Written by David Grove
Published by FAB Press
I have no idea when my love affair with Friday the 13th began. A kid in elementary school named Jason was the first horror fan I met who, strangely, hated being called out on the similarity between his name and the Jason from the movies as he was a bigger Freddy-fan than Friday the 13th (though he drew both quite well on his bookcovers and binders). I also remember seeing the Jason Takes Manhattan teaser poster at the old UA South 8 theater in Dallas when going to see another movie and wishing my grandparents would take me to see that instead of whatever I was going to see with them.
But then, USA started showing the movies all the time on cable when I was in high school and, suddenly, I became obsessed. Though Jason “drowned” before Friday the 13th, how did his “powers” change after the opening of Jason Lives? Did I have to hate Part V because it “wasn’t Jason” despite the fact that it had some of the coolest kills? What the hell was up with the ending to Manhattan? What happened to what’s-his-name at the end of Part 2? And so on.
Before Goes to Hell, I never really knew why the franchise had ended, how successful it had or hadn’t been for Paramount, or hell, why a Freddy vs. Jason movie – the thing everybody on every playground wanted to see – just never happened. I mean, Dollman vs. Demonic Toys happened, right?
But then, when an undergrad at the University of Texas, I walked into one of my playwriting professor’s office and saw a large, framed teaser poster for Friday the 13th: A New Beginning. My remark – to David Mark Cohen, who left Hollywood after Beginning and became a successful playwright (until his untimely death in December of 1997), – was, “Oh, wow – that must’ve been fun to write!” His response:
“Are you being facetious?”
Four eye-opening words on not only Hollywood screenwriting in general, but also the madness behind the Friday the 13th franchise. In esteemed horror journalist David (Fangoria, Rue Morgue) Grove’s new book, Making Friday the 13th: The Legend of Camp Blood, you get a clear look – movie-by-movie – of the insanity behind the franchise. How the money went up and down, how good people and bad both took turns trying to make the “perfect” franchise entry and how, time and time again, studio execs, the MPAA and several other factors always seemed to keep each movie from being what everyone hoped for going in.
Amazing that it’s still the best horror franchise out there then, huh?
When Paramount released the much-ballyhooed Friday the 13th box set, everyone’s hopes were high that this would be the last word – Criterion-style editions of each movie that would tell the tale, once and for all. Unfortunately, while some great stuff was in there, it didn’t live up to expectation – particularly with the exclusion of Steve Miner who had so much to do with the franchise from the beginning and directed what many consider to be the best (I can’t decide my fave between 3-D or Final Chapter). What was also hoped for was the final word on the so-called “lost scenes,” the gorier bits from various movies that showed up on a couple of Japanese laserdiscs, but generally just in fanboy fantasies that seemed to believe these ultra-bloody, Peter Jackson-style editions existed somewhere, just waiting to be released by a stodgy studio too unconcerned with its bastard step-child franchise to provide them to an adoring public.
Making Friday the 13th is, thereby, an absolute treasure trove of information on the series – from beginning to end and even including the surprisingly successful, Jason-less syndicated series (three whole seasons??) – and includes interviews with a vast number of people who must’ve been near-impossible to track down so many years on, particularly the bit-part actors from the early movies now enjoying innumerable regional theater spots on the east coast. Not only is there “a lot of Miner,” but the book goes into detail on just what was cut from each movie as remembered by the cast and crew.
At 240 pages and printed in some squinterific font (Microsoft Word’s 6 or 8 point font would be about equivalent), each of the movies gets more than one chapter, usually divided on what happened in the interval between films; how the story, crew and cast came together and then the story of the making of the film. The sheer amount of photos is staggering, from official press stills to various shots of the makeup effects (some compliments of Part I and Final Chapter genius Tom Savini) to behind-the-scenes snaps from 3-D supporting actor Steve Susskind and even a section in the middle with color shots for the real gorehounds.
Though some of the highlights of the book have to be the E! True Hollywood Story “Where Are They Now?” with such tidbits as Jason Lives star Jennifer Cooke having gone off to co-found Celestial Seasons tea company (on your supermarket shelves) and the aforementioned Susskind becoming a voice actor for movies like Osmosis Jones and Monsters, Inc., the insider-y stuff really appealed to me. I had no idea Last Wave co-writer Petru Popescu was the first writer on 3-D. I’d read a few of the Freddy Vs. Jason scripts, but had no idea just how bad most of them were (including the one that was shot, IMHO) until reading Grove’s breakdown. When the point comes up that Final Chapter director Joe Zito was originally meant to direct F vs. J almost a decade and a half ago, it makes me sad to think what that movie might’ve been rather than the dreck that finally came out from New Line, eons after anybody who really cared about Jason had left the stage.
That said, the one thing that I took exception to with the book – but, strangely, wouldn’t want to take out – would be the number of “gaffes” pointed out by the author. While Making Friday the 13th is not the kind of celebratory, every-last-frame-is-art style of “making of” book usually relegated to franchises like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, I felt it erred to far in the opposite direction at times when pointing out that Jason couldn’t be in three places at once (in Part 3-D) or other “what-were-they-thinking?” kinds of comments that peppered various chapters as if solely to point out the shortcomings of the series. While yes, we all know that the F13 series ain’t perfect, the way it was written always struck me as snarky and off-putting. Sure, it’s fun to cite inconsistencies, it just bumped me every so often like the fella who can’t watch Raiders of the Lost Ark without chiming in every time you see the glass between Indy and the cobra (“Look, see? There’s the reflection! Harrison Ford’s not really nose-to-nose with a snake!”). That’s no reason to not read the book, of course. I just figured I’d mention it so this review didn’t seem like an all-out rave of some sort.
At the end of the day, it’s somewhat bittersweet to have the curtain pulled away. Manfredini hasn’t even seen a couple of the ones he scored? No one is still really willing to say why Kane was dumped from Freddy Vs. Jason? A script that was written in three weeks (the insanely fun Jason X) is light-years better than one that dozens of writers took shots at over thirteen years (F vs. J – okay, I’ll stop taking shots at it)? There’s an X-rated sequence from the already pretty hardcore scene in A New Beginning that no one’s felt should be available on the internet? The various controversies over who got credit for playing Jason (I’m looking at you Warrington Gillette) versus who is actually under the bag or behind the mask are kind of sad as you would wish people would be cool about it. That said, my respect for certain people – Tom McLaughlin, John Carl Buechler, Kane Hodder, Steve Miner, Joe Zito and many other – only increased after reading the book. The best thing that can be said is that after reading it, I wanted to go and re-watch the entire franchise from start-to-finish (well, excising the unwatchable Goes to Hell).
One final note. Who knows if there will ever be another Friday the 13th movie. The Tarantino story of a few weeks ago – premature as it was – was the only promising thing that’s been said about the series in a long time, frankly. Thankfully, it’s unlikely that New Line will rush out another franchise entry and blow millions to cash in as a new F13 would have to bring in new fans rather than rely on the shrinking Jason-fans who felt burned by the Ronny Yu chapter. If that means a Michael Bay-produced remake of the original (I’m a fan of how Leatherface got his monstrous upgrade and could be taken seriously as a horror figure again) or Quentin Tarantino stylizing the next one, so be it. I can wait.
Oh, on the subject of foxiest F13 babe – an issue more than covered in the book – it’s a toss-up between Barbara Howard (Part 3-D) and Jeannine Taylor (the original) for me!
3 1/2 out of 5
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Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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