Janice Starlin sees that the sales of her cosmetics company are slumping as her customers see that she appears to be (shock horror) getting older (!) Dr Eric Zinthrop, a scientist, finds that he has been able to extract chemicals from royal jelly that can reverse the ageing process. Starlin agrees to become a human subject regarding this but when progress is too slow for her liking she takes additional doses of the chemical. This has disastrous results as she starts to transform into a half-woman, half-wasp type hybrid.
This 1959 film is a fantastic piece of Roger Corman goodness. It’s also a film that I had seen the poster for many many times but had never actually seen. Until now.
I’m pleased to say that it was worth the wait. Not only is it a fantastic piece of 50’s horror that must have truly shocked and astounded audiences when it was released but it also has some perceptive things to say about the role of beauty, youth and cosmetics particularly regarding women who are held up to more stringent standards regarding these issues than men.
The film’s commentary reminded me of Georges Franju’s masterpiece Les Yeux San Visage and also the episode of the TV show Tales of the Unexpected and the episode called Royal Jelly.
A brilliant time capsule of 1950’s drive-in Americana that tackles wider issues that are more than still relevant today.
World famous author Paul Sheldon crashes his car whilst driving in a blizzard but is rescued by nurse and super-fan Annie Wilkes who has read everything he’s ever published as well as reading and viewing every interview he’s ever given. Sheldon finds himself trapped with multiple injuries included compound fractures to his legs meaning that he is immobile and dependent on Wilkes to care for him. She also tells him that the telephone lines and down and roads closed, both of which are lies. Things take a darker turn still when Wilkes goes and buys the latest book by Sheldon which has just been published (yes the road to town has mysteriously been reopened but there’s no mention of Wilkes taking Paul to a local hospital) only to discover that her favourite character Misery has died during childbirth. Wilkes isn’t happy about this. This is bad news for Sheldon.
Misery explores the obsessive, irrational fan devotion that was explored in very different circumstances in Scorsese’s meisterwerk The King of Comedy, a film that bombed at the box office whilst Misery was a huge hit but is inferior in comparison. Oh, the irony.
Before seeing Misery for the first time I had read and thoroughly enjoyed Stephen King’s masterful novel of the same name. The film adaptation feels like the finer nuances of the novel have been erased to make a big screen shocker that contains great performances by Kathy Bates (Wilkes) and James Caan (Sheldon) with Paul’s literary agent being portrayed effortlessly by the ever divine Lauren Bacall.
But the film also feels like some kind of TV movie that lacks not just the depth of King’s novel but also the cinematic grandeur that might have been envisaged and realised by another director other than Rob Reiner.
Misery feels like an attempt to hit big at the box office by creating two dimensional characters and cheap shocks rather than delivering anything with real intelligence. And it worked. Misery brought in the money and earned Bates an Oscar. But watch Misery next to other, better King adaptations such as The Shining and Carrie and you’ll see what I mean. There’s no comparison.
This film has the best plotline of any movie in the history of cinema. Really!
Joan Collins stars as a stripper in a burlesque joint. Her co-star is a gypsy dwarf named Hercules. He makes advances on his co-star but when she knocks him back he places a curse on her unborn baby making the unborn child psychopathic.
If that wasn’t enough, the film also co-stars Donald Pleasance, Ralph Bates and Caroline Munro. Kids TV legend Floella Benjamin even stars as a nurse. Holy great casting, Batman.
The film effortlessly captures the period with 70’s London looking beautiful but with a sleazy underbelly as exemplified by the strip club. The film also gives La Collins an opportunity to look breathlessly fabulous in every scene. And every scene necessitates a costume change for Joanie.
And then there are the fantastic kills from the baby from hell. I love how the film cuts from some awful act of violence to the cutest baby you’ve ever seen. It feels completely jarring, surreal and works really well.
I Don’t Want To Be Born also goes by other titles such as The Devil Within Her, Sharon’s Baby and The Monster which is the title that is being used for a new Blu Ray release from Network Releasing who are fantastic with their titles and so I look forward to how great this title will look. 70’s Joan Collins in High Def! We really don’t deserve it. And we’ve only just had Blu Ray releases of both The Bitch and The Stud.
I actually think this film is a masterpiece. It’s also my favourite film from 1975. Yes, I think it’s better or maybe just as good as Jaws and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
Of course there are those who dismiss this title as just 70’s exploitation fluff. But that lazy summation disregards the beautiful cinematography, the time capsule aspect of the time the film captures both on and off camera (there was a real thirst for horror movies amongst British cinema goers in the 70’s) and the set design which is pinpoint perfect. Oh, and the acting is pretty fantastic too. This film may be an Exorcist/Rosemary’s Baby rip-off but just like Beyond The Door it more than holds it’s own just like Piranha did in the wake of Jaws or Zombie Flesh Eaters after Dawn of the Dead.
The children of a New Jersey town are disappearing at a very fast rate and the adults of the same town are being slaughtered in ways that suggest a strange death cult are behind this. Could there be a connection?
The first time I ever heard about this film was when I saw the trailer that was included on the DVD for another Troma title. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing in the trailer as it showed the taboo subjects of not just children going missing but also of killer kids. And with this being a Troma title, obviously taste, subtlety and restraint went out of the window. My prevailing thought was ‘How the hell did they get away with that?’
