Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey


Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning is one of the worst films in the Jason series. A good slasher sequel should show some loyalty to its fans and aim to provide what they want and expect when they pay money to see it. This movie fails to do these things entirely.
The fifth Jason movie is the second film in the Tommy Jarvis trilogy and it takes place over ten years after the last one. Tommy is now in his early 20’s and being sent to a mental health community. The trauma from the last movie has left him with extreme PTSD and he has not spoken a word in years. The new facility he is sent to is run by a well-meaning progressive who wants to provide the residents more freedom and less of a sterile hospital environment. It’s run a lot like an adult foster care home with the clients allowed to do what they wish with limited freedom. The theory is that the clients will be better acclimatised to normal life this way and while that is good in theory several idiotic mistakes are made.
For one thing they allow a patient with severe anger issues to use an ax to chop wood. I am all for giving less fortunate people opportunities to better themselves, but giving someone with a volatile temper an ax is stupid. And the stupidity becomes readily manifest when he loses his shit and begins hacking to death another patient. Shortly after paramedics take the body away and the psychopath is arrested. But since the universe this movie occupies makes no sense the home remains open.

Later on while Tommy is staying there Jason shows up and starts massacring people in the vicinity. This is obviously surprising since Tommy hacked Jason to death years ago and was buried. Nevertheless with no explanation being presently offered Jason complete with mask and machete is slaughtering the patients, staff, and even the dumb hillbillies next door. In typical Jason fashion among the first slaughtered are a pair of horny teenagers having sex. What’s odd is that these two are patients from the facility and I find it unnerving that an AFC home would tolerate patients banging each other without doing much about it. Being progressive is one thing. Being so loose that you risk getting shut down is another.

By the end the survivors are the facility’s director, Pam; Tommy Jarvis, and a black kid named Reggie who is probably the only black person in history to survive a slasher movie.
Reggie runs over Jason with a tractor and he is thrown several feet in the air. Tommy eventually faces Jason off in the barn from the third movie and triumphs when he pushes Jason from the loft window and falls onto a harrow.

When the body of Jason is recovered from the harrow it is revealed that he isn’t Jason at all. It’s one of the paramedics from the facility. Apparently the boy hacked to death was his son and he went crazy with grief. Seeking revenge on the AFC home for its failure to protect his son he starts masquerading as Jason and slashing up whomever he meets. Too bad he never got revenge on the psycho that actually killed him. You would think that would be more productive to his point.
But, now that we know that the killer was just a normal guy a lot of questions are raised. The main one is how the fuck this guy was so strong. He was not the real Jason so how did he survive getting run over by a tractor. The paramedic was a middle-aged man. He was not a muscular melon head who lived in the woods for most of his life.

The movie ends with Pam visiting Tommy in the hospital and he has a nightmare in which he kills her with a machete. He wakes up and dons the Jason mask and grabs a butcher knife. Why these things were in his hospital room is anyone’s guess and since the next movie ignores this ending completely we are given no satisfactory conclusion to what the fuck was going on here. At least the ending to Halloween 4 in which the little girl stabs her mother is referenced in Halloween 5 a little bit.

I am not sure what the filmmakers were thinking. The fans after the previous three films are used to having Jason being the killer. How is adding a twist in which the main attraction is absent gonna please anybody? This is worse than Halloween III. At least that movie didn’t pretend to be something it was not.

This is the first real disappointment of the Friday the 13th series. There are more to come, but thankfully there is still some good ones before we start getting more shit than gold.


Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey


Few movies that call themselves ‘The Final Chapter” actually are. Saw: The Final Chapter is getting a sequel this month. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is getting a reboot. And Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare was followed by three movie Freddy movies proving he wasn’t so dead after all. The fact is that it’s hard to keep a popular horror franchise down. While this movie is calls itself the final chapter it eventually spawned a total of eight more sequels. This final chapter is anything but final.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is a common favourite among Jason fans and it is easy to see why. It’s a perfect and pure Jason movie that gives us everything we want. It’s an hour and a half of Jason with his hockey mask lumbering about and butchering teenagers with a machete.

It opens right where Part III left off with paramedics taking the supposedly dead Jason to the morgue. There he wakes up, kills the coroner and a nurse, and returns home.
The Following day a bunch of teens head to a cabin on Crystal Lake for the weekend and discover they have neighbours. A woman, her daughter, and young son, Tommy, are also living there and they befriend the group.
Tommy Jarvis (played by Corey Feldman) is a big horror buff who designs his own prosthetic masks and props. They are all pretty well made and it is clear he has a career following in Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero’s footsteps ahead of him if he survives this movie.

Crispin Glover of Back to the Future fame is also in this movie. He plays a virgin who is getting teased by his “friend” Ted for never being with a woman. If it wasn’t for the fact that Jimmy is played by Crispin Glover I probably would have skipped this subplot in my review as it is not that interesting. Long story short: Crispin gets lucky with a girl named Tina while the jealous Ted is left alone to watch old stag movies from the 20’s on a projector. Both of the guys are killed by Jason because if there is anything Jason dislikes more than people trespassing on Crystal Lake it’s premarital sex and vintage porn.

Eventually the survivors of Jason’s typical slicing and dicing boil down to Tommy Jarvis and his sister, Trish. Tommy, following Ginny’s footsteps from Part II, disguises himself to confuse Jason. He shaves his head completely bald and applies makeup to himself to make himself somewhat resemble Jason as he was when he was a child. How Tommy knew anything about this is anyone’s guess. Once again Jason is stupid enough to pause and wonder which leads him to getting a machete suddenly lodged into his head. Tommy goes apeshit and starts hacking Jason to death yelling, “Die! Die! Die!” over and over again.

