Friday, September 3, 2021

Franchise Marathon: Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985) and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

 * Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)

* spoilers*

Tommy Jarvis has spent years in a mental institution dealing with the trauma of Jason Voorhees' murders. He finds himself transferred to Pinehurst Halfway House to live with more freedom among other troubled teens. They are hated by their neighbors, but Dr. Letter, the manager, seems to believe in rehabilitating his charges. One of the teens is murdered by another in a fit of rage, leading to more scrutiny and disapproval of the program. The murderer is arrested, but more murders follow with Jason's usual methods. 

A New Beginning starts out fresh with a different feeling from the other films. Troubled teens work and learn skills that will help them reacclimate to society. Sounds great until one of the charges kills another gruesomely and with no warning. That caught me completely off guard and I had no idea what to expect going forward. It felt a bit like Nightmare 3 with mismatched misfits that you can't help but like despite their flaws. They all suspect each other when the murders continue. Tommy is the unfortunate newcomer who hasn't had a chance to form attachments. He doesn't say much and continues his childhood love of monsters by creating his own incredibly detailed masks. I felt for him throughout the movie. 

I appreciate when a franchise tries to break away from its main character (like Halloween III), but it just doesn't work here. The rest of the movie after the initial kill is fairly familiar and formulaic. The ending isn't as fresh as its beginning and feels like a bad Scooby Doo episode with a tacked on ending, again making it seem like Tommy will hurt people. Perhaps it was an idea to have him continue as Jason, but it was obviously scrapped in the end. 

My rating: 2.5/5 fishmuffins

* Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

Tommy Jarvis is back and recently released from a mental institution after he killed Jason years ago. He finds Jason's body and accidentally resurrects the body when trying to destroy it. Now, he's frantically trying to warn the former Camp Crystal Lake (now Camp Forest Green) residents about Jason, but Sheriff Mike Garris dismisses it as hallucinations from a disturbed mind. Only his daughter Megan believes Tommy and of course falls in love with him. As the body count rises, Garris blames Tommy and Jason is dismissed as an urban legend, leaving him free to slaughter.

Jason Lives is a fun installment to the Friday the 13th franchise. It has everything: super cheesy acting, a sappy love story (based on a very short, shallow relationship), and fun kills. Tommy Jarvis has turned into the Nancy Thompson of the franchise, hellbent on defeating Jason once and for all while no one believes him. The writers had to retcon the end of the last movie to get him there and I think it was a good decision.

Jason is explicitly supernatural for the first time, resurrected by electricity like Frankenstein's monster and trapped by his home soil like a vampire. It took a while, but this installment finally puts Jason in his own category instead of being a cheap copy of another slasher killer. It's so fun to watch him slice and dice through unsuspecting corporate workers and other bystanders. This is the first time we see the camp actually functional and Jason only kills counselors, not the children. Overall, Jason Lives is heavier on the comedy side and just fun to watch. 

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Blood on the Tracks 3 and 4 by Shuzo Oshimi

 * Blood on the Tracks 3 by Shuzo Oshimi

In the aftermath of his cousin's "accident," Seiichi has to navigate his unstable mother's feelings as well as his blossoming love for a classmate. Through all of this, his cousin suffers in a hospital bed, unable to communicate. He is pulled in many different directions and finds it difficult to speak after his traumatic experiences.

I just want to give Seiichi a hug. His cousin lies in the hospital comatose while his mother refuses to visit him in the hospital. She ignores the wave of misery she caused and expects Seiichi to act like a happy child. He develops a stutter and struggles to communicate with others on top of keeping the horrible secret for his mother. Seiko seems oblivious to everything. She smothers him, isolates him, and alternates between expressing love and attacking him. His father knows that Seiko has issues, but seems to underestimate how far gone she is.

The ending is a complete gutpunch with the most intricate manga art I've ever seen. The shadows and expressions are incredibly detailed. Seiichi is faced with so much: his mother's instability and efforts to isolate him from everyone else in addition to seeing his cousin for the first time after his fall and witnessing the direct effect of his mother's actions. Heartbreaking. I can't wait to see what happens next.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

* Blood on the Tracks 4 by Shuzo Oshimi

Seiichi is not doing well. He struggles to speak at all and separates himself from everyone until Fukiishi reconnects with him. They get to know each other, share their experiences, and commiserate over their troubled parents.  His mother makes every effort to separate them and keep him isolated, but Seiichi refuses to let her take away the one person who makes him feel normal again.

