Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Vampires vs. Minotaurs: WTF!

I'm a big fan of HBO's newest series, True Blood. It has just the right mix of strong writing, acting, and depraved sleaziness that makes HBO series so much better than anything else on TV. I've gotten accustomed to a series about vampires, shape-shifters, and psychic southern belles. But the most recent episode threw me for a loop when Sookie, the main character, was attacked by a freakin' minotaur. Even by the standards of this show, it was pretty fucking weird.

I haven't read any of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, so I have no idea how weird this show is going to get. Hopefully, we'll get to see Sookie fighting a griffon while riding a unicorn in season 3.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

It's been confirmed: Maryland is evil

I just finished playing Point Lookout, the new DLC for Fallout 3. Set in a post-apocalyptic version of the actual Point Lookout State Park in Maryland, the DLC sends your character on a main quest involving a missing girl and a crazy fruit-worshipping tribe. There are also about five side quests, including a hilarious one involving a failed Chinese spy mission. Story-wise, this has nowhere near the epic feel of the last DLC, Broken Steel, but it does compare favorably to Operation: Anchorage or The Pitt.

Point Lookout is fairly big, and there's a lot to do and explore besides the main quest. Along with some familiar adversaries, the primary new enemies in the map are the Swampfolk, who look like mutated hillbillies. They're quite scary-looking and reasonably tough. There are also, as usual, several new weapons, including the axe, lever-action rifle, double-barreled shotgun, bio-canister grenades, and the microwave gun.

If you have 800 Microsoft points burning a hole in your digital wallet, this is worth playing. At the very least, it'll provide a Fallout fix until Mothership Zeta comes out.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Iran: Everyone has an opinion...

So the current debate is whether or not Obama should "get tough" with Iran. I'm not a fan of sabre-rattling for the sake of appearances, and I doubt making threatening statements toward the Iranian regime is going to help the protesters in any practical way. Daniel Larison of the "American Conservative" makes the most compelling argument I've read for why the President should just keep his trap shut. Read the editorial here.

To his credit, Obama has, so far, limited his statements to generic condemnations of violence directed against protesters and his "concern" over the election results.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Friday the 13th: now with one more dimension!

How does a filmmaker go about distinguishing a sequel from its predecessor? Theoretically, you could try to write a better, more sophisticated story that challenges your audience and defies all expectations. Or you could not be a total douche, and just film the thing in 3D . So it was with Friday the 13th Part 3, the next film in the slasher franchise that I plan to blog through. Sadly, I don't have the 3D version, so I'll have to settle for a measly 2 dimensions. As always, I'll include minute marks with my comments for anyone who plans to watch the movies on their own.

Friday the 13th Part 3
Directed by Steve Miner
3-D Supervisor: Martin Jay Sadoff

Prologue: Once again, a Friday the 13th movie recaps the final climactic minutes from the previous installment. The producers must believe that the audience is too stoned to remember anything without visual aids. Given the target demographic for these flicks, that's probably a fair assumption. So the heroine of the previous movie dresses up like Jason's dead mom and drives a machete through his left shoulder. Of course, Jason doesn't die. The funkiest music of 1982 starts playing as the credits zoom toward the viewer ... in 3D! (6:00)

The movie opens on a road-side market near Crystal Lake, run by a delightfully white trash couple. The husband sticks a pole toward the camera for no apparent reason, the first of many gratuitous 3D shots that I won't be able to enjoy because Paramount DVD is run by cheap bastards. A news broadcast discusses the murders of last night, which means that this movie takes place on Saturday the 14th. Not quite as ominous as Friday the 13th. On the other hand, why shouldn't Jason kill over the weekend? Anyway, the white trash husband gets attacked by a snake (in another gratuitous 3D shot in less than 3 minutes!) and then Jason drives a cleaver into his chest. White trash wife, who has a dozen curlers in her hair, so you know for sure she's white trash royalty, gets a knitting needle jammed into the back of her head. Not bad movie, two kills in the first fifteen minutes. (16:25)

