War of the Remake: Jesus Christ Superstar(s) (1973, 2000, 2012)

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“It happens that we don’t see Christ as God, but simply the right man at the right time at the right place.” – Tim Rice

Jesus Christ Superstar, the rock-opera penned by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber seems an odd choice to be a lingering success in an increasingly secular world; not that the stories don’t have lasting appeal, but that in the light of other Broadway spectaculars, this relatively un-spectacular show still draws in the crowds.

It’s campy and it’s dated, but the show still holds punters in their seats and keeps on being (ironically) revived for different productions the world over, and has become one of the Broadway shows that slips into even the most lay of laymen’s knowledge of musical theatre.

This is probably testament in equal parts to the show’s writing, and the freedom any production has to use its flexibility to their advantage, and also to the lasting power of the show’s fandom, always eager to see how it might play out another way.

Short of popping down to your local theatre and hoping for a community performance, the easiest way to access the show is through one of the three versions released to the home market: Norman Jewison’s 1973 motion picture, the filmed-stage-production version from 2000, and the most recent adaptation of the “Concert Arena Spectacular” in 2012.

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For the uninitiated, the plot:

Jesus of Nazareth has been growing in popularity with his talk of new ways of living and believing. He’s amassed a crowd of followers, and the talk of uprising is starting to grow. Judas, Jesus’ right hand man, is growing fearful of Jesus’ popularity – they’re in lands occupied by the Roman Empire, and the Romans don’t tend to take too kindly to people shaking up the general order of things. Furthermore, Judas asserts that the crowd think Jesus is planning a revolution against the Romans, and when they find out they’re wrong, they’ll turn against him.

Jesus and his followers ride into Jerusalem to much praise from the people, but the local priests identify him as a risk that jeopardises them all – the Romans won’t just take care of Jesus, they’ll punish any who are remotely connected to him, such as all the other Jews, even those who don’t follow Jesus. Jesus makes more of a scene at a temple, throwing an epic tantrum to overturn the table of all the people who have made the sacred temple a place to peddle their wares.

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He has a nightmare in which he’s confronted by a colony of lepers and beggars all pleading with him to heal them – he becomes overwhelmed by their numbers, and screams at them to heal themselves. When he wakes, Mary Magdalene is by his side to comfort him, and (as she’s been doing throughout the story) try to get closer to him; she sings about her love for this man, and she doesn’t understand it.

Judas, now resentful of the place Mary Magdalene has taken in Jesus’ life, and growing more and more worried about the impending threat of the Roman suppression, goes to the priests and betrays Jesus.

Jesus is captured and taken to Pontius Pilate, who has already dreamt of the coming downfall of Rome if Jesus is killed – wanting to distance himself from the decision declares Jesus to not be his problem and sends him to King Herod. Herod, one jazzy Charleston-y number later, declares that Jesus is a fraud and sends him back to Pilate.

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Judas comes to the realisation of what he’s done, and guilt-ridden, hangs himself.

Pilate tries as he can to get Jesus to downplay his claims of divinity, tries to paint Jesus as a madman, and tries to persuade the crowd that he should be set free. The crowd, having all turned against Jesus now, demand he be crucified. Things reach a frenzy point and Pilate washes his hands of the situation, telling Jesus that he can’t help him if he won’t do anything to help himself.

Jesus is crucified, and while he hangs on the cross, a vision of Judas comes to him and asks if this had all been part of his plan, bringing us the title track of the show.

The play was met with controversy and condemnation from several religious groups. The questioning of Jesus’ divinity, as well as the humanising of Judas wasn’t received warmly, nor was the complete lack of Jesus’ resurrection (i.e. the entire point of Christianity).

Elsewhere, audiences loved the show and made it the lasting hit it has become today.

The success to this is that the story gets removed from the context of the religious dirge that anyone who went to a Catholic school can attest to, and revitalises it with a focus on the interactions of the characters and their setting. This is not so much a story of Jesus-Son-of-God as it is a look at the political ramifications of being Jesus and claiming to be the Son of God.

Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 11.39.23 amThis is helped with the deliberately anachronistic production values – most shows use a mix of modern costuming and props to highlight the allegory of the story. Jesus Christ Superstar is not only about the events that happened a few thousand years ago, but also the same sort of things that keep happening now. The “superstar” of the title can easily be transferred to the treatment and rejection the public gives modern stars of any given field, the politics of the play can be transferred to pretty much any moment of turmoil in the news, or it can be simply read as an adaptation of the passion play.

The success of the show is that takes a religious tale and presents it in a way where, funnily enough, the religious side of it is the least important. Anyone who grew up with the simplified liturgical readings of “Jesus = pure good, Judas = evil badman” should appreciate the depth given to their characters, the suggestions that Judas wasn’t a selfish traitor, and that Jesus might have not wanted the burden of dying for a cause he hadn’t fully realised.

There is of course the appeal of the music itself – although very definitely showing its age these days (the rockin’ twang of electric guitars that serves as the foundation for the score is surprisingly not timeless) there is still a lot of love to have for the soundtrack. The opening ‘Heaven on their Minds,’ in which Judas lays out his fears and apprehensions about the state of things, as well as his and Jesus’ relationship is a shining beacon of groovy beats and masterfully laid out exposition. ‘Trial Before Pilate’ is my personal favourite, with the build up of dread heaping on Pilate before he finally breaks down in the song’s melodramatic climax. There are many great tunes, and the only misfire is the show’s most well known number. ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ is a turgid, bloated monstrosity of a song that somehow managed to become a breakaway hit.

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As for the home-market-available adaptations?

The 1973 film has probably dated the most (what with it being the oldest and all – shocking, I know) but this is largely due to the framing device. Whereas most stage shows of Jesus Christ Superstar present their anachronisms as part of the set design, the 1973 film uses the conceit that a busload of hippies went out into the desert and put on the show. Spectacular on-location photography abounds, just as much as the cheesecloth and Combi-van sensibility of 1970s. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but it does definitely mark the film as being from a specific era, which can affect the show’s ability to remain timeless.

Carl Anderson brings home the bacon as Judas, playing him with a ferocity and intensity that drives home the complexity of his character. He’s not a selfish man by any means, just driven to making some decisions due to the increasingly different circumstances.

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Ted Neeley turns in a fine performance as Jesus, although (and this is more to do with the show’s writing than it is his performance) it’s hard to not be stunned by some of the notes he hits without any prior warning, and that stun often devolves into giggling. Neeley’s performance of ‘Gethsemane’ remains the best, showing the disillusionment and fear of what’s to come, and never letting it become a display of histrionic anguish.

Barry Dennen’s turn as Pontius Pilate is wonderfully camp, although he also manages a fair crack of sinister menace in his first scenes with Jesus, before ramping up the desperation with which he tries to save Jesus to save himself.

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Oh Barry.

The 2000 production rejects the earlier film’s devotion to wide open spaces and beautiful location photography, instead making its production design a mix of concrete, steel and leather. This is often known as the “gay bar” version, and for good reason. It’s certainly not helped by the homoeroticism between Judas and Jesus being so overplayed that you end up wondering if it’s not meant to be a full on love triangle between the two of them and Mary Magdalene.

Judas (Jérôme Pradon) is intense though too effete to make the character seem anything less than a parody. Glenn Carter’s Jesus has the personality and appeal of a cheeseless water-cracker.

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And is clearly a graduate of the Osmond School of Dentistry

The priests fare better however, in that they’re made to be convincingly menacing and threatening (it’s hard to take the 1973 priests seriously with their silly hats) although for every strength they gain, it becomes obvious they’re a pallid imitation of The Strangers from Dark City.

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Rik Mayall shows up for a cameo as Herod, and while you would think that might make things interesting for a moment, he, as well as the audience, is desperately bored by the time Herod’s song comes around.

If there is one saving grace for the 2000 version, and it’s certainly not deliberate, it’s the stunningly misguided casting of Pilate as a muscle-god in Nazi-fetishising uniform. Fred Johanson looks an impressive behemoth in the role, but whereas Barry Dennen’s performance was centred with desperation around not wanting Jesus’ blood on his hands, Johanson’s is a tantrum-throwing spectacle of histrionics. It’s certainly not helped by the production decision to have Jesus’ flogging represented by the crowd bitch slapping him with fingerpaint, but Johanson’s performance is so over the top it manages to lap itself from underneath. It’s included below so you can see it in all its captivating amazingness.


“Die if you want to, you innocent Papaya!”

The 2012 adaptation is presented as a concert spectacular, and so does away with the idea of multiple sets or even trying to present it as a self-contained story – it’s a concert we’re viewing, and a damned good one at that.

Whereas the other versions of the film play up the militaristic view of the story, without ever alluding to any one specific conflict, the 2012 version ramps up the “superstar” aspect. This is about the fame Jesus gathers and how quickly it’s used to frame him in the opposite light once things go bad.

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Tim Minchin turns up as Judas, and although he mightn’t have the voice you’d traditionally think goes hand-in-hand with musical theatre, he gives a performance that’s suitably intense and conflicted (despite the ridiculousness of the DVD producers autotuning his voice). It’s not just a rehash of Anderson’s character-defining performance, but something else. His performance of ‘Judas’ Death’ is amazing, and the way his voice cracks and breaks really drives it home.

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Ben Forster makes an adequate Jesus, using a much more traditionally “rockstar” voice, that has the downside of every now and then making him sound a bit like he’s whingeing instead of dealing with an inner conflict.

The best surprise of the 2012 version is seeing former Sporty Spice Melanie Chisholm turn up as Mary Magdalene. I usually find her an incredibly boring character, but Mel C manages to give her a warmth and depth that held my interest. Also, given that her voice rubs a lot of people the wrong way, it’s interesting to see how much better she can make ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ just off the strength of being different with it.

