Halloween Treats: Surprisingly Good Late-Series Horror Sequels

The horror genre is easily the most prolific when it comes to sequels. Unfortunately, quantity rarely means quality, and most horror franchises tend to see diminishing returns with each lackluster entry. So it’s always a treat to stumble across a late-series entry that’s actually better than would ever be expected. So if you’re looking for some such treats this Halloween, here are a few you can check out.

Final Destination 5

The unique thing that sets apart the Final Destination films from other horror fare has also been its downfall. In the first FD, the idea of turning Death itself into a supernatural slasher (determined to right the scales in his favour when a teen’s premonition saves him and his classmates from a plane explosion where they would have surely perished), was original and exciting. But with each sequel simply repeating the same conceit with different characters, it quickly became old hat – not only to audiences, but to people within the movies themselves. The characters in the fourth installment don’t even bat an eye when they find out Death is stalking them, they just dutifully move the action along from one high-concept deathtrap set piece to another.

So it was surprising that when Final Destination 5 came out, there was some obvious effort on the filmmaker’s part to kick the quality back up a few notches. And it worked. Suspense oozes out of every deathtrap sequence and the signature opening catastrophe was stellar – second only to the highway pile-up of FD 2. The collapse of a huge suspension bridge is well staged and choreographed and the special effects are incredible (and personally, a little jarring – since the bridge that was used in the film is Lion’s Gate Bridge in Vancouver, which is just a mere 5 minutes away from where I live, and I always think of it collapsing whenever I drive over it now).

Another plus is that the film tries to mix up the whole “Death is killing the survivors in the order they should’ve died” by adding in a ghoulish twist – that the survivors may be able to avoid death by Death by killing someone else in their place. And to top it all off, the 3D work is handled very well, with set-ups designed specifically for 3D filming – no muddy, post-conversion 3D here.

Saw VI

I liked Saw. I did not care for Saw II. And I have no idea why I saw every subsequent Saw film even though I’m not a fan of torture and the copious flashback reveals made each film just more and more muddled. I guess I just kept hoping that one of the sequels would at least be able to hold up to the first one. Thankfully, it finally paid off with Saw VI.

Sorry, you'll have to wait - this ride's all full.

Sorry, you’ll have to wait – this ride’s all full.

Instead of deadly games master Jigsaw or his minions selecting immoral or damaged souls to “learn the value of life” by placing them in deathtraps (which is about as morally righteous as Jason Voorhees narrowing his victim list to only trespassing campers and annoying teens), this time the action is centered on a person whose day-to-day life involves playing god with people’s lives. A health insurance agent whose personal selection policy favours the healthy over the ill has resulted in the deaths of a number of individuals who were denied coverage and treatment (including Jigsaw himself). After being kidnapped, he awakens to find himself trapped in a deadly funhouse of terror traps along with six of his coworkers and associates, who are strapped to a literal carousel of death. He now has to make his way through the funhouse by juggling the fates of the lives of those six just as he juggled with the lives of every sick person who he denied coverage. And just for an extra kick in the ‘nads, he is being observed by the wife and child of one such man who recently died.

Hmm…a Saw film that is actually comments on a current and controversial topic (health care)? And does so while offering some great suspense-filled set-pieces? Yep, there you have it – Saw VI, the best of all the Saw sequels.

Halloween: H20

How many times do I have to tell you - we have no more candy!

Go away – we have no more candy!

I’ve already mentioned the film officially known as Halloween: Twenty Years Later in a few previous posts, so I’ll just sum it up quickly: this seventh installment of the Halloween franchise disregarded sequels 4-6, brought back ultimate final girl Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and had her face off once again with the murderous, masked Michael Myers in a direct follow-up to the first two Halloween films, which is easily the best sequel since Halloween II. With a focus that leans heavily on suspense-over-gore that was the original film’s trademark, the only quibble here is that it’s too short. The set-up seems a tad rushed and an extra 10 minutes before the final act would have been welcome. But no deal breaker is this! I’ll take a brisk Halloween: H20 over the other late sequels or either of Rob Zombie’s Halloween remakes any day.

Honourable (Video Game) Mention

Silent Hill Downpour

SHDPThe survival horror franchise that is Silent Hill has seen many ups and downs since it’s high-water mark of Silent Hill 2: Shattered Dreams. When subsequent installments like Silent Hill: The Room and Silent Hill Homecoming didn’t do much to thrill fans or critics, not much was expected from eighth entry Silent Hill Downpour.

Gladly that was not the case. In a serious effort to bring back the creepiness and chills that have been missing from the survival horror genre, Silent Hill Downpour wrapped its single-protagonist main story in the pseudo-open world setting of the town of Silent Hill itself – complete with a number of optional side quests and stories to explore. This side quests, which involve solving mysteries connected to the macabre history of the town, is what actually provides most of the chills of the game, and it was just great to see Silent Hill (the town) being treated like an actual character instead of just a backdrop. Sure there were a few shortcomings with the game itself, but again – we’re talking about Silent Hill and about surprisingly good late-series horror entries, and that means that the box next to Silent Hill Downpour is the one to check off.