Improbably attractive teens drive down a suburban road in a Dodge Ram van, a.k.a. the pedo-van. The driver is Chris, the heroine of the movie. Next to Chris is her attractive friend Debbie and Debbie's boyfriend, Andy. We learn that Chris and her friends are heading down to her lakehouse (guess which lake!) and that Chris was attacked there a few years earlier. Because she's crazy, Chris wants to go unwind in the place where she was attacked. We're also introduced to Shelley, the fat one. He's also the "funny" one, in that he thinks it's funny to stab his friend in the back with a fake knife. We also meet Vera, an extremely attractive girl who's Shelley's date, though I'm guessing nobody mentioned this to Vera. Finally, we meet Chuck and Chili, two glorious stoner stereotypes. (18:45)

The pedo-van heads down a country road. We learn that Debbie is pregnant. I'm sure the filmmakers will spare the pregnant chick, right? And in the best use of 3D ever, Chuck passes a joint to Andy, but it's filmed so that Chuck is passing it to the viewer ... in 3D! (21:20)

In my last post, I expressed surprise that they killed off Crazy Ralph, the resident crackpot who ineffectually warns the teens to stay away from Crystal Lake. The filmmakers seem to have realized how essential a character Ralph was, because they've replaced him with Abel, another drunk that the kids almost run over because he fell asleep in the middle of the road. Abel thanks the kids for not killing him by showing them an eyeball he found (clearly one of Jason's previous kills). He thrust the eyeball out toward the camera ... in 3D! He warns the kids not to go to Crystal Lake, but they ignore him because if they listened to him the movie would suck. (22:20)

So Chris's lakehouse is in a place called Higgins Haven. The pedo-van has to cross a rickety bridge to get there, which I'm sure won't cause them trouble later. When Chris walks into the house to check around, she gets surprised by her sort-of boyfriend, Rick. Chris is nervous because of the previous attack, and Rick is horny because, well, this is Friday the 13th. But Rick made the mistake of falling for the virginal heroine, so the poor bastard isn't getting any. We head outside and Chris runs into Shelley, who's missing out on some skinny dipping because he's embarrassed about his weight. Crass attempts at sympathy aren't gonna save you, Shelley. (26:20)

Rick and Chris flirt while they bail hay in the barn. Is it bailing whey they load hay in the upper area (I don't know barn terminology)? Ladies and gay lads take note, Rick is shirtless for the entire scene. Let it never be said that Friday the 13th only exploits women (just mostly). Their flirting is interrupted by a scream from the house, and Chris finds Shelley with a hatchet in his head. Except it's fake, because Shelley is an immature ass. Vera decides to head to town for a bit, and despite Shelley's general suckiness, she agrees to take him with her. (30:10)

Shelley and Vera are at a store where they're harrassed by a gang. Not a real gang mind you, but one of those multi-ethnic movie gangs that use chains rather than guns. Can you dig it? So jackass Shelley digs himself in deeper by accidentally backing over their motorbikes, and they attack his crappy VW Beetle with chains. CHAINS! Shelley mans up briefly and runs over their bikes again. What will the consequences be? (34:15)

3D yo-yo! Rick, who's slightly peeved that Shelley got his car fucked up, heads off with Chris to cool off somewhere. More importantly, Jason is hiding in their barn. Then the biker gang shows up and siphons the gas from the pedo-van (it's like Fate wants these kids to die!). So the female biker goes into the barn and gets pitchforked by Jason. Then the white biker goes looking for her, and he gets pitchforked too! It'd be great if Jason just had an endless supply of pitchforks, but when the last biker goes looking for his homies, he gets clubbed with a piece of wood. So the gang was introduced solely to inflate the body count? I approve. (43:45)

3D juggling! That confirms it. I'll have to get the damn 3D version on Blu-Ray. Andy and Debbie go upstairs to do it, but poor Shelley gets shot down by Vera. We cut to Chris, who tells Rick about the infamous attack two years ago: apparently Jason attacked her while she was wandering around in the woods. Chris doesn't explain how she got away or why Jason didn't kill her. I guess it wasn't Friday the 13th. Dumbass Rick left his carlights on, and now the battery is dead. Rick and Chris have to walk back to the lakehouse. (52:10)

Chuck the stoner heads out to the outhouse to take a dump and get high at the same time. He's a multitasker, that one. When he's done, he runs into Chili and they go off to get stoned somewhere. Vera hangs out on a dock on Crystal Lake until Shelley, dumbass that he is, scares her with his harpoon gun(?) and hockey mask. Yup, Shelley is responsible for giving Jason his iconic look. Vera yells at him, and Shelley wanders off to feel sorry for himself. He sees something in the barn and goes to investigate. Meanwhile, Vera is going thru Shelley's wallet (he gave it to her in the store) but then drops it in the lake. As she wades into the lake to pick it up, a familiar figure with a hockey mask walks out onto the dock. Jason has Shelley' harpoon gun, and fires a harpoon right into Vera's eye! In 3D! Jason keeps it hardcore. (1:00:30)