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Ultimately though, different though the different versions are, the show’s biggest strength, and the deciding factor on how good any production is, is in how good its Judas is. While the 2000 version is clearly the weakest, there’s really too much difference between the 1973 and 2012 version to single one out as better. Minchin’s Judas comes across as a little more self-serving than Andersons, though never becoming as simplistic as one-note. Anderson’s Judas has a fire and intensity to him, but is undeniably hampered by the now-dated style of the film but also the performances in it.

Take your pick with the Judases. Both are better for different reasons, and my reasoning isn’t going to line up with other people’s perception. I do think that the 2012 version, while great, doesn’t quite match up to the spectacle of the 1973 version. Perhaps its due to filming in Israel and having a great bizarre mix of centuries-old location mixed with incredibly time-specific costuming and props, but it seems to be the version that works as a whole. The 2000 version is not wholly terrible, it’s just overblown and over styled to the point of being a bit ridiculous.

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With the exception of a fine performance from M. Bison.

Alternatively, see whatever production of the show pops up near you – it seems you can’t go more than a few months without it showing up somewhere nearby. At the very least, it’s really worth seeing if you ever grew up being told the same version of the rise and fall of Jesus and grew tired of it – perhaps schools should start brining in an electric guitar to make it more interesting.

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100th Review!: Funny Games (1997, 2008)

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When a yuppie family have their home invaded by two pristinely-dressed young men, they are subject to a series of sadistic “games” all predicated on a bet of survival: the two men bet that the family will be dead by morning, and by default, the family bet the alternative outcome.

This is, in essence, the plot of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, a simultaneously brilliant and hypocritical film that has divided audiences since its initial release in 1997, and its subsequent shot-for-shot, line-for-line remake in 2008.

The film is more than the average home-invasion thriller though, which is key to its success, failures and divisive interpretations depending on the audience. Haneke developed the film as a polemic against a glamorised-violence obsessed society, specifically that of the US dominated cultural sphere. The original film was made in Austria, and fell on deaf ears as it was barely seen in American cinemas by its target audience. Critics adored and loathed the film, many calling it a brilliant piece of deconstruction, others calling it a moralistic insult to filmgoers.

I agree with both arguments.

I’ll discuss the films thematic and moralistic material later, but I’ll first start by covering the movie’s content as just that: a movie.

Family Happy

Ann, George and Georgie (Jr.) arrive at their palatial holiday home. On their way into their street, they stop by a neighbours’ fence, and said neighbours greet them with odd restraint; noticeably, the two young men standing with them were unknown to George and Ann. They shrug it off and continue on to their home. They’re just getting settled in when they’re interrupted by the arrival of the two men, Peter and Paul. George and Georgie are getting their sailboat docked at their private yacht, while Ann is busying herself by preparing a meal for the family after their long drive.

When one of these young men, Peter (or Tom as he’s sometimes called) arrives at the door, he tells Ann he’s been sent by their neighbour to borrow some eggs. Ann is amicable and polite, and happy to oblige. On his way out, Peter drops the eggs on the ground, and asks Ann for four more – also clumsily knocking their phone into the sink full of water. Ann’s irritated and a bit perturbed by this exchange, but still happy to oblige, only this time she wraps them up for him to protect them from his clumsiness. He leaves, and as she’s having a bit of an unwind from the frustrating few minutes, she hears the family dog barking its head off. When she goes to investigate, she finds Peter standing inside by the front door, accompanied by Paul, the other man she saw with her neighbours.

Peters

Paul is stridently confident in comparison with the meek and clumsy Peter, and explains that the dog has basically trapped them inside the house. She offers to lock him up, but Paul ignores the matter at hand by admiring George’s superb set of golf clubs. He asks Ann if he can try it out, and rushes off before she can either grant or deny his request.

Down at the yacht, George and Georgie hear the dog’s loud barking before hearing it suddenly stop with a whimper. George goes to investigate, and finds Ann confronting the two men in the hallway. She asks George to throw them out, but he’s unaware of their encroaching behaviour. He asks what’s bothering her, and she attempts to wash her hands of the situation by storming off. When Paul smartmouths George, he slaps the younger man across the face. In retaliation, Peter swiftly breaks George’s kneecap with the golf club, and the hostage-taking officially begins.

Family Sad

With the family besieged, Paul and Peter make their bet and begin the “games”, breaking the family down piece by piece and terrifying them more and more to the point of exhaustion. They offer no direct motive, confuse their backstories by offering several different versions, and show no obvious villainy – Paul and Peter never drop their calm and polite demeanour, despite the sadism of the deeds they’re committing.

With the villains having a complete and total upper-hand in the house, the games soon turn deadly, and gradually, the family is whittled down. Georgie is the first to die, killed by a shotgun blast, and his death and its outcome is a bravado ten minutes of film dealing with utter agony. The villains leave for a while, and as George and Ann struggle to cope with the reality of what’s just happened, they attempt an escape. Of course it doesn’t pan out, and the villains return, killing George after a long period of tormenting Ann with making the decision of how her husband will die.

By the following morning (when the bet is to conclude) the villains take Ann out on the family boat, sail across the bay and nonchalantly push her gagged-and-bound body into the water, winning the bet with little care for the outcome.

Golf Balls

They arrive at yet another neighbours’ house, set to begin the scheme of events all over again, and the film comes to a close.

It’s not that Funny Games is impossible or even difficult to review, it’s just that there’s several layers that need to be addressed, and one even wonders if ultimately, there’s any point in doing that. But I’ve decided there is, and so I will.

As just the movie, taking out all of Haneke’s thematic intention and concern with making the film a soapbox, both films are decent. The roles are difficult to play, and require a lot of intensity in their performance.

Susan Lothar and Naomi Watts as the two Anns come out of the films the strongest. Both are actresses capable of portraying darkness with clarity, and both commit strong and brave performances to a challenging character.

Ulrich Mühe and Tim Roth fare less strongly in the roles of George, although this is undoubtedly due to the way the character is written. George is a passive character, and although sympathetic, isn’t a standout characterisation in either form. Of the two, Mühe is the stronger, as the chemistry between him and Lothar (the two were married until Mühe’s death in 2007) is evident of their comfort with and access to each other as performers. The character is underwritten (most likely deliberately), it’s difficult to gauge the success of either actor’s performance, but it’s by no means a bad one.

Tim Roth

As for the two Georgie’s both Stefan Clapczynski and Devon Gearhart are more than adequate as children playing children, and given the terror required of the role, ultimately pretty convincing.

On the villainous side of things, we have Frank Giering and Brady Corbet as Peter/Tom. Many reviews I’ve read criticise Giering’s portrayal as awkward and ineffective. I’m not so sure I agree with this, but I do think it’s the biggest point of difference between the two versions of the film (keep in mind, Haneke’s intent was for the films to be identical, just in different languages). Giering’s Peter has the potential to not be quite so willing a participant in the events of the film as Paul, where as Corbet’s is most definitely just as invested. Of the two, I do think Corbet’s performance is stronger, but I don’t think the negative criticism of Giering is deserved.

And then there’s the main man in either of the films: Paul. I tend not to love Michael Pitt as an actor, and for no other reason then gut instinct. There’s nothing inherently wrong in the way he acts, I’ve just never felt convinced by him. So in admitting that bias, I’ll still affirm Arno Frisch as the stronger Paul. Pitt’s version of the character is too imbued with nudge-nudge-wink-winkiness, and more than anything else, he seems smug and in on the joke of the film; Frisch on the other hand, never plays Paul as anything except in complete and total control of the film. It’s a critical difference, because Michael Pitt is portraying a menace, whereas Frisch just feels like one. As the conductor of Haneke’s sadistic little orchestra, the role needs to be handled with aplomb, whereas Pitt goes at with a permanent little half-smirk on his face the betrays the ability for the audience to fully believe him. Or, slightly less pretentiously, Michael Pitt is playing the character. Arno Frisch is the character.

Paul Smirks

So the film as well-made and ably performed, but what of all this talk of it’s thematics?

As mentioned before, Michael Haneke created the film as a polemic. He’s been very frank over the course of the years in detailing his complete fear of violence, and created the film as a treatise on what he saw as a society that not only accepts it, but glamorises and anticipates it. Funny Games is born out of his want to recraft violence in cinema as a concept to abhor, not to behold with glee.

He uses the framework of a horror film, a genre that for the most part relies on violence to succeed, to build a narrative around making it literally horrible. The intent in Funny Games is to take a genre where the pundits (at least the stereotypical ones) are normally eagerly awaiting the payoff of violence dealt unto the characters and robbing them of that satisfaction, leaving the viewer instead with the grim reality of what has actually occurred.

Significantly, all of the violence in the film happens either off-screen or out of the frame. When Peter breaks George’s knee, we see the club swing down below the frame, hear the sound of connection and George’s cry of pain, and then the aftermath where his trousers start pooling with blood over the kneecap. Later on, when Ann rushes at one of the villains and he deals a hefty punch to her stomach, we see her rush to the right of the frame, hear the connection and then see her fall back, gasping for air and struggling with the pain.

This is a very successful tactic, as it means that you notice the violence, and not how convincing it is or isn’t. There’s no risk of shoddy special effects taking the audience out of the film, there’s no pause where a viewer goes “I wonder how they did that?” or anything else that might distract from the actual incident itself. This, combined with Haneke’s decision to play the violence incredibly neutrally and realistically means that there’s no catharsis or payoff for the audience who is waiting to see how the characters meet their fates. When is punched hard in the stomach, it knocks her back winded – there’s no movie-logic that says she can still fight on despite suffering a blow that would leave the same impact on a real person in the same circumstance. George’s knee isn’t wrapped in a magic bandage that allows him to move around after a while – for the rest of the film he’s incapacitated because he’s lost the use of a vital part of the body to enable movement.