Happy Halloween Everyone!

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The Three 3-D Three-Quels of the Early 80s

In between its 50s heyday and its current-day renaissance, 3-D films briefly came back in vogue in the early 80s. This period was only punctuated by a handful of films, the most notable of which all happened to be the third installments of popular horror franchises. So let’s take a little look back on this trifecta of third dimension terrors and the mark they made on pop culture history.

Friday the 13th Part III (1982)f13iiiskinnyposter

Opening weekend: $9.4 million
Total domestic gross: $36.6 million

In the early 80s, advances made in 3-D technology, along with the release of a couple of quickie, low-budget 3-D flicks, caught the attention of the major motion picture studios. Frank Mancuso, Jr. got the ball rolling at Paramount and soon movie theatres across North America were being upgraded to support the next generation of 3-D films. Originally, Star Trek III was slated to be given the inaugural 3-D treatment, but when that plan fell through, Friday the 13th Part III ended up with the honour.

It proved to be a wise decision, because even though the expensive 3-D process resulted in a bigger budget than the typical slasher films of the day were given, the box office results were worth it. Friday the 13th Part III not only opened at #1, but it also became the film to finally dislodge E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial from the top slot. It also greatly improved of the box office results of Friday the 13th Part 2 and helped set the franchise on its path to longevity.

Its success also prompted other studios to take notice, and soon its formula for success was being implemented on other familiar franchises – albeit with drastically different results.

jaws3dposterJaws 3-D (1983)

Opening weekend: $13.4 million
Total domestic gross: $45.5 million

Whereas the addition of 3-D to Friday the 13th Part III was generally seen as nothing more than a fun enhancement to the film, the 3-D aspect of the second Jaws sequel was generally regarded as a “gimmick” to lure viewers into theatres. Basically, Friday the 13th Part III could stand on its own without the 3-D effects, but Jaws 3-D was seen as a poorly written and directed film than relied heavily on its 3-D effects. This might not have necessarily been a problem however, if the effects were well done. Unfortunately, while Friday the 13th Part III had a number of practical effects and props designed for it, Jaws 3-D relied more on a number of post-production effects that were hardly convincing on their own, and then made worse due to the murky 3-D conversion process.

(top) Friday the 13th Part III's eye-popping practical fx and (bottom) Jaws 3-D's murky, cut-n-paste post-production fx

(top) Friday the 13th Part III’s eye-popping practical fx and (bottom) Jaws 3-D’s murky, cut-n-paste post-production fx

Still, as a gimmick, it did the trick and pulled in some respectable box office numbers. And while it ended up raking in more than Friday the 13th Part III, it didn’t mirror that film’s feat of improving on its previous franchise entry. Coupled with the poor reception it received critically and its dismal and cheesy effects, the most successful film of the 80s 3-D revival also signaled that the end of this era was near. And in just a few months, the last major 3-D film of the 80s would confirm it.

Amityville 3-D (1983)

Opening weekend: $2.3 million
Total domestic gross: $6.3 million

Just as with Jaws 3-D, the third Amityville film appropriated “3-D” directly into its title, making dual use of the numeral 3. However, due to a potential lawsuit from The Lutz family (whose history with the iconic, supposedly haunted/cursed New Jersey house provided the basis for the first two Amityville films), the makers of Amityville 3-D had to actually add a disclaimer to the film’s advertisements that stated it was not a sequel to The Amityville Horror and Amityville II: The Possession.

amity3dposterUltimately, that proved to be of little consequence to the film’s reception. The 3-D effects were called out for being blurred, murky and headache-inducing while the film itself struck out big-time with critics (it currently has a 0% rating on the aggregate rating site Rotten Tomatoes). The Amityville franchise was already faltering before Amityville 3-D hit the theatre, and even though it opened at #1 just like Friday the 13th Part III and Jaws 3-D, its  take was so meager that its total domestic gross didn’t even come close to the amounts those films pulled in for just their opening weekends.

The new age of 3-D was now most certainly as dead as any of the hapless victims featured in this triumvirate of 3-D terrors, and it would take over 20 years before 3-D would again make a significant mark on moviedom.

Nowadays, the improvements in the 3-D process has resulted in many films of a quality that is leaps and bounds beyond those of the 80s. However, that doesn’t stop many a genre lover from looking back at this era and these films with endearing nostalgia for delightfully silly effects viewed through cheap, cardboard, two-toned glasses.

