Friday, November 9, 2018

Freddy vs. Jason (USA, 2003)

Let us pay our respects to director Ronny Yu. He, like fellow Hong Kong master stylist John Woo, is a man who knows how to make a movie. Like Woo, he is a genre master, but unlike Woo he never truly made it to the A ranks in Hollyweird. (Woo, however, fell quickly, but before returning to the Western Bs and Eastern As, he did helm Face/Off [1997 / trailer], M:I-2 [2000 / trailer], and the oh-so-serious Windtalkers [2002 / trailer].) But while Yu, like his Hong Kong colleague, did make it from Hong Kong to the sunny shores of California, his brief three-film, one-TV-movie foray remained strongly rooted in the mainstream production company Bs.
Trailer to
Freddy vs. Jason:
But Western B film or Hong Kong product, Ronny Yu has continually revealed himself as a solid genre film pro: a master of visuals, he's a director who usually knows the perfect angle, the perfect framing, the perfect dolly shot, the right place to edit quickly or to use long takes, to use neon/artificial lighting or natural, or what should happen onscreen and what should happen off — what's more, he generally also gets decent performances from his casts. He is, basically, a damn good director.
Indeed, his assured directorial style is often the best thing about the given movie project he is in charge of — see, for example, The 51st State aka Formula 51 (2001 / trailer), a totally idiotic mess that'll keep you laughing and entertained from start to finish. In the hands of a less proficient and assured stylist, even the talented cast (led by Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Carlyle, and Emily Mortimer) probably couldn't have saved that brainless piece of fluff. (What's more, in that film Yu even gets a good performance out of Meat Loaf.)
Likewise noteworthy is Yu's blackly comic Western-world debut, Bride of Chucky (1998 / trailer), which is also greatly served by a relatively coherent and tight script. The last bit about a "relatively coherent and tight script" cannot, however, be said of Freddy vs. Jason, but a coherent and tight script has never truly been a prerequisite to having a hit movie. And Freddy vs. Jason was a hit: "It grossed $114 million, making it the highest-grossing film in the Friday the 13th series and the second-highest-grossing film in A Nightmare on Elm Street series. [Wikipedia, date: 04 Oct 2018]"
To give credit where credit is due, the scriptwriting duo of Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, who subsequently went on to pen the totally misfired and boring Friday the 13th reboot (2009 / trailer) as well as the equally misfired but mildly entertaining Baywatch (2017 / trailer) movie adaptation, did a good job of working bits and pieces and references to the entire mythologies of both franchises into their script, even going so far as to strongly remind the audience at the start that everyone's favorite mass-murdering anti-hero Freddy is a child-killer and sexual deviant. (Hmm, sounds like Presidential material — or at least Senatorial.) But where in the name of Camp Crystal Lake did they come up with the idiotic idea of Jason's fear of water?
In any event, the script to Freddy vs. Jason is still a shallow fuckup and narrative mess lacking any true characterization, semblance of logic or basic realism, and with almost no true scares or real humor. More often than not — and totally unlike Bride of Chucky, for example — viewers finds themselves laughing at the movie instead of with the movie. (Not that the producers probably cared, as they surely simply laughed their way to the bank.)
Within the timeline of the two persistent original franchises, Freddy vs. Jason occurs after the second-to-last Freddy film, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991 / trailer), and between the final two Jason flicks, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993 / trailer) and Jason X (2001 / trailer).* As Freddy's rather long opening preamble clarifies, Freddy's powerless and in limbo and Jason's dead, but Freddy wants to kill kill kill kill so he enters Dead Jason's dreams (yep, the dead dream) and tricks Jason into arising from the dead and go on a killing spree in Springwood, Ohio, so as to make the kids there scared again. Their fear should somehow bring Freddy back — a plan that ends up working only because of a policeman's slip of the lip and the extremely contrived escape of two Elm Street kids, Will Rollins (Jason Ritter) and Mark Davis (Brendan Fletcher of BloodRayne: The Third Reich [2011 / trailer]), from the Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital (see: Nightmare on Elm Street III: The Dream Warriors [1987 / trailer]), two things that suddenly bring the forgotten name of Freddy Krueger to the mouths and minds of the kids on Elm Street, most of whom must have failed a several grades to be still stuck in high school. (Dunno why they have to know of and fear Freddy for him to enter their dreams, actually, seeing that none of the kids in the first film, the classic Nightmare on Elm Street [1984 / trailer], knew anything about Freddy before he started killing them. In that film, he simply had the power.)
