Return to Camp Blood: Part IV

By Frank Pittarese

The One with Telekinetic Tina

They killed Jason. They brought him back as a murder-zombie. Friday the 13th fans have seen it all, right? NOPE! This time, the high concept is “Jason vs. Carrie.” In an endless quest to keep the series fresh, this movie introduces a new nemesis for Jason — the telekinetic teen Tina Shepard. Where’s Tommy? Who knows. Let the makers of fan-films deal with him.

Starting at the site of what was once Camp Forest Green, we’re thrust into the life of young Tina. She lives in a nice home where the camp once stood, with her mom and drunken/abusive father. After a household ruckus, Tina flees from the house and jumps into a small boat, pursued by her apologetic dad. But Little Tina is pissed, so she telekinetically destroys the pier — and kills her dad — with a death stare. And so it begins.

It’s not polite to stare…and kill your dad.

Several years later, Tina and Mom return to the lake house, along with Tina’s shady shrink, Dr.  Crews. Crews, aware of Tina’s psychic abilities, is secretly manipulating the now-teenage girl for his own greedy pursuits. The slimy doctor torments Tina into having one of her many freak-outs, causing her to run to the lake and wish for her dad’s return. But, oops! Instead of summoning Daddy Shepard, she psychically frees Jason from his underwater chains, where Tommy Jarvis left him years ago. Coincidentally? A bunch of teens have moved into the house across the road for a birthday celebration. I wonder what will happen next…?

Sleazy Crews, being sleazy.

Jason makes mincemeat of the teens is what happens next. Meanwhile, Tina has a continuous series of fits about one thing or another. Sometimes it’s predictive visions of death and/or Jason. Sometimes she’s just in a mood. Tina is a lot. Tina is EXTRA. But amidst her fits, she finds a potential boyfriend with a handsome boy from across the road, Nick (soap actor Kevin Spirtas), who actually has the patience for her shenanigans. Bless his heart. Together, they’re the last ones standing as Tina has an epic showdown with the hulking, zombified Jason, her telekinesis turned up full-blast against Jason in his relentless pursuit. 

Serial killer or decorative chandelier?

In the end, it isn’t Tina who defeats our favorite killer. Nope, nope. Tina somehow resurrects her dead father from Crystal Lake (who looks great, except for some smudges on his face). In a flash, Dead Dad re-chains Jason, dragging him into the depths yet again. All’s well that ends…in confusion. 

While this isn’t the best executed entry, I do like what they were attempting here. We’re seven films deep and an actual effort is being made to keep things fresh. With Jason having been supernaturally returned to life, this “psychic powers” element feels like a natural progression. We’re no longer in the real world of Alice and Ginny. We’re in the land of the paranormal, and it works.

Aside from the kills, which are expected, of course, a couple of familiar notes are struck. Like Tommy before her, Tina just got out of a mental institution, guilty over killing her dad with her psychokinetic abilities. And similar to The Final Chapter, the house across the road is full of attractive young adults waiting to be slaughtered. Yet things still feel somewhat fresh. 

Tina is having a mood.

Unfortunately, Tina (as played by Lar Park Lincoln) is a whiny, frumpy buzzkill of a lead character. It’s really hard to like this girl with all her gloomy crying. Still, Tina’s prolonged battle with Jason is a lot of fun (even if you do end up rooting for him a little bit). No one has ever been a physical challenge to Jason, so it’s nice to see him struggle for a change.

Most of the victims are bland and forgettable, with the exception of diva-bitch Melissa (Susan Jennifer Sullivan), who makes a fun impression with her catty, soap opera presence, and Eddie (Jeff Bennett), a sweet-but-awkward nerd. Thanks to the MPAA’s prissy interference, the majority of the kills are edited down to unimpressive slashings and stabbings. The remaining ones (like the infamous “sleeping bag” murder) only hint at what was originally shot. Did they think people were seeing these things for Oscar-level performances and insight into the human condition? 

The worst hiding place, the best kill.

The WTF ending doesn’t do this movie any favors, when Tina apparently resurrects her dead father to drag Jason into the lake. It can’t be her dad’s actual corpse – the coroner would have taken him away years ago. He’s not even rotten. I think what we’re seeing is a visual representation of Tina’s mental baggage, as channeled through her powers. She’s likely tapping into Crystal Lake’s supernatural forces, creating a vision of her own, like the many we’ve seen before. Regardless, it’s dopey, and it feels sloppy and rushed. I don’t think anyone thought it through (until me, because I obsess about these damn movies). As for Jason, I reckon Tommy Jarvis didn’t tell the authorities about his body being chained in Crystal Lake for fear he’d be set free, so Jason’s emergence from that particular spot somewhat tracks. Nobody ever looked for him, so he was never found.

This is the first appearance of Kane Hodder as Jason. He’s hulking, intimidating, and powerful — the best of the bunch — and luckily, he sticks around for awhile. For some, myself included, Hodder is THE Jason, as much as Robert Englund is Freddy Krueger. 


The New Blood has two healthy time-jumps. We left off in the vicinity of 1989, with Jason in chains at the bottom of the lake, just a few yards from Camp Forest Green. Tina is quite young when we first see her. Let’s say she’s 10. It’s hard to know when those homes went up, but if we split the difference and say it’s been five years since Tommy fought Jason, we’re starting off here with a 1994 flashback to Little Tina’s telekinetic tantrum. Assuming teenage Tina is about 16, the bulk of this film takes place in the year 2000! 

Oh, and Crystal Lake? It’s back! No more of this “Forest Green” malarky. It’s never explained, but my take is that the murders have turned Crystal Lake into a tourist attraction. People want to visit the creepy Camp Blood and buy t-shirts and Jason masks. When they changed it to Forest Green, the tourists stopped coming and Wessex County lost money — so they changed the name again and Crystal Lake was reborn. Locals gotta make a buck…even if it’s tainted by five dozen dead teens. Want confirmation of this theory? Check out my Jason Takes Manhattan review. 

The music by Fred Mollin is considerably less thrilling than what came before. He did the music for Friday the 13th: The Series, and that’s how this score sounds: dialed down and small, like it’s for TV. It bugs me. He’s back for the next movie, because that one doesn’t have enough problems already.

He’s ready for his close-up!

Favorite moment: Tina telekinetically destroys Jason’s hockey mask to reveal his nasty, rotten zombie face!

The Worst One

Part V had problems, but this one is a heaping pile of flaming poop. It’s the worst of the series, with a cheap, direct-to-video vibe and I have nothing but bad things to say about it.

We’re at the site of Jason’s “drowning by ghost” at the end of the last movie. Lo and behold, there’s been another time jump. The area has been completely overhauled with new buildings and signage, all very lovely. How much time would such an overhaul take? Five years? Let’s go with that. Welcome to 2005, kids! (This movie was released in 1989.)

Jason is still legendary. In fact, when he’s accidentally freed from his underwater trap, the first thing he does is snatch up a hockey mask that’s an exact replica of the one that he’s worn for years. It even has a crack in it from where Chris planted her axe in Part 3. Why would such a thing even exist? This goes back to my theory that the “Forest Green” name was kiboshed when the township realized that the Crystal Lake Murders had marquee value. Jason Voorhees is a moneymaker and Crystal Lake has become a legit, merchandised, tourist attraction. When Jason masks up this time, he doesn’t even know that he’s become a brand. (This merchandising theme is even touched on in the next sequel.)

Mask on, weapon up.

Things get sloppy right away, when a close-up of undead Jason’s hand reveals very normal-looking, non-zombified fingers sticking out of his gloves. They get worse when a flashback of young, drowning Jason shows a completely average, NON-mutated little boy with dark hair. 

We quickly meet our “heroine” Rennie Fartface — I might need to fact-check her surname — who is played by a cardboard standee with hair (Jensen Daggett, who I’m sure is a lovely person). Rennie is bland, boring, and listless. She’s the worst final girl in the series; a tube of toothpaste would have more presence. And Rennie has problems. She keeps having nonsensical visions of a very normal-looking young Jason (with a full head of hair), a half-mutated Jason (also with hair), and later, a bald and fully mutated Young Jason. By the time this movie was made, the original Friday the 13th was a classic — familiar to anyone with a pop culture pulse. VHS existed. Photography existed. Reference material was available. But they couldn’t be arsed to even try getting it right (or even getting things consistent from minute-to-minute in their own film). 

