Friday the 13th Is 35 Today: Happy Birthday Jason

Poster from original Friday the 13th
Adrienne King shared a post on Facebook from Jon Bassuk, film aficionado extraordinaire, where he pointed out that 35 years ago on this date Friday the 13th premiered on cinema screens across the US. Ms. King played the lone survivor of that film, if that is a spoiler I apologize but really you should have seen the film by now, who has Jason come up from the lake to scare the bejesus out of her and the audience.

While many who are fans of the movie, “Kill her mommy, kiiilllll her!” saw the film in theaters surrounded by other patrons and a darkened room, many more watched the slasher film that killed off Kevin Bacon with an arrow through the throat, via the good old Drive-In.

A friend of mine watched the film at the “walk-in” cinema and came to work the next day telling me all about it. A true cinephile he had managed to, quite admirably, memorize huge chunks of dialogue as well as the “kill, kill, kill, ah, ah, ah” sound whenever the hockey mask-wearing killer appeared, or was about to appear.

Recounting the events he had witnessed on the movie screen, which in those days was huge as this was before the downsizing that came with multiplex cinemas, he hesitated when he got to the film’s climax. “I don’t want to tell you in case it spoils the ending for you,” he said. “That’s okay,” I replied, “by the time I see it I’ll have forgotten it anyway.”

He then went on to describe the peaceful scene in the lake. Adrienne King’s character, the virginal good girl Alice, has dispatched the maniacal machete-wielding mother of Jason (a wonderfully cast-against type Betsy Palmer who I remember watching on I’ve Got a Secret when I was a wee lad) and then pushed a rowboat, that she clambered into, out towards the middle of Crystal Lake.

Alice in Friday the 13th,
Alice, calm before the storm…

She drifts peacefully on the water trailing her hand along the lake’s surface with a contented look of relief on her face. Suddenly, and here we’ll go into my friend’s brilliant description: “This bald kid who’s all rotting and shit leaps up out of the water behind the boat and and grabs her. He is the ugliest little f***er you ever saw and he drags her kicking and screaming out of the rowboat and into the lake. Man! I screamed like a little girl!”

We both laughed at the idea of this ugly little sucker grabbing the heroine and his screaming like a girl. I was right about the amount of time it took me to see Friday the 13th but I was wrong about forgetting the ending. When the film finally got around to the Drive-In, where I saw it, I still remembered that ending, although I had forgotten how good old Kevin Bacon bought it.

So there I sat at the 71 Drive-In with a giant bag of Doritos and a huge Dr. Pepper. I’d just finished snorting double streams of fizzy soda out of my nose at Betsy Palmer’s “kill her mommy” line (that line never fails to send me into gales of laughter) and was mopping up the mess from the front of my shirt. I had enough time to wait patiently for the bald kid to pop up like a wet and terrible Jack-in-the-box which was, my friend assured me, the final act.

I sat there for what seemed like ages and had just decided that the dead Jason Voorhies was not going to jump up and that my good friend had been telling porkies when, BOOM! The ugly bald and rotting sucker shot up from behind the boat amid a gush of lake water, that you just knew smelled like rotting fish and rotting Jason, and I swear that not only did I scream like a “little girl” but I nearly knocked myself out on the roof of the car.

Friday the 13th was the film that set the bar for all the slasher films that followed. Despite having enough sequels to sink Alice’s rowboat, Jason never got old and Betsy Palmer went down in history as the first killer in one of the longest running horror franchises in cinema history. It also had what I consider one of the best “kill scenes” ever set up by the legendary Tom Savini who “shoved” an arrow through Kevin Bacon’s throat.

Happy 35th birthday to Friday the 13th and happy birthday Jason.

9 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

From Dusk Till Dawn: (1996) Seth and Richie Gecko

Seth and Richie

Directed by Robert Rodriguez and written by Quentin Tarantino (who also played Richie Gecko) From Dusk Till Dawn is a Genre Bender. In other words it starts out as one kind of film and evolves into another.

At the film’s opening we see the Gecko brothers Seth (George Clooney) and Richie (Tarantino) and their two hostages who are in a gas station/liquor/convenience store. After they destroy the place, the film segues into the opening credits. It is apparent that the film is about two criminals who are fleeing the police.

Later in the film the Gecko’s take the Fuller family hostage so they can use their Recreational Vehicle (RV) and them to get into Mexico. Jake Fuller (Harvey Keitel) is a man of the cloth who has turned his back on his faith, Kate (Juliette Lewis) is his troubled daughter and Scott (Ernest Liu) is his adopted son.

