61 Days of Halloween: Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Friday the 13th, Part IV: The Final Chapter

As per usual, this installment started with scenes of the previous films spliced in, here, however, they finally get creative with it and have it be more montage style and less blatant exposition as it also shows several memorable kills right off the bat to get the audience’s appetite whetted for what’s to come.

The film also picks up immediately with the paramedics and police clearing the scene of the latest massacre. In a very nice touch, the film actually takes a breath once the camp is empty anew and lets us realize that this was just the scene of chaos and now it’s as if nothing happened, all we hear are the crickets. It’s perhaps the best of the few masterful strokes this film has. It’s a film that eventually trips itself but that was a great moment.

The dialogue throughout most of the film is nothing short of a train wreck. Couple that with much overacting and it’s difficult to have sympathy for many of the characters who Jason is about to slay.

There are too many characters in the equation in this film, especially considering how it ends. You meet the Jarvis family, then a group of teens going to a cabin in the woods (cue the score from Evil Dead: The Musical) and the twins they meet and then a Jason hunter. Now, I am well aware that this is a body count franchise but the time could’ve been alloted differently. Shorter teen & twins intro, shorter canoodling sequence, get them killed build the Jarvis family and the “Jason hunter” who will factor greatly in the film.

There are, in the end, too many balls in the air that don’t really have any bearing on the end of the film or the main thrust of the film. Again, these things can still happen but they were either too long or repetitive. There is some bad random 80s dancing, randomly found silent porn which is watched for too long, a lot of cattiness both of the male and the female variety that can all be avoided.

While the end with Jason being fooled by Tommy and Tommy’s turn are wonderful truly masterful strokes there is prior stupidity that undercuts its effectiveness. The main sticking point is this Trish is frantic when she finds out Jason’s loose and has to get home to protect Tommy. She returns home in a panic to confirm he’s fine. She is informed their mom is missing. Even though “The Hunter” insists she stays home while he finds her and Jason she insists on going…which leaves Tommy, who she was just so panicked about, alone again…come on man! It’s the simplest fix in the world and it wasn’t fixed and just took me out of the moment. Suspension of disbelief, gone.

The end does manage to be effective. If you like the series and are a completist definitely view it but it was hanging on by thread to liking it but that lapse in logic lost me.

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61 Days of Halloween- Village of the Damned (1960)

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Village of the Damned (1960)

The original Village of the Damned is an exercise in dealing with a lot of story with quick, precise strokes and keeping the pace moving. If one were to contrast it to its remake, what this film does it keeps a lot of the mystery about why these children are gifted and terrifying for as long as possible.

It examines aspects of mob mentality but addresses its central issue mostly with a few characters only. Its implications are far-reaching but it never gets bogged down or spreads itself too thin. Similar incidents elsewhere are alluded to in dialogue but not touched upon and the moralistic struggle, is rendered with the same tautness as the horrific concluding struggle is.

This film also excels in using the mind, mind-control and telepathy as its fear factors. The possibilities that it allows story-tellers are nearly endless and it set the stage for many other tales of the like to follow suit. The clandestine nature of the killings: the odd circumstances combined with the unproveable assumption of the children being responsible, are what give the film a lot of its drive.

The compromised nature and moralistic quagmire that the protagonist finds himself is aided not only by the fact that he is the man who knows the case of these mysterious simultaneous births, and supernaturally gifted children so well, but one of them is his own child.

George Sanders plays the lead and is perfectly sympathetic in this scenario. We see him as a man, husband, scientist and patriot; be challenged. He’s a man of reason, which allows for the situation and its ramifications to be debated intelligently and for his uncovering of the fact, those he does get to hit home harder and to make his battle that much more engaging.

The Village of the Damned does a lot with not much in terms of effects, techniques and outlandish production value. Its biggest boon is the successful and fully wrought implementation of its ideas in a brisk, efficient manner.

61 Days of Halloween- The Evil Dead

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

The Evil Dead

Ellen Sandweiss in The Evil Dead (New line Cinema)

If there was ever a horror film in the gore sub-genre that goes for the throat and just won’t quit it is unquestionably The Evil Dead. This is a film with such pulverizing scenes of blood-letting and death that there’s no time to be concerned with much else it just draws you in and you become absolutely enthralled.

