PATRICK STEPHENSON

Earthbound concerns of an ascendant adult

“Summer of Hack & Slash”

by Patrick Stephenson,
devoted enabler of trash cinema

OBSCURANT // Some quality of summer has always attracted me to garbage entertainment. One summer during high school, I was addicted to Full House reruns. Father Danny (Saget) would clean house, JasonUncle Jessie (Stamos) would protect his hair, and Michelle (the twins Olsen) would regurgitate cute catchphrases: “You got it, dude.” The reruns I watched would begin at 4:00pm and last for an hour, and from wherever I was, I would run for the TV. It was an addiction.

During another summer, my addiction was to dating shows, and to The Price is Right another. In retrospect, my TV appointments were a form of comfort and an imposition of structure on a time that was structureless and in need of molding. Without major responsibilities, they gave me security—an appointed place to be at an appointed time. That my addictions were lacking in quality seemed not to matter. In fact, that they were bad and formulaic—Full House always ended with a lesson, those dating shows with either a coupling or a co-rejection, The Price is Right with your pets spayed or neutered—probably provided additional comfort. Order for chaos!

So, this summer I have a new addiction: Friday the 13th films, wherein hockey mask-faced Jason—whose body is well-built and tall despite his youth-aged drowning—stalks promiscuous, drug-using teens at summer camps. Unfortunately, what I’ve chosen reflects the way my life has changed. I can no longer afford to spend an hour every day, beginning at 4:00pm, before a television. Instead, I need to rent series DVDs from my local Blockbuster.

However, this addiction has retained one quality of those I’ve had in the past. These Jason movies are awful. In addition to being poorly made and generally inept, especially where acting is concerned, they adhere to a strict formula. Jason, a campfire legend in spite of his well-documented past kills, must rise from death, must murder immoral, gratuitously nude teenagers, and must then himself be killed—for now. What makes individual entries unique, then, lies in how and where Jason kills.

Some Highlights

Friday the 13th: Part VI: Jason Lives: Jason, whose body is buried in a graveyard near Crystal Lake, is resurrected by a bolt of lightning, after which he attacks Camp Forest Green [aka: the infamous Crystal Lake, name-changed to mask its bloody past]. Gore is minimal, but the characters are more interesting than usual, and there’s some humor, e.g. a little girl reading Sartre’s No Exit. There are also a few attempts at pre-Scream self-awareness, with one future victim saying [paraphrase], “If horror movies have taught me anything, it’s that men in masks should be avoided.”

A failure in this regard involves two camp (pun intended) boys who say things like, “What were you going to be when you grew up?” This despite the well known rule of Kane Hodder, a former stuntman who has played Jason several times, that Jason’ll never kill pets or kids. The kids’ presence and self-awareness aren’t so much amusing as annoying. Still, I watched this at around 3am, pre-sleep, and was, during certain scenes, genuinely scared.

Friday the 13th: Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan: This one’s title is an obvious misnomer. The majority of the movie takes place on a boat and only the last third or so actually involves a (not very convincing, plus strangely toxic waste-filled) New York. If they’d been able to afford letting Jason loose in NYC from the beginning, and having him interact with New Yorkers instead of the traditional cast of too old Canadian high-schoolers on a field trip, the movie would’ve deserved the name it has.

Its gore and characters are lame all around: the drug-snorting, teacher-seducing, big hair-having prom queen who receives some Jason-style comeuppance says things like, “Is that a muscled bod or what?” And then, when a crewmember approaches, she tells her friend [Kelly Hu], “Gorgeous guy at 2 o’clock. Look sensual.” No one talks like that. One highlight toward the end is the character Julius’ boxing match with Jason, which ends with the former’s decapitation. Poor Julius. He tried.

Friday the 13th: Part IX: Jason Goes to Hell: This one is super lame. The opening scene, during which an ostensible camp counselor strips and takes a bath, is remindful of past movies, and what follows her stripping is classic: she’s acting as bait in a sting operation, and the trap into which she leads Jason is a firing squad. But after that, a random guy in a morgue eats Jason’s heart, and throughout the rest of the movie, Jason’s essence is passed from character to character. Essentially, Jason appears only at the film’s beginning and end, and very briefly. During the rest of the movie, the characters containing his essence unleash J’s gore. We want to see Jason—not zombified morticians and cab drivers—killing people. Boring.

Friday the 13th: Jason X: I.e, Jason in space, with horrible acting and cheapy FX absolutely everywhere. That it was filmed in Canada is sadly apparent—why does everyone in the future have a Canadian accent?—but its shoddy visuals are forgiven (just a bit) by some creative killing, a scene at the end where Crystal Lake is recreated in a Star Trek-style holodeck, and a disturbing sex scene involving a massive nipple clamp. Why the series got this far is beyond me, but I’ll watch whatever’s next, no matter how bad—and it will be bad. The word ‘bad’ won’t do it justice.

— P.S., for Rochester Post-Bulletin, 2004

Written by patiomensch

March 2, 2007 at 9:31 pm

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