I’ve begun to notice new and unusual patterns in these movies. We all know the usual patterns of slasher movies, of course, as they are often discussed in slasher fan circles: The killer cannot be stopped or reasoned with, and is typically immortal. The victims are typically teenagers or people in their early twenties. The teenagers who engage in vice are the first to die (typical vices: sex of any kind, too much drink, too much drug). The ones who are foolish enough to venture into the darkened woods alone are to be killed. The killer can only be halted by a calm soul who thinks things through, and also doesn’t have sex. The film is populated by well-known archetypes. These rules, we know. Movies like the excellent Scream and the cheeky The Cabin in the Woods talked about these rules openly.
But have you noticed how many people in slasher movies are named Paul? I have run into four Pauls in this simultaneous journey through the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street Franchises, right here in the ever-growing The Series Project. There was also, perhaps not incidentally, a Paul in John Carpenter’s original Halloween, even though he never appeared on camera (he was Annie’s boyfriend, and was played by Carpenter himself). Screenwriters of slasher movies seem oddly drawn to the name Paul. I haven’t noticed anything in particular about the Pauls; they don’t seem to serve a common dramatic function, but there are many Pauls. It’s curious.
Other odd patterns: Each of these movies, mostly made during the 1980s, features a character who looks uncannily like Patrick Dempsey. And while Dempsey himself didn’t really catch the public eye until Can’t Buy Me Love in 1987, his “look” was pervasive throughout the ‘80s slashers. Indeed, I was kind of surprised to learn that Dempsey himself didn’t appear in a slasher movie until 2000’s Scream 3. He may not have been in any ‘80s slashers, but his spirit floats over them all. Likewise with Patrick Duffy. Most of these slashers feature a concerned father-type ancillary character who looks like Patrick Duffy. I don’t mean the overprotective cop father of the film’s heroine (there have also been several of those), but the patronly “good guy” adult. The famed Dallas actor seems to have been evoked for all of these parts. I have also recognized – and this is probably just me – that each of these films has a guy who looks like an ancillary member of Rockapella. I can’t explain this one at all. But if you know what Scott Leonard or Kevin Wright look like, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Aside from that, this week has been something of a slog, as the Friday series has gotten increasingly stupid, traveling as it does through parts four, five, and six, and will actually have a film without Jason, the series’ famed killer. Totally absent from the proceedings. What’s more, the only Nightmare film I’ll be covering this week is A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge, which is often considered the aberration in the Nightmare series, and is just as often referred to as “the gay one.” Every slasher series requires, I suppose, an attempt to cover new ground, and will produce a weirdo sequel that has little or nothing to do with the others. Call it the Season of the Witch syndrome.
We’ll pick up in this second week with the most inappropriately-titled film in the Jason series…
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
Director: Joseph Zito
Release Date: 13th April, 1984
Body Count: 12, possibly 13, possibly a dog
Best Kill: A man is shot with a harpoon right in the genitals, and remains suspended by the harpoon, like an umbrella, for a few moments before he dies.
Number of Breasts: 19 (!)
The mom in this film is surprised by Jason, and is then not seen for the rest of the film, but we never actually see her get killed. If there’s no body, I don’t know if we should count that as a kill. There’s also a scene wherein a dog jumps through a pane of glass. It’s unclear whether or not Jason threw the dog through the glass, or if it jumped through on its own.
There is a famous musical cue in the Friday the 13th movies that accompanies Jason on his kills. It’s a creepy whispering noise that sounded to me like “Ch! Ch! Ch! Ha! Ha! Ha!” I was taken to task by more than one Jason fan for writing it down this way. Evidently, the whisper is actually saying the words “Kill! Kill! Kill! Ma! Ma! Ma!” I guess I can hear that, but I think I would have preferred it if the sound had remained kind of abstract. Only one film in my mind can get away with whispering scary words on the soundtrack and still make it scary, and that’s when the Italian metal band Goblin whispered “It’s a witch!” on the truly awesome soundtrack for Suspiria.