Furthermore, the film slyly addresses conventions within the horror genre such as the killing excuse; consider every film where teens in the woods are confronted by the killer du jour and run their mouths of at him/her/them/it only to be killed in a moment of ironic come-uppance. The whole scene with the eggs is deliberately set up so that the audience later thinks “well if she’d just given the eggs and not been selfish…” only to have those thoughts ridiculed by the fact that she could have refused them all and Peter and Paul’s actions would still be reprehensible.

There’s also clues to a classist motivation to the proceedings – the family are playing a “guess-the-song” game with various opera tracks on their way to the house, only for the title card to intrude with the apocalyptic sounds of Gwar, suggesting a great disconnect between the upper class and less cultured appeal of the killers. But rather than let the film speak as allegory, Haneke condemns any thinking that differences in class makes the violence any more forgivable/justifiable/interesting or anything less than reprehensible.

Haneke’s use of violence is honed in with accuracy and deliberateness to be unpleasant – not something to be enjoyed.

When Georgie is shot, the camera has followed Paul into the kitchen as the gun goes off. We never see the boy getting killed, just the sounds of the gun and the screams and cries of the parents’ anguish. When we do go back in the room, we’re treated to a fixed, static shot that lasts an eternity as Ann and George pick themselves up (the villains leave at this point) and try to comprehend what has just happened. A TV plays loudly, covered in blood, with the boy’s lifeless body poking out from a couch below it. The most Ann can manage to do in this instance is turn the TV off, and try to get over to her husband, who has been knocked to the ground.

Post-Georgie

This scene is exemplary in portraying Haneke’s intent. There is nothing to enjoy about it, because the film isn’t designed for the audience to be angered by the boy’s death by seeing it happen, nor does it play with the parents gearing themselves up for revenge after their loss. The scene is excruciating, because the audience are forced into the gravity of the situation: two parents who have just had their son murdered before their eyes while they were helpless to stop it, and what we’re left with is their devastation and the cruelty of the act.

Had Haneke stuck to these tactics alone, it would have been a sanctimonious film, but one I’d feel comfortable praising in its entirety. However, the film becomes problematic with some of the other tactics Haneke utilises, and utilises unfairly.

Scared Georgie

The most notable of these is that Paul breaks the fourth wall on several occasions and addresses the audience directly. The first is when he’s killed the family dog, and indeed is part of the first “game” he plays, a version of “hot/cold” to guide Ann into finding its body. As Ann wanders around searching, Paul turns to the camera and smirks, bringing them in on the game with him. Later on, when establishing the bet, he turns to the audience and tells us that he assumes we’re on the family’s side.

When I mentioned before that Paul was a character who was in control of the movie, I meant it literally – he’s clearly aware that he’s a character in the film, and is actively determining the outcome of the events he’s coordinating.

The problem here is that it means the option of hope is removed from the film. It’s not unusual to expect a downer ending from a horror film (the bad guys often win) but it is unusual to be told from the get-go that the villain is not only a character but an active variable in the narrative.

The ultimate point of Paul’s control though is when he literally changes the film. At one point, Ann grabs the shotgun and blasts Peter in the gut, sending him flying back into the wall with bloody carnage. It’s the only onscreen violence in the film, and is deliberately exaggerated beyond the style of the rest of the film. Not having this, Paul finds a remote control and rewinds the film, moving the gun out of Ann’s grasp.

This is clearly done as a means of pointing out that the audience should not be letting themselves gain the hope of the film changing tactics, but it actually defies one of the theories behind Haneke’s motives in creating the film.

Haneke’s basic assumption is that the audience of Funny Games came to see it to see the violence, or to be entertained by the torture and eventual deaths of characters. He’s trying to recraft this style of film so that the characters are more human, not just ciphers to have violence dealt upon them. The film temporarily lapses into a moment where a character takes action in determining their own fate (Ann taking charge) and Haneke lets the audience consider it, then takes it away from them.

Remote

It’s an irritating moment, not only for the flagrant disregard for narrative flow (a fourth-wall-breaking character is one thing, a character taking control of the way the movie plays out is another entirely), but because it doesn’t allow any other position for the audience except to be mocked by Haneke.

Admittedly, he always wanted the film to be a moralistic comment on violence, but it’s at this point that the film crosses over into sheer smug condescension. Haneke is wagging his finger at you, shaming you for temporarily being enlivened by the turn of events, and reinforcing that abject misery that the villains are going to win. It’s at this point that the film abandons the pretence of the film having any outcome other than the villains’ success in their plan, and it robs any emotional resonance you might feel with the characters.

The bravado sequence after Georgie’s death works particularly well because of your awkward emotional connection with the two devastated characters – the scene with the remote completely removes the sense that the characters are anything other than devices through which the film mocks you.

Now, having said that, it’s still a scene that’s worth considering – the violence of Peter’s body being hurled across the room by the gun is deliberately over the top, and completely dissonant with the style of the rest of the film. It makes sense that Paul would literally remove it from the film, by the movie’s own logic. It’s also an interesting way of determining the film’s thesis statement – just because the violence is enacted by one of the protagonists, it doesn’t mean that it’s more justifiable or less appalling than any of the other violent acts. Audiences’ natural inclination is to feel the opposite, that the bad guys deserve whatever’s coming to them, but Haneke’s very deliberate point about the movie is that we shouldn’t feel like that.

Cat in the Bag

The problem is, Haneke’s basic message of the film doesn’t apply to the audience he’s criticising. Other than the obvious facts that the slathering gorehounds he thinks he’s addressing wouldn’t elect to see an arty deconstruction of horror films, he makes the mistake of assuming that all viewers are such slathering gorehounds.

There is no middle ground for Haneke’s assessment of the audience – either we crave the violence, or we’re appalled by it to the point of avoiding the film. He once said of the film “viewers who could learn from Funny Games will stay until the end, and those who don’t need the lesson will simply walk out.” There’s no allowance for those who are aware of what they’re watching, there’s no consideration for different mindsets, and ultimately, there’s no choice except to be mocked by the film.

And it’s all the more hypocritical because the film relies on every single one of the conventions it’s deconstructing to be a success, even if they are deconstructed all the same. The decision to frame the film as if it were a horror film relies exclusively on our familiarity with the genre for it to succeed (the film could not be a success without the existence of what it’s decrying), but far from it being as simple as saying a satire should mirror its subject, the film needs the genre to stand on so it can look down on it.

Prayer

Admittedly, Haneke’s concern was not solely with horror films, but violence in the mainstream media, of which Horror is the easiest genre to assemble his arguments, but the overall impression of the film is that it’s patronising the viewers who wouldn’t be able to recognise violence as horrible without the assistance of our auteur. Which begs the question of why Haneke chose to make the message so muddled by the actions of its characters?

Firstly, although I’ve said that the violence is played realistically, the rest of the film exists in a sort of stasis of fiction and verisimilitude. The family is ridiculously passive and even within the confines of their in-story terror, and this is a massive contributor to people being taken out of the experience of the film.

Secondly, and it’s probably a very basic point to make, no one likes being insulted. Whether you’re the snobby critic who comes to see one of Europe’s finest cinematic artistes or a popcorn-munching beer-swilling dunderhead who can’t wait to see some good kills on screen (or anyone in-between or beyond that spectrum) there’s little joy to be felt in watching a film that is designed to shame you and tell you you’re a bad person. For those of us who watch horror films to be scared, or to appreciate the conventions of the genre, or even watch Haneke’s film in appreciation of his style and technique, then we’re treated to a film that assumes we’re the lowest common denominator and smugly attacks us for daring to enjoy a genre.

Whether or not you agree with the message, I feel it’s undeniable that it’s not delivered with greatest grace. Cleverly, yes, but not considerately, and therein lies the problem with the film. If Haneke wanted to effect change rather than just cry foul, he should’ve tried to get the audience onside and then convince them, not lure them in and attack them. And it can’t be excused as a new filmmaker making statements in his early career he’d later regret – he very deliberately went back 11 years later to make the film more accessible to the audience he wanted to see it (although in a cruel irony, box office was dismal)

I really appreciate Funny Games for what it is. I think it’s brilliant and ridiculous, a great horror film and one of the worst horror films. I don’t appreciate its moralism or its desire to insult the audience who might want to see it, nor its strident hypocrisy, but in terms of a film to get the tongues wagging and thoughts a-rollin’ it’s a minefield of opinion that should at least be considered. And hey, there’s even a basic movie to enjoy as well.

Title Cards

This post marks my 100th review, and the beginning of what I’m tentatively calling a Directorspective, where I’ll be looking at a particular director’s work. Clearly Haneke is first up.

War of the Remake: A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984, 2010)

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As the horror franchises go, A Nightmare On Elm Street has always seemed a bit lacklustre, due to its eventual focus on comedy over horror. Freddy Krueger is a great character (in the “oh he’s such a character” sense of the word), but as an iconic villain he’s always come up short. And it’s possibly because of the focus on him as a character, which changes the focus for the audience; it’s not about being scared by this mythical creature, it’s about coming to see the shenanigans of the character. Bloody, knife-glovey shenanigans set in dreams, no less.

The irony of this is that it means the Nightmare… sequels are all, more or less, relatively watchable due to the focus on Freddy; it means the series steers away from being a fully fledged horror franchise, but it means that as the sequels go on (and inevitably start to decline in quality), they retain some form of watchability because the focus isn’t on trying to scare the audience as much as the series’ contemporaries. Once Halloween and Friday the 13th became gripped in sequelitis, there wasn’t much left except disappointment.

Freddy Krueger on the other hand, though his films also became more and more not-good, always had some form of entertaining value. Which is why, with the focus on the character centred on what he became, and not where he started, it’s always a bit jarring to revisit Wes Craven’s original, to see that he was a much darker character.