Rennie has a “range” of emotions.

The guts of the plot is that the graduating class of Lakeview High is taking a cruise to New York City (a cruise that departs…from a lake). Rennie is among them, but nobody really cares because she’s a friendless celery stick. Rennie’s asshole uncle is there, and he’s very unpleasant; a true garbage human. Jason stows away, killing everyone he sees on his first and only vacation. But once again, the kills are edited down to nothing and the victims are immediately forgettable, so the whole trip is pretty dreary. When the ship is damaged, a handful of surviving dullards board a lifeboat to my hometown, and Jason — who apparently has finally learned how to swim — follows them all the way to NYC. Maybe they’ll all get discount tickets to Cats

The movie is an eternal 1 hour and 40 minutes long. They reach Manhattan just past the 1 hour mark. And when they get there, it’s Canada. Yep. Fucking Canada. I used a stopwatch and the actual Manhattan footage (most of which was shot in Times Square) is about six minutes in length (one minute of which runs under the closing credits). 

Which way to Starbucks?

Manhattan is portrayed as a disgusting trash fire. It’s practically post-apocalyptic, full of sleazy back alleys, abandoned buildings, rampant crime, and drug users. Five minutes after arriving in the Big Apple, Rennie is kidnapped and forcibly injected with heroin — just before Jason interrupts her attempted rape. And everyone acts like civilization is 100 miles away instead of, say, a two-minute walk to literally ANY avenue full of people, police officers, and civilized society. Honestly, this depiction of New York is offensive to me, and I don’t offend easily. Anyway, rather than taking in the sights, Jason stalks the remaining tourists relentlessly, and every death is a gift because these are the worst characters in the franchise.

The cast upon seeing the final cut.

Then a big reveal comes via flashback, when we learn that years earlier, Uncle Asshole pushed Little Rennie into Crystal Lake — after frightening her with the legend of Jason. As she struggled to stay afloat, a young, properly mutated Jason tried to drag her into the depths. This, however, is impossible. Jason drowned in 1957. When Rennie was a child, he was well into adulthood, if not zombie-hood. Whatever Rennie saw can’t have been real, so let’s chalk it up to the Crystal Lake spooks and/or one of Rennie’s weird Jason-visions, which she repeatedly has for no reason. Or maybe Rennie was already shooting up heroin when she was 10.

Anyway, with Jason running amok, our two surviving idiots, Rennie and the cute-but-vapid Sean (soap actor Scott Reeves), eventually flee to the sewers, where a random worker informs them that the Manhattan sewer tunnels flood with toxic waste(?!?), every night (?!?) at midnight (?!?). There are also barrels of this toxic waste laying about for easy access. Sure enough, Jason comes stomping along, the sewer floods, and a now-maskless (long story), panicked Jason cries out in a CHILD’S voice “Mommy! Don’t let me drown!” before vomiting up a flood of…lake water. I want to punch this lazy, stupid movie in the face. Literally nothing makes sense — and they’re not done yet!

Pam’s little angel.

The toxic waste — for reasons absolutely unknown — turns Jason into a very normal, shivering, human boy, naked but for a pair or swim trunks (or maybe boxer shorts). This is probably an illusion. Maybe. But then Rennie and Sean seem to react to the sight of him, so who knows. Anyway, even if he IS a human boy, they leave him for dead. They have no fucks to give about some dirty, shivering sewer-child. Let the Ninja Turtles deal with him. 

Then the two dolts walk outside and cheerfully joke about visiting the Statue of Liberty — which is what you do when your friends and family members have just been murdered, when you just left a dying child in a toxic sewer, and when you’ve been shot up with a dirty heroin needle. 

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Jason was literally transformed into a child. With the movie firmly establishing that Rennie has visions of Jason — visions which, from scene to scene, are incongruous and inconsistent — it’s easy to dismiss that ending. Jason was probably swept up in the toxic waste, Rennie had another off-kilter hallucination, and we move on. 

“Choose Your Own Jason”

If it helps, much like Part V, you can skip this one and it doesn’t impact a thing. In fact, Jason is inexplicably back at Crystal Lake when the next movie starts. Maybe he took a cab back from the city. They didn’t have Uber back then.

Favorite moment: Ejecting the disc from my Blu-ray player. Okay, okay. The boxing kill is funny, at least — and it happens on-camera, so they get credit for that. And Kane Hodder makes every Jason scene work; his name should go above the title of every Friday in which he appears. 

Next time: The franchise shifts from Paramount to New Line and things really get crazy. 

80s: Girls Nite Out and Madhouse

Madhouse, 1981

In the tradition of House on Sorority Row, Final Exam, and other early ’80s college-set slashers is 1982’s GIRLS NITE OUT. After the DeWitt University basketball team wins big during a championship game, the players and their girlfriends celebrate by having a costume party. Things get out of hand at the party when Sheila (Lauren-Marie Taylor) publicly shows affection for basketball mascot Benson (Matthew Dunn), a moment witnessed by her boyfriend Mike (David Holbrook). Mike makes a scene and storms out.

The next night, someone in the mascot outfit begins killing the all-female participants of the annual scavenger hunt, using a homemade glove with a claw made of knives (hello, Freddy!). With all the targets being women from a popular clique, does the killer have a misogynistic motive for the brutal slayings? Could it be Mike, still in a jealous rage over Sheila? Or maybe it’s Dickie Cavanaugh, a former university student who murdered his girlfriend years earlier and who may or may not be dead? And what about Benson? Hmmm…

Despite some good moments and an inventive killer, Girls Nite Out is unfortunately a misfire. Unlike Halloween, Friday the 13th, or similar movies, there’s no Final Girl or Boy to root for; the film is littered with too many uninteresting characters, with no central theme or plot line, creating a confusing web of relationships and stories. This is made worse by a slow pace and a meandering vibe that doesn’t push the story forward but stops it in its tracks. Friday the 13th Part 2‘s Taylor has the best kill, but if you’ve seen more then one of these flicks you can guess the identity of the killer early on. C

Girls Nite Out is available on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.

If there’s one thing Italian genre filmmakers knew how to do in the ’70s and ’80s, it was pumping out stylish, but cockamamie, slashers, and 1981’s MADHOUSE is prime example. Shot in Savannah, Georgia, the story follows schoolteacher, Julia (Trish Everly), on the days leading up to her birthday. After paying her psycho twin sister, Mary, a visit at the local mental health facility, Julia begins having memories of her dysfunctional childhood, which was made worse by the sociopathic Mary and her vicious Rottweiler.

Triggered by Julia’s upcoming birthday, Mary escapes the hospital and, with her trusty, bloodthirsty dog by her side, begins to kill Julia’s friends. When Julia believes Mary murdered one of her students, Julia’s uncle (Dennis Robertson) dismisses her as delusional, creating tension and paranoia in Julia – and a higher body count. Is Mary responsible for the killings, or is Julia just imagining it all in her clouded mind?

The movie is very well made and often has the look of a polished Hollywood film. Unfortunately, its characters and situations are presented so ludicrously that it’s difficult to take any of it seriously, especially when it’s trying very hard to be serious. It’s hard to muster much sympathy for Julia when her character keeps putting herself in hot water, leading to an ending that makes little sense and has zero suspense. Madhouse is a movie you’ll want to see repossessed. C

Return to Camp Blood: Part III

By Frank Pittarese

The One with Fake Jason

What do you do when the lead character in your ongoing franchise is dead? Make another movie, regardless — with an imposter-killer — and hope for the best. That’s what happened here, except for that “best” part.

It’s been five years since Tommy Jarvis chopped Jason to death. The traumatized kid, now 17 years old, has spent that time in mental facilities, and we catch up to him as he’s being transferred to the Pinehurst Youth Development Center, a halfway house for troubled teens. Is Tommy ready to re-enter polite society? Oh, hell no. Exhibiting bouts of intense rage is the norm for this mostly silent and somewhat creepy Tommy — and rage isn’t a good look when Jason Voorhees is apparently back from the dead. Or does it only seem to be Jason?

When annoying Pinehurst resident Joey Burns is hacked to death by yet another troubled youth at the facility, it sparks a series of violent murders apparently committed by a dude in a hockey mask. It’s not quite Jason’s mask (which has red stripes vs. this one’s blue accents), but it’s close enough, right? And Tommy is crazy, right?? 