At the beginning we see just enough of these characters to differentiate amongst them. They are sketched out just enough such that we don’t hate them and so that their deaths aren’t a relief but sometimes it does come as a pleasant shock.

The use of the subjective camera to represent the spirits make this film and absolutely does wonders to add to the atmosphere. The relentless speed and the bowling over of trees on the part of these spirits who never really manifested themselves in their true form make the film what it is.

Of course, one cannot talk about the cinematography without discussing the score of this film for without it these would have just been cute camera moves. Instead the spirits had their own theme song: a tenebrous, loud yet low-pitched thump that struck fear into my heart every time I heard it.

Another way The Evil Dead is interesting is that it takes some precepts of film and the horror genre in general and uses them masterfully. First, is the Book of the Dead, which may also be known as the Necronomicon, the filmmakers implemented it to unleash unknown powers on these characters and it was done tremendously well.

The Book of the Dead is undoubtedly a piece of work that has been sparingly used but here it is a perfect fit and shows these people have at least working knowledge of the works of Lovecraft. In Lovecraft’s fiction man’s desire to know what they had absolutely no hope of understanding always leads to his downfall a similar parallel can be drawn to this film.

Secondly, this film masters the use of the subjective camera as the villain which was initiated with It’s Alive! and made famous by Jaws, after The Evil Dead it would be foolishness for someone to try and rely so heavily on it because it just wouldn’t work as well.

Third, there is the great use of possession in this film which is no doubt inspired by The Exorcist and comes close to reproducing an equally effective result along that line. Some audiences may look back on this film which is now 30 years old and think it looks dated but they can’t argue with the fact that it works. I happen to think that the special effects are great especially for when they are made. Claymation or Stop-Motion Animation are great techniques and truly lost arts. Granted it is very difficult to film but the results are great especially with The Evil Dead because the clay and whatever other materials they chose to throw in there just added the extra grotesque touch the film needs. I think it is just wonderful!

There is a great debate between people who are proponents of Night of the Living Dead and The Evil Dead. I think all the arguing is futile. Both of these films are their own unique kind of beast and they’re both beautiful in their own way. Enjoy both these films for what they are and the debate should end and everyone busting a vein trying to win the argument should just shut up.

10/10

Review- Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Bailee Madison in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (Film District)

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark? Don’t worry I won’t be. Allow me to state for the record that I do not have anything against a slow burn, which this film is, however, there’s not enough spark there to get it going. A lot of that has to do with the fact that stupidity abounds in this film. The other is the pace itself and then there’s the subject matter.

Firstly, it is easy to create an adequately entertaining to great teaser scene in a horror film, however, if the rest of the film comes nowhere near matching it then you’ve done yourself a disservice and I understand the temptation to not do one. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark‘s teaser scene is the one truly cringe-worthy moment the remainder of the film is hopelessly tedious and ineffective.

Equally as ineffective are the fairies in more ways than one. Yes, I am aware of the fact that a lot of the lore pertaining to fairies is in no way cutesy but that never really translates in this film. Their voices are small, silly and squeaky and never menacing. Though they’ve had many years to practice are about as hapless as killers can get and that really undercuts any tension that might be built. Not to mention the fact that their whole modus operandi lacks a very cogent explication.

Then you have the parents: Alex (Guy Pearce, with the most unfortunate hair) and Kim (Katie Holmes), the oh-so-young stepmother. These are your classic dumb characters in horror films. They are oblivious and/or in denial about what is really happening for far too long. Neither of them comes across as someone you could empathize with much less sympathize, Pearce with his cold dead-pan and Holmes with her patented smirky face lack depth as badly as the film does.

There is only any light shone upon the fairy backstory in one scene and that scene works but then it introduces a scene where Kim rushes back to the house drops a canvas and reveals a huge, blatant and graphic mural. The fact that this mural was missed before (or implied to have been missed) is laughable and not worthy of C-Grade Giallo films.

The only thing the film has going for it from start to finish is the stellar performance of Bailee Madison. She is often alone and having to be convincingly scared with no one to play off her and/or reacting to CG elements and she does wonderfully. The fact that Madison shines cannot save this film though.