The original Nightmare On Elm Street is a relatively pallid affair compared to the other franchises popping up around it (Michael and Jason’s aforementioned oeuvre most notably) but there’s still a lot to love.

Firstly, the special effects are amazing, and most still hold up today. The shot below, with Freddy looming over Nancy’s bed, is still awesome, and done so simply and practically (Robert Englund was leaning into a bedsheet). Most all of the effects were done practically, and the film is a good testament to the fact that an effect pulled off practically, and with creativity, will always outdo even the best computer effects.

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Assuming there’s still some people out there unfamiliar with Freddy Krueger or his raison-d’être, the film follows a group of teens who have all started having nightmares about the same strange man who’s incredibly threatening. Things turn nasty when it turns out that this guy actually can hurt you in your dreams, and slowly, the kids start dying in their sleep while protagonist Nancy tries to figure out who this guy is and how they can defeat him.

The original conceit at the time is that this is a villain who teenagers can go and see at the movies, get scared by, and have nightmares about – and start the process all over again. How effective this strategy was is up for question, though it as at the very least a creative one – what better way to become scared of something than by making it scary and memorable. And despite the relative shortcomings of the series as a whole, Señor Krueger is definitely memorable.

In the original, Krueger was a much more sombre character. Here he is Fred Krueger, not softened by a nickname, and while he’s capable of the odd quip, his constant wise-cracks and puns are nowhere to be found. And nor is he centre-stage on the action. He’s kept mainly out of focus, as the mysterious villain of the piece, not the main character.

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His voice is lower, he keeps out of sight until he closes in for the kill, and he’s established as a solid reality-warping dream-invader. This isn’t to say the movie is without its fun, though. The film has some great setpieces that show off the previously gushed-over special effects, and it’s told in such a way that there’s no sense of a pieced-together film. Craven clearly had the ideas of the film fleshed out before he started putting them together as the screenplay.

One of the things that goes by the wayside in the sequels is the sense of cohesion – the sequels became more of an opportunity to showcase Freddy than they did to frighten the pants off unsuspecting teens.

It’s also not without its moments of deeper insight as well, providing (light) social commentary on the hypocrisy of the American-Dream-Suburban-Family style of motive in parenting (the kids might be troubled by our past misdeeds, better lie to them and suppress their memories!) and the film clearly uses an opportunity to peter out the last of Craven’s thesis statements against the idyllic America pre-Vietnam:

Craven’s first feature Last House on the Left was mainly an allegory for what was happening in America and to America by the Vietnam War being broadcast into American homes – the destruction of America the Brave and the easy sentiment of the peace movement. This was continued in The Hills Have Eyes by a deconstruction (both literal and literary) of the family unit as it used to exist, and continues in Nightmare by literally taking kids away from their dream existence.

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Of the film itself, it’s safe to say the quality is in the special effects and not the acting. Although it features Johnny Depp’s feature film debut for the curious, not much of the acting is of any worthy note (Heather Langenkamp as Nancy makes for one of the dullest heroines out there, though she was excellent in Craven’s only contribution to the sequels New Nightmare) with the exception of the man behind the villain. Robert Englund as Fred Krueger is a substantially ominous presence, and even after many repeat viewings, still holds up as a very threatening character. He of course crafted Freddy of the sequels into something of his own, but his best work is in the first.

It may not be the best film to come out of the late-70s-early-80s horror boom, but it’s memorable and most certainly iconic – it’s easy to see how it managed to spawn such a franchise from its strong presence, and it’s a fun time to be had, with some suitably spooky moments and some fantastic special effects.

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The Platinum Dunes produced remake on the other hand hasn’t crafted itself such a response, or an opportunity for any nostalgia. It was met with negative reception (to the tune of a dismal 15% on Rotten Tomatoes) and fan backlash of an incredible degree.

The obvious shortcoming of the remake is that it lacks the sense of fun from the original. It returns Krueger to dour form, albeit with more in the way of quips, but the film is unrelentingly insistent on being morose and miserable.

The film also replaces the inventive practical effects of the original with CGI, and although this allows some scenes to be pulled off without any potential hokiness, the end result is just a weak comparison. It doesn’t look as effective because it’s obviously grafted in after the fact – no one would ever mistake the original’s special effects for reality, but the fact that so many of them were able to be captured at the time of shooting adds at least a sense of genuineness to it. This isn’t present in the remake.

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The remake also introduces the concept of micro-naps, whereby a character that’s been awake for too long inadvertently falls into a subconscious state mimicking sleep. This is a concept that could have been very effective in blurring the lines between reality and the dream world, but is only employed to haphazardly shoo in some jump-scares that are neither effective or contextual.

Jackie Earl Haley gives a growling performance as Krueger, which, suitable baritone aside, serves only to remind you how effective Robert Englund had been in originating the role. 2010’s Krueger also has the needlessly expanded backstory to make Krueger a paedophile as well as a child-murderer.

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This is something that was always implied in the original, but rings as particularly distasteful in the remake; the film goes out of its way to portray Krueger in a sympathetic light during flashbacks, even leading the possibility that the parents of Elm Street murdered an innocent man, which may have been an interesting angle from which to play the impetus of the story. The motive behind his killings is that he’s taking his revenge on the parents by killing their kids.

Instead, the reveal at the end that Krueger was as bad as the parents had been saying removes the “take-revenge-on-the-parents” motive for Krueger and replaces it with “finish-what-I-started” given that he’s targeting the kids he molested when they were in kindergarten, now grown up into teenagers. It loses the opportunity to add in some interesting moral greyness about a misunderstood man presumed to be a predator who’s killed by a pack of protective parents, and instead just makes the monster more monstrous.

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The film offers no insight into the long-lasting effects of sexual abuse, and quite cruelly manipulates its presence in the film to be a cheap twist, which could be passable in a horror movie that played it for the horror it is, not in a slick over-polished film remaking a film that was scarier without that element. The end result is an offensive misappropriation of a matter like child sexual abuse in a film that doesn’t have the narrative heft to tackle such a subject, or at the very least acknowledge the subject with some real world consideration.

Rooney Mara replaces Heather Langenkamp as Nancy in the remake, and while it’s not a performance that would give any clues as to her later acting abilities, Mara’s Nancy is considerably more interesting to watch than the original. She’s still completely doused in misery and angst, but she’s not the awkward goofball that is Langenkamp’s.

Kyle Gallner is present as a nervous, skittish update of Johnny Depp’s character, and his performance is nothing new to anyone who has seen Kyle Gallner act in anything else, and Thomas Dekker is on form as an uninteresting jerk of a character, which is nothing new to anyone who has seen a Platinum Dunes movie.

The film, poorly executed though it is, probably doesn’t deserve the sheer level of scorn it’s received however. Although it’s tone is dissonantly morose when compared with the original, it is a consistent film, and a lot of effort has been put into its visual presentation. The film is perhaps too nicely polished, which makes the already-tepid atmosphere a little too safe, but all the same it’s easy to look at.

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The 2010 A Nightmare On Elm Street is not the most egregious sham of a remake out there, but it definitely doesn’t live up to the original. It’s greatest sin is not that it’s actively terrible, but that it’s thoroughly unremarkable, except for its inclusion of paedophilia. One offensive element in an otherwise unremarkable film sadly doesn’t translate into anything that’s really worth the time in either praise or scorn.

The original is still not the best of the horror films out there, but it’s at least easy to see why it’s created the legacy it did. It’s not remotely scary these days, but it is an impressive film, even if only for its special effects. Goofy protagonists aside, that is the film that deserves your attention, and, if it can wring them from you, your nightmares.

War of the Remake: The Wicker M(e)n

“He’s dead. Can’t complain.
Had his chance and in modern parlance — blew it!”

By now, nearly everyone has seen the (numerous) clips from Neil LaBute’s 2006 version of The Wicker Man that float around the internet, featuring all of its batshit-crazy moments courtesy of Nicolas Cage. It’s not uncommon to see the particularly egregious scene of good ol’ Nic crying out “Not the bees!” and you’d be right to assume that all the pigs in the world couldn’t match the levels of ham in his performance.

It seems worthwhile then to place these highlight-clips in context, especially if a) you’ve not seen the remake in its entirety, or b) never seen the original and don’t know how far from any sense of reason Cage’s performance has strayed. So, assuming you’ve seen neither, allow me to elaborate:

THE ORIGINAL

Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man from 1973 is a mystifying gem of a movie: a strange, surreal mystery film that manages to invoke the defiant conflict between man and God, all set in a small village teeming with sexed-up pagans who interrupt the action with a song or two from time to time.

It’s most definitely a product of its time, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s a certain lurid frenzy to the action that is unique to the films of the 70s, and you can throw in an enigmatic history to the film, having been quite the troubled production. Rumours abound about the film, with varying degrees of response from those involved, and then even more speculation in response to the responses.

For instance, read up on the film and you learn that Christopher Lee worked for no salary, that Britt Ekland’s voice was overdubbed, that animals were actually killed in the monumental closing scene, that the studio barely wanted to make the film, and that much of it ended up in a landfill underneath England’s M3 motorway. Read further still, and you discover contradictions to those rumours and many fresh rumours on top of those to continue. It’s that kind of wonderful, mysterious film.

The plot deals with a very (very) devoutly Christian police officer, Neil Howie (played by the fantastically named Edward Woodward), as he sets off to the island community of Summerisle in pursuit of a missing child, one Rowan Morrison. When he arrives, he’s immediately confronted by the loose morals of the villagers and how flagrantly they disregard the Christian morals that nominally run the country.

In addition to this, the villagers aren’t exactly forthcoming with help in the search for Rowan. At first, they deny such a girl has lived there, and then change their story to say that she has already died, before finally suggesting that perhaps she’s still alive. But given that they’re a community of pagans who have suffered some depleted harvests recently, and that the time to offer a human sacrifice is looming on the horizon, this last suggestion is particularly troubling. Howie sets out to find/save Rowan before the villagers can sacrifice her.

