October Horror Challenge: Day 21: “Friday the 13th”

Looking at Friday the 13th, it’s easy to see why the film was so controversial. Many feminist groups were so angered by these types of movies in the 1980’s. After all, aren’t these films merely an excuse to show a topless girl running through the woods waiting to get impaled on a killer’s “long blade”? The references to death and sex aren’t exactly subtle. As Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film states, many feminists were downright disgusted by Friday the 13th finding it repulsive and borderline offensive that every female in the film, with the exception of the “final girl” (which I will go into detail on later), is killed because of her sexual experience and independence. What kind of message does this send to the female youth of America? Stay subservient to your male partner and everything will end up being okay for you?

Does Friday the 13th add to the “media’s representation of women as passive, dependent on men, or objects of desire” as many feminist film critics have stated? Well, that is left up to debate. For example, a select group of feminists actually applauded this film and other slasher films like it. In fact, while most feminists theorists label the horror film as a “male-driven/male-centered genre”, feminist critics like Carol Clover pointed out that in most horror films, especially in horror films like the Friday the 13th series, the audience, male and female, is structurally ‘forced’ to identify with the “innovative and resourceful young female” (“the final girl” as described earlier) who survives the killer’s attack and usually ends the threat. She argues that “while the killer’s subjective point of view may be male within the narrative, even the male viewer is still rooting for the “final girl” to overcome the killer.”

Nonetheless, many key film critics disagreed with the argument that horror films like Friday the 13th are “pro-feminist.” In 1981, Roger Ebert, film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, launched a “famous diatribe against the subjective point-of-view killing mechanism” of the slasher film which, as he argued, “placed viewers in the position of ‘seeing as’ and, therefore, ‘identifying with’ the maniacal killers.” Nevertheless, many filmmakers and other critics disagreed with the “simplistic association of subjective point of view shooting with audience identification by believing in point-of-view cutting as a stronger way of achieving audience identification with a character.” If anything, it could be argued that this point-of-view shooting makes horror films forces the audience to identify with the female protagonist that much more. Or, as feminist critic Clover calls it, “masochistic rather than sadistic.”

Looking at Friday the 13th, it is not hard not to see why the criticisms were made. The film is poorly acted, poorly directed on a minimal budget with a core story that, at best, rips off the Halloween franchise frame by frame. However, this would be avoiding the very essence of why these horror films are so popular. People don’t go to Friday the 13th expecting a great, cinematic movie going experience; they are going to Friday the 13th to have fun. It can be argued that films like Friday the 13th are escapist entertainment at their very best. There is nothing fundamentally great about these films but that’s really the point. They are fun, they are scary (if, by today’s standards, cheesy and tame), and they are very entertaining.

The feminist critics that attack these films don’t seem to see the power these films contain. Here, in Friday the 13th, is a young woman who must put all the pieces of the mystery everything together and save her friends in order to survive the night. And survive she does, something that not a single other male does in the course of the film. In fact, looking at the series as a whole, it takes the franchise until Part 4 before it even allows a male to survive in the end. It should come as no surprise that this male is survived with a female who, once again, was forced to save the day on her own. Whereas in other film genres, such as romantic comedies and dramas, where females are pushed aside to “girlfriend support” roles, Friday the 13th tries to do something different with gender roles by making the males the “supportive partner” and forcing the young female teenager to go take charge and same the day. In essence, the female in this film, as in many other horror films, is the hero.

October Horror Challenge: Day 20: “Poltergeist III”

Every horror franchise has its black sheep of the family. For “Nightmare on Elm Street” it is “Freddy’s Revenge.” For “Friday the 13th” it is “A New Beginning.” For “Scream” it is “Scream 3”. For “Poltergeist” it is “Poltergeist III.” The amount of hate for this film could fill up ten novels. The film was both a critical and commercial failure upon release and even the cast and the crew seem ashamed to be a part of it. But, the real question is, does the film deserve the hate. Is “Poltergeist III” really the abomination the cinematic world would like us to believe it is? Maybe not…

“Poltergeist III” begins with young Carol Anne being sent to live with her Aunt and Uncle in an effort to hide her from the clutches of the villainous Reverend Kane. In typical horror movie logic, he tracks her down and terrorizes her in her relatives’ appartment in Chicago’s John Hancock Building. Filled with windows and mirrors and evil behind reflections, can Carol Anne save the day and finally be able to rid her life of Kane? Or will he finally achieve his target and capture Carol Anne again? It’s up to Carol Anne and her psychic pal Tangina to save the day.