Every ten minutes, another half-baked, unlikable character gets offed, and while there’s a brief red herring in the form of drifter Raymond Joffroy, Tommy does indeed seem to be the culprit — until the final act. That’s when the young Jarvis arrives on the scene just as “Jason” is chasing Pinehurst’s assistant manager Pam and the ever-shrieking Reggie, grandson of the halfway house’s cook. If Scooby-Doo had a death-reveal it would play out like this, with fake-Jason impaled on the spikes of a tractor harrow, hockey mask asunder — as well as the Jason flesh mask he remarkably wore under it. The killer’s identity is identity revealed as Roy Burns, paramedic and vengeful father of the late, chocolate-stained Joey. And he would’ve gotten away with it, if not for that meddling Tommy Jarvis!  

Tommy is innocent after all. At least until the last minute of the film where, recovering from his wounds at the hospital, he grabs a knife, dons Roy’s faux-Jason mask (both from his bedside table) and masked-up, prepares to murder Pam, essentially striking the same note as the end of the previous movie.  “Tommy is the new Jason,” rinse, lather, repeat. 

It was bound to happen. Welcome to the first stinker of the bunch. Jason is officially, biologically dead, so what do you do now? Easy. You hire a porn director (seriously that’s what they did), throw together a lazy script, and crank out a quick sequel which miraculously makes enough money that it doesn’t kill the series altogether (that said, the poor performance of this one negatively impacted its pretty terrific follow-up).

A pre-credit dream sequence — where Corey Feldman returns as young Tommy Jarvis for a scene foreshadowing the opening moments of the next movie — is fun, but as a Friday the 13th, it’s mostly downhill after that. 

The problem lies with the characters, who are tied up in the knot of the premise. It’s a halfway house for socially dysfunctional kids — nobody likes each other, which makes nobody likable. The kids are antisocial nothings, which makes it more than easy to watch them die; it’s a blessing to be rid of ’em. But, on the plus side, there is Demon…

Demon, older brother of the aggressively annoying Reggie (a.k.a. “Reggie the Reckless”) is a leather-clad bad-boy and one of the few Black actors to wander through Crystal Lake (this movie does well in the diversity department, so points for that). In his brief time on screen, he’s engaging and funny to watch. He’s also another character who poops and dies with a dirty butt. Really, why is that a thing in this series??

Then there’s Ethel Hubbard and her son Junior, two filthy hillbillies (yep, hillbillies). When I first saw this movie, I hated them sooooo much! I don’t do well with comedic characters in my horror movies, and these two are living cartoons. But now I just want to give Ethel a big hug. She’s always pissed off and every sentence is peppered with one or two “fucks.” It’s a rare instance where a comic relief character helps the viewing experience. 

Meanwhile, two leather-clad boys — looking like they fled a gay bar in 1958 — show up, talk to no one but each other, and make no difference to anything that happens aside from adding to the massive body count. As Alice said in the first movie, “WHAT is going on…???

This Tommy recast (the first of two), as portrayed by John Shepard, barely speaks — but he does a good job of playing frantic, which is all that’s required. And with Tommy being 17, the timeline puts us in 1989 (which is four years into the future of this 1985 release).

The kills are quick and edited down to nothing — or they happen off-camera, thanks to the MPAA and a nationwide clutching of pearls. But hey, kids, there’s cocaine-usage and we get titties, so your mommas can sleep soundly at night! 

Pam isn’t the worst final girl, but she’s as bland as Styrofoam and completely forgettable. Still, the big “Jason” chase is solid, except for Reggie’s endless screaming. Missed opportunity: stuffing Reggie in a meat grinder — I’d pay Broadway prices for that.

So is Tommy the new Jason? They try hard to make us think he is. But he isn’t. Jason is Roy. That is, until the end, when Jason is Tommy. Maybe. And if you interpret the final scene as a dream, which is entirely fair, it doesn’t matter. Ultimately, none of this matters. They drop the whole thing and never mention it again. The cliffhanger is never resolved (but I suspect Pam is fine; if it even happened, she probably just talked Tommy into putting down the knife). Fake-Jason/Roy Burns is never addressed again, either. In fact, this whole movie can be skipped because the 4th and 6th entries flow cleanly into each other. It’s worth seeing because it’s so bad — and it’s not the even the worst one! 

Favorite moment: Every word out of Ethel’s mouth, you big dildo! 

The One with Zombie Jason

Remember how the last movie ended? It doesn’t matter. After the disappointing mess of A New Beginning, the series bounces back in a big way — by almost completely ignoring the events of A New Beginning.

Tommy Jarvis has been institutionalized for years, and now he’s returned to Crystal Lake (renamed “Forest Green” after a million murders) to make sure that Jason is really, truly dead. So he digs up his grave and, through various hijinks involving a metal fence and lightning, succeeds in resurrecting Jason Voorhees. He even had the courtesy to bring along Jason’s hockey mask. Well done, Tom. The franchise thanks you, the fans thank you, and Zombie-Jason thanks you. 

With Camp Forest Green, full of counselors and children, about to open, Jason has plenty of hapless victims to choose from, and for extra measure he offs some weekend warrior paintball players, two romantic couples, a cemetery caretaker, and a few police officers. Unfortunately, with Tommy being that notorious “crazy kid,” he quickly gets blamed for the murders by hot-headed Sheriff Garris. Before you know it, he’s in a jail cell. But thanks to Final Girl Megan, daughter of the sheriff, Tommy escapes to “permanently” defeat Jason by drowning him in Crystal Lake (or rather, Lake Forest Green), with a weighted chain around his neck. Sure…that’ll work. 

This is one of the strongest entries in the series. It’s stylish, energetic, and full of intentional, sharp humor that actually lands. Thom Matthews is a bit stiff as Tommy, but he manages to pull off the character’s desperate innocence. It’s Jennifer Cooke (best known as the star-child in V: The Series) who really shines. Her smart and spunky Megan is second only to Part 2’s Ginny; few Friday final girls have this much inherent charm.

The story moves at a brisk pace. The over-the-top kills are quick and discreet (sometimes due to MPAA-related edits) but they don’t feel like cheats. Almost everything feels like its done with intent, so the result — while not as gory as expected — is effective. Most of the victims are likable and/or entertaining, which is a nice course-correct after the bitchy crew of Part V’s dumpster fire.  

Continuity is fluid. You can choose to believe that Part V happened, or that this is a soft reboot that directly follows The Final Chapter. Both paths work, and a line of dialogue early on (“Seeing his corpse ain’t gonna stop the hallucinations.”) patches Part V’s ending and Pam’s attack…if you need it to. Either way, there’s another time-jump. Tommy now seems to be about 22 years old, putting these events even further in the future. This one takes place circa 1989 (in a 1986 theatrical release). 

Jason is buried in the Eternal Peace Cemetery, a lovely piece of real estate compared to Mrs. Voorhees’s crappy roadside plot. But who’s paying for these graves and headstones? A scene that was scripted but never shot (but included in the novelization) reveals that Jason’s father — Elias Voorhees — has been footing the bill for the graves and the upkeep. Elias never appears on screen, but his presence is felt a few sequels down the road. It’s probably thanks to him that this supernatural stuff is happening in the first place. That whole family is an event. 

Crystal Lake is no more. Because of all the murder and mayhem, it’s been renamed Forest Green. That doesn’t last, for reasons I’ll theorize about later, but despite the renaming, the story of Jason and his mom lives on. The minute Tommy identifies himself, everyone talks about What Happened Before like they’ve been listening to a “Camp Blood” podcast. Hell, one character has even invented a card game devoted to the Jason legend. 

For the first time, we see children at Crystal Lake (oops!) Forest Green. Little kids, in actual danger! It warms my heart. That aspect almost reminds me of 1982’s Madman (which you guys should watch) which itself is similar to The Burning (which you guys should also watch). Matt recently reviewed both films right on this site and they are must-sees in the summer camp slasher subgenre. 

Favorite moment: Jason leaning over that little girl’s bed is legit scary.

Return to Camp Blood will be back next week with two time-jumps and even more paranormal shenanigans, because at this point, the producers have nothing to lose….

