Tag Archives: movies

Friday the 13th: Kill Kill Kill Kill… Die Die Die Die… Bad Bad Bad Bad… Hair Hair Hair Hair…

Friday the 13th

 Yes, it is that day again…and time for an afternoon viewing of Friday the 13th, the film that most thoroughly typifies the “Have sex, get killed” equation in American cinema. Thank you for dying, Kevin Bacon.

If you haven’t seen this flick, then you are missing out on numerous cultural touchstones. You probably don’t even know the meaning of the word “Kill kill kill kill…die die die die…ow ow ow ow…” which my friend Jonathan used to say whenever anyone was foolish enough to hand him a butcher knife.

To this day, I find that simple term, like mise-en-scene, joi de vivre, or Schadenfreude, to be highly useful in many conversations; it is almost universally understood.

More accurately, the sound in question (sometimes known among film nerds as the “Jason Sound”) is “Ki ki ki ki, ma ma ma ma,” at least according to composer Harry Manfredini, who said — and I quote — “Everybody thinks it’s cha, cha, cha. I’m like, ‘Cha, cha, cha? What are you talking about?'” (That’s Manfredini’s voice, by the way.)

Incidentally, Betsy Palmer, who plays a rather central role in the film, reportedly called the script a “piece of shit” after reading it. She never would have taken the role if she hadn’t desperately needed a new car.

Well, Mrs. Voorhees. We all do things that surprise us sometimes, don’t we?

Palmer was a very mainstream actress at the time, and a guest on many TV shows including “The Joey Bishop Show,” “Password,” and “The Kraft Television Theater,” and would later be in “Murder She Wrote,” “Knots Landing,” “Columbo,” “Newhart,” and many more. According to the IMDB trivia page, when Friday the 13th came out, many of Palmer’s fans were not pleased. One critic was so pissed off he published her home address and encouraged her outraged fans to write her in protest, but published an incorrect address.

I don’t quite agree with the esteemed Ms. Palmer. For all its bizarre faults (Five minutes of screen time making instant coffee, anyone?), there is no disputing what an impact on cinema this damn thing had. Better yet, it’s an object lesson in what happens when people get all hopped up about the end of civilization sure to be caused by things like movies. In the early-’80s culture wars, we were told that the slasher film genre that Friday the 13th and Halloween represent was sure to turn my generation into an army of babbling psychopaths who kill with machetes at the drop of a hat. Little did they know it would actually take antidepressants, text messaging, Grand Theft Auto and the internet to do what damage hadn’t already been done by Dungeons & Dragons.

I didn’t see Friday the 13th until well into the ’90s. I viewed it from the start as an absurdist enterprise, and the entire franchise as a Beavis and Butthead punchline. It’s not a horror film so much as a comedy skit in the woods. I almost can’t watch it without thinking of its clueless teen machete fodder and crazy old weirdos as drag queens and kings who might at any moment burst into a torrid English drinking song with excruciatingly obscene lyrics (yes, this means you, Kevin Bacon). I don’t so much watch Friday the 13th, I watch the Friday the 13th that’s playing in my brain — the Friday the 13th I didn’t see when I was a kid, filtered through everything I’ve learned since I didn’t see it that makes the zeitgeisty terrors of 1980 seem cartoonish and ridiculous, and the terrors of 2012 seem tiresomely been-there, done-that.

As if that wasn’t enough, add to it the fact that I was already an occasional semi-pro horror writer before I ever saw the flick. My good friend Alex S. Johnson, who is probably the reason I ever started writing horror to begin with, even wrote a Friday the 13th tie-in novel. Nancy Kilpatrick wrote two. Before I saw the thing, Friday the 13th was already furniture in my life. The Jason universe was like the World of Darkness — I might go there, even hang out there, but I didn’t take it that seriously.

So maybe Friday the 13th never really had the chance to scare me — unlike John Carpenter’s Halloween, which I did see when I was young. Several of Carpenter’s other movies are among my very favorite films of all time — but then as now, I find Halloween dull, underdramatized, unimpressive. Halloween had the chance to genuinely scare me, and blew it because in my estimation it’s an overrated film; regardless, for better or worse Halloween simply doesn’t work for me. On the other hand, I was laughing my ass off at Friday the 13th before the curtain ever rose.

Viewed in that context, I love Friday the 13th. But I’m sorry to say that thirty-two years on, after half a dozen viewings and numerous drinking games, the most horrifying things in this film are the hairstyles. “Ow ow ow ow” indeed.

Jonathan Winters is Still Alive?

"New" in 2011.

Before I write another word, I must say that I consider it hugely rude to comment on older performers by saying, “That person’s still alive!?!?!?!?” I consider the general phenomenon of celebrity death watches to be of questionable taste — symptoms of a society that discards those who were once of value the second our attention wanders.