Debbie and Andy are post-coital, so of course they have to die. Debbie goes to take a shower, but sadly, it's rather light on T&A. Andy starts walking around on his hands, because it will make his death all the better. Jason agrees with me, and cuts Andy balls-to-torso with a machete. Debbie finishes with her shower, and goes to lay back down. In classic Friday formula, she notices drops of blood and looks up to see her boyfriend cut in half and stuffed on the support beam above. It's pretty damn gory. Jason, who takes after his mom, is hiding beneath her bed and shoves a knife through her. So the filmmakers were nasty enough to kill the pregnant girl. Good for them! (1:05:10)

Chuck and Chili are hanging out downstairs, cooking popcorn ... in 3D! The power goes out, and Chuck goes to investigate alone. Come on, Chuck! It's the oldest trick in the book! Chili hears some noises and finds Shelley with a cut throat. Chili naturally thinks that Shelley is faking, except this time, he ain't. Shelley never read "The Boy Who Cried Slasher." Meanwhile, Jason deals with the electricity problem by throwing Chuck into the fuse box, which naturally explodes into a shower of sparks. Chili finally figures out that something's wrong, and starts freaking out when she realizes that Shelley is really dead. Jason, being extra nasty, stabs her with a red hot poker. That's what you get for smoking pot! (1:09:25)

Rick and Chris arrive back, and quickly figure out that something is wrong. Rick goes outside to investigate but is ambushed by Jason. Jason then squeezes his head until his left eye explodes out ... in 3D! If this movie isn't the perfect advertisement for 3D filmmaking, I don't know what is. (1:12:10)

And now the official Chase of the Final Girl begins. Chris goes upstairs to investigate and finds some bloody clothes in the bathtub. Jason is apparently a very clean killer. When she goes outside, one of the dead bikers almost falls on her. She runs back into the house, and starts locking windows. What Chris doesn't yet realize is that Jason opens windows by throwing dead boyfriends through them. Once Jason educates her on that, Chris runs upstairs. Just as Jason is about to follow she drops a bookcase on him. I feel sorry for the stuntman, since some of those books look pretty big. And their hardcovers. Jason follows her upstairs, where Chris has locked herself in a closet with the corpse of Debbie. Jason starts hacking through the door with an axe, but Chris notices that Jason left a knife in Debbie. Jason's gonna regret being too lazy to take the knife out, because Chris stabs his hand and then his leg. Chris escapes out a second floor window and then clobbers Jason with a log when he runs outside. She then runs to the pedo-van. (1:18:50)

Chris revs the van and almost runs over Jason, but when she reaches the rickety bridge the van stalls out. Of course, it's out of gas because the biker gang siphoned it. Then the van starts sinking through the crappy bridge, and Jason shows next to the van and grabs her throat. Awesomely, she traps Jason by cranking up the window. If she had power windows, she would have died. As Chris escapes through the passenger door, Jason face-butts the window, proving the hockey mask is as functional as it is cool. (1:20:30)

Chris hides in the barn and Jason follows her in, barring the door so she can't sneak out. Chris has climbed onto the rafters, and pulls a Splinter Cell move when she drops straight down on Jason's head. But she can't get out, so she climbs up to the loft. When Jason follows her she clobbers him again with a shovel. Then she wraps a rope connected to a pulley around his neck and throws him out this big opening on the second floor of the barn (is there a name for those things?). Jason is hung right outside the barn door. Chris is pretty damn capable, I gotta say. But Jason ain't dead, and he pulls the rope off from around his neck and in the process briefly removes his mask. Chris sees his ugly-ass face and realizes that Jason was the one who attacked her two years ago. Now she's pretty much a hysterical mess, and Jason's finally got her ... but wait! The biker that Jason clubbed isn't dead and he attacks Jason from behind. But Jason ain't fooling around anymore, and he cuts the guys hand off with a machete. Then he chops the guy up, but Chris takes the opportunity to grab an axe and bury it into Jason's head. Jason shambles toward her like Frankenstein's monster, but he finally collapses with the axe still sticking out of his head ... in 3D! (1:27:00)

