“The Lady In Red, 1979”

“I have two arms. Two legs. And I know all the words to ‘Yes, We Have No Bananas’.”

The Lady In Red, 1979 (Pamela Sue Martin), New World Pictures

You have a simple farm girl in Polly Franklin (Pamela Sue Martin) singing show-tunes while she’s getting the eggs for transit into town. She stops and does a soft-shoe for the assembled horses and chickens. Her no-nonsense father rants and raves about hell and damnation. While in town, she witnesses a bank robbery. The robbers (one of them, Mary Woronov, playing a moll) take Polly for a short ride as they elude the cops. After a talk with a newspaper man, she discovers she was in the clutches of the Dillinger gang. Some time later, she heads to Chicago and sets about working in textile sweatshops for sleazy Dick Miller (a staple in Roger Corman movies). Miller exploits the workers (this must’ve been before Unions) and Polly leads a revolt. She gets a job as a dance hall girl – 10 cents a dance!

Working her way up in the food chain, she becomes a decent prostitute pulling in good money. The Johns really go for that innocent naive thing, and Sue Martin plays every scene with the youthful zeal that made her extremely popular as Nancy Drew in The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, which ran on the ABC Television Network from 1977 to 1979. It was rumored she left the show because of this movie, but the dates don’t quite line up, and most official explanations cite “creative differences” as the main reason for her departure. She hits the sheets with a mysterious hit man named Turk (Robert Forster), which gives her the idea to spend more time sidling up to the Mob. Polly’s an angler, and much sharper than most women who resort to worse measures to get through the days in the incredibly corrupt cesspool of Chicago in the Prohibition era.

She spends some time in jail where she has to deal with monstrous matron Nancy (Porky’s “Tallywhacker Inspector”) Parsons. The movie is a kaleidoscope of genre and exploitation films; gangland, prostitution, women-in-prison movies. The violence is truly graphic and bloody. In fact, this is one of the more violent movies I’ve seen, and it seems to have made that way on purpose. The Lady in Red is not a movie you’re going to find in a multiplex. More likely, the drive-in circuit. It’s more a tent-pole show, moving from town to town and making money. Sandwiched between all of Polly’s hi-jinks is her love affair with famed gangster John H. Dillinger (Robert Conrad). They make a cute couple, but Conrad isn’t in the movie enough, nor do I think he was intended to be. This is the girl’s story, not his. He’s a mystery to Polly. He never tells her who he is, but everybody else seems to figure it out. The movie is based on a footnote in crime history. Imagine seeing the bloody aftermath of the notorious shootout. Dillinger, riddled with bullet and a woman in a red dress at his side as he dies. This was John Sayles’ central premise when he was mandated by Corman to write the movie.  Who is this girl?

Louise Fletcher’s duplicitious Anna Sage (working through a lot of early childhood pain, I gather) drops the dime to Hoover’s FBI task force on Polly’s relationship with Dillinger. The Feds move in at the Biograph Theater where Dillinger and the little lady take in a movie. Sage “makes” Dillinger and the Feds plug him full of lead and leave him a bloody mess in front of the marquee. This isn’t how the story actually unfolds from what I’ve read. In reality, shots were fired upon his exit, and Dillinger gave chase through a side alley and was shot in the back, severing his spinal cord. In the movie, a crowd of amused spectators dabs napkins and handkerchiefs into his blood. The Press has it all wrong, concocting a narrative that she was the woman who betrayed him. She orchestrates a little payback, and in the process takes up Dillinger’s bank-robbing work. Director Lewis Teague shot the movie in 20 days with a budget of under a half a million dollars. He would go on to direct Alligator, Cujo, Cat’s Eye, and the Romancing the Stone sequel, The Jewel of the Nile.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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Vintage Cable Box: “The Road Warrior, 1982”

“You wanna get outta here? You talk to me.”

The Road Warrior, 1982 (Mel Gibson), Warner Bros.