But when you actually make it past the trailer, is the actual movie a snoozefest? Well, no actually. the film is pretty good and held my attention with enough suspense, tension, kills and dark humour to satisfy the most committed gorehound.
This is Children of the Corn on steroids. Some of the acting is erm, over-ripe shall we say but you really don’t venture to this kind of fare to discover De Niro levels of performance.
If ever a film deserved a trigger warning it’s this though. Shocking, extreme but great fun.
Ramon the baby alligator gets flushed down the toilet. 12 years later Ramon is now living in the sewers where he has ingested hormones that have made him grow massively. He’s also very hungry.
Alligator is a fantastic horror film that also has a brilliant sense of dark humour. But this isn’t one of those ‘comedy horrors’ that are light on horror and heavy on naff laughs.
Robert Forster stars as the cop with the receding hairline who is on the case. With snappy (pun not intended) dialogue by the fantastic John Sayles, more quirky characters than you can shake a stick at and masterful direction by Lewis Teague (who would later direct the equally brilliant Cujo) this movie really delivers.
Watch out for the garden party scene. It’s a doozy.
Alas, when Alligator was released in the UK the BBFC cut almost all of the gore from the film so that it would receive an ‘A’ certificate (the equivalent to today’s PG rating). The film would then be resubmitted uncut to the Board in 1991 and would receive a 15 rating with all previous cuts waived.
You know you’ve made a great film when a toy company makes a game based on it.
Eddie Turner steps on a landmine whilst serving in Nam and loses his limbs as a result. His fiance Winifred is a physicist and looks to her former teacher Doctor Stein (his name is a red flag already) who has recently won the Nobel prize for his work regarding DNA and so may be able to graft new limbs onto Eddie. What could possibly go wrong? Well, lots. Dr Stein’s assistant Malcomb is knocked back by Winifred and so to retaliate he contaminates the DNA solution used in Eddie’s operation so that Eddie turns into an uncontrollable killing man-beast. While he appears bed-bound by day he secretly goes on killing rampages at night.
As you may have guessed this is the blaxploitation version of Frankenstein and was made after Blacula (the blaxploitation version of…do I really have to tell you?!) was a hit at the box office.
The main word when describing this film is FUN. Yes, it’s cheesy in places but so what? It’s a perfect time capsule of the genre and what horror and drive-in audiences were lapping up at the time. And if I had been around during this era I would have been with them doing the same.
I’m loving that Eddie’s first port of call is to pay a visit to the male nurse we saw being abusive to him earlier in the film. I also love the fact that the punishment that Eddie doles out is to rip off one of the orderly’s arms. Who said there was no such thing as irony in films like this?
Blackenstein is also noteworthy as John Waters’ starlet Liz Renay is one of Blackenstein’s victims. Yes, Ms Renay from Desperate Living!
Look out for the Severin Blu ray that restores two versions of the film (the theatrical and slightly longer home video version). The film has never looked or sounded so good.
I first saw this movie on VHS when I spent a year in Sydney, Australia. There was a Civic Video just off the red light district of Kings Cross that had a stash of low budget horror movies and other obscure titles. This was manna from heaven for me as I rented them all. One of them was Werewolves on Wheels, a film I had first read about in the essential tome Incredibly Strange Films by the Re:Search publishing house.
A biker gang break bread with the members of a local Satanist church and then start to change.
Let’s check off what this movie has all present and correct-
– Great movie title- check
– Great movie poster- check
– Great soundtrack- check
– Great plot- no, nope, NOPE!
It’s such a shame when a movie has so much going for it but forgets about a plot or any kind of narrative for an audience who isn’t stoned.
Werewolves on Wheels is too much wheels and not enough werewolves.
Jessica, her husband Duncan and their friend Woody arrive at a new house in the country that Jessica and Duncan have bought. When they arrive they are surprised to find someone squatting there. They ask this person, Emily to join them for their evening meal and then to sleep there for the night.
The next day Jessica asks Emily to stay at the house until she finds somewhere else to live. From here on in strange things start to happen to Jessica. She has already just been discharged from a psychiatric hospital into Duncan’s care and so she doesn’t share what is happening as she thinks Duncan and Woody will think these events aren’t real and are merely down to her psychological state.
In fact, the notion of gaslighting and the doubting of one’s reality feature prominently within the film.
Jessica starts to see a blonde girl who appears at chosen times but then runs away again. When she is out swimming, someone or something grabs her under the water.
Jessica and her husband find items in the attic that belonged to the previous owners of the house and decide to sell them to the antiques dealer in the local town. He tells them the history of the family who used to live in there- they were called the Bishops and their daughter Abigail drowned just before her wedding. But he tells them that locals say that in fact she isn’t dead and is in fact a vampire who is always on the hunt for fresh victims.
To give away anymore plot points would be to ruin the film and so they will end there! Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is a fantastic gem of a film. Made in 1971 by director John Hancock, it has an air and feel all of it’s own. I love the fact that we are privy to Jessica’s thoughts which add another layer to the film and a palpable paranoia to proceedings.
There’s also the subtext of the city folk vs the locals that feels fresh here rather than cliched. And the locals of the local town are very unwelcoming indeed. In fact, they’re downright scary. And why are they all bandaged in some way?
