“Kill Her, Mommy! Kill Her!” – Friday the 13th (1980)

Recently, I went to New York for the very first time. I had an awful lot of fun, and in between the more expected tourist attractions (Central Park, various museums, going to a live TV show taping—we got to see Last Week Tonight!!!), Mekaela and I watched the original Friday the 13th on this rooftop terrace in Midtown. This was the first movie I’ve seen on a big screen in actual years, and I had a very yummy (and very overpriced) margarita in hand, so obviously, I had a pretty good time. Considering we’ve been slowly making our way through this franchise for like a decade now, finding this showing felt pretty serendipitous, especially since the next film on our To Watch list was the original Friday the 13th.

This being something of a special occasion, I decided to write up a slightly longer review for the movie that started it all.

Warning GIF by Friday the 13th - Find & Share on GIPHY

Year: 1980
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Rooftop Cinema Club!
Spoilers: Absolutely
Grade: Vanilla

1. It’s been a  pretty long time since I watched Friday the 13th all the way through, and though it’s obviously not as campy and self-referential as later installments in the franchise, there’s actually a bit more humor than I’d remembered, which was a nice surprise. Overall, I was delighted to find that the movie holds up better than I expected. Friday the 13th knows exactly what it’s about. Some of the death scenes are quite fun. (Kevin Bacon’s, in particular, still absolutely gets me.) I adore the score, the silly title card, the ki ki ki, ma ma ma. And Betsy Palmer as Pamela Voorhees is both fun and charmingly over-the-top. Did you know I dressed up as Mrs. Voorhees for Halloween last year? Now you do! (Obviously, I had to wear my Friday the 13th mask to match.)

Friday the 13th is not, admittedly, a particularly innovative slasher—no one involved has been particularly shy about how much it deliberately rips off other movies, notably Halloween, Carrie, and Psycho—but it is an iconic horror film that hugely influenced the slasher genre, and I still very much enjoyed watching it. Particularly since the weather decided to lend a helping hand and provide something of a 4D cinematic experience.

2. If you’ve seen this movie, you may remember that most of the camp counselors are murdered during a big rainstorm. Well. About the time it started raining on screen, it also started raining in New York—just some light sprinkling, really, with a bit of wind, but the timing of it was hilarious. I’d actually spent half the day convinced the showing was gonna be cancelled, considering the weather forecast for that night, and when thunder rumbled in my headphones, I had to doublecheck to make sure it wasn’t also happening in real life, too. Honestly, it was kinda the best.

3. Unfortunately, much as I enjoy Friday the 13th, I still find Alice (Adrienne King) a boring and mostly useless Final Girl, which is a funny sorta thing to say about someone who full-on decapitates a serial killer, I know. And like, credit where credit’s due: when Alice finally commits, she commits. Still. Up until that moment, Alice is pretty meh, and—though I hate to say it—the fact that she bests Pamela Voorhees so many times is a little bit embarrassing for Mrs. V.

Betsy Palmer Mrs Voorhees GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Like. I say this with love. I am always here to celebrate the awesome ladies of horror, and for the most part, Mrs. Voorhees does a phenomenal job murdering people. Her kill count in this film is 9, which is very respectable, particularly for a middle-aged woman in a cable knit sweater. She uses knives, axes, and arrows in her work, hauls corpses through windows, and even takes the time to impale dead bodies to doors for maximum terror. And until Alice, Mrs. V has no trouble murdering anyone; only Annie provides even the smallest challenge, and really, that’s just an extra minute Mrs. Voorhees spends casually strolling through the woods before finding Annie and slitting her throat.

Alas, for unknown reasons (i.e., the Final Girl has to live, boo, hiss), Mrs. Voorhees decides that Alice is the one counselor she’s going to fuck with, rather than immediately murdering. I mean. Some of that is amazing, obviously. Calmly introducing herself, then later hamming it up, all “what monster could’ve done this,” HA. I’m all about that. But then Mrs. V just slaps Alice around a bunch rather than stab her in the face, and obviously, that’s just silly. Worse, Alice easily manages to knock Mrs. Voorhees down like, what, four different times or something before finally decapitating her? Our killer deserved a better Final Girl, that’s all I’m saying.

