Vanity Fear

A Pretentious A**hole's Guide to B-Movie Bullsh*t

Filtering by Tag: Sequels

B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part Two "Teeny-Tiny Jaws of Death"

Some of you might have noticed that I failed to get anything posted last Sunday. I wish I had a good excuse for this, but I don’t. The reality is I was simply uninspired. I tried watching a half dozen movies over the course of the long weekend and couldn’t find one I felt compelled to write about. Today, however, is different, so I am happy to be able to bring to you:

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part Two

Piranha Part 2: The Spawning




A few years after a military experiment went wrong and a school of ultra-vicious piranhas were released into an American fresh-water river system, history repeats itself when a ship carrying an even more dangerous breed of the carnivorous fish  (they can fly!) sinks near the Caribbean resort of Club Elysium. The first person to become aware of their presence is the resort’s (very) attractive scuba instructor, Anne Cavanagh, who is currently separated from her husband Steve, the island’s sheriff, and engaged in an enjoyable flirtation with Tyler Sherman, a mysterious New Yorker who may know more about the deadly fish than he lets on. Will the three of them be able to save the resort’s tourists from becoming fish chow? And, more importantly, will Anne and Steve’s teenage son, Chris, get some action from the super hot rich girl?


Okay, I’m confused. Based on everything I’ve read, Piranha Part Two: The Spawning is supposed to be atrociously terrible—laughably bad. Yet the experience I’ve just had watching it was one filled with genuine elation and delight. I didn’t just like this movie—I loved it! And not in any sort of ironic-bad-movie way. No, as the credits began to roll I felt the sensation of having seen a legitimately great B-movie. Is there something wrong with me? Do I have a fever? Did I somehow magically receive a copy of the film that is vastly superior to the one that remains so critically derided? Or are the rest of you a bunch of assholes who wouldn’t know a good piranha movie if it came and stripped the flesh off your bones in less than 60 seconds?

Guess which one I’m going with!

As a film The Spawning remains best known as an odd footnote in the filmography of the then-future King of the World, James Cameron. It’s the movie writers always bring up to show that even the most consistently successful director in Hollywood has a so-called stinker in his past. Cameron apologists defend their hero by insisting he was fired sometime during the production (versions of the story range from this happening just two days to several weeks into production) and either had no role in the post-production process or managed to take complete control of it, but could only work with what producer Ovido G. Assonitis shot in his absence.

Knowing what I know about writers (having been guilty of their crimes myself) I’m certain that the majority of those who have mocked The Spawning have never actually seen it and do so based more on the concept of killer flying fish than anything else.

That still doesn’t explain the hostility the film has engendered from fellow B-movie enthusiasts who actually have seen it and describe it as laughably inept. As I suggested above, I have to wonder if they’ve actually seen the same movie I have. Sure, the special effects are pretty cheap, but no cheaper or any worse than those found in Joe Dante’s 1978 original.

In fact, the main source of derision seems to be that The Spawning isn’t a direct copy of Piranha, insofar as it more resembles a Euro-schlock Jaws rip-off than the semi-comedic pastiche of 50s horror films and 70s eco panic movies Dante and screenwriter John Sayles threw together on the sly. It’s another case of critics deriding a film not for being what it actually is, but for not being what they expected. Yes, The Spawning is an outright Euro-schlock Jaws rip-off, but it also happens to be a very fun and exciting Euro-schlock Jaws rip-off that—shockingly to me—features far more likeable characters than those found in Dante’s acclaimed original.

I admit it doesn’t hurt that, like Cameron, I have a total hard-on for strong female characters. Perhaps the greatest injustice done to The Spawning by its critics is that by automatically dismissing it wholesale they fail to include Tricia O’Neil’s great performance as Anne Cavanagh with those of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Conner and Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley whenever describing Cameron’s most compelling female characters. She is easily their equal and I’m not just saying that because I’ve had a crush on O’Neil since I first took note of her while reviewing The Gumball Rally for Flick Attack last year.