Later at a hospital Tommy and his sister talk for awhile and she hugs him. The movie ends with Tommy looking up with a disturbed expression on his face implying that he may grow to have violent tendencies in the future.

This is the first movie of what many fans refer to as the Tommy Jarvis trilogy. Parts V and VI continue with his experiences with Jason as an adult and deal with his finally coming to terms with his traumatic experiences and overcoming them. Nothing stellar, but it does add to a cut-and-paste series of genre slashers that would inevitably degenerate into the mundane otherwise. And it stays true to the series’ formula without going too over the top or getting too ridiculous.
My only really complain is that this movie could not possibly take place on Friday the 13th. Assuming that Part II takes place on Friday the 13th then Part III must take place Saturday the 14th because that movie is a day afterward. And since this movie does the same thing Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter must take place on Sunday the 15th and Monday the 16th. But since those dates aren’t very scary the movie titles make little note of it.

Roger Ebert called this movie “an immoral and reprehensible piece of trash” and went on to say, “Just think of the message this movie has to offer to its teenage audience: ‘The World is this totally evil place,’ this movie says. ‘It will kill ya. It doesn’t matter what your dreams, and hopes, and ambitions are. It doesn’t matter if you have a new boyfriend or a new girlfriend or if you have got plans for the future. You can forget those plans because you’re gonna wind up dead.’ There is literally nothing else in this movie.”
I love Roger Ebert most of the time, but I think here he is giving the movie way too much credit. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter has no message at all. There is no cynicism present in its storytelling. Nihilism, cynicism, and despair are not themes of these kinds of movies no matter what the critics may insist. These movies are juvenile geek shows showing off blood and guts with a masked killer racking up a body count for a period of 90 minutes for the macabre entertainment of its audience. You can criticise the audience all you want for finding the macabre entertaining in an escapist sort of way, but it is unfair to give a movie with such little thought put into it accusations of cynicism and nihilism. Friday the 13th has nothing to say whatsoever about dreams or the meaning of life. It’s a fun carnival ride of cheap cheesy terror in which Jason slashes his way through the characters. If you like that sort of thing then this is a perfect example of a Jason movie. If not you can watch Halloween, The Devil’s Rejects, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, or From Dusk Till Dawn all of which Roger Ebert praised and gave glowing reviews.

Friday the 13th Part III

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey


I am not a big fan of 3D movies; even modern ones. They are gimmicky, distracting, and headache-inducing and add only marginal changes to the film viewing experience. And if you wear glasses like I do then you are even in for a more difficult time getting the 3D goggles to fit over your specs.
But in the 1980’s 3D was even worse. The red and blue 3D glasses often blurred the picture and made discerning the film difficult. And many of these films, and Friday the 13th is no exception, employ 3D in gimmicky and juvenile ways that look clumsy and ridiculous when watched in 2D at home. In this movie we have stupid moments like a guy playing with a yo-yo which drops toward the camera in obvious ways, a hippie making popcorn with each kernel popping into closeup shots which look horrible, and there is even a scene where Jason squeezes a man’s head so hard his eye pops out on a wire that the special effects crew failed to disguise. My blu-ray boxset comes with two pairs of 3D glasses and has a 3D option for this movie. I stick with 2D and patiently put up with the idiotic 3D gimmick scenes.

As for the movie itself it is not that bad as far as these kind of movies go. It follows the low-rent slasher formula well and Jason gets his iconic hockey mask. One of his victims is a rather tubby prankster who likes to scare his female friends with masks, fake blood, and prosthetics. In one scene he jumps out and scares a girl he has a crush on wearing a hockey mask and holding a spear gun. I am not sure why he thought hockey masks were scary since the only thing scary about them is the sheer boredom I suffer when I watch a hockey game, but the gag is effective and he successfully scares the girl. She, of course, berates him and he shamefacedly slinks off to the barn to mope. Apparently terrifying a girl shitless is not a good wooing tactic, who knew?
Jason finds him, kills him, and takes a liking to the hockey mask. After shooting the girl in the eye with the spear gun the iconic Jason image is born complete with hockey mask and machete in hand.

There is also a subplot involving these bikers who start harassing the characters staying at Crystal Lake. These are your standard dickhead characters that the viewer roots for the killer eliminating. Not being a biker or well-acquainted with that culture I cannot say how stereotyped these bikers are, but they are still a ton of fun to watch and their demises are creative and memorable.

The main character is a girl named Chris who used to live in a house on Crystal Lake, but left and never came back after a trauma she suffered there a few years ago. While out in the woods at night she was attacked by a hideous man and the effect of the experience had made returning emotionally difficult. It is also subtly implied by the film that Jason also raped her which goes to show that the writers did not have the Jason Voorhees character fully fleshed out yet. Jason is not a rapist and has no such inclinations. His mind is too primitive and underdeveloped to have an sexual urges of any kind. The notion that he ever raped someone is just inappropriate.

Over the course of the film Jason stalks and kills the vacationers one by one this time using his signature machete for the majority of his kills. Like the previous films the last survivor is the main heroine. Chris has a final encounter with Jason in the barn and in a brief moment he is unmasked and she recognises him as the man who assaulted her all those years ago. She ultimately defeats him by taking an ax to his head and he eventually collapses. She goes out in a canoe onto the lake and then has another jumpscare nightmare sequence in which Pamela Voorhees’ corpse rises from the water and pulls her under. She awakes and is taken to safety by the police.

The Pamela Voorhees jumpscare fails to be anywhere near as effective as the one in the first movie and frankly it is really stupid. In the previous films the characters knew who Pamela and Jason Voorhees were. In this movie they identify him only as a masked maniac and later on Chris recognises him as her assailant from years ago. But, none of them know that he is Pamela’s son. So there is no justifiable cause for Chris to have a nightmare about Pamela’s corpse. It makes no sense at all.

