Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Havoc: FRIDAY THE 13TH COLD HEART OF CRYSTAL LAKE (2003), THE STORM (2009) & THE OBSESSION (2011)

Tim Whitfield and Joe Patnaud
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and if the fan film is your yardstick, none are as flattered as the FRIDAY THE 13TH series. Sure, these days you can find fan films on any subject imaginable from 8mm Lego recreations of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) to high-end, high-concept re-inventions of properties that may have lapsed into fromage (see Kevin Tancharoen's 2010 micro-epic MORTAL KOMBAT: REBIRTH), but none more prolific than the almighty Jason Voorhees.

As much as we bitch about crappy, no-budget movies, you have to understand, it's not that we don't like them, it's that we are really pulling for them to succeed. With Hollywood being one massive compromise machine that uses a committee to beat all of the creativity out of any original undertaking, we look to the indies to provide some creative fun while the majors wallow in the formula tar pit. What bugs us is laziness. We love a solid work ethic. If you are going to make a movie with your tax refund check and a bunch of your friends, we are all for it, all we asks is that you put the effort into it. Don't slack. Don't come up with a great idea and then find out that it's too much effort to make it happen. I can go watch a Hustler "parody" video if I want that kind of disappointment.

In 2003 when the concept of a "fan film" was still wobbling on its freshly hatched legs, Massachusetts resident Joe Patnaud released his tribute to the franchise with FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE COLD HEART OF CRYSTAL LAKE.

Set in a wintery "off season" the short opens with a trio of hunters running through the woods. After splitting up, one hunter suddenly finds Jason Voorhees (dressed in winter camo for some reason) standing in front of him. Next thing he knows a knife is plunged into his forehead. One hunter runs back to the truck to get a machete (not a good idea) the other goes to help his friend (an even worse idea). Cut to... wait for it... a group of tweens are on a road-trip through the snow when all of a sudden their vehicle decides this would be the perfect place to cut out. As luck would have it, they have broken down literally a stone's throw away from the hunter's tent. One of the hunters is conveniently at the tent (he must have given up on helping his friend) and invites them inside as it is much "safer" inside. Seriously? I'm pretty sure a tent is the equivalent of a bowl that is filled with mac and cheese. It's simply a convenient receptacle for the hot, gooey contents.

Once inside, the alcohol comes out as does the hunter's story of how they are trying to bag the elusive Jason in-between Summer slaying sessions. When two of the guys go out to take a piss, the remaining guy and girl decide that since they have the tent to themselves, they should just start having sex! This guy must set land-speed records in the bedroom. I realize they've been drinking, but it doesn't take that long to take a leak in the snow. Of course, maddened by the smell of fun, likker and pheromones, Jason (Tim Whitfield) opens up a can of shank-ass on all considered.

As low-budget and amateur as it is (reportedly made for $250), COLD HEART actually brings up an interesting point. Why was Sean Cunningham more willing to make the logic leap of sending Jason into space rather than consider a mere change of seasons? I'd skip the camo jacket, but putting Jason in a winter environment is a simple, effective way of delivering the formula that audiences expect with nice "atmospheric" twist. There is a great movie in here somewhere. I imagine sort of a hybrid of GHOSTKEEPER (1982) and the Czech film WOLF'S HOLE (1987). I would love to see a scene where the "campers" are making a snowman only to find a semi-frozen Jason Voorhees inside.

Sadly, the feeling that it had been through the MPAA wringer is represented here by a lack of gory effects. To be fair, the few effects used are not bad for a fan film of that era, but I kind of cringe when the victim already has a red line on his head before the machete hits him. Besides, plenty of SOV efforts had been splashing the red stuff about long before 2003.

Patnaud would continue his meteorological themed reworkings of the FRIDAY mythos in 2009 with FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE STORM. At this point Patnaud had a few DTV feature film credits under his belt and THE STORM is a huge leap forward in terms of production values.

Opening up with two girls in bikinis kissing, the less attractive of the two, Sarah (Crystal Swarovski), runs off to swim in Crystal Lake while the brunette (Marie Joelyn), who seems to be non-plussed by her same-sex connection, runs off only to promptly have her neck snapped by Jason (Tim Whitfield, again). Assuming that she has been bailed on by her would-be lover, Sarah heads back home just in time for a massive rainstorm and her meathead admirer, Barry (Asa Holly), to show up. Sarah complains of her awful day while Barry puts the moves on her, blissfully unaware of the disinterest in the almighty phallus.

Meanwhile her sister is all dressed up with supposedly nowhere to go, but plans to sneak out in the arms of her own admirer. Then there is dad, the local sheriff (Dep Kirkland), who radiates more menace than our masked killer particularly when he turns to Sarah and Barry and says "you're both doomed!" before leaving for work. A simple "stay out of trouble" would have sufficed, I'm sure.

Once dad takes off to check in at work, the power goes out and Jason shows up to open up a can of chili con carnage (oh come on, it wasn't that bad). In one scene Barry is going to try his hand at seducing Sarah with a bottle of wine, the only problem is that he can't find the corkscrew. I bet Jason can help him with that! This brings us to the major problem I have with this short. Even the mis-casting of the lead character Sarah, this is really well made fan film. Joe has even thrown in some gore, except any fan worth his salt is going to recognize most of the kills are aped from classic moments in the series. Big fan of the sleeping bag scene in THE NEW BLOOD? Patnaud recreates it here. It seems a shame to not use your own imagination to put some excitement into your tribute. I mean, we all freely admit that without the creative kill scenes, with a few notable exceptions, the FRIDAY THE 13TH series ain't much to look at.

Also, I can imagine Kane Hodder flipping out over the odd breaks in Jason's character here. Just after impaling Barry with the corkscrew, Sarah yells "what the hell are you doing in there?" Cut back to Jason who quickly looks side to side, seemingly panicked that he might get caught with his hand in the entrail jar! Sorry, what? Jason shows fear? Hell no. Jason is fear. That said, Patnaud manages some excellent lighting and really delivers the atmosphere for a little SOV short. Too bad it never could be a low-budget feature film.

No, no... it's just the way he's holding the machete.

Interestingly Patnaud's partner in crime Tim Whitfield, who played Jason in both films, went on to write, direct and produce a seven episode webseries titled FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE OBSESSION in 2011, based on his own 1997 VHS shot short.

A lesbian lover's break up during a camp-out at Crystal Lake is broken up by Jason Voorhees who deliberately avoids Amy (Hannah Townsend) and proceeds to crush and tear off the head of her now very ex-lover. Of course we discover that it's all a dream and that Amy is actually a big FRIDAY fan (stop groaning). We know this because her walls are covered with FRIDAY movie posters and she spends her free time ogling the nudie pictures in the "Crystal Lake Memories" book.

The bulk of THE OBSESSION is cringe-inducing dialogue scenes such as the one where Amy meets some fellow hikers on the trail and one girl overshares about her friend's break-up prompting Amy to mention that she broke up with her girlfriend recently. Miss Overshare then says "'Girlfriend?' So you are a lesbian!" to which Amy's pithy comeback is a smug "yes, I do eat vagina." Oooooh-kaaaay then. It doesn't get any better than that with Amy's lesbianism taking center stage with long conversations, an entire episode devoted to her date with a straight girl Stephanie (Marie Joelyn) who has never even had any lesbian friends, not even in school. Confusing the issue of what exactly the title refers to, we get episode after episode of impassioned romantic exploration of the real life feelings and issues of new lesbian couples. Steph also has an abusive black boyfriend (Rydell Danzie who also directs a few episodes) who comes looking for his "property" and wants to turn that "fish eater" into a "sausage" eater. Hoo boy. I guess idiotic racial stereotypes are acceptable. Wait... wasn't this supposed to be about some guy who wears a hockey mask and kills campers?