After the entire group make good the Gecko’s escape to Mexico, they wait in a bar recommended by Carlos, The Titty Twister. Carlos (Cheech Moran) is Seth’s contact who will take him and Richie to El Rey and he has told Seth that he will meet them at dawn. Once the group are inside the club (which is in fact a strip club run by Salma Hayek where all the employees, along with Salma, are some sort of mutated vampires who feed off the clientele) everything changes.

The film is no longer about the Gecko’s escape from the law, it’s now about the two families escaping the club alive. The film, to me anyway, is beyond brilliant. It is almost the perfect ensemble of talent. Script by Tarantino, direction by Rodriguez, FX by Greg Nicotero, and George Clooney in his first starring film role. Not to mention the rest of the cast, Keitel, Lewis, Tom Savini, Michael Parks, Cheech Marin as three different characters…Well you get the idea.

But what I want to discuss today is not the overall film or the genre shift it so cleverly performs. No, I want to talk about Seth and Richard (Richie) Gecko and their dynamic.

In the opening sequence of the film we get an instant idea of who is in charge in the relationship. Seth is the mouthpiece, the leader and the thinker. Richie is the follower, he is also odd.

When Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (Michael Parks) comes in to get some Jack Daniels and to use the toilet, he stands and talks to the store clerk Pete Bottoms (John Hawkes) before he saunters off to the restroom. Seth comes up and accuses Pete of not listening to his instructions for Pete to “get rid of the cop” and Pete explains that he is doing that.

Seth and Richie reminding Pete the clerk to lose the cop.

During this exchange Richie whispers to Seth that Pete is making signs at the cop.

*SPOILER ALERT — FROM HERE ON THERE WILL BE THE OCCASIONAL SPOILER — SPOILER ALERT*

As McGraw exits the toilet and goes to pay for his booze, Richie comes up behind him and shoots him point blank in the back of the head. For the first time since we’ve entered the store, Richie speaks out loud. He tells an angry Seth that Pete had been mouthing the words “Help me” to the Ranger.

Pete becomes apoplectic and denies this. He accuses Richie of lying. In the resulting firefight between Pete and the Gecko’s Richie is shot through the hand. Afterwards Richie has a hole through his hand and he seems detached from the whole incident.

We learn through television news flashes that Seth is a professional thief and that Richie is a psychopathic rapist/murderer. Seth himself does not seem aware of the fact that Richie is psychotic until he leaves him in charge of their hostage, bank teller Gloria Hill.

Before Seth goes to get food and to scope out their surroundings, he tells Gloria that as long as she doesn’t cause any problems and does as he says she will come out of her ordeal alive. We the audience never doubt his sincerity. He then leaves and Richie goes into the bedroom where Gloria is and asks if she wants to watch television.

Seth returns with some Big Kahuna burgers (a trademark of Tarantino’s) and information on what is going on in the area. He gives Richie his burger and takes two more burgers out of the fast food bag. He looks at the third burger in surprise and then remembers the hostage in the bedroom with the door closed.

He says to Richie, “Where’s the woman?” Richie gestures toward the bedroom, “She’s in there.” Seth goes to the bedroom door and opens it. His reaction to what he is seeing is beyond a doubt one of the most masterful moments of the film.

As Seth takes in the carnage in front of him on the bed, he starts a nervous tic of jerking his head ever so slightly, like he is starting to crack a stiff neck muscle. He also starts to slowly blink. Interwoven into Seth’s reaction are almost nanosecond flashes of the scene he is viewing. Blood, flesh, twisted gore filled bedsheets all flit past our eyes as we share the horror with Seth.

It is a turning point in the film for the two brothers. Seth suddenly realises that his beloved brother is a monster. The professional in him reacts angrily. He confronts Richie and loudly berates him for what has happened. Richies says that she tried to escape and she became threatening. Seth reacts angrily and says, “That lady would not have said shit if she had a mouthful.”

He starts banging Richies head against the motel room wall and Richie, disheveled with his glasses falling off his face, starts crying. Seth pulls himself together and then starts to calm Richie telling him that when they reach El Rey everything will be better and that he’ll get help for Richie.

