Whether film, literature, music, even video gaming…refuse to be dumbed down. As I move over the half way point in post production for “Death House” I’ve had time to reflect on the film and wonder how it will be received.
The latest news on yet another “Friday the 13th” installment is it will be an origins story. I guess my question is…was there ever that much there in the first place to warrant an origin backstory? Doesn’t it defeat the point of making a simple slasher film to entertain, scare and titillate? Do we really need an origins story whether on Pamela Vorhees or Jason or how Camp Crystal Lake was founded?
The Millennial Generation and after are said to be too literal. They need everything spelled out for them. They have all the information they need on their phones. Why think? Why extrapolate? Hell, why even dream? School is taught to the test, and don’t deviate. Metaphors, surrealism, imagination…require too much thought. Now this is a generalization but sometimes generalizations are generally true.
Let me go further and keep this grounded in horror. When news broke of “Death House,” it was labeled by the media as “The Expendables of Horror.” It’s not. However, many fans instantly thought this was going to be some monster mashup of Freddy, Pinhead , Candyman, Michael Myers, Jason and so on.
It was never supposed to be that and it’s a dumb idea anyway. That’s right, it’s dumb.
Why? Many of these worlds simply don’t belong together. Mashing up these characters is of the “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” mentality. Should Jack Torrence of “The Shining” take on Jason Vorhees? It’s lame and it doesn’t work and most of all, it shouldn’t work.
Before I go on, let’s look at “Freddy vs. Jason.” This was nothing more than an update of “Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman” and to an extent, “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.” “Abbott and Costello” might just be the first real “Expendables of Horror” and was a gimmick. That film featured former Universal greats in the decline of the studio’s monster movie days. They had lost their horrific context and were played for laughs.
Those Universal worlds fit together. “F v J” was a fan movie cash grab and offered little else. Freddy Krueger terrorized suburbia, neighborhoods and most of all…dreams. Jason Vorhees lived in the real world, the awake world and was a rural killer, whom, aside from his Vancouver/Manhattan excursion, was best in the woods. He was protective of his camp.
“F v J” gives us Freddy going into Hell to recruit Jason into killing kids so people start believing in him again so he can continue his sonnambular hijinks (Over 14 scripts to get ot his? Really?). Jason is a hulking brute; slow moving and bears no resemblance to Krueger. His killing style is nothing like Freddy’s M.O. Why did Freddy need this guy? There are a lot of people in Hell, I suspect. Couldn’t you find someone else who could do a better job and also be more manageable? And if Freddy can go into Hell and dupe Jason by pretending to be his mother, why can’t he do something to manifest himself into the dreams of the kids he wants to remember him?
In other words, couldn’t the writers have found a better way to get these two properties together? Seems like much ado about nothing, and the result was underwhelming to say the least. There’s a reason why a sequel never followed or other mashups haven’t come down the copycat pike.
The filmmakers knew it didn’t have to be good or make much sense. It was a gimmick movie. It would sucker a lot of people in. And it did.
So back to “The Expendables of Horror.” The actual action movie, “The Expendables” featured a number of action stars all gathered in one film. They played different roles. Bruce Willis was not John McClain, Stallone wasn’t Rambo, Schwarzenegger wasn’t The Terminator or any of his action guys. They were actions stars all appearing in the same movie with a new story, new characters and new situations.
So why did horror fans think the likes of Kane Hodder, Tony Todd, Robert Englund would all go back into makeup and play their horror alter egos? Nothing about “The Expendables” implied John McClain and Rambo would be teaming up, so why would “Death House” have Freddy, Jason, Pinhead and the crew all together?
I can tell you why: because horror has been so dumbed down, it’s the lowest common denominator type of film that dumbed down audiences would expect and unfortunately, many would want.
Back to “Death House.” It is NOT “The Expendables of Horror.”
I watched the first rough cut of the film last week. One of the 20-something aged editors watched Kane Hodder carefully. He told me how much he loved the “Friday the 13th” films and owned them all, even the reboot. “Kane was the best Jason,” he said. “Out of all the films.”
Kane’s character in “Death House” is named, Sieg. He is a hulking, intelligent Neo Nazi who was brought to justice by Cortney Palm’s Agent Toria Boon. She went undercover into his compound and after a Waco style raid, she helped the government get one of its most wanted. Sieg has the uncanny ability to heal himself. Bullet wounds heal, skin seals up. It’s quite a trick.
“How can he do that?” the editor asked me? “You never really explain how he can just heal himself.” I replied that we make it clear Sieg has immersed himself in Nazi occultism and likely figured something out. “Yeah,” the editor replied, “but don’t you think you should tell the audience that?”
Here was my answer: “You watched over ten “Friday the 13th” films, including “Jason X” and “F v. J.” Did you ever ask how Jason, who was clearly a frail, mentally incapacitated kid in the in 1980 original WHO DROWNED TO DEATH, no less; somehow came back to kill in all the following films? Did you ever ask the weight gain and bodybuilding program he got into while being dead?”
This young guy thought about it. I went on.
