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Posts tagged “steve miner

Friday The 13th, Part 3 (1982)

Oh, 3D.  You are the current bane of my cinematic existence.  Back in the 1980s, there was a short run of 3D horror movies trying to revive this quick cash grab gimmick, and they all sucked – Amityville 3D, Jaws 3D, and Friday The 13th, Part 3: 3D.  Straight up, this film is a prime example of leaning heavily on the 3D sight gag gimmicks to provide entertainment value instead of actually making a good film.  Even in current times, this is still done, but my disdain for 3D is the fact that it’s never worked right for me despite me having no visual impairments.  It detracts and distracts from the theatre going experience instead of enhancing it.  I have never seen this film in a 3D presentation, and so, there will be no assessment on it.  Still, it does factor into the lightweight quality of the film.

F13, Part 3 begins where Part 2 left off where Jason Voorhees has been wounded, but is able to slip away into the woods and the night.  He wanders to a small market in Crystal Lake, and while he kills the cranky couple which own it, he grabs himself a new set of clothes (and apparently a shave as well).  Meanwhile, a sizeable group of teens set out on a weekend at Crystal Lake at Higgins Haven, the woodland retreat for Chris Higgins (Dana Kimmell) and her family.  Also, tagging along is the uptight Rick (Paul Kratka), and the jokey Shelly (Larry Zerner) along with a pair of old stoners.  Chris is very weary of returning to the area because of an attack by a freakish man in the woods two years prior, but Rick does what little he can to comfort her.  In the meantime, Shelly and one of the teenage girls take a ride to a convenience store where a trio of bikers cause them a bit of trouble, but Shelly leaves them a bit humiliated.  This provokes the trio to follow them back to Higgins Haven, but their snooping around the barn costs them a great deal more than they bargained for.  Jason gradually kills off each and every person in the area – as per usual – until the climactic confrontation with the heroine.

This is the first misstep in the franchise for me. After a great outing with Friday The 13th, Part 2, I’m rather disappointed in how uneven and disjointed the direction and story are here.  Not to mention the quality of the cast and characters fall down one big notch, and the makeup effects aren’t anything to note.  Steve Miner does return as director, but it just feels a little lazy.  I think the problems mainly boil down to a flimsy script and the irritating and stupid 3D sight gags. Co-writer Martin Kitrosser also co-wrote Friday The 13th, Part V: A New Beginning, an even worse entry in the series, and so, you can easily judge his lower grade talents by that.  Aside from a few sparse screenwriting credits, Kitrosser essentially only works as a script supervisor since this film.  That means he just maintains a film’s internal continuity during production and records the daily filming progress.  The other co-writer, Carol Watson, has extremely little on her filmography.  So, it really doesn’t inspire confidence looking back on everything.  Ron Kurz, writer of Part 2, also has very little on his résumé, but he wrote a solid and coherent script that worked and flowed well.  The same cannot be said for this movie.

Whereas Part 2 had some vibrant performances, this falls into flat stereotypical characters.  These screenwriters attempted to bring some emotional depth to Chris Higgins with her previous frightening encounter with Jason, but it falls flat because of the actress in the role.  Amy Steel and Adrienne King were head and shoulders above Dana Kimmell.  Her performance is a little too one dimensional to fill the character out, but even then, it’s written with nothing but vulnerability.  The best female heroes of the series have always been ones that had a strength to pull on to fight back in the end despite their emotionally vulnerable sides.  Chris Higgins really is just an increasingly hysterical would-be victim.  Her uptight boyfriend Rick does not inspire strength or confidence, either.  Larry Zerner’s Shelly is a loveable misfit that pulls too many cheap practical jokes, and ends up pissing everyone off – unlike Stu Charno’s Ted from the previous film who was a master of practical jokes, and everyone still had a good laugh afterwards.  The difference?  Ted was everyone’s friend.  Nobody seems to really like Shelly even though he is supposed to be, at least, someone’s friend in this group.  They treat him like a lame annoyance, and I can’t disagree with that sentiment.  His only redeeming act is that he provides Jason with his very first hockey mask.

And instead of tight pacing, too much time is dragged out to indulge in those atrocious 3D sight gags.  Beyond that, the screenwriters throw in a lot of extraneous characters who eat up screentime for the sole purpose of increasing the body count.  They really add little to the entertainment value.  Other films later did this, but they would be more to the point and the characters usually would have something to do with the plot.  The three bikers are okay, but it just feels like a frivolous side plot which amounts to little.  It’s just another blah element piled into this film that further disjoints the story’s flow.  Not surprisingly, I have many of the same issues with A New Beginning.

And really?  A disco theme?  This movie was released in 1982.  Disco was deader than Jason’s mother by then.  Thankfully, this horrid opening credits tune is the extent of this bad 70s flashback.  Still, Harry Manfredini and Michael Zager should be ashamed of this.  It also horribly dates the film as older than it actually is because disco was long gone by the time of release.  The hippy stoners don’t help either.  In 1982, the big hit songs were Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky III along with tracks from John Cougar Mellenkamp, Hall & Oates, Foreigner, The Cars, Journey, J. Geils Band, Tommy Tutone, Rick Springfield, Soft Cell, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, the Steve Miller Band, and Fleetwood Mac.  All solid pop, rock, or new wave songs.  Manfredini and Zager could’ve gone for something more contemporary, and made it fit into the musical landscape of the time.  Instead, they drudge up disco for no good reason.  The theme hardly sets a good tone for the movie seeming more akin to a parody than an actual straight horror film.  Beyond that, the score is not too memorable.  When the worst part of it is what you remember the most, that’s an ill sign.

The only real highlight of this movie is Richard Brooker’s performance as the now hockey masked Jason Voorhees.  It’s a more nonchalant, confident performance that exudes a menacing quality.  He’s more calculating and focused in his slaughter.  The body language is very strong and deliberate.  He takes his time and wastes no motion.  He doesn’t need to rush his actions, he can stalk with patience, and strike at his leisure.  What Brooker does also adds to the blankness of the character.  He shows no panic, no rage, no urgency.  He is without conscience or contempt.  He merely kills because he’s imitating what his mother did, but possibly also due to a territorial mentality that these are his woods and anyone who enters is a trespasser.

The kills are still good, but the make-up effects fall down in quality a little more.  I just know that little from this film has stuck with me in a good way.  The climax is pretty good starting to show off more of Jason’s tolerance for pain and ability to survive injuries that would kill anyone else.  Brooker just gives Jason a lot of consistent personality here, and the climax is boosted by his talent and physical ability.

I wish there was more to delve into with this sequel, but it’s just too thin and shallow.  The tension is not very taut, and the storytelling is quite lax.  There’s no real urgency or looming suspense to maintain interest for me.  I just groan at the flat stereotypes that populate the screenplay – the stoners, the hysterical heroine, the heroine’s comforting boyfriend, the sexy girls, and so on.  It comes off like a lesser grade film compared to its predecessors with less talent in front of and behind the camera, aside from Richard Brooker.  No one was really trying to make a good horror film, they were just riding on the gimmickry of 3D to pull in the bucks, and of course, it worked.  This out-grossed both of the previous films in the series with just over $36 million.  However, bad movies that use 3D still top the box office today, and it makes me sick.  Yes, I still hate you Jim Cameron.  As for Friday The 13th, Part 3, I know there are people out there that do like this film, and so be it.  That’s your opinion, and this is mine.  I don’t like it very much because it pales in comparison to the far more tightly structured, more lively, and more intelligent Part 2.  There won’t be another Friday The 13th film that I 100% enjoy until Jason is struck by lightning and rises from the grave.  Let that act as a cliffhanger for my inevitable, almost entirely positive review of The Final Chapter.

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Friday The 13th, Part 2 (1981)

There are few sequels that manage to improve upon the original, and even fewer in the horror genre.  However, when the main filmmaker behind the project is superior to the original, it is no surprise.  This was Steve Miner’s directorial debut, and of course, no one could anticipate anything of his quality at the time.  However, he has gone on to have a very successful career as a director of films and television, and so, in retrospect, it is easy to see that Friday The 13th, Part 2 was in more versatile hands than the original.  This is indeed my favorite film of the classic formula, despite being in the pre-hockey mask era.  This is a good, classic piece of horror cinema, and I want to detail why it was a marked improvement over the first film.

