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31 by 31 Challenge #3: FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984)

Originally intended to be the concluding installment in the saga of one Jason Voorhees, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is certainly one of the more refined entries in the blockbuster franchise, and without question the last serious outing before the bonkers weirdness takes hold for parts five through ten. While the story is cut from the slasher cloth, the script itself is good, the cast is game and likable, and the gore effects–courtesy of Tom Savini, returning to the franchise for the first time since the original–are top notch.

The day after the events of Friday the 13th Part III (1982), Jason’s body is taken to the morgue where, much to the horror of the hospital staff, it turns out he’s not dead. As Jason (Ted White) dispatches nurses and hitchhikers, a new group of rowdy teenagers make their way to Crystal Lake, unaware of the horrors that have recently gripped the community. The teens shack up in a rented cabin next to the home of the Jarvis family. Trish (Kimberly Beck) and brother Tommy (Corey Feldman) make nice with their new neighbors before meeting lone camper Rob (Erich Anderson), who is on a secret mission to finish Jason once and for all. But there will buckets of blood before the night is out, leading us to a chilling, satisfying finale.

Final Chapter is interesting a number of ways. It’s the first film in the series without any real sense of mystery. Jason is firmly ensconced as the killer now, he’s completed his visage, we know what to expect. It’s a very settled film. Aside from the next installment, Part 5, the mystery departs Friday the 13th for good at this point, and so Final Chapter really becomes the model for all the remaining sequels.

For all that it does to set the standard framework, Final Chapter still takes time to let its characters breathe, a choice that the following films would make to lesser and lesser degree. All the subplots and minor threads close successfully before their the slicing and dicing kicks into high gear, and there’s arguably more memorable characters here than in any other Friday film. And when the characters are dispatched, you feel it. The kills are mean and brutal, heightened by some of Savini’s best work on the effects.

As the conclusion for what we might think of as the first “cycle” of Friday the 13th, The Final Chapter is a strong film. It knows what sort of beast it is, and it takes itself seriously just enough. The result is a well-rounded production any self-respecting slasher fan will cherish, bumps and all.

For more on Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, check out Episode 69 of the podcast, available here.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

  • 5 – Totally Terrifying
  • 4 – Crazy Creepy
  • 3 – Fairly Frightening
  • 2 – Slightly Scary
  • 1 – Hardly Horror

31 by 31 Challenge #2: INCIDENT IN A GHOSTLAND (2018)

Those familiar with director Pascal Laugier’s most infamous work, the savage and extreme Martyrs (2008), won’t be surprised that his latest exploration of human suffering is equally as bleak and cruel, if directionless and without the artistic verve attached to his earlier work.

Pauline (Mylene Farmer) and her daughters, Beth (Emilia Jones) and Vera (Taylor Hickson) are moving into a large, strange house in the country that Pauline has inherited from her recluse aunt. The dusty house is riddled with dolls, odd antiques, secret doors, and broken junk. It’s worst case scenario for angsty Vera, but a haven of inspiration for aspiring horror writer Beth. Within hours of moving in, the family is brutally attacked by a sadistic pair of intruders who won’t be satisfied with quick kills, but rather seek prolonged torture as a means to fulfill their twisted fantasies.

This film has a few things going for it, namely the atmosphere, achieved by a detailed production value and expert camerawork. There’s a great sense of disorientation inside the house, a tactic that subconsciously unsettles the viewer even before the home invaders arrive. Because the film is so visceral in technique, the violence hits on a shocking, deep level. But where that violence is necessary for effect in Martyrs, it’s cheap and untoward here, bordering on schlock.

These characters endure a great deal of violence, but there’s no real point to it other than to remind the viewer that vicious, cruel acts occur to innocents everyday, and that physical trauma often begets psychological damage. This is not a particularly new or intriguing angle, and since the film isn’t working towards a broader meditation on senseless violence, the ferocity isn’t earned. The story feels hollow, the nastiness occurring just for the sake of nastiness, and that by consequence raises the question of misogyny.

Unfortunately, there’s also a problematic dash of transphobia involved in Ghostland that can’t be ignored either. One of the attackers, the Candy Truck Woman (Kevin Powers) is presented to us as being terrifying simply for how she looks, which is quite stereotypical for a trans woman. There’s no inherent problem in having a trans woman be one of your villains, but the villainy and scare factor should come from something more than their trans identity. It’s an old, tired trope in horror and by this point filmmakers should be beyond relying on such an outdated gimmick to elicit fear.