And now the part where the film cannabilizes it's predecessors. Chris rows onto the lake in a canoe and falls asleep. When she wakes up, she sees Jason's ugly mug in a second floor window of the lakehouse. As she tries to row away, the rotten corpse of Mrs. Voorhees jumps out of the lake and drags her under. Of course, it's just a dream, and Chris is okay. Well, not entirely okay. As the police take her away, it's pretty obvious that Chris has gone completely insane. Jason's body is still lying on the floor of the barn. And we're out! (1:32:00)

Part 2 may have defined the franchise, but Part 3 is just a lot more fun. The filmmakers seem to have grasped that they're really only making a horror film in theory; in practice, Jason is the hero, and the audience takes sadistic pleasure whenever he gruesomely kills someone. While many people feel uncomfortable admitting it, this sadism has a powerful appeal. There are few things as genuinely satisfying as seeing obnoxious people get killed off in gory ways. Stoners, nerds, jocks, hippies, bikers, rednecks, yuppies, anyone and everyone who's ever pissed you off. Jason will kill them.

The lasting appeal of the Friday franchise is partly due to this viewer participation in framing the story. Even while Jason has evolved into an anti-hero, the franchise remain resolutely commited to the formula of B horror movies. They still have all the cheap scares, and the viewer is still expected to feel for the Final Girl. As long as the filmmakers pretend that Jason is the villain, the viewers get to secretly root for him. This conflict between the "intended" story and the "real" story that viewers create gives the franchise an interactive, as well as subversive, appeal.

As for the 3D elements, it's hard to say much without having experienced them in 3D. There are quite a few goofy scenes that exploit the 3D concept in ways that must have delighted the original audiences.

Next up, Part 4: The Final Chapter (not really).

Monday, June 8, 2009

Friday the 13th: this time with more Jason

My real-time blogging of the Friday the 13th franchise continues with Part 2, the first appearance of Jason Voorhees (excluding dream sequences). As before, I'll include minute marks for my comments. Spoilers below...

Friday the 13th Part II
Directed by Steve Miner

Prologue: the film starts with a mysterious figure approaching the home of Alice, the Final Girl of Friday the 13th. Alice has a nightmare that conveniently recaps the last act of the film, including the backstory on Jason (he drowned) and the beheading of crazy, old Pamela Voorhees. Is everyone caught up? Alice wakes up and putzes around her house for a LONG time. The director does a decent job of building up some tension, and then pulls the classic "cat jumping out from nowhere" gag. Just when the audience starts to relax, Alice opens the door to her fridge and finds Mrs. Voorhees's severed head! The mysterious figure (obviously Jason) then jams an ice pick into Alice's head. Now that's how you start a horror sequel. (12:00)

Five years later: A couple of teens arrive in the small town near Crystal Lake, and we get the first product placement of the movie (I don't give out brand names unless I get a cut). They're being watched by the good ole Crazy Ralph, who appeared in the last movie. And he's still riding a girl's bike! The guy, Jeff, wears a newsie cap, which is why he has to die. His girlfriend, Sandra, has a fantastic rack. While Jeff is using a pay phone, his truck gets towed away. Jeff chases after the tow truck for a few blocks until he runs into his friend, Ted, who hired the tow truck as a prank. Ted is, without a doubt, the biggest dork to ever appear in the Friday franchise. He looks like a cast member of Revenge of the Nerds. (16:45)

So the teens are all camp counselors at another summer camp on Crystal Lake. I'm not a parent, but I think I'd be reluctant to send my kid to any camp that was within walking distance of a place called Camp Blood. On the other hand, maybe the rates are cheap? The viewers are introduced to Paul, the head counselor, who looks like he walked straight out of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog. And then there's the counselor in the wheelchair, Mark, and the girl who has a crush on him, Vicki. Then we meet Terri, who's a knockout, and her little dog Muffin. Lastly, we meet Scott, who looks like a male model. He demonstrates his affection for Terri by shooting her in the ass with a slingshot. Paul gives a tedious speech to the other counselors that's interrupted by the arrival of our heroine, Ginny, who drives a beat-up Beetle. We learn that Ginny is studying to be a child psychologist. (24:20)