This is the movie that re-invented the wheel. Australia’s post-apocalyptic wasteland depleted of natural resources serves as the perfect backdrop for director George Miller’s dissection of survival and intelligence. The Road Warrior (aka Mad Mad 2) continues the saga of a nomad, his dog, and his kick-ass car. Narrated by, we assume, the Feral Boy who has been stalking Max (Mel Gibson, in his career-making role) and a rag-tag group of survivors living in an improvised fortress with the last bits of gasoline (a form of currency). The Road Warrior is a logical progression from the first Mad Max movie released in 1979.

Mad Max (also directed by Miller, who was inspired by watching car crash victims being wheeled into emergency rooms at his day job) shows the breakdown of structured society. Max’s wife and child are killed, and he takes to the road in search of gasoline. His once noble profession of policeman has been supplanted with that of a scavenger. 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome continues this progression with an attempt to rebuild society and re-introduce religion to the masses.

The fortress survivors are terrorized on a daily (and nightly) basis by the psychotic soldiers of Humongous, who pleads with them to abandon their posts and their gasoline, and then there will be no more war. The stragglers argue amongst themselves until Max provides them with a solution: he will ferry the gasoline in a tanker he spotted down the road for a nominal fee – all the gas he can carry. The deal changes when he is co-opted into driving the tanker to what the survivors call “paradise.” Their idea of paradise is nothing more than a travel brochure.

The rest of the film is taken up with an unparalleled chase, so spectacularly photographed and edited that just about everything else pales by comparison. George Miller, understanding this, takes it a bit too far with his 2015 re-boot, Mad Max: Fury Road. That movie is nothing but spectacular chase scenes and improbable visual effects with very little story to glue the whole enterprise together. Miller knows his audience and because of that, Mad Max: Fury Road was an enormous hit, critically and commercially.

Sourced from the original 1983 Warner Bros “clamshell” VHS release in a hideous pan-and-scan format from a remarkably worn-out print. The box sports a distinctive silver/metallic gray color scheme. The movie continued to receive different format releases and is available in Beta, DVD, Laserdisc, and Blu Ray formats. “A lone hero battles for the future of mankind.” The writer of the accompanying essay on the back of the box doesn’t understand the nihilism at the core of The Road Warrior (especially with regard to the film’s bleak ending). Yes, these are honorable people fighting a losing battle, but everything they (and Max) do comes from sheer desperation and pragmatic necessity. “Thanks to Max, the new order is born. Civilization struggles up again from the ashes – and after The Road Warrior goes its way, you’ll never quite forget it.” Wow! What a movie!

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

Vintage Cable Box: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, 1984

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“Die! Die! Die! Die!”

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Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, 1984 (Crispin Glover), Paramount Pictures

As is the course for the Friday the 13th franchise, we start with a clip show. This is like watching Happy Days, Family Ties, Friends or any number of sitcoms where the actors’ contractual demands per episode outweighed any reason to shoot new episodes, so the producers would cobble together “flashback” episodes to complete production runs. We get a few minutes of the back-story. The dreamy camp coordinator from Part 2 sits his kids around a fire to regale them with the story of Jason. We go backwards to the old man and the “death curse”, forward to Pamela’s shrine, backward to Pamela’s beheading, and forward to our previous survivor, character (actress) putting an ax in Jason’s hockey mask.

Like Part III (in 3-D!) before it, we pick up the action right where the previous movie left off.  Cops in raincoats take all the bodies out of the crime scene (including Jason’s) and off we go to the local hospital.  This time, we spend a good portion of the movie away from the camp, or any forest-like locale, which is refreshing.  You think it’s going play like Halloween II (which took place in a hospital as well, which made it a little boring for me), but just as soon as Jason rises from the dead (the first traces of his super-human stature), and kills a couple of medical staffers (nice to know they’re horny too, Jason works much better as a form of birth control than an instrument of vengeance), we’re back at Crystal Lake, or at least within the vicinity.

Playing as a slight variation from Part III (in 3-D!), we have another group of friends off to spend a weekend at idyllic Crystal Lake.  Perhaps tragedy-plus-time equals comedy, so the locals aren’t so crazy-ass nervous about the whole thing, but what is it about Crystal Lake that seduces teenagers to drink of it’s pristine shores, or skinny dip, or engage in any other number of activities?  The archetypes are almost identical to the previous movie; you have the popular guy, the pretend- popular guy, the hotties, the dweeb (memorable Crispin Glover), and the virgin (her name escapes me).  We meet a friendly family: the Jarvises, a mother and her two kids, daughter Trish and little boy Tommy (Corey Feldman).  Tommy makes halloween masks and enjoys makeup effects, much like expert makeup artist, Tom Savini (who returned to work on this movie specifically so he could kill Jason).  He is a joy to watch in this movie, particularly when he’s checking out the girls undressing through his bedroom window.

Meanwhile, there’s a pair of cute twins looking to make life interesting for Glover and his douche-bag friend.  Tommy watches the gaggle of them swimming naked in the lake, and instantly becomes a man!  What with all the characters running around, I almost forgot we were watching a Friday the 13th movie.  Our favorite hockey player shows up right after Trish and Tommy meet tall, handsome hitchhiker, Rob (Erich  Anderson), who bonds with Tommy after seeing his eclectic collection of monster movie paraphenalia.  The screenplay briefly flirts with the idea of making Rob the killer, because of his similar build to that of Jason.  The teens party on, and Crispin does a ridiculous dance (think Elaine and her “full-body dry-heave” from Seinfeld) that is forever etched in my mind.  In addition, the ending is a better variation of the second movie’s ending that has Tommy shaving his head to resemble a young Jason in order to distract and then murder him.  His story will continue in the next two movies.  Long live Tommy Jarvis!

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This is the movie I most remember (other than Part VI: Jason Lives) from the franchise, because, as it happened, The Movie Channel ran a marathon of the first three movies to mark the premiere of this sequel.  For some strange and spooky reason, I always watched this movie in quiet surroundings (at least until I watched it again for this review).  The first time I saw the movie, I was living in cricket-infested Tennessee.  Another time, I was upstate in Putnam County (with lots of freaking crickets).  One snap of a fallen tree branch and I was hanging from the ceiling fan, even though Jason never truly frightened me.  By the time this movie rolled around, he was almost a robot, an indestructible entity (regardless of what becomes of him at the end of this movie).  In the formula of how these movies were made, we have story, gruesome death, story, gruesome death – rinse and repeat, so you can pretty much tell what’s going to happen next.  The fun was figuring out how the kids were going to die.

You can also sense the “cold war” of competing slasher movie enterprises.  In looking over the comparative histories of these franchises, I found several similarities.  Halloween was intended as an anthology series, as was Friday the 13th, until the producers changed their minds.  Similar concepts were brought out, such as The Burning (one shot in The Final Chapter imitates the famous canoe scene) and the Sleepaway Camp cycle.  Other concepts were direct parodies (though not marketed as such), like The Slumber Party Massacre and The Dorm That Dripped Blood.  Wes Craven’s Scream franchise deconstructed the genre for a new audience, and in turn, caused a resurgence, resulting in self-referential films like Adam Green’s Hatchet series.

I had a wonderful time catching up and reviewing the first four movies of this franchise.  It seems Friday the 13th (like Jason) will go on forever and ever.  The franchise was rebooted in 2009 (not a terrible movie, but lacking the D.I.Y. qualities and rough charm of the original movies) and produced by Michael Bay, who would also produce reboots of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror, and A Nightmare On Elm Street.  It’s sad to think we’ve rendered a particular era of filmmaking obsolete; most movies released these days are not temporary distractions and fun diversions, but full-blown epics with philosophical and psychological underpinnings that the audience must digest and process in order to get a sense of entertainment, or else they completely miss the boat.  Remember when movies were fun?

Next time, we look at the superior rat movie, Of Unknown Origin, starring the great Peter Weller!

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

Vintage Cable Box: Friday the 13th Part III, 1982

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“Look upon this omen and go back from whence ye came!  I have warned thee!  I have warned thee.”

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Friday the 13th Part III, 1982 (Richard Brooker), Paramount Pictures

We pick up right where we left off with the previous installment, and then I begin to suspect these opening scenes exist only to pad out the running time. Basically, we have Ginny (the survivor from Part 2, and, not coincidentally, a thoughtful and intelligent young woman) trying to pass herself as Pamela in order to confuse and delay Jason (now revealed to be the killer) so she can get away. There’s a subtle character bit here with Jason that I neglected to mention in the previous review. When Ginny admonishes him for disobeying her, he cocks his head in a quizzical manner, as though he were a puppy who just heard an unusual noise. So Ginny escapes, we go back to the grotesque shrine of Pamela, and we’re off to the races!

This is Friday the 13th Part III (in 3-D, as evidenced by the credits, but for some reason we’re treated to a disco theme this time around). I’m assuming the credits are supposed to be smacking our faces if we’re wearing the 3-D glasses, but here they mercifully stop before messing up my monitor. Phew! Steve Miner directs an immediate follow-up to the first sequel with the discovery of all the dead teens from Part 2. Jason is somewhere still out there, clutching a machete, and it isn’t long before we get our first confirmed kill. This is the first sequel (in my worn-down memory, at least) to step up the action and get right down to business. We get the fake-out jolts, of course accompanied by Manfredini’s violin stings (his score emulates Bernard Hermann’s score for Psycho), but we also get a handful of enhanced shots for 3-D; snakes coming toward us, assorted weaponry, and a “clever” gag with a yo-yo. There’s a refreshing amount of quiet that escalates the tension, because at this point we’re waiting for Jason to strike.

After vanquishing an argumentative couple with a fondness for pets, we’re introduced to the requisite teens with the van that’s a rockin’.  These guys aren’t as likeable as the previous batch, but it is admittedly easier to watch them buy a one-way ticket to the bone orchard.  I remember being somewhat upset and alarmed that Adrienne King was the first to go in the previous movie, but as I get to understand and appreciate the formula, I realize this is the only way to move forward in a franchise.  We can’t have long-term heroes (or heroines) in slasher films.  It gets boring after a while.  This is evidenced by the on-again, off-again presence of Jamie Lee Curtis in the Halloween franchise.

The formula of the franchise represents a deviation from the first two movies.  These kids aren’t camp counselors, but a group of old friends (though they don’t act all that friendly with each other, the girls are somewhat bitchy to each other, and the guys are deliberately dense) spending a weekend together in a town that neighbors Crystal Lake.  They are menaced by a strange ’80s version of a multicultural biker gang.  So, in addition to weathering the storm of Jason’s vengeance, they have to deal with these idiots, who also swear vengeance.  There’s a lot of vengeance in New Jersey, isn’t there?  The biker idiots show up, attempting to rain on the kids’ parade, but they get knocked off by Jason, in increasingly inventive ways, and it’s interesting to note several of the killings are done off-screen.  While continuing to use POV shots for Jason, this is the movie in which we get to see more than just a few shots of him.  He dons the iconic hockey mask (as played by Richard Brooker) for the first time and shoots an arrow straight through a victim’s eye!

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Visually, the movie looks a lot better than most of the 3-D films being released at the time.  Earlier today, I wrote up my review for Jaws 3-D (which didn’t look terrible, but it didn’t look that great, either) and I was reminded of the terrible photographic process shots of the Steve Guttenberg nudie classic, The Man Who Wasn’t There.  Shot on a budget twice that of the previous film, Friday the 13th Part III did a little better at the box office, but not quite as groundbreaking as the first movie in the franchise, but by this time, slasher films took over a good portion of the market.  Friday the 13th Part III is likely the last movie in the franchise to show Jason as a human being with physical vulnerabilities, unlike what he would eventually become: that of a super-human killing machine.

Next time, I look at The Slumber Party Massacre from 1982, written by noted feminist Rita Mae Brown.  Apparently, she wanted to show that women could make trashy, violent, exploitative movies as well as any damned man!

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

Vintage Cable Box: Friday the 13th Part 2, 1981

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“I told the others, they didn’t believe me. You’re all doomed. You’re all doomed.”

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Friday the 13th Part 2, 1981 (Adrienne King), Paramount Pictures

Adrienne King is having nightmares.  Specifically, nightmares about the carnage from a few months prior.  Pamela shakes her, tells her Jason should have been watched.  He wasn’t a very good swimmer, you see.  Pamela targets poor Adrienne as the source of her anguish.  Adrienne tries to flee, but dead bodies are in her path.  She struggles with Pamela and grabs an ax.  One lucky swing later and Pamela is liberated from her head.  We then see the final image of the first movie, that of Adrienne lazily languishing in a canoe, until Jason emerges from his watery grave and pulls her under.  She talks to authorities and wonders what happened to the boy.  Adrienne wakes up.  The phone rings.  She argues with her mother, which is interesting considering that previous flashback.  What we’re seeing here is a fragmented individual who, unfortunately, will not make it past the opening credits.  She opens the refrigerator door to see Pamela’s decapitated head looking at her (the old Osterman Weekend gag!), and then she gets a ice-pick in her head (the old Basic Instinct gag!).  At least the killer is kind enough to take the whistling kettle off the heat.

We jump to five years later, and a fresh, healthy batch of good-looking camp counselors are en route to a training center just outside of the camp.  Their no-nonsense (yet dreamy) coordinator set them to work making preparations, or something like that.  The script doesn’t waste much time on character development.  This would, unfortunately, become a trope of slasher movies as the years progressed.  As they are want to do, they engage in fornication, smoking dope, telling scary stories or whatever the kids got up to back in those days.  The crazy old man (“It’s got a death curse!”) shows up again to freak out the young people.  That seems to be his primary job.  Dreamy coordinator-guy sits everybody by the campfire and tells the story of Jason, for no other reason than to take up the creepy old man’s mantle (not before being killed himself, goodbye old man, we’ll miss you!) and scare the Hell out of these kids.  Why?  Camp Crystal Lake is off-limits!

As with the first movie, there are a few fake-out jolts to be felt.  What tends to happen is a one or two people trounce off the beaten path, walk through the woods, take a stroll around back, and then we go to a POV shot.  Somebody’s following somebody, a couple of violin stings from Henry Manfredini’s once-again effective score.  Sometimes we see a pair of legs following our hapless kids, and then we get the fake jolt, usually from a portly authority figure, who warns of danger, which is what I don’t understand.  Sooner or later the person doing the warning gets garroted.  You have all these townies warning of danger and yet they continue to live there.  If there was bad ju-ju afoot, I’d book and I mean proper!  Crazy, hemp-smokin’ kids don’t buy this adult plastic hassle, and they keep on keepin’ on.  My favorite bit this time around is two kids doing the nasty and the killer impales their bodies together with the bed.  Fun stuff!

She could use a decent exfoliant!

On a technical level, this second part in the franchise has better lighting and camerawork.  Steve Miner makes use of slow-moving tracking shots and creeping shadows.  Miner would go to direct the next sequel, House (a personal favorite of mine), and, inexplicably, Forever Young with Mel Gibson and Jamie Lee Curtis.  It seems this movie has a little more psychology going for it, with fear of the dark and vulnerability (such as the kids’ propensity for going skinny-dipping at night) driving those in the audience to clutch their boyfriends and girlfriends in sheer terror.  Several of these gags would be repeated in the third sequel.  I recognize one of the counselors as being the crazy bell-hop from the X-Files episode, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.”  Shot on a budget twice that of the first film, this sequel did not make as much money at the box office, but it was enough for Paramount (who purchased the worldwide rights) to justify another sequel.

Next time, I put on my 3D glasses for the first of two movies made in that strange photographic process.  Jaws 3-D, up next on Vintage Cable Box.  It ain’t Avatar! 

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

Vintage Cable Box: Friday the 13th, 1980

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“It’s got a death curse!”

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Friday the 13th, 1980 (Betsy Palmer), Paramount Pictures

The slasher film was by no means a new idea when Friday the 13th opened to theaters in 1980, nor even Halloween two years previous.  A quick trip to the Wikipedia unearths unusual obscurities like Maurice Tourneur’s The Lunatics from 1912 (which I am stunned to remember watching at some point), which may have inspired the passing of the Hays Code (I would argue that, as the Hays Code was primarily an instrument of sexual censorship).  Thirteen Women from 1932 is more likely the progenitor of the modern-day slasher flick, because of the revenge-obsessed narrative.  The usual pattern of these stories involves an unpopular character, ridiculed, perhaps killed (or assumed dead) who has emerged to exact bloody vengeance on all those who wronged him or her.  This is the impetus of the very popular Friday the 13th franchise.

This is Camp Crystal Lake, a few years back.  The moon is out, and crickets chirp in the woods.  We have a couple of camp counselors getting sexy upstairs, and then we see that famous POV shot.  Young Jason Voorhees (presumably) spies on them, and then murders them.  Henry Manfredini’s iconic score borrows heavily from Bernard Hermann’s idea to use stinging strings to emphasize the acts of violence committed to film, as in Hitchcock’s Citizen Kane of slasher movies, Psycho.

Counselors assemble to repopulate the once-abandoned Crystal Lake.  There are some classic bits in here, as when one of the counselors goes into the town diner to ask for directions to the camp.  Everybody in the place stares at her like they’re all about to tell the story of “Large Marge.”  She hitches a ride to the camp, and the driver tells her about the two kids murdered in 1958, the drowning boy in 1957, and all the fires that have plagued Crystal Lake.  The driver urges her to quit and leave, but she can’t. She’s shaping young minds, damnit!  While her devotion to her work is admirable, her colleagues have other ideas: namely hanky-panky, and this is where we get more of the formula of this sub-genre.  The innocent, or thoughtful characters, usually virginal girls, are spared, while the libidinous of the group die horribly.

For the purposes of the first movie in the franchise, the identity of the killer is kept secret until the end, but we know ultimately that either Jason (or his restless and super-human spirit) are responsible for the subsequent killings.  Adrienne King, the remaining victim, discovers that Jason’s mother, has been avenging herself upon this new batch of counselors in her dead son’s stead.  It seems she was driven mad by his drowning death (as any mother would be) and took to killing as her primary source of communication.  This explains why (from her point of view), she was able to easily dispatch so many unsuspecting and trusting idiots.  As in Psycho (at least for this first entry) Jason exists only as a memory, like Norman’s mother.  After she loses her head (literally!), we’re treated to a De Palma-style leap from a watery grave and King waking from a horrifying nightmare.

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Sean Cunningham (working from soap-opera scribe Victor Miller’s script) crafts a good old fashioned camp-fire story in very economical fashion.  Primarily conceived as a “tax shelter production”, Friday the 13th was shot in 1979 on a budget of about a half a million dollars, and proceeded to make $60,000,000; an enormous box office hit for the time.  While Halloween undoubtedly influenced this film, I believe Friday the 13th to be the most influential horror film of all time.  In the 80s, theaters were blitzed with slasher movies and sex comedies.  Movie theaters were like libraries; the descriptions of so many different kinds of movies were printed in newspapers, and movie lovers could see any type of film they wanted to see.  This was the beginning of the golden age of slasher movies.