We learn something perhaps salient in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, which was indeed intended to put a button on the series; never mind that they’d be making another sequel less than a year later. We learn from a tombstone that Mrs. Voorhees, Jason’s poor beleaguered mother, and the villainess of the series’ first film was born in 1930 and died in 1979. We saw the death, as Alice decapitated her with an axe. We also know from the first film that Jason drowned (or perhaps nearly drowned; it’s never made clear) in 1957, when he was 12 years old. That means Jason was born in 1945. That means Mrs. Voorhees was only 14 or 15 when she had Jason. Making her one of the sexually active teenagers that Jason seems to target. Perhaps Mrs. Voorhees was herself a camp counselor at Camp Crystal Lake, and indulged in recreational sex as much Jason’s victims, but stopped when she got pregnant and gave birth to a slightly mutated, slightly retarded child. This not only adds a Freudian wrinkle to the proceedings, but adds an extra dimension to the series’ well-known anti-sex message at large. Jason, as we all know, died when counselors were having sex, and, as such, tends to kill anyone he sees having sex (which is a lot). That he is the product of recreational sex only feeds into that.
Here’s my new cockeyed theory. Jason is from New Jersey, right? You know else who was from New Jersey, and who was sexually active in 1957? Charles Lee Ray. That’s right, Chucky from the Child’s Play movies. Just hear me out: If, at the outset of Child’s Play (in 1988), Charles Lee Ray was about 55 years old, then he would have been a young boy of 12 in 1945. It’s entirely possible that a Chucky, perhaps having his very first sexual experience, slept with one of his summer camp counselors when he went away from home in that magical summer of ’45, impregnating her, and fathering Jason Voorhees. We never hear about Jason’s father in any of his movies, and we never hear about how Chucky lost his virginity, so this is entirely possible. Well, maybe not. Brad Dourif, who played Charles Lee Ray, was only 37 when he filmed Child’s Play, and The Lakeshore Strangler didn’t look as old as 55. It’s just fun to ponder.
Anyway, onto the film. I’m relieved that The Final Chapter is decidedly less jokey than the last film. It’s still not a great slasher, but it has a lot of deaths, and feels a lot more professional than any of the previous chapters to date. What’s more, it has another awesome performance from the oft-twitchy Crispin Glover, as the nerdy virgin guy. The scene wherein Crispin Glover does a spazmatic dance to impress a girl is definitely a Friday highlight. Final Chapter also features a young Corey Feldman as a mask-obsessed youngster who will eventually shave his head and drive a machete through Jason’s eye socket, which is fun.
The setup, as in all the films, it pretty dang simple. A group of horny twentysomethings are heading to a cabin in the woods for a weekend of drug and debauch. The only time this setup doesn’t lead to stalking, slashing, and death is in porn films. Amongst the youths is Glover, and a few other recognizable Patrick Dempsey types named Paul. There’s also a pair of pretty twin sisters (Camilla More and Carey More) who will meet up with our heroes. To add to the potential body count, the kids’ cabin is located right next door to an average family, complete with a dog, a loving mom, and Corey Feldman, who makes masks in his spare time. And these aren’t just paper plate masks, but movie-grade professional monster heads. I’m sorry, but no 9-year-old is that industrious.
About the high breast count in this film (which tops off at a whopping 19). Most of the actresses do disrobe, but, for good measure, the campers all discover and watch an old-timey 1920 strip reel they find in the house. We get to see a lot of that strip reel, and topless women are paraded before our eyes. Hence there are, technically, 19 bare breasts.
Anyway, Jason (Ted White), perhaps predictably, is not dead. He was axed in the head at the end of the last film, but was perhaps not axed deeply enough. Jason’s now-ubiquitous hockey mask will, for the next several films, feature a deep gouge where the axe hit it. Jason is now sort of married to that mask, and by this film, it has become his symbol. The killer in the hockey mask. Anyway, the first few scenes of Final Chapter show that Jason wasn’t dead, even though he was bagged by the police and taken to the morgue. Jason lurches out of his body bod, as spry as ever, kills a few people, and heads back to Camp Crystal Lake (I guess to check up on his cabin) where the mayhem begins properly.
People wander outdoors, and get killed, etc. etc. etc. It’s hard to trace the stories of these things, as they’re all so similar and so familiar. By the time we’ll get to the sixth film in the series, there won’t be any setup or character development at all. There will only be a string of people who may as well be rubber mannequins full of blood. The only real “twist” in Final Chapter, if it can even be considered a twist, is that the sweet, mildly virginal female character, whom would ordinarily be the one of best the monster, actually dies. It’s young Tommy (Feldman) that ends up doing Jason in. Indeed, while Jason is attacking Tommy’s big sister, Tommy thinks to shave his head and put on some makeup so that he looks a little bit like Jason himself did in the first film. Jason, distracted by this odd image of himself (he can be distracted, as proven in part 2), puts down his weapon and removes his mask, only to eventually fall on his machete, and slice his head open. He’s not decapitated, but that blade slices in pretty deep. The implication is that Jason is definitely dead.