But aside from the bad 3D affects I have few complaints about the movie. It’s not Citizen Kane, but it is good Jason movie. There is no overabundance of slow buildup, the kills are creative, and the pacing is entertaining. This is just another Jason movie that delivers what it promises. If you are a fan of the genre this movie will satisfy you just fine.

Friday the 13th Part II

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey


The first sequel to Friday the 13th is one of the best of the series. Part II sets the tone for the future of the franchise and is the first movie to feature Jason Voorhees as the killer. Everything you would expect from a traditional 80’s slasher movie is presented here with perfection. The tone is right. The setting is ideal. The characters are typical fodder for our machete-wielding antihero. And the story doesn’t devolve into the sort of implausibility we see in later entries. There is no Jason going to space, taking Manhattan, or being possessed by the Necromicon in this movie! What we get is standard low-budget slasher fare. It gets everything we expect right. One might argue that the formula of Friday the 13th Part II is too cut-and-paste, but it should be noted that this movie is a trend-setter and such tropes were stemming from this movie rather than being imitated by it. This movie delivers what you pay for.

Like any good slasher movie of the time the movie opens with the surviving heroine of the previous film getting killed. Alice is now back home and after assuring her mother over the phone that she is alright and taking a shower she decides to go to the kitchen to find something to eat. When she opens the fridge she sees to her dismay the severed head of Pamela Voorhees. Because she is not Jeffrey Dahmer and seeing the severed heads of people in her fridge doesn’t appeal to her she screams. The scream is short lived, however, when Jason comes in and pierces her temple with an ice pick.

The movie cuts to five years later and a camp near Crystal Lake is being opened for counselor training. Before starting the training, Paul, who is running the camp tells the counselors to stay away from Crystal Lake. He tells them a story which retells the events of the first movie and then proceeds to claim there is a legend that Jason, Pamela Voorhees’ son, still roams the grounds. He proceeds to tell them the legend is nothing but bullshit and that Jason is dead, but is clear from his intent that no one is to go to Crystal Lake anyway. I am not sure why he demands this since as he said the legend was nothing more than a myth. The reasons for why Crystal Lake is off limits are arbitrarily and unsatisfactorily given. Something to do with property and trespassing I guess, but why resort to bringing up a stupid story then if that is the case. And I also speculate how such a legend about Jason came about. This is the first movie where Jason began killing anybody so it is not like he has earned a reputation or anything yet. In the context of the world where this story takes place there is really no reason for such a legend to start. It would be like a story about Ed Gein having a son who roams his hometown killing people. There is no precedent for such a story to be told.

As things at the camp get underway it becomes more and more clear that Paul is incompetent. After two of his counselors get caught by a sheriff sneaking where they don’t belong his idea of discipline is to forbid them seconds on ice cream served that evening. In the last movie the guy running the camp had a creepy sex offender vibe in my opinion, but he didn’t strike me as an idiot who couldn’t keep the counselors in line. Paul is a complete fucking doofus who doesn’t appear to do any training at all. Most of the time he sits in his office posturing and doing nothing. He is worse than the maintenance staff at my apartment.

The aforementioned sheriff later on spots Jason in the woods and gives chase. He tracks him down to a really disgusting shack that Jason must have built for himself after he supposedly drowned. How he managed to do this is never made clear and before the sheriff can do anything about it Jason kills him with a hammer.

Paul takes some of his counselors to a bar (because fuck productivity) where Ginny, the new replacement heroine of the movie, ponders the possibility that the Jason legend may be true and he is out there alone in the woods somewhere. Paul laughs it off as any sensible person would. It simply isn’t feasible that a young child with mental disabilities could survive on his own in the woods. And if this was not a cheesy 80’s slasher movie he would be correct in thinking this. But in this universe Jason can and does survive and grows up in the woods feeding on animals and murdering wandering horny teenagers who may happen to pass by.

Back at the camp Jason kills off several of the counselors one by one. The most unique and memorable of the deaths by far is the spear scene. While two of the counselors are having sex Jason ruins their fun by spearing them together so hard that the point of the weapon goes under the bed and hits the floor. Damn!

When Paul and Ginny get back they are understandably put out when they find out someone has been murdering their friends while they were gone. I mean, shit, they didn’t even get done half the work they were supposed to do.
Jason soon ambushes them and the remainder of the film is Ginny and Paul running and screaming from their relentless pursuer. They eventually make it back to Jason’s shack and there they find a weird shrine with Pamela’s mummified head sitting in the centre surrounded by candles. In front of the head is her old sweater which she wore in the last film.
Ginny puts on the sweater and poses as Jason’s mother. This confuses the slasher icon for a moment, but after seeing his mom’s head on the altar the big dummy remembers that she was dead. He attacks Ginny, but she is rescued by Paul who gets knocked down. Jason is about to kill him with a pickaxe when Ginny slams a machete into his shoulder. He falls unconscious and they remove his mask which is a burlap sack in this movie. They see his ugly mutated face and are frightened by it. They might have approved of Jason’s behaviour if he was handsome, I guess.

They return back to one of the cabins when suddenly the unmasked Jason jumps through the window and grabs Paul. The film ends with Ginny waking up while being taken by paramedics into an ambulance. She keeps desperately asking where Paul is and she gets no answer.

Friday the 13th Part II is a good example of a traditional Jason movie. The only trope missing is his iconic hockey mask which he does not get until Part 3. If the final jumpscare is not as effective in this one as it was in Part 1 that can be forgiven because otherwise we get everything we need. Jason kills people in unique ways. We get lots of blood, nudity, and the movie is short enough and gives Jason plenty of screen time. Movies of this type don’t need 40 minutes of backstory and character development and I am glad this movie knows what it is. A Jason movie should be standard fare. When it tries to do something different we get robot Jason from Jason X. I can live without that.