Just a quick note on El Rey. In the “making of” features on the DVD both Tarantino and Rodriguez talk about El Rey. Wikipedia says this about El Rey:

El Rey is a fictional Mexican village that acts as sanctuary for expatriate American fugitives, first used by author Jim Thompson in his 1959 pulp novel, The Getaway, and again referenced in the 1996 Robert Rodriguez film, From Dusk till Dawn. In both stories, El Rey possesses a near-mythic reputation and represents the protagonists’ ultimate objective. But in truth, it’s a hellish community where inflation runs free and all new arrivals are enslaved and ultimately executed when they can no longer work.

On the DVD commentary, writer Quentin Tarantino reveals that the city is in fact hell.

The next time we see Richie he has asked Jacob Fuller if he can borrow their ice bucket. When Jacob agrees, Seth comes in and tells Jacob and his son that they are going to be their hostages. Daughter Kate returns from the pool in a bikini and Seth immediately takes full control. He now knows that Richie cannot be trusted around women.

Richie getting in the mood.

This fact is rammed home when Richie has a conversation with Kate and she asks him if he will, “Lick my pussy.” When Richie starts to reply Seth snaps him out of his mental reverie and we realise that the conversation never really took place, except in Richie’s mind. It is another scene that shows just how scarily “out-there” Richie is.

Later when the Fuller family and the Gecko’s are in the RV, Richie. Kate and Scott are in the back. Richie leans forward and tells Kate that, “What you asked about in the hotel? I’d be glad to help you with that.” Kate clearly has no idea of what Richie is talking about and her face shows her confusion and her realisation that Richie isn’t the full ticket.

If we needed any more indications of just how uncontrollable Richie is, we find out when the group and their RV is stopped at the Mexican border. Just before a border guard comes into the RV to search it Seth takes Richie and Kate and they cram into the RV’s tiny bathroom. Richie takes offence at something Seth says and starts to throw a tantrum. Just as he starts raising his voice, Seth clocks him with his elbow and knocks him out cold. Kate looks at Seth and says thank you.

These scenes and the interaction of the two characters spells out for the viewer exactly who the Gecko’s are and what their relationship is. Seth, despite the fact that he cannot understand Richie and his revulsion at what Richie does, loves his brother and tries to “save” him.

The entire film is just brilliant and perfect marriage of cast and crew and script. A lot of film references are in the movie, mostly of horror films and icons. But in closing the best film reference is the duo of the Gecko’s. That they were inspired by the Gorch brothers (Ben Johnson and Warren Oates) in The Wild Bunch is beyond doubt.

If you don’t think so, just watch the start of the movie again and listen to Seth’s dialogue when he is warning Pete the store clerk.

Django Unchained – A Western Tarantino Style

django-unchained-watching-recommendation-videoSixteenByNineJumbo1600

I got quite  excited when I heard that Quentin Tarantino had written and directed a new film. I got even more excited when I found out it was going to be a western (my favourite type of film). Add to the mix that it is a ‘homage’ to the spaghetti western and its multiple Django films and I was in heaven. But the real icing on the cake is that Tarantino will be working with Samuel L. Jackson again.

Samuel L. Jackson at the San Diego ComicCon 2008

He’s also got a few other actors who have worn  spurs before. Leonardo DiCaprio (Lonesome Dove), Franco Nero (just insert the Django title of your choice) and of course the stalwart of  western bad men Bruce Dern. It is interesting to note that he is using Don Johnson, perhaps Don is hoping that Tarantino will revitalize his career. John Travolta‘s sagging career was given a booster shot when he did Pulp Fiction, so I guess Don has nothing to lose.

He also has his “childhood hero” Tom Savini and Christopher Waltz, who is becoming a Tarantino regular. Of course the real surprise is his casting of Jamie Foxx as Django. Not because he is black, but because his build is nothing like Franco Nero’s. Nero pretty much built a career out of playing Django and I would have thought that Quentin would have tried to match him at least in build.

I do think that Jamie Foxx will bring a lot to the role. He is a damn fine actor and I believe this will be his first western. Looking at the story line on IMDb, it looks like the story will feature the ubiquitous bounty hunter that most spaghetti westerns are built around.

Foxx promoting Stealth in July 2005

I’m also keen to see if Tarantino will use a dubbing system that will emulate the sound of a Spaghetti Western a la Mickey Knox. And of course I am expecting all the guns to sound like howitzer cannon with screaming ricochets. Tarantino is a film fan first and foremost. He loves a range of genre films and has always, where ever possible, paid several homages to his love of the Spaghetti Western.

So even though we are not scheduled to see this film until January 2013, I’ll saddle up and ride down to the local cinema to give it a look see. Yee Haw!