Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Countdown! (#10-01)

We’re finally here! We’ve whittled down the Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchises to the ten best films. Which one will come out on top? Read on to find out…

10) Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
After so many awful sequels, it’s refreshing that we finally got a worthy successor to the original Halloween. While the other sequels tried to come up with ever more convoluted means to continue the storyline and Michael’s killing sprees, H20 takes things back to the most logical jumping-off point and deals with how Laurie’s life was impacted by the events of that Halloween night twenty years ago (acting as a sequel to only the first two Halloween films and ignoring the rest). In that time Laurie has faked her own death, moved across the country to California, had a son and is now a teacher at a private school, but she hasn’t been able to confront the trauma of what happened 20 years ago. The premise alone puts H20 well ahead of other sequels in this franchise because it actually has some things to say about fear and trauma and how it can ruin not only your life but the lives of those around you if you don’t confront it. Luckily for Laurie, Michael Myers manages to figure out where she’s living and pencils in an exposure therapy session for that Halloween evening…

H20 has been compared to Scream many times, although I feel like the comparisons make you expect a far more referential film than what we got (it very much lacks the meta elements which basically defined the Scream franchise… although it does have some unexpected meta elements like Janet Leigh acting as Laurie Strode’s maternal proxy). I mean, sure, the film very clearly exists in the post-Scream landscape with characters who aren’t complete idiots. Just compare H20 to Halloween 6, which had come out only three years earlier – that film felt like a late 80s slasher, with its bloated mythology, idiotic teen cast and over the top gore, reeking of a tired genre content to just coast off of the lowest common denominator. In contrast, H20 is written in a fairly clever and fun manner, ditching a reliance on lazy tropes and with no one being truly stupid. It actually takes its time to establish the characters and setting before setting loose. After a trio of early kills, Michael takes almost an hour to really get into his murder spree, similar to the original film, which gives us time to get to know the victims on the chopping block. That said, this is very much Jamie Lee Curtis’ movie, as Laurie Strode is by far the most compelling character (good try though, Josh Hartnett). Seeing her confront her fears and then beat the tar out of Michael Myers is quite entertaining and a satisfying arc for the film.

However, I can’t be entirely positive about this film. For one thing, the movie is very heavily relying on your previous knowledge of Michael Myers for his character to be in any way compelling. It’s not like the original Halloween where we get to meet Laurie and see Michael stalking her menacingly the entire time, here Laurie gets most of the focus and then Michael just kind of shows up momentarily on occasion. Hell, even when he does show up, he doesn’t even kill anyone, despite having two different occasions to do so. I kind of like the restraint, but again if you didn’t come in knowing Michael would probably usually kill these people then it just makes him look like less of a threat. I think that they just could have done more to re-establish him in this film, especially considering that it wiped several sequels off the slate. However, the issues with Michael are nothing compared to the ending. Like, I’d knock a whole point off this movie’s score for the crappy ending. There’s a certain satisfaction to having Laurie kill off Michael Myers definitively, but even if you didn’t know about the pre-planned retcon this ending was preparing for the next film in the franchise, it’s still insane. So Laurie kidnaps Michael in an ambulance at gun point, drives like a maniac, runs him over, rolls down a cliff side (and gets herself ejected from the ambulance in the process, unscathed), pins Michael to a tree and then chops his head off! Like… just let her kill him in the school! Dammit, LL Cool J! Ugh, I just hated how ridiculous that ending got, it felt like an escalation that went way too far, and knowing that it was to bake in a potential sequel in incredibly convoluted fashion just makes it worse.

Those gripes aside though, H20 was really enjoyable… and thank God because the Halloween franchise was a real slog to get through for this count-down. It’s really no wonder that they went back to H20‘s ideas for another go-around in 2018. Oh, speaking of which…

9) Halloween (2018)
At first glance, Halloween 2018 (the third freaking movie in this franchise with the same title) is basically just a redo of H20 – after all, it features Laurie Strode once again dealing with PTSD, a crumbling family structure and fighting back against Michael Myers. However, there are some fundamental differences that make this a different story at its core. First of all, in H20 Laurie was running away and hiding from her past because she can’t bring herself to confront it and this fear is suffocating her relationship with her son. In Halloween 2018, Laurie is obsessed with the events of the original film and has been preparing for, what is in her mind, an inevitable final confrontation with Michael Myers, to the detriment of her family’s well-being. Another fundamental weak point of H20 is that Michael Myers is just kind of… there. It relies very heavily on you already being invested in the character going in, but it doesn’t really do much on its own to sell him as an intimidating foe. However, Halloween 2018 immediately sets up Michael Myers as this mysterious, inhuman, almost otherworldly monster in the shape of a man even before he starts going on a killing spree. Then, when he does escape, his threat is established when he mercilessly kills a freaking child, which actually makes later moments even more tense such as when he passes by a crib with a crying baby.

Perhaps what makes Halloween 2018 stand out so much though is that it is easily one of the best directed and edited films on this entire countdown. Directed by David Gordon Green, perhaps best known for directing the freaking Pineapple Express of all things, crafts some of the best moments in the entire franchise. The extended one-take which sees Michael make his way through Haddonfield on his random murder spree is expertly crafted, while other very tense moments include a father and son coming across the crashed sanitarium bus and the truck rest stop attack. It’s not every year that you can say that the editing in a slasher sequel puts Oscar nominees from the same year to shame, but that’s how good Halloween 2018 is.

The main issue with Halloween 2018 though is the writing, which is a bit of a mixed bag. When it comes down to it all, the film is basically just standard, predictable slasher movie sequel fare. Sure, the execution is much better than your average slasher sequel, but there are still issues. The middle of the film in particular feels like it’s about one draft away from being perfect, because there’s all sorts of weird issues. For example, we get a random subplot where Allyson’s boyfriend cheats on her, which ends up having pretty much no purpose and goes absolutely nowhere. The momentum in this section also starts to stagnate – Laurie keeps talking about how Michael is going to be coming after their family and tries to secure them all, but he’s really just killing randomly. It’s pure coincidence that Michael happens to come across Allyson, and then pure convenience when Dr. Sartain ends up transporting him to Laurie’s house for the final showdown. And then Allyson spends nearly the entire last act running through the woods and only ends up putting herself in danger stupidly by blundering into Laurie’s house when Michael is on the loose. Ultimately, it wasn’t really worth it for Laurie to ruin her family’s life due to her paranoia, because if she had just moved out of Haddonfield then they probably wouldn’t have been in any danger anyway because Michael sure as hell did not seem to care about seeking her out.

That said, the writing of Halloween 2018 still does some great things. In particular, the victims in this film are almost always more than just pure cannon fodder. On several occasions we’ll get to meet a group of characters right before they get into danger, and they’re actually written in a way that makes them interesting, which makes it hurt a lot more when they meet their grisly demise. Even the assholish characters, like the pair of podcasters who are investigating Michael’s history or Allyson’s friend who tries to come onto her after her boyfriend cheats on her, are sympathetic enough that we don’t really want to see them die. In any other slasher sequel, they would have just been written as cartoonish dickheads, but here they’re actual people and it really sucks when Michael kills them. The last act is also pretty great on the whole as Laurie and Michael go head-to-head in a very Skyfall-esque sequence. Seeing Laurie clearing her house room by room and then locking them down afterwards is pretty awesome, showing off how capable and prepared she is. Like, why can’t we get more badass final girls like this? Horror movies seem to think that they need to have stupid, incompetent final girls who are powerless against the villain, but seeing badass Laurie Strode trading blows with Michael and still getting overcome regardless is way more tense in my opinion. It makes for an incredibly satisfying conclusion to the film, moreso than H20‘s ending as far as I’m concerned. That said, we do know that we have two more Halloween films coming in this new continuity, so hopefully they don’t completely invalidate the successes of this newest sequel.

8) Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
There’s nothing truly revolutionary about Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter – after all, it’s yet another movie that boils down to “Jason murders horny teens”. However, The Final Chapter is easily the best rendition of that formula. Part of what makes it so much better than its predecessors is that it doesn’t waste any time with lulling the audience into boredom in order to get a fake-out or cheap scare, most of the action comes hard and fast. Even the obligatory opening recap is a lean three minutes and manages to cover all of the events of the previous films quite well! The Final Chapter also has some of the most entertaining victims in the entire franchise (most famously, an awkward Crispin Glover). Sure, they’re almost all dickheads, but they’re actually pretty enjoyable to watch, they don’t make you want to pull your hair out when they’re on screen like Shelly from Part III does. What also helps to set it apart is that the dickhead teens aren’t the main characters, it’s the Jarvis family living next door. This addition allows The Final Chapter to follow the usual formula of offing all the cannon fodder and then move over to the Jarvis’ family for further carnage, and features some clever writing to allow Trish and Tommy Jarvis to survive their night of terror. As the title implies, The Final Chapter was indeed intended to be the last Friday the 13th film, and it’s clear that the filmmakers really were trying their absolute best to make this the most definitive film in the franchise rather than another cheap follow-up. They certainly succeeded, and many people will rightly say that it’s the best film in the entire franchise. However, there is one other Friday the 13th film which often is cited as the best, and for my tastes I have to give it the slight edge…

7) Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
A lot of people will debate whether Jason Lives or The Final Chapter are the best Friday the 13th movie, but for my part I have to give the slight edge to Jason Lives. While Part IV is essentially the best execution of the classic formula, Jason Lives reinvents the franchise to be just more lighthearted and a hell of a lot of fun. Sure, the previous Friday the 13th films had had some fun with their kill sequences, but they mostly aimed to be serious and scary. Jason Lives isn’t quite so concerned with that, instead making Jason’s murder spree as enjoyable as possible. It also resurrects Jason in such a cartoonish manner that you can’t help but smile in glee at this new, super-powered zombie Jason (in my opinion, the best version of Jason in the franchise).

Of course, it’s not just the fun times that make Jason Lives so good, because otherwise Jason X would be in this spot. No, Jason Lives also has a solid story revolving around Tommy Jarvis, back once again and more badass than ever, trying to take down Jason once and for all. Tommy also has a burgeoning romance with the sheriff’s daughter, which doesn’t please the sheriff too much when all of the murdering starts going down. It even manages to make Jason’s murder spree more tense than ever because this time there are actual kids at Camp Crystal Lake which the counsellors have to protect! It’s nothing mind-blowing, but Jason Lives is executed to such perfection and is so enjoyable that you can’t help but love it, especially considering that they managed to reinvent the franchise so well six movies in!

6) A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
I imagine that there are some people who are shocked that I’ve ranked Freddy’s Revenge so highly on this list, but I really enjoyed it. I know a lot of people dislike that it has very little to do with any of the other Nightmare films and doesn’t really follow their continuity (plus, y’know, some people are also just homophobes). Hell, in some ways I think that it manages to be more compelling than the original. Much of this comes down to a very well-written story centred on Jesse Walsh, a young man whose body is being taken over by Freddy Krueger. Pretty much all discussion on this film goes to how clearly gay it is, especially for a mid-80s film, so you can see how these themes about body and instances of body horror are really compelling. I feel like the addition of the character Lisa muddles this somewhat, since by the end Jesse seems to have settled into a relationship with her, despite the film heavily implying that he is much more interested in his friend, Grady. Regardless, it’s a much more thoughtful and interesting film than nearly any other slasher sequel and I kind of wish that more Nightmare films had followed its lead.

