Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Why ZOMBIES & SHARKS? Well, those are the two things that I’ve had the most nightmares about. It’s the reason I rarely swim in the ocean. It’s the reason I have an escape plan from my apartment just in case of a zombie apocalypse. Now if you’ve ever had those fears or fears like them, inspired mainly by nights upon nights of watching films of the frightening kind, this is the place for you. So look for AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS every Friday for the foreseeable future, horror hounds, where we’ll be covering horror in all forms; retro, indie, mainstream, old and new.
HAPPY FRIDAY THE 13TH!!! Welcome to our very first Friday the 13th edition of AICN HORROR. The FRIDAY THE 13th film series has always been near and dear to my heart (more about that later) and every Friday the 13th we’ll be looking at a different film in the series, in no particular order. On top of our FRIDAY THE 13th Make / Remake edition looking at the original and the remake that was released a few years ago, I’ll be taking a look at another Make / Remake, this one focusing on MOTHER’S DAY. Last week, Capone hosted a midnight showing of Darren Lynn Bousman’s new incarnation of MOTHER’S DAY to a diabolical Chicago crowd at the Music Box Theater. Read below for my thoughts about Bousman’s remake and how it stacks up to the original.
But before we dive into all of these makes and remakes, here are a couple of tidbits you might find savory…
When a small film I review here on AICN HORROR does good, I like to acknowledge it. In some ways, I feel like a proud parent sending one of my loved ones off to college when I hear news like the tidbit below.
A while back I reviewed Canadian slasher grindhouser, IF A TREE FALLS. Looks like the film’s been picked up and will be distributed by Black Fawn Distribution in a limited edition pre-order package available online as of May 13th 2011 with the DVD hitting stores across Canada on Tuesday May 31, 2011. Hopefully it means it’ll be hitting the US soon as well. The film will also have its Canadian broadcast premiere on Super Channel on Friday, June 3rd, 2011 at 10:45pm on SC2/HD2 (Sounds very Canadian to me…). Find out more about IF A TREE FALLS on Black Fawn Films’ website.
Another AICN HORROR early look, SCALENE is having it’s world premiere at Dances With Films on Saturday, June 4th, 9:30pm at the Laemmle Sunset 5, 8000 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90046. I reviewed this gripping thriller starring Margo Martindale (MILLION DOLLAR BABY, SECRETARIAT, F/X Series JUSTIFIED), Hanna Hall (FORREST GUMP, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN), and Adam Scarimbolo (A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS, LYEMLIFE, STAKE LAND) here and it’s definitely a film worth seeking out. Click here to find ticket availability.
Congrats to both of these cool films! Remember you read about this pair here on AICN HORROR.
Now let’s check out a couple of Makes and Remakes, shall we?
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Make / Remake: MOTHER’S DAY 1980 / 2011
Make / Remake: FRIDAY THE 13TH 1980 / 2009
And finally…FRIDAY BODYCOUNT!
MOTHER’S DAY (1980)New on BluRay & DVD in June!
Directed by Charles Kaufman
Written by Charles Kaufman & Warren Leight
Starring Beatrice Pons, Nancy Hendrickson, Deborah Luce, Tiana Pierce, Fredrick Coffin, Michael McCleery
MOTHER’S DAY (2011)In theaters later this year!