Ghost story time! Paul tells the story of Jason: he didn't actually drown in Crystal Lake, but has roamed the woods as a wildman for decades. He witnessed the decapitation of his mother, and took his revenge on Alice. Of course, Paul doesn't believe a word of it, and it's all just setup for Ted to scare everyone while dressed as a caveman. Apparently Ted is a method actor, because he brought a real spear. (27:00)

Later in the evening, Ralph is sneaking around the camp, and starts peeping on Ginny and Paul as they make out. Jason sneaks up behind Ralph and strangles him with barbed wire! That kill surprised me. You'd never think a character like Ralph would get killed: who else is going to ineffectually warn teens to stay away from Crystal Lake? (31:50)

Next morning we get some boring scenes with the counselors, and a few POV shots to establish that Jason is stalking them. Sandra and Jeff head off to Camp Blood to do some sight-seeing. That doesn't sound like a good idea, but who cares, because Sandra is wearing a bikini top. The two idiots don't get very far before they stumble upon the mangled remains of Terri's formerly cute dog. I guess Jason isn't a dog lover. A chubby cop then shows up out of nowhere and chases the kids away. (39:30)

As the cop drives away from the camp (he's driving a Pontiac, but I don't recognize the model. It's an ugly POS though) he sees Jason dart across the road. Rather than drive on like a sane person, the cop chases Jason through the woods. Jason never runs, of course, but he has no problem staying way ahead of Officer Tubby, who probably wishes he'd laid off the donuts. Eventually, the cop arrives at a freaky-looking shack in the middle of the woods and goes inside. He sees something in a back room that startles him, and just then Jason drives a hammer claw into his head. This movie needs to pick up the pace: we're nearly halfway done and there's been only three kills so far. (42:40)

Evening. Paul invites most of the counselors to one last night on the town before the camp opens. He says some other stuff, but I don't pay attention because Terri is wearing a really tight shirt. All that matters is Paul and Ginny head into town while the other counselors with speaking lines stay in the camp. Terri heads off to the lake and goes skinny dipping. This movie knows its audience. (46:30)

Vicki and Mark flirt while playing with some old, handheld video games. They look like gigantic calculators and are probably about as fun. Scott amuses himself by stealing Terri's clothes while she's swimming. On the one hand, that's an ass move by Scott; on the other hand, we get to see more of naked Terri. I'm torn. Terri then chases Scott through the woods until he steps into a snare. Scott is left hanging upside-down while Terri goes to look for a knife. Jason takes the opportunity to slash Scott's throat. Kill number 4! (50:35)

Unfortunately, Terri then gets bumped off-camera, which is weak. We cut to the bar in town, where Ginny does a little amateur psycho-analysis of Jason. Quick version: he's a man-boy who loves his dead mother too much. (54:30)

Sexy shenanigans at the camp. Sandra and Jeff go upstairs in the main cabin, while Vicki goes back to her cabin to get some things for her special night with Mark (the wheelchair guy). Vicki takes a long time, and Mark goes outside to look for her. Big mistake on his part, because he gets a machete right to the face! He then rolls down a staircase with the machete still stuck in his head. It's a fantastic scene, thanks in large part to how just plain nasty it is to kill the crippled guy. (1:01:05)

Jason heads inside the main cabin and grabs the spear that dorky Ted brought. I should have mentioned this earlier, but Ted is in town with Paul and Ginny, so he doesn't end up getting killed. I want to like this movie, but it's an epic failure when the obnoxious dork gets to live. The filmmakers almost make up for it in the next scene when Jason runs the spear through Jeff and Sandra while they're making the sex. Two-for-one! (1:02:40)

Vicki, after taking her sweet-ass time, finally gets back to the main cabin and goes looking for Sandra and Jeff. What she finds instead is a crazy hillbilly with a bag over his head. The filmmakers use a Jason-POV shot where the audience actually looks through the killer's eye as he slowly brings a butcher knife towards Vicki. It's a genuinely unnerving scene. You can guess what happens next. (1:05:30)

