I first heard of Phantasm when its sequel came out. Barry Norman reviewed it and admitted that he hadn’t even heard of the first film. Neither had I.
Fortunately my sister in law had a friend who had closed down their video business and so gave her a lot of the videos he used to rent out. She lent me two films that could be classed as life-changing. One was The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The other was Phantasm.
The film starts off like standard horror fare- sinister goings on at a small town American mortuary. But then the film starts to get more and more surreal. Its like a lot of the film inhabits a dark dream-like world.
Check out the scene where the lead character goes to see a local seer. Add to that the chase scene in which Michael chops off The Tall Man’s fingers and takes one home. This film is most famous for the flying silver spheres within the funeral home. These spheres certainly don’t disappoint.
And then theres the soundtrack which fluctuates between gritty analogue synths of doom and funereal organs. I found the soundtrack on CD and within the sale section of a local and long gone record store.
One of the best purchases I’ve ever parted money for.
Angus Scrimm as The Tall Man deserves recognition as one of the scariest and most sinister baddies of all time. Hes unrelenting, otherworldly and the inhabitant of many viewers nightmares.
Back in the day this film was shown not just individually but also as a double bill with John Carpenter’s The Fog. Two amazing kick-ass horror films right there.
This film was remastered and released at cinemas across America last year. And it deserved the 4K treatment.
File this film under ‘underrated’. Also file it under ‘masterpiece’.
Small town vigilantes wrongly accuse a mentally challenged man of attacking and killing a little girl. It turns out he didn’t attack her but saved her from a neighbour’s vicious dog. The vigilantes find this out just after killing the innocent man who is disguised as a scarecrow. Oops. When the local courts offer no justice, the vigilantes start getting bumped off one by one.
This is actually a TV movie and is a cracker. It built up a cult following amongst horror fans and is one of the best horror TV movies ever made.
The film feels authentic and depicts the bloodthirsty lynchmob really well. We see during the course of the film that these people are the true simpletons of the piece. We also see that a group of people who are desperate for violence and maybe more don’t need any justification for it. Its also interesting that the members of the lynch mob are all depicted as being fine upstanding members of the community (the postman, mechanic, farmer etc) whilst being completely hellbent on inflicting their lawless brand of ‘justice’ on someone whos just a bit different.
This film has a great cast that is like a whos who for horror fans. As well as Larry Drake from Tales From The Crypt, Charles Durning who amongst other things was in When a Stranger Calls, John Houseman from the original Hills Have Eyes and Ed Call who played Glen’s (Johnny Depp) father in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
The tension in certain scenes is built up to nailbiting levels and the direction and screenplay are top notch. This is the perfect example of a TV movie that was so great that it transcended its medium and was given a VHS and DVD release. And deservedly so. This is brilliant.
What a cracking film to start my 31 Days of Halloween with.
This is a British film which stars Bette Davis as a nanny for a family living in London in which a young boy has been sent away for supposedly killing his sister. The boy is due to be released after two years and return to his family home and under Ms Davis’ supervision.
The boy vehemently protests his innocence and insists that instead it was the nanny who committed the terrible deed. Is he right? Or is the nanny indeed guilty?
Theres already the almost unspeakable taboo of a child killing another child within this film which gives the film a grittiness right from the get go. The household in question is steeped in gothic tension even though it is in fact light and airy. No Baby Jane mansion here.
Theres also the stifling formality of English life at this time. There are so many manners and formalities at play that are overwhelmingly suffocating and claustrophobic.
Within the film there is also a delicious generation gap which underlines this and presents a tangible ‘Old vs new’ scenario. The boy in question, Joey forges a friendship with a 14 year old girl who lives in the same building. She dresses like a hip 60s girl, all white lipstick and black eyeliner. When we see within her bedroom Joey gazes up at a Beatles mobile she has hanging from the ceiling and at one point we see her reclining on her bed reading a copy of the girls magazine Jackie which has a pin up of Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones on its back cover.
Beautifully acted (especially Ms Davis of course, whose character has a pair of the ugliest eyebrows ever captured on film) and elegantly directed, this is one of Hammer’s finest films.
Of course this would only have been made with Ms Davis if Hollywood wasn’t casting the very best stars of yesteryear anymore. Every cloud has a silver lining. What was Hollywood’s loss was very much Hammer’s gain.
I feel like I’ve grown up with the Friday the 13th movies. Jason and his lovingly psychotic mother feel like friends to me. Through the many twists and turns of life they have remained a constant. Even if that constant is stalk, kill, repeat. Yet it would seem that the British board of Film Classification (BBFC) didn’t share my love of this misunderstood film hero. Watching the films when they were first released on video in Britain was a frustrating experience.
My first foray into the series was when I watched Part 3 which had just been released on video. I saw a poster for the film in the window of my local corner shop/off licence which would rent out any film to any person of any age (because of this I had a great relationship with them). Originally shot in 3D I watched it on video in 2D and cut by the BBFC but its brilliance still shone through. Jason acquired his trademark hockey mask and was dispatching of irritating teens in ingenious and brilliant ways. All was right with the world. I was 12 years old and already obsessed with Jason.
A little later Part 4: The Final Chapter was released in which Jason meets his maker and is killed off for good (yeah right!). I rented this at a video store near my friends house so that we could watch it together. We both loved it. The film loses the somewhat camp tone of Part 3 and gets down to the serious business of murders committed in the nastiest ways possible. However there was the issue of walking home in the dark after watching the film. I hadn’t figured on how scary the film would be. One whiff of a hockey mask wearing psycho and I’d actually become catatonic. My friends Dad gallantly offered to walk me home. Not cool- but I’m still alive.
Again as with the previous film, this entry was cut by the BBFC. As this film was more serious in tone and because make-up legend Tom Savini was back onboard the kills really were something to behold. Even with the more graphic killings being trimmed by the censors or cut out altogether (no machete slide!) the film was still very nasty indeed. Which is how a horror movie should be.
What I didn’t realise at the time was that the release of Parts 3 and 4 were actually delayed by their video company CIC. They were due to be unleashed earlier but by then the video Nasties furore had taken hold. CIC Video must have foreseen that if Mary Whitehouse had been introduced to Jason in his hockey mask at this time there would be a good chance that she would have made him and the movies that he appeared in the main focus of her puritanical destruction of other people’s fun. Jason would have been represented as Public Enemy Number 1. Jason is so iconic and terrifying in his hockey mask that Old Maid Whitehouse would have thought all of her Christmases had come at once. Great publicity but not so great if the films were banned. CIC even went so far as to issue a statement saying that in the current climate they would wait to release further Friday the 13th films. Very wise.
Whilst in 1987 things were seeming to settle down regarding horror videos a new version of the original film was released by Warners. Longer gore scenes and completely uncut, the previous version had been the cut US version which was released as a sell through video in 1983. The uncut version that was released on rental VHS the year before had been seized by the police and so Warners used the cut US version instead. This may also explain CIC’s decision to delay the release of the film’s sequels until Mrs Whitehouse and her cronies found something else to try and ban. This was possibly the only good reason for Warners having distribution rights of the original film in CIC’s eyes.
I then went and sought out the first two films. I devoured both Parts 1 and 2 and loved them unreservedly. The first was like some kind of whodunnit- like an American giallo film that was bloodfilled and only revealed the killer at the end. And boy, what a reveal! Betsy Palmer goes the extra five miles in her role as Pamela Voorhees and is one of the best performances in horror history. The second film introduced Jason to the world- sack over his head with only one eyehole as a tip of the hat to The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Friday Part 2 was an amazing film and nasty as hell. Machete to the face anyone?! I also loved the equally nasty and ominous video artwork- an electric blue outline of an anonymous malevalent figure carrying an axe against a black background.
CIC Video then got down to the task in hand- releasing the new Friday the 13th installments uninterrupted. Watching the CIC ident before watching the movies became a forewarning that we were in for a treat.
When I first heard that the next film would be called A New Beginning I imagined a TV movie style affair with family members of past victims coming together, sitting on chairs in a circle and consoling each other whilst sharing memories, hands held, about their dead loved ones. I still think my idea for the movie is better than the actual end product. It was a departure not just because the killer wasn’t Jason but the feel of the film is different from that of the first four. It felt more stylised and slick- a Friday the 13th that was trying to capture the attention of the MTV demographic. Gone was the innocence of the first four that appealed to the Fangoria reading audience.You got the impression that the series was now trying to appeal to the wider teenage moviegoers who would be happier going to see the latest John Hughes fare.
Years later I’ve warmed to this film- kinda. Just as many Halloween fans hated Halloween 3: Season of the Witch there are also many who love this. Being a fan of the runt of a franchise’s litter makes it’s fans who actually like it more passionate and extol its virtues even louder. Apprently this is Quentin Tarantino’s favourite entry. Which says so much…
I stole a standee for this film from my local video store at the time. Just sayin’. Whilst this has been lost in the sands of time there are pictures on the internet still of this valuable artefact.