Friday the 13th (1980)

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey


Well it is the month of October again and that means it is time to review another horror series. Every few days I will release a review of each of the Friday the 13th movies just like I did last year with the Halloween franchise. It feels to me like Friday the 13th is the appropriate followup to Halloween and next year it will be the A Nightmare on Elm Street series that I review. Michael Myers, Jason, and Freddy sort of form The Big Three when it comes to slasher icons and so I chose this arrangement accordingly. What series I will do in 2019 remains to be determined.

As for Friday the 13th, the original 1980 version, it may come as a surprise to a newcomer or a casual horror fan that Jason is not the killer in this one. For the casual fan, newcomer, and young woman being stalked by Ghostface whose life I am now saving, it should be noted that it is not Jason; but his mother Pamela Voorhees who is the killer. Although, unlike in the other films in the series, the perp is not apparent.

Throughout Friday the 13th the Camp Crystal Lake counselors are being stalked and murdered by an unknown and unseen assailant whose motives are unknown and whose MO is both varied and vicious. We never see her face until the very end and she remains hidden by the power of POV shots for the majority of the movie.

The film opens in the 1950’s with a crowd of campers and counselors singing around a campfire singing hymns. Two of these devout worshippers decide to take a break and go to a cabin attic to have sex. If I was a bit more naive I would object to this depiction of two Christian teens having sex, but I have been around enough kids in Church youth groups to know that this is really not that uncommon.
The twain kiss for a bit, but they are interpreted by the killer who listens to the guy sort of sheepishly says “we weren’t doing anything” before she suddenly stabs him in the stomach just before turning to the girl and does her in as well.
Thus begins the most common trend in the Friday the 13th series: getting cockblocked by sudden violent death!

30 years later the Camp is getting reopened again and new counselors are preparing by rebuilding and/or renovating the cabins, fixing the plumbing, and landscaping. One of the counselors is named Annie, but she is late to arrive and she starts hitchhiking to get to her destination. And like every hitchhiker in a slasher movie she gets picked up by the killer and killed.

While the other counselors worry about Annie not showing up they work hard getting the place up and running. They do such important tasks as nail boards to the cabin roofs, sweep the rooms, kill snakes and other pests, jump around mimicking Indian yells, swimming in the lake, faking drowning so they can kiss the girl giving them CPR, having sex, and making fun of police men doing their jobs. I am starting to think if Pamela didn’t kill these assholes the Camp would still have been overdue and unfinished by time the children arrived.

After two of the counselors (one of them played by Kevin Bacon in his debut role) have sex in a bunk the girl heads to the bathrooms to clean up. Kevin Bacon remains lying in bed when suddenly from under the bed an arrow is thrust up through the mattress and through Kevin Bacon’s throat. The scene is very effective and the effects are impressive even to this day. The prosthetic work done to make the arrow look like it went through the real Kevin Bacon’s throat is the masterful invention of Tom Savini who also did the makeup work in Dawn of the Dead. Nowadays Savini’s career consists mostly of teaching the trade of prosthetic effects and making cameo appearances in horror movies (and The Perks of Being a Wallflower for some reason). But back in the 70’s and 80’s he was the go-to man for gore effects. He was a genius and this film is as good a resume as any.

Meanwhile the luckless Kevin Bacon’s girlfriend meets a dismal end herself in the bathroom. After pissing in the toilet, putting her underwear back on, and doing a terrible Kathryn Hepburn impression in front of the mirror she is suddenly struck in the face with a hatchet.
I kinda sympathise with the killer on this one. Kathryn Hepburn was a national treasure and her legacy deserves more respect. Cate Blanchett this woman was not and she should have kept her mimicry to that of valley girls and bimbos.

In another cabin some of the counselors start playing a unique version of Monopoly called Strip Monopoly in which landing on properties owned by people other than yourself costs you an article of clothing. How they came up with this game I have no idea, but I think they should invent Strip Uno next. It would make the game less apt to leaving all the players pissed at each other by time all the draw 4’s were used up.
However, the game doesn’t get far enough to show anything interesting as one of the counselors leaves to check the breaker. She hears what sounds like a child crying in the woods and when she reaches the archery range to investigate the lights suddenly flash on and she killed off screen.

Alice, our heroine who survives to the end, and Bill, the gentlemen who does not, wonder where their friends went so they go out to investigate. Bill goes to check the generator and is likewise killed off screen. For a raunchy, exploitative slasher flick this movie has a lot of off screen deaths. Two other characters similarly die off camera.

Alice later finds Bill’s body pinned to the door of the garage with a bunch of arrows. She does what any sensible person would do in such a situation and screams her head off and runs. She nearly bumps into an middle-aged woman driving up in a truck who says she is Mrs. Voorhees and that she is a friend of the people who own the camp.
Alice shows Pamela Voorhees the body and Pamela begins to pontificate that she had told the owners not to reopen the camp. She tells Alice that years ago her son Jason had drowned in the lake when the camp counselors were not watching him because they were too busy making love. Is that all these Crystal Lake counselors seem capable of doing?
As Pamela becomes increasingly irate as she recounts the story she suddenly turns on Alice and tries to stab her. The two fight and Alice tries to flee but the crazy woman chases her. Pamela starts talking to herself constantly as she chases the surviving counselor because she believes that her dead son is speaking to her and telling her to kill the counselors as if they were all responsible for his death. Even though most of these kids were not even born when he died.

