Tag Archives: 1980s

It’s Just an Illusion…F/X

F/X


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See it at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: Consistently enjoyable, with a nice sense of pace, brisk editing, and plenty of surprises


Cons: Nothing major

In the middle of a pouring rainstorm, a man wearing a trench coat forces his way into a crowded, extremely posh restaurant. He spots a well-dressed woman sitting in the back of the hall, enjoying a meal with a male companion who seems to be enjoying her company more than the food itself. Without warning, the guy in the trench coat opens fire with a machine gun, blasting away diners and shattering huge aquariums along the walls, thus spilling all sorts of exotic fish and lobster across the marble floor. He turns towards the woman, his wife, and she begs for her life. His finger tenses on the trigger and she’s pushed back through a service corridor by the force of lead hitting her body. Suddenly the director yells cut.


Rutrow – What’s real and what’s the effect?

This opening scene of the 1986 action flick F/X (also known under the perhaps more accurate title Murder by Illusion) serves to point out to the viewer that not much of anything can be taken at face value in a film that deals with a special effects artist (or illusionist if you like) who’s recruited by the Justice Department to fake the death of a prominent mob informant named Nicholas DeFranco. Agreeing to take the job, FX man Rollie Tyler devises various gimmicks to make it look like DeFranco is gunned down in a crowded restaurant, but immediately after the “fake” hit takes place, he finds out something is not at all right. Not only are the police convinced DeFranco died for real, but the feds are now trying to eliminate Tyler as well. While Tyler attempts to get to the bottom of the conspiracy he’s become involved with in an attempt to clear his name after his girlfriend is killed by government assassins, a hard-nosed police officer named Leo McCarthy (who hauled in DeFranco the first time around) is performing his own investigation into the matter, convinced there’s something suspicious about the feds who were overseeing DeFranco’s safety. As might be expected, all of these subplots collide in the end, but not before some serious twists and turns pop up along the way.

NYC in the '80s
There’s just something about NYC in the ’80s that makes any movie filmed there more special…


Even if its unlikely anyone would convince F/X with brilliant film making, there’s no denying that this film is, quite simply, highly entertaining and enjoyable. Capturing New York City in the all its 1980s glory and directed by Robert Mandel, who at the time was known for his theatrical direction, the film as a whole seems very workmanlike, but in a modern era where far too many directors go overboard with flashy visuals in an attempt to prove and showcase their “vision” (or to appeal to the ADHD generation), this almost seems like a revelation. Mandel’s straight-forward direction harkens back to the slick execution of action films like The French Connection that were noted for their sense of realism and matter-of-fact presentation. There aren’t all sorts of loud and obnoxious camera moves here; cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek just seems to have photographed the action in as competent a manner as possible. In the end, this allowed the director and editor Terry Rawlings to construct tight action sequences that really energize the film. No, F/X doesn’t come close to rivaling any of the Rambo, Chuck Norris, or Schwarzenegger films as being quintessential (literally overblown) mid-‘80s action cinema, but that doesn’t at all mean that it’s not extremely pleasing in its own way.

peak behind the scenes
The film offers a peak behind the scenes at how movie special effects are made, which would have been interesting stuff in 1986.

Though I could say that the script by Gregory Fleeman and Robert T. Megginson (which plays like a mash-up of the whodunnit, police procedural, and slam-bang-boom genres) stretches credibility or believability at times, for the most part it come across as being not only compellingly quirky, but also fairly realistic and at least plausible. If nothing else, Fleeman and Megginson pepper the picture with a little bit of everything an action movie fan could want: we get a pedestrian chase in Central Park, an exciting and well-executed vehicular pursuit through crowded neighborhood streets, fistfights, gun battles, and even some stealthy spy movie action. Since the script largely deals with the efforts of a movie effects artist to trick his pursuers, we not only get a peak behind the curtain of how cinematic special effects are done, but also get some rather clever sequences making use of various props and gimmicks, particularly towards the end of the film. All the while the action is playing out, the script also unfolds its mystery in an intriguing manner. Despite the fact that I was able to predict some elements of the story, it does unleash a couple legitimate surprises once it gets going and I think most viewers would be sucked into the ongoing plot.

Bryan Brown
Bryan Brown as Tyler, taking matters into his own hands.

Bryan Brown appears in the film as Tyler, a smart-Alec with a mischievous streak that I’d expect a movie special effects man to have. I wasn’t completely convinced by Brown’s acting during the more dramatic scenes here, but his generally effective portrayal ensures that this guy is an improvement from the typically cardboard ‘80s action movie hero. Diane Verona is appealing in a smaller role playing Tyler’s ambitious actress girlfriend, while Cliff DeYoung (as the hotshot younger agent) and Mason Adams (playing the stuffy and shady chief) play the villainous government agents who recruit Tyler into the plot in the first place. I could almost say these two obvious bad guys weren’t quite interesting enough to carry the film on their own, but Jerry Orbach (playing the mob informant) is genuinely fun to watch playing the stereotype of a sleazy Mafia boss. By far the best acting in the film from my standpoint was provided by Brian Dennehy as the grizzled detective McCarthy. Dennehy only shows up around the halfway point of the film, but makes up for lost time by stomping like a madman through all of his scenes through the rest of the picture. His character really isn’t all that different from hundreds of other movie cops that have turned up in cinema over the years, but Dennehy attacks the role with intensity.

Brian Dennehy
Look at that ‘stash! You just get the sense that Brian Dennehy as McCarthy ain’t gonna take no b.s. from anybody.


Building to a satisfying finale that’s not what I might have expected, it’s rather unfortunate that F/X isn’t remembered in the same way of other louder (and more stupid) ‘80s action flicks. This film probably won’t blow anyone away, and perhaps the comparatively low-key way in which it was constructed has made it seem “boring” when compared to its contemporaries. It’s also quite possible that a movie dealing with this subject matter doesn’t hold up today when you consider that most of the effects work Tyler was doing would be rendered by computers nowadays. Still, this imaginative film is downright entertaining for what it is and is probably among the best of the modestly-budgeted B-movies of its era – a definite step up from the sorts of things Canon Pictures was releasing at the time. F/X might not be something I’d specifically hunt down, but it’s well worth checking out if you get a chance.

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Available in a standalone, widescreen DVD from MGM or as a . Neither package offers any special features to speak of.



4/10 : Occasional bloody gun violence and a few fight scenes. Nothing especially gory.


6/10 : A couple handfuls of f-bombs and a few other profanities.


2/10 : Mostly implied sexual encounters and Diane Venora prancing about in a neglige


7/10 : A fun movie through and through, even if it’s not something I’d typically identify as being a cult film.



“Nobody cares about making movies about people anymore. All they care about is special effects…..”

Quintessential 1980s trailer:

Pulling Back the Curtain on Lewis: ROMANTIC TIMES

ROMANTIC TIMES by Lewis

(3/5)

Pros: Dreamy, romantic vibe

Cons: Lewis’ music formula isn’t as compelling the second time around

Another in a long string of albums that have inexplicably picked up an audience years after being ignored upon their initial release, the 2014 reissue of L’Amour, a 1983 album by an enigmatic musician known only as Lewis, has to be considered one of the most pleasant musical surprises of the year. Here was a disc that positively embodies the semi-cheesy brand of ‘80s soft rock to a T, yet sounds so out of place in the modern music scene that one can’t help but be fascinated by it. Sitting in obscurity for decades, this album was the latest rediscovery released by the folks at the Light in the Attic record label, who seem to specialize in locating the best and most compelling thrift store treasures the world has to offer. L’Amour was generally well-received by critics willing to look past its flaws to see it as a unique if unassuming low-key wonder but a few months following its release, an even bigger shock wave reverberated through the music community. Not only had the album’s creator (real name Randall Wullf) been tracked down in Canada, but a second album from Lewis had turned up in a Canadian thrift store.

Ah, thrift vinyl
For all the trash that clogs up thrift store vinyl bins, there’s sometimes a bit of treasure…

Romantic Times, released in 1985 and credited to “Lewis Baloue,” continues much in the same way as its predecessor, containing eight quiet love songs that all but scream the fact that they were made in the 1980s due to their use of vintage synthesizer and drum machine sounds. Unlike L’Amour however, Romantic Times seems to have had better sound engineers working behind the scenes: whereas the vocals on the previous album were soft and delicate to the point of being whispered, one can not only almost decipher the words in the songs on Romantic Times, but also really hear the nuances of Lewis’ delivery. Unfortunately, this doesn’t wind up being a good thing though since one is left only with the impression that this guy overdoes the vibrato to the point of absurdity – to those not familiar with the terminology, the high-register vocals here are warbled and almost ghostly due to the singer manipulating the airflow behind them. Some singers use a ton of vibrato since it adds expression to their performance, but I think the technique works best when used in moderation. In the context of the almost shadowy music that Lewis makes, the vibrato becomes distracting and quite often simply seems distasteful and inappropriate.

vibrato
Lewis’ vocal performance would seem to be at the extremes of this scale.