I Know What You Live-Blogged Last Summer

Something I’ve wanted to do for a while now is a live-blog of a movie viewing, and when it was recently announced that a remake of  I Know WhatI_Still_Know_What_You_Did_Last_Summer You Did Last Summer was underway (I guess Hollywood finally ran out of 80s horror films to remake), it got me thinking that it’s not-so-esteemed sequel would be a perfect candidate for my first attempt. Of course it’s not really a “live” live-blog, but you know, minor details.

Anyhoo, if you feel like taking a flashback trip to the world of 1998 with Jennifer Love Hewitt, Brandy, Freddie Prinze, Jr and a killer fisherman with a really big hook, then let’s jump right into my live-blogging of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer!

0:45  I must say – I do like the quick little pre-credits “audio flashback”

0:50 And let’s just get this out of the way – technically, the title should be  I Still Know What You Did Two Summers Ago or something to that effect.

1:10  J. Lo Hew enters the biggest, emptiest, most candle-lit church ever.

1:44  “Forgive me father, for I now have to summarize the previous movie”

2: 24  I don’t know anyone who has ever screamed themselves awake from a nightmare like J. Lo Hew here.

4:11  Whoa, pre-Gossip Girl Matthew Settle, looking REALLY young.

4:21  “The one in shower?” subtle Settle explaining the first movie’s cliffhanger ending as just a J. Lo Hew nightmare

5:17  This campus seems WAY too populated for: 1) a summer school semester; and 2) a Fourth of July weekend

6:30  Aw, Freddie Prinze, Jr. and his sexy, dumb, mouth-breather schtick – essential for a late-90s teen flick.

7:04  Seriously, there are like a bajillion students just randomly running around this campus

7:15  J. Lo Hew’s apartment is the campus version of Monica and Rachel`s apartment on Friends – SO big and in no way affordable for its residents.

8:00  Cameo appearance of Sarah Michelle Gellar on her Croaker Queen float from the first flick (after the Fisherman did her a solid by hacking off her hair into a cute bob)

8:21 First obligatory J. Lo. Hew tank top sighting

8:50  Yep, I always keep a huge butcher knife in my nightstand, too.

I Still Know J Lo9:40  Brandy learns that it’s never a good idea to go creeping through your roommate’s closet when said roommate is going through some serious PTSD (and sleeps with a huge-ass butcher knife at the ready)

12:15  “You better recognize/’Cause that’s how my species survives/You’ll never convince me otherwise” – Mekhi Phifer, Mr. Smooth Talker 1998

13:32  Fisherman in da club!

13:46  I forgot just how over-the-top the “scary music” in this flick was. Oy.

13: 54  J. Lo Hew, deftly navigating her way through a seizure-inducing strobe light effect.

14:24  Uh-oh – J. Lo Hew’s Spidey-sense is tingling…

15:16  Tank Top Sighting #2

16:10  And now for the beginning of the most convoluted slasher revenge scheme EVER – Brandy just won the “radio contest” for a trip for 4 to the Bahamas – by naming the capital of Brazil as “Rio de Janerio”.

16:35  It’s kinda sad at how confident the makers of this movie were in thinking that no one in their target audience would realize that Rio de Janerio is the wrong answer.

17:25 And here’s J. Lo Hew’s soundtrack contribution, “How Do I Deal”. Somewhere, Brandy is still counting her blessings for being able to dodge having to do a horror movie tie-in single.

20:44 FPJ and his grubby friend have just come across the second part of the convoluted slasher revenge scheme – a staged car accident.

22:22  Yee-ouch – grubby friend just got mouth-hooked.

23:45  For a dumb mouth-breather, FPJ at least had the common sense to jump out of the way of a vehicle bearing down on him (as opposed to the Charlize Theron-in-Prometheus method of running in a straight line)

25:35  “It’s the only way on or off the island” – thanks for the exposition, ferry boat captain.

26:07  Note: there are easily 40-50 people at this Bahamas resort, sun tanning, jet skiing, swimming, etc (we’ll come back to this later)

27:11  And here comes a be-dreadlocked Jack Black, who for some mysterious reason is uncredited in this movie…

30:35 “Off-season staff of 5…Fourth of July weekend…storm season begins today” Asshole hotel manager Jeffery Combs cramming a lot of exposition into his spiel.

31:25  “We won a competition!” Uh, no you didn’t, Brandy. All you did was answer a question (and incorrectly, at that).

33:10  FPJ just jumped out of his hospital window, as one does

33:25  Jennifer Esposito, strictly cashing a paycheck, but classin’ up the joint, nonetheless. By the way, it is now just a few hours after the J. Lo Hew Crew’s arrival and the resort is now DESERTED. All those other vacationers got the hell outta there real quick, y’all.

35:47  “Ooo – Karaoke, perfect!” “Now that’s what I’m talking about!” – said no one outside this movie, ever.