To go into detail on the entire fight would be pointless and tedious, but suffice it say that after 10 minutes of hair pulling, kicking, slapping, biting, and rolling in the dirt Alice finally gets the upper hand and decapitates Pamela Voorhees with a machete.
Alice then crawls into a canoe and falls asleep over the lake, but when morning arrives she starts to wake up when suddenly she is grabbed and pulled under by a boy whose body resembles that of a decomposing corpse. She wakes almost immediately in the hospital and refuses to believe the incident with the boy was a dream.

I am not sure how to properly review a film like this as it never was intended nor marketed to be a good movie. It is exactly to the last degree what it sought to be. It is a cheap, sleazy, exploitative knock-off of Halloween in an attempt to capitalise on that film’s success. The violence is gruesome and lacking in style or any aesthetic merit, the plot is weak, stupid, and illogical; and it is peppered with marketable gimmicks such as nudity and sex to cater to its largely male audience. It’s the same sort of trash cinema that predominated the drive-in culture of the 70’s and 80’s. The only reason this film has become worthy of special note is thanks to its inordinate popularity that spawned its many sequels with the iconic figure, Jason Voorhees. By itself, this film is virtually indistinguishable from films like The Burning, The Mutilator, or Torso which only horror buffs even remember or care about. It’s such a sleaze-fest and I am hesitant to fault the film for being this since it aimed for nothing higher. To expect more would be silly.
To a horror junkie like myself who can, when in the mood, enjoy slashers, drive-in flicks, exploitation films, zombie movies, giallos, and even trashy mondo flicks a horror movie like Friday the 13th is hardly something I will stick my nose up at and snub. I am as much a film snob as any and I will always prefer movies like The Godfather or Citizen Kane, but I accept that different movies deserve different means of reviewing. I do not demand my sleaze to be as good as my critically acclaimed Oscar winners or Criterion DVD releases.
For what it is Friday the 13th is entertaining. It does not get boring by any means and it is not overlong. It works on the levels it is supposed to work. It is not supposed to make me think. Hell, it is not even supposed to scare me. It’s job is to excite. To cater to the lowest common denominator looking for a cheap fix of gore and boobs. And it achieves that end passingly enough that I can think well of it for reaching its aim.

The story doesn’t make much sense, but that doesn’t worry me. It doesn’t bother me that a middle-aged woman who is only about 5 feet tall managed to pin a full grown man to a door with arrows. I didn’t come to see a man pinned to a door with arrows by a plausible criminal with a legitimate motive. I just came to see a man pinned to a door with arrows. If I cared about the sense of it I would watch NCIS or a Coen Brothers film. And I will happily watch those too. But right now I am watching Friday the 13th and I embrace its stupidity and shameless depictions of sex and violence with the open arms of someone who appreciates the genre to which it belongs.

Metamorphosis (1990) Review

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey

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Here is the first of a series of reviews in which I will select a perfectly random film and give my thoughts on it. The selection will be completely randomized and will reflect neither pattern, rhyme, nor reason. One day I may review an obscure horror flick (like I am doing today), a mainstream blockbuster, a classic comedy, a silent film, or a TV movie. With a catalog of over a thousand films at my disposal I have opted to shuffle the list and pic which one comes to the top. Today’s shuffling has presented me with this early 90’s flick by Italian filmmaker George Eastman who, among other things, had achieved a certain infamy for writing such sleazy films as Anthropophagus and Porno Holocaust. Metamorphosis may not be as grotesque as those two, but I would not call it a good movie by any means.

Metamorphosis is an exercise in stiffness and apathy. There is not a shot in this movie that doesn’t look stale and there isn’t one scene where an actor doesn’t seem either bored or emotionless. Even the obligatory sex scene is stiff and passionless.

The main character is a geneticist who is experimenting with a serum that he hopes will end aging. Instead, in typical mad scientist fashion the serum backfires after he tests it on himself and it slowly causes him to transform. His aggression increases and he has lapses in memory in which he switches back and forth between his normal self and a vicious violent criminal. He has dreams and visions in which he sees himself raping and beating a woman that later he finds out are memories coming to the surface of his actions during one of these lapses. As he grows more violent and vicious his body begins to transform as well. By the end of the film he turns into a giant lizard monster that rasps and growls and kills anyone who gets in his way. At the end of the movie the police gun him down as his girlfriend and her son look on in horror. A cop asks another scientist “what was that?” and the scientist responds “a nightmare from the past.” I am not invested enough to really care, but if I was forced to interpret I would think the scientist was suggesting that our anti-hero had de-evolved into a lizard. Which is kind of stupid since humans are derived from apes not lizards. But who really gives a shit about accuracy with films of this type?
But to be honest I really don’t give a shit about anything in this movie at all. Accuracy least of all. The story is beyond ridiculous and the acting is so stiff that nothing said or done makes me root for anyone. The only thing I rooted for in this movie was the short run time.

The film finally ends with the girlfriend’s son talking about how the geneticist can never die as he holds a small cage with his pet lizard inside. His mother looks at the lizard in horror as if to suggest she suspects her ex is living on inside her son’s pet. Whether he does or not is of no consequence to me. I really don’t care. None of these characters are given any time for development so I cannot give a flying fuck about what makes them tick or what makes them happy or unhappy.
Metamorphosis feels like a bad X-Files episode getting away with something. In fact if one was to excise the gore and nudity this plot would make for any cheesy episode of any supernatural TV show of the 90’s.

Next time I will stick with Kafka if I want a story about a metamophosis.

Star Wars 40th Anniversary Review: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey


Since episodes I through VI are universally known by the fans who read these reviews I thought it best to avoid reviewing their respective stories and instead discuss my feelings on the films in general and my overall impressions of them. However, since The Force Awakens is more recent I am going to review it in a more traditional manner by going over the plot in more detail. Obviously this means there are going to be spoilers in this review and if you haven’t seen the film yet (which I kinda doubt by this point) it may be best to turn away.