“Poltergeist III” is, by all means, a film that I should hate. It’s a sequel with only two returning characters (Carol Ann and the ever reliable Tangina), it’s PG-13, and it’s supernatural. By all means, this should be on my worst list of horror sequels. Hell, that’s where most other horror fans would put it. But it’s a good film damnit and it’s a film that I will defend until the day I die. To be honest, I just don’t understand the hate for this film. The mirror effects are surprisingly effective and the film attempts to bring closure to the story (even though there are only two returning cast members, it is surprisingly faithful to the original two films). The film is just plain fun from beginning to end and what the film lacks in logic it more than makes up for in inventive special effects. Sadly, this is young Heather O’Rourke’s (Carol Anne) last film as she would pass away shortly after filming would commence. Sure they may say Carol Ann about a hundred times too many but it really just adds to the fun of the film. Have a few drinks and do a toast to Miss O’Rourke, one of the genre’s youngest scream queens that was taken far too soon.

For those of you who love this guilty pleasure as much as I do, make sure to check out the fantastic “Poltergeist III” website by Webmaster David Furtney. This site gives you everything that you want to know about the making of, history behind, and the controversy around the horror sequel.

October Horror Challenge: Day 19: “Red State”

On the way to school, Travis (Michael Angarano) notices members of the Five Points Church, led by Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) protesting the funeral of a local gay teenager who was found murdered. During Travis’ first class, his teacher talks about how Cooper and his church had their town ridiculed for his actions and beliefs. Later, Jared (Kyle Gallner), a friend of Travis, reveals he received an invitation from a woman he met on a sex site for group sex with himself, Travis and Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun). They borrow Travis’ parent’s car and travel out into the country to meet with the woman.

Along the way, they accidentally sideswipe the vehicle of Sheriff Wynan (Stephen Root), while he was engaged in a homosexual affair in his car. Afraid, the boys drive off. Sheriff Wynan returns to the station and tells his deputy Pete (Matt L. Jones) to go and look for the vehicle. Meanwhile, the boys arrive at the trailer of the woman who sent out the invitation, Sarah Cooper (Melissa Leo). She encourages them to drink, and after being drugged by the beer, they pass out while undressing. Jared wakes up while being moved in a covered cage. He realizes he is in the sanctuary at Five Points after he identifies Cooper. Cooper begins a long, hate-filled sermon before identifying another captive, a homosexual they lured in through an internet chat room. They bind him to a cross using saran wrap, violently execute him with a revolver and drop him into a small crawl space where Travis and Billy Ray are bound together.

Cooper then begins binding Jared to the cross, but stops when he notices Pete driving up to the church. Travis and Billy Ray use a protruding bone from the corpse to cut themselves free, which is heard by Caleb (Ralph Garman). He lifts up the trap door just in time to see Billy Ray escape and begins after him. Billy Ray is not able to help Travis out of his tight saran wrap cuffs and leaves him for dead. Caleb chases Billy Ray while passing Travis into a room stocked with weapons, where the two end up shooting and killing each other. Pete hears the gunshots and calls Wynan for back-up, but is shot and killed by Mordechai (James Parks). Cooper then blackmails Wynan, telling him to stay away or he will reveal Wynan’s homosexuality to his wife. In despair, Wynan calls ATF Agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman), who begins setting up outside of the church.

While the family mourn Caleb, Travis (who had broken free and feigned death alongside Billy Ray’s corpse) arms himself and makes a run for it, eventually making it outside where he is shot and killed by Wynan, who mistook him for a member of the congregation. Keenan tries to reason with the family but a shoot-out erupts instead after one Keenan’s men is shot in the head. In the midst of the shooting, Agent Keenan receives a call from ATF higher-ups ordering him to start a full raid of the complex to ensure that no witnesses remain of the operation, and no one can tell of their mess up. Another tactical agent named “Harry” (Kevin Alejandro) struggles with this decision and argues with Keenan in private against doing this. Keenan coldly dismisses Harry’s protests for personal reasons — rationalizing his decision based on personal gain and the reputation of the ATF — and Harry storms off in disgust. During the shoot-out, Cheyenne (Kerry Bishé) unbinds Jared, begging him to help her hide the children.

Jared coldly refuses due to the fact that the church is evil and had killed both his best friends, and the arguement turns into a fight. Sarah notices them and attacks Jared. Cheyenne tries to break up the fight and accidentally shoots Sarah in the process, killing her. Jared, realizing no matter what he does he will end up dead, helps Cheyenne hide the children. They run outside to plead with Keenan to spare the children but are brutally shot and murdered by Tactical Agent Harry, who has come around to accepting Keenan’s rationales, though Keenan is now visibly disturbed the reality of this outcome and Harry’s actions. The shoot-out is then suddenly interrupted when a mysterious loud trumpet ominously blast echos across the sky.

