Horror Icons: Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th passing and all, I took to the Prince Charles Cinema for the Friday 13th marathon (parts 1-8).

The Friday the 13th films are films that are best served with the enjoyment and whooping of others in a crowd and who are equally enjoying their Jack Daniels and Cokes into the wee hours just like you.

Friday 13th Part 1 essentially rides the back of the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween. Like a hip-hop track, it samples the subjective/objective camera work from Halloween to form the main hook and essentially spins the plot of Psycho with the roles of the perpetrator reversed. Last House on the Left, I Spit on your Grave, The Hills Have Eyes and many others were arguably gorier and filled with sustained terror throughout the seventies but Tom Savini’s effects stand out given the fact the film was released in 1980. Throw in a Carrie-esque ending and you have a film which remains watchable.

The second film, released a year later, introduces the Jason character and begins laying original roots for the franchise. It’s noticeably gorier and filled with the now obligatory tit and bum shots. Coupled with the chase scenes it does feel like a horror Benny Hill at times but all perfectly scandalous. The resolution of the story is quite innovative: namely that the female protagonist, a psychology major, clocks that if she pretends to be Jason’s mother she might stand a chance at clocking him over the head while he’s in an entranced state.

Friday 13th 3D is perhaps the best parody for 3D ever. Objects are unnaturally placed front of frame for obvious effect, which, when you’re watching in 2D just makes it seem like the cameramen are winking at the audience. Part 3 is notable for one thing above all: the introduction of Jason’s Hockey mask and an identifying symbol for the past and future of the franchise. The killer is humanised and given a bit of personality. Variety and verve is introduced into the kill scenes. It’s a turning point: Jason is more James Bond than anonymous killer.

Part 4 attempts to bring the series to a close. It has overtones of Last House on the Left: the hero is a young boy, who seeing the slaughter around him is pushed to extreme lengths and manages to subdue the killer for good. The tag scene at the end implies that he is pushed too far and that the roots of Jason have been planted within him. Part 5, strictly speaking, doesn’t contain a true Jason. It’s the idea of his myth being perpetuated in the name of revenge that makes the film more Scooby Doo than anything else.

Part 6 is a personal favourite of mine. The film moves along the line of an old Universal style horror film: an unstoppable supernatural monster, a hero trying to convince a disbelieving town and horror and humour mixed in equal measure. Part 7 is interesting; it’s essentially Carrie Vs Jason, which makes for some nice conflict but it gets in the way of showcasing the star of the show. Part 8 is a wonderful little tour of Manhattan with some truly funny and gory scenes. It’s less about extending the core legend and more about putting Jason in a new context, with wonderful results.

Compared to other film franchises such as Nightmare or Halloween, Friday 13th has kept the shape of its killer throughout. Like Bond, the situations may be new but the core character remains the same. The films also have a knowing sense of wit about them. Compared to SAW whose plot and story try to overlay thin meaning and profundity over what is essentially a gore film, Friday the 13th is more honest about what it is and so can play up the horror scenes with verve and comedy without the nasty sentiment of deriving pleasure from the pain of others. Indeed, I could never imagine a SAW film marathon where the audience cheered and whooped as the films progressed.

Indeed, it’s something of a handicap that horror movies made today seemingly have to fall into one of two camps: brain dead violence or thinly-conceived stories with a mixer of diluted horror. One of the joys from last year’s Fright Fest was the awesome: Tucker and Dale vs Evil – a film which bridged graphic horror with smart laugh out loud moments. We need more of them.

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posted by JP at 1:11 pm  

After Hours with Comics

So I caught a 35mm print of Martin Scorsese’s film ‘After Hours’ this weekend and was reminded how awesome it still is.

If you’ve picked up London Horror Comic issue 4, you’ll know my opinion piece at the end begins with a quote from Scorsese about starting from scratch.

After Hours was a film that helped Scorsese exorcise the the depression of Last Temptation of Christ falling apart on him. It was a piece of work that anchored him and restored his verve for film making in the same way that publishing issue 4 helped get me back on track.

When you watch After Hours it comes across like a very inventive student film. It’s fast paced, beautifully and yet simply photographed and captures the nuances of a city at night in the way that only student film makers seem to know personally.

The shots aren’t slow and meditative as they are in Taxi Driver, yet the color scheme and shots of steam rising from sewer plates are borrowed. Look even closer and you can see shots that were a precursor to ones used in Goodfellas. This is inventive seat of your pants film making. A director taking pure pleasure in putting his work on the screen.

And why not? The plot of the film is one of a man trying to stay sane under increasingly strained and surreal circumstances. The hero is providing as much a release for the audience as he is the director. Unity between creator and audience.

As Alan Moore said in a tv interview once: if you don’t get joy out of making something, why should you expect other people to?

If you hit a wall in your writing one reason may be that you’re trying to solve your story like solving algebra. Instead, let your imagination run free. Come up with a basic plot and then see what you can set on fire next. Do it for a laugh, but finish it and you might be surprised with what you end up with.

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posted by JP at 12:27 am