At one point Amy's ex shows up to have sex with her straight male roommate Todd (Keith Christensen II), "just to piss [Amy] off". This seems to bring out the Jason in Amy and she strangles her ex and stabs her roommate who is merely playing "Teenage Frankenstein" on Rock Band. Of course this doesn't take place until the sixth episode where we get allegedly heterosexual couples saying more stupid shit about lesbianism, so of course they have to die, which leads us up to the climax that is not only lame but doesn't go anywhere other than a gotcha ending. I really don't get what Whitfield is trying to do with this series. His script seems to set up a main character that we are supposed to care about, but *SPOILER* in the end decides to have her kill several people while wearing a hockey mask before killing herself. I can't figure out what exactly Whitfield is trying to say and I honestly wonder if even he knows.

Shot on digital, the lesbian love is done with no nudity because that would be crassly exploitative and not the sensitive portrayal of same-sex love that the filmmakers wish to express. Also there is very little blood as that would undermine the heart-tugging pathos. Or it just requires too much work. It certainly doesn't seem to be an homage to the '80s film series that we all know and love. When you say "FRIDAY THE 13TH fan film series" the last thing I think of is long, drawn-out relationship drama scenes with feelings, crying, and lots of hugz. Before the LGBTQIAXYZ flag-wavers start freaking out, it's not just that it's a lesbian drama that has nothing to do with FRIDAY THE 13TH that gets under my skin, it's that it's a drama that has nothing to do with FRIDAY THE 13TH. Even if it were straight, it would still be incredibly annoying and pointless. Well, except for a bit where a gay actor is clearly not interested in kissing the busty girl that he is supposed to be in a straight relationship with. Sorry, but that was pretty damn funny.

Interestingly, Whitfield actually got Joe Patnaud to direct the first episode which pretty much follows Patnaud's style of Jason themed shorts, which is not a bad thing. As soon as Whitfield and Danzie take over though, I would have completely forgotten that I was watching a FRIDAY THE 13TH story except for the fact that it says so at the beginning of every episode and Harry Manfredini's iconic score is used in every scene except the ones that use songs from bands featured in the various films. Honestly, re-using the songs is not nearly as cool as Whitfield thinks it is, mainly due to the fact that he either just pastes the song over the action, completely undermining it, or constructs an entire scene of nothing (like playing a game of badminton in the middle of a small clearing) as some sort of filler, which is exactly what this series doesn't need. Patnaud's films ran about 15 minutes each, Whitfield's episodes run about 10 minutes each for about a 70 minute total running time. THE OBSESSION could easily be cut down to about 30-40 minutes and be all the better for it.

I can deal with the bad edits, the occasional camera bobble (particularly amusing when it happens during another tender hugging scene at the end) and the amateur actors trying their little hearts out, but the fact that Whitfield is so wide of the mark when it comes to what the attraction of a FRIDAY film is, you have to wonder why he bothered tying it in to begin with. Unless it's just a convenient way to get your name out there as a videomaker. If that is the case, Whitfield's tactic seems to have paid off as he has just released the first installment of his new series FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE PHANTOM OF CRYSTAL LAKE.

Oh geeze... Someone figured out how to use the "paintbrush" effects.

PHANTOM opens with a nightmare of Jason killing off some foo' Kelvin (Jay McLeod) who is trying to figure out an excuse not to get with the girl, Diana (Evan Marie Ruiz), and getting killed by Jason. After waking up we discover that Diana has an avid interest in Jason's legacy and is going on a camping trip to Crystal Lake to follow the trail of clues. Wannabe gangsta Kelvin decides to go along, just in case. They start with a cabin where we get a flashback of some hipster douchebag is banging some chubby druggie with fresh tats and Jason strangles the dude and electrocutes the girl. Well, at least it looks like a FRIDAY fan film and not a lesbian romantic drama this time around. Even so, with such a wealth of backstory, you'd think someone would crank out a Tancharoen-esque rebirth. Something that relishes in the creative aspect of the film series. Maybe the Germans can do it! Eh, but that's a story for another day.

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