Part 6 rightfully saw the resurrection of Jason with a great homage to Frankenstein and an even better homage to James Bond in it’s title sequence. The film is still as gruesome as ever but the humour, early examples of metacinema and title song by Alice Cooper (Paramount must have been feeling generous) make this an entry that makes changes to what came before but doesn’t stray far enough away to alienate fans like they had with Part 5. Whilst this film is a fan favourite this film will never be one of my favourites in the series.
Part 7 in my opinion is so much better than the just OK Part 6. Its basically Carrie (named Tina in the movie) vs Jason- and it works really well. Kane Hodder really did feel like the ultimate Jason as he brought a physicality to Jason that the previous actors hadn’t really mastered. He also had a great way of making the kills look as brutal as possible but whilst being delivered with a flourish. Its within this film that bizarrely enough Jason uses a lot of gardening impliments to kill his victims. A nice touch- objects intended to make the lives of the normal folk being used to kill them instead.
I had high hopes for Part 8 which was called Jason Takes Manhattan. I used to get a glossy film magazine imported from America at this time called Premiere and they carried a feature on the filming of the movie. My appetite was well and truly whetted.
However when I came to see the film I was left thinking ‘What the fuck was that?!’ Only the last third of the film was based in New York (*cough* CANADA! *cough*) whilst the rest of the film takes place on a boat. And the worst ending of the whole franchise- Jason is melted in toxic waste to become a boy again. And not even the hydrocephalic child Jason who is seen in the first film. Don’t you just hate it when a director makes a franchise entry but doesn’t even bother watching the original film or any of the films in the series?! My opinion of this film was changed at a screening I attended about 20 years after first seeing the film. But as they say, more about that later…
Next followed the terrible Jason Goes To Hell : The Final Friday. After an inspired first ten minutes this film falls flat on its face. Jason’s evil soul inhabits different characters in the film so that they commit murders for him. Its Part 5 all over again but with different people acting as a surrogate Jason and a supernatural element thrown in for good measure. Not what I wanted from a Friday the 13th movie. The rights for the franchise had just been bought by New Line Cinema resulting in a very cheesey Freddy Krueger’s glove cameo in the movie.
In 1997 I had the priviledge of seeing Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3D at a cinema. The National Film Theatre is probably the most highly esteemed cinema in the UK as its the official cinema of the British Film Institute. It was showing a series of films in their original 3D. The cinema would be packed with Friday 13th fans and also cineastes who who normally be watching the work of some highfalutin auteur.
The cinema snobs laughed at the ending of Part 2 which acts as a recap for Part 3. This prologue was of course filmed in 2D. I thought that these purveyors of fine film might ruin the whole film watching experience for me by laughing at the whole film. But then the impossible happened- the 3D kicked in and everyone howled with delight. The 3D process used on this film is amazing! The filmmakers really went all out with what the audience member sees when watching the film and expolits the 3D medium to its fullest. As soon as the titles started ever single person in the sold out cinema crowd started gasping, laughing and screaming.
This lasted until the end credits. People were leaving the theatre smiling and commenting on how brilliant the film had been. This is probably the best cinemagoing experience I’ve ever sat through. The NFT repeated the screening the year after and I dutifully attended. The experience was just as brilliant.
It was then several years before there was another Friday 13th movie. Maybe the stench of Jason Goes To Hell lingered on. Jason X arrived in 2001. It was basically Jason In Space and worked brilliantly! I went to see the film three times on its initial release. The filmmakers obviously knew the demographics they were aiming for- the fans of the series, sci fi fans and geeks who were inro Star Trek: The Next Generation, Lexx, Deep Space Nine and their ilk. The kills were graphic, the film was great in its use of atmosphere and tongue was firmly in cheek. This could have failed miserably but it didn’t. It worked wonderfully. And their was even a David Cronenberg cameo.
Jason X continues to be derided by many franchise fans. But the Friday fans who like the film do so with real passion just like with Part 5.
It was also around this time that I got to see what I had been missing out on. All previous cuts to the films by the BBFC were suddenly waived meaning that the film would now be completely uncut. I had seen a screening of The Final Chapter uncut by accident when it was shown on Sky Movies a few years before this. They could show films uncut even when they were still cut on video. Bizarre logic there. I was unaware of the proper ending to the film and actually screamed in both horror and glee at unexpectedly seeing the notorious ‘machete slide’ scene for the first time. It was poetry in motion.
Now that all cuts were waived I started to buy the films for the first time on DVD. The transfers were amazing and showed that in fact the films looked beautiful when presented in their correct aspect ratios and in pristine prints. I was so glad that finally common sense prevailed and we could see what the Tory Government and Herr Thatcher hadn’t allowed us to before.