Freddy Krueger is also very different in this film. He still invades Jesse’s dreams, but he uses this as a means in which to take over Jesse’s body and force him to kill for him. This culminates in an unforgettable scene where Freddy literally bursts out of Jesse’s body, shredding his skin like a cocoon, akin to a werewolf transformation sequence. Freddy is also truly terrifying in this film, grim and dead serious. The film itself can be pretty weird at times though, such as when Freddy’s powers cause a parrot to explode, causing Jesse’s dad to inexplicably blame him for the strange happening. People like to cherry-pick that moment for being bonkers, but I view it as part of the gay themes, with his dad creating irrational explanations for Jesse’s changing behaviour in order to keep his own masculine view of his son intact. That said, there are some sequences in Freddy’s Revenge which do feel like they’re just padding for time (such as that parrot scene), which cause the film to feel a bit more bloated than the original, but don’t let that turn you away – Freddy’s Revenge is a great film in its own right, I loved that it was very unique without having to rehash the original Nightmare‘s formula all over again.

5) A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Dream Warriors feels like a truly blockbuster horror film, much like Aliens was the year before. In fact, Aliens is a great movie to compare Dream Warriors to: if the original Nightmare is Alien, then the Aliens-like Dream Warriors expands the scope of its universe, ups the stakes, pushes its characters further, and makes Freddy Krueger more grandiose than ever (in part due to some fantastic special effects). It does so by introducing a new heroine, Kris, a girl who has the power to pull other people into her dreams. It’s a bit of a strange set-up, but combined with returning heroine Nancy Thompson’s knowledge, the latest group of teens being targeted by Freddy are able to band together to try to fight back against their tormentor before he can kill them all.

Dream Warriors doesn’t waste too much time rehashing the same story as the original – the kids all know from the start that Freddy’s after them and they’re actively trying to avoid sleeping or at least put themselves on a watch to at least get some rest. The characters are actually pretty smart and well-written, which makes the fact that Freddy is able to still isolate and pick them off even scarier, which also shows off just how much power he has in the dream realm. This also makes the spectacular kill sequences even more impactful and memorable, because you don’t really want to see any of them die. Some of the deaths are just as iconic as the big kills from the original, such as the brutal sequence where Freddy pulls a guy’s tendons out to turn him into a human puppet, or when he comes out of a TV to ram a girl’s head into the screen.

As fun as Dream Warriors is though, it is also a really messy and inconsistent film. For all of the cool things it brings to the franchise, it also has some elements I really didn’t like. For example, each character brings along some sort of ill-defined “dream power”, which feels like it could probably have been expanded further. Like, Kincaid’s power is that he becomes strong, but… it’s a dream. Could he not theoretically do anything if he is in control of his own dreams? I get that they probably don’t want the Dream Warriors to be able to fight back too easily, but it feels like a pretty artificial limitation. Worst of all though is the addition of a dull subplot involving Freddy’s mother and Freddy’s bones needing to be consecrated in order to put him to rest once and for all. It just sucks and every time the film cuts away to this subplot it loses a lot of the energy it has built up. Still, it’s not enough to truly ruin the film, and Dream Warriors brings so much fun to the table that it feels like a true successor to the original Nightmare‘s legacy.

4) Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
People are probably going to be angry that I put this ahead of Dream Warriors, and I can understand that. After the disaster that was Freddy’s Dead, Freddy Krueger felt totally defanged, so Wes Craven came back to the franchise to bring true horror back to the character. New Nightmare isn’t following the slasher formula so much, instead it is more of a psychological and supernatural thriller, with the focus being put onto Heather Langenkamp (playing a fictionalized version of herself), with Freddy being mostly an unseen, menacing presence. The film is also very slow in the middle and could have done with some tightening up in its almost 2 hour runtime.

Wes Craven essentially tested out his idea of meta-horror here for the first time, which he would later go on to redefine the horror genre with in Scream. Most people say that Scream does so much better, but I think that New Nightmare is pretty damn close to its successor. The fact that it’s a sequel dealing with its franchise’s own legacy and how that impacts the people involved in constructing that legacy is fascinating and not the sort of thing that can be explored in a stand-alone film. That said, it can feel like Wes Craven’s being more than a little self-congratulatory at times (especially with his explanation of Freddy’s demonic origins), although thankfully it doesn’t get nearly as bad as, say, Lady in the Water. Add in a stand-out performance from Heather Langenkamp and her compelling relationship with her son and the cultural legacy of Freddy Krueger and you’ve got a socially-relevant horror film with actual things to say.

I will note though that it starts to crumble a bit by the end when the more familiar slasher antics start to trickle in and the new, more menacing Freddy starts acting silly. The effects when he’s defeated (…spoiler?) are also embarrassing to witness. Still, I have to give this the edge over the funner, but much more uneven, Dream Warriors.

3) Halloween (1978)
A lot of people would have put Halloween at the top of this list, but I can’t really justify that myself. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an undeniably good film with great direction from John Carpenter, an iconic soundtrack and a good lead performance from Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s such a simple film, especially considering how the slasher genre evolved in its wake – Michael Myers escapes from the sanitarium, comes back home to Haddonfield and then stalks and kills a group of babysitters on Halloween. Michael himself is very clearly intended to be as simple as possible. He doesn’t really have a motivation to kill or a personality to speak of, he’s just evil. That could come across as just lazy for most films, but Halloween manages to make it work so well in part because it absolutely commits to the idea. The way that the main characters are handled also helps to make Halloween what it is. We spend a lot of time getting to know Laurie Strode and her friends while Michael Myers stalks them for a very long time. This creates a tension which just continues to build and build as you’re left wondering when or if Michael is ever going to strike. Then, when he finally does, all hell truly breaks loose as Laurie and Michael end up in a terrifying pursuit, which is also helped by how capable Laurie is.

Unfortunately, most of Halloween‘s issues come down to how dated it can feel at times. For one thing, the slasher boom which it inspired can make it feel quaint and restrained in comparison (and hence the accusations that it’s a simple film). The fact that this film was so influential also makes Laurie look like an idiot in retrospective, since she keeps turning her back on Michael when she thinks he’s dead. In a post-Halloween world we all know that you make sure that the killer’s dead, but there’s no way that Laurie would have known that… it doesn’t make me think she’s any less of an idiot though when I see her do it twice in 2019 though. Still, Halloween builds tension expertly and that’s an element which can’t be taken away from it, no matter how much time passes.

2) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
So many slasher movies tried to just get a slice of the popularity of Halloween, but A Nightmare on Elm Street surpassed them all by being incredibly creative. Rather than just have another killer on the loose, this killer stalks his victims in their dreams. It’s a pretty simple twist, but it adds a whole new dimension of terror, because not only do the characters now have to beware of a process which is just a part of everyday life, but it also allows the villain to break the usual laws of reality for some truly spectacular kills, not to mention scares such as the bathtub scene or Freddy’s silhouette coming out of the wall. It also establishes Freddy Krueger as an iconic, sadistic and truly evil villain for the ages. Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy Thompson is also one of the best final girls ever, very capable and clever, although Heather’s acting is a bit wonky throughout the film. The film also over-explains itself at times. For example, Nancy gets a phone call from a visibly broken phone, which some editor decided we needed to then needed to have confirmed was broken and then have Nancy say so as well for good measure… we get it, you didn’t need to reiterate the same thing over and over, movie. Really though, these are ultimately very minor gripes compared to the stupid, studio-mandated ending. I really hate the way this film ends, it was clearly done to get in “one last scare”, but it just shits all over the characters we’ve grown to care for during the film. Still, I can get over a crappy ending when the rest of the movie is so good. I love the inventiveness on display throughout A Nightmare on Elm Street, which easily establishes it as one of the greatest slasher flicks of all time (not to mention one of the best slasher franchises too, especially considering that four of the top ten films here are from the Nightmare franchise!). However, there can only be one film on the top of this list and I definitely know which slasher film I love the most…

1) The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
If you’ve read my retrospectives series, then you know that I love this movie. Kind of like Halloween, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a very simple film – a bunch of teens keep wandering onto a farm where they come across a family of murderous cannibals. However, it’s not the plot which makes this film so good, it’s the fantastic direction, the beautiful cinematography, the unrelenting intensity, the unsettling atmosphere and surprisingly deep themes. Very few horror movies actually scare me in any way – in fact, I’d say that literally no other film in this entire countdown gets my blood pumping at all (it makes it pretty difficult at times to figure out if a film is actually scary to most people or not). However, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is so unsettling that I can’t help but feel something while watching it. And it does it all with minimal on-screen violence! There really wasn’t an other film in contention for this #1 spot as far as I’m concerned, it’s just that good.

…and that’s it for the countdown! We’re not quite done yet though – be sure to tune in again soon as we go through some of the best moments in these franchises!

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Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Countdown! (#20-11)

We’re getting close now! After whittling our way through a bunch of truly crappy slasher films, we’re finally into the top 20, where I actually start enjoying some of these films! What a nice change of pace! With that said, let’s get back to the countdown, starting with #20…

20) A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
In a lot of ways, The Dream Master is like a rehash of Dream Warriors, but to a much lesser effect. It makes the questionable decision of killing off all of the surviving dream warriors in the first act, replacing them all with a new protagonist, Alice, who inherits Kris’ powers… somehow. Somehow’s probably a good description for The Dream Master, because the film just doesn’t bother to make any sense. Freddy’s powers expand to whatever’s most convenient for the writers at the time, such as how he gets around being buried and consecrated by being resurrected… in a dream. Shouldn’t he have not even been able to affect dreams if he was gone anyway? Who cares! And don’t even get me started on the ridiculous way that Freddy is defeated, I’m not sure I could even explain what the hell that was all about if you held a gun to my head. Freddy himself is starting to turn into more and more of a toothless cartoon here, with the particular lowlight of having him use his razor glove as a shark fin and then putting on a pair of sunglasses on the beach. However, The Dream Master is a pretty fun film overall with some of the best kills in the franchise. Debbie’s kill in particular is incredible and shows off this film’s fantastic special effects as she’s turned into a bug. It’s certainly a huge step down for the Elm Street franchise after so many good films, but at least The Dream Master is entertaining enough that it’s watchable.

19) Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
I know a lot of people hate Freddy vs. Jason and I kind of get it. The characters all suck, Freddy doesn’t get to do much, the fights are cartoonish and making Jason afraid of water is ridiculous. However, after more than two decades of slasher sequels just doing the same thing over and over again, they have to do something interesting to actually stand out to me. After getting burnt out on so many bad slasher sequels, at least Freddy vs. Jason had two horror icons going head-to-head with one another in truly brutal fashion. And, unlike many “versus” films, the showdown in the title isn’t just a tease – Freddy and Jason really do get some great fights during the film, culminating in a brutal final battle to see who will come out on top. The whole premise of the film is pretty clever too, featuring a hell-bound Freddy manipulating Jason into murdering people in Springwood so that the murders will be attributed to Freddy, which will allow him to return to the dream realm and continue killing. Sure, most of the individual aspects of the film are pretty crappy, but ultimately the blockbuster premise of the film is enough to make it stand out compared to most other slashers.

18) Halloween (2007)
Halloween has always been a difficult film to follow up on. The original film is, by design, incredibly simple and it’s difficult (perhaps even impossible) to recapture that magic now. It is perhaps unsurprising then that Rob Zombie’s Halloween is notoriously divisive. The film tries to be both an origin story and a remake at the same time, to mixed results. I actually liked the origin story segment of the film, for the most part. It’s something different, more of a character study of a disturbed mind. I know I’ve slagged a lot of the Halloween films for complicating Michael Myers’ “pure evil” motives, but since this is a remake, not beholden to the rules of the original story, I can get on board with a more humanized, rage-fuelled, clinically psychopathic take on Michael Myers. Daeg Faerch’s performance as the burgeoning serial killer is fantastic.

However, the second half of the film is where it all begins to crumble. It takes about fifty minutes (in the Director’s Cut anyway) for Michael Myers to escape and for the narrative to finally get past what was only the first few minutes of the original film. From this point onwards, Rob Zombie’s Halloween is basically just a poor remake of the original. Worse, moving the story in this direction largely makes the more enjoyable origin section largely pointless. What purpose was there in humanizing Michael Myers, making him seem sympathetic and downtrodden, if you’re just going to shift the story’s perspective to Laurie and have him murder innocent people like in the original film? It feels like they felt like they had to hit all the iconic beats from the original film, but with the fundamental context of the villain changed, it doesn’t make sense. Given what we’ve seen of Michael up to this point, he kills in violent fits of rage when people antagonize him (Ronnie, Judith, the asshole nurse and the asshole redneck orderlies). He even has people that he likes and cares for (specifically, his mother and his baby sister). So why would he go on a murder spree against Laurie’s friends? Hell, for that matter, how does he even know that Laurie is his secret baby sister or that he would find her in Haddonfield? Again, this made sense in the original movie – Michael’s just evil, he goes back to Haddonfield because that’s where he started his killings, and he targets Laurie and her friends by pure happenstance when he decides to start stalking them. I also think that they should have just made this Michael use homemade masks during his killing spree. I get that the Michael Myers mask is iconic and so they probably felt beholden to using it, but I just didn’t get the connection that Michael would have with it where he’d come back to it seventeen years later.

Unfortunately, even if they had justified Michael’s actions a bit more, the remake section of the film is also just badly paced compared to the original. There isn’t much tension building – we get about fifteen minutes total to meet the characters and have Michael stalk them before he’s already murdering them (a process which, by itself, takes maybe ten or fifteen minutes before he’s just pursuing Laurie for the rest of the movie). It’s far less subtle and far less exciting as far as I’m concerned.

Rob Zombie’s artistic influence might also turn plenty of people off. His dialogue tends to be very crude, with at least half of the entire cast being either straight-up horny, or full-on sex perverts. And I do mean the entire cast – we’ve got Laurie and all her friends having or talking almost exclusively about sex (I get that they’re teenagers, but c’mon, they talk about other things), all of Michael’s family talk about sex (and his mom’s a freaking stripper for christsakes), Michael’s bully/first victim talks about how he’s going to bang Mikey’s mom, both of Laurie’s parent’s talking about getting it on, even the goddamn babysitting kids are speculating about who’s getting laid, etc. At a certain point it just makes your eyes roll when sex is all that anyone can talk about… which also leads us into the cynicism of this film. This movie is set in such a crapsack world and a lot of the sexual dialogue is also sexually violent (lots of instances of people saying that they’re going to rape someone) or sexual insults (lots of instances of people calling someone a “faggot”). Combine this with several characters who exist for no other reason than to be unbearable assholes and the movie can just get tiring at times. The Director’s Cut also has a scene where an asshole orderly and his asshole cousin straight-up rape a patient in front of Michael Myers. It’s an idiotic and disgusting scene, which only exists to add some more extreme content to the film and ultimately makes Michael’s escape from the sanitarium a matter of pure dumbassery.

There are some really good things about Rob Zombie’s Halloween though. The cast is absolutely stacked and they all do a fantastic job, especially Malcolm McDowell’s much more sympathetic Dr. Loomis. Michael Myers himself is extremely imposing, able to bash heavyweights like Danny Trejo and Ken Foree to death with his bare hands. Rob Zombie’s direction is also fairly good, although he does ape John Carpenter a bit too much in the second half. And, again, I quite like the origin segment, even if it is pointless when you factor in the rest of the film. It’s a shame that Halloween is such a mixed bag though. If it hadn’t felt quite so beholden to telling the same story as the original, we could have gotten something truly special.

17) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a truly bonkers sequel, which is incredible when you realize that it was also made by Tobe Hooper, director of the original film. I saw both films for the first time as part of a back-to-back double bill and it was quite the tonal whiplash to say the least. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 aims to be more of a horror comedy and while it’s questionable if it succeeded, the film is absolutely batshit crazy from start to finish. This is largely thanks to its colourful cast of characters, which features Dennis Hopper as an insane Texas ranger who wields an arsenal of chainsaws and screams “BRING IT DOWN!!!!” and “I am the lord of the harvest!” with such fervour that it becomes instantly memorable. Arguably even more memorable is Bill Moseley as Choptop, probably the most iconic character he’s ever played and one of the best characters in the entire franchise. Then there’s Leatherface, who suddenly finds himself in the throes of horniness as he has to decide between the saw and family. Hell, I haven’t even mentioned the final girl Stretch yet, who is probably the best protagonist in the Chainsaw franchise. Really, there’s a lot to love about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, but the film is mostly an entertaining failure. It’s apparently supposed to be a satire of Reagan’s politics and yuppie culture, but I don’t think that these really came across that well, and more often I feel like I’m laughing at the film, rather than with it.

16) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
The Chainsaw remake is unquestionably a lesser film than the original, but on its own merits it is a decent remake which brings some interesting new ideas to the table. Probably the best addition is Sherrif Hoyt, a delightfully evil bastard who taunts the main characters and chews the scenery as only R. Lee Ermey can. Leatherface has also been given beefed up considerably, becoming more of a terrifying, somewhat more cunning hunter. The film is also nowhere near as violent and gory as its reputation would suggest, it actually feels quite restrained if you go back and watch it. In fact, I’d say that I was actually quite enjoying the Chainsaw remake for the first two thirds as it slowly builds up the tension and establishes the (somewhat mediocre) characters. Unfortunately, the film devolves into a series of tedious, loud chase sequences in its last third, which deflates much of the tension which it had been building up. It’s too bad really, the Chainsaw remake is decent enough, but it could have been legitimately good on its own merits if that last act had had a bit more substance to it.

15) Leatherface (2017)
Leatherface feels like it has the deck stacked against it – it’s a prequel that no one asked for, continuing the story of a Chainsaw sequel no one cares about and sheds pretty much everything we’ve come to expect from the franchise thus far. Despite that, on its own merits, Leatherface is a surprisingly solid film, although it would probably be better without its Chainsaw heritage. Instead of a slasher film, Leatherface is a roadtrip movie featuring a bunch of surprisingly fleshed-out, runaway psychos who are about ready to kill each other at any moment. The film also builds up a mystery about which character will grow up to be Leatherface, although the ultimate answer to this mystery is questionable and doesn’t jive with the character as established in the previous films. The film also builds on the Hartman/Sawyer feud established in Texas Chainsaw 3D, although it also reestablishes the Sawyers as straight-up evil bastards, so I’m still not sure what they were doing making them appear heroic in Texas Chainsaw 3D. Again, Leatherface is a reasonably good film, although its status as a Chainsaw prequel hurts it more than it helps.

14) Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
For the most part, Friday the 13th Part 2 is the same film as the first, only with a bag-headed Jason as the killer instead of his mom. Sure, he’s supposed to be dead and the film basically acknowledges it up front, but it’s not really something worth getting caught up on. There’s a never-ending debate about whether the original Friday the 13th or Part 2 is better and it ultimately comes down to personal taste, because they both have different strengths and weaknesses. On the plus side, I like how Part 2 handles Jason, only giving us bits and pieces of him at a time. We start out only seeing his feet, then later we see him but he’s got a bag on his head which keeps him mysterious. Then when he loses his bag, we still don’t get to see his unmasked face until the end. The film handles his shack in a similar manner, introducing it but making the contents a mystery until Ginny stumbles across it. The movie also has a couple of classic kills, with Mark’s machete to the face which causes his wheelchair to go careening down two flights of steps, and Jeff and Sandra getting speared together right after sex. Part 2 also has some characters that I actually like. Ginny’s a strong final girl, she’s smart and fairly clever and even fights back against Jason sometimes. Her boyfriend, Paul, is also an enjoyable character; he’s not super deep, but he’s responsible, likeable, capable and a very solid supporting character who you don’t want to see anything bad happen to. Speaking of which, Part 2 has two of the best “victim” characters in the whole franchise with Mark, a wheelchair-bound hunk, and Vickie, a cute girl who is really into Mark. Watching them interact is so cute and you instantly find yourself rooting for them both, which makes it heartbreaking when they end up on the chopping block and Jason starts hunting them down. Slasher movies, why can’t you give us more characters we actually care about instead of cannon fodder?

Speaking of which, the way that Mark and Vickie are handled shows that the whole idea that slasher movies are always exploitative and regressive when it comes to sex really didn’t have to be a thing. Vickie is very upfront that she wants to have sex with Mark and we, the audience, are totally rooting for it because they’re both into it and are respectful of each other. In a franchise (and genre for that matter) replete with casual sexual harassment for cheap titillation, it’s nice to see a healthy, happy relationship for once and I wish that more played out like this in slasher films… y’know, even if it ends with murder.

Which brings me to the negatives for Part 2. While I can praise some of the characters in this film, the rest of the main cast are not great. There’s Jeff and Sandra, who are basically just sexy, dull nobodies. I didn’t really get anything out of their characters, despite their considerable screentime. They’re both preferable to Ted though, this movie’s obligatory stupid prankster, but unlike the first film’s Ned, he survives the whole movie… ugh. Then there’s Terry and Scott, who both suuuuck. Scott spends the whole film sexually harassing Terry, staring at her ass, stealing her clothes so she has to chase him naked, etc. I hate this guy so much and you’d think that that would make me at least like Terry, but she’s handled so badly. She just runs around in short shorts and a crop top, which is basically treated as her character because she does absolutely nothing. Like, when her dog goes missing, she decides that the best thing to do to find it is to go skinny dipping so the audience can see her naked. I mean, clearly, that’s all she’s really here for. Probably the biggest issue with Part 2 though is the pacing. The film is shorter than the first film, but it feels sluggish in comparison. The first six and a half minutes are largely recycled footage recapping the ending of the first film. It’s annoying and unnecessarily long – they could have easily cut the entire thing, but if they felt like they had to include it then it could have been several minutes shorter. It’s clearly just padding for time. The film then wastes another five minutes following previous final girl Alice wandering around her house until Jason finally pops out and kills her. The film also takes forty-four minutes to really get going, more than ten minutes more than the original film and I’m not convinced that there was really a need for this additional setup time. Like I said though, your preference of the original or Part 2 is going to come down to taste. While I prefer some of the characters in Part 2, the original’s snappier pace and twist ending give it the edge in my opinion.

13) Friday the 13th (1980)
Considering that it’s just one of many Halloween rip-offs that kicked off the slasher boom of the early 80s, Friday the 13th is a pretty decent movie in its own right. I mean, it’s nothing particularly special – the story is super simple, the acting isn’t great, the characters are pretty flat and half of the kills are off-screen, but there’s something enjoyable about it regardless. One big asset in its favour is the soundtrack, which definitely elevates the film every moment it is used. It’s eerie when it needs to build tension and then explosive at all the right moments. I mean, sure, it’s also clearly derivative of Psycho‘s soundtrack, but at least they’re imitating the best, right? Another element of the film that has retroactively become even better is the mystery angle. At the onset, the audience doesn’t know who is killing the counsellors or why. Considering the legacy this franchise has developed, most new viewers are going to assume that it’s Jason, but this just makes the Pamela Voorhees reveal even better. Betsy Palmer kills it as an unhinged, murderous grandma, making what could have been a pretty lame reveal (especially considering that we haven’t even heard of this character before her reveal) into something special.