If “Red State” proves one thing it is that Kevin Smith is a much better writer than he is a director. In the comedy genre, direction only matters so much. If the jokes aren’t there, what can a director do? He can’t make “nothing” funny. In the horror genre, the role of the director is key. He is responsible for the scares, the pacing, the thrills, and the overall tone of the movie. “Red State” works as written but the film as directed is a bit of a mess. Far too many characters, a limp, lackluster editing, and too many “Kevin Smith type” characters. I kept thinking how a movie like this would be directed in the hands of a more accomplished filmmaker who could get a hold of the subject matter such as Rob Zombie. I appreciate the effort here and the performances are all uniformally good but it all adds up to very little.

Order “Red State” at Amazon: Red State [Blu-ray]

October Horror Challenge: Day 18: “Scream 3”

“Scream 3” for some reason has always been the black sheep of the “Scream” family. Maybe the fact that Kevin WIlliamson bowed out of writing early on left fans filled with dismay. Truth be told, it isn’t very scary and the comedy is played quite broadly as opposed to the satire so brilliantly constructed by the first two installment. But..the question remains…is “Scream 3” really THAT bad or is there some hidden gold behind its rough exterior.

The film begins with Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), by called by Ghostface (voiced by Roger L. Jackson) demanding the whereabouts of Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) who has gone into seclusion since the events of Scream 2. He refuses and both Cotton and his girlfriend Christine (Kelly Rutherford) are murdered. Detective Mark Kincaid (Patrick Dempsey) meets with Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) to discuss the murders prompting her to travel to Hollywood, where she finds Dewey Riley (David Arquette) working as an advisor on the set of “Stab 3”, the third film in the film within a film series based on the Ghostface murders.

After Ghostface kills “Stab 3” actress Sarah Darling (Jenny McCarthy) he begins taunting Sidney by phone, having discovered her phone number, forcing her out of hiding and drawing her to Hollywood. As the remaining “Stab 3” cast gather at the home of Jennifer Jolie (Parker Posey), Ghostface kills her bodyguard Steven Stone (Patrick Warburton) and uses a gas-leak to cause an explosion, killing fellow actor Tom Prinze (Matt Keeslar).

Dewey, Gale, Jennifer and the remaining “Stab 3” actors Angelina Tyler (Emily Mortimer) and Tyson Fox (Deon Richmond) attend a birthday party for the director Roman Bridger (Scott Foley) where Ghostface strikes. Roman, Angelina, Tyson and Jennifer are killed and Ghostface orders Sidney to the mansion to save Gale and Dewey’s lives.

“Scream 3” is the kind of movie that has a lot of great ideas mixed in with a few mediocre ideas. The film spends far too much time with Sidney away from the group, alone in the cabin. We want to see Sidney take on evil and put on a good fight. Something that doesn’t happen here until the final act. That being said, Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers has never been better. Given a bitter rival to play against, played by a deliciously witty Parker Posey, she shines in every single scene that she is given. Overall, I think “Scream 3” is a fun film. It may be the worst installment of the franchise but it is still a hell of a lot better than 90% of the horror that is released today.

October Horror Challenge: Day 16: “House of the Devil”

On first viewing The House of the Devil, I thought it was wonderfully retro and one of the best of the recent horror films. After multiple viewings, I’ve decided that this is one of the best horror movies ever made. It just has everything that makes the horror genre wonderful. House of the Devil is not just a nostalgia piece for director Ti West, one of the best horror directors working today, this is how horror movies SHOULD be made.

The film deterioration and cinematography take this already great premise to a whole new level. Extra long takes are intercut so perfectly that you literally lose yourself in the picture. The acting also ties in very well to the very realistic yet surreal backdrop. These college girls actually talk and feel like college girls. They don’t have monologues prepared and “witty” banter that can last for twenty minutes straight. The whole creepy factor lies in the family, who are just way to volatile and bizarre. However, the chill factor lives in the real world, making it even more effective.

I think this brings up a very good point about babysitters that was never really touched on in the 80s or even today. Sure, Halloween made people realize that suburbia isn’t as safe as it pretends to be, but this makes it scary to trust anyone. I just can’t give Ti West more praise for doing what he’s done here. Clearly he knows the genre inside and out. Every aspect of film making is flawless. I can’t wait to see what Ti West comes up with next.