This quiet story of abuse and unfolds slowly through each installment with great care for Seiichi and his reactions and struggle to cope with everything. It starts off at his lowest point, struggling to speak so much that he claims sickness for months so he won't have to speak at school. His father is completely clueless and his mother acts as if nothing happened. His classmates bully him over his odd behavior except Fukiishi, who is the only one to truly listen to him and makes him feel safe. They meet in a remote park and talk for hours after school and Seiichi seems happy and relaxed for the first time since the beginning of book one. Of course his mother can't have that.

The ending of the book has Seiichi taking huge strides forward in defying his mother's clingy, inappropriate demands and her delving deeper into madness at the rejection. The series keeps getting better and better in addition to keeping with the highly detailed art. The park seems so peaceful and the perfect haven in contrast to his feeling of being strangled as he tries to speak and his mother biting through her own nail. Each important scene takes several frames and takes its time, showing more  minute details and expressions than I've seen in manga. 

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Franchise Marathon: Friday the 13th Part III (1982) and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

 * Friday the 13th Part III (1982)

Jason Voorhees survives the previous installment to kill again. Unsuspecting Chris Higgins and her friends go on a weekend getaway to her family's old home on Crystal Lake. They have a confrontation with some bikers who end up following them to the house to get revenge. Of course, Jason goes on a killing spree and dons his iconic hockey mask for the first time in the franchise.

Friday the 13th Part III was released in 3D and many scenes take advantage of that. The film as a whole is formulaic and familiar. A group of friends is one by one picked off by Jason until a final girl emerges. The biker gang gives some change of dynamic and shows more characters of color, but they are mostly villainous, threatening our white protagonists and only serve to increase the body count. Shelly, a kind of incel joker, does provide some levity to the film. 

Overall, this installment is fine. The standout events are Jason donning the iconic hockey mask and the very end echoing the lake scene from the first film, but with Pamela Voorhees' rotting body. There are some fun kills and the way Jason is stopped is at least new. 

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

* Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

Jason Voorhees somehow survived the previous film to kill again. A group of teens goes to Camp Crystal Lake to party and happen to be next to Trish and her little brother Tommy. Murder, mayhem, and teen drama ensue.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is far from the actual final chapter and is the first movie to feature Tommy, a tragic figure that will fight Jason several times. A lot of the story is steeped in teen drama, but Tommy and his monster masks are a fun addition. The kills are unique with weapons ranging from shower tile to a corkscrew. Crispin Glover does a bizarre, hilarious dance. I didn't really get why Tommy shaved his head in the end (apparently to make Jason mistake him for his younger self) and I found the ending very weak and Tommy portrayed as evil for some reason, counter to later sequels.

Overall, it wasn't my favorite installment and didn't do much to set itself apart from other sequels. Tommy will be a fixture in the series and this story gives future insight into his character and his trauma. 

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Come Closer by Sara Gran

Amanda is a newly wed, a new homeowner, and a successful architect. Her happy life is just beginning. The trouble starts as a recurrent, annoying noise. An unexplained knocking in her house. Amanda doesn't know what to make of it and tries to ignore it. But it persists and gets worse along with new inner voice encouraging her to hurt those around her and cheat on her husband. A book she finds suggests she is possessed, but that's impossible so she goes on as she loses more and more time.

Come Closer got under my skin. I don't usually like demonic possession stories because of the overt reliance on flawed religions (specifically Catholicism). However, Sara Gran approaches it in a different way. We follow Amanda's point of view as she slowly, almost imperceptibly changes. These changes, like the unexplained and infuriating knocking in her home and sudden, odd mood swings, are explained away one way or another and adapted to as she loses pieces of herself little by little. She becomes casually cruel and violent, starting with the impulsive split decision to burn her husband with a cigarette and escalating far beyond. It's an absolutely chilling portrayal of losing oneself and I loved it. 

