Sunday, January 10, 2016

RIP, Angus Scrimm

Another horror icon gone.

Angus Scrimm, best known as The Tall Man from the Phantasm films, has passed away.  He was 89.
Fangoria has a nice obit.
I guess it's not a total shock given his age, and it is comforting to know that, according to Phantasm director Don Coscarelli, he "passed surrounded by friends and loved ones," but still, it's sad he's gone.

Scrimm starred in four Phantasm films (1979/88/94/98), with a fifth film, Phantasm: Ravager set for release later this year.  Also, there's a 4K restoration in the works of the first film, which is exciting.  Scrimm is a big part of why the original Phantasm works so well.  His strong screen presence and booming voice, he's a screen villain like no one else and when combined with the other nightmare imagery of the movie it makes quite the impression.

Here's a clip from an obscure horror film Scream Bloody Murder (1973), Scrimm's second credited screen role.  He's a bit stuffier and his character doesn't last long.  Neat movie though, worth the look.

Scrimm as Dr. Lyme in the very strange and weirdly entertaining Nic Cage film Deadfall (1993)
Incident On and Off a Mountain Road (2005) from the Masters of Horror series.  Scrimm gets kooky.

An old school class act and forever an icon of the horror genre.
Angus Scrimm

Sunday, January 3, 2016

RIP, Vilmos Zsigmond

Damn.  It's been a rough week for great cinematographers.  Back on the 27th of December, the great Haskell Wexler died (his work on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,  and Bound for Glory being real standouts) and now news comes down today that the legendary Vilmos Zsigmond passed away on January 1st.
Zsigmond was 85.
Born in 1930 in Hungary, escaping after the 1956 Russian Invasion, Zsigmond came to America where he worked his way through low budget exploitation pictures (such as the excellent The Sadist [1963], which I wrote about HERE) before getting a break on his first high profile picture, McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) for director Robert Altman, which was quickly followed by Peter Fonda's The Hired Hand (also 1971).  Both films would announce the arrival of a true master cinematographer, with McCabe's beautiful gauzy and hazy imagery and the marvelous lighting work and stunning crossfades found in Hired Hand.

At this point, I'm just going to list some of the great films he's worked on.  You might not know the name Vilmos Zsigmond, but you've more than likely seen his work:

McCabe & Mrs. Miller
The Hired Hand
The Long Goodbye
The Sugarland Express
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The Deer Hunter
The Rose
Heaven's Gate
Blow Out
Real Genius
The Witches of Eastwick
The Two Jakes
The Crossing Guard
The Ghost and the Darkness
The Black Dahlia

Zsigmond worked with directors like Atlman, Fonda, Boorman, Spielberg, De Palma, Cimino, Rydell, Miller, Nicholson, Donner, Penn, and Allen.  He won an Oscar for his work on Close Encounters and was nominated for Deer Hunter, The River, and Black Dahlia.  He received a lifetime achievement award from The American Society of Cinematographers in 1999 and, more recently, one from The Cannes Film Festival in 2014.  I'm not overstating things here when I say that Vilmos Zsigmond was one of the greatest cinematographers in the history of cinema.

He lived a long life and produced some great work.  We can all hope to be so lucky.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
The Hired Hand (1971)
Images (1972)
Deliverance (1972)
The Long Goodbye (1973),
one of my all-time favorite movies, a lot of which has to do with the amazing cinematography work of Zsigmond.  I love it so much I posted two photos!

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Behind the scenes on The Deer Hunter
Heaven's Gate (1980)
Blow Out (1981)
The Two Jakes (1990)
The Crossing Guard (1995) 
The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)

Pictured here is Vilmos with long time friend, fellow Hungarian, and fellow cinematographer László Kovács.  The two of them studied film together in Budapest and escaped when the Russians came in.

They barely made it out with footage they shot of the invasion, footage which later was incorporated in Zsigmond's documentary Hungary Aflame.  The footage also appears in a doc detailing the friendship of Kovács and Zsigmond, No Subtitles Necessary: László and Vilmos (2008).

Vilmos Zsigmond

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday the 13th Part VII - The New Blood

Released in 1988, Friday the 13th Part VII - The New Blood has a premise that involves a girl with psychic powers going up against the recently returned Voorhees (new blood, indeed).  It is often summarized by fans as being "Carrie vs. Jason," but that summary isn't really accurate, as the "VS" part of the movie is relegated to the final 10 minutes or so.  The rest of it is standard Friday fare, with a group of young people just looking to have a good time but instead getting murdered in various ways.

Until this week I had only seen Part VII of the Friday the 13th saga once, back about 20 years ago when I was watching the series for the first time.  In general I am much more familiar with the front half of the Friday franchise than with the back half, so this was fun revisiting a movie I hadn't seen since I was a teenager.  Unfortunately, this turns out to be my least favorite of the first seven Friday films.

The movie opens with a recap of Jason's history and a summary of the events of Part VI.  Basically it all serves to remind the viewer why Jason is chained to a big rock in the middle of Crystal Lake.  Notable in this opening is two things; the voiceover narration is provided by Walt Gorney, better known as Crazy Ralph from Friday Parts 1 and 2, and the recap montage uses footage from the Friday Part VI teaser trailer, specifically the shot of the graveyard and the tombstone exploding.

After the refresher and the credits roll, we get a scene set in the past, where a young girl named Tina witnesses her parents having an argument that leads to physical abuse.  This probably isn't something new to the family, as little Tina, upset and afraid, runs toward the lake and paddles out in a boat, her father running after her.

While on the water, and with her father standing on the dock, Tina's psychic telekinetic powers manifest and cause the dock to collapse into the lake, taking her father with it.  Little Tina is very sad and traumatized.