36:12  Like J. Lo Hew has ever had to be dragged reluctantly onstage to sing I Still Know Espo

36:42  J. Espo, giving side eye while sucking on an orange wedge, is the best thing ever.

37:22  J. Lo Hew’s song lyrics come onscreen as “I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER!” – holy crap, the karaoke machine is sentient!

39:34  You guys – young Matthew Settle is like, super-cute.

42:50  The dockhand’s punishment for not wanting to get jiggy on the mainland with pot-head Jack Black? DEATH.

45:20  And now the housekeeper just got killed. You know what that means – no more clean towels.

51:28  J. Lo Hew just found the dockhand guy gutted and hanging in her closet. Worst room service ever.

51:47  “I want off this island!” “That’s not possible. There won’t be another boat for days.” “Then I’ll call the mainland for one!” “The phones just went down three minutes ago”. Asshole hotel manager is really being an asshole.

52:30  “Four spoiled city kids who wouldn’t know a hurricane if it blew up their ass” like, a total asshole.

52:40  And right on cue – storm season has begun!

53:29  Jack Black not only has a hilariously huge grow-op in the pool house, but also a rack of deadly gardening tools conveniently displayed right next to his couch. He knew the Fisherman might want to give the ol’ hook a rest (he did, and he opted for some garden shears).

56:00  Trading a 1 carat diamond ring for $300 and a revolver – not the best return-on-investment, there FPJ.

56:10  Oh wait, he’s insisting on $300 and a loaded revolver – way to hold out for the big bucks.

56:18  Tank Top Sighting #3

57:39  First karaoke and now a gym workout? Note to self: never let Brandy plan your vacation itinerary.

1:02:10  Okay, so Brandy just found the housekeeper stuffed in a dryer, Mekhi and Matthew just found Jack Black skewered in the pool house and the Fisherman is closing in on an oblivious J. Lo Hew in her tanning bed and he…ties the lid shut, cranks the heat up and slips back out? Um, you’re doing the whole slasher thing wrong.

1:03:00  Everyone just full-on reacted like J. Lo Hew was being eaten alive by her tanning bed

1:03:49  Asshole manager just got machete’d in the head. Guess we won’t need to fill out those feedback cards now.

1:05:14  Brandy is PISSED that J. Lo Hew has been keeping her sordid slasher history to herself. LIKE IT MATTERS.

1:05:25  FPJ, popping pills on a Greyhound to Miami, as one does.

1:06:45  Jack Black had a grow-op in his room and Estes the porter has a straight-up voodoo shrine in his. I’m starting to see why this was the “off-season staff”.

1:08:10  The producers just realised J. Lo Hew was wearing a sweatshirt for two consecutive scenes. She’s now in a too-small Oxford shirt with just one button done up right below her cleavage.

1:08:50  The globe in the lobby is spinning but there’s no one around. J. Lo Hew’s Spidey-sense is tingling again as the globe comes to rest on South America and…

1:09:35  BRASILIA, BITCHES! Estes drops the bombshell that the dumbass girls gave the wrong answer for the capital of Brazil.

1:10:10 “This whole thing is a set-up!” Yeah, a ridiculously convoluted slasher revenge scheme set up.

1:11:10  FPJ, hijacking a ferry boat at gunpoint, as one does.

1:13:25  “The phone lines are down, the boats are gone and there’s no way off this island” – Brandy, providing an in-movie recap for anyone just getting back from a bathroom break.

1:15:00  Estes is trying to hightail it off the island in his secret rowboat. Damn right – every man for himself, y’all.

1:16:05  J. Espo returns – and clocks Mekhi with a rolling pin. Sweet.

1:17:10  J. Espo: “Excuse me, but this place didn’t have a murder rate until you people showed up!” Truth.

1:17:45  Mekhi: “Worst vacation ever.” *gets hooked through neck, dies*

I Still Know Brandy1:19:31  Dumb klutz Brandy just crashed through a mirrored ceiling with the Fisherman, vaulted over a balcony and fell onto the roof of a greenhouse.

1:20:53  Brandy tries to get off the roof by stepping right in the center of each pane of glass – DUMB – and then just falls ass-backwards through the roof – KLUTZ.

1:23:20  J. Lo Hew finds an axe, but decides to just give the Fisherman the stink eye instead of hacking him and then runs away.

1:24:23  All of the victim’s bodies have now been piled in the storm shelter. Not only is this slasher revenge scheme convoluted, but it involves a LOT of unnecessary heavy lifting.

1:27:02. J. Espo and Estes get shish-kebab’d, Friday the 13th  Part II-style. Dammit, now all the good actors are dead.

1:27:16  Dumb klutz Brandy has just toppled backwards through a glass display case. That’s three glass-shattering events in less than 10 minutes – she should be sliced like sushi by now.

1:27:47  Matthew Settle is (gasp!) in on the revenge scheme – and he punches J. Lo Hew! (*audience cheers*)

1:28:03  Matthew is Ben the Fisherman’s son, and his name is Will Benson. Ben’s Son. Get it? GET IT?!

1:28:28  Pistol-packing FPJ to the rescue!

1:29:01  Or not.

1:29:12  Now the Fisherman punches J. Lo Hew! (*audience cheers again*)

1:30:15  Slasher Pro-Tip:  Running at someone you are about to impale with a giant fishhook while your son is directly behind him, holding him up, may not be the wisest course of action (and it’s not, FPJ twists and Fisherman hooks his son).

1:31:00  J. Lo Hew does what FPJ couldn’t and fires a bajillion bullets into the Fisherman, sending him flying into an open grave.

1:31:59  Get to the (Coast Guard) choppa! Oh hey y’all, look – Brandy’s still alive! Phew!

1:33:10  Back on the mainland for Tank Top Sighting #4

1:34:19  FPJ, to his electric toothbrush, “I love this thing!” Never change, cute, dumb mouth-breather.

1:35:41  J. Lo Hew sits on her bed and her Spidey-sense is…too late! Fisherman grabs her from under the bed! Bye now!

END

And just to recap why this was the most convoluted slasher revenge scheme ever: Instead of just breaking into J. Lo Hew’s apartment or jumping her on campus, the Fisherman decided a better plan would be to have his son enrol in the same school as her, befriend her and Brandy over the course of the year, THEN set them up to win a trip to the Bahamas (and pay for 4 plane tickets and accommodations). THEN, set up a perfectly timed car accident scene to get rid of FPJ, and THEN quickly jet down to the Bahamas, run himself ragged killing all the resort staff and dragging their bodies around to play mind-games and torment J. Lo Hew until he finally reveals himself so he can…just kill her. Dude. You’re really doing the whole slasher thing WRONG.

(But I can’t deny that it made for a gloriously cheesy and entertaining popcorn flick).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Lightning Doesn’t Strike Twice

When the following pairs of artistic professionals initially collaborated, they didn’t only find success, but they also managed to create landmarks in the world of pop culture. So of course it seemed only natural for them to collaborate again. Unfortunately, their subsequent projects proved just how hard it is to make lightning strike twice.

John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John

The Hit: Grease (1978)

The Miss: Two of a Kind (1983) 

After the smash success of Grease (with an initial domestic gross of $159 million – at the time one of the top money-makers ever) the Twoofakindduo who immortalized the summer lovin’ Danny and Sandy reunited onscreen for another tale of romancin’ – albeit this time without the dancin’…or a sensible plot. Two of a Kind involves Travolta as would-be inventor who bungles a bank robbery and Newton-John as the teller who gives him a bag of deposit slips instead of cash and takes the loot for herself. The film then follows this upstanding duo on a series of chase scenes and musical montages while they randomly start falling for each other. Oh, and the whole thing is being observed by a gaggle of heavenly beings who have made a bet with God that if this misguided duo can reform, then he won’t wipe away mankind and start all over, like he’s been itching to do. Yup.

Needless to say, movie-goers didn’t really go for this pairing of the former Rydell High lovebirds, and critics didn’t go for the film’s nonsensical story. Two of a Kind managed to eke out $23 million at the box office before going off to celluloid heaven. (However, as with her previous flop, Xanadu, Newton-John fared much better with the music from the movie. Her rendition of the film’s lead single, “Twist of Fate” peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100).

 

Wes Craven & Kevin Williamson

The Hit: Scream/Scream 2 (1996/1997)

The Miss: Cursed (2005) 

Director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson did the near-impossible back in 1996. Not only did their collaboration, Scream, become a mainstream hit horror movie (domestic gross: $103 million), but it also resurrected the long-dead “teen slasher” sub-genre, deconstructing and updating its tropes along with help from a witty script full of savvy characters and filmed with genuine shocks and scares. Striking while the iron was hot, the duo re-teamed for Scream 2 just one year later, and it was just as big a success as the first, pulling in $101 million.cursed_poster

Commitments to his show Dawson’s Creek kept Williamson away from working with Craven on Scream 3, but the two were still itching to collaborate once again, but this time on something different. Thus, Cursed was born – and if ever there was an apt title for a film, this was it. The movie, concerning a brother and sister (Christina Ricci and Jesse Eisenberg) who stumble across a werewolf attack was plagued by one problem after another: production delays, script rewrites, characters being recast or just cut completely (some even after they had filmed their scenes). Mandy Moore, Skeet Ulrich, Omar Epps and Scott Foley are just some of the many actors who were originally in (or intended to be in) the film at one time or another. After more than a year’s delay, Cursed was finally released, but not without one last stumbling block. The studios wanted this film about savage werewolf attacks to come with a PG-13 rating – which is pretty much the kiss of death for any horror movie – so Craven had to go back to the editing room and comply.