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
Written by Scot Milam
Starring Rebecca DeMornay, Jamie King, Frank Grillo, Shawn Ashmore, Patrick John Flueger, Warren Kole, Deborah Ann Woll, & Matt O’Leary
After seeing Darren Lynn Bousman’s MOTHER’S DAY, I was prompted to check out the original for comparison’s sake, not really intending to do a Make / Remake piece about it. But as I sat through Troma’s very first film written and directed by Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman’s brother Charles, I knew I had to, both for appreciation for the first film and to commend Darren Lynn Bousman for doing something few others have done; making a exemplary remake of a pre-existing horror film that both honors and expands on the original. Too many times, it seems the remakers don’t even fully understand the story of the original and resort to casting pretty WB stars and putting them into PG-13 scenarios that promise all sorts of horror but never deliver (see the below FRIDAY THE 13TH Make / Remake for a perfect example). Not only has Bousman delivered an extremely R-rated version with bite, he also has cast some pretty talented actors in this film about the day we honor our maternal makers. Plus he made some adjustments and elaborations along the way that not only updates the film, but makes viewing the original all the more fun to watch.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. MOTHER’S DAY (1980) is by all standards I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE mixed with TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE with heavy portions of FRIDAY THE 13th thrown in. A twisted family hunts a trio of women in the woods brutally raping and beating them and forcing them to fight back by any means necessary. That’s the basic premise of MOTHER’S DAY and though by 1980, this wasn’t necessarily the cliché it is today, it still was pretty derivative of what was popular in horror at the time. Revenge films were all the rage with I SPIT, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, and DEATH WISH coming out a few years prior and while FRIDAY THE 13th had been released in May of that year, MOTHER’S DAY still seems to be heavily influenced by the film (MOTHER’S DAY was released in September); especially in the attention to horrorizing a holiday (a la HALLOWEEN, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, GRADUATION DAY, etc.) and more evident by the shock ending which reeks of the first installment of the FRIDAY films, but is still jarringly effective in its own special way.
Despite all of the obvious influences, MOTHER’S DAY still stands on its own as being a pretty horrific film. The brutal rape scenes alone are cringe-inducing and unrelenting, as is the savage way Mother’s two boys (Ike and Adlay) accost the young campers. There’s a rawness to the performances that sometimes seems like they aren’t acting at all and the terror in the faces of the women in the film suggest that it wasn’t the most pleasurable of acting experiences. All of the cast are put through the wringer physically as the modest budget seemed to force those involved to do their own stunts (I’m assuming this because all of the jumping and falling and abuse was done on camera and pretty close up, indicating that it is in fact the actors doing this). On top of all of the physical horrors going on, Charles Kaufman did an impressive job of integrating a pretty heavy theme throughout—that of the more horrific aspects of motherhood. Even from the beginning, the term “Mother” is associated with unease; from a judgmental answering machine message addressed to one of our victims to an off-camera nagging and berating mother of another. All of the three female campers have mother issues, which carry on through the film and pay off in the end. The fact that these issues are even addressed in MOTHER’S DAY give it much more heft than your typical slasher flick.
Occasionally, the original gets into the territory of camp, which doesn’t hold up too well over the years, but the weightier moments of MOTHER’S DAY make up for its comical shortcomings. Part of me wished I could edit out the hokey flashback where the three girls get some revenge on a jerk jock in high school and some of the goofier interactions between the brothers and the mother where they would swing widely and miss their mark comically. Thankfully, someone came along and did just that.
Daren Lynn Bousman has been a name in the industry for a while with his SAW installments and REPO: THE GENETIC OPERA (a cult classic which entertained some while annoying others). With his new remake of MOTHER’S DAY, he not only expands on the theme of the horrors of motherhood from the original, he also frames a completely original film around it. But that’s not entirely accurate. Since I rewatched the original after seeing the remake, I realized that Bousman boiled down the essence of what made the original so creepy and effective and peeled away all of the hokiness that I complained about above. The film still focuses on Ike and Adlay, two criminal brothers (this time played by Patrick John Fleuger and Warren Kole, respectively) and their mother, this time played by Rebecca DeMornay as they accost a group of twenty-somethings and put them through hell until they break and fight back. But unlike the inbred developmentally delayed performances of Fredrick Coffin (Ike) and Michael McCleery (Adlay) in the original, the brothers in the modern version are more sinister and well developed. Both versions are childlike when interacting with their mother, and some of the most bizarre and effective scenes in Bousman’s film are the varied interactions the brothers have with their mother (from childish to almost incestuous at times). These are elaborations on the interactions made between the boys and their mother in the original, though taken to a much darker and dire level. Like the best of the best of horror films, Bousman recognized the awful truths of a meaty subject like motherhood and highlights its most horrific aspects.