Amanda has some moments of fighting the possession, even ordering a book she doesn't remember about recognizing the signs of demonic possession. I love the literal checklist of symptoms and Amanda's attempts to thwart the possession. However, complacency and perceived normalcy win out. It's a compelling psychological portrayal for anyone ignoring a major problem in their life and how it's more comfortable to ignore it, explain it away, and keep going as normal.

The story moves quickly and we get just enough of a glimpse into this world. The novella length makes it easy to read in one or two sittings and the story grabs hold in the first chapter and doesn't let go. As with many stories like this, there's the question of mental illness or demonic possession, but it seems to land squarely in one camp by the end in my book. The ending is disjointed, distant, and perfect. Come Closer had been on my reading list for years and I'm so happy I bought by chance in a bookstore. (Thank you Barnes and Noble horror section.) It was truly the perfect Halloween read. 

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Franchise Marathon: Friday the 13th (1980) and Friday the 13th Part II (1981)

 * spoiler warning *

* Friday the 13th (1980)

After years of being closed and abandoned, Camp Crystal Lake is set to open or new campers in 1980. Crazy Ralph tries to warn people away, but everyone ignores him and Unfortunately, an unseen killer keeps killing the counselors before the camp even opens. Will any of the them survive?

Friday the 13th is honestly my least favorite of the big 4 horror franchises, but I realized that I've only seen a few of the movies and may be judging it too harshly. Thus this exploration through the whole series. Alice is an excellent final girl with sense and a practical nature. However, the road the finale was arduous. After the initial exposition dump, the movie plods along and even the kills aren't that interesting until Pamela Voorhees shows up. Her mania and love for her son truly shine through as she's revealed to be the killer. She's one of the most iconic cinematic female serial killers and Betsy Palmer delivers an amazing, campy performance. The ending on the lake haunts me from childhood and rings a bit melancholy, knowing that Jason was a neglected, innocent little boy.

The first film didn't wow me and the pace made the relatively short runtime feel much too long. Pamela Voorhees and final girl Alice set themselves apart in this mostly forgettable start. The music feels underdeveloped, but the main themes (reused many many times) are iconic. Overall, it's a disappointing experience with some bright spots.  

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins


* Friday the 13th Part II (1981)


Five years after the Camp Crystal Lake Massacre, a group of counselors hold a training camp near the defunct, notorious crime site, where they mostly get into typical shenanigans like trespassing on Camp Crystal Lake, drinking, having sex, and doing drugs. This doesn't sit well with Jason, who sets out to kill all the camp counselors and punish them for their immoral behavior in honor of his mother.

Friday the 13th Part II is a vast improvement over the first which dragged and had no suspense up until the end with Mrs. Voorhees. The mythology for the whole series is kind of wonky. Jason appears as he is most known, a hulking silent beast of a man. Instead of his signature hockey mask, he wears a bag over his head with only one hole to see out of. He dispatches teens with knives, a garrote, and his signature machete. The kills are decent and the the lead-up can be suspenseful. It was made with the awareness that the audience knows when kills are coming and still surprises at times. Most of the teens are interchangeable, but I was disappointed when Mark died. He seemed decent and was largely dismissed by everyone else because of his disability when he had big dreams and aspirations.

Ginny, the final girl, is the best character in the whole movie. First, she's a student in college studying child psychology. Unlike most final girls, Ginny has a boyfriend and it's implied that they have sex. She also drinks at a bar. It's interesting that this portrayal is more progressive than Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 even though it was made 5 years later. Anyway, her psychology training gives her insight to Jason's mental state and it ends up saving her in the end. She puts on Mrs. Voorhees' sweater and pretends to be his mother, which buys her and her boyfriend much needed time.

Friday the 13th Part 2 is a decent sequel and much better than the first. Jason isn't my favorite slasher villain by far, but the movie was enjoyable. The ending has some inconsistencies that make me want to see the next movie if Ginny is in it. I doubt she is and I doubt they'll say what happened to Paul, but I can always hope. 

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica

Marcos' life is in shambles. His wife left him and he works on a farm that processes human meat, now legal because of a disease affecting all animals and rendering them inedible. He sees the most horrific things every day and has to do business with the worst sort who want to buy the head (as in head of cattle) for hunting, experimentation, or consumption. Then he receives a female head as an unwanted but valuable gift and has to decide what to do with it.

