NOW AVAILABLE TO ORDER
Well, I finally went and did it – I published my new book Worm on a Hook. I want to be a little vague, but basically it’s a horror story about a group of friends who rent a cabin for Memorial Day weekend and run afoul of a seemingly-invincible killer back from the dead. And then, I promise you, it’s on. The goal was to find overlap in the conventions of traditional slasher movies and the ’80s and ’90s action I love, and meld them into one ass-kicking novel. I’m very proud of the results, and I think you’ll not only enjoy the story but get a kick out of spotting the ways I apply concepts from reviews and Seagalogy to my own storytelling.
I hope to find this one a bigger audience than I’ve managed for Niketown, so forgive me for going into promotions mode for a bit and leaving this as a sticky post above the new reviews. I’m available for podcasts and interviews – email me at email@example.com for inquiries. And if you read it, let me know what you think!
NOTE: If you’re outside of the U.S. your local version of Amazon should have it too – try searching for “worm on a hook vern” to find it.
“Don’t be a lightweight, this is top dollar toot!”
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN ends the ‘80s on a sour note. It opens with footage of New York skylines, traffic, billboards (including a BATMAN symbol, so we know exactly what year this is) and street punks (one with a mohawk) laying in empty concrete planters passing around cigarettes. We hear some AM radio guy grunting quasi-poetic nonsense…
“It’s like this: we live in claustrophobia. A land of steel and concrete, trapped by dark waters. There is no escape, nor do we want it. We’ve come to thrive on it, and each other. You can’t get the adrenaline pumpin’ without the terror, good people! I love this town.”
…and the credits continue over a song called “The Darkest Side of the Night” by composer Fred Mollin and Toronto singer Stan Meissner’s band Metropolis, who were asked to make something that sounded like the Robert Plant song they wanted to use but couldn’t afford. I guess in a way that’s a good summary of where we were at culturally. (read the rest of this shit…)
“There’s a legend ‘round here. A killer buried, but not dead. A curse on Crystal Lake. A death curse. Jason Voorhees’ curse.”
On paper FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD seems very promising. It has a wild premise: what if instead of just having to contend with a bunch of young people having sex in a cabin, Jason has to contend with a bunch of young people having sex in a cabin and also the next door neighbor who has CARRIE-like telekinetic powers? HUH? THEN WHAT?
And it’s directed by John Carl Buechler (TROLL, CELLAR DWELLER), who’s an FX makeup legend (FROM BEYOND, DOLLS, GARBAGE PAIL KIDS THE MOVIE, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4, HALLOWEEN 4). But it doubles down on all the sins that started in part IV and got worse in V and VI. We’ve returned to part IV’s “two stories about two cabins next door to each other” format, with even more assholes in this sex cabin than ever before. And according to the late Buechler in many interviews before he died, the movie got completely screwed by the MPAA, who by this point saw this series as their arch-nemesis. They were forced to lose most of their gore, throwing off the rhythm of every important beat in the movie. It definitely seems that way – lots of killing, but either the camera doesn’t point at it or it cuts after a couple frames. And tragically the original footage was not preserved in such a way that there can ever be a restoration. Thanks alot, Movie Prude Asswipes of America. (read the rest of this shit…)
“Jason belongs in Hell. And I’m gonna see he gets there.”
JASON LIVES: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI opens with some lightning, a full moon and fog rolling across Crystal Lake. And as Tommy Jarvis drives by with his institution buddy Hawes (Ron Palillo, SNAKE EATER) they scare away a dog who was in the street munching on some roadkill that I’m pretty sure used to be a rabbit. And you know my theory on that. Rabbits protect us from Jason. With rabbits being treated like this of course Jason is gonna fucking live.
(Note: Hawes is clutching Jason’s mask in his lap, for no reason I can ascertain other than the narrative requiring it to be returned to its original owner. Er, I mean, to its second owner, the one after Shelly but before Tommy. But remember, at the end of A NEW BEGINNING Tommy put the mask on and seemed to have snapped. So I’m glad that he has, for whatever reason, forfeited custody of the thing. As crazed as he is now, he seems to be in a better place.)
This time Tommy has been recast with Thom Mathews (Freddy from RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD), who frankly is much more appealing than the last version (sorry, John Shepherd – not necessarily your fault). This time he’s convinced if he digs up Jason’s grave and destroys the body he’ll stop having hallucinations about him. Hawes goes along for support even though he says he doesn’t “get the therapy here.”
The grave is a professionally made tombstone this time (here’s someone who researched how much that would’ve cost whoever sprung for it), which I think confirms my suspicion that the Corey Feldman scene from A NEW BEGINNING was a completely fictional dream and not a memory of something Tommy really witnessed. This time he finds the body thoroughly rotted, more worms and webs than man. He hears his young Corey Feldman voice killing Jason as he watches them wriggle around. (read the rest of this shit…)
“This is a small town, and small towns are supposed to be safe!”
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART IV: THE FINAL CHAPTER made almost as much as its predecessor so – Ah, hell, who are we fooling? Let’s make another one so immediately that it can be released in less than a year!