VHS Horror: Blood Cult, Open House, The Video Dead, and More

Bloody but dumb, 1985’s shot-on-video slasher, BLOOD CULT, centers around a small college town targeted by a black-gloved maniac curving up the (mostly female) student body with a meat cleaver. Practically plotless and lacking any shred of character structure, Blood Cult exists solely to exhibit its excessive splatter, and it does it rather well. Within the first 15 minutes we’re greeted with a woman having her head cut off, and another getting clubbed to death with said decapitated head!

Unfortunately the rest of the movie is comprised of lifeless police procedural scenes and uninspired dialogue, although director Christopher Lewis should get credit as the flick is better made then it should be. Super cheap, but fascinating in the same Z-grade storytelling way as the films of H.G. Lewis. Be warned: even at just 89 minutes this feels too long. C

1987’s OPEN HOUSE has a good concept for an ’80s slasher, but sadly never delivers the goods. The movie immediately gets off on the wrong foot opening with the suicide of a teenager while she’s getting “therapy” from radio personality, Dr. David Kelley (Joseph Bottoms). Dr. Kelley (uninterested in the poor woman’s plight) is too busy making paper airplanes and feeding her snide remarks that when she pulls the trigger on-air it isn’t much of a surprise. Way to go, Doc!

Meanwhile, over in Beverly Hills and on the brink of selling a house, a poor realtor discovers the decomposing body of her coworker in the upstairs bathtub. This doesn’t bod well for competing realtor, Lisa Grant (Adrianne Barbeau), as the police pin the murder on a serial killer who’s knocking off local real estate agents, and even some of their clients! But not to worry! Lisa’s boyfriend just happens to be good ole Doc Kelley, who’ll save the day. Right?

Open House could have been a splatter classic but it misses every mark possible. It offers lovely California settings, big houses, beautiful blonde bombshells, and a likable Final Girl in Barbeau, yet all of it is lost in the lifeless screenplay. Jag Mundhra (Hack-o-Lantern) muddies up the water with stiff, amateurish direction, which never gives any of the characters time to gel with its audience. Not that the characters are worth getting to know: Lisa is personable but empty, and Kelley is an unsympathetic asshole, made worse by Bottoms’s unconvincing performance. D+

Nobody did direct-to-video splatter quite like Christopher Lewis. You know? He direct that little classic you just read about above, Blood Cult. In his 1986 follow-up, THE RIPPER, Lewis (barely) expands his pallet by offering up a pseudo quasi period piece. Pretty audacious for a movie that most likely cost no more than a first class plane ticket to Australia. While only one scene actually takes place in the past, credit should be given to Lewis for creating a fairly well done opening, in which a young woman is stalked and killed by Jack the Ripper in 1888.

Just as with Blood Cult, Lewis takes us back to college. Here, we meet Professor Richard Harwell (Tom Schreier), who’s teaching a new course on famous crimes, the central subject of which is, yes, the Whitechapel murders. Harwell finds a strange, gaudy ring at a second-hand store and, after putting in on, begins to have visions of brutally murdering his girlfriend. When Harwell discovers someone was killed that same night in gruesome fashion, he investigates and finds out the ring once belonged to Jack the Ripper. Naturally he buys it, and, yes, you got it! The bodies start to pile up and the guts spill out.

As with Blood Cult, The Ripper is a low-grade, low-fi tacky gorefest. But unlike Blood Cult, here Lewis is trying for more than just gore for gore’s sake. The characters are more developed than you’d think and there’s a sense of humor that most of these kinds of flicks lack. But, that’s not to say The Ripper is good. Far from it. It’s slowly paced and in need of serious editing down from its lengthy 102-minutes. And Tom Savini might get top billing, but his participation in the film (as the physical manifestation of Jack the Ripper) equals less than five minutes of screen time. C+

The Ripper is currently streaming on Tubi.

Zombies were no stranger to the ’80s and quickly infiltrated the video market, with the 1987 VHS cult classic, THE VIDEO DEAD, being a highlight. Upon accidentally receiving a strange television set that was meant to be shipped to the Institute for Paranormal Research, writer Henry Jordan (Michael St. Michaels) is killed after discovering the TV is a portal in which zombies, and other beings, can enter our world. Several months later, a family purchases Jordan’s house, unaware that the supernatural TV still resides in the attic.

When teenager Jeff (Rocky Duvall) finds the TV and turns it on, he’s seduced by an Elviraesque woman who steps out into the real world but only to be killed by someone called the Garbage Man (Cliff Watts). This mystery person warns Jeff to lock the TV away and place a mirror in front of it. But, it’s too late for Jeff, his sister, Zoe (Roxanne Augesen), and pretty neighbor, April (Victoria Bastel), as zombies invade their suburban street and turn their world upside down.

An energetic horror comedy, The Video Dead has more charm and spunk than the similarly-themed Return of the Living Dead II. While it borrows elements from Evil Dead, Romero, and even Return of the Living Dead, the flick has its own style and sense of humor, and a likable cast of characters. There’s a particularly gnarly scene were a downed zombie is cut up with a chainsaw, revealing his rat-infested innards. Hardcore zombie aficionados should enjoy it. Everyone else might want to give this low-fi puppy a wide berth. Best scene: a zombie stuffing a victim into a washing machine and turning on the spin cycle. B+

The Video Dead is available on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory.

Just when you thought it was safe to putt…

Last but not least is another horror comedy that deserves a second look, 1989’s BLADES. A spirited Jaws parody, the movie takes place at the lovely Tall Grass Country Club golf course where newly appointed golf pro, Roy Kent (Robert North), has a hard time fitting in with the yuppies, disgruntled employees, and especially the club’s owner, Norm Osgood (William Towner).

Meanwhile, something loud and fast is sneaking its way around the club, slicing up anybody who gets in its way. When the mutilated bodies start showing up on and around the greens, all eyes point to the unstable groundskeeper, Deke Slade (Jeremy Whelan). But when Kent checks Slade’s lawnmower for body parts and finds only lawn clippings, he requests Osgood to close the golf course before the big tournament. As you might have guessed, the tournament continues, making it prime time for a giant, possessed lawnmower to make mincemeat out of a poor schmuck.

Silly, funny, and surprisingly suspenseful, Blades is first-rate direct-to-vid stuff. From its terrific pre-credits sequence (both satirizing and respecting the opening of Jaws), to its well-paced and exciting cat-and-mouse finale, Blades is the kind of low-budget horror flick that doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Initially dismissed as just another dumb Jaws clone, Blades is actually very smart and extremely detailed: all the scenes are executed perfectly, especially the recreations of the most famous ones from the Spielberg film.

The characters are likable, especially Slade, who’s the movie’s Quint, and the energy never lets up. If you can sit back and turn your brain off you might be able to enjoy this little bit of ’80s absurdity. To sum things up, Blades is better than both Jaws 3 and Jaws: The Revenge. (Make sure you watch through until after the credits!) A

Blades is available on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome and is currently streaming on Tubi.

Return to Camp Blood: Part II

By Frank Pittarese

Continuing a month-long review of the Friday the 13th film series, I dive into Parts 3 and 4 to discuss the ending that wasn’t…

The 3D One

The third in the series comes with some controversy. It was also in 3D. Let’s get to it… 

After a replay of the end of the previous movie, which inserts new footage of a very much alive Jason slipping away, we jump forward to…the next day! Yep, Friday the 13th: Part 3 apparently takes place on Saturday the 14th. But that’s okay; we’ll be on a consecutive run of calendar days through the next film, so what can you do?

After Jason murders a couple of sloppy-trashy store owners, a new crop of kids head up to Crystal Lake — specifically to a piece of land called Higgins Haven, home of soon-to-be Final Girl Chris Higgins. She’s been away for awhile because of a particularly gruesome incident in her past, and just like the late, great Alice, Chris is trying to put her life together the only way she knows how. 

In this instance, that means dragging a motley crew of friends to a Crystal Lake getaway. There’s Shelly, an overweight prankster, Chuck and Chili, two weed-obsessed potheads, the wonderfully spunky Vera, and annoyingly adorable couple Andy and Debbie…who happen to be expecting a child. Chris’s hunky boyfriend Rick is waiting at the house with the sole expectation of getting laid up to three hours a day (but, spoiler alert, he barely gets a kiss).

