Friday the 13th (1980) Review

Friday the 13th will forever be notable for it’s popularization of the slasher genre and kicking off the 80s slasher boom. The Friday franchise was Paramount’s dirty little secret, bringing in more money on an annual basis then any of their other features. Despite the lashing that it got from critics, Friday the 13th isn’t that bad of a movie. It follows the now cliché structure of a group of camp counselors getting picked off one by one at Camp Crystal Lake, which has a history of tragic events including the drowning of the young Jason Voorhees. As the body count rises, the final survivor discovers who the killer is and has to fight her to survive. Friday the 13th is a great movie thanks to its likeable characters, good pacing, and moderation of kills and scares.

As the slasher genre progressed, more and more emphasis was placed on the killer and less on the victims, at first leading to clichéd characters and eventually leading to every slasher starring obnoxious pieces of shit that you desperately want killed so you don’t have to spend more time with them. However, thinking back to the greats (For example Friday the 13th, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream) they have likeable leads or, at the very least, leads you don’t hate. Friday’s leads are generally likeably people, even if they’re a little bland. They’re certainly not clichés, having their own personalities to them, but because we don’t spend enough time with them to know what they’re like, they come off as bland. The acting is… fair, certainly not as bad as some of its successors, but nothing outstanding. Kevin Bacon makes an early career appearance, but he’s got so few lines that you barely notice. The standout performance definitely goes to Jason’s mother, played by Betsy Palmer. She seems to be not only a caring mother, but also a fucking schizophrenic and that’s tricky to pull off.

Since Friday the 13th took up the task of actually getting you to like its protagonists, it ran the risk of getting quite boring. In spite of this, it managed to pace itself quite well. The movie kicks off with a good introduction and then from there does an even better job of throwing in occasional kills or teen antics to keep you interested. It’s never boring, even if it doesn’t grab your interest like some of its successors do. The build-up to the climax takes up a solid chunk of the movie, with neither too much nor too little time in-between the kills. The only real problem the film has pacing wise is that the climax is too long. The fight with Mrs. Voorhees has many different confrontations to it, and there are overly long parts in-between where it’s just the two looking for each other which frankly isn’t that interesting to watch. That being said, all that waiting is worth it for the final kill and scare, which are easily the most memorable parts of the movie.

Speaking of kills and scares, the murders in this movie are… not as gory as you may think. There certainly a good amount of sharp object to head action, but there’s also plenty of kills where we don’t actually see anything. This kind of balance allows for the gore to be effective and for us to remain sensitive. The gore effects are pretty good, but there is such thing as too much of a good thing and this film makes sure not to cross that line. It certainly is an interesting contrast to the later entries, which no longer have the backbone of a mystery to support them and instead concentrate on upping the ante with the kills.

I saw this film, in honor of Friday the 13th, on VHS and I’m glad I did. While some may prefer to get this movie on blue-ray to maximize visual splendor, I prefer the grit and fuzziness that VHS has to offer. It really lends to the tone of the movie and it’s almost like being transported back to the 80s when people were first getting scared by this film. The darkness and dullness of the image actually made the gore effects better, since they blended with the actors more. Seeing the 1080p version of this movie, you can notice a difference, but on VHS it honestly looks like Kevin Bacon’s getting an arrow pushed through his neck.

Should you watch Friday the 13th? Of course you should! It’s cliché, yes. But only because it created the clichés. Is it full of plot holes? Yes, but you’ll be having too much fun to notice. Despite its flaws, Friday the 13th is a film worth watching, not just for horror fans, but for anyone who wants to watch a darker film. It won’t scare you to death, but it still has some effective moments for you to enjoy. For what it is, Friday the 13th is a great movie and one that will surely continue to stand the test of time.

Chain Letter (2010) Review

A maniac murders teens when they refuse to forward chain

In an attempt to come up with a horror movie that would actually scare this generation, I stumbled across the concept of using our technology against us. The idea of being hounded or even abandoned by this crutch of life would, if played right, make for some good scares or at least a thought provoking story. Deon Taylor, director of Chain Letter, has taken this concept and twisted into an old man’s rant at teens for their “new-fangled technobizzy” then proceeded to shit all over it and smash it to a pulp not unlike how I want this film to look after I get my hands on it. Chain Letter is a poorly made, mean-spirited mess of a movie that fails to live up to its pretentious message.

Now for being a 2010 low budget horror film called Chain Letter one should not expect the acting to be good or the characters developed. And believe me, expectations are met, however one would expect that the teenagers would look less like they were fresh out of college and more like they are oh… I don’t know… high school students! The accentuated racks on these “girls” are only rivaled by those in High School of the Dead and the men have facial hair that should be in an Old Spice commercial. The characters are… big shocker… fucking obnoxious! It’s that annoying cliché that has continued to survive through this decade where we refuse to develop people we actually care about and rather have targets that we can enjoy seeing getting slaughtered. The writers and directors always seem to forget that we have to spend a whole movie with these people, and the best they can offer in compensation is someone so bland they leave no impression at all, rather then a bad one. The movie is adequately made, but its more artistic flairs are all annoying. The overuse of chains. The overly long title sequence. That’s used twice. Seizure inducing cutaways that in a TV show would signal a commercial break. Special effects that awkwardly alternate between goofy and grotesque. These continually failed attempts to be stylistic end up getting no more of a reaction then a raised eyebrow and a disgruntled sigh.

Where this film ultimately and truly fails is the writing, both in the plotting and its message. Taylor seems to be using the anti-technology motivations of the killer not to satirically promote technology or provide a cautionary tale, but rather as a scorning of the current generation for being so arrogant. This mean-spiritedness, whether it was intended or not, is interwoven throughout and as a member of that generation I was taken out of the movie by it. I don’t needed to be ranted at that I’ve lost so much privacy and that I’m trusting the internet too much and that I can be tracked with my phone and that every bit of personal data could be stolen by a hacker. I’m aware of the consequences of my actions on the internet and a good chunk of my generation are too. Don’t get me wrong there are still plenty of people who act like complete assholes on the internet or bully or what-have-you, but they at least know that hey, I could get hacked. The idiocy of all the characters that “abuse” technology and the outstanding cleverness of those who don’t (yet do since they use it to start the chain letter) is a marked indicator of this, but odds are I’m just reading too much into amateur writing.

I dislike my generation, but to see us represented by a director who has no idea how teenagers act is weirdly insulting. The concept of a video game lounge, studying at an arcade and two girls calling each other “slut” and “bitch” are all the exceptions, not the rule when it comes to any generation, not just ours. We’re not all spoiled rich kids, and for someone who “is up to date on the state of technology” you would think that he would notice that it’s actually the opposite with the state of the economy. If it weren’t for these grandiose claims about technology and generalizations that are made, I wouldn’t care about any of this stuff but, like plot holes, you notice these things when the movie can’t get you to be immersed in it. In fact the very premise of how the killer operates seems nonsensical, after all how is it that those who blindly follow technology and just forward chain mail are those worthy to live? And as for surviving the email, why wouldn’t you just forward the chain mail to people in a foreign country? The killer’s not there now is he? But nooooo that would be far too much logic for these idiotic characters and this idiotic movie.

Chain Letter is not worth your time, unless you feel like being condescended to by a toddler. The pretentiousness required by a filmmaker to put a Nietzsche quote before their low budget email slasher movie is ridiculous. The plot is inadequate, requiring complete stupidity from characters to push it along. Luckily there’s a large supply of that thanks to the either boring or obnoxious over-age cast. The message is convoluted, exploiting serious issues in today’s society just so it can shit all over them. Don’t watch this, and don’t let your friends watch this, it’s not even riffable and for a slasher film, that’s saying a lot.

Psycho (1998) review

A young female embezzeler arrives at the Bates Motel which has terrible secrets of its own

The 1960 Hitchcock film Psycho is renowned for being one of the best horror films of all time. It’s a truly unique entry into cinema that stands out especially when compared to the dull remakes we’re bombarded with these days. However, remakes of films often times get passed off as shit before they’re even given a chance, purely based on the loyalty of the audience to the original. The bigger the fanbase, the more the remake gets torn apart. Which means that 1998’s Psycho had no chance in hell of getting very many good reviews. Often times any changes or artistic liberties that the director takes in these movies are reprimanded by hundreds of screaming fanboys saying that he/she pissed all over the original. We don’t like things different, but isn’t that the point of a remake? To offer a new perspective or different version of a classic story and its characters. Luckily/Unluckily 1998’s Psycho takes very few liberties, mainly because it’s a shot for shot, line for line remake, but without the tension, power, or style of the original. It’s a fascinating example that serves as a martyr for directors who like to shake things up in remakes.

Psycho (1998) and Psycho (1960) share 90% of their shots, 90% of their writing and about 30% of their quality. To see why the copy and paste format doesn’t work, one merely needs to watch about 30 seconds past the identical opening credits. The film steals the Re-animator music, I mean reuses the old Psycho score and opens on a beautiful helicopter shot of Pheonix, Arizona. What’s not beautiful is the awkward feeling you get looking at 1990s Pheonix, and more specifically a 1990s movie, while listening to the overdramatic 60s score. The entire movie mashes together 60s and 90s filmmaking, but instead of creating a retro experience creates an awkward clusterfuck. You can’t use a 90s camera and use 60s cinematography. Sure it works fine a good chunk of the time, but Hitchcock’s more iconic and stylistic shots are so foreign in 90s cinema that it’s hard to look at. It’s not helped by the gaudy lighting, which is far too bright and glowy, not using shadows at all. There should be some forgiveness since this is filmed in color and even in the 90s lighting specialists who knew how to light Black and White style were rare, however this film doesn’t even try, instead going for an overly contrasted light scale that doesn’t end up creating dark shadows, but just creates bathrooms that look like the gateway to heaven.

Another of the major 60s/90s conflicts that dominate this movie involves the acting. The dialogue is almost entirely copied from the original, with only a few 90s twists to replace the 60s would-be-anachronisms. The actors struggle monumentally with this dialogue, often times delivering flat performances. It’s clear the director is trying to go for the 60s acting style, but none of these actors were trained that way and can’t pull it off. What we’re left with is a weird mix of hamming to the camera and bland performances. There is also a lot of miscasting in this movie, but the most blatant of them is Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates. Vince Vaughn is not the guy for this role. He’s a funny, outgoing guy and completely without any of the neuroses that Anthony Perkins had and brought to the role. He isn’t even physically built for the character, being far too bulky. When Norman showed up in the original he completely stole the movie and it wasn’t until he left the screen that the audience realized that the whole stealing plot was a thing. Vaughn has none of this power, instead leaving you bored and confused by what he’s trying to do. Instead of portraying Norman Bates he’s portraying Anthony Perkins portraying Norman Bates, but to be fair everyone in this movie copies their predecessor and all of them fail miserably.

There’s not much left to say about this film, mainly because it doesn’t have much to it. I’ve been harsher on this movie then others because it’s almost completely void of creativity. Sure it has its own moments, but everything it adds is superfluous garbage, failing to bring anything to the movie. The last thing I needed was to hear Vince Vaughn jerk off and I most certainly did not need to have random artistic images thrown at my face, especially if Hitchcock didn’t think it pertinent. It’s not worth anyone’s time. Anyone who has seen Psycho (1960) has already seen this movie and anyone who hasn’t would be a thousand times better off watching the original since this one can only taint your enjoyment of that.