To restart the series they went to director Danny Steinmann, whose horror experience was THE UNSEEN (1980), and who’d just done SAVAGE STREETS starring Linda Blair. Steinmann gets a writing credit alongside part III co-writer Martin Kitrosser – because they used his early attempt at the part III script that would’ve been about Part II’s Ginny in a mental institution – and newcomer David Cohen, who rewrote that script (and would go on to write and direct HOLLYWOOD ZAP , about “two friends, one searching for his father, the other searching for the ultimate sexual video game competition.”)
FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING cold opens with the type of storm the original FRIDAY THE 13TH had to build to. Part IV’s pre-teen Jason-killer Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) is visiting a cemetery (not the same “old cemetery” from the last installment) where there’s a makeshift grave for Jason (who buried him?). Tommy watches as two idiotic, cackling fuckos dig up Jason’s worm-covered, still-masked corpse just for laughs. And then, for some reason (or none at all – you know how these resurrections go) Jason sits up and kills them. (read the rest of this shit…)
NEW YORK NINJA, which had its world premiere at Beyond Fest earlier this month, is a b-action miracle: a previously unknown and unfinished vigilante ninja vs. street punks film accidentally discovered by just the right people who would know how to treat it like a lost Orson Welles film. Shot but abandoned before completion in 1984, it was an American production starring and directed by Taiwanese-born martial arts star John Liu (SECRET RIVALS, SNUFF BOTTLE CONNECTION).
Luckily, the footage happened to be included in a library acquired by Vinegar Syndrome, the excellent blu-ray label that started out restoring vintage porn movies before becoming one of the premiere curators of cult horror and action (PENITENTIARY I & II, DOLEMITE, MARTIAL LAW I & II, THE BEASTMASTER). According to Re-Enter the New York Ninja, a 48-minute featurette that will be included on physical releases of the movie, when they asked what the reels were they were told they could throw them out if they wanted. Instead they watched them and found a movie you can imagine the company acquiring intentionally, had it previously existed: a pulpy, somewhat campy but very sincere revenge movie with Liu battling cartoonish gangs and a mutated serial killer on the streets of New York (sometimes with noticeably unsuspecting extras). (read the rest of this shit…)
TITANE is the ferociously unbridled, Palme d’Or winning second film from RAW director Julia Decournau. It’s bizarre and it’s intense and if you’ve heard anything about it you probly heard about an outlandish thing involving a motor vehicle that happens early in the movie. But regardless, if it’s something you’re expecting to see I recommend not reading anything about it, including this review, until afterwards.
If you should be turning back but haven’t yet, here’s the vague version. I’ve seen it called a horror movie, but it fits existing horror templates considerably less than even RAW did. I would describe it as more like a relationship drama in a surreal world, with a lead character who is intensely flawed, strange, and yet human. It has that transgressive non-literal adult situation that the Bible would be against had the technology existed at the time, some horrific violence, and some nightmarish violations of existing biological function. (I think the term “body horror” has become too much of a cliche so I’m trying to come up with new ways to say it when necessary.) But it settles down (sort of) into a story about extremely broken people finding each other and the miracle of unconditional love.
Seriously, just go watch the movie because if you don’t I’m about to ruin it by giving you the plot in the form of a TV Guide listing. (read the rest of this shit…)
“This is the guy that’s been leavin’ the wet stuff?”
By 1984, when Paramount decided that the fourth FRIDAY THE 13TH would be called “THE FINAL CHAPTER,” Jason and his mom had had a good run terrorizing the Crystal Lake region and the world’s movie screens, for which the studio and filmmakers had received some scolding from critics. But according to Crystal Lake Memories, Paramount was not ashamed. It was part 2 and 3 producer Frank Mancuso Jr. who was beginning to resent the series, because it was all people seemed to associate him with. “I really wanted it to be done and walk away,” he told author Peter M. Bracke. “In some ways, I felt I had grown beyond it, but it was really more me coming to terms with the fact that these movies should be made by people who are pushing themselves and learning and growing. The fact of the matter was that I wasn’t in a place where I could get excited about doing one of these things again. It became a chore.” So, contrary to our assumptions, he was completely serious about killing off Jason in a “final chapter.”
Part II and III director Steve Miner had grown bored of the series too, not interested in “remaking the same film, over and over again,” and he was off trying to make that 3D GODZILLA movie I mentioned at the end of the last review. So they hired a new director with relevant experience. Joseph Zito had directed ABDUCTION and BLOOD RAGE in the ‘70s, but more notably THE PROWLER (1981) is one of the more respectable slashers to come on the heels of HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH, with pretty similar content (a masked killer stalks college students at a graduation party on the anniversary of a past tragedy). FRIDAY producer Phil Scuderi had seen an unfinished version of THE PROWLER and declined to invest in it, but told Zito he would call him when there was another FRIDAY THE 13TH sequel. And that wasn’t just bullshit – he really did! (read the rest of this shit…)
“‘Oh shit’ is right! Let’s get out of here!”