Two months after the events of the previous film, Alice Hardy (Adrienne King) is trying to put her life back together, but that is short lived as she is murdered in her own house by a silent killer.  Five years later, Paul Holt (John Furey) is opening up a counselor training camp near the now shut down Camp Crystal Lake.  Holt is joined by many young men and women including, among others, the practical joker Ted (Stu Charno), the wheelchair bound Mark (Tom McBride), the sly Scott (Russell Todd), and Paul’s spirited girlfriend, the film’s female lead, Ginny Field (Amy Steel).  The locals like what he’s doing with these young people, but don’t like that he’s doing it so close to “Camp Blood.”  Paul even tells the story of Jason Voorhees around a campfire, but with a jokey scare at the end treating the legend lightly.  Even the prophetic warnings of Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney) don’t scare them away.  As night falls, while some go into town for a fun time, many of these teens begin to fall prey to the film’s new killer, an adult Jason Voorhees seeking vengeance on anyone who treads through his domain.

Okay, before the true highlights begin, I do have to admit that the special make-up effects are not as good with the departure of Tom Savini.  That is almost inevitable as his talent is not easy to replicate.  At this time, Savini went to work on the Friday The 13th rip-off The Burning.  It is a film I did see many years ago, and did not care for at all.  It is only a shame that I had to purchase the VHS tape to see it.  That aside, with this film, Carl Fullerton and his team still deliver some high quality physical effects that serve the film well.  It is merely a disservice, as would become a regular stinging point for the franchise, that the MPAA required numerous cuts to be made to tone down the violence and gore.

The pacing this time out is increased and steadier.  The film begins with a great suspenseful sequence that jump starts the hearts of the audience.  The character introductions are more tightly woven together, allowing for the film to keep moving forward instead of lingering.  The kills are nicely interspersed throughout the movie to maintain the tone it sets from the start.  It keeps an audience gripped into the film as the terror continually stalks these characters.

Speaking of such, we are treated to some charismatic and enjoyable characters this time out with more distinct personalities than before.  The actors in the prominent roles such as John Furey, Amy Steel, and Stu Charno are great and memorable.  Furey nicely projects Paul Holt’s maturity and level headed sensibility while still being a light-hearted, fun loving guy.  Ginny is a fun challenge for Paul, but it is clear they have a lot of affection for one another.  Amy Steel portrays her with a lot of likability showcasing an assertive attitude that is playful.  She displays intelligence while still being able to have fun.  Ginny has enough strength to carry her through the madness of the climax, but surely shows moments of vulnerability.  I also really love Stu Charno’s prankster Ted.  He’s all kinds of fun playing some elaborate and inventive practical jokes on his friends.  He keeps the tone light at times, and because of Charno’s charisma, he is instantly entertaining.  He makes things lively and vibrant while never descending into bad one liners and wisecracks.  He’s a very realistic friend that many people have who just likes to have a great time, and an even better night out on the town.  However, this never betrays the overall tone of the movie, it merely enhances the versatile enjoyment of the picture.  The chemistry of this cast is some of the franchise’s best, and even the supporting cast gets fine opportunities to add to the flavor of the picture.

Director Steve Miner gives this film some solid suspense and tension in every potential stalk-and-slash scene.  From all accounts, he had heavy influence from Mario Bava with this film, and it really helped deliver a great first sequel.  Miner knows how to handle his acting talents well and balance them out evenly to excellent effect.  Everything is shot very well to enhance the slight unsettling vibe flowing through the film.  The addition of the storm during the climax was an excellent touch.  It just adds more to the atmosphere and intensity of the sequence, but it never dominates or disrupts what each individual scene is doing, tone wise.

The score by Manfredini is possibly a step up from the previous film.  With a more evenly paced film, the music has more chances to slip in and out to create individual moments of horror than a chain of kills clumped together.  Again, atmosphere and tone is set early on with the intelligent visual storytelling and underplayed music.  The filmmakers let the score, subtle sound effects, and performances play up the unseen killer until he finally strikes, and creates a deeply disturbing moment that jumps straight into the opening credits.  The film is able to continually create great sequences like this all the way through to the clever ending that throws in some nice psychological elements to Jason.  It’s also smart that Ginny raises the idea of her deception earlier in the film so that the audience grasps onto what she’s doing as she’s doing it.