The truth is, the question of how much of The Spawning Cameron directed is somewhat moot, since the credited writer, H.A. Milton, is actually a pseudonym for Cameron, Assonitis and Charles H. Eglee (who eventually created and executive produced Cameron’s post-apoc Jessica Alba TV show Dark Angel) and Cameron’s distinctive fingerprints can be found all over the script. Who else would write a sequence for a low-budget trash-horror sequel in which the sheriff (played by Lance Henrickson no less!) chooses to jump out of the helicopter he’s flying solo in order to rescue his son and the busty young strumpet with whom he’s stranded? That level of foolish ambition is what made Cameron’s The Terminator and Aliens stand out from the rest of the pack and it’s there to be found throughout The Spawning if you care to look for it.

That’s not to say the film is perfect. It is Euro-schlock, right down to some occasionally terrible dubbing and a few questionable comedic performances from the actors playing the tourists, but any genre critic who has ever praised the likes of Bava (be it Mario or Lamberto), Argento or (especially) Fulci has seen this all before and seldom done this well. And, yes, the effects are terrible, but the premise behind them isn’t anywhere near as ridiculous as others may suggest. Through just a few expository lines, the script explains that the piranha have had their gene’s altered with grunion (who can survive outside of the water) and flying fish, which to my ears sounds just as plausible as an enormous great white shark that spontaneously decides to exclusively dine on a form of prey the species traditionally avoids.

Speaking of sharks, the script’s devotion to ripping off Jaws is almost admirable in its lack of subtlety, but compared to Killer Fish, Great White and Orca, its mimicry is clever and never fails to entertain. As absurd as it sounds, I found The Spawning’s climatic last 10 minutes to be as thrilling and emotionally satisfying as Spielberg’s—the script literally adding a ticking time bomb to up the stakes of Anne’s thrilling escape away from the undersea predators (even if the thought behind the explosion doesn’t actually make much sense when you think about it).

The Spawning also proves itself to be very worthwhile for those of us who enjoy exploitation movies for their unapologetic use of extremely attractive actresses. Beyond O’Neil (whose amazing cheekbones made me recall a dark-skinned Jacqueline Bisset), the film also features the dark-haired beauty of The Rapture’s Carole Davis, as well as Leslie Graves (a former child actress and nude model, who appeared in a early 80s soap opera before fading into obscurity and dying of AIDS in 1995), all of whom will likely linger in the consciousness of any heterosexual man lucky enough to see them.

Suffice it to say, you can add Piranha Part 2: The Spawning to my list of nearly-universally despised sequels I love (which includes The Exorcist II: The Heretic and Warlock II: Armageddon). James Cameron has absolutely nothing to be ashamed about.

Except for maybe this.


Repost - Jason Goes to Hell

Having just recently dipped my toes into the murky, deadly waters of Camp Crystal Lake, I thought I’d wait awhile until I indexed another installment in the Friday the 13th series (which, for reasons I myself cannot decipher, is the only major horror franchise I own in its entirety) but then it occurred to me that having pinpointed A New Beginning’s lack of any genuine Jason Voorhees action as its fatal flaw, it could be enlightening to talk about the film for which that exact same narrative attribute is its chief virtue.  

