Sunday, August 12, 2012


Much to the chagrin of concerned parents' groups and a scaremongering media, slasher films were big business in the early 1980s, especially calendar-related slasher films.  John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN (1978) is usually credited with creating the holiday slasher subgenre, and while it certainly kickstarted its wild popularity and was instrumental in establishing the formula, it was Bob Clark's terrifying BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) that did it first.  HALLOWEEN exploded, becoming (at the time) the highest-grossing indie film ever, and it led to such titles as TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT, CHRISTMAS EVIL, NEW YEAR'S EVIL, and PROM NIGHT from 1980, GRADUATION DAY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, and MY BLOODY VALENTINE from 1981. 1984 brought the controversial SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, and even as late as 1986, there were two movies--one American and one British--called APRIL FOOL'S DAY, though the British film was retitled SLAUGHTER HIGH for the US. 

None of these post-HALLOWEEN holiday/calendar offshoots were as popular as the FRIDAY THE 13TH series, which even inspired its own series of imitative "horny teenagers being killed in the woods/at camp" subgenre.  Dismissed and practically burned at the stake by critics, Sean S. Cunningham's FRIDAY THE 13TH, is an expertly-constructed, archetypal slasher film--aided significantly by the terrifying "ki ki ki, ma ma ma" Harry Manfredini's score--that only seems tame today because it's been imitated so much.  The success of FRIDAY THE 13TH, and the idea of the killer's actions being some sort of payback for the transgressions of past or present camp counselors, immediately led to THE BURNING (1981), MADMAN (1982), and SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983), which itself had numerous sequels.   But even the "dead kids in the woods" angle had somewhat of a precedent with Mario Bava's 1972 Italian horror film BAY OF BLOOD, which existed under a ton of alternate titles (TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE, and the misleading LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT PART II among them).  FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2's famous scene of two lovers being impaled simultaneously during sex is an idea lifted completely from BAY OF BLOOD.  The first two FRIDAY THE 13TH films did huge business and became a near-annual tradition for the rest of the 1980s.  The hockey-masked killer Jason is right alongside HALLOWEEN's Michael Myers in terms of slasher horror iconography.  Jason wasn't even the killer in the first FRIDAY film:  he's only mentioned as the drowned son of Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), revealed to be the killer, who's seeking revenge on past camp counselors who were fooling around and not paying attention while he cried for help, struggling to stay above the waters of Crystal Lake.  Jason only appears in a dream scene at the end, but takes center stage as the suddenly very much alive killer in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, seeking revenge for the killing of his mother.  It was Jason who would become the focal point of the franchise from then on (except for 1985's FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING, which has a killer dressed as Jason), though starting with 1986's witty, self-mocking FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI: JASON LIVES, the series would abandon any illusion of seriousness, resulting in gimmicky fare like 1988's FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, and culminating in 2002's JASON X, which finds the killer awakening from a cryogenic sleep in outer space in the year 2455.   By this time, the rights to the character had drifted from Paramount to New Line, who owned A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, and 2003 saw the release of FREDDY VS. JASON, the last in the original series, which was rebooted in 2009 with FRIDAY THE 13TH to middling interest and thus far, appears to be stalled.

Jason's FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 "sackhead" look, very reminiscent
of the killer in the 1977 cult classic THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN

The iconic hockey mask look that started with FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III

FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III, which became the second film of the summer to knock E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL out of the top spot at the box office, is also an important film for the franchise in that it's the first time Jason (played here by Richard Brooker) wears his trademark hockey mask. He had the one-eyed "sackhead" look in PART 2, and he acquires the hockey mask after killing the hapless, buffoonish Shelley (Larry Zerner), who was wearing it at the time.  Jason sports the mask for the rest of the film, and the look stuck in subsequent sequels.  His first appearance with the hockey mask occurs exactly one hour into PART III and it's one of the series' best moments.

FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III also worked in another short-lived early '80s craze: the return of 3-D, which hadn't been widely used since its initial 1953-1954 explosion. Numerous 3-D films were made from 1981-83 before the trend flamed out again: COMIN' AT YA (1981), PARASITE (1982) and several from 1983: TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS, SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE, METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED-SYN, AMITYVILLE 3-D, and JAWS 3-D.

Also, from a point of personal interest from growing up in Toledo, OH, one of the film's co-stars, Ann Arbor, MI-native Tracie Savage, quit acting after this film to pursue a career in journalism.  While watching PART 3 on cable a year or so after seeing in theaters, I recognized her as a reporter for Toledo's then-NBC affiliate WTVG.  At the time, being 10 or 11, I couldn't figure out how she managed to go from FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III to being a reporter in my hometown, and that was coupled with the strange feeling of having a seen a well-known local news reporter naked in a horror movie. She was on Los Angeles TV for several years and now handles news radio in the L.A. area, and was even called to the stand to testify during the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995.