Warrington Gillette and his stunt double Steve Daskawisz do a very good job as Jason.  He’s not the more refined or confident killer as we have come to know, but the physical acting is well done.  The sack on the head look is very similar to the killer in the 1976 film The Town That Dreaded Sundown, which was based on true events.  The hockey mask surely became a much better iconic image which forged his personality, but for this version of Jason, I think that one eye peaking out of the hood works very well.

Writing this review, I never realized just how good of a film this is beyond just being highly effective and enjoyable for me.  There is no reason why this can’t be viewed among the best of its genre.  It delivers everything a solid slasher film should as well as a lot of what good horror is meant to.   While it doesn’t have the technical elegance or subtle brilliance of a Halloween, it has good atmosphere, tight suspense, intense scares, and entertaining characters who never devolve into moronic stereotypes.  They might not all have great depth, but they are grounded in reality.  Overall, this is a strong highlight of the series, and surely set the bar higher than the original Friday The 13th.  Subsequent sequels would vary in quality to great degrees, some just as good, some not nearly, but not for the lack of having a solid reference for doing it right and well with Friday The 13th, Part 2.


Warlock (1989)

Warlock is a film I have always enjoyed, but have also always felt a little let down by.  It’s a fantasy horror feature that had a great deal of potential with some fantastic performances and a good story behind it, but a low budget really hindered its potential.  Directed by Steve Miner (Friday The 13th, Parts 2 & 3), Warlock was produced by the struggling New World Pictures in the late 1980s.  It didn’t gain a release in the US until 1991 due to New World’s filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy soon after the movie was completed.  Trimark Pictures gained the rights to the series which have since been absorbed by Lionsgate.  Sequels were produced (one with Julian Sands, one with Bruce Payne), and while they had more impressive production values, they both were generally inferior on a screenplay level to the original.  Unfortunately, a proper widescreen DVD release has still not been made available by anyone who’s held the rights.  However, I have discovered an excellent quality widescreen presentation via FearNet OnDemand.  Seeing it only on VHS all these years, I am astounded by its quality, and that is going to factor into my revised review here.  Still, I have to hope that this transfer will become available in a new home video release in the high-definition digital era.

The film starts out in Boston, 1691 where Giles Redferne (Richard E. Grant) – a witch hunter – has captured the Warlock (Julian Sands), and is soon to be executed in a most ‘Salem witch trial’ sort of way.  Although, the Warlock escapes in a time warp via the forces of Hell.  He is transported to the year 1988 (the present) to locate the three parts of the Devil’s Bible which will give him the true name of God, and the power to destroy all of creation.  However, Redferne (Richard E. Grant) is able to follow him to the future, only one day too late.  The Warlock has a head start on him, and has already placed an extreme aging spell on Kassandra (Lori Singer), the young woman whose home the Warlock crash landed into.  So, now it’s up to Redferne to track down his archenemy before he destroys all of creation.

This is an impressively effective supernatural thriller.  That is due to several talented individuals putting a lot of skill and time into this.  It is a steadily paced picture filled with a good balance of suspense, action, light humor, dramatic moments, and horror elements.  Gore only minimally factors into the film.  It is the atmosphere and the deliciously evil, sinister performance of Julian Sands that helps land it near the realm of horror.  He truly turns the film into gold above its budgetary shortcomings.  He is the perfect evil disguised as a man – as the trailer states – “with the face of an angel, and the charm of the Devil.”  He is frightening with an amazingly chilling screen presence that pulls you in fully.  He can set a foreboding tone without saying a word.