In truth, many fans would disagree with this assessment, insisting that today’s film is just as misbegotten as A New Beginning, both for its heresies against the Crystal Lake mythology and general crappiness.  One only has to look at their respective IMDb pages to appreciate this—4,745 registered users have given A New Beginning an average rating of 3.6/10, while 4,365 voters have given our present subject an average rating of 3.9/10.  
This is fucked up.  A New Beginning deserves a much, much, much lower score than 3.6 and today’s movie definitely deserves better than a measly 3.9, but their .3 difference in public regard serves as ample proof that often people’s expectations blind them to what they are actually seeing.
Fanboys are a fickle, impossible-to-please group of malcontents.  Obsessed with re-experiencing the simple pleasures of their childhoods, they are forever doomed to disappointment as their loss of innocence and ascent into adulthood makes finding those experiences virtually impossible.  In part this because on the one hand they demand that they be surprised and delighted by things they have never seen before, while also insisting that filmmakers do not deviate even one iota from their frequently-ridiculous narrow realm of expectation. 
This leads to such amusingly paradoxical situations as people online spending years and years demanding that a studio commit hundreds of millions of dollars to make a live-action version of an adored cartoon from their childhood, only to react with terrible fury when a studio finally takes the bait but—CAN YOU FUCKING BELIEVE IT?—doesn’t make it EXACTLY like they imagined it should be.  I’ve never actually seen the first live-action version of Scooby-Doo, but I did find it hilarious that when it was released so many online commentators were outraged that a movie based on a TV show they had watched as children was <GASP!> turned into a movie actually intended for children!  

This is why today’s film, which is a perfectly enjoyable and adeptly made example of the slasher movie, is held in such low regard—not because of what it actually is—a fun rip-off of The Hidden—but because of what it isn’t—all Jason, all of the time.

Of course, I’m talking about:
For a time it appeared that Jason Goes to Hell was actually going to be true to its words and in fact be The Final Friday--unlike Part IV, whose status as The Final Chapter didn't even last a year before we saw the nigh-craptaculer A New Beginning.  That this is the case seems especially odd given the history of the film.  Unlike the previous 8 films in the franchise, JGTH wasn't produced by Paramount Studios, which had finally decided after the lacklustre b.o. of Jason Takes Manhattan that they finally had the opporunity to do what they had always wanted and get out of the Friday the 13th business for good.  But rather than just bury the series, they decided to make a quick buck and sell the rights to it to New Line, the little studio that could, which at that time was best know for its A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, but would later become a far-more major Hollywood player as the studio behind the Lord of the Rings trilogy. 
This wouldn't be the first time New Line purchased the rights to an apparently moribund horror movie franchise.  In 1990 the studio had attempted to restart the inert Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise with Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, but the film seemed to be cursed from its conception and failed to make an impact with horror fans, many of whom resented the changes the movie made to the previous film's characters and back story. 
Since it's impossible to believe that the studio would buy the rights to the franchise simply to bury it, one has to assume that they dubbed it The Final Friday not because they actually believed they wouldn't continue the series if the film proved to be a hit, but because a) they figured that they might trick sentimental fans who were disappointed by the last few Paramount films into seeing it and b) they were going to rejigger the formula to such a noticeable degree that the next film in the series could reasonable be released as The New Friday.  For proof of this one only has to take a look at a film they released a year after JGTH, 1994's New Nightmare, which attempted to take the apparently-concluded A Nightmare on Elm Street series into an entirely new direction.
But unlike A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 6: Freddy’s Dead, which earned enough money to justify the making of New Nightmare, JGTH proved to be as much of a flop as Leatherface had been three years earlier.  Rather than reinvent the franchise, which had been it’s obvious intended purpose, the ninth Friday the 13th instead did what it had advertised and stopped the series cold, forcing fans to wait 8 years before Jason Voorhees finally returned to the screen in 2001’s Jason X, which—like Jason Lives—solved the continuity problems created by its predecessor simply by ignoring them and taking the series in an entirely new direction.

However the story of JGTH doesn’t end there.  Despite all of the antipathy it earned upon its release, the film was notable for including a final shot that teased a confrontation that fanboys everywhere spent a decade demanding they be able to see, only to vehemently decry the result once it was given to them and wasn’t exactly what they wanted or expected.
But enough with the backstory, let's talk about the actual movie.

In attempting to reinvent the franchise, the makers of JGTH, decided to do something at the beginning of the film all of their predecessors insisted on leaving to the end—they killed Jason (in so far as Jason can be killed).  And not only did they kill him—in the words of the exalted critics of SCTV’s fabled “Prairie Film Report”—“They blew him up real good!”