Paul and Ginny arrive back at camp. Apparently, it's not a summer camp at all, but a Counselor Training Center. Do camp counselors really need that much training? Anyway, Paul and Ginny start looking for people and it doesn't take long for Jason to attack them. Paul gets the shit beat out of him, and Jason goes after Ginny. The official Final Girl chase sequence begins and it's quite well-done. When Ginny tries to lock herself in the kitchen, Jason responds by breaking through the door with a pitchfork. Ginny flees to her car, which won't start (of course). Jason starts shoving his pitchfork through the cloth-top, and Ginny runs off into the woods. (1:13:00)

Later, Ginny hides under a bed in one of the cabins as Jason looks for her. In an absolutely hilarious moment, Ginny pisses herself when a rat gets close to her, and Jason notices the pee right before he's about to leave the cabin. Ginny looks around and no longer sees Jason's legs, so she crawls out from under the bed. But Jason was being all sneaky: he was standing on a chair ready to jab her with the pitchfork. But in another hilarious moment the chair breaks out from under him before he can kill Ginny. While Jason is getting up, Ginny runs over to a closet and grabs a friggin' chainsaw. She manages to slash Jason's arm and knocks him down before running away. (1:15:50)

Ginny wanders through the woods and eventually arrives at Jason's shack. She sees Jason following her and barricades the door. Then she notices what's in the back room: a shrine with the head of Pamela Voorhees in the center, the sweater she was wearing the night she died, and a few corpses artfully arranged around it. Luckily for Ginny, she's a child psychologist and Jason's an overgrown child. While Jason breaks down the door, Ginny puts on Pamela's sweater and the crazy man-boy starts hallucinating that is mother is alive again. Ginny has Jason at her mercy, and is about to bring a machete down on his head, when Jason notices the shriveled head of his real mother behind her. Oops. Jason slashes Ginny's leg with a pick axe, but Paul comes to the rescue. Yeah, apparently Jason forgot to kill him. So Jason beats the shit out of Paul again, but this time Ginny is ready to drive a machete right through his left shoulder. (1:21:00)

Paul and Ginny return to one of the cabins. Paul helps Ginny onto a bed (with a huge window behind it) but they then hear scratching at the door. Turns out its only Muffin. So Jason killed an entirely different dog of the same shape and size? Or was it killed by a bear? Or am I giving this dog way too much thought? Anyway, just as Ginny is about to pick up the stupid dog, Jason bust through the giant window and grabs her. We get a look at his face, and he is ugly as fuck. His right eye looks like it's slowly melting off his face. (1:24:15)

Flash forward to the next day. Ginny, still alive, is being wheeled away on a stretcher by some paramedics. Paul is nowhere in sight. We end the movie with a close-up of Pamela Voorhees's dried up head. (1:25:10)

In a lot of ways, Part 2 is simply a remake of Part 1: same woods, same setup, they even repeated the scene where Jason comes out of nowhere and grabs the heroine at the end of the film. No one will ever accuse Part 2 of being too original.

However, Part 2 is superior to to Part 1 in almost every respect. Despite a slow middle, it has better pacing, as well as a better cast. Though it doesn't have Kevin Bacon with an arrow through the neck, the kills in Part 2 are generally more creative. Finally, Part 2 abandons all pretense of being a whodunit, and instead tells the viewer from the very beginning that Jason is the killer. Even within the context of just this film, Jason has already been transformed into a legendary figure, an unstoppable force of vengeance and punishment. In hindsight, Part 1 feels like a trial run before the "real" beginning of the franchise.

Part 2 perfected the formula of the Friday the 13th franchise, and perhaps for that reason, it's the easiest Friday film to forget. The later movies would rely on the same crowd-pleasing formula, but always with a twist. Like say, Jason ... in 3D!

Next up, Friday the 13th Part 3.

Caprica ... now with more boob

Anyone else watch the pilot for the upcoming Caprica series, a.k.a. the unnecessary prequel to Battlestar Galactica? Some quick thoughts: it was well acted and generally well-written. Also, the producers took advantage of the DVD format and threw in some gratuitous nudity just to spice things up. Overall, the show has potential to be an interesting exploration of class structure, racism, and the rise of monotheism.

That being said, it was too long for its own good, and the philosophical discussions never really rose above the level of a high school debate club. In other words, it's just as silly and self-indulgent as The Matrix, but without the guns and kung fu.

And if the early Christians were as annoying and self-righteous as the monotheists in Caprica, it's no wonder that the Romans persecuted them. Still, the show deserves credit for trying to approach religion in a nuanced manner. It doesn't fall into the "monotheism is inherently better" or "all religion is violent" camps. Instead, the writers seem to be using science fiction to re-tell the history of Christianity, as well as touch upon the appeal of Islamic fundamentalism in modern times.