Performers who have delighted and inspired us are expected to vanish the second they get old and ugly — or, to put it another way, the second we don’t give a shit about them. I find that offensive; I bear no ill will toward, say, Steven Tyler or Courtney Love, so why should I wish to speculate on their potential to shuffle off this mortal coil any more than I would speculate on whether they’ll marry, breed with or break up with this or that fashion model, backup singer or Swedish bohunk?

Would doing so somehow make me feel more alive? Or does regarding all denizens of the show business world as pieces of meat who get born, grow up and die for the sole purpose of amusing us thoroughly devalue all human endeavor? Does it make the very fact of performance, whether it be a Beethoven sonata or a Johnny Carson skit, a stripper’s lap dance or a speed-fueled comedy monologue, utterly futile as a mode of expression and communication?

I vote the latter.

It is this utter credulousness that makes me do stuff like get excited when I hear that comedian Jonathan Winters is among the living, which is the only reason I would ever slap such a rude title on this post.

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Music for Music Nerds: The Chapman Stick

Yes, that’s Nick Beggs from Kajagoogoo, playing the Chapman Stick. Huh!?!? on many levels. Creative Commons photo by Jackie Kever.

Never heard of the Chapman Stick? You’re not alone. You could spend your whole life playing Armenian hammered dulcimer, Swedish twelve-string baritone ukelele and death-klezmer diddley bow, and still scratch your head when you look at the Chapman Stick.

You would, however, see none other than Patrick Stewart himself playing one in David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune, though the scene was cut out of the theatrical release and can be viewed only in the extended version.

…Invented in the 1970s by a jazz guitarist named Emmett Chapman, “The Stick,” as it’s often called, developed from Chapman’s guitar-playing technique of “Free Hands,” which involves smacking the strings of a guitar at the frets in a way that looks, to my eyes, like what the metal boys like to call a “hammer-on.” If you compare the two videos above, you’ll note that Captain Picard is fretting the thing in more of a traditional guitar technique — assuming you have the faintest idea what I’m talking about in the first place, or even give a damn.

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Terminator 3: Menage A Twat

Miserably, I must tell you that I saw Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines tonight. It is not a good film.

I should say that I consider James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day to be about the best damned action movie ever made, with some of its only real competition coming from Cameron’s other mind-bendingly good second-in-a-franchise action film, Aliens, and his own Citizen Kane of cheesy B movies, the first film in the Terminator franchise — which is good on a whole ‘nother level, having cost about a zillionth as much to make as Terminator 2.

I was not optimistic that T3 would live up to any expectations at all other than the one that says Hollywood can’t make decent movies to save its life anymore. Yup, that’s the one it lived up to. It’s not even bad in an entertaining way…it’s just dull, boring and lame. The plot holes don’t even really have enough plot hole mojo to irritate me. This flick is just sleepy-bye time.

The best thing about this awful flick was that I saw it at the Parkway in Oakland with my friend K. The Parkway is this amazing theater in Oakland where you sit in loveseats and can order dinner, beer and wine. That and the company made it a truly wonderful evening…despite, instead of because of, the film.

There were times, I’ll admit, that I thought I was about to start enjoying T3  the way I would have enjoyed a Jean Claude Van Damme flick. My companion K. said of the film, and I quote, “I didn’t expect it to be any good, so it wasn’t disappointed.”

As anyone who knows me will attest, I am disturbingly weird and obsessive about the pulpiest, trashiest things. My psychiatrist says it comes from some sort of brain disease. Regardless, while I didn’t expect much out of T3 — in fact, I expected it to be crap — it fell short of even my meagre expectations. It wasn’t that it had any major problems — other than the plot being completely improbable and underdeveloped, but I don’t so much care about that. Something was just wrong with it. There was a joi de vivre missing — something that should be even in the very worst science fiction flicks. After all, it’s not like previous decades haven’t given us some really terrible SF movies that I love just the same. Laserblast, anyone?

There’s essentially one passable action scene early in the flick, and then a moderately cool one when the first-generation “terminator” machines come alive. Beyond that, I almost fell asleep.

The most laughable element of the film was its warmed-over attempts to come up with the  sort of character development that ran throughout Terminator 2 as a matter of course. Here, it was so conspicuously forced that it was kind of horrifying. How can someone try to get character development right, and yet get it so wrong? I might as well ask why the sun moves through the sky every day.

Nick Stahl, who I thought was great in the bad-movie classic Disturbing Behavior (one of my pulpy favorites) was hopelessly out of his depth in this role, I don’t even know what to think about his acting skills. I can only conclude he must have been utterly misdirected. His John Connor was reduced to a jittery, freaked-out neurotic with absolutely no hint of his future as a military leader….which would have been just fine if there was some transformation.

And that’s where “character development” took perhaps hte most insulting form I’ve ever seen in a big-budget movie, which is saying something.