4. Here’s a hypothetical scenario for you: you’re half-naked in some cabin in the middle of the woods. Maybe you’ve been playing strip Monopoly with your friends, or maybe you just had sex with Kevin Bacon; whatever your reasons, you’re now in a bra (or shirt) and panties, and have to leave the cabin in the middle of a rainstorm. Before leaving, do you put on A) shoes, B) pants, or C) a short little rain slicker that maybe hits mid-thigh? If you answered D) gosh, I think I’d put on all of them, congratulations on being a reasonable person, unlike Marcie and Brenda, who both opt for the rain slicker and nothing else, like, what the actual fuck, ladies? It is pouring. There is thunder. You are in the middle of the woods. Maybe I could understand forgoing the pants (not really), but what do these bitches have against shoes?

5. Speaking of strip Monopoly (sort of), one of the first things we watched after coming back home was Psych, specifically, “Tuesday the 17th,” the Friday the 13th homage episode.

It’s probably my favorite episode of Psych, but I’d forgotten just how many parallels there are between it and this movie: Erwen, like Crazy Ralph, shouting the line, “You’re all doomed!” The introduction of Shirtless Billy chopping up wood vs. the introduction of Shirtless Steve chopping up wood. The breaking glass title card, naturally. The character Jason Cunningham named after Jason Voorhees and director Sean S. Cunningham. And of course our counselors playing a friendly game of strip cribbage. (I’ve never played cribbage, but strip Monopoly, at least, has to be an improvement on regular Monopoly, if only because it won’t take fucking DAYS for someone to finally win the game.)

6. Finally, you can’t talk about Friday the 13th without discussing the ending.

Friday The 13Th Horror GIF by filmeditor - Find & Share on GIPHY

. . . I mean, truthfully, I think it’s silly as hell. I like the shot and all, but I’m also rarely a fan of the One Last Scare trope, and while Sue having a nightmare works well in Carrie—because it’s less about the villain still being alive/setting up a sequel than it is about Sue still being traumatized, still being caught in that endless horror—Alice’s nightmare of an undead boy she never met and has no reason to actually believe in feels, well. Yeah. Damn silly.  (Unless Alice secretly always has psychic visions when she sleeps, which certainly seems unlikely, but would definitely make her more interesting.) That whole “he’s still out there” line would work so much better if this movie had ever bothered to make Undead Child Jason an actual possible threat.

Still. As much as I love our Jason Voorhees—and I do so love him—I would totally pay good money to watch a reboot/sequel where Undead Drowned Child Jason (rather than Inexplicable Grown Ass Man Jason*) comes back to creatively murder camp counselors. It would never happen of course, partially because the franchise seems to be stuck in eternal lockdown due to lawsuits/rights shit and partially because most fans would absolutely lose their shit, but I think it could be a lot of fun. It would, at the very least, make for one hell of an anime AU.

*Don’t give me that whole “Jason survived and has just been living in the woods for 20 years by himself for no reason” BS backstory; that is the dumbest shit ever. Look, one of my favorite things about this franchise is the weirdly slow evolution of its iconic killer—I think it’s fascinating, I think there’s a paper in it—but come on now. We must all simply accept that Jason’s transformation into adulthood makes absolutely NO logical sense, and no amount of retconning will make it any less ridiculous. Considering this franchise eventually (and gloriously) goes to space, I think we can all handle that.

CONCLUSIONS:

The genesis of one of my favorite horror movie franchises of all time! Pamela Voorhees deserves better, but I still enjoy this one.

MVP:

Betsy Palmer, no doubt.

MORAL:

Don’t work anywhere that the locals call ‘Camp Blood.’ Very obviously, things will go badly for you.

“What Kind of Killer Do You Think Stops to Save a Dying Fish?”

Well, the Clarion West Write-a-Thon finished up last week, and I succeeded in writing things! Perhaps they weren’t the stories I should have been focusing on, necessarily, but it’s been a dark year, and it’s still only August. Sometimes, the joy of fanfic is more important than the projects that might someday get you paid.

Per usual, I offered up a movie review/essay as a possible reward, and two sponsors took me up on it. The first sponsor, Tom, has donated to the WaT several times now and has delighted in making me watch everything from classic SF that I’ve never seen (Dune) to laughably terrible movies about Big Foot that no one should see (Night of the Demon). Today, however, we’ll be discussing a film I have watched before, albeit not in a very long time: the late 90’s SF neo-noir, Dark City.

To my relief, it actually holds up pretty well.

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Triple Scoop Review/Year of Monsters: BONUS VAMPIRE ROUND – Drácula, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Dracula 2000

Drácula

TFW you have to improvise because there aren’t any GIFs or trailers for the 89-year-old movie you’re reviewing.

Year: 1931
Director: George Melford
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Vanilla

In 1931, Dracula (the English language film starring Bela Lugosi) was shot during the day, while Drácula (the Spanish language film starring Carlos Villarías) was shot during the night. Earlier this year, I’d wanted to watch Drácula to compare and contrast; alas, I wasn’t able to find the film streaming anywhere online. Fortunately, I have an incredibly sweet friend, Rob, who bought me a special edition DVD copy of both films because he is the absolute best. Thank you, Rob!

In regards to which film is better . . . honestly, I like both for different reasons. On one hand, I think Pablo Álvarez Rubio makes for a fantastic Renfield. I didn’t have any particular problem with Dwight Frye, but Rubio is the superior choice as the bug-eating lackey, and delightfully, this film gives him a little more screen time to work with. (At least I’m pretty sure it does, but admittedly, I have watched like four different adaptations of this novel now, and they are starting to bleed together a bit.) I like this version of Mina (named Eva here) a little better, too, specifically when she’s all dark and vampire-influenced. And this version actually bothers to give Lucía’s story an ending, unlike poor Lucy in Dracula, who is pretty much just forgotten about between scenes. There are some particularly nice shots in this film, too, specifically the last one where Eva and Juan Harker ascend the staircase, leaving Van Helsing below with Renfield’s body–although to be fair, I like some shots in the English language version, too, like when the vampire brides back away from Dracula and Renfield’s unconscious body.

OTOH, I’m afraid I can’t take Carlos Villarías as Dracula seriously at all, like, he’ll have an okay moment or two, and then he’ll smile, and I’ll just start cracking up. Dude’s just so damn goofy. Bela Lugosi is very stagey, but somehow that feels more stylized, theatrical. This is different. This just feels absurdly cartoonish. And I prefer Van Helsing in the English language version, too, probably because this one seems shocked by things that just aren’t very shocking. Like, he’ll present some hypothesis (for example, Dracula is a vampire, and therefore must not have a reflection), and then seem flabbergasted when he immediately proves himself correct. He also has a hilarious reaction when Dracula threatens to kill him; likely, he’s supposed to seem scared, but it comes across more like, “Whaaaat? You’d . . . you’d really kill me?”

Watching both of these movies is absolutely fun, but my perfect film would be some unholy combination of the two, with Bela Lugosi and Pablo Álvarez Rubio and, most especially, the Philip Glass score from the 1990’s.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Year: 1992
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
First Watch or Rewatch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon, I think? TBH, it’s been a few weeks.
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Strawberry

Look, there are some amazing things about this movie. The opening music, for instance? Fantastic. And the fashion? Oh my god, the FASHION in this film. Dracula’s costumes alone, like, we’ve got the grey suit and top hat pictured above, his memorable Transylvania look, the red armor he wore as a human (which is basically just what J-Lo wore in The Cell,) etc. Then, of course, we have Mina’s lovely green dress and hat, as well as Lucy’s hilariously anachronistic red dress. And then, of course, Dead Lucy, which is the absolute cream of the crop. God, I’d love to cosplay the hell out of this someday.

So, yeah. I’d watch the hell out of this movie as a series of well-made fanvids; unfortunately, as a whole ass film, I have . . . problems. The entire prologue, for instance: like, the BS reincarnation love story I don’t care about (I was so baffled by this addition the first time I watched this movie), or how Anthony Hopkins is playing this ancient priest dude for no apparent reason. The fact that someone apparently fetched Mina’s perfectly undamaged corpse out of the river just to throw her ass on the floor, even taking the time to grab her suicide note and artfully tuck it into her hand. (Oh, apologies, there was physical damage: a single trail of blood from the corner of her mouth. Holy shit, that just makes it even funnier.) And Gary Oldman’s rage freakout, like, don’t get me wrong, I know the guy is a good actor, but also, dude sometimes makes some ridiculously over-the-top choices that I just cannot take seriously. I was giggling like mad throughout this whole prologue, which I really don’t think was Coppola’s intent here.

If the whole movie was like that, I could happily enjoy Dracula as a so-bad-it’s-great film. But those kinds of movies are generally best appreciated when they’re under two hours; this film is 2 hours and 35 minutes, and unfortunately, its dreadfulness isn’t always the sheer delight that is this gloriously terrible train ride into Hell scene. Which is to say, some of the bad stuff just drags, particularly in the second half of the film, where I slowly became consumed by boredom. And honestly, there’s a lot of bad to go around: Dracula as a wolf-troll-thing raping Lucy? Nope. All the orgasmic vampire shit and the plethora of relentless boob shots? Thanks, pass. I’d love to know whose idea it was to make Dr. Seward a morphine addict for, like, a scene. Also, why, in a movie with such fantastic costumes, does Keanu’s gray hair look like someone just threw flour over his head? And while I’m genuinely delighted by the current Resurgence of Keanu Reeves–he seems like a nice dude, and I enjoy a lot of his movies–like, this is easily his worst performance, and I’m including Much Ado About Nothing in that. (A film I have a huge soft spot for, honestly, but there is more than one woeful miscasting in that movie.) It’s not just that Reeves’s accent is terrible, though it is; it’s more that he’s so damn stilted here. Winona Ryder’s accent isn’t winning awards, either, but at least there’s some flow to her dialogue.

Finally, a few random things:

A) Everyone’s kind of an asshole in this movie, including Jonathan, who doesn’t like Mina staying with her BFF cause Lucy is rich, and what if Mina wants a rich boy now? Jonathan, you’re a tool. Van Helsing, though, is probably my favorite asshole because of hilariously casual lines like this: “Yeah, she was in terrible pain; we cut off her head. She’s dead now.”

B) The Texan suitor, played by Billy Campbell, is shockingly the least objectionable character, which is presumably why he dies.

C) Wow, I forgot there are so many other people in this movie! Cary Elwes! Richard E. Grant! Tom Waits as Renfield, what?

Renfield’s hair, at least, is properly fantastic.

Dracula 2000

Year: 2000
Director: Patrick Lussier
First Watch or Rewatch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Definitely
Grade: Chocolate

Okay, sure, this isn’t a great movie, but unlike Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it never really pretended to be, either. Dracula 2000 is so incredibly of its time, and I have all kinds of silly nostalgia for it. Ton of people in the cast, too: Jonny Lee Miller (the hero), Justine Waddell (the heroine), Christopher Plummer (the dead meat vampire-hunter mentor), Vitamin C (the dead meat BFF and vampire bride #1), Jennifer Esposito, (the brief fake-out love interest and vampire bride #2), Jeri Ryan (the random hot reporter and vampire bride #3), Sean Patrick Thomas (a thief), Danny Masterson (a thief who gets a leech to the eyeball), Lochlyn Munro (a thief and also the First to Die), Omar Epps (the Thief Boss who very suavely wears glasses), Shane West (the cameraman who dies very, very quickly), Nathan Fillion (a young priest who shockingly doesn’t die), and, of course, Gerard Butler (the Big Bad, AKA, Judas “Dracula” Iscariot).

Miller and Plummer probably do the strongest work here, but I enjoy pretty much everyone except maybe Jennifer Esposito, who I never quite buy–although to be fair to the actress, she does get some of the worst dialogue. Like the “all I wanna do is suck” pun or the “how does one become a lover” exchange, ugh. There’s some bad dialogue to go around, though: JLM’s “never ever FUCK with an antiques dealer” is beyond awful, like, as a blooper line? It’s hysterical. I’d have laughed my ass off had I seen this in the blooper reel. As an actual line in the movie? NO, GOD, WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS, NO.

OTOH, I do genuinely enjoy a lot of the humor, even the very on-the-nose stuff. I’ll admit to laughing at the “sorry, sport, I’m an atheist/God loves you anyway” exchange; also, Masterson’s hilariously petulant “I said I was sorry.” The sheer outrage in Miller’s delivery when he says “undead–UNDEAD!” cracks me up every time. I’m also very amused by Dracula calling the Bible “propaganda” as Simon tries to defend himself with it. And when Dracula perfectly describes Mary’s Mom’s interior decorating style as “Catholic,” yeah, I laughed pretty hard at that.

And while Dracula’s secret origins as Judas are kinda unbelievably silly, I suspect someone could actually make this work in a miniseries or TV-show, something with a serious, historical bent and plenty of room to focus on the themes of evil, forgiveness, and redemption in a universe where choice and action are presumably predestined. Dracula 2000 was obviously never gonna be that story, as it’s a campy ass horror film, and its reliance on Dracula’s origins as a twist means it only has about 15 minutes to even remotely address the philosophical and theological ramifications of this identity reveal, while also wrapping up the entire main plot. So, yeah, that was kinda doomed to silly failure. But credit where credit’s due: this is the first and only time I’ve ever seen a vampire die by hanging.