For all the flaws of the pilot, Caprica is an interesting idea, and I hope SyFy picks it up.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Friday the 13th: Blogging thru the body count...

I recently bought the Friday the 13th boxset from Paramount, which includes all eight original flicks. This is one of my favorite horror franchises of all time, which is why I plan to post real-time to the blog while I watch each movie. I'll include minute marks for each comment, so anyone who watches them on their own will know what I'm talking about. Needless to say, these posts will contain many spoilers. Now, let's start at the beginning...

Friday the 13th (1980)
Directed by Sean Cunningham
Starring Kevin "The" Bacon, Betsy Palmer, and some people you don't know

Prologue: Camp Crystal Lake, 1958. First use of the famous "chi, chi, chi, wa, wa, wa" sound effect. Two camp counselors decide to take a break and have some naughty premarital sex. A mysterious figure follows them into an unoccupied building and murders them with a knife. The camera operates from the killer's point-of-view, so the audience is unaware of the killer's identity. Also worth noting is that the deaths are relatively bloodless. In the bonus material, Sean Cunningham said that he wanted the first deaths to be simple so as to trick the audience into thinking that this film wouldn't be too gory. People in 1980 were very gullible. (5:20)

Present: Friday, June 13. A teenaged girl named Annie walks through a small town, trying to find directions to Camp Crystal Lake. She talks to a dog like it's a person. I can't wait for her to die. She manages to find a guy in a diner who's willing to give her a lift part of the way there, but on the way to his truck she's accosted by the town drunk, Ralph. He warns her that "Camp Blood" has a death curse. Annie is a dumbass, and heads to the camp anyway. Despite the fact that her ride informs her of the 1958 murders and multiple acts of sabotage that prevented previous attempts to re-open the camp, Annie insists she can't quit. Don't feel bad for Annie: this is just Darwinian law in action. (11:45)

Three more camp counselors drive down the road listening to old-timey country music. The music is annoying, so they deserve to die. But I'm slightly torn, because the Bacon is among them. When they arrive at the camp, we meet Steve, the owner of Camp Crystal Lake, who looks like a 70s porn star. Words alone can't do his outfit justice, which consists of a kerchief around his neck, no shirt, and jean cutoffs. We also meet Alice, the Plain Jane of the group. Everyone is busy because the camp opens in less than two weeks. Steve heads into town for supplies. (10:20)

Another girl, Brenda I think, is setting up an archery target when one of the guys, Ned, shoots the target with an arrow to scare her. For pulling such an incredibly jack-ass stunt, Ned must die. We cut to Annie, still hitch-hiking, who gets picked up by a jeep. We don't see the driver, so we know instantly that it's the killer. Annie yammers on about her love of children, which makes her impending death all the sweeter. When she realizes that the driver isn't going to drop her off at the camp, she gets scared and jumps out of the jeep. The killer pursues Annie into the woods and cuts her throat with a hunting knife. Nice. (22:20)

The other nubile teens (all played by actors in their twenties) frolick by the lake. The Bacon wears speedos. We get more POV shots from the killer, watching them. The teens then kill a snake in one of the cabins with a machete. According to the director, the snake was real. Some shenanigans involving the local police. Then crazy, drunk Ralph sneaks into the dining hall and delivers another death curse warning to the counselors. Ralph rides away on his bicycle, which looks something he stole from a little girl. (31:30)

More boring scenes with the counselors. And about a dozen establishing shots of the rain. I forgot how slow this movie is. Finally, the Bacon gets some, unaware that dead Ned is lying in the bunk directly above his bed. I hate off-screen kills. (40:15)

We get our first bare tits at the 40:40 mark. Bacon's lady lover wanders off to the bathroom (in a different building), while the other three counselors play strip Monopoly in another cabin. While the Bacon is lying in bed, the killer, who's been hiding under the bed the whole time the Bacon was getting some lovin,' grabs his head and then slowly drives an arrow through the back of his neck and out the front. It's fantastically gory. (42:50)

The Bacon's girlfriend gets an axe to face in the bathroom. Good make-up effects, but there's an obvious edit to hide the fact that a real axe didn't actually hit her face. (46:45)