The pace hardly ever quickens and the horrors of this this film are so avoidable such that it wallows in tedium. The film ends up not being scary, funny or entertaining. Some situations added to create character are so trite it’s surprising they’re in the film at all and to top it off the ending is just dementedly stupid.

It’s rare when a film has me leave fuming as opposed to bow-beaten by its awfulness. This film did that.

2/10

Review- In a Better World

Markus Rygaard and William Jøhnk Nielsen in In A Better World (Sony Pictures Classics)

In a Better World is a Danish film which won Best Foreign Language Film at the most recent Academy Awards and that is a moniker which can carry a stigma for many. The two that come foremost to mind are that either it’s an inaccessible by the masses art film or that it’s essentially an American film transplanted and taking place overseas. None of these notions apply to this film at all.

However, this film did vaguely bring to mind the Best Picture winner The King’s Speech in as much as its accessibility and relatability are part of its appeal. However, there is still an artistry and at times poetry in the way the simple subject of this film is handled that makes it excel just beyond being something passable and there’s still that European sensibility to it that’s just a little more deft even when handling things in a very straightforward manner.

This film is really telling two stories most of the time: it tells of Elias’s struggle to deal with bullying (which is quite relevant to the current climate) and his father Anton’s struggle as a doctor working in Africa who has to treat a malicious man who has sent many women to his hospital tent clinging to life and the locals beg him not to. These narratives only truly intersect once, otherwise the film shifts, as Anton does, from location to location.

The third factor, one who starts on his own but becomes involved in Elias’s story and dominates that, is Christian. After the initial images of Africa grace the screen, Christian is heard reciting a poem in English (this is one of the longest L-Cuts I’ve ever seen). As the film frequently does it conveys information visually showing us he is at his mother’s funeral. Following her death he moves from London back to Denmark and meets Elias. He has a very different, more confrontational way of dealing with bullies and sticks up for Elias who gets picked on about his teeth and anything else they can think of. Eventually Christian’s way of seeing the world catches on with Elias and his father Anton struggles to show both of them otherwise.

This is the kind of narrative that could get quite preachy and pedantic but it doesn’t do so. It does take the opportunity and has the narrative to serve as a teachable moment but the characters never talk at us but to each other and each of them throughout prove themselves to be far too imperfect to be self-righteous. In the past employing children in meaty dramatic roles had been the sole purview of the foreign film, specifically those from Europe, while there are are now more opportunities here there’s still something a bit more genuine in the portrayal of the positive and negative aspects of youths overseas.

With the themes and plots that this film has it makes doubly sure to make all of its characters engaging, interesting and human and yet also makes most of them likable as well. In doing so these simple struggles which balloon to massive issues with each decision carry more and more weight due to the investment we’ve made in each of them and their well-being. While dealing in the philosophical it still has that emotional pull we need.

This identification made all the more easy by the cast which is nothing short of superb. The kids, of course, deserve first mention. Between the two of them they shoulder a lot of the burden of bringing this tale to life and each one of them has their own journey, and aside from one hiccup which I’ll attribute to willful misdirection, they make nary a misstep. What that misstep is doesn’t bear mentioning beyond the above. The bottom line is both Markus Rygaard as Elias and William Jøhnk Nielsen as Christian are fabulous in it and I was not surprised to learn that the latter was nominated as Best Actor in Denmark’s national film award (Zulu) and may factor greatly in mine (BAMs).

Furthermore, you have supporting them the very talented actors who play Elias’ parents: Mikael Persbrandt, whose own moral dilemma occupies much of our time and he shows the great range to be both tremendously sensitive and caring and extremely enraged and Trine Dyrholm whose despair drives this movie into your core and makes you feel it if you haven’t already.

The only thing I thought was consistently off was one theme from the score, which played quite frequently and seemed the most discordant of all the pieces. This is a shame because many sections were quite effective but are rendered less memorable by the repetition of the most unpleasant section.

In a Better World is certainly the kind of film which could improve with a second viewing and was most definitely worth not only of its awards but of your viewership.

9/10