The film closes with a meaningful close-up on Tommy’s face, implying that the murder he just committed, and all the mayhem he witnessed, has warped his mind, and he’ll turn into a killer himself. This is actually something the series will take an entire movie to pursue.
But we’ll not get into that as yet, as I’m going to make a stop to see what Freddy was getting up to in 1985.
A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge
Director: Jack Sholder
Release Date: 1st November 1985
Body Count: 6-ish
Best Kill: A nude adult male is lashed to a school shower with leather straps, and slashed across the back to death.
Number of Breasts: Zero.
David Chaskin, the screenwriter of Freddy’s Revenge, has reportedly said in interviews that this film was indeed intended to be a metaphor for sexuality, and that Freddy’s constant intrusion in the main character’s life was intended to be a gay man’s struggle to appear heteronormative in a homophobic world. The film’s director, Jack Sholder has also said that he didn’t spot this, even though the film features a lot of sweaty shirtless men, a lot of shower scenes, a gay character, and a scene wherein two boys wrestle, pulling on each other clothes, exposing their rippling abdominal muscles and bare bottoms.
Yes, Nightmare 2 is famously referred to as “the gay one.” And it’s pretty dang gay. The gay subtext is thick and palpable, and while there are no gay kisses, or outright gay affairs, I’m not the only one to have noticed that Jesse (Mark Patton) seems to have a more stirring physical relationship with his male buddy Ron (Robert Rusler) than he does with his pure and loving girlfriend Lisa (the pretty Kim Myers, who looks like a lost Streep sister). The gay subtext makes Freddy’s Revenge feel enjoyably subversive and even a little campy, especially when Jesse wanders into a local S&M bar, leaded up with New Wave sex maniacs, and runs into his tyrannical gym teacher (Marshall Bell) wearing a leather vest. The encounter leads to the kill described above, where the coach is tied up in a shower stall, and Jesse, possessed by Freddy (Robert Englund) slashes his back up. There’s gay porn that’s not as gay as that.
Freddy’s Revenge is most certainly the aberration in the Nightmare series. In the previous movie, Freddy would stalk teenagers in their dreams, and kill them, supernaturally, in their sleep. It was openly explained that Freddy had been killed years before, but his demonic ghost managed to survive in dreams, and he was now wreaking his revenge on the children of his killers. In this film, Freddy’s ghost is now no longer stalking his killers’ children, but is merely stuck in the same house where Nancy lived in the last film. Freddy is now more of a ghostly demon who wants to possess a human so that he can escape into the waking world and, I dunno, do damage for real. Freddy’s motives for possessing Jesse are never made clear.
But, yeah, Freddy’s MO this time around is to haunt Jesse in his dreams, and, in turn, take over his body in fits and starts. Why Jesse? Jesse is now the one living in Nancy’s old house. That’s it. “You’ve got the body, and I’ve got the brain,” Freddy declares. I realize now that the 1988 rap hit “A Nightmare On My Street” by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince is based less on the first Elm Street, and more on this one.
Whither Nancy (Heather Langenkamp)? She lived in that house five years ago, and was eventually taken away to a mental hospital. Nancy will be back, and I’m pretty sure the details of her last days in the house will be changed or ignored entirely.
Aside from the campiness, there are also a lot of little weird moments in this one. There’s a scene, for instance, where the family’s pet lovebird breaks out of its cage and begins to attack people. The family tries desperately to capture it for a few moments, when it, rather without warning, explodes. As odd as this is, the family sort of take it in stride. Oh well. I guess sometimes yours pets just explode for no reason. Call it Spontaneous Housepet Combustion. Does the bird count toward the body count? Reliable character actor and longtime Los Angeles institution Clu Gulager plays the dad.
Oh yeah, I said that the body count was “6-ish.” Freddy only kills two people openly, and the rest are killed at a party. It’s hard to tell whom he killed and who he just clawed at. By my estimation, Freddy definitely killed six people.
