Friday, 25 October 2019

Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Countdown! (#30-21)

Welcome back to the big slasher franchise countdown! After whittling our way through some of the worst films I've ever seen... well, we're still working our way through a bunch of crappy films today. They're just not as crappy as Freddy's Dead, which is something to celebrate, I guess! So with that in mind, let's look at the next batch of movies, starting with #30...


30) Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
After killing off Jason in Part IV, the producers wanted to carry on the franchise without him. If they had decided to do something other than replace him with a Jason knock-off this could have maybe worked, but since they didn't, A New Beginning just feels like a filler entry in the franchise, not only because Jason would be back in the next film, but also because they clearly wanted to set-up Tommy Jarvis as the new killer going forward. On the one hand, it is really nice to see Tommy Jarvis return and lend some continuity to the film, but the way he is handled is very poor. He basically spends the whole movie on the verge of freaking out, in a medically-induced haze, snapping at people who act like a dick to him, or just entirely missing for large chunks of the runtime. Some of this comes down to the filmmakers trying to set up a mystery about who the killer is, similar to the first film, and Tommy Jarvis is one of the main red herrings. This mystery is actually better handled in some ways than it was in the original, since there are several potential killers, including a mysterious drifter, a guy who legitimately axe murders someone early in the film and even a potentially resurrected Jason Voorhees himself. However, the execution of this mystery is significantly worse than in the original film and is easily one of the main reasons why A New Beginning is so derided. This is a movie whose entire premise hinges on a kid named Joey who is so stupid and annoying (he literally has melted chocolate running down his lips) that a guy with rage issues axes him to death, causing Joey's deadbeat dad to freak out and go on a murder spree. Why did he take it all out on his whole community instead of going after the guy who actually killed his son? Good question, who knows! We don't even find out until the ending that the killer was a random paramedic named Roy Burns who had shown up momentarily at two earlier points in the film, at which point they just exposition dump his motives. However, the way that the film highlights the seemingly-pointless Roy Burns during these sequences pretty much gives away the twist if you're only paying attention to the language of film, rather than a coherent narrative. I don't think this twist was ever going to be satisfying, but it could have worked better if Roy Burns got unmasked just a little earlier and went on a rage-fuelled tangent about how he's getting revenge for his son.

Even without the poor twist though, A New Beginning is just a really bad Friday the 13th movie. The characters are all nobodies. Several characters are introduced in the same scene where they are killed off with the audience having no reason to give a shit about them. The bulk of the characters only get two or three scenes, but absolutely no development beyond an outline of a character trait. Even final girl Pam doesn't have much character to speak of and Tommy Jarvis himself gets no real development in the film. The only character who is at least fun to watch is the little black kid Reggie, who adds a bit of diversity to a franchise which had been overwhelmingly white until now. Oh, and then there are the fucking rednecks. Holy shit I loathe these cartoon bumpkins. They get more screentime than most of the other characters and every second of it makes me want to murder them myself. The dull characters combine with mediocre kills and the film's unavoidable filler status to make A New Beginning a truly forgettable Friday the 13th film. I have to give them a bit of credit for trying to take the franchise in a different direction, but boy did it not work.


29) A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
On the surface, the Elm Street remake seems to have some good things going for it, most obviously the casting of Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger. It's also obvious that the screenwriters did some research before writing the film because they inject new ideas into the story based on the science of sleep deprivation and the history of the Satanic Panic (which was still unfolding during the time of the original Elm Street).