For the rest of you who have seen the film or at the very least those of you who don’t give a womp rat’s butt about spoilers here goes:

The Force Awakens is set 30 years after Return of the Jedi in a galaxy so far away that there are no Yuuzhan Vong around, Chewbacca is still alive, and the Solo family only had one child. And there is not a sign of any Mara Jades, Kyp Durrons, or Jaxxon the Green Rodents to be found. If Disney’s axing Jaxxon from the canon infuriates you then avert your eyes from The Force Awakens.

The story opens with the opening crawl declaring that Luke Skywalker is missing and General Leia, who is leading a Resistance against an evil organisation called The First Order, has dispatched her best pilot Poe Dameron to find him.

On the desert planet, Jakku, Poe Dameron (played by Oscar Isaac) receives from an old man named Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow of Ingmar Bergman fame) a star map which will reveal the location of Luke Skywalker when combined with additional maps. The other maps are thankfully all stored in R2-D2’s memory banks so the Resistance doesn’t need to go looking for them, but getting this final piece to R2 may be harder than it sounds.
Their meeting is interrupted by a sudden attack of First Order Stormtroopers led by a Dark Side user (he’s not a Sith, remember that) named Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver). With Kylo is a chrome plated stormtrooper named Captain Phasma (played by Brienne of Tarth herself, Gwendoline Christie).
To prevent the First Order from getting the star map to Skywalker Poe gives the it to BB-8, his ball-shaped astromech side kick. He tells the droid to get as far away as possible and find a way to get the map to the Leia.
Lor San Tekka is soon killed and Poe Dameron is captured and taken to Kylo’s Star Destroyer. Kylo Ren orders Captain Phasma to have all the villagers from where Lor San Tekka resided to be executed, but one of the Stormtroopers named FN-2187 (played by John Boyega) is too horrified by the carnage to take action and watches in silence.
Meanwhile, BB-8 wanders the desert when he is nearly captured by a junk dealing alien named Teedo before he is rescued by a young woman named Rey (played by Daisy Ridley). She, who can understand astromech language, reluctantly lets the droid follow her, but resists at first only giving in when the little robot tugs at her heart strings by making wimpering sounds. Why she didn’t want BB-8 following her in the first place is beyond me since the droid took up little space and it wasn’t like she needed to feed it.
Rey lives by herself in an abandoned ruin that was once an AT-AT and she makes a living scavenging parts which she sells to a dealer named Unkar Plutt who gives her meager payment which she spends on food. She has lived on Jakku since she was a little girl and she hopes some day that her family will come back for her. Spoiler: They don’t.

Elsewhere, Poe Dameron is being interrogated and tortured by Kylo Ren until he is forced to reveal the location of the map. When he finds out that the map is located in a BB unit he informs his colleague and rival, General Hux (played by Domhnall Gleeson). While preparations are made to return to Jakku, FN-2187 finds Poe Dameron and busts him out of his cell. FN, whom Poe nicknames Finn, decides he wants nothing to do with the First Order and he defects. But, lacking the training to pilot a TIE Fighter being an obstacle he recruits Poe Dameron to help him.
How a low ranking stormtrooper whose specialty is sanitation knows the high-profile prisoner aboard is a pilot for the Resistance is beyond me. Either the First Order is fairly open with their intel or some water cooler gossipers are overdue for a good Force choking.

They steal an X-Wing, but they are almost instantaneously shot down and crash on Jakku. Finn survives, but Poe Dameron is nowhere to be found and Finn assumes his new friend is dead. He treads through the desert until he reaches Niima Outpost where BB-8 and Rey happen to be at the time. BB-8 spots Finn and recognises the jacket he is wearing which he scavenged from the crash. BB-8 tells Rey that this is Poe’s jacket and she charges at Finn with her big stick and knocks him over. She demands to know where he got the jacket and he tells her that he is with the Resistance and the jacket belonged to Poe Dameron who gave it to him.

Before any introductions can be made they get attacked by low flying TIE Fighters hellbent on retrieving BB-8 and the map.
Rey, Finn, and the droid escape inside the Millennium Falcon which happened to be in the possession of Unkar Plutt and take off. Just moments after going into hyperspace they get caught and are tractor-beamed into a large cargo freighter. The Falcon is boarded by none other than Han and Chewie themselves who are pleased to have their old ship back. Apparently in the past several years the ship had passed hands from thief to thief and having tracked it down, Han is intent on claiming it back. When Han sees that Rey, Finn, and BB-8 are not hostile he decides not to lock them in the brig. When he learns that the droid is carrying a partial map to Luke Skywalker he tells Rey that years ago Luke had tried to start a Jedi academy, but a young student rebelled, turned to the Dark Side, and destroyed it all. Luke felt responsible and he fled in search of the first Jedi temple. Kylo Ren, the boy who rebelled, who we learn is and Han and Leia’s son had venerated Darth Vader and sought to mimic him. He joined a Dark Side cult called the Knights of Ren and changed his name from Ben Solo to Kylo Ren. Han became devastated over his son’s betrayal and left Leia to return to a life of smuggling. Leia continued leading the Resistance against the First Order which is being led by an evil being called Supreme Leader Snoke (voiced by Andy Serkis of Gollum fame). The origins of Snoke, the First Order, and the Knights of Ren are not elaborated on in this movie and barring reading the new canon material I feel that most of the information that is missing is going to be expanded upon in The Last Jedi.