Flash forward 10 years later, much of which she spent in psychiatric care, and Tina (Lar Park-Lincoln) is now returning to that lake house, along with her mother (Susan Blu) and her psychiatrist Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser) for further treatment.

Her recovery has come along nicely, but Tina foolishly goes down to the lake and accidentally raises Jason out of his watery prison (she does this psychically, trying to raise her father up for some reason).

Jason then goes on his mandatory murder spree (as is his wont) before Tina, in the finale, confronts him and does battle with Jason WITH HER MIND!
Note about the timeline:  The events with young Tina happened in 1989, with the rest of the movie taking place 10 years later (1999).  So at this point, Jason has been in the lake for a couple years, as the events from Friday Part VI took place in 1997.
Note about the note:  I know and realize that the filmmakers behind these films gave little to no thought towards the continuity between films, but I find it really interesting that most of the sequels take place in the future relative to the year each film was released.  For example, Friday Part VII was released in 1988 but, when following the timeline established, the events must take place in 1999.  Weird, right?

Anyway, Friday the 13th Part VII - The New Blood is not a great movie, but I do appreciate that it was trying something different with the franchise.  I think there should've been more focus on Tina and her abilities and I would've liked to see her do more battle with Jason.  The very end of the movie feels rushed and a bit like an anti-climax, which is unfortunate.

What really sinks this one is the multiple cuts and trimmed scenes that the MPAA ratings board demanded be removed from the film to secure an R rating.  These extra gore scenes are available in a really rough form on the DVD/Blu releases and a couple of them are really fantastic and would've really improved the film and made it more exciting and interesting.  As it is though, unfortunately, I have to say, even though it has the intrinsic "funness" associated with Friday the 13th movies, Friday the 13th Part VII - The New Blood is one of the weaker entries in the series.  However, I don't think I'll wait another 20 years before watching it again.
It's a birthday bash.

Playing Jason for the first of what would be a record four times is stuntman/actor Kane Hodder.  This is perfect casting, seeing as how being underwater all those years really made Jason swell up to a Kane Hodder-like size.  It works!

Seriously though, Hodder puts in a solid performance as Jason, giving him a real hulking presence while remaining light on his feet (see: the part where he jumps through a window).  He also has this great scene where he's set on fire and at the time it was the longest onscreen burn ever done by an actor.  Very impressive.
Best kill in the movie is easily the sleeping bag kill.  In the version that was cut out, Jason gives her about six good wallops against that tree, which is great, but what we see in the final movie is just one good whack that kills her instantly.  It's less ridiculously brutal, but in its own way it still packs a punch.  It's one of the most iconic kills in the entire franchise.
As for the other kills in the movie, most of them are pretty standard stuff, which, once again, is a shame because some of the cut footage is really amazing, particularly this spectacular head crushing scene and the death of Dr. Crews, who gets a tree trimmer to the torso and his guts go everywhere.  These things are fine and all as they are in the finished movie, but they could've been so much more!
Also, there is a kill in the lake with a naked girl that is filmed partly beneath the water that is an obvious homage to the opening of Jaws.  I got nothing else to say about it; just something I noticed.
Jason's new look includes him wearing a chain, which is part punk rock, part hip-hop, and very chic.
During the finale when Tina is using her psychic powers against Jason she picks up a potted plant and throws it at him.  By itself this is uninteresting.  What does make it interesting/hilarious is that resting in the potted plant is the decapitated head of one of her friends.  Ha!

Tina's mom in this movie, Mrs. Shepard, played by Susan Blu, has some absolutely out of control 80s hair.  It's fantastic!  There are some really great mullets and things like that throughout the cast, but mom's hair is seriously the greatest thing.

Speaking of Mrs. Blu, her appearance here in Friday Part VII marks one of her rare onscreen roles, as she is mainly a voiceover actress, providing voices on TransformersJemDuckTales and a slew of other things over the years.

Director John Carl Buechler is a special effects expert, having provided work for many Charles Band productions, like TerrorVision (1986), Dolls (1987), and Prison (1987), which is where he met Kane Hodder.  Buechler got the job because of his work on Troll (1986), which is strange if you've actually seen Troll.

Buechler also did some effects work on Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, which came out the same year as his Friday Part VII, a few months later actually, and did more than twice as well at the box office.
This marks the first time that Harry Manfredini was not the sole composer on a Friday movie.  Fred Mollin would provide most of the score and would go on to be the composer for Friday Part VIII and the Friday the 13th television series as well.

Lar Park -Lincoln was in House II: The Second Story in 1987 and she also had a reoccurring role on Knots Landing starting around the same time.  I think she makes for a really interesting final girl and to her credit she does attempt to do something a little different with her portrayal of psychic abilities (she's not just ripping off Sissy Spacek in Carrie).

Kevin Spirtas (credited as Kevin Blair) is Nick, the secondary protagonist and love interest to Tina.  He's likable enough but doesn't really do much in the movie.  Spirtas was also in the wonderfully cheap and cheesy The Hills Have Eyes 2 (1984) along with Kane Hodder and would go on to star in a couple Subspecies movies and would have a long 10 year stint on Days of our Lives.

Terry Kiser, who plays the jerk Dr. Crews, would go on to play the titular character in Weekend at Bernie's (1989) and it's 1993 sequel, which is fairly awesome and there is nothing else to say about it.
Final Thought:  Not terrible and not great.  I can say this about it though:  How many Part VII's of movie franchises are there out there?  Not many.  And Friday the 13th Part VII is one of them.

This poster from Ghana is freaking CRAZY!!
Read the rest of my Friday reviews:
Friday the 13th
Friday Part II
Friday Part III
The Final Chapter
A New Beginning
Jason Lives

Happy Friday the 13th!