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III, a.k.a. FRIDAY THE 13TH 3-D, picks up near the end of part II. It replays much of the climax, but at the part where he seems to be dead (before the whole thing where he comes back with no mask on) he sits back up and suddenly THE MOVIE BECOMES THREE-DIMENSIONAL! At least if you’re seeing it in 3D, which is how I fortunately got to see it on two occasions at all-night horror marathons in the ‘90s and early 2000s. (Man do I wish I had the equipment now that that version is available on blu-ray.)
In the tradition of the first two, the opening titles are what are known in the parlance of our times as “absolute bangers.” The logo looks really cool flat, and even better in the proper format, where it emerges from the screen at you. But the excellent graphic design almost doesn’t matter because the topper here is the synthy-disco-ish theme song, honestly one of the most badass horror themes of all time, at least if you like them danceable (which I absolutely do). It’s credited to “Hot Ice,” but it’s Harry Manfredini with Michael Zager, a producer who worked with The Spinners, among others.
Steve Miner returned as director, but with new screenwriters – the husband and wife team of Martin Kitrosser (writer/director of SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT 5: THE TOYMAKER) & Carol Watson (MEATBALLS PART II), with an uncredited rewrite by Petru Popescu (Peter Weir’s THE LAST WAVE – no shit). And they got a new Jason (Richard Brooker, DEATHSTALKER) and new makeup crew headed by Doug White (THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER, C.H.U.D. II, DESPERADO), who gave Jason a new look. It’s the next day and the hair’s completely gone, so I guess we gotta infer he stopped somewhere to shave himself bald. (read the rest of this shit…)
“I don’t want to scare anyone, but I’m gonna give it to you straight about Jason.”
Sean Cunningham kinda messed up. He hadn’t been trying to become a horror guy, he was just trying to cash in on the popularity of HALLOWEEN real quick. But FRIDAY THE 13TH had been so successful for Paramount that they wanted a sequel immediately. By distributing the film, they’d invented the “negative pickup” – basically, they would let indie producers go through the trouble of making the damn thing, and the studio just had to market it, so they made lots of money. Though not everything had sequels in those days, this seemed like a good chance for one. But Cunningham wasn’t about to dedicate his life to this shit.
So they promoted from within. Steve Miner (previously credited as Stephen Miner) had worked as a p.a., assistant editor, second unit director and other roles on Cunningham productions including THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, HERE COME THE TIGERS and MANNY’S ORPHANS, and he’d been associate producer of FRIDAY THE 13TH. Part I screenwriter Victor Miller didn’t return, so Ron Kurz, who’d done some uncredited rewrites on that one, took over. He’d also pseudonymously written two Ken Wiederhorn movies: the notorious fart comedy KING FRAT (1979) and the in-my-opinion-underrated slasher/suspense movie EYES OF A STRANGER (1981). Fortunately his work here is more like the latter.
Frank Mancuso Jr., the 23-year-old son of the president of Paramount, became the associate producer for Part II, by most accounts staying quiet but very handy. They found there were problems the kid could solve with a phone call.
I called FRIDAY THE 13TH “in many ways the Platonic ideal of a slasher movie,” but I think Plato would agree with me that FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II is actually better. It’s mostly the same formula, but the simple act of telling us it’s Jason allows for more significant onscreen struggles with the killer, whose identity doesn’t need to be hidden. I also think the very fact of being a sequel adds a little more fun, wrapping up the events of part 1 and coming up with a crazy way to continue the story despite the decapitation of the original antagonist. I kinda dig how in the first one everyone in the area was haunted by these past events going back to ’57, and now the events of part I have been added to the list. Also, we hear a new (true!) legend about Jason being alive that apparently the “old timers” believe, even though they didn’t think to mention it last time. Or maybe it just started to proliferate in the 5 years between these two movies that were released less than a year apart. (read the rest of this shit…)
“Ma’am – we didn’t find any boy.”
THE TIME HAS COME. I’m finally going to write about all the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies. I did one big review of the whole saga almost 13 years ago, so it’s time for a reboot. At long last I will review them separately, giving each one the focus it deserves – the type of one-on-one, individualized attention that the counselors failed to give poor Jason Voorhees while he was swimming on that fateful day, on account of they were having s-e-x. As far as I am aware no one else has shared opinions on these films before, especially on the internet, so I’m very proud to be breaking this ground, for the good of the community. At last, Jason’s story can be told.
Maybe part of the hangup in starting a series like this is that this first one is the hardest to write about. As a result of the weird choice to make Jason the killer in part 2, the smash hit cultural phenomenon original retroactively became somewhat disconnected from the rest of the series and much of what we associate with it. Like, when they said they were remaking FRIDAY THE 13TH, we knew that meant they were remaking the sequels to FRIDAY THE 13TH. In that favorite horror fan pastime of ranking the installments of a horror series, you gotta be a little hot-takey or at least personal-favoritey to not choose #1 as the best for the TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, HALLOWEEN or A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchises, yet very few would do that for FRIDAY THE 13TH. By definition, if you’re a fan of the series you’re a fan of Jason, right? (read the rest of this shit…)