Which is to say, thirty minutes into the film, when Stahl’s John Connor is being a why little wuss,  The Terminator serves as dime-store Freud and grabs Connor by the throat, inspiring him to say “Fuck You.”

Voila! Transformation of Fredo Corleone into Michael Corleone achieved, skipping right over the expected second act stuck in Sonny Corleone. Who knew military strategy was  so easy?

This yutz, we’re given to believe, then goes on to  become the greatest military leader the world has  ever known, and will  save the human race. Rather than, say, flagging me down at the mall with some sob story about how his car broke down and he needs $20 to get a Greyhound to San Rafael so he can donate his kidney to his ailing mother.

Whereas the  wisecracking, cocky 13-year-old John Connor in T2 would have distracted me with some goof and stolen my wallet in such a circumstance, T3’s young adult Connor wouldn’t even have been able to keep his story straight.

Like I said, I care more about characters than plot, but even so…some shit is hard to ignore. Here are just a few of the annoying plot holes that bugged me about Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (more explicit spoilers follow):

  • At the beginning of the film, following the (thematically inexplicable) death of his mother from cancer, John Connor lives “off the grid”….but he rides a motorcycle. Anyone who rides a motorcycle knows it requires current registration, insurance and tags, far more so than a car, truck or a boat does. if you don’t keep your registration current, you’re pretty fucked. Cops will pull you over with the slightest excuse. Any idiot trying to live off the grid would drive a car instead, because you’re far less likely to get pulled over for some random reason, and be asked to provide paperwork.
  • Why was the new model of Terminator female? Because female action “heroes” are hot right now? There was never any plot-driven reason for her to have a female form. There was, however, the reason that I, and many other people in the audience, and presumably the filmmakers, like to look at boobies. Okay…forget I asked why, but there’s still no damn reason that a Terminator would need to have a female form, rather than having the larger amount of space (in which to pack heavy-duty skeletal structure, and shit) provided by a beefy frame like Arnold’s.
  • Oh, also, there was a really insulting gag where she pumps her thingies up a cup size. That’s good news, because it means the film gets to be sexist and sexist! Not to mention sexist!
  • …And if you ask me, being able to turn into liquid medal and glorp your way through a drainpipe seems far more bad-ass than having juicy lickable cha-chas. At least in combat. At a strip club? I’d rather have the cha-chas. But still, glorping through a drainpipe seems like a pretty hard-to-beat skill within the overall schema of espionage operations.
  • At one point, the characters rip off a plane. Guess what? I don’t think they store small planes fully fueled.
  • The T-800 (Arnold) mentions to John Connor  the general location of the “hardened location” to which John and Kate escape. He does not give, like GPS coordinates or anything, more like a “sort of thirty-ish miles north of the toxic waste dump” sort of thing.
  • Apparently, however, Connor  was listening soooooooooooooo carefully to Arnold’s non-directions so he could later find the super secret facility from a small plane, without the T-800’s help. Just how easy do you people think it is to find super secret military facilities from the air, over terrain you’re not at all familiar with?
  • Did I mention that “hardened locations” intended as hideaways for the President of the United states are, presumably, not visible from the air. Except this one.
  • He’s also lucky that, although the shelter hasn’t been used for 30 years — and is sufficiently obsolete as to be completely unguarded — the doors and elevators work. Exactly where is this power coming from? It’s still on the power grid, it’s still (presumably) fully stocked with food, since the half-assed end of the flick kinda implies that Nick and My So Called Career are going to, like, hang out down there and fuck like bunnies while the fallout burbles, so they can, like, repopulate the globe or something. (Cue funk music).
  • All right, maybe the facility being stocked with supplies (or not) will be explained in  Terminator 4: John Connor and Kate Brewster Eat Each Other With Plastic Forks. Looking forward to that one.
  • Also, though he thinks that this shelter is the heart of the entire US defense computer grid, John Connor, the Smartest Man on Earth, The Man Who’s Gonna Fuck Up Those Damn Machines Royally, doesn’t notice the fact that the hardened shelter is totally unguarded — kind of implying that maybe it’s not really that important a facility — until he’s already in its bowels. The scene kind of goes something like this:

 

JOHN CONNOR

(scratching head)

Heyyyyy…..waiiiiiiit a minute! There’s nobody down here! DOH!!!!

If the machines can’t kill this yutz….they don’t deserve to rule.

And if this is the best military the human race can produce…hell, Clausewitz would come back to life and slaughter us himself. Now there’s an idea for a movie…

Basically, I will watch any movie with explosions and cyborgs from the future. I’m about the cheapest date an untalented science fiction filmmaker can hope for.

But with a reported $175 million budget, how is it that the first building block of a film — the script — was such a nightmare?

No, don’t answer that. Hollywood movies suck. Well, this one goes on my list of the ten stupidest SF movies of all time…or it would, if it didn’t already have so much competition.

I piss on it from a great height…you’re welcome.