In Memory of Crazy Ralph

Today is Friday the 13th, which is basically an unofficial holiday.  But you know what?  Instead of celebrating Jason Voorhees today, maybe we should celebrate Crazy Ralph.  For countless years, Crazy Old Ralph warned everyone, “You’re doomed!”  He told them that Camp Crystal Lake had a death curse.  He warned them that Jason was still out there…

And nobody listened to Ralph.  People accused Ralph of being drunk.  (Of course, he was.)  They called him crazy.  (Of course, he was.)  The police harassed him.  The local truckers laughed at him.  The waitresses in the diner all said, “Oh, that’s just old Ralph being crazy and drunk!”  The camp counselors ignored him.

But you know what?

Crazy Old Ralph was right!

Sadly, Ralph wasn’t that smart or maybe he was just too drunk and/or crazy to take his own advice because, for some reason, he always seemed to be hanging out around Camp Crystal Lake.  Sure, maybe he was just coming by to remind everyone that they were doomed and, if that’s the case, that was nice of him to do.

But actually, I think Ralph’s motives were a little more icky.  After all, Ralph did die while hiding behind a tree and spying on Ginny and Paul…

But fear not!  The actor who played Ralph survived.  Walt Gorney was mostly a stage actor.  He appeared in a handful of films and he typically played characters with names like “Homeless guy” and “Drunk man.”  According to the book Crystal Lake Memories, Gorney was a nice man and a dedicated actor who insisted on “staying in character” whenever he played Crazy Old Ralph.

Ralph may have died by Gorney was invited back to provide the opening narration for Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood. 

So, on this Friday the 13th, let’s all take a moment to remember Crazy Old Ralph and the actor who brought him to life, Walt Gorney!

Happy Ralph Day!

Embracing the Melodrama #33: Endless Love (dir by Franco Zefferilli)

endless love

Do anyone remember a movie that came out in February that was called Endless Love? If you do, you’ve got a better memory than I do because, even though I saw it, I really can’t really remember much about it beyond the fact that I was disappointed by it. I know I had high hopes because the trailer was damn sexy but the film itself just turned out to be rather bland and forgettable.

Well, the 2014 version of Endless Love may have been forgettable but the same can not be said of the original 1981 version.

Endless Love tells the sweet story of two teenagers who want to have sex.  Well, actually, it’s debatable how sweet the story is  because the boy is a creepy stalker-type and the girl appears to be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome but director Franco Zefferilli directs the film as if he’s bringing to life the greatest romance of all time.  The entire film is full of lush images and the swelling musical score suggests that we should hope that these two end up together, even as the boy is burning down the girl’s house.

(Believe me, I love elaborate expressions of love and romantic feelings as much as the next girl but I draw the line at burning down my house.)

David (Martin Hewitt) and Jade (Brooke Shields) both live in the suburbs of Chicago.  Jade’s parents are aging hippies.  Her father (Don Murray) may smoke weed with the neighborhood teenagers and play the trumpet at wild parties but he’s still very protective of his daughter.  Her mother (Shirley Knight) is far more permissive and open-minded.  Jade’s brother, Keith (played by a really young and dangerous-looking James Spader), is friends with David and invites him to a party at his house.  David meets Jade and soon, the two of them are obsessed with each other.

However, not everyone is happy about their newfound love.  Jade’s father doesn’t trust David.  Keith soon starts saying stuff like, “Just because you’re fucking my sister, that doesn’t make you a part of the family.”  (And, as rude as that may be, it’s really hot when said by a young and dangerous-looking James Spader.)  Meanwhile, David’s mom (Beatrice Straight) doesn’t want David hanging out with a family that she describes as being “a relic of the 60s.”

Eventually, Jade is spending so much time thinking about David that her grades start to suffer and she finds that she can no longer sleep.  She starts stealing her father’s sleeping pills.  When she’s caught in the act, David is forbidden from seeing her until the end of the school year.  “It’s only 30 days,” Jade’s mom promises him.

Well, that’s 30 days too long for David!

Taking the advice of a young arsonist (played, in his film debut and with a notably squeaky voice, by Tom Cruise), David decides to set Jade’s house on fire.  His original plan is to save Jade and her family and be hailed as a hero.  Instead, the fire ends up raging out of control and the house is destroyed.

Arrested for arson, David spends some time in a mental asylum and is legally forbidden from ever seeing Jade or her family again.  Eventually, David gets out of the asylum and that’s when the movie gets really weird…

Endless Love is a really creepy movie that makes the mistake of equating stalking with true romance.  There’s no other way to put it.  Yet, at the same time, Franco Zefferilli’s images are so vividly romantic and Martin Hewitt and Brooke Shields are both so physically attractive (never mind that neither one of them apparently knew how to act back in 1981) that you can’t help but sometimes get swept up in the film’s silliness.  Add to that, the film has a great soundtrack and you also get a chance to see Tom Cruise act like a total jackass.

Check it out below!

Film Review: Friday the 13th Part 2 (dir. by Steve Miner)

(Spoilers Below)

This the one where the nice guy in the wheelchair gets a machete to the face.

There’s a lot of different ways that you can describe Friday the 13th Part 2.  It’s a horror movie, a slasher flick, and a sequel.  It’s the first Friday the 13th movie to feature Jason Voorhees as the killer.  It’s also one the best installments in the franchise.  However, to me, this will always be the movie where the nice guy in the wheelchair gets a machete to the face.

Originally released in 1981, Friday the 13th Part 2 is, of course, about more than just the nice guy in the wheel chair getting a machete to the face.  The film opens with Alice (Adrienne King), the sole survivor from the first film, struggling to get on with her life a year after the massacre.  She has a small apartment that, in a nice touch, is full of drawings of the disfigured boy who attacked her at the end of the previous film.  One night, Alice’s cat startles her by jumping out of a closet and shouting, “Watch out, there’s a mysterious killer in here.”  Foolishly, Alice ignores her cat and ends up getting an ice pick rammed into her head. 

(If only people listened to their cats…)

Five years later, Camp Crystal Lake is once again reopening, this time under the direction of alpha male Paul Holt (John Furey).  Paul and his annoying sidekick Ted (Stu Charro) tell everyone not to worry about any old rumors about some mysterious murderer killing anyone who goes to Crystal Lake.  Meanwhile, Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney) is wandering around, going all “You’re all doomed!” and then watching as Paul’s girlfriend Ginny (Amy Steel) undresses in her cabin.  Bad Crazy Ralph!  Luckily, Crazy Ralph then gets strangled with barbed wire.  (Ouch!  I guess he was the one who was doomed, huh?  Get it?  Anyway…)

Paul, Ginny, annoying Ted, and the rest of the counselors decide to head into town so they can spend the night getting drunk.  However, a few counselors decide to remain at the camp.  (Again, this just goes to prove that slasher films are not only about punishing people for having sex and doing drugs.  If the majority of this installment’s victims had simply been willing to go get drunk, they would have survived.)  Remaining at the camp: horny couple Jeff and Sandra (Bill Randolph and Marta Kober),  Terry (Kirsten Baker), who for some reason refuses to wear underwear, Scott (Russell Todd), who is obsessed with Terry but could do so much better, sweet-natured Vicki (Lauren-Marie Taylor), and finally Mark (Tom McBride), the nice guy in the wheelchair.

Anyway, if you’ve ever seen a slasher film than you can guess what pretty much happens.  Jason (played here by Steve Daskawisz) shows up and kills everyone until eventually Ginny and Paul return to the camp.  (Annoying Ted stays behind to keep drinking and somehow manages to survive the film.  It’s an odd slasher film where the nice guy in the wheelchair gets killed but the obnoxious, dorky guy somehow makes it through.)  There’s a big, genuinely exciting final battle with Ginny and Paul on one side and Jason on the other.  Ginny survives, Jason escapes, and Paul … well, who knows?  One moment, Paul’s there and the next he’s gone.  I’m still trying to figure that one out.

Friday the 13th Part 2 is controversial among many horror fans because so many of the killings are identical to the killings from an earlier slasher film, Mario Bava’s brilliant Bay of Blood (a.k.a. Twitch of the Death Nerve).  One especially obvious example is the double impalement of Jeff and Sandra and when I say obvious, I mean that the exact same scene can be found in Bay of Blood.  In Peter M. Bracke’s history of the franchise, Crystal Lake Memories, Part 2’s self-important screenwriter, Ron Kurz, claims to have never heard of Bay of Blood.  And to that, I say, “Whatever, Ron Kurz.  You’re either a liar or you actually don’t know who Mario Bava is.  Either way, you suck.”

Though Friday the 13th Part 2 is obviously a rather derivative film and frequently doesn’t make much sense, it’s also a personal favorite of mine as far as 80s slasher films are concerned.  The cast is likable and attractive (especially Russell Todd, who gets killed way too early as far as I’m concerned) and some of the kill scenes are genuinely well done.  Amy Steel, much like Adrienne King before her, make for a strong heroine and her final battle with Jason is actually pretty exciting.  The true star of the film, however, is director Steve Miner who fills each scene with a sense of genuine menace that goes a long way to making up for Ron Kurz’s sloppy script.  As opposed to Sean Cunningham (who directed the first film), Miner shows a genuinely inventive visual sense.  My favorite shot in the film is a rather minor one of a bunch of cars driving down a shadowy road.  The scene doesn’t really add anything to the story and it almost feels like filler but it’s still effectively eerie.

It could be argued that Friday the 13th Part 2 is the first true Friday the 13th because it’s the first film to actually feature Jason Voorhees killing camp counselors.  The character of Jason makes even less sense in this film than he did when he was just some kid living underwater in the first film.  It’s impossible to watch the film and not wonder how 1) Jason suddenly went from being a 13 year-old living in a lake to a 40 year-old living in a shack in the woods, 2) how Jason managed to track down Alice, 3) how Jason managed to then walk all the way to Alice’s new home and then all the way back to Crystal Lake without anyone noticing him, and 4) why exactly has Jason been hiding in the woods all this time and apparently allowing his mother to believe that he was dead.  That said, I actually think that Jason is probably at his scariest in Friday the 13th Part 2.  A lot of that has to do with the fact that, instead of wearing that famous hockey mask, Jason spends most of the movie with a burlap sack over his head.  As opposed to the hockey mask (which makes Jason look rather Canadian), both the sack and Jason’s odd overalls make him look like a faceless demon that’s sprung, full of fury, out of rural folklore.

Though it made less than the first film, Friday the 13th Part 2 was a financial success.  Audiences ignored the film’s many critics and they flocked to see it.  Not surprisingly, Paramount Pictures immediately called for a sequel.

The end result — Friday the 13th Part 3 — would be one of the worst horror films ever made.

We’ll deal with that tomorrow.   

Film Review: Friday the 13th (dir. by Sean S. Cunningham)

(Warning: Spoilers Below)

This month, the 13th is going to fall on a Friday so I figured what better time would there be to watch and review the Friday the 13th franchise?  Through April 13th, I’ll be reviewing each film in the franchise.  Some of these reviews will be positive and quite a few of them will not.  Let’s get things started with the one that started it all, the original 1980 Friday the 13th.

Is there anyone out there who does not know the plot of Friday the 13th?  For those who don’t, here’s a spoiler-filled refresher.  In the late 50s, at the rather crummy looking Camp Crystal Lake in New Jersey, two counselors sneak off from a sing-along so that they can do whatever it was that young people used to do in the 50s.  Suddenly, someone else walks into the room.  “Uhmm, we weren’t doing anything,” one of the counselor says right before a machete is plunged into his stomach.

Jump forward 25 years.  Annie (Robbi Morgan), a bubbly young woman who won’t stop talking about how much she loves children, hitchhikes into Crystal Lake.  She tells the townspeople that she’s looking for a ride to Camp Crystal Lake and everyone give her that “Oh no you didn’t” look.  Crazy old Ralph (played by Walt Gorney) tells her, “You’re doomed.”  Since this is a slasher film, Annie ignores him and ends up getting her throat slashed in the woods by an unseen assailant wearing black gloves.

Meanwhile, at Camp Crystal Lake, the somewhat jerky Steve Christy (played by an actor named Peter Brouwer who never gets enough credit for giving a good performance here) is working hard to get the long-since deserted camp up and ready for its grand reopening.  Helping him out are his fellow camp counselors — lovers of life and fun Marcie (Jeannine Taylor) and Jack (The Kevin Bacon, who is like such a total hottie in this film I don’t even know where to start), boring Bill (Harry Crosby), bossy meanie Brenda (Laurie Bartram), obnoxious practical joker Ned (Mark Nelson), and finally Steve’s girlfriend, Alice (Adrienne King).  Steve tells his counselors to get the camp ready and then heads off to pick up supplies in town.  (Or at least, that’s what Steve says he’s doing.  As far as I can tell, the only thing he does when he gets to town is head over to the local diner and start flirting with the 90 year-old waitress…)

With jerky old Steve gone for the day, the counselors decide to spend their time swimming (and, in Ned’s case, pretending to drown), having sex, smoking pot, and eventually getting killed one-by-one by an unseen murderer.  Eventually, once Alice is the only counselor left alive, she runs into a nice, older woman named Pamela Voorhees (played, with a lot of genuine menace, by Betsy Palmer).  When Alice explains that everyone’s dead, Pamela responds by mentioning that her own son — Jason — drowned at the camp 25 years ago because the counselors were too busy “making love.”  Pamela then tries to kill Alice and Alice ends up chopping Pamela’s head off and then floating out onto the lake in a canoe.  (Meanwhile, the camp is nowhere close to being ready for opening day.)

The next morning, Alice wakes up in the canoe and spots a bunch of police officers on the shore.  As she starts to call out to them, a deformed boy suddenly jumps out of the water and grabs her.  This, of course, is one of the most famous scenes in the history of horror and one that has been parodied and ripped off numerous times.  However, when I first saw Friday the 13th, that scene made me scream and, even today, I still find my heart racing  just a little bit faster whenever I know that it’s coming up.

The first time I ever saw the original Friday the 13th, I was either 8 or 9 and it was all incredibly daring because I was staying up way too late with my older sisters and watching a  cable station for grownups that I knew I wasn’t supposed to be watching.  We didn’t want to wake up mom or dad so we had the volume turned down as low as it would go and we whispered our comments of “Ewwww!” and “Agck!”  (Yes, even at the age of 8, I was already saying “agck.”)  Even though I couldn’t hear the film, I could see it and the end result was thatm when I did eventually go to sleep, I was awake after about an hour, screaming because I had a Friday-inspired nightmare.  I doubt that the movie would scare me as much today because today,I know who Tom Savini is and, if I need proof that Kevin Bacon was actually not killed by Mrs. Voorhees hiding underneath the bed, I can watch my DVD of Crazy,Stupid Love.  But when I was younger, Friday the 13th was the fuel of nightmares and, seeing as I’ve always had my little morbid streak, I think that’s why the franchise continues to interest me.

If there’s one thing that everyone seems to agree about when it comes to Friday the 13th, it’s that the true stars of the film were the disturbingly plausible gore effects designed Tom Savini.   Even when I rewatched the film before writing this review, I was surprised by not only just how bloody a movie Friday the 13th was but also at how realistic it all looked (especially when compared to the intentionally over-the-top gore effects that Savini provided for Dawn of the Dead).  There’s a surprising brutality to the film that reminds us that — unlike future installments in the franchise — the original Friday the 13th was not made for mainstream audiences but instead for the audiences who populated New York grindhouses and dark Southern drive-ins.  The special effect that every other reviewer always seems to point out is the scene where the arrow bursts through Kevin Bacon’s neck.  While that scene is indeed shocking (and sad too, because it’s Kevin Bacon dying), I’m always more disturbed by the scene that immediately follows, where Marcie gets hit in the face with the axe.  That’s the scene that showed up in my nightmare after I watched the film for the first time.

Director Sean Cunningham has said, in numerous interviews, that he was inspired to make Friday the 13th largely because of the box office success of Halloween and there are some pretty obvious similarities between the two films.  What is less often commented upon is just how much of the original Friday the 13th was inspired by the Italian giallo films of Mario Bava and Dario Argento.  Whether it’s the focus on the killer’s black gloves or the use of Harry Manfredini’s iconic theme to signal when something bad is about to happen, the giallo influence is pretty obvious.  Sean Cunningham was hardly an innovative director but when he stole, he stole from the best and the end result, crude as it may have sometimes been, was undeniably effective.