For it’s opening sequence alone the 9th Friday the 13th deserves to be held in much higher regard than it’s spiritual peer A New Beginning.  Unlike the fifth film, which is so inept that it plays like a self-parody when it clearly isn’t, JGTH immediately establishes a sly self-mocking tone that it carries with it throughout its entirety. 
The film begins with a beautiful young brunette driving to a cabin out at the infamous Crystal Lake.  Although she first appears in the overtly tomboyish clothes of a final girl, she wastes no time stepping out of them and revealing an amazingly toned body as she takes her requisite shower.  But no sooner does she get out of the bathtub and cover herself with a towel then she is attacked by a machete wielding Voorhees.
Clad only in the towel (which she apparently stapled onto her body, such is its determination not to come off) she runs from the cabin and is chased by the zombified murderer throughout the forest.  Despite her obvious athleticism (she easily hurdles the hood of her own car) she somehow manages to trip and fall several times before she arrives at a large clearing where Jason catches up to her and goes in for the kill.  But this isn’t no ordinary clearing and no ordinary uber-hottie in a towel.  As he steps towards her, a series of bright spotlights turn on and illuminate the area.  A squadron of soldiers appear from behind camouflage and begin to attack the confused maniac.  True to his nature, Jason is able to absorb hundreds of bullets without any seeming affect, but even he proves no match for the missile that is fired at him from a helicopter up above.  Our favourite anti-hero explodes into a hundred little pieces, including his dark, black heart, which is ordered to be bagged up by the officer in charge, who also takes the time to congratulate the still-towel-clad Agent Marcus.


Not Safe For Work!
With this, director Adam Marcus (who was only 24 when the movie was made) and his screenwriters manage to both honour, mock and seperate themselves from the cliches and necessary contrivances of the series and the genre it helped to spawn before the film's opening credits have even appeared onscreen, which then allows them to move on to what amounts to an admittedly cheesy, but still entertaining riff on a classic sci-fi/horror movie New Line released 6 years earlier.
In Jack Sholder's The Hidden, two police officers--one human, one alien--join forces to track down a psychopathic parasite that is able to fulfill its voracious physical and monetary desires by jumping into different human hosts (including--most memorably --a pre-Babylon 5 Claudia Christian).  In JGTH, the evil spirit of Jason Voorhees remains alive in his evil black heart, which--after his decimation--is taken to the medical examiner who has been tasked to perform the autopsy on Jason's various remains.  Unfortunately for the examiner Jason's evil is too great to be defeated for long and it compells the poor man to eat the pulsating organ, causing his body to be taken over by Voorhees' murderous psyche, which--like the parasite in the earlier movie--is able to jump into another person's body whenever the one it's currently in proves to be no longer desirable.
And this time our anti-hero actually has a mission.
Did you know that Jason Voorhees had a sister?  Turns out he did and she's a dead ringer for Wilma Deering, which suggests that the genetic material swirling around the Voorhees clan was capable of very high highs and very low lows.  Strangely, no one around her seems to know this except for the mysterious bounty hunter who's offered to catch Jason for the princely sum of $250,000, which is odd since she still lives in the area around Crystal Lake and you'd think it would eventually come up in conversation:
Small Town Yokel #1: Hey, there's that Diana Kimble.  She was the prettiest girl in our class.

Small Town Yokel #2: Wasn't there some fuss awhile ago involving her family?

Small Town Yokel #1: Well, there was the time everyone thought her retarded brother drowned at the lake down the road, because some teenagers were too busy fooling around to look out for him.  That bothered her mother some, so she killed a bunch of kids, before she got her head chopped off, which was a shame because it turned out that the boy hadn't died, but had instead raised himself alone in the woods.  He hadn't seen his mother for awhile, but he got mighty annoyed when he heard what had happened to her, so he decided to kill some kids on his own.  They eventually killed him, but he rose out of the grave like one those whatchamacallits--

Small Town Yokel #2: --Zombies--

Small Town Yokel #1: --That's right.  Since then he's been an unstoppable monster leaving nothing but misery and terror in his horrible wake.