* The latter of which, in space, joined such illustrious company as Critters 4 (1992 / trailer), Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996 / trailer), Leprechaun 4: In Space (1996 / trailer)... and Moonraker (1979 / trailer), for that matter.
Freddy vs. Jason opens in true, traditional exploitation film style with naked boobs, something sorely missing from most contemporary trash cinema. (One wonders, however, how any ditz who has to work as a summer camp counselor would be old enough, much less manage to scrape together the money, to afford a boob job, even a cheaper one for unmoving boobs.) Topping off the wonderfully hilarious gratuitous nudity of the bimbo's midnight swim, she even runs barefoot into the forest to escape Jason, so of course she dies at his hands. (An unused scene in the DVD extras reveals that the girl — "Heather" [Odessa Munroe] — does indeed first try to return to her cabin, but when unsuccessful doesn't have the brains to simply break the window and chooses instead to run through the woods because, well, that's what one does.) But wait! The kill isn't real: it is, one might say considering the midnight swim and naked half-melons, Jason's wet dream — from whence Freddy awakens him. From there on, it's " Hi, ho! Hi, ho! Off to kill, Jason does go!"
According to director Ronny Yu, the special effects team used three hundred gallons of fake blood in Freddy vs. Jason. The amount is believable: people — mostly over-aged high school students — die and blood flows, mostly due to Jason. His harvest in greatly simplified because, after the first bodies drop, the over-aged high school students all react in a totally realistic fashion by throwing a midnight cornfield rave that, realistically, no adult (i.e., figure of authority) finds out about. From thereon in, Freddy starts getting both more powerful and pissed at Jason for robbing him of all his kills…. All of which leads to the eventual big showdown of the movie's title.
As to be expected of a Ronny Yu movie, the flick looks good. But for the average Joe, it also makes absolutely no sense, though if you know the mythology you can probably convince yourself it does, as enough lip service is given to past conventions — including, for example, how the film's spunky Final Girl Lori (Monica Keena of Snow White: A Tale of Terror [1997 / trailer], seen below not from the movie) brings Freddy over to the real world — that rhythm and reason can be inferred. But there isn't any, really.
One or two scenes, like the one with the brain-dead kids in Westin Hills, are even mildly unnerving, while others are really stupid — again, like the one with the brain-dead kids in Westin Hills, whenever the crappy-looking CGI hookah-smoking caterpillar shows up. (Aside from the obvious literary reference, possibly also a faint reference to the much more effective non-CGI Freddy-snake found in Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare.) In general, however, and as is always the case with slasher films, it is less the chills than the kills that count, and in Freddy vs. Jason they quickly get relatively mundane: even the dream-world demise of Gibb (cult-fave babe Katharine Isabelle of Bones [2001 / trailer] and so much more) lacks the surreal terror of vintage Freddy.
But all the obvious flaws of Freddy vs. Jason are pretty much aside the point. There is basically only one reason to see the movie, and that reason is used as the movie's title. And the title will either make you hard/wet or leave you limp/dry, and that in turn is the decisive factor to whether or not the film is worth your precious time. We here at a wasted life, who went in only semi-tumescent, feel we wasted ours.

Freddy vs. Jason 
Kill Count:

Friday, November 2, 2018

Shock Waves (USA, 1977)

(Meander with Spoilers.) Aka Almost Human and Death Corps. Here is an interesting if flawed low-budget semi-shocker from the seventies which, like so many cult favorites, is not quite as good as its reputation but way better than it ought to be.
Trailer to
Shock Waves:
Possibly inspired by Zombies of Mora Tau (1957 / trailer),* one of the better of the many pieces of (usually) laughable but enjoyable genre flotsam directed by the prolific and underappreciated B- and C-movie meistro Edward L. Cahn* (12 Feb 1899 – 25 Aug 1963), Shock Waves, the debut feature-film directorial effort of Ken Wiederhorn, morphs the earlier film's basic idea of waterlogged killer zombies protecting the diamonds on a sunken ship into a death corps of waterlogged killer Nazi zombies that escape (?) their sunken ship and proceed to decimate a group of shipwrecked tourists.