Shelly fakes his own death a couple of times, and gets turned down by Vera, but on a trip to the grocery store, the pair encounter a scary (“scary”) biker gang who follow the teens back to the lake. Jason, already lurking in the barn, starts by killing the punks, then works his way through all of Chris’s friends, until only she’s left for a big showdown. 

But there’s a twist! That gruesome incident I mentioned? A couple of years ago, Chris had a fight with her parents and ran into the woods, intending to hide out for the night. (She apparently never heard about The Boy That Drowned.) Jason came barreling out from the trees, literally chasing and dragging Chris hither and yon until she passed out. Chris woke up in her bed. Not a bit dead, like everyone else Jason ever met, and with no recollection of what happened.   

But here and now, Chris kills Jason with an axe to the head, and it’s, like, totally permanent until the next sequel!

This was the first Friday the 13th movie I ever saw — and I got to see it on opening night, in 3D and all — so it holds a special place in my heart. As stunt-filled as it is, with yo-yo’s, apples, popcorn, and snakes flying at the audience, it has a lot going for it. At least half of the cast is likable and engaging. Vera (Catherine Parks) is terrific; a rare instance where I was bummed out by a character’s death. Biker Fox (the late Gloria Charles) is only in a few scenes, but she’s a Top Ten favorite victim, with a personality ranging from “tough bully” to “fun-loving kid.” And Chris, as played by Dana Kimmell, has a certain sincerity to her. She’s not as tough as Ginny, but she holds her own against Jason…even if the whole experience drives her straight to the funny farm.

That said, we’re starting to slip into territory where some characters feel more like cartoonish stereotypes than realistic people we’d want to hang out with — and in these things, the stakes are higher if you give a shit about who dies. Shopkeepers Harold and Edna are just gross, and I’m not a weed guy, so Chuck and Chili’s antics were never amusing to me. Worse, they both feel like 30-year-old adults. It’s weird. And as much as I love Fox, the bikers feel like out of place stereotypes, farmed in from a different movie. There’s also a passing attempt at rebooting Crazy Ralph with a ridiculous (and legit crazy) hobo, but fortunately all but one of his scenes were cut. 

What’s the point of Debbie being pregnant? It doesn’t serve the plot, it doesn’t change her behavior (except that she won’t “hilariously” eat Chuck and Chili’s weed stash when the police zip by), and it doesn’t make a not-great actress any more compelling to watch. We’re definitely getting into some uneven territory here, with the victims painted in broad strokes while the kills become more interesting (at least until the MPAA steps in later). Andy gets chopped in half, poor Vera gets a spear shot through her eye, Rick’s head is squeezed until his eyeball pops out in all its 3D glory. 

This is the first appearance of the iconic hockey mask, which Jason steals from one of his victims. I still prefer the sack, but there’s no denying the menacing effectiveness of the hockey mask. It works. Jason, meanwhile, has mutated even further than he was the literal day before. Yes, yes, that’s due to a change in makeup artists — but I like to think that his mutant healing factor (which enables him to survive most injuries and which possibly saved him from his childhood drowning) is also affecting his body as a whole. The more he’s hurt, the stronger, bigger, and more malevolent he becomes; he’s evolving quickly. I also think there are evil forces guiding these “enhancements,” but we’ll get to that later. 

Now to discuss that controversial bit of business about Chris’s first encounter with Jason (trigger warning for those who need ’em). A big question in Friday the 13th fandom is: Did Jason sexually assault her? Nobody has an official answer (although actress Dana Kimmell says he didn’t). Unfortunately, I lean toward yes. We see, via flashback, what Chris remembers of the attack, and much of it involves Jason grabbing the girl and dragging her deeper into the woods (as opposed to, say, stabbing her, decapitating her, or folding her in half). When Jason confronts Chris in the barn during the film’s climax, he makes a pointed effort to lift his mask and leer at her. He WANTS her to recognize him — and she does. Then he tries to kill her, anyway, which he would have done the first time…if he hadn’t done…something else. In my mind, Jason is a rapist, full stop. 

Yet again, we end the movie with a WTF vision/dream. This time, it’s a rotten, worm-covered Mrs. Voorhees (head reattached, wearing her favorite sweater) popping out of the lake to drag Chris from her canoe. But it’s okay, don’t worry. The very last scene reveals that Chris has gone hopelessly insane. 

So what’s up with that Pamela appearance? It’s those dang evil forces I mentioned. Alice’s vision of Little Jason, Ginny’s window-smashing dream, Chris’s canoe attack… Something “other” is fueling the violence at Crystal Lake, and then exerting its insidious, psychic influence on those who survive. Some higher, dark power has Jason in its protective hand. That “something” is what makes him unstoppable — and it’s tied directly to the Voorhees family. This becomes even more apparent in Jason Goes to Hell, so stay tuned.

Here’s some fun trivia to share at Thanksgiving dinner: This is the first instance (of several in the series) where a character poops, doesn’t wipe, and then gets killed. Bad hygiene abounds at Crystal Lake — and Jason doesn’t like it.

Favorite moment: Chili’s whole “Oh, god…he’s dead! Shelly’s dead!” sequence, where she’s terrified but also looks like she’s about to fall asleep while slow-running through the house. It tickles me every time!

The “Last” One

Released on Friday, April 13, 1984, The Final Chapter was indeed meant to be the last in the series. The plan was to kill Jason once and for all, but that just didn’t work out because people like me kept buying movie tickets. 

The story picks up mere hours after the end of Part 3, in a dramatic fashion. Higgins Haven is swarming with police and paramedics, as helicopters hover and shine bright spotlights on the scene. Jason, still apparently dead in the spot Chris left him, is transported to a local hospital, where he stays dead for less than 15 minutes before swiftly killing a couple of goofy staffers.

Back at the lake, we’re introduced to the Jarvis family: a divorced mom, teenage good-girl Trish (Kimberly Beck), and the precocious adolescent Tommy (a pre-Goonies Corey Feldman), who briefly becomes an important figure in this series. Across the road from the Jarvis’s, a hearty group of teen victims arrive, having rented a house for a weekend of partying — the most notable among them being the awkward dork Jimmy (played by the eccentric Crispin Glover, who steals the movie). 

Jason, after checking himself out of the hospital with a prescription for murder, just walks back home — killing a hitchhiker along the way — and starts picking off the new kids. Amidst the chaos, Trish and Tommy encounter the mysterious Rob Dier, a man obsessed with hunting Jason because his sister, Sandra, was among his many victims. Sandra, huh? Interesting…

It all ends in pandemonium, with everyone dead except Final Girl Trish and young Tommy — who stops the disfigured Jason in his tracks by shaving his head, popping the collar on his polo shirt, and…impersonating him. The kid actually tries to talk Jason down, Ginny-style, and it almost works until Trish jumps in with a machete, snapping Jason out of his trance. Protecting his sister, Tommy picks up the weapon, practically splits Jason’s head in half, then chops at him a dozen times more. So Jason’s dead, right? Right…?!?

Sure, for now. But the final shot implies that Tommy, in the wake of this violence, just ain’t right.

This entry is one of my favorites, sitting right alongside Part 2. Objectively, Part 2 is a better movie, with stronger characters and some genuinely creepy moments. But the energy of this one, particularly during the final act as Jason relentlessly chases Trish — running from house to house — really pulls me in. And while the teens aren’t the most well-rounded, they still feel like people in a Saved By the Bell kind of way, with some minor conflicts between them to keep things interesting. The kills are brief, but very effective, thanks to returning makeup effects artist Tom Savini, who stepped away after the first movie. Doug’s crunching shower death, even in its edited state, packs a punch, and Jimmy’s “Where’s the corkscrew?” kill is a Friday classic. Jason’s death is a sight to behold, all done with practical effects in this pre-digital age, which makes things all the more impressive.  

In terms of world-building (as if anyone involved was actually considering such a thing)…

We’re still in the consecutive three-day run that began in Friday the 13th Part 2. Jason has killed twenty or so people in the past couple of days, but as this movie begins, he’s “dead,” so the Jarvis family are living their lives without a care in the world. The newspaper headline that says Jason’s body has gone missing from the morgue means nothing to them. The Jarvis ladies go blissfully jogging through the local murder-woods and then don’t even lock their front door.