Finally, a couple last thoughts:

A) I owned a fair amount of horror and SF movie soundtracks in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and you better believe that Dracula 2000 was one of them. (See also The Faculty, Scream, Queen of the Damned, and The Matrix.) I still listen to songs from it, too, especially System of a Down’s cover of “Metro.”

B) Remember in The Last Jedi, how Rey and Kylo spend a lot of time psychically gazing at each other from separate locations? Well, Dracula and Mary Heller-Van Helsing did it first, only with Godhead (and Marilyn Manson) playing in the background, so, obviously, they kinda win.

Shit. Now I just wanna see TLJ with the Dracula 2000 soundtrack. SOMEONE MAKE THIS HAPPEN.

Year of Monsters: The Wolf Man

Hello again! It’s been a couple of weeks, I know. I’m afraid I’ve been distracted by work and new fandoms and the like, but today I return to discuss our last official Year of Monsters movie: The Wolf Man. This is one of the few Universal films I’ve actually seen before, although not since high school. At the time, I’d found it very boring.

This time, well. Maybe a little bored? But also amused, surprisingly sad, and–in one noteworthy scene–downright incredulous.

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Year of Monsters: Nosferatu

Well, it’s our penultimate movie, folks, and the oldest Year of Monsters film selected. It also happens to be the first vampire movie ever made, not to mention a completely unauthorized retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that, due to a lawsuit, was nearly wiped out of existence. It’s hard to overstate the influence of Nosferatu; this movie is legend. It is quintessential horror film history.

So, I kinda wish I had more to say about it.

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Year of Monsters: Tarantula

When I started compiling this list of classic monster movies and creature features, it only seemed right to throw at least one giant bug movie into the mix. (Please don’t comment just to tell me that arachnids aren’t bugs. I know. We all know.) Of course, many people consider Creature From the Black Lagoon to be the last great Universal monster movie, but come on, a story about a gigantic tarantula skittering around the desert, destroying everyone and everything in its path? I mean, how could we not watch that?

Have I mentioned that Mekaela and I both absolutely despise spiders?

Yup. Happy Birthday, Mekaela!

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Year of Monsters: The Phantom of the Opera

I should probably state upfront that I was kinda doomed to dislike this movie.

I tried to read The Phantom of the Opera in high school when the library finally got new books. I can’t say I gave it a particularly fair shake, just realized I was bored and didn’t really like anybody and quickly moved onto all the other new books. Much later, I tried out Joel Schumacher’s The Phantom of the Opera, and boy, did I HATE it. It seemed to take forever, I despised basically every character that wasn’t Minnie Driver, and while I freely admit to not knowing much about music, some of the singing seemed, ah, not great? I’ve always felt like I should I see the musical in theater at some point to see if the sheer spectacle can pull me in, but even if that was a possibility at present, I’m reluctant to part ways with that much money over a story that, traditionally, has made me wanna stab people every time they open their mouths.

Alas, I must inform you that even in the silent version, I still hate all these motherfuckers.

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Year of Monsters: Dracula

Dracula is one of the rare Universal classics I’ve actually seen before; it was many years ago, though, and at the time, I found the film rather boring. Watching it again, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, while the story is undeniably chaotic, I enjoyed Dracula quite a bit. There are multiple reasons for that, but the most strikingly obvious one is the fantastic score.

And if you’re thinking, Wait, I’ve seen that movie, and there IS no score . . . well, you’re right. Until the late 1990’s, at least.

Let’s get into it, shall we?

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Year of Monsters: Frankenstein

Unlike the other Universal films we’ve discussed so far, I’ve actually seen Frankenstein before. Read it before, too, although I’ll admit it’s been years since I’ve done either. I’ll also admit that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a serious struggle for me to get through. Some of the prose is fascinating and beautifully written, like, there are sections of it that have stuck with me for years, and I’d actually be interested in seeing a more faithful adaptation, but boy. There’s a limit on how much I can deal with a dude moaning about how wretched and cursed and doomed he is, and Victor Frankenstein easily surpasses that limit in the first fifty pages.

But that’s not this story. James Whale’s Frankenstein is a wildly different affair, and while it certainly has its moments, I think I enjoyed it more the first time I watched it.

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