When this bloodless, scare-free, jumbled mess of movie finally limped into theatres, critics killed it and movie-goers buried it. Cursed closed with a gross just shy of $20 million (or about 2/3 of what Scream 2 made in its opening weekend).

 

Brandy & Monica

The Hit: “The Boy is Mine” (1998)

The Miss: “It All Belongs To Me” (2012)                                                                                                                                                                                                          

In the summer of 1998, you couldn’t turn on a radio or channel surf past MTV and VH1 without hearing Brandy and Monica smoothlyBrandy Monica staking their claim for the same man. “The Boy is Mine” spent a staggering 13 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the biggest single of the year and eventually netting the songstresses the Grammy award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group.

So while it wasn’t surprising that they reteamed for another single, it was surprising how long it took for them to do it. 14 years after their first collaboration, the duo released “It All Belongs To Me”. Now, in the music biz, 14 years is a lifetime – heck, two lifetimes even – and the pop music scene itself is ever-changing. When “The Boy is Mine” topped the charts, Brandy and Monica were both entering the peak of their careers (it was the lead single for each artist’s second album) and most importantly, R&B and Hip Hop artists were dominating the crossover charts.

Monica BrandyCut to 2012 – with Brandy and Monica both having much lower profiles, R&B not enjoying as much crossover success as it has in the past and a song itself that was roundly dinged for being lacklustre, and the end result was pretty much “too little, too late”. “It All Belongs To Me” became a moderate hit on the R&B charts (#23) but didn’t even manage to crack the Hot 100 at all.

Franchise Highs and Lows: Halloween

Just a glance at my most-used tags lets me know that I tend to talk about the Halloween films a lot. But seeing as how I did a “Franchise Highs and Lows” piece for Friday the 13th on a Friday the 13th, I just couldn’t let October 31st come to pass without giving the Halloween franchise the same treatmeant – so let’s get to it!

HIGHS

halloween1978Halloween (1978) – The first and still the best. It kick-started the modern slasher genre and set the template that would be used by countless followers. In the hands of writer-director John Carpenter, a simple story of a masked killer (Michael Myers) stalking three girls in the peaceful suburb of Haddonfield,  Illinois became a chilling tale of suspense and terror. Add in perfect performances by Jamie Lee Curtis as the definitive final girl, Laurie Strode and Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis, Michael’s determined and slightly off-kiltermyers1 psychiatrist and you have a modern-day classic.

The Original Mask – take one William Shatner “Captain Kirk” mask, paint it white, and voila – the terrifying non-face of evil is born.

Halloween Theme  – It’s safe to say that the tension and scares in Halloween would have been a lot less effective if it were not for the inclusion of John Carpenter’s score. His main theme has also become so iconic that it’s the horror movie version of the Bond theme, appearing in one form or another in every film in the  Halloween franchise (which was also a sly way for the producers of the non-Carpenter sequels to get his name on the credits).

Halloween 4 and Halloween H20

The original Halloween series was resurrected not once, but twice – and both times it rose from the dead to give fans exactly what they wanted – a return to that classic “Halloween feel”. Halloween 4 returned Michael Myers to the franchise after the Myers-less Halloween III and Halloween H20 brought Jamie Lee Curtis back into the fold after a 17 year absence – ignoring the nonsense wrought by Halloween 6 (more on that below) and picking up the story after Halloween II (which I explained in more detail here).

This Moment*

Halloween 4 Opening Credits – This sequence has an understated genius. It’s nothing flashy or ground-breaking – just some bleak, countryside Halloween-themed images that get more and more sinister looking as the sun sets and the score build ominously. Definitely sets the tension for the film right from the start.

LOWS

Halloween III: Season of the Witch – this non-canon sequel was an attempt at taking the franchise into an anthology-type direction, but with absolutely no connection to the previous films at all (it took place in the “real” world, where Halloween was only a movie) the “III” added to the title only served to confuse and anger movie-goers who went in expecting Michael Myers and instead got an evil, cult-worshipping mask manufacturer bent on killing a ton of kiddies with his deadly masks.

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers – the sixth Halloween entry  tried to introduce an over-wrought cult mythology to explain the motivations of Michael Myers. Constant studio interference to the final cut of the film resulted in a bootleg director’s cut surfacing on dvd (aka Halloween 666) with almost 45 minutes of cut footage and storylines. With or without it though, the film was still a jumbled mess full of questionable continuity and plot holes a-plenty.

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I guess even masked killers want to experiment with their look sometimes

Mask Continuity – Unlike fellow franchisers Jason (Friday the 13th) and Ghostface (Scream), Michael Myers didn’t wear a mass-produced mask. And that became a problem with each successive Halloween film as they tried their best to replicate the original. They met with varying degrees of success, with the worst of the lot definitely being Halloween 5’s flat-ironed hair/flared neck version.