Jesse is trying to start a sweet teen romance with Lisa, and both their peers wonder why the two haven’t had sex yet. There are many scenes where they almost kiss, and indeed one scene where they even make out and undress, but Jesse always balks at the last minute (usually because he has a sudden Freddy manifestation), often running straight to Paul. I mean Ron. Eventually, Freddy does crack through, using Jesse’s body to live in the waking world. Only he looks like Freddy, complete with the sweater, hat, and burned skin. His glove, by the way, was still being kept in the boiler as revealed in the first Nightmare, but when we see Freddy, his famous finger blades seem to extend straight out of his hand.
The film is watchable and fun, and if it were a standalone slasher flick, may have been notable as a footnote in the slasher canon. As a Nightmare film, though, it’s pretty sub-par. Freddy is still scary in this film, and he will eventually become something of a jokester (whether or not this is a good thing can be argued). So there’s still some spooky moments, but, overall, Freddy’s Revenge is pretty goofy.
But I feel bad calling Nightmare 2 goofy when I’m about to stare down into the maw of…
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning
Director: Danny Steinmann
Release Date: 22nd March 1985
Body Count: 14, plus 3 in dream sequences
Best Kill: A toss-up. It’s either the guy who was stabbed in the mouth with a lit flare, or the guy who had his head lashed to a tree with a leather strap, which was then tightened across his eyes, crushing his skull.
Number of Breasts: 6
This is how to do gratuitous nudity. Don’t just flash the camera. Let the camera linger for several extended moments over the nude women.
So Friday V is a terrible movie, but, to its credit, its watchably terrible. Its tone is closer to the stupid goofs of Friday the 13th Part 3 3-D, but far more broad and silly. I don’t think the film is being played for laughs, but it will sure make you giggle a lot. I’ll give you a brief rundown on the plot, and then will just give you a litany of the goofy crap that happens in it.
So Tommy from the last flick is now an adult (setting the film sometime in the future!) and is played by the hunky John Shepherd. Corey Feldman still appears in this film in a flashback. Indeed, the pattern is still in place: Every Friday sequel begins with a flashback of the previous chapter. Tommy is now a disturbed young man, and is being carted off to a mental hospital out in the woods. This mental hospital, however, is not the gleaming white building stocked with nurses that we’re used to from other movies. It’s more like a summer camp unto itself. Tommy is still living down his Jason nightmares, and Jason himself (?) only appears in dream sequences. The implication is, I think, that Jason’s legacy has been absorbed by Tommy, and the titular New Beginning will mean a new series of slashers about Tommy. No such luck. This will not be pursued through the next sequel.
There seem to be two Jasons. The Jason in Tommy’s dream is the Red Jason, who wears a red mask and who bears the bloody nick as seen in the last film. But also stalking about is a Blue Jason, in a blue mask. Sadly, the two Jasons never meet. Eventually it will be revealed that the Blue Jason is really a local ambulance driver named Roy (Dick Wieand) who was driven mad by the on-screen murder of a character who turned out to be his son, and who decided to dress as Jason and continue the killing. All through the movie, we’re supposed to assume that Tommy just has a split personality like in Psycho. Friday V will end similar to the last film, with Tommy taking up the Jason mantle, and, indeed, putting on the Blue Jason mask and jumping out a window. I think this is a legit way to continue a series. I understand that fans want their good old supervillain slasher in every movie, but I’d say changing killers can work. They tried to do that with the Saw movies, after all.
But enough of all the backstory. Now I choose to recite a list.
A man named Demon is killed in an outhouse. His girlfriend says “Lighten up, Demon! You’ll feel better after you sh*t!” A 10-year-old boy drives a killdozer into Blue Jason. A woman flashes her breasts at her own reflection for unknown reasons. A pair of sh*tkicking hillbillies scream and wail at one another, while eating soup and saying things like “You big dildo, eat your f*cking slop!” A man is axed in broad daylight by an ancillary character who is neither Red nor Blue Jason. There is a random punk rock girl in the film (Tiffany Helm) who gets killed while doing the robot to a horrible New Wave song. There are three topless scenes by three very game actresses. One woman is stabbed in the eyes by a pair of gardening shears. Did I mention that a guy gets a flare stabbed into his mouth? And that another guy (sadly, the only attractive one) is killed with a leather strap that is tightened around a tree. The flare I’ve seen before (as in Dead Calm), but death by tightened leather strap is a new one on me.
Oh yes, here’s a salient detail: It’s declared in this film that Jason Voorhees was cremated. This is a detail that will openly be ignored in the next film.