Unfortunately, the Elm Street remake ultimately feels like a needless disappointment. Many of the film's beats are just copies of the original, but done to much lesser effect (eg, CGI Freddy coming out of the wall looks so much worse than the sheet effect in the original). As for the new ideas, while the sleep deprevation ideas come across more as a half-baked means of narrative convenience, it's the Satanic Panic elements which really screw over this film. You could boil this movie's story down to "What if Satanic Panic, but real?" The Elm Street remake teases the idea that Freddy was innocent of any wrongdoing and is getting revenge on the children for lying to their parents, which is exactly what happened in the real life events that this film is clearly inspired by. The main characters also have to uncover their "repressed memories" of the events, which is another key element of the Satanic Panic which was later proven false. However, in this film it turns out that Freddy Krueger was actually a pedophile, so it's good that the parents all burned him alive without any real evidence and repressed memories are totally real, y'all! Considering that they were obviously cribbing from a real-life event which ruined several peoples' lives despite them all being completely innocent and then turn the narrative around to them actually being guilty, it's disappointing. That's not even getting to the fact that turning Freddy into a straight-up pedophile and abuser completely sucks any sort of fun you might get out of the character. It makes him too real and too disgusting to enjoy. Why would any of us want to see Freddy continue to abuse victims whose lives he's been ruining for their whole lives? I'm not sure where the line of no return is between this unacceptable Freddy and Freddy torturing teenagers by turning them into bugs and then squashing them, but the Elm Street remake is just joyless and it's no wonder there wasn't a sequel.

A unlikeable Freddy is not the end of the remake's issues though either. The film features a pre-breakout Rooney Mara as Nancy, which would lead one to expect a strong performance from her. However, her performance is practically lifeless and the character is written as a boring, passive protagonist. This effectively torpedoes audience engagement on its own, even if Freddy was more likeable in his own right. It's strange too because one of the elements of the film I do like is that the first half hour frames Kris as the protagonist - she figures out that the killer is in their nightmares, starts looking into the characters' pasts and gets the most development. As a result, it's actually pretty shocking when she's the one who gets killed in the first act, in easily the most impactful death of the film. This could have actually been a great idea if Nancy had been set up better to pick up the torch from her, kind of like how Alice becomes the protagonist in The Dream Master. Ultimately, the film is also just not very fun or scary. Perhaps they were going for a more grounded take on Freddy, but he doesn't really do anything creative with his victims' dreams. He just shows them scenes from the past, and then when he's stalking them the most elaborate thing he'll do is teleport around. Add everything up and you have a remake which they just shouldn't have bothered with, because there is basically nothing to recommend.


28) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)
As much as I detest this film, I have to give it one thing - it's main goal is to be a brutal film and in this regard it succeeds in spades. With torture porn coming in vogue at the time, the producers at Platinum Dunes decided that they really had to up the ante compared to the Chainsaw remake, and you can't deny that they created a very nasty film. If that's all you're looking for then you will probably enjoy The Beginning much more than I did, but if not then you're in for a miserable time. For my own tastes, The Beginning is so bleak in its pointless torture of the characters that there's nothing to enjoy about it. Even then, the film is a piss-poor excuse for a prequel, skimming over questions that no one really asked about the Chainsaw remake. Furthermore, the narrative also stumbles with a Vietnam war draft dodging subplot which goes nowhere and a final girl who keeps rolling nat 20s on her stealth checks until it becomes narratively convenient for her to finally get caught. Even R. Lee Ermey's Sherrif Hoyt is much less fun to watch. Again, your feelings on this film will probably come down to taste, but for my own part, I don't like it at all.


27) Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)
Texas Chainsaw 3D has to be one of the stupidest horror sequels in the past decade, even if you ignore the fact that the characters are about 20 years too young based on the film's timeline (this is because the film was supposed to be set in the 1990s, but was changed to present day at the last minute). Some of this probably comes down to the fact that this film was co-written by Adam Marcus, the guy who brought us Jason Goes to Hell. Here he once again tries to expand a franchise's mythology, this time by bringing us a feud between two clans, the Sawyers and the Hartmans. The most baffling aspect of this is that the Sawyers, and Leatherface, get repositioned as freaking misunderstood heroes... who, y'know, we'll just conveniently pretend don't regularly engage in murder, torture and cannibalism. It's especially ridiculous when their foes, the Hartmans, are essentially just guilty of police brutality, which is bad but nothing compared to the inhuman acts of the Sawyers. The 3D is also pretty bad, although very restrained compared to the likes of Friday the 13th: Part III and Freddy's Dead. All that said, Texas Chainsaw 3D is at least never boring, which helps keep it out of the bottom tiers of this list, but good God does it ever insult your intelligence.


26) Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
Halloween 4 is about as bog-standard as a Halloween sequel could be. Michael Myers escapes from the sanitarium on Halloween... again. He's trying to kill his last remaining relative... again. Dr. Loomis and the sherrif are trying to hunt him down before he can kill... again. I mean, there are a few differences between this as the original Halloween, namely the introduction of child actress Danielle Harris' new character, Jamie Lloyd, daughter of a now-deceased Laurie Strode. Having a child as one of the main characters provides a more vulnerable victim for Michael to hunt down, but she ultimately is little more than a burden for the other characters to protect. Speaking of other characters, the other female lead, Rachel, is pretty boring. She is constantly losing Jamie and the only other thing we get for her is that her boyfriend cheats on her because she has to babysit Jamie on Halloween... wow, she's really good at picking them isn't she? We also get Dr. Loomis back, but he's much more restrained than he was in previous Halloween films. He's still easily the most entertaining character, but compared to the first two films he's definitely mellowed out.

Halloween 4 makes some weird and unfortunate decisions. For one thing, the tension that was so key to the first film is gone. Michael rarely stalks his victims now, he just shows up and kills them almost immediately. He also teleports around town whenever it's narratively convenient, killing whole police stations and power plants in the process while somehow managing to keep track of where Jamie is at all times. Oh and Michael's mask is so strange looking in this film - it's almost pure white, the eyes are pure black and the texture is so smooth looking that the lighting can't give it any sort of depth. It just looks strange, especially compared to all the other masks in this franchise. I know that the producers felt like they had to course-correct after the much-maligned Season of the Witch, but Halloween 4 ultimately is just a boring film which tries way too hard to recapture the original film's spirit, while missing out on basically everything that made that film work.


25) Halloween II (1981)
Hoo boy, of all the franchises on this list the Halloween franchise saw the biggest dip in quality between its first and second films, in my opinion. This is probably a surprising placement for most, because it seems like a lot of people think Halloween II is pretty decent, and I kind of get the urge to defend it (especially considering the films that came after). However, I was actually really disappointed by Halloween II. You'd think that only a couple years removed from the original they'd be able to retain a spark of what made the first film work so well, but this film feels more akin to the Halloween slasher ripoffs than it does the original. There are scattered moments of brilliance, such as Michael Myers coming out of the shadows behind an unsuspecting victim and a couple solid kills, but most of this movie is incredibly unsatisfying. Part of the issue is that Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Strode is wasted in a comatose state for the first hour, and instead we have to watch a bunch of unlikeable and/or personality-less characters get picked off one-by-one with no real clear direction of what anyone is doing. When Laurie finally does start getting stalked by Michael, the tension and enjoyment does ratchet up considerably, but by then two thirds of the movie have passed. Donald Pleasance's Dr. Loomis is also already going batshit crazy by this film, ranting like a madman, shooting out car windows and dragging people into danger, which makes for some fun distractions at least. Unfortunately, other than those little flashes of brilliance and a decent last act, most of Halloween II is really underwhelming and lacking in momentum.


24) A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)
At its core, The Dream Child has a surprisingly compelling premise - protagonist Alice is pregnant and her unborn child has become connected to Freddy and is leeching off Alice's dream powers. As a result, Freddy is able to use the unborn child to attack victims in the real world at any time, since the fetus is almost always dreaming. This means that Alice has to grapple with the idea of aborting her own child in order to stop Freddy from killing people, which is a fantastic set-up for some tense drama. Unfortunately, the execution of this premise is not great, since Alice immediately takes abortion off the table, so from there it just becomes a Nightmare film with increasingly-unclear rules. This is the entry in the Nightmare franchise where Freddy finally became a total cartoon character, quipping off cringy one-liners before, during and after every kill, and sometimes you'd just wish he'd shut up. The film also brings back the subplot about Freddy's mother, which was already one of the worst parts about the previous Nightmare films, and is just as crappy here, only now with a hokey dream child thrown in for good measure. By this film, Alice has grown on me a fair bit, but the new characters are little more than walking victims, whose character traits only exist to give Freddy something to kill them with. Speaking of which, this movie has a surprisingly low number of kills and they're a real mixed bag. The force-feeding death has some really terrible looking effects and the Freddy-cycle kill is okay but Freddy's constant one-liners make it annoying, but the "Take on Me" inspired rotoscope kill is a true classic which shows off just how cool and creative Nightmare films can be... too bad this film is just a convoluted, nonsensical mess.


23) Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
The New Blood has a very strange premise which practically screams "franchise fatigue", as the film suddenly throws a character with psychic powers into the mix. Maybe they figured "well, Jason's a zombie now so any sort of magic is on the table"? It basically makes The New Blood into Carrie vs Jason and the last act when the two are finally allowed to go head-to-head has some of the most amazing sequences in any Friday the 13th movie. This is helped by the introduction of everyone's favourite Jason Vorhees, Kane Hodder, who gets the absolute crap kicked out of him as final girl Tina throws Jason around, flings things, lights him on fire and even drops a house on him, complete with some of the best special effects in the whole franchise (and probably the best-looking Jason for that matter). However, the film comes with some MAJOR caveats. For one thing, the MPAA was cracking down hard on slasher films at this time and so most of the kills were censored heavily (although we did get the classic "sleeping bag kill", which gets around needing to have any gore with how creatively brutal it is). I'd also argue that, if we're just judging on the first hour of the film, this could have been the worst film in the entire Friday the 13th franchise. Other than Tina, the characters are forgettable or infuriatingly unlikeable (especially Dr. Crews), and it's hard to care as Jason tears through a bunch of nobodies for the millionth time. Still, at least the last act is fun enough that it at somewhat makes up for the rest of the mess.


22) Friday the 13th (2009)
As far as horror remakes go, Friday the 13th is actually pretty decent. It's faithful to the source material without being overly-reverential and essentially feels like an updated, more explicit entry in the franchise. And man, do I ever mean more explicit - not only is Jason just brutal in this film, but the nudity and sex scenes have been cranked up to borderline-porno levels. Jason himself has also gotten an interesting makeover, coming across here as an unstoppable survivalist who uses the environment against his victims and actually sets traps for them. He's certainly a more cunning, fast and lethal foe than ever, making him easily the most intense and arguably the scariest Jason ever. However, the film commits the cardinal sin of most slashers, featuring unlikeable and uninteresting characters who exist for no reason but to get killed in various brutal ways. Chief among these is Trent, a cartoonish, irredeemable asshole who is apparently supposed to be Megan Fox's ex-boyfriend from the start of Transformers (a bit of trivia I learned while researching my ranking of cinematic universes). The other characters are all just bog-standard at best, which keeps the film from being good in its own right, but by Friday standards, it's solid.


21) Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
Leatherface isn't a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to give it some credit for introducing some interesting new ideas to the Chainsaw franchise which have never really been capitalized upon. Foremost amongst these is the idea of making the Sawyers into active hunters, rather than having them scavenge and kill people who just happen to wander onto their property. It gives the film more of a The Hills Have Eyes vibe, which feels appropriate. As the film's title suggests, Leatherface has also been beefed up, becoming a meaner, more sadistic killer who wields a massive, golden chainsaw at the end. The villainous characters are also quite colourful, from the creative Tink, to the charming Tex, to the disgusting pervert, Alfredo. The main couple, Ryan and Michelle, are unfortunately pretty underwhelming protagonists, but at least we get Ken Foree as Benny, a badass survivalist who goes toe-to-toe with the Sawyers and is an absolute joy to watch. Despite all these cool elements, the film is unable to execute on any of them to the fullest, which is in part due to studio interference and the MPAA mercilessly cutting down on all of the brutal deaths.

...and that's all for this entry in the rankings. We're getting closer to the top though! Be sure to tune in again soon though, as we go through #20-11!

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