The most noticeable difference between the two films on face value is the difference in the lead character of Mother. Beatrice Pons is creepy and effective in her role of Mother in the original, but most of the time teeters on the brink of camp and sometimes falls in face first. Though her manipulative rants about the monstrous Queenie in the woods are delivered in a haunting manner, the tone just feels more believable coming from the still-smokin’ Rebecca DeMornay. At first, DeMornay’s casting sounds off, but seeing her steely performance where she switches from loving mother hen to brutal defensive she-monster protecting her young is astonishing. She perfectly exemplifies the dichotomy of the role of mother as both nurturer and protector.
But apart from the similarities of the three main antagonists of the film, Kaufman and Bousman’s films couldn’t be more different in tone and setting. Instead of having the campers come to Mother’s house, Bousman rips this story from the headlines having the criminal Koffin family (a nod to actor Fredrick Coffin, Ike from the original, no doubt), evicted from their home because of the economy. Unbeknownst to Ike and Adlay who have been off on a bank robbing spree, they are shocked to find their childhood home overrun by yuppies. Ike, Adlay, and their younger brother Jonathan (Mike O’Leary) explode into the lives of Beth and Daniel Sohapi (Jamie King & Frank Grillo) who have the unfortunate luck of picking up the house on the cheap. Like most of the other cast here, King and Grillo give their all in these performances as a couple with problems of their own which I won’t go too much into here because it is intrinsic to the film. Let’s just say that, just as with the trio of women in the original, the main actors in this film have mother issues as well.
The theme of motherhood comes up numerous times Bousman’s film as no one is completely innocent or evil. The director did a fantastic job of serving up a morally ambiguous treat which makes you think twice before rooting for or against anyone. The Koffin family’s rage for losing their home, while taken to the extreme, is understandable. And while you feel for the young folks who are the victims of this home invasion, they have done and do some pretty despicable things to make you hesitate before feeling too bad for them. I love these blurry lines Bousman sets up, making this much more than a slasher film and though there are a few scenarios the Koffin family set up giving the family choices between their own lives over the lives of others, it’s much more than the torture-porn-ific, over-complex scenarios found in SAW. Bousman really takes his time to root under the viewer’s skin before going for the kill. There’s quite a body count in this film, but before setting the bodies up to fall, Bousman lets us understand all of the goods and bads of the cast—something other films of this kind often forget to do.
Before wrapping up, I have to mention some standout performances in Bousman’s film. Deborah Ann Woll (aka smoking hot redhead vampire from TRUE BLOOD) delivers a subtle performance as Lydia Koffin (the younger sister of the family). Bousman’s addition of her into the cast brings out Mother’s twisted rules, expectations, and fears all the more, especially the way Lydia is effected by the myth of Queenie (the creepy presence in the woods from the original) which serves here as a means to scare the children into never leaving home. Other notable performances come from Shawn Ashmore who is fleshing out a pretty damn impressive genre resume in a very little time. Here his performance is powerful and crucial to the narrative.
Bousman’s MOTHER’S DAY does what few remakes do—it elaborates on themes of the original while delving into new territory and at the same time makes you want to revisit the original and experience the themes in a different way. Though both films are heavy in tone, Kaufman’s MOTHER’S DAY delivers on a level much baser, but no less effective than Bousman’s much more sophisticated remake. MOTHER’S DAY is the kind of remake we all want to see; not watered down for the masses, well acted and and well written. Most importantly, MOTHER’S DAY 2011 is respectful of what came before and making enough changes to be something new without being totally unrecognizable; a feat that seems to be harder to accomplish than one would think—unless your name is Darren Lynn Bousman, that is.
FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)Directed by Sean S. Cunningham
Written by Victor Miller & Ron Kurz
Starring Adrienne King, Betsy Palmer, Walt Gorney, Kevin Bacon & Ari Lehman as Jason
FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009)Directed by Marcus Nispel
Written by Damian Shannon, Mark Swift, & Mark Wheaton
Starring Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Amanda Righetti, Travis Van Winkle, Aaron Yoo, Julianna Guill, and Derek Mears as Jason
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Pardon me while I wax nostalgic for a moment.
I know it’s going to sound weird, but the magic of movies wasn’t introduced to me by Walt Disney or George Lucas or Stephen Spielberg like most of the other guys who write on this site. For me it was something much darker. Sure I spent long afternoons and even longer nights watching Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing on horror movie shows on TV, but I distinctly remember one summer when it all changed. It had to be the summer of ‘84. My father had rigged our television with tin foil and a coat hanger in order for us to get Showtime. I know stealing cable was illegal, but we were a family of meager means and since my father passed away a year later, I feel this indiscretion is inadmissible now. Anyway, I distinctly remember playing war with my brother in my backyard and being called in because it was getting dark outside. After much belly-aching, my brother and I sat down in front of our TV to see what was on. What was on would shape me for the rest of my life. What was on was FRIDAY THE 13th.
It wasn’t at that moment that I realized the magic though. The next summer day, my brother and I continued to “ooo” and “ahhh” at the creepy goodness of the original, re-enacting the lines and all of the cool scenes. That night, when we were called in at dark, we sat in front of the television and were witness to FRIDAY THE 13th PART 2. Holy shit! “What form of magic was this?”, we thought. Another night—the second movie!!! How cool was that!?!? The next night, we saw PART 3. The final fourth night was a Thursday. Looking for our magic window into hell expecting another FRIDAY film, what we saw instead was a preview for FRIDAY THE 13th PART FOUR: THE FINAL CHAPTER! Yes, we were too young to be watching this. Yes, there was something wrong with my parents resulting in the grown-up ghoul I matured to be. But I’ll be damned if my brother and I didn’t convince my parents to see FRIDAY THE 13th PART FOUR THE FINAL CHAPTER on the first night it was released that very Friday. A horror fan was born that week, all because of a piece of tin foil, a coat hanger, and a curfew at dark.
Since then, I’ve watched all of the F13 films more times that I can count. I can name the kills in order in most of the first seven, at the very least. Above my bed as a teen, I had a pair of real machetes in an X with a hockey mask of my own design in the middle looking like a modern skull and crossbones and though I haven’t lived there in almost twenty years, that homemade homage to my favorite horror film series is still there in my childhood room. And my very next tattoo is going to be that same image of the hockey mask and crossed machetes as soon as I save up the cash.
Yep, I’m a F13 fanatic.
For the foreseeable future, I’m going to be looking at all of the F13 films eventually every time a Friday the 13th rolls around. Scoff all you want, movie snobs. I don’t really care. Even the worst F13 has some redeeming qualities in my eyes. But with Make / Remake being the theme of the week, I figured we’d start out by looking at the first and the last.
I think even those who scoff at the FRIDAY THE 13TH films can acknowledge that the original is a well made, gory thriller. At its heart it's a whodunnit, with the villain only seen from the waist down most of the time making his or her way through the woods and killing campers when they wander off alone. With a relatively small and charming cast, a serene locale, a great FX wizard, and some fantastic music, Sean S. Cunningham struck gold where HALLOWEEN had struck just two years prior. When I first saw the original, I hadn't heard of Mario Bava's BAY OF BLOOD (aka TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE), which FRIDAY THE 13TH and its first sequel borrow from heavily. All I knew was that there was something about this film that struck a chord in me that couldn't be beat.