Further problems on Romantic Times are caused by the fact that the tracks here are probably more closely related to popular music of the day. Many include corny synthesized drum beats that appear to have been created simply by pressing the “demo” button on a primitive drum machine or synthesizer. Thus, the tunes have limited to no character to them, sounding very similar to one another with virtually no change up from track to track. Keyboard parts that dominate the album are also unremarkable to the point of seeming dull, and the obligatory saxophone solos (and the vocal lines for that matter) seem several times to be attempting to replicate the melody from the pop standard “Strangers in the Night.” The music on L’Amour seemed to float by as if a listener was experiencing them only in his subconscious, but in contrast, the songs on Lewis’ second album not only are more substantial, they almost feel leaden and lifeless – which is kind of odd all things considered. Perhaps my disappointment with the album then is caused by the fact that being able to concentrate on the mundane and rather ordinary musicality present in Lewis’ music ruins the illusion, or maybe Lewis’ novelty value had simply run its course by the time I dove into Romantic Times. In the end, it’s not a bad second album, but it doesn’t seem to have that magical quality to it that made L’Amour so extraordinary.

maybe...
I’m not sure I’d place Lewis in this sort of company, but he certainly is going for a more mainstream sort of sound on his second album.

With a gentle acoustic guitar strum and warbly vocals heard over synthesized sweeping strings, woozy opening track “We Danced all Night” established well how the entirety of this album is going to function. By time the we begin to hear saxophones belting out solo lines in the background, it’s pretty clear that Lewis has gone the route of making soft rock that today seems almost hilariously cheesy. This effect only gets worse from here on out: “Bon Voyage” ups the ante by being the first of several tracks here that incorporate what I might describe as a lazy island vibe which only further establishes the schmaltzy mood. There’s an extremely relaxed, click-clack rhythm and accordion-like melody line, but Lewis (essentially repeating the same lyrics over and over) sounds particularly ghostly in his vocal delivery which doesn’t fit at all with the track. “Don’t Stop it Now” is probably more obviously romantic and sensual, but sounds almost identical to the track immediately before it due to the similar rhythm elements, and the slightly more poignant “It’s a New Day” carries on in much the same manner. “So Be in Love with Me” changes up the formula a bit, incorporating some rough synthesizer of the variety heard in most every “rousing” ‘80s movie soundtrack (think Top Gun) and “Bringing You A Rose” features vocals that often come across as sexualized cooing. “Where Did My Love Go Away” has the slowest tempo of any here and probably sells the emotional imagery in the lyrics the best, and album closer “As the Boats Go By” is a slightly melancholic but obvious sexual finale that suggests lazily passing time with a loved one.

vibe

Much has been made when dealing with Lewis’ music that his sleeve art doesn’t fit at all with the music heard on his albums, and that’s certainly the case with Romantic Times. That playboy figure on the cover doesn’t seem at all like the same guy making these almost painfully restrained love ditties, and maybe that’s part of the strange allure of albums like this – I’ve listened to plenty of records based on the fact that the cover art was ridiculous in one way or another and am occasionally surprised by their overall quality. Still, discussion about how downright strange this album seems can’t disguise the fact that musically, Romantic Times is rather boring and uninspired. The same could probably be said for Lewis’ first album, but since a listener can never quite wrap his head around the music on L’Amour due to its low-fi sound quality, that record has a definite mystique about it. In shining more of a light on Lewis’ actual performance and musical abilities, Romantic Times is a bit like pulling the curtain aside on the Wizard of Oz. Certainly, there are precious few artists making deliriously romantic music as this nowadays, so Romantic Times has a built-in kitsch value, but I don’t think there’s honestly that much to get excited about here.

A Remarkable Rediscovery: Lewis’ Long Lost L’AMOUR Album

Lewis : L’AMOUR

(4/5)

Pros: Supremely pleasant to listen to; emotionally affecting

Cons: Very low key; won’t appeal to those who like their music loud and obnoxious

It’s kind of amazing that in recent years, as the mainstream music industry continues to struggle with adapting to the digital age, there’s been an increasing amount of interest in forgotten albums of the past that have been “rediscovered” sitting in the world’s thrift stores. Many of these albums, such as Rick Grossman’s have gained notoriety for their (awful? awesome? both?) sleeve art, but other albums have gradually found an audience (usually through word of mouth) simply because the “outsider music” contained on them is often vastly different from what one would normally come across. The recent reissuing of works like Kit Ream’s downright insane and the corny but heartfelt by a musician only billed as “Todd” (albums that, by most people’s standards, aren’t outstanding in any respect) – to say nothing about the story of the mysterious musician known only as Rodriguez who was the subject of the Oscar-winning Searching for Sugar Man documentary – speaks to the fact that a sizable group of listeners has grown to appreciate earnest recordings made by “real people” as opposed to the polished bits of radio-ready pop that’s put out by the major labels. At the end of the day, it just seems like there’s something special about finding and appreciating an album that most people wouldn’t know even existed – it is, after all, that kind of thought that has fueled the “elitist” music-listening crowd for years.