There are elements of Carnival of Souls within the film and Hancock’s film feels like it had some kind of influence on Spielberg’s Something Evil (which, by the way, STILL hasn’t been issued on Blu Ray. Scream Factory are the perfect candidates for this. Just a thought).
Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is a forgotten gem that isn’t forgotten anymore. In fact, it’s reputation has deservedly snowballed since it’s original release.
Hancock went on to direct the early De Niro masterpiece Bang The Drum Slowly which is also highly recommended.
One of my earliest memories involves the film Friday the 13th (those who know me are rolling their eyes and thinking ‘This doesn’t surprise me!’) I’m 5 years old and I’m running towards my local cinema, The Odeon in York. I regularly go there when my family venture into town as there are posters and lobby cards outside the cinema to pore over in minute detail. This is especially rewarding when said artwork is for a horror film.
On this occasion Friday the 13th is showing and I’m ogling the poster and lobby cards like they are part of some ancient source of wisdom. What does it all mean? Who could be killing all the teens which the poster states were dying horribly one by one? What does the kindly older lady in one of the lobby cards have to do with this? Maybe she tries to save the teens throughout the course of the film…
It would be a few years before I finally got to see the film on video and my timing couldn’t have been better. I actually saw the first film after Part 3 which had just been released (more of that in a future article). A new, longer and gorier version of Part 1 was newly released on VHS (Warners actually initially got into trouble after it was discovered that an uncut version was originally released on video in the UK. This version has been successfully passed with an X rating for it’s UK cinema release. After the film was seized by police during the Video Nasties furore, Warners decided to play it safe and release the version that was cut to ensure an R rating in the US instead). This new video version was completely uncut and so I could see the film as it was intended to be seen.
I wasn’t disappointed. But after experiencing the series at Part 3 when a formula had been struck upon, I was surprised at how different the first film was compared to the rest of the series.
The film starts at the site where (most) of the rest of the series takes place, Camp Crystal Lake but here is a sequence that takes place in 1958. A couple of oh so wholesome teenaged camp counsellors have taken a break from singing ‘Michael, Row The Boat Ashore’ to find a more private place to make out. They are then found by an unseen assailant who kills them both.
We then get the credit sequence for the film which consists of the logo for the film crashing through an invisible pane of glass. This is reminiscent of the one page ad that Sean S Cunningham took out in the film trade press magazine Variety to reserve the name of ‘Friday the 13th’ as the name for a horror movie after Halloween had been such a success. Cunningham was thinking of other occasions that would also be great for the basis of a horror movie and so that no one else would base a film around that day traditionally associated with bad luck. Conversely, if anyone else had already used the same name for their project in the past, they would see the ad and approach Cunningham to ask him to change the title of his projected movie and avoid a potential lawsuit.
The ad was also a great way to see if any potential backers could be encouraged to stump up the cash for the project that didn’t even have a cast, crew or even screenplay attached to it. The project literally just had the film’s name.
The film then flashes forward to Friday 13th June, The Present Day as an onscreen caption informs us. Teen Annie is making the journey to the same camp to be their cook. Annie is very irritating from the outset as she sees a nearby dog, asks it if it knows where Camp Crystal Lake is (the dog whimpers and walks off. And for good reason) and so she ventures into a nearby diner to ask the same question. She hitches a ride with a trucker who during their journey tries to dissuade her from taking on the role. He talks about the camp being jinxed with two kids being killed there in ’58 (the prelude to the film), the young kid who drowned in ’57 (more about him later), fires being started later on and even bad water preventing the camp from being reopened in ’62. Annie takes not one bit of notice of the old coot and ventures onto her new job.
After she is dropped off by her new trucker friend, she is then picked up to complete her journey by someone in a 4×4. Who could this mystery person be? Annie notices that the driver has missed the turn-off for the summer camp and appears to be travelling insanely fast. Annie decides to jump from the moving vehicle and make a run for it from this nutjob, even though she twisted her ankle.
Annie decides to escape through the forest that surrounds her but is persued and eventually caught by the person who was driving the 4×4, identity still undisclosed who slashes her throat.
Two things are remarkable about this scene. Firstly, it was a young Tom Savini who is doing the special effects for the movie and they are nothing short of amazing. Annie’s death is a prime example. Secondly, the killer’s identity hasn’t been revealed and so it gives the film the flavour of a Giallo film with the film being as much a whodunnit as it is a horror movie.
Annie’s murder happens in front of our eyes as do the demise of several other characters but the film also shows that it can be very restrained and wasn’t just interested in blood and gore. The characters of Ned and Brenda are both murdered off-camera with their corpses being revealed later to the audience throughout the course of the film. Ned goes to investigate a noise that he’s heard and his mutilated corpse is later shown to be on the top bunk of a bed whilst Jack and Marcie make love in the bunk below.
Brenda goes to respond to a cry for help in the pouring rain at the archery range later in the movie but we don’t get to see her death but just hear her scream. Her body is then thrown through the window when Alice has barricaded herself in a cabin after discovering Bill’s dead body pinned to the generator door.
Likewise, Bill’s dead body resplendent with arrows is discovered by Alice but the actual murder is never shown. The script for the film references his dead body as being ‘in a travesty of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian’ (the painting of San Sebastian below is by Andrea Mantegna)
The characters who make up the counsellors are actually quite endearing rather than the irritating specimens from other slasher movies who you can’t wait to bite the bullet. And yes, one of the actors (Kevin Bacon) went onto much bigger things. Bill is also played by Harry Crosby whose Dad was Bing Crosby.
The person who is reopening the summer camp is Steve Christy, the son of the original owner from decades before. I love the fact that he looks like he belongs on the cast of a 70’s gay porn movie. A coloured hankie (worn around his neck rather than in either his left or right back pocket), bare chest, denim shorts (almost Daisy Dukes) and lumberjack boots are all dead giveaways. Maybe he mistook Camp Crystal Lake for Fire Island.
Fun fact- the movie was filmed at Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco in Blairstown, New Jersey. The guy who owned the site was called Fred Smith and he kept talking about his neighbour called Lou. And then his neighbour came to the set for the first time. And it was Lou Reed! People on set said that he visited the set a number of times and was super nice with everyone. One day, he even pulled out a guitar and performed a few songs for the cast and crew. Can you imagine being on the set of Friday the 13th and watching Lou Reed perform?! That’s a truckload of awesome right there.
Cast members also say that because the crew were all from New York City they would constantly play the likes of The Ramones and Patti Smith on set which is also awesome.
The final girl Alice shows from the outset that she is resourceful whether it’s getting cabins ready or nailing up guttering. She is also shown to be artistic judging by her drawings.
But more importantly, she is later shown to be resourceful and logical when under pressure such as after she has discovered Bill’s body pinned to the back of the generator room door. She dashes back to the main cabin and starts to try and secure the front door with a rope lassoed over a wooden beam and barricading it with a chest of drawers, a chair and logs. She then arms herself with a baseball bat and cooking fork.
But she also diverges from the so-called slasher movie conventions for Final Girls as stipulated in Carol J Clover’s seminal mediation on gender in the slasher film genre, Men Women and Chainsaws. She is seen to be in an on-off relationship with Steve Christy rather than being a chaste virgin. She is also shown to participate in a game of Strip Monopoly and can even be seen having a sneaky toke on a spliff.
But, Alice also has the Final Girl quality of foreshadowing or being almost psychic that something bad is going to happen. When things start to go wrong later on in the film and Bill and Alice are looking for their co-counsellors, Alice senses that things aren’t right. She even suggests that they could hike out of the camp to get away to safety.
Another facet of Friday the 13th that sets it apart from the other movies in the franchise are the moments of comedy that occur. The character of the cop on his motorbike comes out of nowhere and feels like a prototype Tackleberry from Police Academy.
Crazy Ralph acts as both a comedy figure (watch the hilariously awkward cycling scenes) and as a freaky, quasi religious doom bringer (‘I’m a Messenger of God!’ ‘It’s got a death curse!’ ‘You’re all doomed!’) who can be seen as another and lesser source of fear for the film’s characters. Check out the scene in which Ralph steps out of the pantry and startles Alice.
But he also acts as a genuine predictor of bad things to come at the camp as we will see throughout the film’s running time. Notice when Ralph is actually on camp grounds. He can’t wait to get away fast enough whether on foot or on his push bike.
Within the slasher movie conventions there normally is one member of the ensemble who display almost psychic qualities and who very quickly foresee the terror that awaits everyone and in some instances they can become quite hysterical because of it. A good example of this in a horror/quasi-slasher movie in which a group of people get picked off one by one is Lambert in Alien.
There’s also the speech from Marcie regarding her not liking storms after one has started at the camp. It’s because of a dream she’s had on numerous occasions in which she’s watching a storm with the rain coming down heavier and heavier which then suddenly turns to blood. This was actually the piece of dialogue from the screenplay that the actresses auditioning for a part in the film would have to recite.
But the jewel in the crown of Friday the 13th is the killer and the person who portrayed her. Firstly, the killer is shown to be Pamela Voorhees- a woman. This was completely unheard of then in horror movies and a massively unexpected twist for the film. The idea of a psychotic woman was still a taboo in real life and the movies and this is something that the movie uses beautifully. Mrs Voorhees is introduced near the very end of the film. Events that happen after this are worthy of in depth analysis to highlight what an extraordinary character she is and what a truly awe-inspiring performance this is.
But first, we have a slight detour. Notice how Alice’s raincoat gets caught on the handle for the oven? She just allows it to come off naturally rather than unhooking the part that has became caught. Was this because the later fight scene that was to come involved biting? Even Mrs Voorhees couldn’t have made much of an impact on trying to bite through the thick yellow plastic of a raincoat (although with her gnashers she might have been able to…more on that later).
Also, notice how after we’ve seen Alice barricade the front door we then see her remove all of the furniture she had placed in front of it because she sees some headlights approaching. It’s a wonderfully surreal moment.
The killer being female works well within the film. See how after Alice has started to uncover the dead bodies of her fellow camp counsellors, on running outside she sees Mrs Voorhees and after asking who she is (‘Why I’m Mrs Voorhees, an old friend of the Christies’) she is happy enough with the explanation to run into Pamela’s arms for reassurance and to tell her about the horrors she has just discovered. If this person had been male, Alice would have been a lot less trusting and more suspicious. He could have been the person responsible for these atrocities. But with this stranger being female and traditionally seen as nurturing, caring and empathetic, Alice feels satisfied to try to get her help and get to safety.
Betsy Palmer played the role and had been typecast throughout her career as ‘the girl next door’. For an actress with a reputation for being wholesome and unthreatening to take up this role was a massive shock. Palmer had up until this moment been eager to break this typecasting but had actually taken on the project after her car had broken down. She had seen an ad for a cool little car called a Scirocco which her role in this film would pay for. She read the script, thought it was in her own words ‘a piece of ****’ and thought that the movie would disappear without a trace but she’d still get her car!
But Ms Palmer was too much of a consummate professional to just turn in some anaemic performance by numbers and gives us such a turn that her performance is still one of the most chilling and insane depictions I’ve ever seen in a horror movie.
A red flag that appears for Alice at the start of this encounter is that Mrs Voorhees doesn’t appear to be afraid whatsoever and goes into the cabin to investigate even though Alice has told her about the camp counsellors who have been killed and whose bloodied and mutilated bodies she has been unfortunate to have seen. She even tries to gaslight Alice by saying that it’s the storm that has made her afraid rather than anything else. When Pamela insists on investigating further, Alice pleads with her not to as she could be killed too. ‘I’m not afraid!’ Pamela asserts and ventures into the cabin. The fact that Mrs Voorhees isn’t scared about this strongly suggests that she’s either, very brave, very dumb or that she’s the killer.
On entering the cabin, Pamela sees Brenda’s body and laments about how young she was and ponders what kind of monster could have done such a thing (a huge red flag as she is the killer. She appears to be unable to reconcile herself with the fact that she is the killer or she suffers from multiple personalities). She also opines how Steve should never have opened the place again as theres been too much trouble.
Her speech then becomes more agitated when she starts to talk about a young boy who had drowned years before and how the young counsellors who should have been watching him had been too busy making love. Notice Alice’s body language here. She knows all is not right with her current situation and her new acquaintance.
Pamela explains that the person who drowned was actually her son and that not only was she the cook at the camp then but was actually working the day he drowned. Her ability to unpredictably become violent is shown as she says that Jason ‘should have been watched every minute’ and grabs Alice by the arms and gives her an abrupt shake to emphasise the point. She is just about to disclose that her son was disabled but quickly stops herself and mentions that he ‘wasn’t a very good swimmer’ instead (this also stops her reminiscences that are becoming violent and brings her back to earth again).
She then suggests that Alice and her ‘can go now’ as she strokes Alice’s hair. But Alice’s hunch that all is not right means she resists this as she says that instead they should wait for Steve Christy to come back. Voorhees says ‘That’s not necessary’ which is another red flag (as she’s killed Christy) before she starts to have flashbacks to her son drowning. She even starts to respond to her son’s pleas for help within the flashback. Oh boy.
This part of the scene is also very interesting as within the original script it was very different. There was a whole plotline in which we’d have a clue as to the killer’s identity. The murder of Barry and Claudine (the frisky counsellors who are the first to be killed during the film) originally would see Mrs Voorhees (who would still remain faceless within the sequence so that the film still had the ‘whodunnit’ aspect to it) lose her small finger. During the scene in which Mrs Voorhees’ character is introduced and Alice is realising that she’s a nutjob, when she says to Alice that they ‘can go now’ Pamela was going to stroke Alice’s hair and the audience would see that she’s missing her little finger thus revealing that she’s the killer. This ‘missing finger’ idea feels like something from a Giallo movie and was used a couple of years after in Lucio Fulci’s movie The New York Ripper which featured a character who was missing two fingers from his right hand.
This part of the scene shows that Alice’s hunches were spot-on and she’s now with someone who is very deranged and very dangerous. Mrs Voorhees explains that Jason was her son and today is his birthday (whilst fixing a very scary grin on her face). Alice asks about where Mr Christy is but this goes unheard by Pamela who is in the zone and thinking aloud that she couldn’t let them open the summer camp again, could she? Not after that had happened. She then laments her ‘sweet, innocent Jason’ whilst again visualising him drowning.
However this is abruptly shattered as she then starts to personally accuse Alice of letting her son drown and of not paying any attention. Her raison d’être is now revealed. She is forever avenging the death of her son by killing the camp counsellors who are just as horny and irresponsible as Barry and Claudine who weren’t watching Jason. If they had watched him he wouldn’t be dead now.
To emphasise that she has now turned very nasty indeed she knocks over a table that is in her way.
Mrs Voorhees then reveals that she is wearing a knife in a holder strapped around her waist (one hell of a way to accessorise) that instantly reminded me of the Manson Family and also the character of Crackers in the John Waters film Pink Flamingos who also wore the same thing which is visible during the home invasion scene within the film. Waters was seemingly Manson obsessed at the time and so the two could have been connected.
Pamela goes for Alice with the knife but it is batted away with a poker that Alice grabs who then hits Pamela with it on the back as she falls down.
What happens next is that Alice discovers more bodies in what constitutes a kind of ‘Big Reveal’ or ‘shocking denouement’ in which The Final Girl (Alice) is in no doubt that her adversary (in this instance, Mrs Voorhees) is murderous and that her life is in serious danger. She must now fight for her life against this foe or she will end up the same way as the other victims that have now been revealed to her in such a dramatic fashion. The idea of the ‘Big Reveal’ is a slasher movie convention with the most obvious example being from 1978’s Halloween in which Laurie goes over to the house across the street and finds the victims of Michael Myers that are revealed in ghoulish fashion.