Busta Rhymes – With no more Dr. Loomis in the storyline, Halloween: Resurrection enlisted rapper Busta Rhymes to go mano a mano with Michael Myers. Playing Freddie, a kung fu loving reality tv producer, Rhymes used his velociraptor maw to chew scenery with gusto and make viewers long for the days of the dearly departed Donald Pleasence.

Rob Zombie’s Vision – while Zombie indeed brought new ideas to his 2007 take on Halloween (detailed more here), his “vision” also included changing Haddonfield to a town that was mostly dirty and unappealing and filled with mostly dirty, unappealing (and not to mention foul-mouthed) people – not doing a lot for empathy there. And by Halloween II (2009), Laurie Strode had become so insufferable you were almost rooting for Michael to actually kill her this time around. And as for Michael – he was turned into such a mindless rampaging beast that it almost seemed like a parody (seriously, when you have Michael Myers foot-stomping someone’s head until it is a literal mashed, bloody pulp, the result isn’t scary, it’s just revolting).

But, just to end on a good note, I leave you with this – a decidedly different take on a classic scene – Happy Halloween!

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*gif via Popobawa

Franchise Highs and Lows: Friday the 13th

While there are a number of broad problems with the Friday the 13th franchise (namely the wildly inconsistent continuity/timeline), I thought that in light of today’s date, it would be appropriate to honour a few of the things it did right. But since this is also a day traditionally steeped in bad luck, I feel duty bound to throw some this franchise’s way and point out a few of  its lowlights as well as its highlights – so let’s get to it! (Oh, and I guess there are some minor spoilers ahead…but really,  if you haven’t seen these films by now, then they are probably not that high on your “must-watch” list anyway)

HIGHS

F131980Friday the 13th (1980) – yes, the complete film. If people could view this with a fresh eye and ignore all that has come after it, they might actually find that this ultra low-budget original entry succeeds quite while in creating an atmosphere of dread and creeping suspense before it goes slashing into its final act.

Mrs. Pamela Voorhees – quite simply the deadliest Mother of the Year. Is there anything she wouldn’t do for her son?

That Jump Out Of The Lake – you know what one I’m talking about.

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And she was pretty good with a pitchfork, too

Ginny  – the “final girl” of Friday the 13th Part II as portrayed by Amy Steel was smart, responsible, resourceful and a quick thinker. Special props to her life-saving brains vs brawn tactic – using psychology to stop Jason in his tracks by pretending to be his deceased mother.

The Hockey Mask – an inspired choice, the moment when he first put it on (midway through Part III)  Jason Voorhees instantly went from “generic killer” to “recognized icon”.

Tom Savini – the special effects maestro produced some groundbreaking work for the franchise, including Jason’s infamous skull-slide down a machete in The Final Chapter.

Sense of Humour – for the sixth installment, Jason Lives, the filmmakers had tongues firmly planted in cheeks – most apparent in Jason’s opening credits riff on James Bond’s classic walk-and-shoot opening clip from the 007 films (jump to the :30 mark in the clip below).

Kane Hodder  – THE man behind the mask and all-around F13 MVP, with four consecutive turns as  Jason (Parts VI-IX).

Gimmicks (that worked) telekinetic Tina of Part VII-The New Blood (aka “Jason meets Carrie”),  the far-flung future and Crystal Lake holo-decks of Jason X  and the long awaited stand-off with Mr. Elm Street himself in Freddy vs Jason were all inspired attempts to inject something new into franchise.

LOWS

Gimmicks (that didn’t work) –  the letdowns of the non-existent taking of Manhattan in F138Part VIII – Jason Takes Manhattan (aka “Jason Goes On A Cruise”) and Jason as a body-hopping evil entity in Jason Goes To Hell.

Elephant Man Jason – with a one-eyed sack over his head and sporting a pair of overalls, the Jason from Part II came off more as an inbred hillbilly than a rampaging killer.

Imposter JasonPart V – A New Beginning’s solution to bringing back Jason after his death in The Final Chapter was to just have some random nutjob impersonate Jason. Revealed at the end of the movie, it was the equivalent giving the audience the middle finger.

The MPAA – the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings board came down hard on the second half of the F13 franchise, and Parts V-VIII were forced to cut away or tone down almost all of their on-screen kills in order to get a R-rating. Nowadays, you’ll find more blood and gore in an episode of CSI than those films were allowed to show to an R-rated audience..

friday-the-13th-2009iiFriday the 13th (2009) – While the return of the franchise was a box-office success and proved there was still an audience eager to visit picturesque Crystal Lake, it ended up being a big missed opportunity that did nothing to elevate the franchise. Equal parts remake, reboot and reimagining, the one thing that wasn’t changed at all was stocking the film with the stereotype characters and tropes that the franchise itself had helped to create and perpetuate. The rich snob, the dumb jock, the party girl, the sweet girl, the potheads, the over-sexed couple – they were all here and all going through the same beats and motions that have been done to death in every F13 film before it. Apart from a few original touches (like Jason’s tunnel system underneath Camp Crystal Lake) the film was mostly just the same old content in a shiny new package.