* Trivia twice over:
1. The phrasing of the prologue scroll of Zombies of Mora Tau brims with cultural precocity: "In the darkness of an ancient world — on a shore that time has forgotten — there is a twilight zone between life and death. Here dwell those nameless creatures who are condemned to prowl the land eternally — the walking dead." 
2. Two years after Shock Waves, in 1979, another low budget feature directed by Edward L. Cahn, the sci-fi horror movie It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958 / trailer), went on to inspire the modern classic, Alien (1979 / trailer).
One of the Shock Waves' biggest mistakes is a structural one common to so many films, and one that is generally particularly detrimental to horror movies. (See, for example, The Prometheus Project [2010].) Shock Waves opens with a fisherman (Clarence Thomas) and his boy finding a floating dinghy and a parched and terrified woman we later learn is named Rose (Brooke Adams of Invasion of the Body Snatchers [1978 / trailer] and The Unborn [1991 / trailer]). She is the sole survivor of the subsequent narrative, which, as it is told in flashback, totally loses all tension regarding the question of who will and who won't survive. Which is not to say the movie doesn't nevertheless often achieve a notable creepiness and even a decent scare or two (or three), it's just that all the shocks and scares and atmosphere would have been greatly served and enhanced if it hadn't been revealed to the viewer in advance that: everybody gonna die! (Indeed, without problem the film's narrative could easily have been structured and told in consecutive progression, without the flashback structure.)
Opening intro to
Shock Waves:
Shock Waves' slightly schizophrenic opening is indecisive regarding whether the zombie horrors that subsequently transpire are follow are unnatural or science-based. The intro (above) makes the zombies' origins relatively science-based, but their sudden return from the ocean floor in the movie is decidedly supernatural, preceded by unnatural and hazy daylight, a mysteriously dysfunctional compass and radio, and a ghostly death ship that almost rams the tourist boat.* Supernatural or not, the midnight near-miss results in a slowly sinking tourist boat, which in turns forces the all those aboard to take refuge on the nearby tropic island on which the rest of the tale commences.
* The extras of the German Ungekürzte Fassung ("uncut version") DVD we watched, from Marketing Film, included photos and mention of later scenes onboard that death ship that never made it into the final film. Sad.
And it is on this island that our initial team of six boaters runs into the unnamed SS Commander (Peter Cushing of The Mummy [1959], The Curse of Frankenstein [1957], The Brides of Dracula [1960], Corruption [1968] and so much more), the man who long ago sank the boatload of Nazi zombies to the ocean's floor only to subsequently take residence in the long-deserted island hotel where the movie's fodder-six take initial refuge. Not too keen on having visitors, he grudgingly offers them a way off the island — a small sailboat — which they later lose due to basic incompetency.
Cushing's appearance, like that of fellow poster headliner John Carradine (as the tourist boat's ornery Captain Ben Morris), is much too brief, and though the two never share a scene together they are both, as almost always, a pleasure to watch on screen. Indeed, they more or less easily dominate any scene they are in, upstaging and stealing it from the rest of the cast without even trying. Cushing's German accent, however, so on-the-mark when speaking English, is completely lost and snigger-inducing whenever he barks out his few perfunctory (and very basic) German-language phrases. Not that the average English native speaker would notice….
The Nazi zombies, thank FSM's Noodly Appendages, bear little resemblance to the laughable dead of that other waterlogged killer Nazi zombie film that followed four years later, Zombie Lake (1981). The blonde, shrivel-skinned undead that rise from the waters in Shock Waves are suitably unnerving, and do indeed convey a level of disturbing eeriness and deathly danger — that is, of course, unless you happen to watch the movie with a German, who will surely giggle and exclaim, "They all look just like Heino!" (See below video.) But even without such commentary, their sinister creepiness is lessened a bit by the repetitiveness in how Wiederhorn stages their emergence: seen it once, seen it twice, seen it thrice, seen it…
Heino covers
Die Ärtze's song, Junge:
Considering the decade it is from, Shock Waves is surprisingly goreless and not at all bloody, but then, death by drowning in seldom either. Still, drowning, or being drowned, is a horrible way to go — but Wiederhorn tends to negate the horror of the event by not dwelling upon the act when it occurs, preferring instead to have the victim simply pulled below the water and a dead body shown later. And since the viewer already knows that everyone is going to die, most of the revulsion and horror that any given death should instigate is already diminished, even during the final escape scene revealing how Rose ends up alone on the dinghy. (There is also absolutely no gratuitous nudity, generally a staple of the time, but then the film does have a low female character count, and neither is a horny college student, generally the only stereotype to get nekkid in this kind of movie.)