I knew Freddy vs Jason would be terrible. And I was right. I lasted about 20 minutes before I left the cinema. I desperately wanted to see Kelly Rowland of Destiny’s Child beng slaughtered (any music fan would) but just couldn’t hold on. I’ve since seen the scene I was trying to stay in my seat for. The fact that Kelly’s character calls Freddy a ‘faggot’ just makes me applaud my decision to leave anymore. It was Hollywood crap which held nothing for true Friday fans. Whats more Jason wasn’t played by the brilliant Kane Hodder. No dice.
The remake of Friday the 13th was inevitable. Even though it wasn’t a straight remake of the first film. Why waste a whole film on a mystery killer like the original when you can just jump to what the studio thought everyone wanted- Jason. The film was better than I thought it would be and was genuinely scary and innovative. Jason was portrayed as a kind of survivalist which was interesting and a nice twist.
In 2012 was a very special event that I travelled all the way over from Leeds (where I was now living) to London for. At the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square they were showing the first 8 Friday the 13th films in a row. This would take 16 hours and start at 18:30 and then finish at 08:30 the following day. The event itself was more than awesome. In the queue waiting for the cinema to open was someone that the cinema had employed to dress up as Jason resplendent with machete. Nice touch.
The cinema had managed to get most of the original 35mm prints of the films and so they had their original old school BBFC X certificate cards before the actual films. Between each film there was a break of 15 mins in which people could go outside and have a cigarette, grab a can of Red Bull to try and stay awake or just stay seated to be entertained by all manner of old trailers. I only fell asleep during Part 5 (thats telling!) and got to reappraise Part 8. Its a pretty good movie- great humour and I had forgot about the scene with the boxer. The crowd roared when they saw it.
When I eventually left the cinema I thought I was Jason Voorhees as sleep deprivation kicked in and I wondered off in search of breakfast. What an amazing event and a wish on my wish list was well and truly fulfiled.
My life with Jason Voorhees has been an incredible journey. From the days of cut VHS tapes through to uncut DVDs and finally through to the films looking betting than ever on Blu ray. Growing up with these films means that watching them holds so many memories as I can trace back to when I first watched them on ther initial releases. Whilst Paramount Pictures might be embarrassed by them and horror snobs may sneer and deride them they’re clearly missing out on a brilliant and very evocative franchise.
But Mr Meathook Cinema- what are your Top 10 Friday the 13th movies? Thanks for asking dear reader. It just so happens that I’ve made a video answering your question. It contains trailers, rare TV spots, my favourite kills and a scene that was shot but not used. You’ll find it here.
Whats noticable about this film is the incest subplot involving the effeminate manchild character called Michael played by Peter Bark. I didn’t know about this when I first watched the film. Its now seered into my mind for better or worse. This film is for titmunchers of all persuasions.
3 out of 5
A young schoolteacher trues to escape small town Australia and reach Sydney…but gets waylayed in the darkest possible way.
This is an amazing examination of small town madness, the unspoken madness of such a life and the brutality and destruction undertaken by men.
Its also an amazing portrayal of cabin fever being caused by nothing but huge open spaces.
The film features another insane petformamce by Donald Pleasance who is in top form. If this doesn’t act of enough of a recommendation then I don’t know what will.
The kangaroo hunting scenes are strangely beautiful just like the rest of the film. The outback has rarely looked so gorgeous on film. However, what goes on there means that this is far from a 70s tourist board film.
The rediscovery of this film and its subsequent restoration restores my faith in humanity. This film is too important and brilliant to be left unseen and decaying in a basement somewhere. This movie would make a great double bill with Nic Roeg’s Walkabout.
I first saw this classic when I was a late teen and studying for my A-levels in college in 1994. My friend taped this for me on the same tape as Last House on the Left. With it being copied from a copy the picture and audio were crappy but somehow this added to the experience of watching a film that at that time was banned in the UK.
Watching the film for the first time was a confusing experience. I knew that it was a powerful film regarding the horror aspect of the movie but I wasn’t expecting the humour that the film contained. It truly is gallows humour but its there loud and clear. ‘Look what your brother did to the door!’ barks the old man. ‘Get back in that kitchen!’ he then barks to Leatherface in a bizarre twist on the maternal role of the extended family.
I also wasn’t prepared for the surreal content I was seeing. The end dinner scene with Sally tied down to an armchair that literally had arms. The frantic shots of her eyes and indeed the veins in her eyes along with the buzzcut music that made up part of the soundtrack.