October Horror Challenge: Day 15: “Killer Party” Review

Where do you start with a movie like “Killer Party”? Well we have three “gorgeous” babes going through hell night to join a sorority. A whole bunch of horny guys dump bees in the sorority’s back yard as a joke. Where, of course, a bunch of girls are naked in the outside hot tub during said bee attack. Their house mother gets talked into letting the girls have a hazing party in a forbidden frat house. When she goes there to make sure the place is safe, she first stops at a handy grave in the front yard to explain to ‘Allan’ why she’s letting the girls use the house (who ‘Allan’ is has not yet been explained). She tells him that it was all an accident and it’s time for him to just let it go. Allan doesn’t answer her, since he’s dead. Or is he? As she is nailing down a loose banister on the stairway, a mysterious figure appears before her, brandishing what looks like a tire iron, she turns, asks “What are you doing here?” and this person answers her by striking her dead.

Back at the sorority, the three pledges go through a hazing (and there are some very nice set pieces here, watch for ’em), and are accepted into the sorority. One of the pledges is really good at special effects and she is told that the only reason that she was accepted was that skill. IN fact they want her to stage a traditional April Fools party that the sorority is hosting for a fraternity. Twenty-two years ago, the boy in the grave (“Allan”) was killed at one of those parties by what everyone carefully refers to as an “accident.” The girls talk about strange disappearances while they begin to set up the old house for the party, and more strange things happen. Will the youngsters figure out what’s going on and who is doing it before they are all horribly killed?

“Killer Party” is grade-A 80’s cheese and I loved every minute of it. From the campy opening music video number to the pink hair and the big glasses, this film is a loving tribute to everything that was wrong about the 80’s. It’s just plain fun and a hell of a good time. That’s not that everything here works. The film goes from slasher to supernatural possession thriller about 2/3’s of the way through and it makes for an interesting ending that doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the film. Nonetheless, you could do a lot worse than this little slice of sleaze Heaven. The slasher gods shine down nicely on this one.

For all things “Killer Party” make sure to check out the ultimate fan site: http://www.killerpartythemovie.com/

October Horror Challenge: Day 14: “A Nightmare on Elm Street”

Wes Craven’s definitive classic. Bet you can’t guess what it is. A Nightmare on Elm Street is an unbelievably original, terrifingly realistic, and overall terrifying that, despite a weak ending, is one of the best horror flicks of the quarter of a century. The film deals with a deceased child molester who now lives only through the dreams of the children of those who burned him alive. Robert Englund is truly frightening as Freddy Krueger. Wes Craven delivers a surprising amount of tension that still holds up today.

Nancy is having nightmares about a frightening, badly-scarred figure who wears a glove with razor-sharp “finger knives”. She soon discovers that her friends are having similar dreams. When the kids begin to die, Nancy realizes that she must stay awake to survive. Uncovering the secret identity of the dream killer and his connection with the children of Elm Street, the girl plots to draw him out into the real world.

The film goes for suspense, drama, and gore and delivers for the most part. Heather Langenkamp gives a very solid performance as Nancy Thompson, the young woman is the “leader” among her friends and the only one who may get out alive. Forget about Jamie Lee Curtis’ whimpering performance in “Halloween”. Here Langenkamp is the real deal and she kicks ass. A great horror film that still delivers today. Look for a young Johnny Depp who, arguably, has the best death scene in the flick.

October Horror Challenge: Day 13: “Drag Me to Hell”

I will start this review off with one simple fact: I love Sam Raimi. I remember staying up late at night as a child watching the original “Evil Dead” through the corners of my fingers. It scared the hell out of me but, at the same time, there was something genuinely gratuitously amazing about the film. It was bold, bloody, filled with puss and maggots, and gore. It was incredible. If the nine year old me at the time could have married anything, it would have been The Evil Dead.

After the Evil Dead trilogy, Raimi pretty much stayed away from horror (not including the excellent and sorely underrated “The Gift”). That is until 2009 when Raimi splashed his way back into the scene with “Drag Me to Hell.” I’ll be the first to admit that I had no desire to see “Drag Me to Hell.” PG-13? Yawn. Ancient spirits? Double yawn. Justin Long? I think I’m falling asleep already. Little did I know what I had coming.

The plot is relatively simple. Determined to impress her boss and get a much-needed promotion at work, Christine Brown lays down the law when mysterious Mrs. Ganush literally comes begging for mercy at her feet. In retaliation for being publicly shamed, Mrs. Ganush places the dreaded curse of the Lamia on her unfortunate target, transforming Christine’s life into a waking nightmare. Her skeptical boyfriend, Clay, casually brushing off her disturbing encounters as mere coincidence, Christine attempts to escape eternal damnation by seeking out the aid of seer Rham Jas. But Christine’s time is fast running out, and unless she’s able to break the curse, she’ll be tormented by a demon for three days before literally being dragged to hell.

