Sunday, May 1, 2016

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

Director: Adam Marcus

Cast: Steven Williams, Keri Keegan, John. D Lemay

Plot: Serial killer Jason Voorhees has returned home, eager to resume his reign of terror. A bounty hunter who is hot on his trail claims to not only know the maniac's secrets, but also how to destroy him once and for all. 

Review: The Friday the 13th series had enjoyed a good run throughout the 1980s. Though they maybe were embarrassed to admit it, Paramount made an insane amount of money from the eight films. However, people were getting burned out on slasher films and craved something new and exciting. Jason Takes Manhattan appeared to be the series' swan song and the company would soon sell the rights. Even the prospect of the much talked about Freddy vs. Jason project wasn't looking too promising. But like everyone's machete-wielding psycho in a goalie mask the franchise couldn't stay dormant forever.

The future of the Friday series hung in the balance for a number of years. In 1991, New Line Cinema finally said goodbye to their own horror icon Fred Krueger in Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare. Sean S. Cunningham, the man who created the first in the Paramount series would also be the one to resurrect it with New Line. However, instead of giving us the much touted battle between the horror titans we were treated to a series finale. Fans had been duped before when the fourth installment promised to be the last, but this time they meant business. The end result became the most controversial in the franchise, though it's not without supporters.

One thing you can't fault this film for is being a simple rehash of it's predecessors. Adam Marcus, making his directorial debut, and writers Dean Lorey and Jay Huguely take things in a very different direction. It's not entirely successful, which I'll get into, but they made a good effort and it's a wonder they haven't worked a lot more since. They gave the series a mythology that is both imaginative and yet don't take it too seriously. The film, like Jason Lives, is tongue-in-cheek and could be seen as a precursor to Scream. Don't let that turn you off though because there's still plenty to scare and gross you out.

Special effects have been one of the highlights for the series and this is no exception. The effects team went all out in terms of gore and also Jason's appearance. What he had to endure all these years is really starting to show, but that hasn't slowed him down a bit. On the subject of visuals, the film also looks fantastic and particularly during the many night scenes. There is an ominous air about the picture, which is especially potent during the opening sequence. It, plus a sequence involving campers, pays great tribute to the earlier installments.

The series isn't know for Oscar worthy performances, but they were never below average either. This entry actually has some of the best acting and also some dynamite characters. Creighton Duke, played by the uber talented Steven Williams, plays the bounty hunter and is both funny and intimidating. Speaking of breaths of fresh air the film also has many interesting twists along the way. I won't give any of them away, but I will say try to keep an open mind. The film does have many things the series is known for though, so don't fret that.

Having been absent from the last film, Harry Manfredini was hired to score this installment. Though perhaps not his best work, the man composed a solid score that ranges from eerie to beautiful. The "Ki-ki-ma-ma" theme is alive and well and other parts of the score echo pieces from past films. This is where the positives for me stop and we move on to the weaker aspects. Before I do this however, I have to recommend that those new to the film must stay until the end. Even if you don't care for the rest of the film the finale is something that has to be witnessed.

Though it was cool to introduce some things never mentioned before, such as Jason having living relatives, they're not explored enough. We also get the impression that he and Creighton Duke have a history and this is never elaborated on. And don't even get me started on the lack of ::Spoiler:: an explanation for how Jason survived the end of the last film ::End Spoiler::. The other issue, or rather issues, is a pair of scenes that both stand out and not necessarily in a positive way. The sequence with the campers is fun, but takes far too long and bogs the film down some. The other is the "shaving scene," which feels so silly and out of place.

The makers of this film could've done a far worse job than they did. You can tell they wanted to have the series go out with a bang and it does. The trouble is that the script needed more work and maybe by someone with more experience and knowledge of the series to do it. Imagine something like Halloween 6 that would seamlessly (Or almost) tie the series' loose ends and also take things in a new direction. Despite this what we have here is a fun, funny and yet still scary flick involving that pesky Jason and his trusty machete.      

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Highlander (1986)

Director: Russell Mulcahy

Cast: Christopher Lambert, Roxanne Hart, Sean Connery

Plot: Connor McLeod, an immortal and expert swordsman, has fought and vanquished many an opponent. Now residing in modern day New York City, he must face the most evil immortal to ever live.

Review: You never can tell what will be a hit with the public or what will come and go. Some films that seem to have the right ingredients end up falling flat for a multitude of reasons. And then there are films that maybe just didn't come at the right time, but develop a following over the years. For a film to be followed by four sequels, three television series (one of them animated) and an anime film it must be special to someone out there. Highlander is a film that critics either ignored or ripped apart upon it's release some thirty years ago. Despite this it continues to find new fans each generation and there are even plans for a remake.