In Peter Bracke’s fascinating history of the franchise, Crystal Lake Memories, there’s an interesting quote from Jeannine Taylor, the actress who  played Marcie.  When discussing her reaction after first reading the script, Taylor says, “To me, this was a small independent film about some very carefree teenagers who are having a great time at summer camp where they happen to be working as counselors.  Then they just happen to get killed.”  Taylor’s comment gets at one reason why Friday the 13th — out of all the slasher films to come out after Halloween — continues to be watched by even people like me who weren’t even alive when it was first released.  Uniquely among the films in the franchise, Friday the 13th is a true ensemble film and, though the performances are somewhat uneven and the characters are pretty one-dimensional, the cast has an easy and likable chemistry.  Watching the film today, it’s a bit hard not to concentrate on the fact that you’re seeing Kevin Bacon in a low-budget slasher film but once you get over that, you realize that Bacon and the entire cast are totally believable as bunch of likable, carefree kids who end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.  A lot of critics have complained that the first half of the film drags as we just watch everyone goofing off around camp.  To me, those early scenes make the film because they get us to care about the characters just enough so that we don’t necessarily want to see them killed.

Another frequent critical complaint is that it’s difficult to have much sympathy for characters who consistently do stupid things that ultimately lead to them getting killed.  Viewers tend to shake their heads as they watch Ned go wandering into a deserted cabin or when Brenda just happens to wander out on the archery range.  Myself, I always tend to roll my eyes whenever the film reaches the point that Marcie decides to run out into the rainy night in just her panties and a shirt.  I always find myself going, “Yeah, like anyone’s really that stupid…”

Of course, even as I type this review, I’m thinking about how, a few nights ago, I thought I heard a catfight at 3 in the morning and my immediate response was to run outside and walk up and down in the alley, wearing only a t-shirt and a thong, calling my cat’s name.*  Even as I searched for our cat, I found myself muttering, “This is like a slasher movie waiting to happen.”  However, I still kept wandering around that alley in my half-naked state because, at the time, I was pretty confident that there weren’t any masked maniacs around.

That’s what people who criticize films like Friday the 13th for featuring stupid characters refuse to admit.  We all do more stupid things than we care to admit because we’re usually pretty confident that there won’t be any negative consequences to our stupidity.  We all know that there are evil psychopaths out there but we’re also confident that we won’t run into them.  The reason why the slasher genre has remained popular is because it forces us to confront our deepest fear, which is that we might not be as safe or have as much control over our fate as we tell ourselves.

Not surprisingly, Friday the 13th and its subsequent sequels has never been as popular with critics as they have with audiences.  In fact, critical reaction upon the initial release of Friday the 13th was so hostile that one critic even printed Betsy Palmer’s address and invited outraged filmgoers to write her letters of protest.  The standard critical complaint about Friday the 13th was that it presented death as a punishment for having sex and smoking weed and here I would say that the critics were mistaken.  While it is true that Jack and Marcie die after doing both of these things, I think there’s actually a far more relevent message to be found within the film.  Consider this: Ned dies after he spots someone in a deserted cabin and says, “Can I help you?”  Steve Christy is killed because he spots someone out in the rain and approaches them, saying, “What are you doing out in this mess?”  Brenda thinks that she hears a child crying for help outside of her cabin and foolishly goes walking around in the middle of hurricane in her nightgown, calling out, “Hello!?” until she’s killed off-screen.  What the critics, so caught up in their moral panic, failed to understand was that the message of Friday the 13th is not that people shouldn’t have sex.  The message is that people shouldn’t offer to help random strangers.

Despite the amount of critical scorn heaped upon it, Friday the 13th was a box-office success and the 18th highest grossing film of 1980.   At the time, for a low-budget, independent film, this was highly unusual.  Despite the fact that Friday the 13th ended with Mrs. Voorhees losing her head and Jason still in that lake, there would be a Friday the 13th Part 2.

We’ll deal with that tomorrow.  Until then, don’t help any random strangers…


*Doc, our cat, was fine, by the way.  It turned out, he was sitting in the kitchen the whole time I was outside desperately searching for him.