Thursday, October 25, 2018

Drive-In of Terror 3 Presents: Friday the 13th: The Game



Friday the 13th, released in 1980, is a horror film about a group of up-and-coming camp counselors who attempt to re-open the abandoned Camp Crystal Lake.  Over the course of the movie, they are picked off by a woman named Pamela Voorhees, who is seeking revenge for the drowning of her young son, Jason, back in the 1950's.  Although she is defeated at the end of the film, the surviving counselor has a dream where she is attacked by the rotted corpse of young Jason.  Little did Paramount, Sean S. Cunningham, or Victor Miller know that the little boy would become the face of one of the most popular horror franchises ever.

Since Friday the 13th Part 2, Jason Voorhees, now a fully-grown adult, has murdered and butchered anyone who sets foot on Crystal Lake.  His bloody rampages even crossed into New York, albeit briefly, and into outer space in Jason X.  With a series as big as Friday the 13th, video games seem like a natural extension of the movies.  Aside from a horrible NES game and a guest appearance in Mortal Kombat X, the fearsome hockey-mask wearing killer didn't get a proper game to call his own until 2017 with the release of Friday the 13th: The Game.

There's not much plot in this game, aside from "Camp counselors have fun, Jason shows up and starts killing them hoes, and now they must survive," which is normally what happens in most of these movies, so it's excusable.  Fans of the franchise will appreciate the numerous nods.  Every Jason from Part 2 up to Jason Goes to Hell is playable; yes, even Roy Burns, the fake Jason from Part 5, is available for selection.  Plus, all of the levels are locations from the films, including Camp Crystal Lake from the original, the Jarvis House from Part 4, and the rehabilitation center from Part 5


Look closely in each stage, and you'll find plenty of references to characters and moments from the various movies.  The best nods are the audio tapes you can potentially find during a multiplayer match.  These tapes are interview sessions with franchise characters Pamela Voorhees and Tommy Jarvis.  It's impressive the developers went to such great lengths to explore the two characters, more so than any of the films ever did.

Every played hide and seek as a kid?  Well, the gameplay is like that, but with a lot more emphasis on survival and avoiding a hulking brute wearing a hockey mask.  There are two modes, single player and multiplayer.  Single player consist of an offline multiplayer mode, complete with AI bots, and challenges.  As Jason, the goal of the challenges is to off the camp counselors in unique ways.  Different scenarios present different ways to kill counselors.  Once the mission is over, players are awarded skulls based on factors like killing all humans, avoiding detection, and achieving the required amount of points for said mission.  Performing well in each stage rewards the player with taunts to equip their character with in multiplayer.

Multiplayer, though, is where the meat of the game is.  Before each match, players can choose whether to play as a counselor or Jason.  Counselors have their own varying stats for things like sprint speed, total stamina, stealth, and composure when encountering Jason or getting stuck in the dark.  The same goes for the selection of Jason's.  Some move quicker than others, or they might have better defense or be more proficient with one of the four abilities available for use.

Why, hello there!

For the next twenty minutes, counselors need to try to survive the night, but as Jason, the goal is to hunt and kill the counselors.  True to the movies it's based on, Jason can't be killed, unless you follow a specific series of tasks, but there are multiple ways of escaping.  You can try repairing the phones to call the cops, fixing the car or boat to get the hell out of Dodge, or you can find a CB radio to summon Tommy Jarvis, more on this later.  Cabins and other facilities are scattered around each stage; inside them are either supplies, weapons, or parts required to fix the vehicles or phone box.

Characters can only hold one weapon on them; alternatively, if you find a bear trap, you can place it somewhere to trap Jason in its grasp momentarily.  First-aid sprays allow you to heal yourself or a partner, while a pocket knife is useful for making a quick escape if Jason grabs you.  Additionally, maps let you see where you and the other players are, and a walkie-talkie lets you communicate with nearby gamers, if they're playing with a mic on.  Be forewarned, though, as you search cabins, repair vehicles, and do your best to survive, Jason is on the hunt, but by crouching, locking cabin doors, and hiding in closets or under beds, it can decrease the likelihood of Jason finding you.

Of course, this is a game based on a slasher movie, so when Jason finds and kills you, you're dead.  Then, you have to wait till time runs out or everyone else is dead for the match to be over, but if someone found the CB radio, there's a chance one of the dead players will spawn back into the match as Tommy Jarvis.  Tommy is the most powerful human character in the game.  He has the highest stats, is equipped with all items, plus he has a shotgun that can stun Jason for a limited period of time.  Despite being incredibly strong, Tommy can still die, but his high stats and equipment can be used to get other players out of a sticky situation.