On his way back, Steve's shitty jeep gets stuck in the mud, but he gets a lift part of the way back by a local cop. Brenda is reading in bed, when she starts to hear someone say "help me." She wanders out into the woods, eventually reaching the archery range. The killer gets her off-screen, which is pretty damn lame. (57:25)

Alice and Bill, another counselor, start to look for the others, without luck. They do, however, find an axe in Brenda's bed. Being a dumbass, Bill is only mildly perturbed. While Steve is walking back to camp someone shines a flashlight in his face. Steve recognizes the person right before he gets a knife to the gut. (1:03:50)

The killer turns off the generator, and dumb Bill heads off to investigate by himself. We get a very long scene of Alice making tea. Then she finally goes looking for Bill and finds his body impaled on the generator cabin door by multiple arrows. Some nice make-up effects, especially the arrow through the eye. (1:11:45)

Alice tries to barricade herself in her dining hall cabin. That is, until someone throws Brenda's corpse through a window. She then sees car lights, and runs outside to find a familiar jeep pulling up. Out walks Mrs. Pamela Voorhees. It's pretty damn obvious she's the killer, which raises the question of why they waited to the last act to introduce her. (1:15:25)

Crazy, old Pamela gives the backstory on Jason: he was her son, and he drowned in 1957 because the counselors weren't paying attention. That's why she killed two of them a year later, and made sure that Camp Crystal Lake got closed. In flashback, we see that Jason looks like the Elephant Man's son. Of course, now that Pamela's identity has been revealed, she loses all of her slasher superpowers and gets knocked out by a scrawny teenaged girl. (1:18:45)

Alice makes a break for Pamela's jeep, but finds Annie's dead body in the passenger seat. She's become far less obnoxious. Then she run's into Steve's body, which Pamela somehow found the time to hang upside-down. These slashers are always so efficient with time management. Crazy Pam starts talking to herself, just to make sure that the audience gets that she's crazy. Pam pursues Alice into the tool shed and they start fighting like two people who've never gotten in a fight before. Alice gets the upper-hand (again) but rather than finish off the crazy lady, runs away (AGAIN). (1:22:00)

More chasing follows, and Alice gets cornered in the pantry. Pam goes after her with a machete, but Alice knocks her out with a frying pan and AGAIN runs away. Alice runs to the canoes, and just sits there like a lump until Pamela shows up with the machete. They wrestle in the way that only an old lady and a skinny chick can. As fight scenes go, this isn't exactly Bruce Lee territory. Alice finally wises up chops off Pamela's head with the machete. It's another really impressive gore effect. (1:28:00)

Alice paddles out to the middle of the lake in one of the canoes and falls asleep. When she wakes up the police have arrived, the music is tranquil, and everything seems resolved. And then the half-rotten corpse of Jason jumps out of the water and drags Alice underneath. It's extremely well-done, and I imagine that audiences in 1980 crapped themselves at that moment. (1:30:30)

Alice wakes up screaming in a hospital. When a cop shows up, she asks about the boy who pulled her underwater. The cop informs her that they didn't find any boy. The movie ends with a shot of Crystal Lake, as something makes bubbles below the surface. (1:32:45)

According to Sean Cunningham, the producer/director, Friday the 13th was a small movie that was released at just the right time. I have to agree with him. As slasher films go, it's not bad, but there's nothing in particular about it that sets it apart. It is very gory, thanks to the work of the legendary Tom Savini, but it would soon be outdone by a dozen copycat franchises.

The Ten Little Indians style of killing off the cast one-by-one resembles the slasher films to come, but it actually has more in common with the Italian giallo thrillers of the 1970s. These films combined the whodunit storytelling of crime fiction with psychological themes and excessive gore. Friday the 13th has quite a bit of gore, and Pamela Voorhees has clearly been driven insane by the death of her only child. But Friday fails as a mystery, largely because Cunningham doesn't even introduce the killer until the final act. There's no whodunit because the audience is never given any clues, or even red herrings.

Some feminist critics have asserted that Friday the 13th (and the slasher genre more broadly) attempts to reinforce traditional social values by punishing teenagers who engage in premarital sex. It is true that the teens who have sex get killed. But then again, teens who don't have sex also get killed. The killer in Friday the 13th doesn't seem very picky. But I'll talk more about subtext on the next couple movies.