Gear up, campers! This week, we salute the ominous convergence of the summer holidays and a real live Friday the 13th. If you are striking out into the wild with your pack and lantern, don’t forget to throw in a snakebite kit, a guitar to ward off bad vibes, and a working knowledge of the following films. Knowing the paths to avoid may save your life. You’ll be fine, of course. Just count your tent stakes and pitchforks before going to bed. And if you were planning for a weekend of fooling around in the woods with someone special, you may want to reconsider. Abstinence and meditation might be better ways of keeping your head attached.
More prolific than Halloween or Hellraiser, or even A Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday the 13th originated one of the longest-running film series in popular horror. Much credit is due to the creation of Jason Voorhees, an undisputed icon among movie killers. Another probable reason for its longevity is that among well-known movie franchises, its content is the cheapest and easiest kind to mass produce.
Friday The 13th (1980)
directed by Sean S. Cunningham
Marrying human flesh with the cold spindly tissues of an insect, The Fly weaves its eerie charm by positing our ability, through our own technological brilliance, to forfeit our very humanity. The concept works astonishingly well as both a high-camp creature feature of the late 1950s and a timely confrontation of addiction mentality in the anxious 1980s. In each film, science fiction turns to horror when a far-seeing scientist leaves a tiny, negligible possibility out of the equation. The slightest detail out of place, no larger or more remote than a single humming pest, gains the monstrous power to change human destiny.
The original Black Christmas shares 1974 with the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, preceding both Carrie (1976) and Halloween (1978) – films commonly credited with shaping horror movies as we know them today. Black Christmas seldom gets the same acknowledgment, though its structure arguably makes it more influential on the slasher genre than even Chain Saw. At very least, it gave rise to its own distinct branch of the tree. Whereas Chain Saw honed the conventions of the psycho-redneck road saga, Black Christmas made the world unsafe for sorority sisters, babysitters, camp counselors and other teenage miscreants in such milestone movies as Friday The 13th, Prom Night, and once again, John Carpenter’s Halloween.
Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers has seen four high-profile adaptations to film, but only the first two share the essential link between film and remake. Abel Ferrara’s noteworthy Body Snatchers, and Oliver Hirschbiegel’s less noteworthy The Invasion, riff on different themes than the two versions fully titled Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Though their styles diverge sharply with the decades in which each was produced, these movies mine contemporary social anxiety to the same terrifying effect, thanks to skillful directing and acting in both cases. Given the number of disappointing remakes to be covered in the coming weeks, it seems like a good idea to begin the series with an unqualified success.
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)
directed by Don Siegel
by Dan Fields
First published January 29, 2011 by the California Literary Review
Hyperviolent Marshmallow Fluff
Jason Statham, the icy British actor famous for jacked-up action romps including The Transporter and Crank, returns to bust heads at a more thoughtful pace in The Mechanic, a remake of Michael Winner’s 1972 film of the same name, which starred Charles Bronson.
Arthur Bishop is a special breed of contract killer – a mechanic – who specializes in “clean” assignments, in which a murder is staged either to look like an accident or to frame an innocent third party. Thus he plots his operations intricately from a hip, ultra-modern pad stashed away in the south Louisiana swamps. He has a very neat little operation going on until he gets a contract to kill his long-time mentor and friend, a suitably grizzled Donald Sutherland. Rattled by guilt over the hit and suspicious about its motives, he determines to get to the bottom of it, enlisting the help of his victim’s ne’er-do-well son Steve (Ben Foster of Pandorum) who is unaware of Bishop’s own complicity in the killing. Continue reading →