After Han discusses the state of the Galaxy they are suddenly boarded by pirates who are bent on collecting a bounty on Solo’s head. This goes poorly for the pirates, however, when Rey accidentally opens all the cell doors containing Han’s cargo. The cargo happens to be giant man-eating rathtars which are basically huge tentacled monstrosities that make the dianoga in the trash compactor in A New Hope look like a kitten. While the unfortunate pirates are getting devoured by the rathtars our heroes escape in the Falcon and leave the cargo ship behind.
They head to Takodana to meet a thousand-year old alien woman named Maz Kanata who runs a bar that hosts a variety of unsavoury patrons, but is a good and friendly source for information. Like Lor San Tekka she venerates the Force while not being a Force-sensitive herself. When the main characters arrive she detects Han’s presence almost immediately and shouts his name across the bar.
Because that is what friends do. They loudly and obnoxiously declare the presence of their friends with bounties on their heads in a seedy bar. This goes exactly as expected and while Maz and Han converse several patrons secretly dispatch messages to the First Order notifying them that BB-8 and by extension the map to Luke are here.
Maz tells Rey that she has the power of the Force within her and that she can use it to fight the First Order. Rey refuses as she still believes her family will come for her on Jakku. She storms off but starts to hear a child crying in the bar’s cellar. She goes down to investigate and finds that the sound is emanating from a wooden trunk in a closet. She opens the trunk and finds inside an old lightsaber. When she grabs it she is suddenly plunged into a Force vision in which she sees her younger self dropped off on Jakku crying for those who abandoned her to come back. This is followed by images of Luke sitting by R2, Kylo killing students at the Jedi academy, and visions of locations such as Bespin. When the vision ends she is accosted by Maz Kanata who tells her to take the lightsaber which once belonged to Anakin and later Luke Skywalker. But Rey refuses despite Maz’s pleas that Rey’s future is ahead and not back on Jakku waiting for someone who isn’t gonna come back. I am not sure why Rey is so upset. I would have been relieved. If I was in a seedy backwater bar and heard a child crying in the cellar my first assumption would not be Force vision.

Rey runs off into the woods and around this time the First Order arrives and attacks Takodana. But before doing so they demonstrate the full power of their new super-weapon, Starkiller Base. This weapon is a moon whose core has been converted into a device that can annihilate several planets at once. With this weapon the entire Hosnian Prime system (It’s not Coruscant so you can stop saying that!) which is the current seat of the New Republic is wiped out.
Han, Chewie, and Finn manage to get out of Maz’s bar and the old woman gives Finn the lightsaber Rey wouldn’t take. Finn who is trained in melee as well as blaster combat proves effective with the blade and takes out several stormtroopers with it (TRAITOR!).
However, in the end Han, Finn, and Chewie are captured by the overwhelming forces and Rey is abducted in the woods by Kylo Ren who takes her to his Star Destroyer; though Han and his gang are soon rescued by the Resistance who fly in with a squadron of TIE Fighters led by Poe Dameron who is alive and well. After the First Order flee a Resistance shuttle lands and out comes General Leia and C-3PO who is sporting a red arm. Don’t ask; the canon explanation is really quite stupid.
After a brief bonding moment Han tells Leia he saw their son carrying Rey away. The heroes all head to the Resistance base on D’Qar and discuss plans to destroy Starkiller Base. Finn who has fessed up to being a former Stormtrooper by now claims that he knows the inner workings of the facility and can help them not only rescue Rey, but also destroy the base. The base is heavily shielded which protects it from attack, but Han and his friends devise a plan to infiltrate the base and plant explosives that would shut down the shielding system.
They take the Falcon to the base and get to the surface of the moon by taking advantage of the shield’s refresh rate. The Falcon has a rough landing but they all make it in one piece. Inside the base they find Rey who had already escaped by herself using a Jedi Mind Trick on one of the guards (fun fact: he’s played Daniel Craig in an uncredited cameo!). After Maz told her she could use the Force Rey apparently decided to try it by using her guard as a test subject.
After Han and Chewie plant the explosives Solo sees his son Ben walking along a catwalk. Han calls out to him and tries to convince him to come home and leave the First Order and the Knights of Ren. Kylo feigns remorse and offers to let his father take his lightsaber. Unfortunately, when Han make a grab for it Kylo Ren ignites it and the blade penetrates through Han Solo’s chest. The wounds are fatal and the last thing Han Solo does before he dies is take his hand and gently touches his son’s face before falling off the catwalk to his death. While I am not the biggest fan of how Han is killed off for reasons I will get into later, I do like this scene as it shows how Han feels about his son. Touching his son affectionately was his way of showing Ben that he forgave him and still loved him at the end. We see Han Solo grow in the Star Wars films from a cynical self-serving scoundrel to a loving father who firmly believed in the good of the Jedi and the Light Side of the Force.
Chewie roars in grief and immediately ignites the bombs effectively shutting down the shielding network for Starkiller Base. The Resistance then attacks and destroys crucial segments of the base causing it to begin to explode and fall apart. As the forests of the moon begin to quake and come apart Rey and Finn encounter Kylo Ren for one last time on their way to the Falcon. Finn tries to take him out in lightsaber combat but is easily overcome by Kylo’s superior skills and he is wounded and rendered unconscious. Rey draws upon the Force a second time and Force pulls the lightsaber to herself. She then fights Kylo Ren in a duel that is both raw and rough demonstrating both of their need for further training. Rey eventually gets the upper hand and slashes upward and strikes her enemy in the face. He survives but is badly injured and she and Chewbacca take Finn back to the Falcon to escape the base that is falling to pieces around them. As they leave Snoke tells General Hux to retrieve Kylo Ren so he can finish his training.