Tender is the Flesh is an absolutely chilling dystopia. Due to an incurable virus, animals can no longer be consumed or be around humans at all. There also no pets allowed, leading to a mass slaughter of them for human safety. The government has decided to allow the raising and killing of humans for food, opening up a huge market of other things previously illegal: medical experimentation (even the most inhumane procedures), hunting people, organ harvesting, and an expansion of illegal human trafficking. Bodies can't be buried for fear of being dug up and eaten. The less fortunate or less protected could be kidnapped and murdered for meat. Scavengers roam the countryside, violent and wild, looking for flesh.

Marcos's job is stomach churning but highly paid. The head can't speak due to their vocal chords being removed and lack of any sort of education. They are never acknowledged or referred to as human, always kept naked, and treated exactly as cattle.  Marcos carefully chooses who works there because the job attracts some unsavory characters. The goal is to find someone who needs the money and can desensitize themselves (as he has) to the violence. The general public calls it "special" meat and carries on as usually, blissfully ignorant of the realities of how they get their food. There is some outrage, but it seems more are willing to sacrifice others to go one with business as usual.

Tender is the Flesh kept surprising me with how depraved things could get. When I thought it couldn't be any worse, it went further. Whether it's a critique of the meat industry or the callousness of modern society, it works. Marcos seems to be the moral center of the book, even as he participates in the killing and processing of people for food, which makes the ending feel like such a slap in the face. I read this in a couple days. I couldn't put it down and it got under my skin. Definitely in my top books of the year.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Movie Mini-Reviews: Memories of Murder (2003) and Nightcrawler (2014)

* Memories of Murder (2003)

A serial rapist and murderer terrorizes a rural South Korean town in the late 80's while rural cops struggle to make headway in the case. They opt to blame the most vulnerable people in their community and use abusive methods to extract false confessions. Their supervisor tries to reign them in, but they seem committed to undermining the investigation at every turn.

Memories of Murder is a Bong Joon Ho film that portrays problems with law enforcement that persist today, especially in the US. Kang Sang Ho plays Detective Park Doo-man, a seemingly well meaning police officer trying to find the murderer/rapist. He is so affable and understandable that his behavior gets quite extreme before I doubted his intentions. He genuinely wants to catch this killer, but he relies on looking into the person's eyes to sense if they are guilty instead of preserving evidence or going off of anything more concrete than rumors. His partner's penchant for jump kicking suspects starts out as a slapstick, funny thing and then turns out to be a hinderance and indicative of an out of control temper. Both sabotage their own investigation on top of things out of their control such as a small, rural operation.

I'm sure plenty of corrupt police don't see themselves as such in the present day and they justify their horrific actions with working towards justice. With very few to hold them accountable and the pressure to support their co-workers whether or not they did something wrong, it's easy to see how good intentions simply aren't enough and how corruption can go unchecked. As with all Bong Joon Ho films, the conclusion left me emotional and broken with its reveal. 

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

* Nightcrawler (2014)

Louis Bloom is looking for ways to make money. When he happens upon a car accident and sees a film crew swoop in to document it, his interest is piqued. He sells stolen scrap metal to buy a cheap camcorder and a police scanner to throw himself into the nightcrawler life, filming accidents, police stops, and bungling it until he learns what news stations will pay for. Louis will do anything to keep a steady flow of footage for his chosen news station and will take out anyone in his way.

I had always heard good things about Nightcrawler and I found that Jake Gyllenhaal can play an incredibly convincing creeper. Louis Bloom doesn't have any lines he won't cross. He expects everyone to acquiesce and when they don't, he finds a way around them. The man is chilling in his singlemindedness and ability use information to his own advantage. I felt sorry for those around him, a means to an end or disposable. Near the end, I was on the edge of my seat because he decided to insert himself into the stories he films. When he arrives at a home where people are still being killed and robbed, I was just waiting for him to get caught or killed. He has no boundaries and finds nothing wrong with tailgating police on a chase or sacrificing others to get a good shot.

Nightcrawler took me on a wild ride. The ending is pretty unrealistic, but the whole ending sequence had me in complete suspense. The storytelling is amazing and shows how confident, unscrupulous person can get far by exploiting others. It's also a critique of what the public finds newsworthy (white families being attacked and car accidents). This thrilling film really hit me and went unexpected places. 

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins