Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Movie Review #46: Friday the 13th - Part III (1982)

Directed by Steve Miner

The recent re-make of Friday the 13th this year made me want to watch all the Friday films over again in order. It has been years since I saw them, and tonight I popped in Part 3. Most horror fans will agree that the first 4 films are the only ones worth watching, and I couldn't agree more. The first 2 films are horror classics, and few realize that it wasn't until Part 3 that Jason puts on his infamous hockey mask. So I decided to start with this film for the purposes of this blog . . .

Part 3 starts off with a re-cap of the second film, which left off inside Jason's shack in the woods, home to his candlelit shrine with the decapitated head of his mother Mrs. Voorhees. Cut to a country store, where we hear a TV news station report on the Crystal Lake murders. The film starts off slow, with an old couple who become Jason's first victims during 15 minutes of useless footage -- an anti-climactic body count of 2 before the intro credits even roll. The film finally kicks off with a group of teens preparing for a camping trip (big surprise!). The couple who wants to have lots of sex in the woods, the annoying roommate, and two stoners -- the usual recipe for disaster. And in typical horror genre fashion, the group has an encounter with a crazy old bum carrying a human eyeball, who warns the kids that they are in danger. How come no one ever listens to the crazy old bum holding a body part? I guess then we wouldn't have a horror movie, would we?

Anyway, one of the main characters, Shelly (played by Larry Zerner), is a prankster who has a run-in with a local motorcycle gang in front of the general store, knocking over their bikes. The gang follows Shelly back to the lake house seeking revenge, and soon meet face to face with Jason (or should i say face to bag face - Jason is still sporting the potato sack and hasn't put on his mask yet) in broad daylight. Three of them are killed in the barn -- one gets a pitchfork to the face and is hung up by the neck; the other gets a pitchfork to the chest, and the third gets a few whacks to the face with a meat cleaver. The "bad guys" don't last very long in this film . . .

After cleaning up the bad apples, Jason moves on to our main characters. Surprisingly, the couple having sex aren't the first to go. One of the girls is found sitting on the dock dipping her feet in the lake, and Shelly emerges from the water in a hockey mask holding a spear gun. Jason soon acquires the mask and spear gun, which he uses to murder her in one of the best kill scenes of the film, firing the spear from a distance right through her skull. However, we never actually see him take the mask -- one minute he just emerges from the shadows wearing it. It's strange that there is no emphasis on Jason putting on the mask, which has since become a historic symbol of horror that everyone recognizes, and it should have been a crucial moment in the film.

One by one Jason takes out our main characters, leaving behind one girl, Chris (played by Dana Kimmell) to fight him off in the end. She gets a few good stabs at Jason, and his painful grunts are rather comical. And what do you do when you're trying to get away from Jason in a van and he reaches into the driver side window? You roll up the window of course! That oughtta stop him! The interaction between Jason and Chris during the final moments of the film are your standard horror movie chase scenes, poorly acted, drawn out too long, and adhere to the same format as the first 2 films (and pretty much every other horror film to follow). Remember kids, the killer is never really dead in the end, no matter what you do to him, even if you leave him hanging by the neck from the barn. But Part 3 is a good watch, and a critical part of the series where Jason gets his mask, a must-see for all horror fans. Also keep an eye out for the brief moment when Jason lifts his mask to reveal his mutated face, something that was left to the imagination at the end of Part 2 when Ginny pulled back the potato sack.

Important to note here is the use of 3-D technology which, at the time, was still very new (Part 3 was made in 1982).
However, it still must have been a treat for movie-goers during those days. The director is obviously testing the new concept in this film, wasting it on useless shots like a baseball bat coming off the screen but making good use of it when Jason fires the spear gun right at the audience. And again in one of my favorite scenes when Jason squeezes Rick's head until his eyeball pops out in all its 3-D glory. Hollywood has come a long way with the use of 3-D, and judging by the 60+ films being released in 3-D this year, the gimmick is back in full force.

PS. what's up with the funk soundtrack that Harry Manfredini wrote for this film? It sounds like Goblin making a porno . . .

Check out Friday the 13th Part III on IMDB over at:

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Movie Review #45: The Last House on the Left (2009)

Directed by Dennis Iliades / Produced by Wes Craven

The Big Toe Blog presents: the original vs. the remake

When I first saw the magazine ad in Fangoria for The Last House on the Left, I thought to myself "here we go again -- another remake of a genre classic that people will probably hate." Truth is, I never really liked the 1971 original in the first place. I popped it into my DVD player about 10 years ago with high hopes, as a Wes Craven fan well-aware of all the hype surrounding it.
I found myself wishing I was watching I Spit On Your Grave (1978) instead, one of the better rape & revenge films out there, that followed the Last House formula but carried out the same concept with flying blood-red colors. I found the soundtrack to the original to be distracting (i.e. during the rape scenes there is a ballad playing?!) and at times very out of place. Known for its stark contrast to the picture's action, the music is the main source of weakness in the film. Unfortunately, I easily dismissed the original Last House film, feeling rather indifferent towards it, so the unveiling of a remake was actually quite appealing to me because I always felt the story had great potential . . .

In a nutshell, the remake is exactly what the original
could have been, with a bigger budget of course, and had it been created after 30 years of learnings in the genre. At one point, Wes Craven himself (who also produced the remake) mentions in the special features that the remake is what the original film should have been. Rumor has it that the 1971 script was written to be a hardcore, violent horror film, but was scaled back when it went into production. First off, the 2009 version is MUCH gorier and makes full use of modern special effects make-up (obviously) -- after all, it seems you can't sell a movie these days without these 2 things. The power of the film is in the way the viewer actually feels the pain on screen, something that was so obviously missing from the original. The 1971 actors just seemed to be going through the motions, which bored me; within a simple forest backdrop, laced with irrelevant music throughout, much of the genuine emotion that makes a film memorable is completely lost. The intensity of emotion and terrifying possibility of reality is where the remake prevails.

There are a few scenes in the 2009 version where I found myself literally cringing and hanging off the edge of my seat, especially when Uncle Frank (played by Aaron Paul, also a convincing drug addict in
one of my favorite shows, Breaking Bad on AMC) takes a hammer to the head while his arm is being shredded in the kitchen sink's garbage disposal. It is such a brutal scene, during which the parents of the rape victim (young 17-year old Mari Collingwood, played by Sara Paxton) come to terms with their ability to be violent, setting off a night of carnage that blows the original out of the water. You feel the pain of the parents, you sympathize with Mari, you really want revenge for the family, more so than you ever did. It is a perfect revenge film, brilliantly executed with more tension than a 400-pound woman laying in a hammock. However, critic's reviews were less than favorable as usual. As long as you're not watching the film through a microscope and just experiencing it on the surface for what it is, I'm sure any horror fan will enjoy the gratuitous violence and non-stop brutality. And if you still don't want to take my word for it, just skip ahead to the final scene . . . TV dinner anyone?

Lastly (no pun intended), the only thing about the original that I'm still somewhat attached to is the promo poster (pictured below). The words "It rests on 13 acres of earth over the very center of hell . . ." are promising but imply a "haunted house" film of sorts, which is completely misleading. And the slogan "To avoid fainting, keep repeating: it's only a movie, it's only a movie . . . " is sheer movie marketing genius!
The Last House on the Left is a perfect example of why us horror fans should give remakes a chance -- and if you still like the original better, it will always be there for you. I think too many movie-goers (especially horror fanatics) feel like remakes take away from the luster of the original, which couldn't be further from the truth . . .

Original poster for the 1971 film

Would you let this gang of riff-raff into your house on a dark & stormy night?
The "bad guys" of the 2009 Last House remake in one of the most popular shots from the film.

Check out The Last House on the Left 2009 film at: