Sunday, June 23, 2013

Friday the 13th, or slasher movies in general

This weekend I was camping with my family. I wasn’t feeling too well, which meant I didn’t swim in the 55° lake. But I brought some movies along -- Creature from the Black Lagoon, Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste, and the original Friday the 13th. Which is a good camping movie, if you ask me.

I always liked it, but I can understand some of the criticism it gets. It doesn't have a lot of substance, at least for the first hour. The acting isn’t astounding, but in my opinion, it’s about as good as A Nightmare of Elm Street. The directing leaves something to be desired, but it gets down what it sets out to do: to show us a bunch of camp counselors getting hacked up in a cabin.

But a lot of people call it a ripoff, which I never really understood. It’s said that the screenwriter wrote Friday the 13th after being inspired by Halloween. But who doesn’t? It’s the whole reason people still write slasher movies today. If people didn’t want to shoot their own Texas Chain Saws, we’d end up with a really small amount of slasher films and a lot more Pierrot le Fous.

But I’m getting off track here. Maybe I’m missing something, but how is it at all similar to Halloween? It’s a slasher, obviously. They both are. But when you look past the killing, there aren’t many more similarities aside from the occasional POV shot (yeah, that was a ripoff, but that can mostly be blamed on the director. And Hitchcock was the one who made it famous, anyway.)

You also have all the backstory involving a kid, and two young lovers who get killed. But this is actually where Friday departs from the typical slasher formula, by making the kid’s mom the killer (that was a spoiler, but seriously, if you haven’t seen the movie/don’t know the plot yet, come on.) And this is a little off topic, but seeing as how slasher filmmakers have basically ripped off every single slasher movie trope before, why hasn’t anyone used the “mother was the killer” idea yet? It’s a great idea that really sets Friday the 13th apart from the countless other slashers of the eighties.

So there you have it: some POV shots (which ripoff Psycho, not Halloween), a tragic backstory involving a kid and murder, and the fact that both movies are slashers. As far as I can see, these movies are kind of similar due to the subgenre, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call Friday the 13th a ripoff. If I’m missing something and you have any other reasons Friday copies Halloween, let me know in the comments. I’m still trying to figure this out.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

(Fake) Trailer of the Week: Tape-Man

A fake grindhouse trailer. It's been one of my favorite videos ever since I discovered YouTube. To this day, I'm impressed with the filmmaking techniques used here. It deserves more views.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Haunts (1977) Review

Haunts opens to a run of the mill throwaway kill, just like any schlocky slasher flick would. After all, the supposed plot is “a woman is stalked by a mysterious killer wielding a pair of sewing scissors”. It’s predictable, straightforward, and yet, how could you go wrong with it?

But at about the five minute mark the film’s tone switches drastically. It becomes a slow drama told in a lot of flashbacks and shots of the protagonist staring out rainy windows. More kills are still thrown in about every ten or so minutes, but they only distract from the slow melodrama that takes center stage.

The plot is all over the place, but from what I gather, a woman's dealing with some trauma from her past. She goes to church every day to cope, but one night, on the walk home, she's attacked by a mysterious man who tries to stab her with a pair of large scissors. She gets away, and this raises some questions: why was he after her? Who was it? She becomes convinced it's her uncle, whom she's currently living with. But perhaps it's someone else.

This film is hard to judge because overall it's an inconsistent mess-- like I said, dull drama one minute, nasty slasher the next-- but at the same time, it has moments where it teeters on brilliance. For example, there's a totally bizarre goat milking scene near the beginning that, to me, bumps the film's score up a whole extra star. Same thing goes for a remarkably-shot death scene outside a bar, about halfway through.

But unfortunately, solid death scenes like this didn't seem to belong with the rest of the film. It's a psychological drama, first and foremost. The brutal killing doesn't ring true. It stands out, like it's not meant to be there. It’s almost like the exec at the production company told the filmmakers they needed to make it more marketable. Obviously this means adding some good ol’ hacking and slashing. It’s happened before.

Which, if this was true, would explain a lot. The film is for the most part a quiet drama, but every ten or so minutes an ugly, oftentimes unimaginative kill scene is thrown in. These scenes barely ever effect the plot, and stand out most of the time as things that were thrown in as an afterthought.

Overall it's a slow, kind of boring film with a lot of extra padding to fill its 90 minute runtime. But it does have some good ideas, and it wants to be better than it is. It's an ambitious film made by people who weren't exactly sure what they were doing. That's made clear by the ending, which attempts to pull a huge plot twist but fails and just gets plain confusing.

I think this proves that having a unique idea is one of the most important things about writing. A bad movie with a unique vision, and something to say is interesting, more so than an average by-the-books Hollywood movie that has no idea behind it. You can hit all the bases-- proper format, good dialogue, neat story structure-- but it doesn't matter unless your story has something to say.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Screenwriting Influences

One of my favorite movies is An American Werewolf in LondonWhile it may not be the greatest film ever, no film has had more influence on my writing than this. It's a very uneven, odd film. It opens to a slightly corny gothic horror sequence, then spends the next 45 minutes on the main character recovering from a werewolf attack in a hospital. From here it's almost a romance film, until the next full moon, when all hell breaks loose. My only issue with it is that there isn't really an ending at all, but you could argue it just adds to the style.

Almost everything I've written since has been influenced by the style of John Landis's script. The odd, anything-goes vibe is always what I'm shooting for, whether romantic comedy or slasher.

More films that influenced me are Breathless (1960), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), and Pulp Fiction. Though when it comes to Pulp Fiction, it's not in the way you would expect.

I don't write pages and pages of worthless dialogue like most Tarantino copycats. The film influenced my writing in other ways: focusing on creating memorable characters over plot. It's more of a novel than a conventional movie. Just characters going through their days.

Breathless is important to me because it's relatable.

Jean-Luc Godard got together a couple actors and a camera and went out and shot his movie. It's something I could do. Whether or not I end up making one of the best films ever is something we'll have to wait and see, but it's nice to know that it's something basically in reach. You don't need a budget to make a great film people still watch fifty years later.

I also admire the story of Breathless, if there even is one. It's 90 minutes following an interesting car thief around town, getting into deeper trouble. It's an anything-goes, poetic story, exactly what I'd love to make someday.

And lastly, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Every film I've mentioned so far is in my top ten, including this one. Yes. My top ten. Many people discount it as a cheap gore flick, but they're the ones that haven't seen it. It's a very effective film, and has stood the test of time better than almost any other horror film. It's been copied countless times. And like Breathless, it is a film made without many things at their disposal. It's just some filmmakers with a cool idea, a few thousand dollars, and a farmhouse.

When I write horror, I try to channel the feeling of dread this film uses so well. If you want to learn how to write horror, this film is perfect. It masterfully executes dread, suspense, shock, disgust, and pure tension. With what? A van, a farmhouse, less than a dozen actors and barely any blood... oh yeah, and a chainsaw. Copycats over the years have slightly stained this film's reputation, but anyone who's actually seen it knows how effective it can be.

That's my list. Other notable films are Goodfellas, Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Signs, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Battle Royale and Back to the Future.

If you're a writer, which films or books-- maybe even music-- have influenced your work the most?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Advance-Lunge (short film)

An assignment from another film course I'm taking.

I was supposed to film an action from two different angles then edit them together. Real simple. Basically it's to learn about early films, back before they told stories. For a while, filmakers just filmed everyday things.

I ended up filming my friend's fencing tournament (he's fencing on the left in the first shot). More assignments coming soon... next time we're moving onto writing and shooting a short silent film.