She races outside to the 4×4 that Mrs Voorhees arrived in and sees the dead mutilated body of Annie the camp cook who never actually made it to the camp (not alive anyway. Does that mean that Mrs Voorhees was driving around for most of the day with Annie’s dead body in the passenger seat?! I hope so) and then the body of Steve Christy who has been suspended upside down from a tree and suddenly flops down as Alice approaches.
As Alice is revealing the bodies that have been placed in her path, Mrs Voorhees gets up after being struck with the poker. This sequence is another example of how ‘in the zone’ Betsy Palmer was. Notice her gait and body language as she gets up and gets ready for Round 2. She looks almost inhumane, almost supernatural. As we’ll see later, Betsy Palmer truly went the extra mile for this performance and made her character into something almost paranormally chilling not just with the delivery of her lines but also through her body and the shapes she throws as the character. This performance really is something extra special.
As Alice runs into the woods we see Pamela recover from the blow from the poker and rise to her feet. She sees her quarry running away and starts talking in her son’s voice. ‘Kill her Mommy! Kill her! Don’t let her get away, Mommy! Don’t let her live!’ to which she responds in her own voice, ‘I won’t Jason! I won’t!’
This internal monologue that we’re privileged to see where Pamela is taking on the voice and persona of her dead son and then replying as herself is really something to behold. If there’s only one thing scarier than the close-up on Pamela’s voice it’s when the camera cuts back to her to an extreme close-up on her eyes, nose and mouth. And this shows another scary thing about the film and Mrs Voorhees’ character- her teeth. She appears to have twice the number of teeth of an average person and in certain shots she looks like half-woman, half-piranha.
Alice makes it to another cabin and finds a gun but no bullets. Mrs Voorhees enters and states ‘Come dear. It’ll be easier for you then it was for Jason!’ She then channels her dead son whilst saying (with the camera in extreme close-up of her face again which is again very unsettling) ‘Kill her, Mommy! Kill her!’ whilst advancing on Alice. Alice tries to strike Voorhees with the gun but this is quickly batted away by Pamela. Check out the noise she makes when she does this. It’s a cross between a really evil alley cat and something other worldly and completely pissed off. I love the part of this sequence in which Alice throws random objects at Voorhees who merely deflects them away with her arms (and even underneath her chin!) with a rictus grin on her face.
When Pamela actually gets to Alice she gives her a good slapping and then throws her onto a table and gives her another round of slaps (this part of the sequence is fantastically directed with the camera acting as a POV shot for Alice so that it looks like Mrs Voorhees is actually slapping around the audience. And look at how chilling and otherworldly Palmer’s performance is here).
The camera as the POV for Alice also gives us an idea of how close to Alice Mrs Voorhees gets which makes the experience so much more unsettling and chillingly personal. This was a great directorial device.
Alice then uses the rifle to strike her in the crotch (yes, really) and then in the face.
Again, as Alice gets away we get to hear Voorhees in voiceover as she says in her son’s voice ‘Kill her, Mommy! Kill her! She can’t hide! No place to hide! Get her, Mommy! Get her! Kill her! Kill her!’ Her mouth is then superimposed over footage of Alice getting to the main cabin again as she speaks as Jason.
Alice then hides in the pantry and hears Pamela entering the cabin as she can hear objects being broken and smashed to the ground. There is a very creepy shot in which we see the lights in the cabin being switched on and light streaming in between the gaps of the planks that make up the pantry’s wooden door. There is also a great shot of the door handle that Alice is crouched below suddenly turning.
And what happens is the second most famous (or infamous) scene of someone breaking down a door in film that year. The first, of course, is that of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. This is interesting as well as Betsy Palmer says that when her performance was getting a little too over the top, Sean Cunningham would rein her back in by saying ‘Remember Jack Nicholson in The Shining’ as if to remind her not to get too exaggerated as Pamela Voorhees. The only thing is that The Shining hadn’t been released by the time shooting started on Friday the 13th. Maybe time had affected memories and facts.
As Voorhees gets into the pantry she takes an impressive swing with a machete (some serious foreshadowing for the rest of the franchise here!) but it is batted away by Alice who uses a frying pan which she also strikes Voorhees on the head with. She turns the unconscious Pamela over with her foot and on seeing blood coming from her head decides that she won’t be getting up again and that she is safe.
She then goes down to the beach but is then confronted by Voorhees once again. It is during this tussle that Voorhees bites Alice’s arm.
It is of course this sequence that ends with Alice picking up the machete that Pamela had tried to attack her with and beheads her with it. Check out Pamela as she gets up just before she has her head lopped off. She has all of the abnormal and very scary gait of one of the skeletons modelled by Ray Harryhausen from the movie Jason and the Argonauts. Her body is all right angles complete with a demonic expression on her face.
Her beheading puts paid to this with her startled expression as Alice literally chops off her head. This is Savini’s piece de resistance for a movie that features some of his best work. This sequence would have been outrageous for a horror audience in 1980 as nothing as graphic had been seen within a mainstream horror movie up until this point. The fact that Voorhees hands are clenching and opening again as her headless body falls to the floor makes it all the more graphic (and blackly funny). Alice gets into one of the canoes and lets it drift into the lake.
But there is one more scare that Cunningham has up his sleeve for the audience. We see Alice in the canoe with it now being daytime. I love how this scene is softly lit like some kind of sanitary towel commercial. ‘Yes, you too can canoe with confidence! Even during that time of the month…’
Of course, everything points to the fact that Alice is now victorious and safe. The music playing over the soundtrack is piano music along with a slightly off-kilter synth giving the scene a surreal slant.
Then when the audience is lulled into this being the end of the movie with the Final Girl enjoying the tranquility of the lake, Jason’s rotting and algaed body leaps up out of the water and pulls her under.
And this scene shows another example of Tom Savini’s genius- the rotting corpse of Jason who had been in the lake all of this time.
We are then shaken out of this with a close up of Alice’s screaming face as she’s just been shocked awake by a nightmare as she resides in a hospital bed.
As if events haven’t been traumatic enough for her she then has the indignity of being forced to get a shot of sedative in the butt whilst her doctor and a local policeman look on.
I’m also loving the silent doctor in this scene. The raising of his eyebrows indicate that he’s either an acting genius or was merely brought in at the last minute. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which one is most likely the case.
She enquires whether there was anyone else who actually survived but the policeman lets her know that there were unfortunately no other survivors. She then asks about the boy Jason who pulled her into the lake that the police recovered her from. The policeman looks quizzically at her and says that there was no sign of any boy. ‘Then he’s still there’ she states. And with this and one last shot of the lake and a ripple on it’s surface, a horror franchise was born.
It’s great that another star of the movie is given the last shot and that is the beautiful lake and shoreline.
The film was hated by critics on it’s release. Gene Siskel from The Chicago Tribune got his knickers in such a bunch over the film and the fact that *shock horror* Betsy Palmer could star in such a movie that he published the name of the town that she lived in and asked people to send hate mail to the Post Office there so that the letters of disapproval could be forwarded to her. But he published the name of the wrong town. D’oh! He even relished giving away the ending of the film as to her character being the killer. His review reads more like a narcissistic tantrum from a man-child than a rational review by an adult film critic.
But who cares what stuffy and pretentious film critics thought. The film opened and did amazing business eventually making $59.8m against it’s budget of $550,000.
Fun fact- the credit sequence for Star Wars cost more than the entire budget for the first Friday the 13th film.
Yes, Friday the 13th isn’t Halloween, the film Cunningham looked to to outline a formula for a film that was familiar enough to make money. But then again, few horror films or indeed any films are as good as Halloween. But whilst Carpenter’s masterpiece is an A+ movie, Friday the 13th is a B+ movie. It’s interesting to see the embryonic first film in a franchise before a formula was struck upon. There’s murders and suspense but also quirky characters, a whodunnit element that feels like something out of a Giallo film and a performance that is truly one of the best (and most deranged) in horror history. Add to this a killer (pun not intended) soundtrack and you have a bona fide cult classic.
But also, the first 4 films in the franchise embody a golden time for horror fans as there was a renaissance for the genre that was largely down to the slasher sub-genre. Filmmakers and studios were seeing that horror was profitable and so it was almost as if there was a new slasher movie or horror film released every week. The newly formed Fangoria Magazine embodied this new golden era. The Friday the 13th franchise and Fangoria Magazine almost mirrored each other and captured the magic and innocence of the time and the 80’s in particular. Issue 6 wrote about Friday the 13th around the film’s release in an article that examined how Tom Savini created the effects for the film.
For all of these reasons this is why Friday the 13th is in the Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame.
I first heard of the director Jeff Lieberman when I recalled seeing the artwork for one of his films, Squirm on the video shelves in the 80’s. The sleeve depicting a shower head dripping with worms instead of water with some of them having crawled under the skin of the scared woman in the picture (this shot was actually taken specifically for the video art rather than being a still from the actual film) burrowed (pun not intended) into my brain as it was so eye catching and disturbing to my young eyes.
It would be several years until I saw the actual film and after I had read further about it in John McCarty’s excellent book The Modern Horror Film. This great book also introduced me to such other horror masterpieces such as Mother’s Day and The Devils.
Squirm concerns Fly Creek in Georgia where a huge storm has felled electricity wires which causes them to pump huge amounts of voltage into the ground causing the worms within to become carnivorous killers. The morning after Geri, a local of the area goes to pick up her new boyfriend Mick who is visiting her. Fly Creek has a worm farmer (!) and the truck that he uses is the vehicle that Geri uses to pick up her beau. The 100,000 worms that were on the back of the truck all escape meaning that the killer worms (specified as bloodworms natch) are far from being few and far between. The action kicks off (or should that be slithers off) when Mick finds a worm in his egg cream in the local diner.
Squirm is a fantastic update of the monster movie genre of a few decades before. But Lieberman embues it with a deft and very witty script, idiosyncratic lead and side characters alike and a tongue in cheek sensibility. There are also very perceptive and funny observations of small town life especially when a big city outsider views them with fresh eyes. Much of the film feels like we are seeing these through the eyes of Mick with the locals being either a bit crazy and/or not very friendly.
But this playfulness doesn’t detract from Squirm being a highly effective horror film that has suspense and gore in equal measures. It helps enormously that Rick Baker was assigned the task of the special effects and he doesn’t disappoint.