His investigation eventually brings him to Lord Summerisle, the patriarch and ruler of the island, played with ultimate badassery by Christopher Lee. Summerisle and Howie have several conversations about the place of religion in their lives, with Howie blatantly regarding the island and all its inhabitants as heathens, and Summerisle calmly adhering to the view that their pagan lifestyle is much better suited to their needs. Howie’s Christian morality is tested when Willow, the local slut (a title that is proudly borne in Summerisle) tries to entice him into sleeping with her, and the conflicts of his faith and temptations come to the fore, adding in more tension in his search for Rowan.

The film culminates with the May Day parade, and Howie, aware of how quickly time is running out, frantically losing his mind in his effort to find Rowan. He disguises himself as Punch (the fool) and infiltrates the parade, and eventually sees Rowan being held in a cave on a cliff by the sea. He races to rescue her, and the two head through the caves to escape…only to be met on the other side by Summerisle and his three aides.

In the awesome conclusion of the film – which still packs a punch on repeat viewings – Summerisle reveals that Howie has been lured to the island by the pagans as the ideal sacrifice – a man who came willingly (searching for Rowan), a virgin (he was waiting until marriage as per his beliefs), and a King (Punch is named “king for a day” as part of the parade). They then lead him to the titular Wicker Man, a giant structure made of wicker in which he’s sealed, and then lit alight. As he burns to death, pleading for his life and salvation, the pagans gather around and sing a rendition of “Sumer is Icumen In” and celebrate the return of their harvests.

The film is incredibly nuanced, not only in the creation of its characters, but also in its themes of religion and how it can control a person’s life for better or worse. And it’s also a musical! Not a Busby Berkley extravaganza, but all the events of the film are punctuated with folk-numbers, which not only add to the eeriness of the film but further some of the thematic material too. It also happens to be a damn intriguing film and a good little daylight-horror, but the complications in the script, the enigma of Summerisle and its inhabitants, the very nature of Man vs. God vs. Man and the way these conflicts play out make this a truly astounding, bizarre but fascinating, movie that absolutely deserves its cult status.

THE REMAKE

Nicolas Cage puts on a bear suit and punches women in the face.

Ok, there’s little to defend in the remake, especially the decision to use Papyrus as the font for its opening credits, but it’s at least worth seeing why that’s the case.  And make no mistake, although it’s a terrible, terrible movie, it’s also wildly entertaining! There’s rarely been a film that’s so perfectly unintentionally hilarious, but this is it. I hate it in terms of a remake of an amazing movie (and I’m sure you can guess that the original is one of my favourite movies) but as a standalone piece, it‘s almost pure entertainment because absolutely nothing works in this film – those clips on the Internet wouldn’t exist if it did.

The bare bones of the plot are still present in the remake – police officer looks for a missing girl in a small community who end up sacrificing him to their gods – but with some noticeable (and needless) changes:

THE SETTING:

Summerisle in the Scottish Highlands has become Summersisle in the Pacific Northwest of the USA. There’s no real need to change the setting to the US, but  smarter movie might have made something of it. Also, Summersile’s main export is now honey – not apples.

THE PROTAGONIST:

Neil Howie has become Edward Malus, a policeman suffering PTSD. He failed to save a woman and her child from a fiery death in a car accident, and this haunts him – we know he’s haunted because we see flashbacks to the incident a thousand times throughout the movie – even when he’s on a boat! It was probably meant to be a jump scare, but seeing a semitrailer drive past on the deck of a ship is hilarious.

Instead of receiving an anonymous letter, he instead receives it from Willow Woodward (EDWARD Malus + Willow WOODWARD – because having Meta-puns is the same as having respect for the original! Although “Malus” is a genus of apples, which is a nice and subtle nod to the original) with whom he used to have a relationship, and in fact fathered Rowan.

THE CONFLICT:

The biggest change, and incidentally the stupidest, is that instead of the film centring on Christianity vs. Paganism, the conflict has been changed to Men vs. Women. Summersile is now a commune run by women (the men are menial labourers whose tongues have been cut out) and there’s only a vague tenuous connection that they worship “the mother goddess”. Lord Summerisle has been changed into Sister Summersile, and it’s one of those casting decisions where you wonder just how many bills Ellen Burstyn had looming over her name before she signed on.

Now, it’s not like the battle of the sexes isn’t a ripe field to pluck a good story or two from, but it doesn’t translate to the plot of The Wicker Man at all. In the original, Howie’s conflict stems from his own beliefs, and the fact that as an officer of the law, he’s technically facilitating the Christian morals by which the country is run – his time on Summerisle flies in the face of everything he knows in his life and in his career. In the remake, the religious side of the conflict is barely present until it becomes an excuse to put him in the titular structure, and so Malus’ characterisation is…well, he’s just a bit of a douche.

He’s a strict adherent to the law, much like Howie, but without the combination of his religious principles and his career, Malus is just an arrogant guy barging in to a secluded community. Oh, and those religious principles? The complex driving force of the character that defines his confrontation with a pagan society and fuels the inner turmoil between his temptation for the sensuous Willow and his strict upstanding morals? Well, Malus is allergic to bees. No seriously, the burden he bears that weakens him in the eyes of Summersile is that they make honey and he’s allergic to bees.

In reducing the conflict to Men vs. Women you lose all the nuance of the original screenplay, which might have been fine if LaBute had done anything with the new conflict. There’s no real statement being made in turning the women into the villains – it barely even registers as casual misogyny – and instead it just seems like he wanted to change something from the original for the hell of it. It’s also worth mentioning that LaBute (who wrote the screenplay for this version) already covered the battle of the sexes in the significantly superior In The Company of Men.

So alright, thematically, this is a dud. But what about the more technical side of things?

Well, the acting ranges from bad to worse with only two exceptions. The first of these is Nicolas Cage, who – bless him – is just so out of touch with anything resembling realism in this movie. He’s not convincing as a cop, as a father, as a man at the centre of a conspiracy, or even as a man with a bee allergy. But he brings that Cagey goodness to the performance and it’s a sheer delight to watch him throw all of this unbalanced intensity into the role.

The other is Molly Parker, who only has one major scene and a few brief reappearances later in the film, but she not only manages to portray something resembling an actual character, but also manages to make some of the most ridiculous dialogue seem to make sense. Of course, that character is preposterous because of the movie she’s in, but Parker’s an accomplished actress who actually remembered to pack her talent before she flew to the set.

As for everyone else? Ellen Burstyn looks embarrassed to be on the screen, Leelee Sobieski seems at the verge of laughter throughout the entire film (even when Malus kicks her in the gut and sends her flying across the room) and who could blame her? Kate Beahan as Willow is particularly underwhelming though, playing every goddamn scene with this look on her face as though someone only just informed her that Santa Claus isn’t real.

And the mood of the piece is just wrong. The original works so well because, other than being pagans, the residents of Summerisle are just another provincial community. So much of the creepiness in the movie comes in small doses, with things being not quite the same as they would be elsewhere. The remake however, portrays a distinctly oddball commune where things are strange already, and so there’s no real sense that it’s even remotely realistic.

Perhaps the biggest fault of the film is that LaBute has attempted to rewrite the eerie chills of the original into pulse-pounding thrills and then forgot to invest any effort into making it thrilling. It’s a shame the remake didn’t keep the original’s gradual build-up of tension, and wring the hostility from the townspeople in the same way, but if it had to be updated into a “scary” film, it would have been nice if anything had been…y’know…scary! LaBute apparently doesn’t know how to film even the lowest form of horror: jump scares! There’re clearly a few points where you’re meant to jump, but there’s no effort put into creating any tension or even providing a shock, so they all fall flat.

The film’s music is also oddly underwhelming, given that its composer is Angelo Badalamenti. If you were hoping for any of his trademark haunting style, sorry to disappoint you with the news that the score is pretty generic with only the occasional standout moment.

I suppose the movie is shot nicely though, but again, this is almost to its detriment. The original is hard and grainy (and not just in the poorly-restored pieces of footage) which helps convey a sense of coldness, isolation and barrenness to Summerisle. In the remake, the film abounds with soft hues and a sort of earthen sensibility, which matches the physical setting of Summersile but makes it look like a tourism spot for the island, which robs the feeling of intimidation that the original so effortlessly had.

OVERALL

Whereas the original is an enigmatic accomplishment of filmmaking, thoroughly nuanced and completely captivating, the remake is an exercise in lazy filmmaking. The plot and its themes are dumbed down for a modern audience and the result is a confused mess of a film, that doesn’t even remotely live up to its predecessor’s name, either in intelligence or technical competence.

That said, if you can overlook the crappiness in comparison to the original, the remake is an absolute barrel of laughs, and a fantastic example of the intense insanity that is Nicolas Cage. If you’re a fan of the original, avoid the remake, but if you want a “So-Bad-It’s-Good” fun time on a movie night, give it a whirl it’s worth seeing for the Cageness of its leading man’s performance.

There’s an official sequel to the original by Robin Hardy, called The Wicker Tree, but to call it underwhelming would be an understatement. There is however another movie that got a lot of praise for following in the vein of the original called Wake Wood, which is worthy of a rental at the very least. And if you’ve never seen the original Wicker Man, GET A COPY AND WATCH IT!! It’s amazing, and nothing like the awkward confusion of its remake.

War of the Remake: Halloween(s)

I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… *evil*

— Dr. Sam Loomis

THE ORIGINAL

I’ve rather deliberately never written about Halloween because, as a horror fan, it’s the film. It didn’t actually create the slasher film, but it definitely codified the genre into what we now understand a slasher film to be. It’s the single most recognisable “horror film” of the entire genre (well, maybe The Exorcist) and it’s well-and-truly earned the right to be considered the classic it is.