Considering that Friday the 13th was basically just a Halloween knock-off, it’s interesting to compare how the two contrast. For one thing, Friday the 13th is definitely a gorier film. It’s restrained by the standards of its franchise, but there are still some pretty gruesome shots of Kevin Bacon getting an arrow through the back of his throat, a girl getting a freaking axe embedded in her face and another getting pinned to a door by three arrows. Friday the 13th also tries to spend time letting us get to know its cast of characters, but it does so to much lesser effect. We get several scenes of the characters interacting, but we don’t really get to know much about their personalities, other than that Ned is a dickhead (who dies mercifully quickly). I mean, they’re all better than the typical slasher movie “cannon fodder” who are introduced and then die immediately, but not even final girl Alice feels like a fleshed out character. The other thing that Friday the 13th unsuccessfully tries to emulate from Halloween is tension-building. Someone must have seen all the scenes in Halloween where nothing of major import is happening and thought that this is how you build up for a good scare. However, in Halloween, these scenes of “nothing” usually remain interesting because there’s still a clear motive or goal for the character while they are performing their actions which keeps it interesting. In Friday the 13th, we get multiple scenes of Alice doing nothing particularly important, but it doesn’t really build to anything. For example, Annie is bored, so she plays guitar and then puts on fire wood… nothing happens. Later, she’s bored so she puts on a kettle and grabs some sugar… nothing happens. It just wastes time. Later we spend like three minutes watching Alice barricade a door and close windows while she tries to hide from Pamela. It’s ultimately just meant to be monotonous and lull you into boredom so that when Pamela throws a body through the window they can get a cheap scare. I mean, I guess it works, but it’s a pretty poor way to go about it. Still, I can’t really be too harsh, Friday the 13th is a fun, simple, classic 80s horror film which is still easily watchable today.

12) Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Season of the Witch is the infamous Halloween film which wasn’t about Michael Myers, a decision which earned it scorn for decades (although it has finally started to get a cult following in recent years). Setting that bone of contention aside, Season of the Witch is actually a really enjoyable film, enough to make one wish that the Halloween franchise hadn’t felt like it had to be tethered to Michael Myers. On its surface, the whole premise is certifiably insane – there’s an evil toy maker who wants to commit a mass sacrifice by convincing children all across America to buy his magical Halloween masks, which will be triggered en masse when a special broadcast is played. Oh and there are androids and a stolen piece of Stonehenge for good measure! But none of that really matters while you’re watching the film, because it’s all played straight and is made competently enough that you just go with it. There’s a very palpable 80s charm to this film, harkening back to the sci-fi/horror/mystery films which modern properties like Stranger Things and Super 8 try to recapture. Anchoring it all is leading man Tom Atkins, who plays the most 80s hero imaginable: a meatheaded, womanizing, chronic alcoholic, deadbeat dad who stumbles into a mystery after meeting a beautiful stranger whose father was killed by a shadowy conspiracy. Atkins’ character is ridiculous, but he’s played with enough charm that I at least found him funny, although I can certainly understand if someone couldn’t stand him (especially since the female lead, while initially intriguing and feisty, is quickly relegated to generic damsel in distress). The kills are also pretty brutal, including such highlights as a guy getting his head ripped right off and an annoying ginger kid’s head exploding into bugs and snakes! The music is also great, with a repeated jingle that will get stuck in your head forever after. It’s certainly something worth seeing, and is definitely better than most of the Halloween sequels that followed.

11) Jason X (2002)
Jason X is absurd and I fucking LOVE it. While there has always been an element of dark humour to the Friday the 13th films, they’re usually very self-serious (aside from scattered moments where Jason stabs someone in the eye with a honking bike horn, or bashes a face into a tree which leaves behind a smiley face, etc). This generally-dour attitude can make Friday the 13th films a bit of a slog to get through, but then along comes Jason X, which captures the spirit of this franchise far better than you would ever expect. Usually when a franchise heads into self-parody, it’s a disastrous move which kills the franchise’s main storyline (see: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Alien: Resurrection, etc). In the case of Jason X, we’re already ten films into this series and it actually provides a refreshing twist to make the film overtly tongue-in-cheek. The sci-fi setting helps this immensely, as having Jason running around on a space ship gives us all sorts of creative new opportunities, from healing nanomachines to holodecks. It also makes him even more intimidating, because guns are not in short supply here. Jason gets pumped full of bullets, but they barely phase him, which is far more frightening to me than just having all his victims be too feeble to fight back.

Jason X also benefits from the fact that it plays out more like an Alien movie than it does a Friday the 13th film. In a Friday the 13th movie, usually the big cast of characters split up to do their own thing and then get killed one-by-one. In an Alien movie, the cast generally sticks together while the monster hunts them down one-by-one. It’s a seemingly-subtle change, but it makes a huge difference. Instead of having cannon fodder characters who we only see in once or twice before they get killed off, we get cannon fodder characters who actually get time to make an impression as the cast quickly gets whittled down. None of the characters are fleshed out or deep, but in a regular Friday the 13th film, obvious victim characters like Crutch, Waylander or Janessa would not make any sort of impression. However, since they get time to interact with the group of survivors and actually get something of a personality, I can’t help but feel bad for them when their inevitable demise comes. There aren’t really any unbearable, cartoonish asshole characters either – sure, Professor Lowe is a sleazeball, but he’s actually fun to watch. I’ll actually go so far as to say that Jason X has the single best performance in the franchise (outside of the actors playing Jason anyway, they’ve always done a great job), courtesy of Lisa Ryder’s android character Kay-Em 14. The moment she comes onto the screen, you can tell that she’s an android without having to be told – the way she moves and the way she talks is subtly mechanical, but it contrasts enough with the more natural actions of the human characters that it’s clear. She also gets to take a level in badass near the end of the film and is in general such a pleasant and helpful character that you can’t help but love her. Not only do we get one standout character, but Jason X also features the total badass Sgt. Brodski, a regular soldier who goes toe-to-toe with Jason on multiple occasions and manages to survive each time. Again, he’s not particularly deep, but he’s played with such gusto by Peter Mensah and is so unkillable that you just want to cheer whenever he’s on-screen.

In case it wasn’t obvious already, Jason X is a hell of a lot of fun. For one thing, it has what is considered one of the best kills in the franchise with the liquid nitrogen kill, plus plenty of other awesome kills including a guy getting thrown onto a giant corkscrew (and then spinning around due to gravity, nice!), Jason breaking another guy’s back over his knee, or Kay-Em 14 blowing Jason to bits with a grenade launcher. The film’s tongue-in-cheek tone is also just hilarious. We get moments such as Jason managing to resurrect himself in the film because he literally senses horny teenagers having sex nearby and he is not going to let that shit go down on his watch! I also love when Uber Jason gets drawn into a VR simulation where he beats a ditzy counsellor inside a sleeping bag to death with another ditzy counsellor in a sleeping bag (complete with goofy squeals of “Ow!” every time he lands a hit). There are also several funny one-liners. Brodski acts like a total badass when he gets skewered by Jason for the first time, saying “Gonna take more than a poke in the ribs to put this old dog down!” Jason then immediately follows that up with a machete to the gut, to which Brodski says “…Yeah, that outta do it.” The line delivery is so funny, but the crowning moment has to be when Professor Lowe tries to defeat Jason with with his Charisma stat. Suffice to say, “Guys, it’s okay, he just wanted his machete back!” might be my favourite moment in the whole film. Even the filmmaking itself is funny – as soon as the final girl realizes that Jason is on board the ship, she demands to see him. Professor Lowe says that he’s definitely dead and the incredulous heroine says “Show me”. It then immediately cuts to them cleaning up the body of the liquid nitrogen kill while the Professor squirms about this predicament. It’s not only a funny moment, but it is also very efficient filmmaking which keeps the pace moving at a snappy rate.

I love Jason X, it tickles me in all the right ways. It is undeniably a dumb film with poor character writing, terrible special effects and lacking in any real originality, but goddamn if it isn’t a good time. Hell, I enjoy this movie so much that I’d say Jason X is probably my favourite Friday the 13th film in the whole franchise. I wouldn’t say that it’s necessarily the best, highest-quality entry in the franchise by any means, but it is my favourite to watch.

…and that’s all for this entry. Be sure to tune in again soon as we finally count down the top 10 best movies in these franchises. Which movie is going to take the top spot?

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Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Countdown! (#30-21)

Welcome back to the big slasher franchise countdown! After whittling our way through some of the worst films I’ve ever seen… well, we’re still working our way through a bunch of crappy films today. They’re just not as crappy as Freddy’s Dead, which is something to celebrate, I guess! So with that in mind, let’s look at the next batch of movies, starting with #30…

30) Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
After killing off Jason in Part IV, the producers wanted to carry on the franchise without him. If they had decided to do something other than replace him with a Jason knock-off this could have maybe worked, but since they didn’t, A New Beginning just feels like a filler entry in the franchise, not only because Jason would be back in the next film, but also because they clearly wanted to set-up Tommy Jarvis as the new killer going forward. On the one hand, it is really nice to see Tommy Jarvis return and lend some continuity to the film, but the way he is handled is very poor. He basically spends the whole movie on the verge of freaking out, in a medically-induced haze, snapping at people who act like a dick to him, or just entirely missing for large chunks of the runtime. Some of this comes down to the filmmakers trying to set up a mystery about who the killer is, similar to the first film, and Tommy Jarvis is one of the main red herrings. This mystery is actually better handled in some ways than it was in the original, since there are several potential killers, including a mysterious drifter, a guy who legitimately axe murders someone early in the film and even a potentially resurrected Jason Voorhees himself. However, the execution of this mystery is significantly worse than in the original film and is easily one of the main reasons why A New Beginning is so derided. This is a movie whose entire premise hinges on a kid named Joey who is so stupid and annoying (he literally has melted chocolate running down his lips) that a guy with rage issues axes him to death, causing Joey’s deadbeat dad to freak out and go on a murder spree. Why did he take it all out on his whole community instead of going after the guy who actually killed his son? Good question, who knows! We don’t even find out until the ending that the killer was a random paramedic named Roy Burns who had shown up momentarily at two earlier points in the film, at which point they just exposition dump his motives. However, the way that the film highlights the seemingly-pointless Roy Burns during these sequences pretty much gives away the twist if you’re only paying attention to the language of film, rather than a coherent narrative. I don’t think this twist was ever going to be satisfying, but it could have worked better if Roy Burns got unmasked just a little earlier and went on a rage-fuelled tangent about how he’s getting revenge for his son.

Even without the poor twist though, A New Beginning is just a really bad Friday the 13th movie. The characters are all nobodies. Several characters are introduced in the same scene where they are killed off with the audience having no reason to give a shit about them. The bulk of the characters only get two or three scenes, but absolutely no development beyond an outline of a character trait. Even final girl Pam doesn’t have much character to speak of and Tommy Jarvis himself gets no real development in the film. The only character who is at least fun to watch is the little black kid Reggie, who adds a bit of diversity to a franchise which had been overwhelmingly white until now. Oh, and then there are the fucking rednecks. Holy shit I loathe these cartoon bumpkins. They get more screentime than most of the other characters and every second of it makes me want to murder them myself. The dull characters combine with mediocre kills and the film’s unavoidable filler status to make A New Beginning a truly forgettable Friday the 13th film. I have to give them a bit of credit for trying to take the franchise in a different direction, but boy did it not work.

29) A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
On the surface, the Elm Street remake seems to have some good things going for it, most obviously the casting of Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger. It’s also obvious that the screenwriters did some research before writing the film because they inject new ideas into the story based on the science of sleep deprivation and the history of the Satanic Panic (which was still unfolding during the time of the original Elm Street).