The film starts out quiet. A POV cam catches a pair of camp counselors leaving a campfire and finding a quiet cabin to have sex. The counselors are disturbed by someone (someone they might recognize) and are brutally murdered. Yes, we've seen these first kills before, but this one sets the stage. It resonates and sets the standard while setting up the mystery; who is this killer? Why do these unlucky camp counselors know this person? Why is this person doing this? Years later, a group of kids try to reopen the camp; including the innocent girl next door Adrienne King (who has all of the final girl qualities; virginal, naïve, yet capable of great strength) and a few others (including Kevin Bacon in his first role). They run into a local crazy man, Crazy Ralph (played by the amazingly creepy Walt Gorney) who warns them that Camp Crystal Lake is jinxed with a Death Curse and are later educated by a local sheriff of the camp's sordid history. Known as Camp Blood by the locals, much death and horror has occurred along the seemingly serene waters of Crystal Lake. Soon enough, the bodies start piling up until one lone girl is forced to go toe to toe with the killer.
Without Henry Manfredini's iconic score, FRIDAY THE 13TH would not be the classic that it is lauded as today. I'm not just talking about the "Ch-ch-ch-ha-ha-ha" sound (or more accurately "Kill-kill-kill-ma-ma-ma!"), which has grown into an entity of its own. I'm talking about the wonderful screeching violin crescendos, the twinkling water drop chimes, and the symphonic crashes indicating frights and built tensions. Unlike today's films which think a fist to a synth board is all you need for a good scare, Manfredini made each second a melodic trip into the unknown, permeating even the lightest scenes with a heavy dose of dread. Look at any of the F13 films after. The ones who use the original score are by far the scariest (more on that later when we get to the 2009 remake).
But Sean S. Cunningham deserves recognition too. He crafted a smart mystery thriller first. Who is this killer? The camp owner set to rebuild the camp? Crazy Ralph? The counselor who lingers a bit too long after slicing a snake to bits in the cabin? The sheriff? Maybe someone we haven’t met yet? That's the question everyone is asking up until the reveal, and even after the reveal, you may continue to question it (could the boy who drowned in the lake be behind some of the killings? We never do see all of the kills…). It may be cliché now, but Cunningham fills his film with an assortment of friends and suspects, throws them in danger, and has a ball with it; making it a real mystery. Sure, the final girl role had made an appearance in many a film before it, but Cunningham brings everything together in the classic ending in an operatic level of slo-mo macabre mastery.
In the end, I think it was the fact that the killer is actually a victim too that makes FRIDAY THE 13TH as effective as it is. The rage behind the killer’s madness is somewhat understandable; kids are assholes sometimes. And the way the film caught on and birthed so many sequels is equally understandable given that it plays into the rebelliousness of youth and offers them a boogeyman to fear and root for all at once. But the kids in the original are actually pretty likable compared to the cardboard cutouts that appear in later entries, so you really aren’t rooting for the killer as much here. Unlike the films after it which pretty much use the same formula over and over again, FRIDAY THE 13TH may not have been the first, but it definitely sets the stage for all slasher films to follow.
So by 2009, folks thought it was better to remake FRIDAY THE 13TH than do another sequel. I’ll give it to them, with Jason going everywhere from Hell to space to New York, there really wasn’t a lot of places to go but back to the beginning. One would think that with so many films sequelizing, homaging, and down right ripping off the original FRIDAY THE 13TH film, it wouldn’t be hard to pull off a remake. But no one told that to Marcus Nispel, it seems.
The main problem with FRIDAY THE 13TH 2009 was not that it wasn’t like the films before it. It was the fact that the film played like a greatest hits / cliff notes version of the entire series. Pamela Voorhees is quickly dispatched in the opening segments in a decision that reeks of executive producer decision that people want to see Jason instead of seeing the actual killer from the original. Again, if they really wanted to make a remake and include Jason, why not make it a mother and son Team Vengeance taking out these annoying campers? Or tell the entire story of parts one and two, incorporating what was only told as legend in the original? But then again, what do I know?