“Did you ever ask once how Jason is able to rise from the dead, take wound after wound and…correct me if I’m wrong…get decapitated by Corey Feldman in Part IV and still rise in Part VI? Did you ever ask how his head was somehow attached back to his shoulders in Part VI? Lightning did it? Is that the science behind it? Because if it is, the upcoming real human head transplant just might be a success.”
This “kid” smiled and said, “I never really thought about it like that.”
“Kane walks around in a mask and you just accept that he can be burned, chopped, shot, drowned, hacked and he rises again and again. When he doesn’t wear a mask, you want an explanation.”
How did Freddy Krueger ever figure out how to come back and into people’s dreams in the first film? Did we need that explanation? Yeah, yeah, they gave some half-assed explanation in lousy 3D in the “Freddy’s Dead” installment, but did we really need all this back story to Freddy’s abilities? Didn’t they use a dog pissing fire in Part IV to resurrect Freddy? Where’s the logic in that? Did we need some scientist to spout exposition on the reanimating possibilities of canine fire piss? I woulda loved to be part of the writer’s meeting on that one. “Hey! How about a dog pisses on his grave?” “No! A dog pisses fire on his grave! THAT’S the ticket!”
Did we need a back story of explanation to 1978’s classic “Halloween” on how Michael Myers keeps coming back? I think Donald Pleasance summed it all up: the kid was evil. There’s your explanation. Sit back and enjoy the fucking movie. Stop asking for every single piece of minutia. Did we need the remake’s bad family back story? It still didn’t explain away how you can’t kill Michael. If bad parenting is the cause for resurrection, then there should be a shitload of kids walking around who could call themselves Lazarus.
Should there be some kind of “Star Wars Phantom Menace” explanation for this power? You know, like “Midi-Chlorians?” Wasn’t that a winner? Who thought that was a good idea? A pox on anyone, who to this day, still does.
Hell, they not only killed Michael in the mediocre “Halloween II” they fucking killed him with point blank gunshots to both eyes. They burned him up in an inferno that consumed Myers and his doctor. Yet, in Part 4, Mike is back and Dr. Loomis has some scarring on his face (and somehow that trench coat made it back) yet audiences just accepted it.
How did Count Dracula turn from man to bat and back again without being naked? How did his clothes transform as well? They’re not part of his body, right? Shouldn’t his clothes fall off? Shouldn’t Dracula need a phone booth or something? Do you need this explained to you?
I have a similar explanation in my article on 1985’s Fright Night which loses the Millennials because they just don’t have enough spoon fed to them. They take the film way too literally. Many of today’s viewers know nothing of the horror films that inspired Tom Holland’s classic, and most do not want to: http://horrorfuel.com/horror/reviews/cynema-fright-night-or-why-remake-when-you-can-just-retitle/
Why weren’t there other Freddy Kruegers? Seems like a child molesting janitor could figure this out, there had to be others, right? As a result, Fred Krueger couldn’t be the only one with a monopoly on dream invasion. Where were they and why wasn’t there someone else, anyone besides big, dumb, rotting Jason Vorhees to draft out of Hell?
This is dumbed down entertainment. Sometimes that’s okay and as a result we just suspend our disbelief for the fun of it. Spaceships don’t explode in the vacuum of space. Air tanks don’t explode when shot in the mouths of Great Whites and Superman can’t really fly regardless of what color the sun is. He might be able to jump really far and high, but to perpetuate speed and accelerate? No. Then again, should we apply such logic to the superhero mania?
Give me ten minutes and science will deconstruct every single super hero and deflate a lot of comic and fan boys out there. Do you need to know the science behind the spider bite that infected Peter Parker? Do we need to know where Batman orders his supplies to build extravagant hide outs and machines without anyone suspecting? Most of all, do we really need Batman’s origin story told yet again? Hence why Heath Ledger’s Joker worked so well because we don’t know what story about his scars is true. It doesn’t matter. This guy had issues.
The recent spate of online “Fan Theories” on Rey or Snoke from “The Force Awakens,” Harry Potter characters, The Joker from “Dark Knight” carry as much weight as a weather forecast. Chances are you’re gonna be wrong, so consequently we don’t need explanation. Sometimes you just enjoy the movie.
The gaps aren’t that wide. Stop acting like they are. Fill them in with your own imagination. Stop waiting to be fed the details and answers.
Know your horror with “Death House.” Know that horror is more than blood and gore. Trust me, we have plenty of it as well as action and a lot of fun. We have a huge menu of horror names and they are terrific in fresh, new roles. I would love to see Kane’s Sieg rival his notoriety as Jason and as a result, his performance as Sieg is one of his best. Kane Hodder shines in this film.
Horror is more than buying into a franchise or reboot. It’s about wanting more and expecting more. Better stories. New characters. Risks in filmmaking. It takes thought. Trust me, “Death House” will walk the walk as well as I am talking the talk. We didn’t waste anyone’s time and we won’t waste our audience’s either. We want fans to love this and scream for more. That requires fans to step up, and really mean it when they say they want something different.
Horror should be fun as well. It provides so many memories and when people attend conventions, it’s more than to meet the stars. They share their memories of where they were, how old, what happened to them as a result of seeing that person’s film.
That’s what filmmaking is all about, and that is not cynical.