Fantasy was a hot genre in the 1980s, particularly with the younger audience. Films like Labyrinth and The Neverending Story were seminal films for youngsters of the time. Fortunately filmmakers were thinking of the adults as well, creating more mature films of this ilk as good if not better. Instead of fairies and luck dragons you had black magic, intense battles and frightening monsters from the depths of hell. Like their more child friendly counterparts these films are romantic, but not in all the same ways. With all the strong handsome men and beautiful busty women populating these films it was only natural.

Russell Mulcahy proved he was a force to be reckoned with in the music video industry well before 1986. He finally got the chance to helm a feature in 1984 with Razorback, which too went on to have a cult following. After watching his past work it's not hard to see why he was hired because the film looks amazing and flows beautifully. The cast here is also top notch, the standout being legendary Sean Connery who steals every scene he's in. While he provides some of the film's laughs, Clancy Brown provides much of the terror as the villain. Christopher Lambert, who speaks English here for the first time on film, is the heart of the film and makes us care about him the whole way.

Aesthetically the film is breathtaking and not just because of Mulcahy's skillful eye. The Scottish locations are lovely and contrast beautifully with the New York ones. Despite the director's background in music videos, there's a grittiness to this rather than a polish. Then there's the cinematography, which is appropriately moody at times. To compliment the look of the film are both an exciting score and a dynamite soundtrack by Queen. Even better is that the songs are used in such a way that they don't take you out of the film.

Action films are not known for having great writing, but there are exceptions. Gregory Widen, Peter Bellwood and Larry Ferguson all collaborated on this film's script and successfully so. They strike a perfect balance between the action, humor and humanity. The film also works well as an action flick with a number of sequences that really crackle, beginning with a wicked fight in a parking garage. Since we get to go back in time there's also an epic medieval battle sequence that includes a memorable villain introduction.

I'm going to honest here and say that this film isn't exactly Shakespeare. That being said it doesn't pretend to be that and yet there is still a beauty to it. There are so many action films from the era that are cheesy and over the top, lacking what it takes to make a workable film. Highlander is not without flaws, but perhaps the only really stand out one is it's length. In a few minutes shy of two hours there is just so much to take in and the pace does lag a bit at times. But like our hero the film is damn near impossible to beat and has held that record for three decades now.

Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Home (2016)

Director: Frank Lin

Cast: Heather Langenkamp, Lew Temple, Samantha Mumba

Plot: A couple has just moved into a new house with their two daughters. While trying to get settled they learn about the previous owner and that the house may be haunted. Soon bizarre things start happening that could tear the family apart.

Review: As of late the market has been flooded with movies about the paranormal. Occasionally you find a gem, but more often than not it's the same old clichés and same old outcome. Most of these films have been straight to video and share some similarities with the Paranormal Activity franchise. The scenario is either a couple or a family living in a modern suburban house or a team of ghost chasers in some abandoned "insert building type here." The types of scares are also mostly the same, including such things as doors slamming and floating apparitions that attack out of the blue. You'd think by now this would have run it's course, but sadly this practice is alive and well.

Like many other viewers I'm sure, one of the main draws of this film for me was the appearance of horror veteran Heather Langenkamp (Nightmare on Elm Street 1, 3 and 7). Though it is nice to see her on screen again, the material she's given leaves a lot to be desired. I can't tell you how many times I've been suckered in like this only to want my time and money back. To be fair her presence isn't the only thing the film has going for it. One could certainly find a worse way to spend an afternoon than watching this, but don't let that make your expectations too high.

Word has it the entire film was improvisational, which I imagine was a great challenge for the cast. Everyone in the film does a good enough job of making us believe that they're really in peril. The director, who has only made one other horror movie, succeeds at creating tension. The film is also well edited and provides a few good jumps throughout. Of course having a child in the middle of all this adds even more unease. Add to that some eerie cinematography and you have a film that at least can mildly unnerve.

For most of it's running time, Home is a pretty bland and unsurprising affair. However the final act, which includes an interesting revelation, is where the film most comes to life. Unfortunately it's a case of too little too late and being outdone by the film's flaws. The first strike against this is the amount of clichés on display here. For example, there is an ominous portrait of the previous owner that seems to have a life of it's own. Also annoying is how much of this has been lifted from other, better movies (They even lift a scene from The Exorcist).

Being so low budget there aren't many effects in the film, which in itself is not a fault. The effects that are on display however are pretty silly looking, especially that face that jumps out at one of the characters. One thing that is definitely crucial to a horror film is a good score, which this one sorely lacks. It's not so much that it's bad it's just totally forgettable and sounds like so many other recent scores for movies of this ilk. Also lacking is a better explanation for what's happening, leaving us with a rather skewed plot. If you want something a little different I'd suggest looking elsewhere, but if you want the same old tired clichés look no further.

Rating: 5/10