With the remake playing more like a greatest hits album, you do get modern takes of classic Jason kills like the sleeping bag kill and other highlights. Jason moves from mongoloid child to bag headed man beast to hockey masked icon in an expedient manner. Fans of the original looking for the mystery that permeated the first will find the film sorely lacking in any type of suspense as Jason makes mince meat out of the cast giving them just enough time for you as the viewer to wish them dead before that with is granted. The WB bunch aren’t nearly as likable and though, since the original, it’s become commonplace to root for Jason in these films, you find yourself rooting a little harder given all of the skank and douchebaggery that permeates this young cast. Along with a cast to root for, Manfredini’s score which played such a huge role in the original, is sinfully missing from the remake as well, aside from the “Ch-ch-ch-ha-ha-ha!”, that is, making the film all the more lackluster.
The storyline is next to nil here, which really is a shame. One would think that if a multi-million dollar budget was tossed at this thing, a script that did more than connect the dots from one kill to the next would have been crafted. Sure this is supposed to be a remake, but unlike Bousman’s expansion of the themes in his remake of MOTHER’S DAY, story wise, the moralistic themes that made the original so resonant aren’t given any screen time at all. Instead we just get a big budget version of every F13 sequel mashed together with next to nothing new added to the story.
But in order to try to bring something new to the table the remakers did two things. They included the addition of marijuana fields in Crystal Lake and Jason’s eagerness to protect them which is a lame attempt by clueless executives to pander to those who chuckle any time the word “weed” is used. But the new way Jason is characterized is actually the best part of the film. Cast as a survivalist, living off of the land, knowing traps and hunting skills, Derek Mears’ Jason Voorhees is one of the best (though I’ll always have a black place in my heart for Kane Hodder). There is menace in his silent slasher and the inclusion of the bawdy woodsman persona who creeps around tunnels under Crystal Lake makes this Jason formidable and one of the more serious takes on the character. The Jason bag mask looks damn creepy (kind of like Cronenberg’s mask in NIGHTBREED without the button eyes) and his hockey masked visage is powerful as well. Mears brings a physicality to the role which is much more imposing and frightening. The fact that Jason runs in this one (as he did in most of the early sequels) makes him all the more threatening. Too bad they didn’t construct a stronger story around the monster.
Anyone watching Cunningham’s version of the film which took things deadly serious and attempted to add some heft in tone and plot and Nispel’s version which was obviously made by folks who look down on the franchise and think that the fans are stupid enough to eat up countless marijuana jokes and mindless kills, know the remake doesn’t stack up one bit to the original. The later films became the clichés. The original was smart, fast, fun, and downright scary. Nispel made a remake of the sequels, not the original, unfortunately. While the original goes for the jugular, the remake feels more like a cheap shot to the balls.
I could go on an on with coulda-beens and shoulda-beens when talking about the missed possibilities of a FRIDAY THE 13TH remake. Maybe if they kept the killer’s identity ambiguous throughout, it would have been better, but then there’d be those who complained because they wanted to see more Jason. As it is, the film is nothing but a young cover band trying their damndest to play a classic tune. And while it was great to see my old friend Jason back in action, I wanted to see the story pushed forward, not stuck replaying the same old song.
I’m sure there are some who will poo-poo my dedication of so much time and energy writing about a silly 80’s slasher film, but though the makers of the remake think that fans of the film aren’t intelligent or aren’t wanting a smarter, scarier FRIDAY THE 13TH, I know there are smart fans out there who see the potential for a really good FRIDAY THE 13TH film and want to see it someday. I’m holding out hope. There’s not another F13 on the calendar until next January sadly. So make the best of this one, enjoy the day and watch a FRIDAY THE 13TH film, if you can. Maybe by the time the next F13 rolls around someone will come along and do Camp Blood proud and take me back to the horrific wonder I felt watching that first film on that summer day back when I was too young to watch and too enthralled to care.
Until next Friday the 13th, folks…
And finally…for you die hard Jason fans, here’s every kill from FRIDAY THE 13th Part 1 through FREDDY VS JASON (not including the remake)! Enjoy!
See ya, next week, folks!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the covers to purchase)!
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