the side of the house in the rain, 2) why did he decide to do that when, in the previous scene, he was already inside the house, and 3) why didn’t anyone inside the house hear Tina crashing into the station wagon below.  And yet, despite this, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is considered by many (including me) to be the best of the series. 

To me, this film succeeds because of two men — Joseph Zito and Tom Savini.    Whereas later Friday the 13th directors often times seemed to be ashamed of the films they were making, Zito was an exploitation vet who had already directed one of the most brutal slashers of all time, The Prowler.  As a director, Zito specialized in telling simple stories as brutally and efficiently as possible.  That’s certainly what he does here and the end result is a fast-paced Friday the 13th that — as opposed to Part 3 — didn’t suffer from any excessive filler.  As well, Zito also does a good job in framing and executing the film’s many tracking and p.o.v. shots, continually keeping the audience off-balance as to whether we’re seeing the camera’s point-of-view or Jason’s. Meanwhile, Tom Savini’s gore effects are just as realistic and disturbing as in the first film.  This is an undeniably bloody film that, at the same time, never slips into tedious “torture porn,” and both Zito and Savini deserve a lot of credit for that.

(Incidentally, here’s a little trivia for all of you Maniac fans — did you know that Joe Spinell’s loathsome Frank Zito was actually named after Joe Zito, who was apparently friends with William Lustig.)

Of all the Friday the 13th films, The Final Chapter probably features the strongest cast.  It certainly features one of the best “final girls”, with Kimberly Beck giving the type of strong performance  that Dana Kimmell failed to supply in Part 3.  Though only Corey Feldman and Crispin Glover would go on to any greater fame, the entire cast is likable and, as opposed to previous and future installments, no one gives a weak performance.  (Even the gimmicky twins do well enough.)  Though I know several people will laugh at this, I sincerely believe that there is an art to giving an effective performance in a film like Friday the 13th.  The key, I think, is to be likable enough that people will watch you and wish you well yet, at the same time, to be bland enough that nobody will be traumatized by your eventual death.  If anything, the cast of The Final Chapter isn’t quite bland enough.  Everyone brings almost too much life to these thinly drawn characters and, as a result,  it’s hard not to feel a little bit traumatized when they start dying.  Crispin Glover, for instance, gave such a quirky and interesting performance that I was actually pretty depressed to see him get that meat cleaver buried in his face.  As well, Peter Barton and Barbara Howard make such a cute couple that it’s upsetting that neither one of them survives to the end of the film. 

Despite the film’s title, the fourth installment of the Friday the 13th franchise was hardly the final chapter and it’s pretty obvious that it was never meant to be.  While I know that some people do complain about the cynicism behind the film’s title, I happen to love it.  It’s like a throwback to the classic old exploitation films that were always sold with sordid titles — like Too Young To Die and Arrested at 17 — that in no way reflected the actual content of the film.  Slasher films are the direct descendants of movies like Reefer Madness and Dwain Esper’s Maniac and it’s nice to see that heritage honored with the false promise of a final chapter.

Though the film’s ending was clearly set up to allow Tommy to eventually take Jason’s place (and, seriously, imagine how disturbing that could have been), Jason would eventually return.  But first, the series would take a major detour with its most over-the-top chapter yet.  We’ll talk about the infamous Friday the 13th — A New Beginning tomorrow.