Chronologically, the first film took place in 1979. There was a five-year time jump in Part 2 to 1984. Now, with the “serialized” format of 2, 3, and Final Chapter, we’ve synced up with this film’s release date. But get ready, because more time jumps are coming. Big ones. 

This movie establishes that Crystal Lake is located in Wessex County, and in or near Crystal Lake, there’s a Crystal Point, where one can skinny dip with one’s friends before one is hacked to bits. 

Mrs. Voorhees is literally buried by the side of the road, with a nice little headstone which reads “Pamela Voorhees 1939-1979, At Rest.” Who came up with that inscription? Who paid for the funeral? Did Mr. Voorhees write a check? There must be a Mr. Voorhees, after all… More on him in a movie or four. And for you trivia fans, this is the first official mention of Pamela’s first name.

As mentioned, Rob shows up seeking revenge because Jason killed his sister, Sandra. Sandra?! There’s never been solid confirmation of this, but it’s pretty much accepted that he’s talking about the same Sandra who was impaled with her boyfriend Jeff in Part 2. But that was just two days ago, and Rob already has a whole collection of yellowed Jason/Crystal Lake newspaper clippings. He sure moves fast! My take is that Rob was already a “Camp Blood” nerd, in the same way that people are obsessed with Bigfoot. When Sandra was murdered on Friday, Rob threw on his backpack and ran out the door. 

Little Tommy Jarvis appears to be a Tom Savini-level special effects makeup artist. This is obviously because Tom Savini did the special effects makeup for this film, and he gets to indulge himself through Tommy, who shows off his creations. And that’s great — but when Tommy decides to impersonate Young Jason, our little FX whiz looks kinda silly. They could have cheated things by having Tommy apply some pre-made “monster” appliances from his room, anything to make him look freaky. But instead we get a bald, preppy child, in cut-off jeans. It’s a goofy misstep, but we’re stuck with it. Besides, Jason believed it, and isn’t that what matters most?

The final moment of this movie led to whispers from every corner of the theater. “Tommy is gonna be the new Jason!!” Well…no. That’s like saying Jason was the new Mrs. Voorhees. But the implication that Tommy is “off” leads directly into the next adventure. They’re at least trying to keep a through line going, heading into the next sequel.

And for the record, as far as I’m concerned, Jason does — definitely and officially and for the first time — die in this movie. But although his days as a human being are over,  he’ll return after a short nap. 

Favorite moment: “He’s killing me! Oh, god! He’s killing me!!” There’s not a drop of blood in Rob’s death scene, but it’s as chilling as can be.

Stayed tuned for more Return to Camp Blood!

Summer Camp Slashers: The Burning and Madman

When you think of summer camp slasher flicks from the early ’80s, Friday the 13th and Sleepaway Camp automatically come to mind. While those two deserve their place on the mantel of great summertime splatter, there are two others that merit a spot in the top ten: The Burning and Madman. With a current resurgence of ’80s-themed horror movies – and the release of last year’s terrific retro summer camp slasher, Fear Street: 1978 – here’s hoping these two underappreciated gems continue to climb up the cult ladder.

Initially considered to be nothing more than a Friday rip-off, 1981’s MADMAN is an atmosphere-heavy, suspenseful chiller. Taking place over the course of several late night hours, the story follows a group of camp counselors at a woodsy retreat for gifted children. While they, along with the kids, sit around a late night camp fire, head counselor, Max (Frederick Neumann), spins a gruesome tale about legendary Madman Marz, a local, crazed farmer who murdered his family with an axe years earlier and seemingly vanished without a trace. Rumor is you can summon Marz forth by calling out his name.

When one of the teens does just that, he unknowingly lets loose the unstoppable Madman (Paul Ehlers), who, with axe in hand, goes on a bloody rampage, dispatching the clueless counselors in gory fashion. With wise old Max having left for the holiday, it’s up to feisty, young Betsy (Gaylen Ross, Dawn of the Dead) to defend herself, and the kids, against the hulking Marz.

Although filmed in late 1980, Madman wasn’t officially released until early 1982, which meant it had unfortunately arrived after Friday the 13th Part 2 had already secured Jason Voorhees as the predominant summer camp slasher. With not enough room for two camp counselor-killing maniacs, Madman was, for many years, ignored, which is a shame. Madman is an inventive and highly stylish slasher flick with good characters and a scary villain. And while the movie has plenty of juicy splatter, director Joe Giannone leaves room for ample amounts of suspense, especially during the final 20 minutes. B+

Madman is available on Blu-ray and is currently streaming on Tubi.

Originally inspired by the Cropsy urban legend, Madman changed its villain to Marz after discovering another film already in production was using the Cropsy name: 1981’s THE BURNING.

At Camp Blackfoot in upstate New York, shenanigans are underway late one night as a gang of teenage boys plot a prank against the creepy camp caretaker, Cropsy (Lou David). When their joke goes horribly wrong, Cropsy is set ablaze and left grossly disfigured. Five years later and after several failed skin grafts, Crospy is released from a hospital and, after murdering a spunky Times Square prostitute, heads back to camp for some bloody revenge.

Crospy, with large garden sheers in hand, stalks the grounds of Camp Stonewater and its multitude of nubile teenage campers. The characters include the hyper-shy Alfred (Brian Backer), who’s continually tormented by the camp bully, Glazer (Larry Joshua); there’s also the camp funny man, Dave (Jason Alexander, Seinfeld), virginal Karen (Carolyn Houlihan), and head counselors Michelle (Leah Ayres) and Todd (Brian Matthews). Things are made easy for Cropsy when the older teens basically line themselves up for a gory smorgasbord during an overnight camping trip down the river.

As with Madman, The Burning was unfairly overlooked during its initial release. And just like Madman, the film deserves its place on a list of ’80s horror gems. Suspenseful, shocking, and overflowing with dense atmosphere, The Burning is slasher gold that, as with the best of the genre, offers immensely likable and realistic characters that heighten the effect of the horror. There’s also some terrific Tom Savini make-up FX (much of it showcased in the infamous “raft of death” scene), a creepy musical score by Rick Wakeman, and an intense final conflict between Cropsy and Final Boy Alfred, the movie’s surprise hero. A

The Burning is available on Blu-ray and currently streaming on Tubi.

Impulse is an Overlooked ’80s Chiller

When Jennifer (Meg Tilly), a young ballet dancer, receives a distressing phone call from her mother that results in an attempted suicide, Jennifer and her doctor boyfriend, Stuart (Tim Matheson), head back to her hometown to visit her family. Upon arriving in the small Midwestern town, Jennifer and Stuart begin to notice several of the residents acting strangely, including her younger brother, Eddie (Bill Paxton), and an old friend who, one night at a bar, breaks his own fingers after being rejected by Jennifer when asked for a dance.

The town’s situation continues to get weirder when the next day Stuart’s car is intentionally, repeatedly smashed into by a disgruntled driver. While Stuart and local doctor, Carr (Hume Cronyn), try to figure out what’s causing the mass hysteria, Jennifer visits her childhood friend, Margo (Amy Stryker), only to be almost killed when Margo’s children trap her inside their garage and set it on fire.

Jennifer’s mother eventually dies, but Stuart is under the impression it wasn’t natural. Trying to escape and seek help, Jennifer, Stuart, and Carr discover the bridge out of town has been intentionally destroyed, trapping them. The townsfolk become more agitated, and it isn’t long until Stuart begins showing signs of violent tendencies. When some strangers in “official use only” trucks begin poking around, Stuart, still maintaining some self-control, discovers a leak from a nearby toxic waste vault has seeped into the soil and contaminated the dairy farm owned by Jennifer’s family, where the local milk is manufactured.

What sounds like a remake of George A. Romero’s 1973 cult classic, The Crazies, is apparently based on an idea by Stephen King. And while there are extreme similarities to Romero’s film, Impulse contains enough original material to set it apart as its own work. The biggest difference between the films is that, here, the infected characters retain some of their original mindset, whereas the victims in Crazies turn into mindless psychopaths. This makes the stakes higher for the survival of our heroes, especially when Stuart, after having threatened Jennifer with lustful violence, sees the error of his ways and tries his best to discover the cause of the contagion before his mind breaks completely.