What follows is gore, gore, and more gore. How this film was granted a PG-13 I’ll never know. A waterfall of a nosebleed, gooey dentures, dancing goats, maggots…if you can imagine it, it’s here. The film works as a social satire (the death of the middle and lower classes) and as a horror/comedy (the ritual at the end has to be seen to be believed). The performances are top natch and the ending is quite ballsy in its conviction (you’ll see it coming a mile away but will be surprised they actually follow through on it). Overall though, if you love movies like “The Evil Dead”, “Army of Darkness”, or “Cabin Fever”, it’s a must watch. It is one of the best horror films of 2009.

Buy it here: Drag Me to Hell (Unrated Director’s Cut) [Blu-ray]

October Horror Challenge: Day 12: “Husk”

Scott (Devon Graye), Brian (Wes Chatham), Chris (CJ Thomason), Natalie (Tammin Sursok), and Johnny (Ben Easter), find themselves hunted by killer scarecrows motivated by the vengeful spirit. It seems that when any member of the group is killed, something possesses the dead body, forcing the corpse upstairs in one of the rooms to operate a sewing machine, creating a scarecrow mask. For instance, Johnny is missing after a flock of suicidal crows bombard the windshield of Chris’ SUV causing a serious crash. Brian and Scott are able to find the farmhouse by passing through the ominous maze of cornstalks, encountering the dead body of Johnny operating the sewing machine, nails in his fingers, eyes white and lifeless, yet some evil presence motivates his hands into sewing that scarecrow mask. Before long Natalie is taken next, with boyfriend Brian unable to accept her death, this unwillingness to let her go offering possible grave consequences. Chris is thinking about one thing—survival. Brian finds a Chevy truck he believes can crank, and Chris wants the three to leave immediately, yet Natalie’s memory will not fade. Meanwhile, the trio—Scott, Brian, and Chris—attempt to strategize on how to escape the cornfield and killer scarecrows.

Lame. For a killer scarecrow movie, “Husk” doesn’t get a lot of things right. Though the film is well acted and gorgeously shot, the story is a bore. It doesn’t know whether it wants to be a bloody slasher (killer scarecrows everywhere) or a supernatural tale (the brother who was killed and made into a scarecrow who now “haunts” the land). The characters are useless and the deaths aren’t nearly as interesting as they should be (though one impalement is pretty damn sweet). Overall, it isn’t a bad film just one with too much ambition. Maybe there are worse things after all.

Even Bad Movies Need a Little Love: “Best Worst Movie” Review

Before I go into my love for “Best Worst Movie”, I need to give some of you out there that are not familar with the cult of “Troll 2” a little background info. “Troll 2” was a 1990 horror film directed by Claudio Fragasso (under the pseudonym Drake Floyd) and starring Michael Stephenson, George Hardy, Margo Prey, Connie Young (here credited with her maiden name, Connie McFarland), Deborah Reed, and Jason Wright. Although produced under the title Goblins, United States distributors were skeptical about the film’s ability to succeed as a standalone picture and renamed it Troll 2 in an attempt to market it as a sequel to the 1986 Empire Pictures film Troll. The two films, however, have no connection, and no trolls are actually depicted in Troll 2.

The plot concerns a family pursued by vegetarian goblins who seek to transform them into plants so that they can eat them. The English-language script was written by Fragasso and his wife Rosella Drudi, neither of whom actually spoke any English at the time. Despite filming the movie in Utah, and casting the movie entirely with American actors (many of whom had no prior acting experience and had responded to the casting call hoping to be extras), Fragasso also employed an exclusively Italian crew, who likewise spoke no English. The resultant communication breakdown, coupled with the cast’s lack of experience and Fragasso’s insistence that his script be read verbatim, has led to the movie being considered one of the worst movies ever made.

Which all leads us to our movie of the day, the strangely poetic “Best Worst Movie”, a doc that revels in the notion of what is and is not considered a “bad” film. Probably the most heartfelt doc I’ve ever seen, “Best Worst Movie” examines the perspective of a “bad” movie from all angles. From the fans to the filmmakers to the cast, everyone talks about their experience. It’s a really sweet doc that I wasn’t expecting to find much weight behind but it’s one of the best experiences watching a movie that I’ve ever had in my life. Just because something is “bad” doesn’t mean it can’t or doesn’t deserve to be loved.