Then there's the man behind the mask, Jason Voorhees.  True to the movies, he is slow and sluggish, but extremely powerful.  He comes equipped with a melee weapon, throwing knives, bear traps, and four unique abilities.  Sense highlights nearby counselors.  Morph lets the killer instantly transition to a spot on the map, perfect for catching up to where other players might be.  Shift puts jason into a first-person perspective as he zooms across the level, Evil Dead-style, for a brief period of time.  Finally, stalk lets you get the drop on people without them knowing you're behind them.

As Jason, the ping's indicate there are counselors nearby,
waiting to be killed.

Jason can also do things such as shatter windows, so counselors take damage when they escape, as well as disable the cars and boats they might try to flee in, and he can cut the power, so the police or Tommy Jarvis can't be called in.  Being Jason is an empowering experience, but it's not all blood and games.  Getting used to his controls and movement is a bit of a hassle, and the stun locks for whenever he takes damage last a bit too long.  If you're having trouble trying to be a successful killer, always use the offline options to hone your skills, and experiment with each Jason to figure out which one works best for you.

When everything clicks together, Friday the 13th: The Game is an immensely entertaining and frightening good time.  Sneaking around in the cabins, only to hear the music suddenly swell up will get the heart pumping, as does being trailed by a 7-foot hulking brute who will break you in half.  It's quite satisfying when you manage to survive the whole twenty minutes or cooperate with other players to escape via the car, boat, or police.  Of course, your enjoyment of the multiplayer depends on how much you enjoy playing with strangers.

Playing with friends isn't a problem since you can work with one another to come up with plans and whatnot, but with individuals, the experience is 50/50.  Sometimes, they'll work together with you; more times than not, though, they're surviving on their agenda, but at least they aren't hostile about it, usually.  There are rare moments when you're put into a match with players who think killing their partners, running them down with the car, or working together with the person whose Jason is the sensible option.  Such an incident only happened once with me, but there are multiple stories online and videos on Youtube of players dealing with idiots who love backstabbing others.  However, what was more prevalent were incidents where a match started, only for it to end abruptly because the person who was Jason left.

Friday the 13th's graphics are a mixed bag.  Where the game shines most technically is with its atmosphere.  The dark skies or pouring rain, combined with the ambient music and lighting leads to a foreboding sense of dread that Jason may be around the corner.  Yet, the character models look waxy and ripped straight out of an Xbox 360 game, as do the animations.  Plus, there are a lot of weird physics glitches during gameplay and Jason's executions.  Sound varies between good bad.  The voice acting, though minimal, is poor, but you can tell this was done to preserve the campy nature of the films.  The only decent performances are in the audio tapes and the lines from Tommy Jarvis, who is played by his actor from Part 6, Thom Mathews.  On the other hand, the music is pretty good.  Series composer Harry Manfredini provided the score to the game, and the tunes are solid.


Friday the 13th: The Game is similar to the fabled franchise it's based off, both in set-up and overall quality.  It lacks polish and the cat-and-mouse gameplay gets old, especially during longer play sessions, but there's no denying that whether you're Jason or one of the red-shirt counselors, the two sides offer their share of thrills.  Surviving a night at Crystal Lake is harrowing, and being the killer chopping the other to pieces is satisfying, once you get the hang of it.  It's basic, but it's set-up is appealing.


Friday, October 5, 2018

Drive-In of Terror 3 Presents: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

In 1978, director John Carpenter astounded audiences with Halloween.  Although not responsible for creating the slasher genre, the film's success popularized it, and chances are without Halloween, the slasher genre as we know it would not exist.  Three years later, the story continued in Halloween II with Michael Myers stalking an injured Laurie Strode at the world's emptiest hospital.  The movie ends with Dr. Loomis, Michael's psychiatrist, stopping the killer by cornering him in a room and igniting a blast that kills the both of them.  With Michael Myers dead, how do you continue the franchise?  Attempt to turn it into an anthology series, of course!

Halloween III: Season of the Witch, released in 1982, was an attempt by John Carpenter and company to move the series into a new direction.  Instead of finding a way to rehash Michael Myers over, and over, and over, Halloween would become an anthology series a'la The Twilight Zone.  However, when the film was released, Season of the Witch was a financial and critical disappointment, and five years later, Michael Myers was brought back in Halloween 4: The Unnecessary Return of Michael Myers.  Since its release, the third entry has gone on to receive a massive cult following, with some arguing it's as good as the first.  Is Season of the Witch an overlooked gem, or should it have remained the black sheep, albeit, one of many black sheep in the series?

An old man (Al Berry) is pursued by a mysterious individuals that seem to be after a mask he has.  He makes his way to a gas station, where the owner (Walter Jones) takes him to the hospital, unaware he's being followed.  The man, Mr. Grimbridge, is checked out by Dr. Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins), who warns the doctor they're coming for him, but he's unsure by what the man means.  Not long after, one of the stalkers sneaks in and kills Grimbridge, but before Challis can stop him, the killer gets into a car, pours gasoline all over and sets himself on fire, blowing up the car.  When the police arrive, Grimbridge's daughter (Stacey Nelkin) shows up and discovers what's going on.  Luckily for them, Challis still has the mask Ellen's father had with him.  Using the shipping forms at his store, the two trace the order back to Santa Mira, a small town kept under the ownership of Silver Shamrock, who produced the masks.


While spending the night at the motel, the person in the next room, a woman named Marge (Garn Stephens), notices the logo on the back of her mask has fallen off, revealing a computer chip on the inside.  Messing with the chip causes a laser to fire off, killing her instantly.  A group of paramedics show up later that night and take the body away.  The next day, Daniel Challis and Ellen Grimbridge head to the factory, posing as a pair of people looking to order Silver Shamrock masks.  The two of them, along with a family, are given a tour of the place courtesy of the company's owner, Connell Cochran (Dan O'Herilihy).  Later that night, Ellen and Daniel are ambushed by a group of the sinister figures.

Challis escapes, but Ellen is captured.  He makes his way back to the factory but is discovered.  Cochran takes him to the factory's basement and shows him a piece of Stonehenge they have stolen, which they are using to create the chips.  Through the power of a special commercial that will play on Halloween night, anyone wearing the mask dies instantly, so Daniel must save Ellen, destroy the factory, and figure out how to stop Cochran's scheme.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch is one of the most bizarre, out-of-left-field entries ever seen in a franchise.  The set-up is so weird one has to wonder why the movie wasn't just called Season of the Witch because with the Halloween III title, all it does is confuse and alienate people.  The only proper connections it has to the other films is that the original Halloween is just a work of fiction in this film's universe, and the production features various cast and crew members from the previous two films.  Look past it's abnormal characteristics, though, and you have a film that is surprisingly enjoyable.  Although not directed by John Carpenter, everything about it, from the score to the tone to the cinematography is ripped straight from his playbook.  Taken on its own merits, Season of the Witch is a theatrical Twilight Zone episode, and a good one at that.

What's most surprising about the movie is its social commentary.  Halloween III explores how the holiday has become overly commercialized to the point people have forgotten its dark roots.  Connell Cochran, the film's antagonist, is trying to bring the old spirit of Halloween back by merging it with something commercial, in this case, masks.  Throughout the movie, ads are seen on TV and heard on the radio promoting the Silver Shamrock masks and a special giveaway happening on Halloween night.

Dan O'Herilihy playing a sinister businessman, where
have I seen that before?

Dan O'Herilihy imbues the character with the right amount of charisma and creepiness.  He seems like a warm, inviting person on the outside, but you can tell he's hiding something, something evil.  In one of the film's memorable moments, Cochran explains to Challis why he wants to create the deadly masks, and his speech is equal parts chilling yet ironic.  To Challis, what he's doing is maniacal, but from the perspective of Cochran, it's a practical joke, "the joke of the children," he says.  Knowing what he wants to do, you hope Challis will be able to thwart the company's plans, but there are some curveballs.

Attempting to stop the sinister Cochran is the hero, Daniel Challis.  Actually, calling him the hero is a bit questionable.  He's a divorced husband who hits on the female staff members at the hospital and spends a lot of time drinking rather than being with his kids.  Plus, he sleeps with Ellen Grimbridge, even though he's clearly twenty years older than she is.  Despite the character's flaws, Tom Atkins is a delight to watch and makes the character his own, which can be said for a lot of the characters Tom Atkins has played.

As much as I like Season of the Witch for trying something different, it's not a perfect movie.  The biggest problem is Cochran's plan.  First off, how did his company manage to steal a piece of Stonehenge without anyone noticing?  Even Cochran acknowledges this plot hole, boasting, "We had a marvelous time bringing it here!" when he's showing Challis the research facility.  Secondly, the commercial which causes the masks to kill its wearers goes off at 9 p.m.  However, nine o'clock happens at different points in the U.S.A., meaning there would be enough time for other regions of America to take off the channels since reports of kids dying left and right on the Eastern seaboard would spread quickly.

Also, aside from Daniel Challis and Connell Cochran, the other characters are forgettable, especially the family, who's comical behavior makes it look like they just came off the set of a road-trip comedy.  Then there are Cochran's evil henchmen, who are really robots.  These sharp-dressed machines aren't intimidating at all; sure, the kills they pull off are cool, such as when a homeless man (Johnathan Terry) gets his head yanked off by a pair of the robots, but they lack any sense of danger or threat due to their intense slow-walking and delayed reaction times.

Though it has its problems, one surprising element of Halloween III is its downbeat ending.  After rescuing Ellen and destroying the factory, Challis and her escape, fleeing the town in search of a way to prevent the commercial from being broadcasted across California.  Unfortunately, the real Ellen was killed off after getting captured and replaced with a robot duplicate, which tries to kill Challis.  He nearly avoids death and makes his way to the gas station from the beginning of the movie.  He frantically calls up the stations, telling them to cut off their channels, and succeeds, except one channel remains.  Some kids wearing the masks stare into the television, with Challis frantically yelling "Stop It!" to the person on the other line.  Before anything else happens, the film cuts to black and the credits roll.


There's not much in terms of special effects, but what's present is good, especially the death scenes, which feature some gruesome make-up work.  On the other hand, the music is excellent.  Composed by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth, the score, like most of Carpenter's other work, is minimal but extremely effective.  The title theme clues us in to the film's ominous nature and lets us know we're about to be treated to something wild and unique, a far cry from the terrors of Michael Myers.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a flawed but highly underrated movie.  The film might be Halloween in name only, but the movie makes up for it via its crazy storyline and commentary on the commercialization of Halloween.  Connell Cochran is a charming yet wicked antagonist, while Tom Atkins rules the roost as Daniel Challis.  As I've discussed earlier, though, it's far from a masterpiece.  The remainder of the cast is nothing special, some elements of the story are very nonsensical, and the attempts to create dread through Cochran's army of robot goons fall flat on their face.  Though flawed, Season of the Witch is a lot of fun.


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Drive-In of Terror 3 Presents: Christine (1983)

John Carpenter is regarded as one of the greatest directors of our time.  Stephen King is considered to be one of the best writers of all time.  When you have two men, each responsible for creating a variety of iconic, influential works, it only makes sense they should collaborate at some point or another.  In the early 1980's, Stephen King was working on a new novel, Christine, and Hollywood was itching to adapt another one of King's books, especially after the success of prior adaptations like Carrie and Salem's Lot.  Columbia Pictures bought the rights to the book, and John Carpenter was brought on board to direct.  Released in 1983, Christine is a tale of teenage angst and a boy's obsession over a car, a car that happens to be pure evil.

Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) is a down-on-his-luck nerd who lives with strict parents and finds himself frequently picked on by the bullies at his high school.  By contrast, his friend Dennis (John Stockwell) is one of the popular kids and a successful football player.  After getting into a fight with bully Buddy Repperton (William Ostrander), Arnie and Dennis leave school to talk things out and pass by an old Plymouth Fury that's for sale.  The two inspect the car, which is in horrid shape, and Arnie quickly becomes fixated with the car, which draws the attention of its owner, George Lebay (Roberts Blossom).  Lebay explains the car used to belong to his brother, Roland, who died not too long ago, and now he's looking to sell it.

Arnie buys the car, much to the dismay of Arnie's parents and Dennis, but he thinks he can get the car into working shape.  He takes the Plymouth Fury to an auto-repair shop owned by Will Darnell (Robert Prosky) and gets to work fixing it.  A few months later, Dennis is in a football game when he notices Arnie pull up in the Fury, which has been restored, and he now has a girlfriend, Leigh (Alexandra Paul).  However, this momentary distraction results in Dennis getting injured and taken to the hospital.  Arnie visits Dennis, but he notices Arnie's personality has changed.  No longer is he shy and insecure; instead, he's brash and abrasive.  Little does he know Arnie has become increasingly hostile towards his parents and girlfriend, to the point he ignores them and other priorities to spend more time with Christine, which as we learn, has a mind of its own.

No, this isn't a Repo Man prequel!

John Carpenter's Christine is like a high-school movie mixed with elements of Stephen King's Maximum Overdrive.  The film explores one boy's struggles to overcome his feelings of anxiety and lack of confidence, but after finding something that turns his life around, said thing turns him into a completely different individual, one who is worse than the bullies that used to harass him.  Arnie and his relationship with Christine, the car, is the film's focal point.  At first, you sympathize with Arnie and what he's going through, but once he becomes hostile towards others, you start relating more to the people trying to help him.  Keith Gordon's portrayal of Arnie Cunningham is fantastic, as he does a great job showing the character's personality shift through his acting.

In the film's later acts, the focus begins to shift from Arnie to his friends Dennis and Leigh.  Though they know nothing about each other, the two share a common struggle.  You want to see if they can save Arnie, but he's gone too far off the deep end to be redeemed since Christine has gotten the better of him.  Other characters, including Buddy Repperton and his gang of cronies, along with Darnell, are equally interesting.  The bullies do come off as cartoonish, but they're people who care less about those around them in favor of just screwing around and having a good time.

Two other characters worth mentioning are Darnell and Detective Junkins (Harry Dean Stanton).  Darnell is a no-nonsense man who doesn't take no for an answer and doesn't like too be pissed off over trivial manners.  Though he isn't in the movie much, Darnell is great to watch, and Robert Prosky portrays Darnell as described in the book.  Similar to Darnell, Junkins doesn't show up till the second half of the picture, but Harry Dean Stanton is fantastic as the detective trying to figure out the mysterious murders of Buddy Repperton and company.  Yet, the true star of the movie, since her name is the film's title, is Christine.

We know we're in for something when "Bad to the Bone" by George Thorogood is playing during the opening scene set at a car factory in Detroit.  Christine is a ferocious vehicle.  It never speaks, which would be dumb, but it uses the radio and the songs that play on it to indicate to the audience what the car is thinking of.  For example, when Dennis investigates the car late one night at Darnell's garage, Christine starts blaring "Hear Me Knocking but You Can't Come In," which startles him, and has him fleeing the garage.  Christine's other unique feature is that it's nigh-indestructible.  After the bullies find the car and rip it to shreds, Arnie is left in a state of dismay and anger, and while looking over the mess at the garage, he notices the car fixing itself up.  Soon, Christine is hunting down Buddy and the gang, picking them off one by one.

She's a fixer upper!

It should be noted there are some differences between the novel and film versions of Christine.  The biggest change relates to the vehicle itself.  In the movie, the car has a mind of its own, but in the book, it's controlled by the ghost of Roland Lebay.  In King's book, Roland is the one who sells the car to Arnie, not George, and he's a bit of a jerk.  Later, he dies, but his spirit possesses both the Plymouth Fury and Arnie, going so far as to have a corporeal version of himself manifest in the car.  The film doesn't feature Roland, and he's only mentioned in passing, but George acts the way his brother did in the book, even though George was shown as being a nice guy in the novel.

These changes do not diminish the film; on the contrary, Christine is faithful to the source material.  Since this is a movie about a killer car, though, there have to be special effects, and the film is no slouch in this regard.  Much like Maximum Overdrive, various camera techniques are used to hide the stunt drivers handling the car, or cars.  Over fourteen Plymouths were used during production, and it shows.  At one point, Christine drives through a gas station, which explodes, and then you see a burning Plymouth Fury driving on the road.  Knowing there's a person inside there driving is an impressive feat.  Another impressive sequence is when the car fixes itself.  To achieve this effect, everything was shot in reverse, and it's amazing to watch.

Then there's the stellar soundtrack.  The music uses synth, which, while minimalistic in nature, builds up tension surprisingly well, and it sells a lot of key moments.  Seeing a flaming Plymouth Fury chase down a fleeing Buddy Repperton and turning him into a smoldering corpse is made chilling by the lack of sound effects, and the only thing we hear are the rhythmic, repetitive beats of the music.  Additionally, the selection of licensed songs is superb, featuring a bevy of 50's era music to indicate Christine is a machine from a forgotten decade.

Christine is an excellent film.  It's a coming-of-age, high-school narrative mixed with vehicular homicide.  Arnie is a wimp, albeit a relatable one, and his transition into a cold-hearted jerk is fascinating to watch.  Of course, this is a horror film, not a drama, and the movie doesn't hold back in showcasing the wrath of a vintage automobile as it hunts down and kills people.  In a way, the car is like Michael Myers in the form of a car, unstoppable and unrelenting.  Stephen King wrote a great book; in turn, John Carpenter made a great movie.