The cast is good, especially Tilly, who maintains a sense of vulnerability and toughness throughout most of the film. Matheson is sympathetic as the love interest and eventual antihero, while Paxton gives off good evil-sibling vibes. The screenplay (by Nicholas Kazan and Don Carlos Dunaway) keeps the pace moving while being mostly unpredictable, with plenty of sustained tension. There’s also a hinted backstory involving Eddie’s incestuous desires for Jennifer, and the turbulent mother/daughter relationship between Jennifer and her mom.

Impulse might not rank high on the classics mantel, but it’s a good, suspenseful little movie that deserves rediscovery.

Return to Camp Blood: Part I

By Frank Pittarese

More than Halloween and beyond Elm Street, the Friday the 13th franchise holds a very special place in my heart. I’ve seen this series more than any other horror staple, bought every film in every home media format (and upgraded to the various special editions), and even made myself a bunch of Lego minifigures to memorialize Jason, his mom, and their various victims. It’s safe to say that I’m obsessed. 

Along the way, as I watched these movies repeatedly, my fanboy mind began trying to make sense of it all, “fixing” sloppy bits of continuity in a series that never intended for such dots to connect. I created my own little mythology to make the franchise more cohesive.

This month, here on Matt’s Horror Addiction, I’ll be doing a Friday the 13th deep dive, reviewing each film — and getting into some of those continuity theories. You might not agree with all of them, but you might see a method in my madness. 

This week, I’m checking out the first two in the series. Come with me now, to the sunny shores of Crystal Lake and the story of a boy’s love for his dear mother…

The One with the Mother

The plot is simple (but let’s face it, they all are). 22 years after a couple of unsolved, on-screen murders, Camp Crystal Lake is reopening for business. As a group of young, attractive counselors (including Kevin Bacon) fix the place up, a mysterious “someone” watches, waits…and kills them off in occasionally gruesome fashion.

After all but one counselor remains — the doe-eyed Alice Hardy — the killer is revealed to be (spoiler alert), Mrs. Pamela Voorhees, a character who literally shows up out of nowhere in the final act. Mrs. Voorhees, played to deranged perfection by the wonderfully hammy Betsy Palmer, reveals that in 1957 her son, Jason, drowned while his counselors were allegedly “making love.” So Pam has made it her job to keep Camp Crystal Lake closed and full of corpses, all to avenge her dead (well…“dead”) kid. 

This results in a prolonged showdown between Alice and Mrs. Voorhees, in which Alice usually knocks the killer out and hides, only to be found again for another round. Alice, being a soft touch, doesn’t really go for blood until Mrs. Voorhees engages her in a Dynasty-level catfight, which ends when Alice decapitates Pamela with a machete, ending her kill-spree once and for all.

Alice takes a canoe out on Crystal Lake, and in one of the most iconic moments in the series’ history, her moment of calm reflection, just as the cops show up to rescue her, is shattered when a hideously deformed, algae-covered Jason pops up from the water to drag her down into the lake. But, ha-ha…it was only a dream, right? There was no boy, was there?

That holds true until the first sequel, but for now…

This one isn’t my favorite in the series, but it’s up there and it has a lot going for it — like giving us a legitimately likable bunch of characters to care about. Poor Ned! Poor Brenda!! These young actors, on the whole, are likable and endearing, so we don’t actually want to see them die. Later on, we’ll relish every death in a parade of two-dimensional characters, but these kids are people we’d want to hang out with, so we feel for them. Final Girl Alice, as played by Adrienne King, is a bit vacant at times, but that makes it all the easier to worry about her. She’s completely guileless and helpless as these events unfold, and we want to see her triumph.  

Tom Savini’s gore effects are awesome — for the kills that we see. A surprising amount of restraint is held in this first entry, with several characters dying off-camera; we see their bodies later, but their gory ends are withheld. Still, what’s there is remarkable to see, with Marcie’s death-by-hatchet a shocking visual standout. 

Still, it’s not exactly a fair play mystery, if a mystery was even intended. There are a couple of small visual cues to imply that Bill is “off,” and he’s certainly handy with a machete, but they don’t really lean into that (and someone is clearly watching him chat with Alice early on, via first-person footage, which quickly absolves him of any wrongdoing). So Mrs. Voorhees just plain drives up with a smile and an introduction, eager to engage in some on-screen mayhem.

It would’ve been a fun bit of business to have included her in the background of the early dinette scene — when counselor Annie seeks a ride to camp — just as a silent extra. That little detail would, with future viewings, be a nice little seed, but it’s the most minor of gripes. 

With the creative team not actually planning a franchise here, Mrs. Voorhees obviously doesn’t know that Jason is truly alive; he seems to exist only in her head, she speaks in his child-like voice. But on a mythological scale, why, if Jason didn’t drown in 1957, did he remain in hiding? Is it possible that Pam wasn’t the best mom in the world? Was she always a little crazy? Did Jason fear her more than love her? Or was the little mutant boy afraid of returning to the world after being left for dead? Thanks to the sequels, we know that Jason is out there, alive, possibly watching as this movie unfolds. He sees his mother kill and he likely sees her being killed. 

A fun notion (for me): What if the early POV shots in this movie aren’t from Mrs. Voorhees perspective (like the aforementioned lakeside chat between Alice and Bill)? What if Jason is watching the counselors? 

Last up, let’s talk about the awesome and iconic canoe scene at the end of the film. That is not reality. Some folks think that’s actually Jason jumping out of the water, but it has to be a dream or a vision. Jason would be 38 years old at this point, but Alice sees a child. In fact, she sees a deformed child. Mrs. Voorhees never said anything about Jason’s appearance. So how would Alice know what Jason looks like? Are supernatural forces already in play at Crystal Lake? I’ll circle back to this idea in a sequel or two!

Favorite scene: Alice frantically barricading a door that opens outward. Delightful! It gets me every time!

The One with the Sack-Head

The second in the series is one of the best — and there’s lots of nerdy bits to unpack here, so let’s get to it. Heads up for 40-year-old spoilers!

In a prologue that takes place two months after the first movie, sole survivor Alice Hardy is putting her life together in the wake of beheading a crazy lady. But Jason Voorhees doesn’t care about Alice’s problems. She killed his momma, and thus, Alice is quickly dispatched.

Five years later, Packanack Lodge — located on the lovely shores of Crystal Lake — is prepping for camping season. A group of counselors, including soon-to-be Final Girl Ginny Field (the fantastic Amy Steel), gather for their training session…but they’re in Jason’s territory, and he’s still not over his personal trauma. He picks off the youthful gang one (or two) at a time, until only scrappy Ginny is left, for a chase scene that’s a thrilling step up from the previous film’s showdown between Alice and Mrs. Voorhees.

Ginny and Jason face off in one of the series’ best moments, where she — wearing the moldy sweater of the late Mrs. Voorhees — impersonates the dead woman in an effort to trick (and kill) Jason once and for all. Does it work? Well, there are a lotta movies after this one, so no, it doesn’t work by any means. 

In a callback to the end of the first film, the final moments showcase a maybe/maybe-not-a-dream-sequence, in which Jason’s deformed mug is revealed as he smashes through a window in an attempt to snatch Ginny as “Final Boy” Paul looks on.  

This is a rare instance where a sequel exceeds the quality of the original. Apart from a somewhat lengthy opening flashback, full of clips from the first film’s final scenes, the pace is steady. The kids are a likable bunch, again played by actors with enough personality to make their characters feel like more than two-dimensional victims (well, mostly — sorry, Sandra!). Comic relief character Ted (Stu Charno), despite being a reboot of Ned from the first movie, is an endearing, surviving standout, and it’s a shame he didn’t come back for Part 3. Most of the kills are generic stabbings or slashings, but a couple — the double impalement of Jeff and Sandra (sorry again, Sandra!) and the brutal machete-kill of wheelchair-bound Mark — are especially memorable.  

That said, even with this second entry, questions are raised…

In the opening prologue, Jason has tracked Alice down to an apartment. But where is this apartment? Well, it’s definitely not California, where Alice apparently lives. My guess is that she’s renting a place in the Crystal Lake-adjacent town seen at the start of the first movie. It’s walking distance from “Camp Blood,” and close enough that Jason can drag Alice’s body back unnoticed (look for her dried-out corpse in the climactic shack scene.) Why return to Crystal Lake? In a tense phone call, Alice tells her mom, “I just have to put my life back together and this is the only way I know how.” Alice’s quest for mental health was her undoing.