Squirm does for worms what Jaws did for sharks. Squirm also unleashes literally shitloads of worms onto the characters to battle against and for the audience’s enjoyment. There are even scenes that show writhing, slithering oceans of worms which take your breath away as to how such a feat was accomplished on screen and the audacity to accomplish such feats. This is also naturally great fun for fans of all things icky horror.
The film also has a strangely apocalyptic ending that has religious ‘end of days’ connotations and takes the movie to a whole other level rather than just being a throwback to the killer animals genre.
The movie denotes another great addition to Don Scardino’s filmography alongside such other gems as He Knows You’re Alone and Cruising.
Great fun and it’s brilliant to see the original uncut version (the film was cut by distributors to try and get a PG rating) looking and sounding fantastic thanks to Arrow Video.
The next film that I discovered by Lieberman came about in a very strange way. I was getting into Siouxsie and the Banshees and learnt that in 1983 the band temporarily split into two side projects. Siouxsie and drummer Budgie became The Creatures whereas Steven Severin and Robert Smith became The Glove. Smith and Severin named their album Blue Sunshine after the Lieberman film of the same name (I once asked the director if he had heard of this album that was named after one of his films. He replied that indeed he had and even had the album’s artwork framed in his living room).
Whilst the film was released on video during the heady early days of home video in the UK, it had gone out of print and disappeared completely.
As luck would have it as soon as I had arrived in London to undertake a film degree, the movie was being shown at the NFT a few days later. I went to see it and was bowled over at how original and brilliant it was.
Blue Sunshine concerns a spate of seemingly random cases of people going on murder sprees after first losing all of their hair. This is linked to a form of LSD they had taken ten years earlier that lies dormant in the system of the person who has ingested it but then turns that person into a bald headed homicidal killer.
Lieberman has a field day with the different circumstances in which the now upstanding pillars of the community suddenly become maniacs. The babysitter scene is worth the price of admission alone as is the scene in which one character undergoes his transformation in a shopping mall disco after first complaining about the music (this would count as a very witty addition to the ‘Disco Sucks’ movement).
There is a sense of urgency to proceedings as someone who witnessed the first transformation is actually mistaken as the killer who killed three women by throwing them into a blazing fireplace. Hence, Jerry has to gather evidence in order to clear his name whilst doing all of this on the down low so that he doesn’t get arrested by the police who are looking for him.
Witty but not played for laughs, innovative and horrifying, Blue Sunshine walks a fine line and completely accomplishes what it sets out to convey and does so with verve and panache. I’ve never known a film with the same feel or look as Blue Sunshine which makes me love it even more. It really is a one-off and fantastic because of it.
Again, it would be quite a while until I could get my mitts on another Lieberman film I had read a lot about but wasn’t available in the UK. It would be whilst I was living in Sydney that I would be able to see the hillbilly/slasher variant Just Before Dawn on vintage VHS.
The wait was worth it. Just Before Dawn is just as innovative and imaginative as Lieberman’s other films.
The five kids who are venturing up mountain to a house that one of them is inheriting are the complete opposite to many young teens in both slasher movies and within the deranged hillbilly genre. They’re likeable for a start and it feels like they have a purpose rather than just being the kind of vacuous morons who you can’t wait to see get sliced and diced.
Theres also another great twist regarding Just Before Dawn that is so simple that I’m surprised no one else used it earlier. There are in fact two killers who are identical twins and built like Brunswick bricklayers. I love the fact that one of them takes the red hat and vest of Vachel, the first person we see him kill in the film and is seen wearing them throughout the rest of the movie. This reminds me of The Hills Have Eyes with the character of Pluto wearing Bob Carter’s false teeth around his neck after he has been killed. In fact, Lieberman insisted that he had seen neither Hills nor The Texas Chain Saw Massacre prior to making his film.
Theres a great scene in which two of the kids, Megan and Jonathan go skinny dipping. What they don’t see is that one of the killers has actually entered the water as well. We earlier saw Jonathan going underwater and pulling Megan’s legs which she playfully squealed and screamed at. We then see this happen again but this time Megan looks out to the furthest shore to see Jonathan there who waves back. She then screams and starts to frantically swim to him as she realises that whoever and whatever was tugging at her legs underwater wasn’t her boyfriend. A fantastic scene that is bother very scary and very funny. It’s little touches like this that helps to set Just Before Dawn apart from the majority of uninspired entries within both the slasher movie and demented hillbilly genres.
Vachal’s demise at the hands of one of the killers also goes to show how brutal the movie is. He is stabbed from behind with a machete which exits through his groin.
Another great thing about the movie is the absolutely gorgeous cinematography. Yes, it’s difficult to make such beautiful surroundings look unimpressive but the scope and vision here is both epic in it’s magnitude to emphasise just how out of their depth the teens are and claustrophobically close when needs be.
Theres also the kick-ass ending which was such a massive surprise when I first saw it that I was astounded by it’s originality and audacity. No, I’m not going to reveal it here.
And so for these three movies, this is why we salute Jeff Lieberman. He made movies that defy expectations, breathed new life into tired old genres where cliches had become de rigour and he granted horror fans with having a modicum of intelligence. Oh, and he still made kick-ass horror films.
His other movies are also worth investigation such as his movies Remote control, Satan’s Little Helper and the short film he made, The Ringer (which conveniently is on YouTube).