Rose (Brooke Adams) and the captain's mate Keith (Luke Halpin) are the film's nominal hero and heroine, if only because they were, at the time Shock Wave was released, the best-known faces in the movie (outside, of course, the extended cameos of the headlining stars Cushing and Carradine).* But while both are attractive, they, like all other survivors of the cruise boat, are cyphers without any true characterization. They — like everyone in the movie — are faces, but faceless, with virtually no past or personality. Rose is little more than an attractive brunette and Keith little more than a good-looking ship's mate, while fellow tourist Chuck (Fred Buch [26 Feb 1940 – 2 Dec 2012], also found in Umberto Lenzi's Nightmare Beach [1989 / trailer]), is just some tourist in nylon shorts. The ship's cook, Dobb (Don Stout [13 April 1923 – 16 June 2004]), fares better, as he is such a stereotype — hard-drinking and working aged cook — that the stereotype actually gives him personality. Oddly enough, the used-car salesman Norman (Jack Davidson) is given a surprising amount of character-building dialogue (and thus comes across a bit like the blustery Leslie Nielsen character of Day of the Animals [1977 / trailer] but without the alpha-personality traits) considering how ineffectual he is, but his wife Beverly (D.J. Sidney) is basically never anything more than simply a stock character: "the Doomed Wife".
* Adams was an up-and-coming actress, while Halpin was still familiar from his days as a teen heartthrob arising from his character in Flipper (1963 / trailer), Flipper's New Adventures (1964 / trailer), and the subsequent TV show, Flipper (1964-67). (We here at a wasted life, however, remember him primarily as one of the many Floridian faces in the fun regional atrocity that is Mr No Legs [1978 / trailer].)
Since they are all such non-entities, it is hardly surprising that they never try to become proactive and also work so dysfunctionally as a group. No sooner does their lack of organization cost them their escape boat, do they suddenly all go running different directions amidst the mangroves. And even after Rose accidentally discovers a way to disable the zombies — by pulling off their goggles — they never try to work together to take any Nazi zombies down. (We're not talking about mutating into master samurais and decapitations, we're talking about a simple joint effort to bait & distract and pull off them thar' goggles.*) The extent to which they are dysfunctional as a group is underscored later when, after Nylon-Shorts Chuck claustrophobia-induced freak-out** and Beverly's accidental blinding, everyone just runs off and leaves Beverly behind. Like: why is anyone surprised when she turns up dead the next day?
* In itself, also an inconsistency in the movie: although two zombies are noticeably felled by the removal of their goggles, Beverly the Doomed Wife is later killed by a zombie not wearing any.
** Are we the only ones to think that four people trying to hide all night in what is probably an air-tight, walk-in refrigerator is not a good idea?
(GIF found at Scare Me On Fridays)
In the end, Shock Waves is a movie that is more than easy to eviscerate — the preceding quibbles are but a few of the many that one can harp upon should one want to write ten or more pages. But for all its flaws, the movie remains captivating and exudes a fine and atmospheric sense of doom that one seldom finds amidst the palm trees of tropical locations (outside, that is, of the average Italian zombie flick — like Zombi / Zombie II [1979], Dr. Gore / Zombie Holocaust [1980], and so many others). Quirky and different, Shock Waves is a highly enjoyable horror film, perhaps even effective if one is of a forgiving nature or simply blind to its faults. It is not a classic in any way, despite often being touted as one, but it does make for easy viewing. Give it a chance… and then tell us what you think about it... 
And speaking of zombies and Heino —
Zombie Heinos in
Otto der Fim (1985 / trailer):
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