While Chewbacca is aboard the Falcon weeping for his lost friend Rey pilots the Millennium Falcon back to D’Qar. At the base R2 takes the map and adds it to a larger map revealing that Luke Skywalker is on a water planet consisting of small islands called Ahch-To. There Rey takes the Falcon with just herself and R2-D2 and finds the ruins of an old temple. She climbs the steps and after several hours she finds an old man in a Jedi robe standing looking over a cliff. He turns around and looks at her revealing himself to be the long lost Luke Skywalker. Rey opens her pack and takes out his lightsaber. The same lightsaber he lost on Bespin thirty years ago. She holds it out to him with a look that is almost pleading in its intensity and he looks at her with a quizzical and somewhat sad expression as she holds the weapon toward him. Before Luke utters a word the film ends cutting to credits leaving its audience two years to wait to to hear him say anything.

Now what did I think of The Force Awakens? Well, I liked it a lot. I think it is a step in the right direction for the Star Wars films which had hitherto degenerated into convoluted plots with little to no character development and an overabundance of CGI and green and blue screen photography. Episode VII uses more practical effects and actual sets, balancing state-of-the-art special effects with old methods that have withstood the test of time.
The story is very reminiscent of the original trilogy and the characters have colour and interesting characteristics unlike the Prequels which tended to ignore the characters in favour of expanding the backstory. Some have complained that The Force Awakens borrowed too heavily from A New Hope and while I can see what they are referring to I never saw it as an issue. The Phantom Menace does the same thing if you really think about and I think at this point it should be realised that Star Wars is like a musical composition or an epic narrative poem that repeats and rimes themes, motifs, and ideas to form a rhythmic symphony.
I do, however, have reservations about Starkiller base. It seems a bit cheap to add another super weapon to the mix. The Death Star II was an unoriginal and unimaginative bit of overkill itself and Starkiller Base is no better. The fact that it is bigger, can destroy more than one planet at a time, and is built inside of a moon is not a major difference to me. I only wish Ben Kenobi was there. I know what he would have said: “That’s no moon. It’s a space station….and also a moon.”

Speaking of Ben Kenobi I find it a bit odd that Han and Leia decided to name their son after him. Leia never knew the man and Han only met him briefly and Han spent the entire time mocking him. It was Luke who connected with the old man, not Han and Leia. I think the old EU made the smarter choice in having it be Luke who named a child Ben and not Han. They might as well have had Han name his son Owen or something. It makes no sense.
I also seriously dislike the way Han is killed off. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with Han Solo’s character dying. Done correctly it would have added a dimension to the story that would have been both meaningful and emotional for the viewers and the characters. But, this is not the case though. There is no sacrifice and Han seems to achieve no end that benefits his friends. He is simply tricked by a false redemption and killed for it. Han didn’t die saving anyone. He didn’t die doing something that benefited the heroes or the Resistance. He just died. And the revelation that he had not been with Leia at this time also negatively affects the impact this scene could have had. I am not sure why the writers even thought we wanted to see this. Why would they think we, the fans, wanted to find out the love story between Han and Leia fell apart? It would have been better if Han had remained with Leia and stayed with the Resistance. That would have added a stronger meaning to his death a deeper sense of loss. Han Solo’s death was a missed opportunity and I was disappointed.

For the most part, though, I have had no issues with the story and I found it a welcome addition to the Star Wars saga. I like the characters, new creatures, and space ships; and I like how Kylo Ren contrasts Luke in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. In those films Luke struggled with the temptation to turn to the Dark Side and resisted until he made a final resolution to be a Jedi by tossing his lightsaber aside. Here, Kylo does the opposite. Ben Solo is tempted to the Light Side of the Force and resists its pull. This is a concept we have never seen in Star Wars before and I find it a unique take on an individual’s relationship with the Force. And like Luke he makes a decision to demonstrate his final resolve. In this case, by slaying his own father.

There is another complaint that I have with this film that I also share with Attack of the Clones. The music.
John Williams is a master composer and all of his Star Wars soundtracks are masterpieces. However, some of them are less good than others and Episode II and Episode VII’s soundtracks are the black sheep of the bunch. The music in both of these films are not that memorable and only a few tracks stick out to me.
Also I am not sure if I am the only who noticed this, but the first note that plays when the words STAR WARS appear on the screen doesn’t sound the same as it does in the other six episodes. Listen and compare next time. It’s a little different.

Another thing I have noticed that few others did is relating to Kylo Ren’s name. When I first heard the announcement that his name was going to be Kylo Ren I was appalled. The reason for this was that I had watched some of the old 1980’s Droids cartoons when I was a kid and I distinctly remember there being a villain named Kybo Ren. He was a portly, mustache-twirling, midriff-showing pirate who always referred to himself in the third person. In a word, he was ridiculous! The fact that the villain in The Force Awakens is called Kylo Ren cannot be a coincidence and the decision baffles me. That would be like making a movie about a badass action hero and then naming him Dorrest Gump! It’s such an odd thing to do.

If The Force Awakens seems to lack something to the viewer; whether it be the lack of memorable music, unique planets, or a story that expands on the lore in a major way, I understand where you are coming from. I have similar gripes. Episode VII takes too few risks. The planets are mundane and are not much different than anything else we have seen before. The music sounds tame and standard. And the plot feels small and less epic than the last few Star Wars films we have seen. There is a certain characteristic dullness to The Force Awakens’s aesthetic and the more I watch the movie the more I become aware of it. It hasn’t led me to hate the movie or even put it on a par with the Prequels, but I do think it had some lacklustre aspects that did hurt it inevitably.
However, I am truly expecting more from The Last Jedi and I am excited to see where we are taken next in this galaxy far, far away. Despite its imperfections The Force Awakens is a refreshing revival of the Star Wars films and it is an awakening we have all felt. I believe Episode VII is only our first step into a larger world.

This review series and other Star Wars related blogs can be found at my own blog Star Wars EU Reviews.