Meanwhile Richard E. Grant delivers a fine performance bringing the pure-hearted, moral charm of the out-of-time and out-of-place Redferne to the surface.  Grant makes Redferne a very likeable character as he has a warm heart of gold without becoming sappy.  He maybe a bit naive because of him being a stranger in an even stranger land, but he remains dedicated to his purpose and oath to bring an end to the Warlock for all time.  Redferne could’ve come off as a rather campy hero, but beyond all the old word speech, the value of Grant’s performance shines through to present an honest, grounded protagonist.  Redferne is given a depth and history to give him his avenging motivations for hunting the Warlock to the ends of the world and time.  Grant inhabits those qualities with weight and conviction.  Redferne is also a worthy adversary as he is knowledgeable and experienced in hunting the Warlock, and is more than capable of not only combating him, but ridding the world of him.  Most importantly, Redferne has heart – which is something you don’t usually see in this sort of genre picture.  It’s a perfect contrast of good and evil where the performances of Grant and Sands are concerned.  One is a passionate man of virtue, and the other is an icy cold villain.  When the two occasionally share a scene, it is juicy, meaty content that fuels the momentum of the film.  Their final confrontation in the climax is very strong, and allows the characters to feed off of one another, fleshing out their sordid history.  It is a powerful and nicely crafted climax indeed.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing special or greatly important about Lori Singer’s character, but in the least, Kassandra is a decently enjoyable guide through the late 20th century for our kind-hearted hero from the 17th century.  She does build a nice chemistry with Grant which gives way to some charming humor at appropriate moments.

The few visual and makeup effects present in the film were decent for the time it was made and the budget it was allotted.  Still, some of the optical visual effects are severely dated by today’s standards.  They may even seem obsolete by the groundbreaking standards of the day (i.e. The Abyss, Predator, A Nightmare On Elm Street 4).  This really only applies to the optical composites of the Warlock flying.  Although, I doubt the low budget effects will hinder your enjoyment of the film greatly.  I have witnessed films, released before and after this one, with tremendously lower quality effects.  I did find a nostalgic appreciation for the animated magical fire the Warlock wields.  On the practical side, the old age make-up used on Lori Singer while she is hexed by the Warlock was far from being a crowning achievement, but it’s never been a serious detractor for me over all these years.

Steve Miner does as good of a job as ever here despite the film not being high on scares or blood – unlike his work on the first two Friday The 13th sequels.  However, Warlock is a worthwhile supernatural thriller, and Miner should be proud of what he was able to create here.  He handles the story with respect and care.  He provides suspense and tension where need be, and is able to ramp the intensity up at the right moments.  The screenwriter for this film was David Twohy (The Fugitive, Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick), and he definitely wrote a fine script that shows a rough, early version of his now well-known style.  If Twohy wanted to direct a remake, or a worthy sequel – I’d definitely be privy to seeing it.  With a more generous budget and little studio interference, he can churn out a really good film.

Looking at the credits of this film, there are a some notable names that would become horror veterans themselves.  Two I noticed were David R. Ellis (director of Final Destination 2 & 4) as stunt coordinator and second unit director, and special make-up effects artist Tom Woodruff, Jr. of Stan Winston Studios and later Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. (who have become responsible for the creature effects on all the Alien sequels).  It’s always interesting to see that such amazing talents worked on a film such as this early on.  It gives good context on where they’ve been, and how they’ve advanced their craft over the years.

The cinematography is fairly good.  There’s a nice choice of angles and movement, and in select scenes, very moody lighting that enhances the Warlock’s dramatic presence.  These elements come together quite well with the visual effects to create a darkly fantastical atmosphere.  I don’t know how well it all would work for a modern audience, but since I grew up through this era, I can appreciate it with a nostalgic context.

The one last thing to praise is the late Jerry Goldsmith’s score.  I have loved his work for years from his scores for the Star Trek franchise to an endless MASSIVE list of feature films.  His score for Warlock had haunting, mysterious elements, and an epic feeling at the film’s climax.  This musical master always delivered something memorable and wonderfully cinematic, no matter what the film or genre.  It’s a sad thing he is no longer with us.  I just hope that his legacy will be carried on by new generations of musical masters.

In the end, it really is the budget that holds down the greatness of this film.  It had some solid talent in front of and behind the camera along with a well written screenplay.  Not to mention, the title role was perfectly cast with an actor that envelopes the screen, and inhabits every scene with vile charm.  Warlock simply did not have the money to boost its production values to a level comparable to the talent involved.  It generally does not look cheap, but the dated and low quality visual and make-up effects damage it.  But where there are films that falter despite great visual effects and production values, this one soars to respectable heights despite lower grade effects and budgetary limitations.  This is due to the quality of talent injected into it, and the solid foundation laid down with David Twohy’s script.  It’s full of charm, suspense, mystery, intrigue, and subtle terror.  I thank the now defunct Trimark Pictures for picking up this film from the then defunct New World Pictures.  I just wish Lionsgate would do something special for this old gem because it honestly deserves it.