It’s another case of a film that has since been robbed of a lot of value by countless sequels, imitations, derivatives, and all-out ripoffs, but it still holds a special place in my heart.

So, assuming you’ve lived under a rock for the past 40 years, here is the basic plot:

On Halloween night in the sleepy town of Haddonfield, young Judith Myers is murdered in her bedroom, which we see from the killer’s perspective. When he ventures outside, we see that it’s a 6-year-old boy, her brother Michael. Exactly 15 years later, Michael returns to Haddonfield after breaking out of a mental institution, and begins stalking teenager Laurie Strode as she babysits on Halloween, as well as her two friends Lynda and Annie, all the time pursued by his former psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis.

It was an enormous success when it first came out and solidified the popularity of slasher films (it was not, as some claim, the first slasher film, however it did solidify the genre and what it was capable of. Interestingly, John Carpenter has since stated he regrets letting the film appear to be “punishing teens who have sex” – now a staple of the genre, but unintentional in his film). It was soon followed up by a string of sequels that deteriorated in quality as they went on, and bastardised the good and golden scares of the original.

Despite being the progenitor of modern horror, the surprising thing about the first Halloween film, (which I’ll point out is still rated R18+ in Australia) is that it’s actually very light on the gore or jump scares. This is highlighted in Scream when one of the teens says, “the blood’s too pink!” – an inside-joke, given that there’s next to no blood in the film. The film is not a gorefest, nor is it an endless slew of jump-scares masquerading as tension and terror. Instead, the original plays on a perfectly calculated build-up of dread and tension, which culminates in payoffs that tap into everyone’s innate fear of the dark and/or the bogeyman.

The key to this comes to two things – firstly, and most significantly, we know nothing of Michael Myers beyond the prologue murder, and Dr. Loomis’ continuing assertions that he is pure evil incarnate. His iconic white mask serves to be creepy not only in the inherent creepiness of a blank white mask, but also because it robs him of any defining features – all we know of him is that he’s a murderer, and that Loomis is shit-scared of him – we have no face to consider, and no features that might betray any emotions to shatter the illusion of him being made of nothing but evil.

The second is the constant presence of Michael throughout the opening acts of the film – once we’re seeing things from Laurie’s point of view we notice him following her – always in the distance to the point where we-the-audience know he’s there, but also understand that Laurie’s not sure if she’s just seeing things. Significantly, in the script, he’s referred to as “The Shape” and not “Michael Myers” because he very rarely makes his presence entirely known, until it’s too late. This works well, because it means we understand Laurie’s unease throughout Halloween Night, because she’s unsettled – she’s not all-out terrified or anxious, but just a bit thrown the same way anyone is if they feel like they might be being watched.

The other success of the original is in creating believable-ish characters to kill off, in such a way that we don’t want them to be killed. Now, I say believable-ish only because this is yet another film hampered by the 70s-low-budget-acting style, although it’s less distracting here than it has been in other films. Jamie Lee Curtis is a standout as Laurie, and it’s easy to see why this movie made her career – she crafts an immensely likeable character out of Laurie, and imbues her with a genuine sense of shyness, without overdoing it – it’s perfectly believable that she would be friends with the outgoing Annie and Lynda, but also be too shy to approach the off-screen dreamboat Ben Tramer, apple of her eye.

As for Annie and Lynda – they come off as slightly annoying, but they’re also meant to be 17-year-old girls at their 17-year-old-girliest, so it works.  They aren’t horrible bitches, although they aren’t as caring as they could be and tend to slide into vapidity more often-than-not – so just like a fair majority of teenage girls. Point is – though they aren’t as sympathetic as Laurie – they’re characters we don’t want to see get killed. I can’t stress how much a difference this makes (to me, anyway) in watching a horror movie – I find it scarier to have a stake in the characters’ survival and see it get threatened, rather than seeing asshole victims being led to the slaughter – it frustrates me to no end that a vast slew of modern horror films go down the road of making everyone unlikeable.

Halloween succeeds where other horror films did not and have not since in creating a menacing threat that can’t be understood – keep in mind I’m talking of the original, and not its sequels – and Michael Myers is scary because he embodies the fear of “the thing that just might be out there in the dark, wanting to hurt me”. Other than his murderous intent, we know nothing about what motivates him, what pleasure or displeasure he takes in his murders. When he does finally kill people, it’s the moments of payoff to the long build-up of uncertainty as to what Michael might do next – his presence is the question to which the murders are the answer. Laurie is the rebuttal, and it’s in the final act of the film, where Michael makes the hardest effort to destroy her, that it comes closest to losing the plot – but after the masterfully worked sense of dread, as well as the warm-up murders of Annie and Lynda, the pursuit of Laurie is the final race, and it’s a surprising frenzy of terror, because Michael just will not quit.

And the now infamous and oft-repeated finale is the perfect culmination of the film’s factors – Michael disappears after being shot six times and falling off a balcony. What’s more, Loomis knew he would be gone, because Michael is nothing but evil, and cannot be killed.  He’s still out there, and though Laurie survives, she’s gone through hell to get there. It’s a perfect horror film, because it’s scary but smart and designed only with the terror in mind – and how best to create that for the audience. When Laurie fearfully asks, “was that the bogeyman?” Loomis is right to explain that, yes it was – he shows no humanity or reason, only the single-minded drive to kill and terrify. Michael Myers is everything we fear in the dark made real.

THE SEQUELS

The glut of sequels robbed Michael of a lot of this. Starting with the first sequels’ introduction of the sibling relationship between Laurie and Michael (thus removing his mystery and giving him a motive), the sequels (Number 3 not included) proceeded to imitate the imitators – jump-scares substituted for tension, the gore level was raised through the roof, the quality of acting plummeted and they made Dr Loomis into a bumbling, melodramatic fool.

On top of this, they also humanised Michael, albeit unintentionally. They made him do more, which robbed him of the otherworldly quality. For example, Halloween 4 ends with Michael being blown up and sunk into an old mineshaft. Halloween 5 begins with a retcon that he made it out of the mine and into a river, then floated down to a hermit’s cabin whereupon he recovered. In addition to a notion like “needing to escape” making him seem more human, we see Michael get hurt and have to heal – it robs him of the unstoppable-force aura that surrounds him in the original. The only good thing to come out of the sequels was Danielle Harris playing Jamie Lloyd. Even though it’s very distasteful to have a movie centre around the terrorising and threat-of-annihilation of an eight-year-old girl, she comes out of Halloweens 4 and 5 as a memorable character, even if she is starring in shitty, shitty movies.

In addition to the shuddering inferiority of parts 4 and 5, as well as the non-plot-following Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (John Carpenter envisaged the series becoming a sort of anthology saga, with new chapters covering new Halloween-centric stories – only for the first effort to be pretty underwhelming) we were treated to Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers which tried to explain Michael’s motives and superhuman abilities as a supernatural force that required him to murder his entire bloodline to save the world. Halloween: H20 ignored everything after the first sequel, and picked up with Laurie living a new life under an alias, only to be suddenly set-upon by Michael again, with the added complication of Michael coming after her son. H20 is probably the best of the sequels, but it’s still terrible – though not as bad as Halloween: Resurrection which is not only yet another shoddy sequel, but unceremoniously kills off Laurie – an absolute affront to the legacy of her character created in the original.

Halloween 9 was inevitably greenlit, and I remember Empire Australia’s scathing little diatribe in their horror issue:

“This has a cast of Oscar winners: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Sir Ian McKellan. The script is by David Mamet, while Aussie John Seale will contribute his widescreen compositions. Hans Zimmer is set to rework John Carpenter’s scary theme. Nah, just kidding. The only thing we know about this is that a website competition winner got to be an extra.”

— Empire, April 2004. Issue 38 pg 67.

That attitude encapsulates the lack of anticipation anybody really had for the project, but given that Halloween was still a money-maker, the 9th film was instead reworked to be a remake. Or rather, a “reimagining” – helmed by Rob Zombie.

THE REMAKE

Now, I’m aware that Rob Zombie has a certain audience as a filmmaker, and that I’m not a part of it. House of 1000 Corpses was a bizarre and hallucinogenic film, and I can see why it has a certain fan base, but I just didn’t enjoy it. The Devil’s Rejects was marginally better – and dare I say it, served well by being a bit more traditional, but again – just not the film for me.

So, some people may have thought it was a good decision to give him the job of updating Halloween but I was not one of them. And there is one huge, unavoidable and undeniably weak decision the film makes – well, there are many, but this stands out as the biggest.

Credit where credit is due, Zombie used the “reimagining” moniker to genuinely reimagine the movie – by not actually picking the plot of Carpenter’s original until 52 minutes into the film.

Instead, the first half of the movie is spent with Michael as a child, in an abusive household – everyone is horrible to him, save for his mother and baby sister. At school he is picked on, and when some bullies make lewd comments about his mother – who is a stripper – he starts a fight. When a teacher breaks it up, and young Michael mistakes his sympathy as patronising, he insults said teacher and gets hauled into the principal’s office. Mother Myers comes down to the school, and we learn that she’s supportive of Michael (although as one of those parents who would blame a teacher for their child’s bad grades, rather than the child’s lack of effort) but that she also doesn’t understand him. She is, however, outraged when the school suggests Michael sees a child psychologist – enter a miscast Malcolm McDowell as Sam Loomis.

After Young Michael kills the bullies who he fought earlier, and then kills his abusive step-father and horrible-bitch of a sister, he is institutionalised. Here, he becomes more and more withdrawn, eventually becoming a mute and hiding behind his self-made masks. His mother kills herself eventually, and Sam Loomis – getting nowhere with his patient – ends his treatments, leaving Michael abandoned and alone, though not before he kills a nurse at the institution.