Aside from the shrill and horrible “comic” hillbilly characters (and I would argue that hillbillies are never funny), Friday V plays it pretty straight, which is largely why it’s so funny. The kills, the punches, the violence, the sex, all are ramped up to such a gloriously trashy degree that it’s hard not to enjoy this flick, piece of crap though it may be. By the fifth film in the series, the pattern is in place, so audiences long for blood and little else. I can credit the film for trying to take the series in a new direction – it really is a New Beginning – even if the idea was poorly played out.
Sadly, Blue Jason will not be the new killer. We need Jason to live on, as we’ll see in…
Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI
Director: Tom McLoughlin
Release Date: 1st August, 1986
Body Count: 18 (!)
Best Kill: Um… I guess when those three obnoxious paintball enthusiasts were all killed with a single swipe of a machete.
Number of Breasts: Zero.
So by Jason Lives, the series isn’t really trying anymore. While it could be argued that certain slasher fans don’t really care about basic things like the characters or the drama, and long only for death and mayhem, I think most of them appreciate the lip service played to things like plot and character. The better slasher films tend to have characters that, while not necessarily being rich or complex dramatic constructions, are at least believable as people put in an unbelievable situation. Jason Lives doesn’t have any of that. It has the biggest body count of any of the films so far, and runs the shortest at a mere 85 minutes. That means we’ll have a kill, on average, every 4.72 minutes. That means we’ll have to introduce a character mere moments before their demise. There are not characters. They are chattel. And the plot is so bare bones, Jason Lives may as well just be a dialogue-free Faces of Death-style highlight reel wherein Paul (Patrick Dempsey or Patrick Duffy or Scott Leonard) is killed over and over again.
(To be perfectly fair, there is no Paul in this film. But there is a Paula, and I think that counts)
So the story, such as it is, follows Tommy (now played by Thom Matthews) to a cemetery where Jason Voorhees is buried. Wasn’t he cremated? Not anymore. Now he’s buried. Also, Tommy is no longer Blue Jason, and has gone back to being tortured by memories of the fourth film. Tommy decides to dig up Jason’s body, just to confirm that he’s actually dead. Jason is indeed dead, and we see a maggot-riddled corpse that has been under the ground for a year. Tommy, out of rage, grabs a metal fence post and jams it into the corpse. Then, get this: A bolt of lightning strikes the post, shocking Jason’s corpse and bringing it back to life. That’s really stupid, yes, but I suppose there is monster precedent in Frankenstein. So from here on out, Jason (C.J. Graham), Jason will be an undead Frankenstein zombie, now impervious to bullets and knives and drowning and all usual manner of murder. This is, oddly, the Jason most of the Jason fans prefer, and remember the best.
A few notable things about Jason Lives: Crystal Lake, NJ changed its name to Forrest Green sometime before the fifth film to avoid the stigma attached to Camp Blood. Most of the action takes place at a summer camp, and this is the first time we’ve actually seen kids at the summer camp. There’s also a truly bizarre sex scene wherein The Patrick Dempsey (Tom Fridley) has sex with his girlfriend, and she gyrates on top of him, dancing to the loud electro music blasting from an RV stereo. She insists that they withhold their orgasms until the song’s conclusion in ten minutes.
Oh yeah, there’s a small bit of plot in that the sheriff’s daughter (Jennifer Cooke) has fallen for Tommy, and aids him in his quest to stop Jason. Other than that, Jason Lives is just a long string of murders. They’re not even necessarily good murders. The three-in-one kill I mention before was only notable in that the characters that die are all so obnoxious. Jason kills a team of whiny, bickersome paintball enthusiasts who have nothing to do with the rest of the movie, and I hated them so much, I was happy to see them die.
What else? Well there’s a little girl who… Ah, who cares. The filmmakers clearly slapped together some mayhem, and paid so little attention to the actual screenplay that it’s hardly worth delving into. Jason Lives is video wallpaper for the bloodthirsty. Something you put on your TV while you clean up around the apartment. Despite its high body count, it’s the worst one yet, and that’s even in light of A New Beginning, which has the distinct advantage of being wildly bonkers.
Alice Cooper sings the closing theme song. It’s no Dokken.
I hear that in Part VII, Jason will do battle with psychics. I can’t wait for that. More than that, though, I’m looking forward to next week’s coverage of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: the Dream Master. Also next week, we will take a visit to New York with Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. Just like The Muppets! Whee! And, just to be thorough, we’ll also discuss briefly the two TV series that these franchises individually spawned.