Small Town Yokel #2: I guess that's why she changed her name.

Small Town Yokel #1: Actually no.  She just married some fellow named Kimble.  It lasted long enough for them to have a kid, who's all grown up now.  Lately she's been dating the sheriff and working as a waitress at the restaurant that serves hamburgers shaped like the mask her evil zombie brother wears.

Small Town Yokel #2: The sheriff, huh?  What does he think about her family?

Small Town Yokel #1: Y'know, I've never heard him bring it up.
But before this becomes too big of a plot-hole, the possessed M.E. arrives at the lake to kill some campers Jason-style, including one unlucky young woman who I think earns the title of goriest death in the series. 
Judge for yourself (warning--even censored this probably ain't safe for work): 
(Note: Once again use your mouse pointer to create some truly gory misogynistic mayhem) 
It turns out that Jason requires the body of a fellow Voorhees to return to his full NHL ready form, which leaves him with just Diana, her grown up daughter Jessica and Jessica's newborn baby as his only options for salvation.  But, luckily for the world at large, these three also have the ability--while wielding a magical dagger--to stop the black sheep of their family once and for all.  Thus the majority of the movie is composed of Jason's spirit jumping around in different people's bodies doing that voodoo he do so well, the frantic attempts by the father of Jessica's baby to prove that he isn't responsible for the murders and save the woman he still loves and Jessica learning about the extreme nature of her family tree. 
In short, JGTH actually has a plot, which is probably the major reason so many fans of the series have seen fit to reject it.  In truth, most average viewers will finally little praiseworthy in the film, but I found it just so darn goofy and energetic that I couldn't help but like the lil' fella.  It helps that I took the time to listen to the commentary by director Marcus and co-screenwriter Dean Lorey, which is one of the more honest and entertaining audio track discussions I've had the pleasure of hearing.  Both men were in their mid-twenties when they made the film and are only too happy to admit to its flaws while also pointing out many of its less-noticeable strengths.  They describe how the film released to theaters with an R-rating was admittedly much more confusing than the unrated video version, which may also account for its dire reputation.  They neither defend nor seem ashamed of the film they made, enjoying it purely for what it is, which makes them far more enjoyable to listen to than someone defending the indefensible or apologizing for something they don't need to feel sorry for.
And, make no mistake, neither Marcus nor Lorey have anything to feel sorry about.  They made an amusing film on a low-budget that is disliked by many only because it wasn't exactly what they had expected when they purchased their ticket or rented the video.  They would do well to ignore what the film isn't and instead enjoy it for what it is.
And, of course, I can't talk about Jason Goes to Hell without mentioning its immortal final shot, which caused so many fanboys to ruin a perfectly good pair of pants.  But since words don't do it justice, I shall allow images to say it for me instead:
(Note: You really should know what you have to do right now)
Slasher Statistics
Body Count: 21 (15 male/6 female)
Shower Scenes: 2
Instances of Nakedity:
Obligatory Has Beens: I'm sorry Erin, but it had been a long time since Silver Spoons....
Instruments of Death: Mesh Table, Car Door, Crow Bar, Knife Sharpener, Brute Force, Boiling Oil, Machete, Magical Dagger and Evil Spirit Possession
Creepy (and therefore suspicious ) Old Guys: 0
References to Pot: 1 (some folks talk about smoking pot, but we don't actually see them do it)
Amount of Time Required to Correctly Identify Killer: N/A 
Cheesy References to Other Horror Movies: Beyond the ending's obvious nod to Wes Craven's most famous work, the movie also features an officially approved Sam Raimi shout out in the appearance of The Evil Dead's Necronomicon Ex Mortis, which our hero finds on a shelf in the old Voorhees homestead.
Utterly Pointless Trivia:  John D. Lemay who plays Steven, the film's male lead, also starred in the Paramount produced Friday the 13th tv series, which--beyond it's title--had nothing to do with the films. 

Final Girl Rating: 6 out of 10