Welcome to Vintage Cable Box’s Halloween 2016 Horror Movie Coverage!  Next time, we look at 1982’s Deadly Eyes starring Sara Botsford and Scatman Crothers.  Rats! 

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

Vintage Cable Box: A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, 1982

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“Marriage, for me, is the death of hope.”

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A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, 1982 (Woody Allen), Orion Pictures

Born a little too late to appreciate Woody Allen’s early slapstick comedy, and then the easy transformation to the more thoughtful romantic comedy for which he would become synonymous, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy arrived on cable television at a time with which I would most identify: a middle period in his career that would introduce his new muse at the time – Mia Farrow. A brilliant but under-utilized actress in her own right, she would receive the lion’s share of attention for her work (and unfortunately, her personal life) with Allen. The movie was unfairly maligned as audience enthusiasm dipped after the autobiographical Stardust Memories (1980).

Allen plays a neurotic (of course) inventor, Andrew, married to the beautiful Adrian (Mary Steenburgen) whose cousin, college professor Leopold (José Ferrer) and his fiancée, Ariel (Farrow) are set to join them at their country home for the weekend. Among his startling inventions and flying machines, Andrew has created what he calls a “spirit ball” (a kind of magic lantern), which can communicate with ghosts. Andrew’s friend, Max (Tony Roberts) is also invited, and he brings his latest girlfriend, the youthful and sexually-active Dulcy (Julie Hagerty). Andrew’s sex life with his wife is waning. He keeps trying to initiate sex with her, but Adrian feels as though she might be frigid. Andrew discovers that Leopold’s fiancée was an old flame he never quite got over.

Andrew secretly covets Maxwell’s ease with women. He cries to him about his lack of sex drive. Maxwell recommends hypnosis. Leopold arrives with Ariel, and takes an immediate dislike to Maxwell, who starts to put the moves on Ariel. Adrian displays jealousy at the sight of her. When she confronts Andrew, he lies that he never loved her. Dulcy and Leopold develop a mutual attraction to each other, while Ariel and Andrew take baby-steps to rekindle their romance. Maxwell confesses his love for Ariel to Andrew. He wants Andrew to escort Ariel for a late-day rendezvous. Leopold tells Dulcy he is enamored of her and they arrange their own meeting time. Adrian seeks sexual advice from Dulcy, while Andrew consummates his desire for Ariel.

While Leopold is a worldly man of science who disbelieves notions of a spirit world, Ariel is earthy and bohemian, igniting the interest of both Maxwell and Andrew. Maxwell and Leopold nearly come to blows and Maxwell attempts suicide at the thought of their impending marriage. Before the weekend is over, Maxwell will be shot through the heart with an arrow intended for Andrew, and Leopold will die in the throes of passion and his spirit will take up residence in the woods. This contrived plot very much reminds me of Allen’s Manhattan (1979) wherein these dynamics (and soap-opera-style contrivances) are played against the backdrop of a perfect city, or a sumptuous wooded meadow, but lacking the epic qualities and instead embracing what Allen has referred to as “intermezzo.”

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This is an unusual period-piece (turn of the century) that, if anything else, demonstrates Allen’s skill at dialogue that needs no particular span of centuries in order to be worthwhile.  Images of sprites, spirits, and pixies are conjured by Allen’s characters in the midst of his typical sexual turmoil.  Gordon Willis’ photography is exceptional, and against the grain of his typically “darker” movies like The Godfather, Klute, and The Devil’s Own.  Lush fields and forestry, and gorgeous specimens of nature are given such a beautiful treatment that I was surprised he never received nominations for this work in this movie.  He would receive a much-deserved nomination a year later for Allen’s Zelig.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.