It took me a while for my brain to process and comprehend these components. I then came to grips with the films intention- these elements were like an E.C. Comics publication. If The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was one of those comics then there would be a lurid illustration of a terrified Sally on the front cover strapped down to the chair during the dinner scene with face shots of the ghoulish cast of The Old Man, The Hitchhiker and Leatherface buried in a side panel.
Indeed, Tobe Hooper has acknowledged the influence of E.C. Comics on the film’s vision. ‘I started reading [EC comics] when I was about seven,’ he told Cinefantastique in 1977, ‘I loved them … Since I started reading these comics when I was young and impressionable, their overall feeling stayed with me. I’d say they were the single most important influence on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’.
The film’s beginning is a well paced introduction to the film’s upcoming events. With hindsight, whilst the build up to the first kill is well paced and crammed full of significant events you realise that this reletively gentle when compared with whats to come. The full horror of the ‘Saturn in Retrograde’ will be discovered at full pelt soon enough. The asking for directions to the old house resplendent with the old drunk/seer sat in a tyre on the ground, the encounter with the garage owner and the humour of the car window screen washer, picking up the hitchhiker and the first interaction with a member of the family, the rundown old Hardesty house with the spiders in the corner of one of the rooms, the old creek that has dried up long ago…most horror films would love these kind of events, visions and plot elements. The audience is already engaged and fascinated.
But then The Texas Chain Saw Massacre isn’t any horror film. With the character of Kirk entering the cannibal’s house a shocking chain reaction of carnage, insanity and psychosis begins. These elements are turned up to 11 and don’t drop down again for the rest of the film’s duration. This film has murder on its mind and will do everything to satisfy this need.
This movie is a physical, mental and emotional assault on the senses not just for the characters but also for the audience. The teens learn this on entering the cannibal’s house. But its not just the teens who have their senses assaulted. So does Leatherface. Hes just as confused, scared and freaked out by these strangers invading his home. But its the teens who are truly powerless and suffer the most. The dinner scene in which Leatherface starts pawing Sally’s hair but then invades her personal space by sticking his made-up dead skin mask into her face is intrusive, disgusting and violating. Tobe Hooper knows this and so turns this into a POV shot so that the audience gets to fully comprehend what the lead character is enduring at this time.
At this point Sally starts gnarling, growling and crying as something emotionally primeval is brought to the surface. Its here that I’d like to celebrate the Marilyn Burns’ performance. Every time I watch this film her acting leaves me breathless. This feat has to be seen to be believed (like the film itself) as she portrays disbelief, terror, resilience and ultimately insanity. I realise that these are just words and do nothing to fully encapsulate this performance. How good is her portrayal of someone steered towards madness? Compare the end of this movie in which the bloodied, bruised and battered Sally is now being safely driven away in the back of a pickup truck to Dana Kimmell’s attempt at trying to portray insanity at the end of Friday the 13th Part 3. One is masterful, the other is half hearted and utterly unconvincing. The bad emphasises the brilliant.
In fact, whilst most horror movies dream of one great performance that goes the extra mile, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has at least five. Burns’ performance is one. The performances of the actors portraying Leatherface, The Hitchhiker, The Old Man and Grandpa all pull out the stops and are batshit crazy and brilliant for it.
Another major reason why I love this film is because no backstory or explanation is given for the family or the events depicted herein. There are clues- the gruesome sculptures made of bones and body parts in the family home (taken from the real life case of serial killer Ed Gein on which the film is loosely based) suggest previous victims, conquests and adventures. The talk of family members being employed by the
local slaughterhouse and being the best at their job also suggests part of the family’s history (and their possible unemployment- the Hitchiker says that the airgun used to kill the animals ”is no good. It puts people out of jobs…”). The Old Man has a garage business as ‘he takes no pleasure in killin’ ” as is later disclosed in the later dinner scene. But there is no clear history given for the family or the events that the film depicts. This lends a massive sense of mystery to the film and gets the audience something to think about long after the film has ended. Explanation would kill this film as it would kill nearly all of the great examples of any genre. I just wish the filmmakers who inflict remakes on the world would take heed of this fact.
On closing this review I’d just like to speak about the availability of this film on home media. I watched the film for this review on Dark Sky’s 4K blu ray. I’ve never seen the film look or sound so brilliant. I never expected this film to get such a loving restoration treatment- but it has and for that I’m eternally grateful. This film certainly deserves it. This release is a far cry from the first time I saw the film on a grainy fifth generation VHS copy.
If you’re a horror fan and haven’t seen this then you can’t call yourself a true fan of the genre. If you’re a fan of film in general the same applies. Let this film get under your skin (pun not intended). Your life will be better for it.