Flaws aside–if you’re able to put them there, of course–Incident in a Ghostland is still a technically polished film, perfect for fans of shock horror and realistic violence. It’s not quite that French New Wave extreme horror that Laugier first trafficked in, but it’s a close, diluted cousin, with more than enough to make you squirm. The problem is that it’s not the fun kind of squirming. Nor even the reflective kind. It’s just exploitative.

Shhhh…ould we really take such a lazy route for our villain?

Incident in a Ghostland

  • 5 – Totally Terrifying
  • 4 – Crazy Creepy
  • 3 – Fairly Frightening
  • 2 – Slightly Scary
  • 1 – Hardly Horror

31 by 31 Challenge #1: IT: CHAPTER TWO (2019)

No one will be able to deny that It: Chapter Two is the perfect popcorn movie to kick off the fall, and perhaps even to close out the decade, but it’s not quite the well-balanced scarefest the first film turned out to be. There’s some decent scares and fun moments, yet it’s lacking the emotional depth of part one. Nevertheless, it’s a wild ride that leads to a bonkers finale even the Master of Horror himself would have to agree is a bit more fitting than the one he penned.

  • It: Chapter Two
  • Released: September 6, 2019
  • Director: Andy Muschietti
  • Screenplay: Gary Dauberman (based on the novel It by Stephen King)
  • Tagline: “It Ends”
  • Cast:
  • James McAvoy as Bill Denbrough
  • Jessica Chastain as Beverly Marsh
  • Jay Ryan as Ben Hanscom
  • Bill Hader as Richie Tozier
  • Isaiah Mustafa as Mike Hanlon
  • James Ransone as Eddie Kaspbrak
  • Andy Bean as Stanley Uris
  • Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise the Dancing Clown

27 years after the self-proclaimed Losers’ Club cast the menacing, shape-shifting Pennywise the Dancing Clown down into the depths of his lair beneath Derry, the Lucky Seven have grown up and grown out, with only Mike remaining behind as the town librarian. The rest have forgotten their home and their trauma, finding success in their various fields. But when Mike summons them all back to Derry after Pennywise reawakens, the Losers are faced with a choice and a challenge to reconcile their pasts with their presents lest they be destroyed by Fear itself.

Now, for some reason I haven’t quit been able to riddle out, the film posits that in order to rise to this challenge, the Losers must confront the ghosts of their pasts one-on-one in order to collect tokens needed for an arbitrary ritual to lock Pennywise away forever. The middle chunk of the film thus becomes an episodic tour around Derry as each Loser dwells on memories of That Summer–portrayed as gauzy, ethereal flashbacks featuring the child actors from part one–before grabbing some trinket or toy that means something to them, even though half of them weren’t even introduced in the first film.

There’s not a lot of character development here, which is somewhat problematic given that we see so little of the Losers in their accomplished, adult lives before they’re thrust back into repressed trauma and childhood terror. The Losers aren’t really together a whole lot, and when they are they’re just rehashing plot points or standing by for extended flashback sequences. It’s a shame because the adult ensemble, much like their younger counterparts, are perfectly cast and absolutely ace their characters, each of them more impressive than the last, with Bill Hader being the noticeable standout.

Is Pennywise a Pierrot clown? He’s using his tongue, after all…

Though there’s a struggle to resurrect that atmosphere of a summer’s nightmare from the first film, Chapter Two does provide some intense, isolated scares while hitting the beats of horror-comedy that charmed audiences in 2017. The humor is a bit more self-aware this time around, which keeps the viewer at a distance somewhat, and there’s some moments near the end that feel off-kilter and out of place, but that’s partially a fault of the source material, so we won’t necessarily place blame for that.

We also won’t knock the film for having to live up to the near-perfect chapter one. Very few sequels can. And it should be made clear that Chapter Two is still loads of fun. For all the flashback sequences and disjointed writing, there’s no actual slow scenes or boring moments. The film moves and grooves in a digestible rhythm. You’ll be hard pressed to find a moment to look away, as everything demands your attention here. And you’re happy to give it, because it’s all just so over-the-top in the best way. The big stars, the CGI, the splatter and gore, even the jokes.

This film will always be easy to watch. It will always be an enjoyable, reliable party-pleaser when background mood needs to be established but not wallowed in. But it won’t be as beloved as Muschietti’s first outing with Pennywise and the Losers. It’s just not as serious or as scary. Beforehand we were getting into the nitty gritty of childhood trauma and terror. This time, there’s a bit more clowning around, as it were.

It: Chapter Two

  • 5 – Totally Terrifying
  • 4 – Crazy Creepy
  • 3 – Fairly Frightening
  • 2 – Slightly Scary
  • 1 – Hardly Horror