This seems a logical point to time-skip towards the original plotline, but of course, in the modern climate of hateable characters filling horror movies, we’re treated to scenes of Michael’s mistreatment at the hands of two hillbilly orderlies who are ushered into the film to provide some arseholes to kill. In reality, their behaviour would be discovered and reported, but we apparently need something to look forward to, and in this case that’s apparently their deaths.

There is one nice guy, an elderly orderly (a phrase that’s fun to say 5 times fast) played by Danny Trejo who is kind and respectful to Michael, trying to get him to retain his humanity.

Michael escapes one night, after the hillbilly orderlies bring another patient into his room, so that they can rape her. This is a truly horrible scene, but not in the sense of horror movie horrible – it’s completely unnecessary to the story to have the girl raped, and it’s the pinnacle of exploiting the tropes of a horror movie. The orderlies are already established as truly reprehensible characters – they could just have easily been in his room to taunt and abuse him – but Zombie could fit a rape scene in, so why not?

Michael escapes the institution, but not before killing Danny Trejo’s orderly, which is a genuinely effective scene in establishing the indiscriminate nature in which Michael kills.

Finally – an hour in – we arrive in Haddonfield with Laurie, this time played by Scout Taylor-Compton. The film then very quickly hashes over the plot of the first, only with no intelligence, no tension, and no blood. Laurie has been “reimagined” as an utter brat – although depressingly believable as a 17-year-old girl in the noughties, but, frustratingly, there are points where I like her as a character. They only last a mere manner of seconds, but they do diffuse just how unlikeable she is. Danielle Harris returns to the franchise, this time playing Annie Brackett, as the inverse of the likeability scale, by which I mean she’s a largely likeable character with moments that I didn’t at all. She’s also a more likeable Annie than in the original. On the other hand, when Kristin Klebe’s Lynda arrived on screen, I couldn’t wait for her to die.

Now, whereas the girls in the original were likeable-if-a-little-airheaded, these girls are just awful. They’re entirely and completely vapid, although Annie somehow comes through looking decent enough. This not only due to the horrible writing of the new incarnations, but the complete lack of time the film allows to develop them as characters – wasting an hour on back-story robs any chance to let the characters serve as anything other than functions and landmarks, carried over from the original.

Suffice it to say, the remake, once it’s covering the original plot, offers little that’s new. Laurie’s parents get a bit more insight, and they’re the most likeable characters in the film, so their deaths are quite effective. Annie also survives to appear in the sequel, and this film incorporates the misguided notion of Michael being Laurie’s brother from the get-go. The film has an odd quiet moment where Michael, still mute, removes his mask and shows Laurie a photo of the two of them as children – Laurie, terrified as he’s killed her friends uses this time to try and get the upper hand, which reignites the killer within him. Laurie eventually shoots him in the face at the end, leaving her blood-soaked and screaming as the credits roll.

WHY DOESN’T IT WORK?

The film’s biggest problem is trying to give Michael Myers a back-story, which absolutely destroys the danger that came from having such an enigmatic, unknowable villain. In the original, we know nothing about who Michael is or why he’s killing. All we have to go on is Loomis’ quote at the top of this review – that Michael Myers is nothing but pure, 100% evil. In the remake, Michael had a crappy childhood. It’s an admittedly crappy one, but the film also makes another flaw here – Michael is already showing psychotic tendencies at the start of the film – he’s already killing animals and retreating behind masks. True, a cheap psychological reading of this would suggest that he’s responding to the harsh home life, but all in all it’s a pretty crappy motivator for one of the most evil and iconic horror villains of all time. It just doesn’t suffice that ultimately, Michael’s actions come down to a Freudian excuse. It also doesn’t help that Daeg Faerch’s performance as the younger Michael Myers is less than amazing and slips into one-note very quickly.

I don’t like the back story element of Michael Myers at all, but if it had to be done, I think it would have been best to start it with the grown Michael in the institution, already mute and showing his penchant for masks. It still keeps a sense of mystery about him, without completely oversimplifying his origin story. Showing him as a child at all instantly robs him of some of the inherent terror, because we shouldn’t be picturing Michael Myers as anything other than the fully-formed evil adult he is. Now, I know that sounds like I’m forgetting the opening of the original, but there the movie time-skipped to his adult years – the Zombie version of Halloween spends literally half of its running time with young Michael, and it’s all the more underwhelming because of it.

The thing that the original did best, other than creating such a force out of Michael Myers, was to capture a sleepy little town that would be rocked to its core by the proceedings. There’s a certain innocent quality to the original, without it being parochial, that makes you feel as though it’s a very real place. The characters of the original are, by and large, nice people, and you don’t want to see them get hurt. This is completely lost in the remake, where we spend an hour on a story we didn’t need and don’t care about, and then an hour on another story that we just can’t get involved in – or care about. Zombie’s film is a mish-mash of ideas that doesn’t work as a cohesive whole, and there’s no sense of immersion in the story. It also doesn’t help that the first section of the film seems like one big excuse to give his wife an acting role.

Also, the characters are all terrible. Malcolm McDowell’s Sam Loomis is just bizarre and completely dissonant with the tone of the film – imagine a man shouting every line with his eyes held wide open as though he was in a pantomime, and you’re somewhere close to the mark. Danielle Harris as Annie comes off best, although like her performances as Jamie Lloyd, she’s the best thing about a shitty film. And even though I did like Annie, one can’t help but feel this is largely serving as a project for Harris to be able to say, “Hey everyone! I’m not a child actor anymore!” She’s also much better served in Zombie’s sequel, where she’s literally the only thing to like about it. But fuck that movie. Also, the three girls are such idiots – they literally do not talk about anything other than sex, or the boys they’re going to have sex with. Zombie seems to think that the only thing teenage girls have to count as personality is the frankness with which they talk about sex. It gets very old very quickly. And that becomes even worse in the sequel, where their dialogue is the reason I wanted them all to die. But FUCK that movie, seriously.

Other than Annie Brackett, there is one thing that this movie does incredibly well. After Nick Castle in the original, Tyler Mane probably portrays the best Michael Myers of any of the films. It’s harmed a lot by the introductory origin-story, and he’s still no scratch on the original, but Mane’s Myers is a huge, hulking physical presence on the screen, and this alone is the sole source of threat in the movie. It also provides us with the occasional awesome shot like the one below:

Beyond that, I don’t think there’s too much more to say…Zombie’s film is an utter mess, but I can appreciate that some small amount of thought and effort went into it. Any remake of Halloween would struggle to even approach topping the original, so it’s no surprise that it’s not a great movie, but it still falls well short of the mark. Also, that rape scene is unforgivable.

The original was, and still is, one of my absolute favourite and cherished horror films. There’s so much to love in it, and it’s definitely the best of any of the Halloween films. It’s a shame it wasn’t remade with the same kind of intelligence as it was created in the first place, but if you’re a fan of the original, avoid the remake like the plague.

War of the Remake: Friday(s) the 13th

There’s a telling moment in the first Scream film, where Casey Becker’s character seals her fate by incorrectly guessing the villain of Friday the 13th as Jason. As the voice on the phone points out to her, in the original it’s Jason’s mother, Mrs. Voorhees.

This sometimes comes as a retroactive oddity, given that mentioning the Friday the 13th franchise instantly brings to mind Jason and his machete-wielding, hockey-mask-adorning visage. And this is a deliberate thing on the part of the studio execs. Jason as a villain was incredibly marketable, and after 93, 456 sequels (well, 10 – but who’s counting?), it’s only understandable that the merchandise surrounding such a cash-cow would be just as prominent like its sequels were inevitable.

The biggest problem I have with Friday the 13th, unlike the Halloween series, is that it’s a weak point to argue that the sequels suck in comparison to the masterful original; the original’s pretty terrible too. What it has in its favour is being the original point of one of the most iconic horror franchises out there, but the film itself is little more than a quick cash-in on the success of Halloween.

There are two things worthwhile about the original film, other than spades of unintended hilarity – and that is an early performance from Kevin Bacon, and a nifty twist in revealing that it was Jason’s mother who was running around killing everybody. Now, if you’re not much of a Kevin Bacon fan or already know the twist, this leaves little to enjoy in the film.

Though if you’re a Kevin Bacon hater, I suppose you’ve got this to look forward to…

So, one less-than-stellar originator film that managed to be a runaway success, and a glut of increasingly-crappy sequels later, we enter the recesses of 2009, where some filmmakers are so uninspired that they’ll rehash already-bad material, and we get the remake.

I should mention that while I think the original Friday the 13th is a bad film, I do enjoy it. It’s not good, but it is entertaining. It’s hard for me to imagine that it was ever scary for an audience, and not just because I grew up with all of its imitators and it was nothing new, but if you compare it with some of the other films that were around at the same time (not least of all it’s source of inspiration in Halloween), it’s a pretty clumsily executed and leaden-paced film. It has a pretty high camp factor these days (if you’ll pardon the pun), and it’s not an actively terrible viewing experience, but I’m still a little surprised that it entered the public consciousness so firmly.

The original tells the story that we’ve seen done a million times before – a group of young, nubile, and hormonal teens head out to a cabin in the woods (or in this instance, a summer camp) and proceed to be picked off one-by-one, with the usual caveats that sex, drugs, arrogance or any unwholesome behaviour pushes you further up the To Kill list. Of course, the summer camp has a history, in the tragic drowning death of a camper some years ago, one Jason Voorhees. As the teens start dying, we’re asked to wonder – is Jason back from the grave? Well, no, because Jason was a sled named Rosebud, and we all know that it was his mother.

Jason would only come to prominence in the sequels (and in fact didn’t get his iconic hockey mask until Part 3) and so all we’re given in the original film is a last-minute jump-scare where the drowned-boy version of Jason jumps out at the Final Girl as she floats on a lake, prompting her to ominously intone “he’s still out there…”

I have to admit, when I heard they were remaking Friday the 13th, I was curious as to whether they would keep Pamela Voorhees as the killer or jump straight to Jason. Then I read it was being made by the Michael-Bay-money-earner Platinum Dunes, and that question was answered for me. Jason is marketable. Pamela is not.