Remakes, Reboots & Reimaginings: Part 3

So, after discussing remakes in Part 1 and reboots in Part 2 of our look at the Three Rs of non-original film-making, what we’re left with is a type of film that falls into the limbo between the two – a film that is definitely not a remake, but not a reboot, either. This would be, of course, the third R – a reimagining.

There’s no clear-cut definition of reimagining, since of the Three R’s, it is the one that is most open to interpretation. But here are the points I use to identify a non-original film as a reimagining:

1) it tells the same story as the original

2) but goes about it in a completely different way (by adding scenes, expanding character roles, providing new back story and/or changing genres, etc)

Now, while the term “reimagining” has only recently come into vogue among film-makers, the concept has been kicking around in the theatre world for quite some time now. Broadway has been a long-time rider on the reimagination railroad by regularly producing musical versions of popular non-musical films for decades . Except they’ve always been called just that – “musical versions”. But when you think about it, this makes them essentially reimaginations of the original work.

With films though, reimaginings are still a rare breed, and are usually just lumped in with remakes – but they are less about just making a new “version” and more about a writer and/or director sharing a new “vision” of a classic work. And this can seem both respectful and pompous at the same time. Respectful in acknowledging that there would be no point in just remaking original but a little pompous in a “but look what I can do with it” kinda way. Obviously this approach can have its ups and downs – the film can dodge  being  judged under  a straight-forward “which version was better” scrutiny , but then it also sets itself up for the “they ruined a perfectly good story” backlash. Another plus for film-makers is that it also helps to give clout to their project – it makes it seem unique and not just another run-of-the-mill remake.

Perhaps one of the most well-known reimaginings is writer/director Rob Zombie’s Halloween, his 2007 take on the horror classic originally halloweenzombieco-written and directed by John Carpenter in 1978. Released amid the flurry of horror remakes that were produced in the mid-aughts, Rob Zombie’s Halloween was touted from the get-go as not just a remake, but Rob Zombie’s creative vision of Carpenter’s film. A fact directly reinforced in the tag line for the film’s  trailer: This summer, Rob Zombie unleashes a unique vision of a legendary tale. 

So what did Zombie do to take his Halloween from remake to reimagining? Well, he took the 5-minute sequence at the opening of Carpenter’s film, where young Michael Myers stabs his sister, Judith and then is discovered in an almost catatonic state by his parents, and expanded it by about 40 minutes. Not only did he add scenes (and additional murders) before and after the death of Judith, he actually created a full-blown character out of young Michael (who didn’t speak a single word at all in the original) and built to role of his mother from a non-speaking walk-on to a substantial supporting part.

Well, with all those changes, why isn’t this just a reboot then? That would be because after those 40 minutes of new, original material, Zombie then went into straight-up remake mode, and crammed what basically amounts to a condensed version of Carpenter’s Halloween into the last half of his Halloween.

So, it followed the same storyline in the end, but took completely different (not to mention bloodier) route to get there. Response to the film was generally mixed, with many fans and critics finding that giving a face and voice to a famously “faceless” masked killer is not only unnecessary, but doesn’t make him terrifying anymore. People were also critical about the distinct shift from Zombie’s material to the “remake” material – since it meant that key characters like stalked babysitter Laurie Strode and her besties Annie and Lynda  weren’t introduced until the midway point of the film, allowing the audience little time to get to know them before Michael came a-stalkin’.

So, while you have to give credit to film-makers who want to do something different than just a remake, reimaginings run the risk of severely dividing their audience, even more so than remakes or reboots. On the plus side though, being a reimagining means that it doesn’t necessary fall into canon with the films that came before it, so they can more or less be just regarded as unique works unto their own.

And that concludes our look at the Three Rs – I hope I managed to clear up some confusion people may have had about these three types of films (and hopefully, didn’t cause even more confusion).

Oh, and one more thing, back in Part 1 I mentioned how the 2008 Prom Night remake didn’t really belong in the remakes post, and here’s the reason why: Prom Night actually falls under the unofficial fourth R of non-original film-making – “rip-off”. That’s when film-makers get the rights to a well-known film title and then proceed to pull a bait-and-switch, creating a completely new story, with new characters and new settings that has NOTHING to do with the original. At all. As with  reimaginings, rip-offs don’t pop up that frequently…but enough so that I may just have to devote a follow-up column to the scourge of the Fourth R.