The five-year time-jump means Jason is now 43 years old. I’m on board with Ginny’s theory that he didn’t actually drown, but grew up wild in the woods. It’s a solid, clean theory. The Jason seen in this movie is very much human. He groans and he grunts, and he’s terrified of the chainsaw Ginny points toward him. But his story — his history —  has officially become a campfire legend. He might be “a child in a man’s body,” but at Crystal Lake, Jason is already larger than life.

The ending of this one is notoriously problematic. Ginny and Paul leave Jason for dead in his shack with a machete embedded in his shoulder. That machete is still stuck in him when he jumps through the window to grab Ginny. But at the start of Part 3, we see Jason holding that machete as he crawls away, still in the shack. It doesn’t track. And Muffin (Terry’s dog) is positively dead – we see the mangled body – so the pup’s “return” at the end of this film can’t be anything more than a fantasy. 

I assume Ginny’s memory of those moments is chaotic mush, a confused recollection of actual events — and that’s what we see on screen. For me, Jason did indeed crash through the window, machete in hand (not in his body). The last time we see Ginny, she’s being packed into an ambulance. “Where’s Paul?” she asks. Where indeed? Her memories and thoughts are jumbled, as illustrated by that impossible window-smash, jump-scare scene. 

The newscaster at the start of Part 3 says “Eight corpses have been discovered.” That almost makes sense: six counselors, Crazy Ralph, and the cop. (Never mind that Alice’s body in the shack should bring the total to nine.) Regardless, that’s enough to convince me that Paul is fine; carted off in another ambulance and living a happy life with Ginny to this day (even though he’s sort of a jerk).

And for the record, Jason’s hockey mask is iconic, but Sack-Head Jason is the scariest Jason. Full stop.

Favorite moment: “Paul, there’s someone in this fucking room!!

Return to Camp Blood will return…

80s: The Boogey Man, Spookies, and Witchtrap

The Boogey Man, 1980

There have been many terrific decades when it comes to horror movies, but no other has the variety and outrageousness of the ’80s. Friday the 13th, Prom Night, Hellraiser, Sleepaway Camp, Re-Animator, Silent Night, Deadly Night, Night of the Creeps, Halloween III, A Nightmare on Elm Street, An American Werewolf in London, Day of the Dead. There are too many to name, let alone watch and review in 30 days.

For the month of June, I’ll be writing about the lesser seen of the ’80s horror library, the little flicks that haven’t gotten the attention and admiration of so many others. While some of the films don’t necessarily deserve a second look, many do, and hopefully they will rise to the classics mantel soon enough!

“This Motion Picture is not a sequel to Witchboard!” So it said on the back of the VHS case of 1989’s WITCHTRAP, a cheesy and hilariously awful Poltergeist wannabe from the director of – yes – Witchboard.

At the large, uninhabited estate of the late warlock, Avery Lauter (J.P. Luebsen), a man runs around in a frenzy until he jumps out of a second-story window and dies in a pool of blood. Was this the work of the mischievous Lauter, who’s seemingly come back from the beyond? According to Lauter’s brother, Devon (Kevin Tenney, director), it was, in fact, Avery’s evil force that killed the man, who turns out was hired by Devon to see if the house was haunted.

In hopes of turning his demented brother’s mansion into a haunted bed and breakfast cash cow, Devon hires a team of paranormal investigators to spend the night in Avery’s house to rid the place of danger. The team consists of several stiff, humorless psychics, who throw words like “troglodyte” around, and a dopey cop who doesn’t believe in ghosts. In other words, we get a lot of scenes where skeptic cop, Vincente (James W. Quinn), banters with powerful medium, Whitney (Kathleen Bailey), about the existence of God, etc.

Meanwhile, Avery (who, in a black cape, looks like a Hogwarts dropout) keeps draining Whitney’s life force so he can enter the real world and kill his unwanted houseguests. Felix (Rob Zapple), another psychic, tries to get Avery to communicate through him only to get his head blown to bits. Oh, well.

Filmed as The Presence, Witchtrap is an unfortunate dud. Lacking any kind of pulse or energy, the movie limps along from one nonsensical scene to another. Essentially just a slasher flick with a supernatural angle, Tenney is ripping himself off by borrowing many elements from Witchboard, which, although not a great movie, was much more entertaining. While often amusing and massively silly, Witchtrap is unadulterated ’80s crapola. The always lovely Linnea Quigley – in high-waisted, acid-washed jeans – is wasted in a small role. C

Witchtrap is available on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome, and is currently streaming on Tubi.

Although it sounds like a typical Halloween cash-in, 1980’s THE BOOGEY MAN is actually an effective supernatural story. Twenty years after she witnessed her brother, Willy, stab their mother’s boyfriend to death, Lacey (Suzanna Love) begins having nightmares about that night. Married and living with her brother (Nicholas Love), aunt, and uncle on their farm, Lacey decides to go back to her childhood home to confront her fears. The unbalanced Willy, who’s been mute since the murder, snaps and nearly kills a neighbor, only stopping when he sees his reflection in a mirror.

Around the same time, Lacey, back at her mother’s old house, sees the figure of her mother’s dead boyfriend in a mirror, the same mirror Lacey saw the murder through years earlier. Terrified, Lacey breaks the mirror, an act that releases an unseen malevolent entity that goes on a killing spree.

The Boogey Man is pure low-budget, independent ’80s filmmaking. Like many horror flicks of the early ’80s, Boogey Man is obviously inspired by several noteworthy horror flicks that came before it, namely The Amityville Horror, The Exorcist, and, yes, even Halloween to some degree. Despite this, the film is atmospheric and surprisingly creative in execution. Director Ulli Lommel uses lighting to enhance the drama and it works quite well, giving a sense of genuine menace and dread.

Writing-wise, the movie is all over the place, with no explanations to why this supernatural terror exists. Willy’s psychopathic tendencies seem to disappear, as does his psychic knowledge that mirrors are some kind of gateway to evil or something. The film is trying to say the “boogey man” is a product of our repressed fears and guilt…I think. Anyway, The Boogey Man really shouldn’t work but it does in a very slight, stiff way. And at just 82 minutes, I can’t complain! B

The Boogey Man is currently streaming on Amazon Prime via AMC+.

If the term “bat-shit crazy” applies to any movie from the 1980s it’s definitely the 1986 monster epic, SPOOKIES. While cruising some back roads looking for a place to party, two carloads of the most mismatched characters in the history of cinema stumble upon a large house that seems to have been built in the middle of a cemetery.

Led by Duke (Nick Gionta), a leather-clad Saturday Night Fever reject, the gang is unaware that they’ve actually been summoned to the place by its owner, an ancient wizard called Kreon (Felix Ward), who wants the humans’ life forces in order to bring his wife, Isabelle (Maria Pechukas), back from the dead. In doing so, Kreon (who speaks in a Yiddish accent!) possesses Carol (Lisa Friede), turning her into a deformed, demon-like being (with fangs) who uses a spirit board to call forth a barrage of creatures to kill the houseguests.

While Duke and Co. are torn apart by a variety of monsters – my favorite being the hulking beasts made out of dirt and mud that continually fart (!!) as they attack their victims – Isabelle slowly awakens from her slumber, only to ask Kreon to put her out of her misery as soon as she sees him! Isabelle eventually escapes Kreon’s clutches, but is ambushed by zombies (with fangs) in the graveyard. Oh, well.

If Looney Tunes made a horror movie it would look like Spookies. There’s really no way to describe this film: you have to experience it. It’s both funny and terrible, creepy and dopey, insane and amazing. It makes no logical sense whatsoever and the plot is virtually nonexistent. This is a result of the production – the movie was filmed in 1984 – being shut down due to legal issues with financial investors before post-production was carried out. Additional scenes were shot by different directors and, according to original directors Brendan Faulkner and Thomas Duran, the film was edited out of continuity.

Yet, in a bizarre way, the movie works as a surreal, jokey, dream-like adventure. Credit must be given to the low budget but highly inventive make-up FX that are the real star of the movie, especially the Spider Lady and a red-eyed Grim Reaper that gave me nightmares as a kid, but which now looks more like an animatronic from Disney’s Haunted Mansion. B+

Spookies is available on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome, and is currently streaming on Shudder and Amazon Prime via AMC+.