It turns out the remake is actually more of a “reimagining” of the first three films (a go-to term that’s quickly becoming an umbrella term for producers cherry-picking ideas and slapping a recognisable brand name on it). Noticeably, Mrs. Voorhees is identified as the killer and chased down and beheaded as-per the original during the opening credits.

We’re then introduced to a group of expendable teens, Whitney – who will become important later on, and her four friends Victim, Douchebag, Expendable-Asset and Slutty McShagsalot. They decide to go camping in the woods, although Douchebag and Expendable-Asset have actually orchestrated the trip to find a large crop of marijuana they believe is in the area. They set up camp, and Expendable-Asset tells them the local story of Camp Crystal Lake and Jason and Pamela, and is of course met with widespread derision.

L-R: Expendable-Asset, Victim, Slutty McShagsalot, Douchebag. Whitney is the arm on the left.

Whitney and Victim go for a walk, while Expendable-Asset briefly gets in the way of Douchebag and Slutty McShagsalot living up to the latter’s name. Slutty McShagsalot’s subtle way of suggesting to Douchebag that she’s ready and willing is to strip off her bra behind Expendable-Asset’s back and rub oil over her boobs. I’m not sure if this is meant to be a comical moment, that Expendable Asset just can’t understand why Douchebag is so distracted, but I do know that the filmmakers clearly believe it a pivotal and powerful artistic moment in their repertoires to film Slutty rubbing oil into her chest like a badly-acted pornstar.

Anyway, Slutty and Douchebag get busy in the tent, while Whitney and Victim come across Camp Crystal Lake and discover the plausible presence of someone named Jason. Expendable-Asset comes across the fabled marijuana crop, and is so overjoyed that he forgets to remember he’s expendable. Jason turns up and expends him. Slutty thinks she hears something outside the tent and makes Douchebag go investigate (and I just love that the film clearly invites the male audience members to sympathise that Douchebag was only moments away from finishing up and that clearly Slutty’s concerns are not as important as his orgasm – Michael Bay knows how to attach his name to well-written women). Douchebag goes looking for Expendable-Asset and discovers his body amongst the weed crop, then runs back to camp to find Slutty strung up in her sleeping bag over the campfire. As he races to help her, he gets caught in a bear-trap, which mangles his leg.

Meanwhile, Whitney and Victim investigate the cabin, only to discover a locket with a photo of Jason’s mother in it. Victim points out that Whitney and Pamela Voorhees look a little similar, so he suggests she keep it. Then, a machete starts bursting up through the floorboards. Victim is victimised, and Whitney runs off. She finds Slutty and Douchebag back at camp, just in time to see Slutty fall out of her sleeping bag all good-and-crispy. She runs to help Douchebag out of the bear-trap, only he makes the fatal mistake of looking over her shoulder, and of course Jason is there, ready to cleave his head in twain with his machete. Instead of killing Whitney, Jason kidnaps her because of the passing resemblance to his mother.

…and then we get the title card of the film.

That’s right, the first 20 minutes of this film are actually a throwaway plot. The characters, who are given – well, not character per se, but at least a hobby or two – are all killed off, save for Whitney. I suppose this is meant to introduce us to Jason, and to let us know that he’s the villain of this piece, as well as getting some creative special-effects kills in (much as it doesn’t play out very well, I’ll give them points for the sleeping-bag-over-the-fire as it’s a nasty concept), but it really serves to show just how little meat there is to the story of a Friday the 13th film. It’s all about getting Jason into the shot, killing a character or two, and getting some boob-shots in there too.

So on to the rest of the film:

We met a NEW gang of expendable teens – Trent, Jenna, Bree, Nolan, Chelsea, Chewie and Lawrence. Trent is actually a crossover character from Transformers, Trent DeMarco. No, I didn’t remember who the hell Trent DeMarco was in Transformers either, but same character, same actor, that means that Optimus Prime and Jason Voorhees now share the same universe.

Also along for the film is Clay, brother of Whitney who has come out to the woods to find her. Clay is played by Jared Padalecki, and he’s the most talented actor in this entire film. I’m not sure if that’s praising Padalecki or damning the film further.

Rather than give you a plot summary (it essentially mirrors the opening 20 minutes of the film, only in Trent’s summer house as opposed to a forest near Camp Crystal Lake) I’ll tell you how the characters are defined:

  • Trent is a rich-boy arsehole. He’s unlikeable, but to his credit, he’s meant to be unlikeable.
  • Jenna is Trent’s apparent girlfriend – she’s much nicer to Clay then any of the others, so we’re meant to sympathise with her, but she’s really rather bland and insipid.
  • Nolan is Dick Casablancas from Veronica Mars – same actor, pretty much an identical character, and isn’t developed at all to see anything of a difference.
  • Lawrence is black and a stoner. He makes one “joke” that supposes a pretence on his part of being offended by stereotypes, only to buy straight into them. Then he gets stoned later in the film, and that is his character.
  • Chewie is asian and a stoner. Supposedly a “funny” character who wisecracks all the time, but the ways this “comedy” misfires meant that his imminent death was the one thing that kept me interested in the film.
  • Chelsea is Nolan’s girlfriend.
  • Bree has breasts.

And they’re our characters!

Plot rundown – Trent is an arsehole to Clay. Clay and Jenna go looking for Whitney. Chewie and Lawrence get stoned. Chelsea and Nolan go wake-boarding. Trent and Bree hook up (with significant amounts of dialogue going to Trent’s admiration of Bree’s breasts). Clay and Jenna run into a redneck who the film sticks with, just long enough to see a vivid display of the Hustler magazine he’s reading, and then for him to be killed by Jason. Nolan gets an arrow shot through his head from literally nowhere – it just happens, there’s no build-up of suspense, it’s not played as a jump-scare, there’s just suddenly an arrow in his head.

The boat he’s piloting then gets upped to full speed as his body slumps on the accelerator, and he runs over Chelsea who’s bobbing in the water. She then has a long and protracted death scene, which ends with her hiding under a jetty only for Jason to machete her head through the boards. Chewie goes to a shed and gets killed by Jason. Clay and Jenna get menaced by Jason and then run back to the house to warn the others. Lawrence hears that there’s a maniacal killer outside and instantly goes to get killed look for Chewie. He also dies. Then Bree dies. Then Trent dies. Then Jenna and Clay find Whitney. Then Jenna dies. Then Jason dies. Then Whitney dies as the film ends because Jason jumps up to get her.

In comparing the original to the remake (sorry – “reimagining”) the obvious difference is that the original is a fun movie, while the remake is an absolute chore. It’s not a distasteful movie (well, no more so than any Michael Bay-produced film – the blatant sexism/misogyny is still pretty rampant though) it’s just an absolute labour to watch.

I did like that they managed to incorporate some elements of the first three films – but then I realised they chose the most obvious elements – 1) teens dying, 2) a girl briefly pretending to be Jason’s mother to placate him, 3) a hockey mask instead of a cloth wrapped around his head.

The original had a cast of expendable teens too, and to be fair they weren’t given all that much to work with as characters, but they were at least pleasant people to be stuck with for the length of the movie. I don’t know why it’s happened, but there’s a real trend in modern horror movies to have all the characters be whiny douchebags. In the remake, the sole saving grace is Jared Padalecki as Clay – he’s not the brilliant a character, but at least he has some motivation and is a pleasant fucking person. Maybe – just maybe – Jenna too, but even then she’s so robbed of any character beyond being a “nice” girl that she’s just boring.

Beyond those two, every character in this movie was painful to watch. Now, with Trent, he was meant to be an arsehole, and that would be fine if that character trait stuck out at all but he’s just at home with the herd! Nolan and Chelsea probably escape unscathed as they were literally on screen long enough to die, and Lawrence isn’t maliciously awful, just a pain in the arse, but by far the worst has to be Chewie. Aaron Yoo is probably a nice guy, but he has not once played a character I didn’t feel was completely contrived and an absolute irritation to behold. He’s so gratingly, jarringly unfunny that by the time he got killed, I was thanking the movie for it.

This pretty much sums up Chewie.

I also actually feel sorry for the girl who played Bree, as it’s obvious the sole worth of her contributions to the piece were her “amazing breasts” (actual quote) – they give her no other character, other than being maybe the long-lost-sister of Slutty McShagsalot. I know that the horror genre isn’t the best place to look for strong characters, but to write a character who has no place in the film save for her breasts is particularly distasteful in my eyes.

And it’s a shift in characterisation I don’t understand – for me, a horror movie should make you want the characters to live (with maybe an odd Trentish exception here and there) and be scared when they’re in peril. It’s what it should aim for anyway. In the original, while we didn’t get to know the characters in any great depth, we still didn’t want them all to die! Not so here, where the only one I had any remote sympathy for was Clay. It’s a bit sad when you watch the special features on the DVD and see the actors all giving the usual spiels about how they loved working on the movie and that they were “so excited” by it – all the stuff we’ve come to know they’re contractually obliged to say in interviews about the film – but some of them do seem to genuinely be that stoked to be in a Friday the 13th remake, and it’s sad that their energy is so misplaced.

There isn’t really much else to say about these two – the first film is clearly the superior, and even if it’s not remotely scary these days, I can say that it is highly enjoyable (especially if you switch the DVD language to French, a discovery I must credit my housemate Mel with). It’s cool to see the start of such an iconic series, even if it is a little muddled as to why it’s such a success. If you’re a horror fan, steer clear of the remake; it really goes to show how little substance there is behind the hockey mask, and the iconic sense of the series is just tired now. But if you want to see Bree’s Amazing Breasts then that’s the film for you.