Tracie Savage, soon to leave acting for a career in TV news.

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH was based on a book by Rolling Stone writer Cameron Crowe, who went undercover as a student and chronicled his experiences.  Crowe also scripted the film, which featured a large ensemble cast of future stars, including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, and Nicolas Cage (in his first film, and billed as Nicolas Coppola).  But it was Sean Penn's star-making performance as stoner icon Jeff Spicoli that got all the attention, and deservedly so.  Whether he's having pizza delivered to Mr. Hand's (Ray Walston) history class or wrecking the star football player's car ("My old man is a television repairman!  He's got this ultimate set of tools!  I can fix this!"), Spicoli is one of the great movie characters of the 1980s.  As funny as Penn is, he largely functions as the comic relief in a film that's not as slapsticky as its ad campaign indicated. Also featuring Tom Petty's "American Girl," Jackson Browne's "Somebody's Baby," The Cars' "Moving in Stereo," and the Go-Go's "We Got the Beat," plus several girls "who've cultivated the Pat Benatar look."  1984 saw the release of the disappointing semi-sequel THE WILD LIFE, also written by Crowe, which followed a group of friends over the summer after graduation.  Stoltz returns, but as a different character, and Penn's younger brother Chris stars as the resident party animal of the group, which seems to exist in the same Ridgemont High universe even though no FAST TIMES characters are carried over.  FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH also spawned a short-lived 1986 TV series titled FAST TIMES, with Dean Cameron (Chainsaw from 1987's SUMMER SCHOOL) as Spicoli, but it was cancelled after just seven episodes. 

PINK FLOYD THE WALL opened in limited release this weekend, and would go wide a month later.  Based on the 1979 Pink Floyd album conceived by bassist Roger Waters, THE WALL would become a mainstream success but went on to a long life as a midnight movie.  Working with Waters, who wrote the screenplay, and animator Gerald Scarfe, director Alan Parker brought his unique sense of visual style and his keen ability for melding music and imagery (the Giorgio Moroder-propelled chase in 1978's MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, plus films like 1976's BUGSY MALONE, 1980's FAME, 1991's THE COMMITMENTS, and 1996's EVITA) and helped create a truly nightmarish big-screen vision of Waters' bleak, disturbing magnum opus.  The film opened to generally positive reviews but it was far from smooth sailing getting it to the screen.  Waters planned on starring as Pink, but the role ended up going to Boomtown Rats frontman and future Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof, while Waters and Parker clashed throughout filming.  Despite the behind-the-scenes troubles, the film has aged quite well and as far as cinematic rock operas go, it's arguably the best of its kind, with many haunting, unforgettable images throughout.

Also opening on this busy Friday was the very Reagan-era political action thriller THE SOLDIER, directed by James Glickenhaus, who had a huge sleeper hit with 1980's vigilante cult classic THE EXTERMINATOR.  Ken Wahl (later of TV's WISEGUY) stars as a US government operative who tangles with an evil KGB agent (Klaus Kinski!) while dealing with a Soviet plot to detonate nukes in a Saudi oil field and contaminate the world's oil supply unless the US President (William Prince) starts a war with Israel.  Glickenhaus, who left filmmaking years ago and became a major NYC investment broker and race car collector, was a tremendously underrated action craftsman with films like this, THE EXTERMINATOR, and 1988's SHAKEDOWN.  He doesn't run from his B-movie past however, contributing audio commentaries to Synapse Films' recent Blu-ray release of THE EXTERMINATOR and their planned release of his 1991 Christopher Walken actioner MCBAIN.  THE SOLDIER is probably best known for its memorable ski chase.  And yes, that music is Tangerine Dream.

Lastly, this weekend also saw the re-release of STAR WARS, accompanied by a brief teaser for the next summer's final installment of the trilogy, then titled REVENGE OF THE JEDI before George Lucas changed it to RETURN OF THE JEDI. 

TOP TEN FILMS FOR THE WEEKEND OF AUGUST 13, 1982 (from www.boxofficemojo.com)

5.    STAR WARS (re-issue)

1 comment:

  1. "and he acquires the hockey mask after killing the hapless, buffoonish Shelley (Larry Zerner), who was wearing it at the time"

    So Shelley wasn't completely worthless like he thought after all!