Unfortunately, the Elm Street remake ultimately feels like a needless disappointment. Many of the film’s beats are just copies of the original, but done to much lesser effect (eg, CGI Freddy coming out of the wall looks so much worse than the sheet effect in the original). As for the new ideas, while the sleep deprevation ideas come across more as a half-baked means of narrative convenience, it’s the Satanic Panic elements which really screw over this film. You could boil this movie’s story down to “What if Satanic Panic, but real?” The Elm Street remake teases the idea that Freddy was innocent of any wrongdoing and is getting revenge on the children for lying to their parents, which is exactly what happened in the real life events that this film is clearly inspired by. The main characters also have to uncover their “repressed memories” of the events, which is another key element of the Satanic Panic which was later proven false. However, in this film it turns out that Freddy Krueger was actually a pedophile, so it’s good that the parents all burned him alive without any real evidence and repressed memories are totally real, y’all! Considering that they were obviously cribbing from a real-life event which ruined several peoples’ lives despite them all being completely innocent and then turn the narrative around to them actually being guilty, it’s disappointing. That’s not even getting to the fact that turning Freddy into a straight-up pedophile and abuser completely sucks any sort of fun you might get out of the character. It makes him too real and too disgusting to enjoy. Why would any of us want to see Freddy continue to abuse victims whose lives he’s been ruining for their whole lives? I’m not sure where the line of no return is between this unacceptable Freddy and Freddy torturing teenagers by turning them into bugs and then squashing them, but the Elm Street remake is just joyless and it’s no wonder there wasn’t a sequel.

A unlikeable Freddy is not the end of the remake’s issues though either. The film features a pre-breakout Rooney Mara as Nancy, which would lead one to expect a strong performance from her. However, her performance is practically lifeless and the character is written as a boring, passive protagonist. This effectively torpedoes audience engagement on its own, even if Freddy was more likeable in his own right. It’s strange too because one of the elements of the film I do like is that the first half hour frames Kris as the protagonist – she figures out that the killer is in their nightmares, starts looking into the characters’ pasts and gets the most development. As a result, it’s actually pretty shocking when she’s the one who gets killed in the first act, in easily the most impactful death of the film. This could have actually been a great idea if Nancy had been set up better to pick up the torch from her, kind of like how Alice becomes the protagonist in The Dream Master. Ultimately, the film is also just not very fun or scary. Perhaps they were going for a more grounded take on Freddy, but he doesn’t really do anything creative with his victims’ dreams. He just shows them scenes from the past, and then when he’s stalking them the most elaborate thing he’ll do is teleport around. Add everything up and you have a remake which they just shouldn’t have bothered with, because there is basically nothing to recommend.

28) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)
As much as I detest this film, I have to give it one thing – it’s main goal is to be a brutal film and in this regard it succeeds in spades. With torture porn coming in vogue at the time, the producers at Platinum Dunes decided that they really had to up the ante compared to the Chainsaw remake, and you can’t deny that they created a very nasty film. If that’s all you’re looking for then you will probably enjoy The Beginning much more than I did, but if not then you’re in for a miserable time. For my own tastes, The Beginning is so bleak in its pointless torture of the characters that there’s nothing to enjoy about it. Even then, the film is a piss-poor excuse for a prequel, skimming over questions that no one really asked about the Chainsaw remake. Furthermore, the narrative also stumbles with a Vietnam war draft dodging subplot which goes nowhere and a final girl who keeps rolling nat 20s on her stealth checks until it becomes narratively convenient for her to finally get caught. Even R. Lee Ermey’s Sherrif Hoyt is much less fun to watch. Again, your feelings on this film will probably come down to taste, but for my own part, I don’t like it at all.

27) Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)
Texas Chainsaw 3D has to be one of the stupidest horror sequels in the past decade, even if you ignore the fact that the characters are about 20 years too young based on the film’s timeline (this is because the film was supposed to be set in the 1990s, but was changed to present day at the last minute). Some of this probably comes down to the fact that this film was co-written by Adam Marcus, the guy who brought us Jason Goes to Hell. Here he once again tries to expand a franchise’s mythology, this time by bringing us a feud between two clans, the Sawyers and the Hartmans. The most baffling aspect of this is that the Sawyers, and Leatherface, get repositioned as freaking misunderstood heroes… who, y’know, we’ll just conveniently pretend don’t regularly engage in murder, torture and cannibalism. It’s especially ridiculous when their foes, the Hartmans, are essentially just guilty of police brutality, which is bad but nothing compared to the inhuman acts of the Sawyers. The 3D is also pretty bad, although very restrained compared to the likes of Friday the 13th: Part III and Freddy’s Dead. All that said, Texas Chainsaw 3D is at least never boring, which helps keep it out of the bottom tiers of this list, but good God does it ever insult your intelligence.

26) Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
Halloween 4 is about as bog-standard as a Halloween sequel could be. Michael Myers escapes from the sanitarium on Halloween… again. He’s trying to kill his last remaining relative… again. Dr. Loomis and the sherrif are trying to hunt him down before he can kill… again. I mean, there are a few differences between this as the original Halloween, namely the introduction of child actress Danielle Harris’ new character, Jamie Lloyd, daughter of a now-deceased Laurie Strode. Having a child as one of the main characters provides a more vulnerable victim for Michael to hunt down, but she ultimately is little more than a burden for the other characters to protect. Speaking of other characters, the other female lead, Rachel, is pretty boring. She is constantly losing Jamie and the only other thing we get for her is that her boyfriend cheats on her because she has to babysit Jamie on Halloween… wow, she’s really good at picking them isn’t she? We also get Dr. Loomis back, but he’s much more restrained than he was in previous Halloween films. He’s still easily the most entertaining character, but compared to the first two films he’s definitely mellowed out.

Halloween 4 makes some weird and unfortunate decisions. For one thing, the tension that was so key to the first film is gone. Michael rarely stalks his victims now, he just shows up and kills them almost immediately. He also teleports around town whenever it’s narratively convenient, killing whole police stations and power plants in the process while somehow managing to keep track of where Jamie is at all times. Oh and Michael’s mask is so strange looking in this film – it’s almost pure white, the eyes are pure black and the texture is so smooth looking that the lighting can’t give it any sort of depth. It just looks strange, especially compared to all the other masks in this franchise. I know that the producers felt like they had to course-correct after the much-maligned Season of the Witch, but Halloween 4 ultimately is just a boring film which tries way too hard to recapture the original film’s spirit, while missing out on basically everything that made that film work.

25) Halloween II (1981)
Hoo boy, of all the franchises on this list the Halloween franchise saw the biggest dip in quality between its first and second films, in my opinion. This is probably a surprising placement for most, because it seems like a lot of people think Halloween II is pretty decent, and I kind of get the urge to defend it (especially considering the films that came after). However, I was actually really disappointed by Halloween II. You’d think that only a couple years removed from the original they’d be able to retain a spark of what made the first film work so well, but this film feels more akin to the Halloween slasher ripoffs than it does the original. There are scattered moments of brilliance, such as Michael Myers coming out of the shadows behind an unsuspecting victim and a couple solid kills, but most of this movie is incredibly unsatisfying. Part of the issue is that Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode is wasted in a comatose state for the first hour, and instead we have to watch a bunch of unlikeable and/or personality-less characters get picked off one-by-one with no real clear direction of what anyone is doing. When Laurie finally does start getting stalked by Michael, the tension and enjoyment does ratchet up considerably, but by then two thirds of the movie have passed. Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis is also already going batshit crazy by this film, ranting like a madman, shooting out car windows and dragging people into danger, which makes for some fun distractions at least. Unfortunately, other than those little flashes of brilliance and a decent last act, most of Halloween II is really underwhelming and lacking in momentum.

24) A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)
At its core, The Dream Child has a surprisingly compelling premise – protagonist Alice is pregnant and her unborn child has become connected to Freddy and is leeching off Alice’s dream powers. As a result, Freddy is able to use the unborn child to attack victims in the real world at any time, since the fetus is almost always dreaming. This means that Alice has to grapple with the idea of aborting her own child in order to stop Freddy from killing people, which is a fantastic set-up for some tense drama. Unfortunately, the execution of this premise is not great, since Alice immediately takes abortion off the table, so from there it just becomes a Nightmare film with increasingly-unclear rules. This is the entry in the Nightmare franchise where Freddy finally became a total cartoon character, quipping off cringy one-liners before, during and after every kill, and sometimes you’d just wish he’d shut up. The film also brings back the subplot about Freddy’s mother, which was already one of the worst parts about the previous Nightmare films, and is just as crappy here, only now with a hokey dream child thrown in for good measure. By this film, Alice has grown on me a fair bit, but the new characters are little more than walking victims, whose character traits only exist to give Freddy something to kill them with. Speaking of which, this movie has a surprisingly low number of kills and they’re a real mixed bag. The force-feeding death has some really terrible looking effects and the Freddy-cycle kill is okay but Freddy’s constant one-liners make it annoying, but the “Take on Me” inspired rotoscope kill is a true classic which shows off just how cool and creative Nightmare films can be… too bad this film is just a convoluted, nonsensical mess.

23) Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
The New Blood has a very strange premise which practically screams “franchise fatigue”, as the film suddenly throws a character with psychic powers into the mix. Maybe they figured “well, Jason’s a zombie now so any sort of magic is on the table”? It basically makes The New Blood into Carrie vs Jason and the last act when the two are finally allowed to go head-to-head has some of the most amazing sequences in any Friday the 13th movie. This is helped by the introduction of everyone’s favourite Jason Vorhees, Kane Hodder, who gets the absolute crap kicked out of him as final girl Tina throws Jason around, flings things, lights him on fire and even drops a house on him, complete with some of the best special effects in the whole franchise (and probably the best-looking Jason for that matter). However, the film comes with some MAJOR caveats. For one thing, the MPAA was cracking down hard on slasher films at this time and so most of the kills were censored heavily (although we did get the classic “sleeping bag kill”, which gets around needing to have any gore with how creatively brutal it is). I’d also argue that, if we’re just judging on the first hour of the film, this could have been the worst film in the entire Friday the 13th franchise. Other than Tina, the characters are forgettable or infuriatingly unlikeable (especially Dr. Crews), and it’s hard to care as Jason tears through a bunch of nobodies for the millionth time. Still, at least the last act is fun enough that it at somewhat makes up for the rest of the mess.

22) Friday the 13th (2009)
As far as horror remakes go, Friday the 13th is actually pretty decent. It’s faithful to the source material without being overly-reverential and essentially feels like an updated, more explicit entry in the franchise. And man, do I ever mean more explicit – not only is Jason just brutal in this film, but the nudity and sex scenes have been cranked up to borderline-porno levels. Jason himself has also gotten an interesting makeover, coming across here as an unstoppable survivalist who uses the environment against his victims and actually sets traps for them. He’s certainly a more cunning, fast and lethal foe than ever, making him easily the most intense and arguably the scariest Jason ever. However, the film commits the cardinal sin of most slashers, featuring unlikeable and uninteresting characters who exist for no reason but to get killed in various brutal ways. Chief among these is Trent, a cartoonish, irredeemable asshole who is apparently supposed to be Megan Fox’s ex-boyfriend from the start of Transformers (a bit of trivia I learned while researching my ranking of cinematic universes). The other characters are all just bog-standard at best, which keeps the film from being good in its own right, but by Friday standards, it’s solid.

21) Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
Leatherface isn’t a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to give it some credit for introducing some interesting new ideas to the Chainsaw franchise which have never really been capitalized upon. Foremost amongst these is the idea of making the Sawyers into active hunters, rather than having them scavenge and kill people who just happen to wander onto their property. It gives the film more of a The Hills Have Eyes vibe, which feels appropriate. As the film’s title suggests, Leatherface has also been beefed up, becoming a meaner, more sadistic killer who wields a massive, golden chainsaw at the end. The villainous characters are also quite colourful, from the creative Tink, to the charming Tex, to the disgusting pervert, Alfredo. The main couple, Ryan and Michelle, are unfortunately pretty underwhelming protagonists, but at least we get Ken Foree as Benny, a badass survivalist who goes toe-to-toe with the Sawyers and is an absolute joy to watch. Despite all these cool elements, the film is unable to execute on any of them to the fullest, which is in part due to studio interference and the MPAA mercilessly cutting down on all of the brutal deaths.

…and that’s all for this entry in the rankings. We’re getting closer to the top though! Be sure to tune in again soon though, as we go through #20-11!

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Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Countdown! (#39-31)

Happy Halloween everyone! This new series has been a long time coming. Since at least the Texas Chainsaw Massacre retrospective I’ve been considering ranking all of the films from the big four slasher franchises, Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Obviously, this is a mammoth undertaking – we’re talking 39 films here, about half of which I hadn’t seen before. I’ll be counting down 10 films in each post (well, 9 in this one post), releasing a new post every second day, until we reach Halloween, at which point I’ll have a special comparison of the best parts of each franchise. So, without further adieu, let’s get into the bottom of the barrel – there are some notoriously awful films in these franchises, so which ones are going to fight for the title of the worst? Read on to find out…

39) Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
I didn’t think that any slasher movie could be worse than Texs Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, but then along comes Freddy’s Dead to prove me wrong. It’s a super close contest between the two, since they’re awful for different reasons, but I came to the decision that the problems with Freddy’s Dead put it on top of the shit pile. The plot is contrived and derivative, the characters suck, the acting is mostly trash, the special effects are amateur-level and the film ignores all of the rules that the series had established and just hopes that no one will notice. Worst of all, they’ve turned Freddy Krueger into such a cartoon that he is just annoying. Like, on more than one occasion I wished that he’d just shut up. It feels like New Line Cinema had turned Freddy into such an icon that they defanged him to try to get mass appeal. However, like most corporate mascots in the 90s, the result is a movie which is staggeringly uncool. This all culiminates in the most embarrassing slasher movie moment ever, when Freddy kills a victim in a video game with some of the stupidest dialogue, visuals and sound effects imaginable. Seriously, it has to be seen to be believed. Oh and lest we forget, the last act of the film is in gimmicky 3D, featuring the tadpole-like “Dream Demons” which just float around and laugh a lot.

I will give it some credit though – Carlos’ death scene is very solid. There’s some actual tension and horror in the scene. Hell, even cartoon Freddy strikes a perfect, dark comedic tone here, giving us at least one kill that’s entertaining. Too bad the rest of the film is total nonsensical garbage. What really puts it at the bottom of the pile though is that this film had an $11 million budget! Considering what we got on screen, that is totally insane. This film’s quality is even worse when you also consider that this was still a major franchise for New Line Cinema, although it also calls to mind such 90s misfires as Batman & Robin. Freddy’s Dead is truly the bottom of the barrel for slasher films, which is really saying something.

38) Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
Like I said under Freddy’s Dead, going into this ranking I fully expected The Next Generation to take the bottom slot on this list. This film is a dreadfully dull, incomprehensible mess which has the audacity to think that it can make a meta-commentary about bad slasher sequels, despite being one of the absolute worst itself. It’s also pretty insulting to series fans as Leatherface (or “Leather” as they’re called here) is a complete joke who spends every second of screentime shrieking incessantly. The only real saving grace which kept The Next Generation from taking the bottom of this list is Matthew McConaughey’s deranged performance as Vilmer. The character himself is nonsense but McConaughey goes so far beyond hamming up that it’s at least entertaining. I wrote a whole Retrospectives review on this film, so if you want a more detailed commentary you can read it here.

37) Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
Imagine being a Halloween fan who had waited 6 years for the unresolved plot threads from Halloween 5 to be resolved, only to have this film shit into existence. Halloween 6 is an ignoble ending for the original continuity of Halloween sequels and an embarrassing capstone to Donald Pleasence’s career. The poor guy just looks tired in this film and can’t even muster up the deranged energy that had made him so entertaining to watch. He’s not the only one who gets done dirty by this film though – Danielle Harris didn’t even get invited back to play Jamie Lloyd one last time, and instead the character is recast and then unceremoniously killed off in the first twenty minutes, continuing the Halloween franchise’s shitty obsession with killing off all its main characters for no good reason. And then we also have a young Paul Rudd, who gets this weirdly creepy role as Tommy Doyle, the boy Laurie was babysitting in the first film. Regardless, all of the characters are half-baked with no real reason to care about any of them.

The film also has a terrible, mid-90s horror aesthetic to it. It often throws ambient screams into the soundtrack to try to make things feel scarier and will suddenly intercut split-second shots of knives or other “scary” images and loud scare sounds into a scene to try to get a cheap jump scare (sometimes even using these as transitions to other scenes). And, oh God, they also will just throw hard rock into the soundtrack when Michael’s showing up to show us that he’s not fucking around, this Michael has ‘tude. I mean, it’s not as embarrassing as the slide-whistle cops in Halloween 5, but it’s still pretty bad.

The main issue with Halloween 6 though is that it makes absolutely no sense. The whole conspiracy angle ends up being a dead-end with no explanation for what’s going on. Michael’s motivations are explicitly laid out that he’s still trying to wipe out his last living relative (this time Jamie’s newborn son), but then he spends most of the film going after the Strodes who have moved into his old house and have nothing to do with the baby. It’s also kind of implied that the man in black has some sort of control over him, but then Michael just wipes out the whole cult when they leave him loose in their sanitarium…? I just… what? The narrative also just doesn’t flow. At one point Dr. Loomis yells “Where is the baby?” and that caused me to stop and say “Yeah, that’s a very good question. Where IS the baby? Hell, where is anybody in this film? What the hell is happening!?” The last twenty minutes in particular just don’t make any sense (at least, in the theatrical version I watched – the ending was heavily reshot and there’s a producer’s cut which apparently is better, but I didn’t see it).

I will give this movie a bit of credit though. It mercifully moves pretty quickly – the first fourty minutes went by before I knew it, despite very little of substance actually happening in that time. The film also at least looks professional, with a nice production design and some decent shots. I also think that, considering what they had to work with, the curse of Thorn which is fuelling Michael Myers actually kind of makes sense. I mean, look at what they had to explain: why Michael Myers is invincible and inhuman evil, kills on Halloween, and goes after his family members. The explanation that druids would possess one person to kill their family in order to spare the demon, Thorn, from killing all of the tribe is actually kind of sensible when you look at it that way. I mean, it’s still bullshit in the end and not the sort of explanation we ever needed, but it’s not as bad as it might have seemed at first glance. That said, considering the conspiracy just gets tossed aside in the last thirty minutes, it ultimately becomes pretty pointless.

Halloween 6 is just an absolute mess from start to finish. It’s no wonder that the franchise was rebooted after this point because there was nowhere further to go from this point. The only regrettable part about it was that they didn’t pull the plug earlier. Apparently the producer’s cut was better, but since I can only go off the version I saw, they should have done better the first time.

36) Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
The Halloween franchise was given a gift with H20. After several years of horrible sequels, the public was finally excited about the prospect of another outing. So what did they do with this golden opportunity? Well, they shit out Halloween: Resurrection, which might be one of the stupidest films I’ve ever seen. After the refreshingly clever H20, Resurrection goes right back to lazy tropes and dumb characters, even managing to make Laurie Strode into an idiot before killing her off again in the first fifteen minutes. Bloody hell, Halloween get some class!

Anyway, with Laurie dead, the film then cuts to a group of dumb, horny teenagers who are cast on an Internet reality TV show, set in the Myers house. As you can imagine from the set-up, this film was trying to be very contemporary for the early 2000s, but it is painfully dated now, with ridiculous celebrity cameos from a kung-fu fighting Busta Rymes and a completely pointless Tyra Banks. The film is also ripping off its contemporaries in terrible fashion. The Blair Witch Project is popular? We’ll have low-resolution cameras mounted on everyone which they will constantly forget about! People still like Scream? We’ll make this film meta, that’s the part about Scream that was good, right? The characters also are all shitty and one-dimensional. Like, there’s a character who is introduced as a chef. Next time we see him, he’s explaining that he believes that Michael Myers became evil because he had a bad diet… um, okay… Then the next time we see him, he says that he bets that the Myers house has a big kitchen, which he promptly wanders off to find. We get it movie, he likes cooking. The rest of the cast are no better – you have your insecure final girl who doesn’t develop or learn anything, a fame obsessed girl, an academic girl who apparently doesn’t know how to be a human being, a horndog, a creepy guy music guy, etc. They all suck.

The entire set-up of this film is so bad. Invalidating the ending of H20 is just insulting to the audience’s intelligence and screws over Laurie Strode’s ending to get the Weinsteins a bit more money in the bank. There’s basically no reason for Michael to be killing people in this film, other than that they just happened to wander into his house. The movie also has very little to say about anything. You’d think that, considering the premise, maybe they’d have some commentary on reality TV, but it literally boils down to “reality TV is not real”. Wow, that’s some revelatory insight there, Resurrection. Literally, the only thing that I actually thought was clever in this movie was having the show’s audience message the final girl to let her know where Michael is and give her tips to evade him. That was a pretty cool idea, but it’s the only moment of brilliance inside of this giant turd of a film.

35) Halloween II (2009)
Holy shit… say what you will about Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake, but the sequel is utter dogshit. Like, I had to think long and hard about whether I hated it more than Halloween: Resurrection. I’ll give Rob a little bit of credit for running with his own artistic vision for a Halloween sequel, but good God were the results awful. Where do I even begin describing this movie… actually, now that I ask it, there’s really only one starting point, and it’s two words: Ghost. Mom. Rob Zombie obviously really wanted to work his wife back into the sequel so we get “treated” to numerous scenes of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode seeing visions of a white-clad Sheri Moon Zombie telling them that they need to be a family again. It’s freaking stupid and just one of several missteps. Let’s get to the narrative – Laurie has PTSD and is trying to cope with the fact that her life is crumbling around her, Dr. Loomis is on a book tour and Michael Myers is slowly walking back to Haddonfield to reunite with her. That’s basically all this movie is for the vast majority of its runtime. Seriously, this is a two hour movie and it takes about an hour and a half for Michael to even find Laurie, meaning that there is just a ton of wheel spinning in the meantime. There are also plenty of kill scenes, but they don’t really make any sense – why does Michael go after the strip club where his mom used to work and kill everyone there? I guess because Ghost Mom told him to…? That’s the only possible explanation, but then why does he go to a party and kill one of Laurie’s friends and her hookup for that night? Especially considering that he then just heads to Laurie’s house to try to ambush her there? Uhhhh… because this is a Halloween movie? Seriously, it makes absolutely no sense other than to just tick off the boxes of what people expect from this series. Oh, and speaking of which, that must be the entire motive behind Michael stalking Laurie in a hospital during the first twenty-five minutes of the film… which culminates with it all being revealed to be part of a fucking dream sequence!!!

It also doesn’t help that nearly everyone in Halloween II is an asshole. Dr. Loomis has gone from being sympathetic to just a fame-obsessed prick and even Laurie has become really unbearable. Like, I get that she’s suffering from PTSD and can sympathize with that, but she lashes out at fellow victim, Annie, when she tries to help and even admits that she wants to kill her. Laurie also has a couple of new friends, but they’re basically nobodies who only exist to fill out the bodycount. The only characters I liked at all were Sheriff Brackett (played excellently by Brad Dourif) and Annie, because at least they were trying to make the best of the situation. Halloween II is just a senseless, nasty mess from start to finish, there really isn’t much more you can say about it.

34) Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
When I started this list, I expected Jason Goes to Hell to be ranked much lower. However, in a franchise as formulaic as Friday the 13th, Jason Goes to Hell gets at least some points for trying to shake up the formula… but holy shit, did they ever fail spectacularly. Deciding that the ninth film in a franchise is the perfect time to suddenly begin filling in the mythology of Jason was a major misstep which goes against the pure simplicity which gave this series the longevity it enjoys. Honestly, Jason Goes to Hell is pretty decent in most ways (especially by Friday standards) – the acting’s fine, the characters are interesting (Creighton Duke is fun and Steven is a one of the best protagonists in the series), the directing is slicker than usual, there are some funny moments (such as the opening, where the FBI ambushes Jason) and the kills are just brutal. However, the story is so batshit insane that it brings down everything else. So Jason can now suddenly possess people temporarily when he dies and needs to be reborn from a secret sibling of his that we never knew existed until now? What the actual hell? This, of course, also means that Jason barely even factors into the film and instead we get to see such “interesting” killers as a coroner and an asshole reporter… great, just what the franchise needed… It makes Jason Goes to Hell at least entertaining in its ridiculousness, but there’s no way to ignore that this film is a massive failure. The fact that this film got a theatrical release is just insane to me. Oh and to make matters worse, the redesigned Jason is just butt-ugly, which makes it inadvertently good that he barely shows up in the film.

33) Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
Halloween 5 has to be the point where the franchise really went off the rails. What started as an incredibly simple tale about the embodiment of evil deciding that he wants to stalk and kill a group of fleshed-out teens turns into a saga about family bloodlines, ill-defined psychic links, the curse of thorn and a shady conspiracy surrounding a man in black. Holy shit, what happened to this franchise? Halloween 5 somehow manages to find ways to not only get stupider but more boring as it goes on. Most of the film is just a very dull rehash of very well-trodden slasher territory as Michael kills teens that we’ve barely met.

There are just so many dumb things in this film. Jamie is suddenly mute and has some sort of psychic connection with Michael, but neither really has any purpose. There’s a shady man in black who has some sort of connection to Michael, but it was literally added without bothering to have it make sense, because the filmmakers figured they’d be able to answer it later. And why does Dr. Loomis suddenly believe that Michael Myers is fuelled by rage? He’s the one who said that he was pure evil, attributing his violence to malice goes against the entire point of the character.

Another issue is that the previous film’s co-lead, Rachel, is uncermoniously killed. She wasn’t a particularly fleshed-out character, but she was miles better than her replacement, Tina, a ditzy girl who just wants to have some fun. Don’t get me wrong, a final girl doesn’t always need to be the strong, independent type, but Tina is just straight-up dumb. Michael ends up stalking her and her friends for basically no reason – apparently Tina plans on visiting Jamie at some point that evening, but why wouldn’t Michael just go straight to Jamie then instead? It doesn’t make much sense, but then again, not much does in Halloween 5. There can’t have been a script when this film was shot, or at the very least, they can’t have followed it because there’s no way someone could put this film’s narrative down on paper and say “yeah, this sounds good!” (EDIT: I looked it up afterwards and this film did indeed begin shooting without a completed script and there were moments, such as the man in black, which were just added on the fly to fill in plot holes!) I’ll give the film some credit for clearly trying to recapture some of the suspense that had been lost in the previous film though, such as a scene where Tina stupidly gets into a car with Michael, thinking that he’s her boyfriend, and you’re left wondering if/when he’s going to kill her. For the most part though, Halloween 5 is just trying to squeeze blood out of a stone for a franchise that went in the wrong direction ages ago.

32) Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
Perhaps due to the formulaic nature of the franchise, Friday the 13th films generally maintained a pretty consistent level of mediocrity during the 80s. However, it wasn’t until Jason Takes Manhattan that we suddenly saw that sticking to the formula could still manage to disappoint everyone – even fans who had eaten up all the previous entries. Jason Takes Manhattan is a derivative and subpar Friday film on its own, with Jason somehow managing to secretly kill sexy teenagers on a boat which is impossibly labrynthine. However, its hints at shaking up the formula are what truly make it disappointing. How cool could a film about Jason stalking people on the streets of New York have been? But no, he shows up and then just continues stalking only the people he was already chasing after. The film also has many of the most irritating and dull victims in the entire franchise, a terrible final girl with a contrived connection to Jason and an embarrassingly bad-looking unmasked Jason. Seriously, the makeup they used in this film when he loses his hockey mask looks WORSE than a Halloween mask. The only real saving grace is that a couple of the kills are decent, particularly the boxing scene where Jason takes dozens of punches to tire out his opponent and then one-punches his head off.

31) Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
It didn’t take long for Friday the 13th to begin scraping the bottom of the barrel, but they sure as hell succeeded in Part III. Some people have a fondness for Part III because it’s the entry where Jason gets his iconic hockey mask, but don’t be fooled – this film suuuuucks. What’s so bad about it? For the most part, it’s just another rehash of the first two films, but stupider and more dull. By this point, the filmmakers have realized that they like to string the audience along with fake-outs until something really scary happens, but in Part III they forgot that the characters still need to actually have something to do. Instead, we get multiple scenes where characters will wander into a dangerous place for no reason and just forget that they know what the layout of their own home is like, or just play with random things in the environment despite the fact that they’re supposed to be actually doing something. It’s obvious what the filmmakers are doing and it just feels lazy and wastes the audience’s time.

Another big issue is that the first two films in the franchise went to a lot of effort to make you at least get to know the characters before they would give picked off, but in Part III we get to meet a bunch of annoying assholes. Prime amongst these is Shelly, an irritating prankster with a self-esteem issues. However, lest you feel sorry for him, the little bastard lashes out at other people to try to compensate for his own insecurity, which just turns him into a dick. We also get a group of cartoonish, brain-dead gang members whose idea of revenge is to try to burn down a barn as unstealthily as possible. The film also opens with a pair of irritating rednecks who you just immediately want to be killed off. Other than them, nearly everyone else in the cast are your usual Friday the 13th cannon fodder, with no real personalities to speak of (especially the two stoners, who barely get any screen time before they get offed). The only exceptions are final girl Chris and her handsome hunk boyfriend, Rick, who are both at least sympathetic enough that I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to them. The acting is also pretty bad, even by Friday standards. I wouldn’t say that any of the characters put in particularly strong performances and even characters like Chris and Rick have some line deliveries which are unconvincing.

Oh and I would be remiss to mention the 3D gimmick. Not only does it make the film always slightly blurry to watch in 2D now, but it also means that we get lots of shitty, blurry shots where something gets stuck into the foreground for no real reason. I hope you like blurry shots of yo-yos, eye balls, popcorn, rakes and a blunt getting shoved in your face and taking you out of the experience! It also highlights the pathetic special effects – since they have to get so many things thrown at the camera, they use lots of wires to get the shot right, meaning that you can clearly see these wires since they’re in the foreground of the shot! This happens on two very obvious occasions with a rattle snake and when a fake eyeball goes flying out of a very rubber-looking head.

On the plus side though, there are a couple fun kills as usual and, when she gets promoted to the final girl, Chris turns into a no-nonsense badass. Like, the moment she sees Jason, she’s right on the offensive, dropping a book case on him and then taking a knife out of her friend’s back and using it to stab him in the hand and leg. She actually causes Jason to back away from her, she’s so intimidating! She absolutely kicks his ass and makes smart decisions on the fly more often than not in the process. She’s easily one of the best final girls in the franchise, but she’s easily the only thing about this movie that makes it worthwhile.

…and that’s it for the worst of the worst. Be sure to tune in again soon as we go through #30-21!

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Retrospective BONUS: Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988)

Surprise! You didn’t think that I was totally chainsawed out, did you? While working through the Texas Chainsaw retrospective, I was reminded that Gunnar Hansen appeared in another chainsaw-based film – 1988’s Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. I’ve been aware of this film for a long time, having frequented BadMovies.org as a high schooler. Naturally, the bonkers title and some hilarious plot points (including an ancient Egyptian chainsaw cult!) have always kept this film on my radar, so I figured what better time to watch it than now, especially considering that this is my 250th blog post? After all, this is probably a Texas Chainsaw parody, so might as well append it onto this retrospective series, right? Read on to find out…

Objectively, this is a pretty bad poster, with shots from the film badly cut and pasted in, lots of wasted space and the main characters are probably the smallest part of the whole image. But, for this kind of movie, it works well enough. Also, that is a really great tagline!

PRODUCTION
(Pretty much all of the info I have on the production of this film comes from this featurette on the making of Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, I definitely recommend checking it out if you have the time!)

Fred Olen Ray had been working as director on low-budget films for a number of years in Hollywood, kind of like a cheaper, sleazier, less-successful Roger Corman. By 1985 he had begun working on several films per year, shooting as quickly and cheaply as possible. By the late 80s, Fred had struck a production deal with an adult video company called LA Video and their subsidiary, mainstream distribution company, Camp Motion Pictures. LA Video expressed interest in distributing a new film for Fred and it was here that he pitched his idea for Chainsaw Hookers. LA Video added “Hollywood” to the title to make it sound more like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Fred managed to rope Gunnar Hansen into the project. This was, of course, at the time when both Cannon Films and New Line Cinema weren’t interesting in working with Gunnar Hansen since they didn’t think he was a big enough star, so it just goes to show how much wiser Fred Olen Ray was than either company. With Hansen on board and $25,000 in hand from LA Video in exchange for the home video rights, Fred went about making his film, rewriting a script by T.L. Lankford.

In addition to snagging Gunnar Hansen to play the main villain, The Master, Fred Olen Ray managed to get Linnea Quigley to play the female lead. Qugiley is best known for being naked in a number of famous horror roles throughout the 80s, and by this point had already been in Silent Night, Deadly Night and Return of the Living Dead, so Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers was more-or-less the perfect role for her. John Henry Richardson was also cast as the male lead, Detective Jack Chandler.

Naturally, this being a Fred Olen Ray film, he made it while working on other projects. While doing pick-ups on a low-budget movie called Moon in Scorpio, Fred agreed to take a lower pay cut in exchange for the use of Trans World Entertainment’s studio space and film equipment during downtime, which he would use to film Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. As per the agreement, he had the equipment from Friday to Sunday, filmed the pick-ups for Moon in Scorpio Monday to Thursday and then finished Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers the next Friday to Sunday. All in all, he took about 5 1/2 days to shoot the film on a measly budget in the neighbourhood of $55,000. Naturally, the filming conditions were extremely sketchy – it was shot with no permits, on leftover sets from other films, with real chainsaws and even with real hookers on occasion! Even the film stock was as cheap as possible, using short ends which were left over from other films. The audio was all shot on set as well, so considering that there are chainsaws revving loudly on a number of occasions, you can’t tell what the characters are saying at all sometimes because there was no budget for redubbing dialogue. The conditions were also potentially dangerous for the cast, particularly since they were using real chainsaws – in one notable instance, Linnea Quigley (who had already spent seven hours in makeup) was locked inside of a coffin with two running chainsaws so that she could preform the film’s iconic virgin dance of the double chainsaws. Naturally, this meant that the coffin was quickly filled with chainsaw fumes and Quigley can be visibly seen stumbling out of the coffin because she could barely breathe.

Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers ended up being one of Fred Olen Ray’s more successful films. That said, I want to just look at his career a little bit. He’s been making mockbusters, sexploitation films and, most recently, freaking Hallmark Christmas movies in order to get by (I’m pretty sure I’ve even seen at lest one of those Christmas movies too, holy shit). He’s like The Asylum before that studio cornered the mockbuster market. Most obviously, in 1994 we’ve got Dinosaur Island (riffing on Jurassic Park), in 1998, Mom Can I Keep Her? (Mighty Joe Young) and in 2011, Bikini Time Machine (Hot Tub Time Machine). Oh, and he’s been releasing sleazy, borderline-softcore porno films throughout his whole career, although they seem to have picked up and become more pornographic since the 2000s. Just trolling through his directing credits, we’ve got such fantastic titles as Bikini Airways, Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold, Thirteen Erotic Ghosts (which must have the best IMDb description ever), Genie in a String Bikini, Super Ninja Bikini Babes (which sounds like an alternate title for Dead or Alive) and Tarzeena: Jiggle in the Jungle. Lately, he’s been slumming it with shitty Christmas movies, having released 10 since 2007 (and 9 of those have been since 2012, bloody hell), and with cheap crime films, which should probably give you an idea of the cultural zeitgeist when these are the only profitable genres left.

PLOT SYNOPSIS
The film opens with Detective Jack Chandler recounting one of his strangest cases, via voiceover in true hardboiled noir style. We follow a hooker named Mercedes as she picks up a man and then kills him with a chainsaw later in her apartment. Apparently there have been a number of chainsaw hooker murders going down in Los Angeles lately, and Jack Chandler heads to the police station to check in on a chainsaw murder suspect who might be related to a missing girl case he’s taken on. The suspect is not the missing girl, Samantha, but Jack steals a piece of evidence with a phone number on it in order to get closer to the source of the chainsaw murders. The phone number leads Jack back to Mercedes and he arranges to meet her at a local club. When he gets there, he finds Samantha dancing as a stripper at the club, but is drugged by Mercedes before he can notify the authorities.

When Jack awakens, he is tied to a bed and surrounded by killer hookers, including Mercedes and Samantha. The Master comes into the room and informs Jack that he is the leader of an ancient Egyptian chainsaw cult and that he is going to sacrifice Jack to their god. The hookers then try to kill Jack, but their chainsaw has run out of gas. They order Samantha to guard Jack while they go to get gas from the corner store, but Samantha frees him. She reveals that she’s infiltrating the chainsaw cult because they killed her friend and she wants to get revenge on them. The pair escape back to Jack’s apartment, where Samantha suddenly falls in love him and the pair have sex.

That night, they try to sneak into the cult’s temple in order to stop their plans, but it’s a trap and they are captured. Samantha’s given a mind-control drug in order to be used in the ceremony, while Jack is tied up and prepared for sacrifice. After performing a ritual dance, Jack is brought to Samantha by The Master in order to be killed, but Samantha instead kills The Master and then gets into a chainsaw duel with Mercedes. Mercedes is killed by Samantha and the police arrive and round up the rest of the cult. Jack and Samantha kiss and Samantha is hired as Jack’s new secretary.

REVIEW
Okay, so other than featuring Gunnar Hansen in a chainsaw killer movie, there’s basically nothing that connects Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s not even a slasher parody like I had originally expected. Instead, it’s a parody of pulp, noir detective films, very similar to The Naked Gun (which, coincidentally, came out the same year as this film). Naturally, this movie isn’t anywhere near as funny as The Naked Gun, but it is much funnier than I was expecting it would be… usually intentionally! John Henry Richardson’s Jack Chandler doesn’t have the same sort of comical ineptitude or deadpan delivery as Leslie Neilson’s Frank Drebin, instead Jack Chandler is played with more of a sarcastic, over-confident tone that often gets him into trouble. He makes for a great stereotypical detective lead, which just makes it funnier when he spouts some of the absolute best, cheesiest lines in the whole film. The delivery of lines like “If my head wasn’t hurtin’ so much, I’d have sworn I was in heaven – heaven for guys who liked big tits” was enough to have me laughing out loud throughout the film. John Henry Richardson’s acting is by far the best in the film and I definitely need to give special mention to the monologue that he turns into Jack’s best line in the whole film:

“I’d stumbled into the middle of an evil, insidious cult of chainsaw worshipping maniacs. I had to wonder if we’d let our religious freedom go too far in this country, or maybe our immigration laws were just too lax. I’ve never been much for politics, but I kept thinking about that pretty girl’s warm head on my lap, and then I wondered how many other pretty girls would never be able to put their heads on my lap because they’d been cut off by that refugee from the BTL club and his slice-happy sluts, I started to get mad.”

Holy shit, that is the funniest anti-immigration screed I’ve ever heard, I love it. Honestly, I was cringing when that monologue started, but by the middle I was in stitches I was laughing so hard.

There really are a lot of good jokes in this film and I just want to highlight a few of my favourites here. When Jack gets captured he keeps guessing The Master’s plan by throwing out the most ridiculous ideas he can think of (“What is this, some ancient chainsaw-wielding cult?” “Actually, that’s just what this is”) to the point where he just starts saying tropes and The Master ends up asking how Jack knows all of this. The idea of there being an ancient Egyptian cult with chainsaws is also lampshaded in a very tongue-in-cheek fashion which I appreciated. I also found it hilarious how the official police explanation for one of the chainsaw murders is that it was an accident and the victim “was just cleaning his chainsaw when it went off”. There’s also a chainsaw murder at the start of the film where a hooker kills some police officers during an interview and later it is explained that the policemen forgot to take the gas out of the chainsaw, paving over a pretty obvious plot hole in the funniest way possible. There are also some pretty good sight gags in the film, such as when Jack’s voice over during a scene is obviously at odds with what actually happens, just so that he can make himself look better. My favourite WTF sight gag though is when Jack enters a strip club and the camera focuses on the tough customers at the bar staring at him, which inexplicably ends with this pissed-off, twelve year old ginger kid (who, apparently, was Fred Olen Ray’s son). The film doesn’t even acknowledge it, which makes it even funnier.

Like I said, most of the jokes in this film land, although there are plenty of laughs to be had from the cheap film-making and bad acting. Most of the dialogue is on the level of a bad porno, especially during the chainsaw murder scenes. The early scene where Mercedes murders Bo Hansen has some of the funniest bad acting that I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Hearing Bo, after realizing his sexy times are coming to an abrupt, gasoline-fueled end, whelps “Oh no! Oh no! GAHHHH!!!” in the funniest way possible. The murders themselves tend to be really funny too, as there’s obviously someone off-screen spraying the hookers with fake blood while someone else tosses a bucket of blood at them and someone else throws fake fingers (to top it off, someone tries to grab Mercedes’ boob with a fake severed hand, fantastic). It’s so obviously fake and amateur that it makes these scenes really funny to watch. The terrible, Value Village-quality Egyptian costumes at the end also could only work in a cheap parody movie like this.

That said, not all of the jokes land and there are some stinkers in here. Probably the most offensive joke is when Jack calls the homicide squad the “homo squad”, which came across to me like it was meant to be “funny because gay”, but just made me cringe a little. Thankfully, I didn’t notice any other homo- or transphobic jokes in the film, which is actually somewhat impressive for a film this old. The film also seems to think that it’s hilarious that a slang term for detective is “dick”. Sure, it was actually quite funny the first time the police chief complained about having “another private dick in my face”, but by the fourth or fifth “dick = detective = penis” joke, it was a bit much. Then there are a few jokes which are just stupid, like when Jack tries to get the bartender’s attention by… making shadow bunnies on the wall? Umm, okay, that feels like they were trying a little too hard for a laugh.

Of course, in addition to being a comedy, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers is a straight-up exploitation film with tons of gratuitous nudity to satisfy its thirsty audience. The film has tons of nudity and porno-level dialogue, but I wouldn’t say it reaches the level of a softcore porn film, if only because there are no sex scenes. That said, the chainsaw killings are treated in the way that a sex scene normally would, where the killing is the… er… “big climax” that the narrative builds towards, and of course they are all shot with topless women getting coated in buckets of blood. Naturally, there is plenty of gratuitous nudity even outside of the chainsaw killings, to the point where I’d estimate that maybe half of the movie has some nudity in it… and hey, considering the type of movie this is, at least it’s delivering the goods. Funnily enough, Fred Olen Ray has stated that the film was intended to be a message about safe sex – after all, any person you pick up could turn out to be a chainsaw-wielding maniac if you’re not careful.

Unfortunately, the film loses steam towards the end after The Master appears and Jack meets Samantha. Part of the problem is that around the forty-minute mark, Jack starts turning into a misogynistic douche bag. For one thing, Samantha is introduced as a surprisingly strong woman, who infiltrated this cult in order to get revenge for her friend’s death. However, she is quickly knocked down a peg when Jack headbutts her to knock her out, and then when she wakes up she immediately forgives him and then… tries to have sex with him because she’s so impressed!?! What the hell? This is followed-up by Jack’s girlfriend walking in on them, but Jack doesn’t care when she breaks up with him because he’s found himself a younger, hotter woman now. At this point, all of Jack’s one-liners start becoming about objectifying Samantha. Oh, and if that all wasn’t bad enough, it’s definitely implied that Samantha is lying about her age and is possibly a minor. I get that this is parodying noir tropes, but it doesn’t have any sort of consequence for Jack, which really bothers me and just makes it come across like they’re just playing it straight. It certainly doesn’t sink the film, but it makes it harder for me to give a shit about the film’s hero.

However, the last fifteen minutes of the film are by far the worst. The film is barely over the hour mark and I feel like the last fifteen minutes suffer because they were padding for time to get the film a proper runtime. There’s a good eight minutes that bring the film’s pacing to a grinding halt. Picture this – we’re in the cult’s temple and watching a ceremony, wondering what is going to happen. Then, we’ve got several minutes watching a priest pour a can of oil out… and then pour another can of oil. Umm, okay, where is this going? Then a topless hooker comes out and starts fire breathing, again, for several minutes without leading to anything. Then we get the film’s virgin dance of the double chainsaws, which manages to be iconic, badly done and pointless at the same time. On the one hand, it’s Linnea Quigley dancing topless with a pair of chainsaws, so there’s an inherent level of sexiness and coolness to the scene which helps to carry it. Unfortunately, it’s also hard to ignore that the dance is not particularly sexy in itself – as I’ve mentioned, Linnea was high on gas fumes, exhausted from seven hours of makeup and wielding two real, heavy chainsaws and trying to do something to arouse the audience. Again, it works because of her inherent sexiness, but it’s extremely obvious that she’s not able to give 100%. Add in that the editing during this entire temple ritual sequence has tons of pointless cut-aways to random hookers (I swear that several of these shots are recycled during the scene as well), and it becomes obvious why the final fifteen minutes of this film are so tedious to sit through.

As for the performances in this film, they’re pretty bad on the whole. Like I said earlier, John Henry Richardson’s acting is by far the best, but nearly everyone else is pretty bad. Unfortunately, even Gunnar Hansen puts in a very bland performance as The Master, saying all of his lines in a very monotone voice. That’s just too bad, I was hoping we’d get some scenery-chewing from him. I’m also sad to say that Linnea Quigley’s acting is really poor in this film. Her line deliveries are all unconvincing and the choreography during her epic chainsaw duel with Mercedes is just pathetically awkward – like, imagine a grade-school film project sword fight and you’ll have an idea of how badly-choreographed this fight is. Thankfully, as Jack Chandler says, “The kid talked like a frosted flake, but she had the nicest set of knockers that I’d seen in a long time”.

Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers was shot for about $55,000 in five and a half days. That’s an insanely low budget and shooting time for any film. You can definitely tell that this film was done under both of those constraints, but dayum it looks really good in spite of that. I can’t exactly call this a good movie in terms of quality, but in terms of pure fun it’s a hoot, even if the last act brings it down somewhat.

4/10

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