One of the few existing pictures of Randall Wullf, a.k.a. “Lewis.”

Odd as it may be, 2014 may be the year when the thrift store treasure movement finally hit the mainstream. After being discovered in a Canadian thrift store, a forgotten 1983 album (released on the mega-obscure R.A.W. Label) by a musician known only as “Lewis” began to be noticed following an internet post back in 2012. Two years later, Light in the Attic records reissued the album titled L’Amour and began a search for the enigmatic musician who produced it. It was discovered that “Lewis” was the pseudonym of one Randall Wulff, Canadian stock broker and would-be playboy, who cut L’Amour at a California studio known mostly for recording punk bands and promptly vanished. After more research, those following the story were stunned to learn that Lewis/Wulff not only had recorded a handful of additional albums (one of which has been discovered rotting away in a thrift store and reissued), but was alive and well, living a quiet life in Canada and completely ignorant to the renewed interest in his music. In any case, the reissue of L’Amour was picked up for review by the mainstream music website Pitchfork, thus exposing Lewis/Wulff to an audience he would never have found otherwise, though I (elitist that I am) can’t help but feel a little bit like mainstream recognition has diminished the allure of Lewis and his music.

playboy?
Though he looks like a playboy, Lewis’ music suggests he was something entirely different.

Going into my first listen of L’Amour, I was a little skeptical about what the fuss was all about. Considering the utter lack of information about the album’s creator and given the sort of angelic, playboy-like imagery found on this album (and the even-more sketchy art found on the second known Lewis album titled Romantic Times), I almost expected this album to be a completely tasteless vanity disc made by a womanizing jerk (more similar to something of the Kit Ream variety). It’s no exaggeration to say that I was completely shocked when L’Amour turned out to be one of the most deliciously soft and subtle albums I can recall, full of concise, whispered singing, delicate piano melodies and lightly strummed acoustic guitar, and just a touch of background keyboard coloration. Though this album very much attempts to make songs that I could best describe as being adult contemporary or “easy listening,” L’Amour is absolutely nothing like the mind-numbingly obvious soft rock that dominated the radio in the 1980s: instead, it’s a disc that in 1983 would have been completely out of (or ahead of?) its time.

Featuring ten tracks and running 37 minutes, L’Amour exists less as a collection of individual songs as one, extended representation of a specific mood, and may be one of the most sensual “make out” albums ever produced. The quality of the album not only sounds very old-fashioned, perhaps having more in common in terms of its melody in construction with ragtime piano than anything in 1983, but also reminds me of the quiet piano music of composers like Erik Satie (best known for ). Album opener “I Thought the World of You” expresses (in its titling and the music itself) a sort of vaguely melancholic nostalgia, suggesting that it was the product of a musician trying to right the ship after a loved one vanished from his life. Operating at a restrained pace, the song features flowing, extremely well-written piano melodies and resonant, high-pitched and often softly howling vocals. Airy and atmospheric keyboard tones float around under the piano and voice parts, adding another layer of depth to the relatively sparse instrumentation, and the whole of the track is not only flawlessly executed, but also downright heart-wrenching. It really takes some skill on the part of a musician to make something like this feel real – too often, writers overdo the sense of sorrow or desperation, but Lewis’ approach is perfect.

alone

The album continues with “Cool Night in Paris,” a track that, with its gentle acoustic guitar melody and cooing vocal, nails a feel reminiscent of early 20th century pop and yes, sounds very French while the simple “My Whole Life” almost has a country-western vibe to it. Many of the songs on this album are surprising in their ability to emotionally affect a listener, this track and its occasional falsetto vocals may be the one that most perfectly captures a sense of quiet sadness and sincere longing: I could almost picture a cowboy playing it around a campfire while reminiscing about a far-away sweetheart. While the songs in the middle stretch of the album (“Like to See You Again,” “Things Happen That Way,” and “Summer Moon”) continue with the relaxed, piano-driven soft rock and compelling vocals, “Let’s Fall in Love Tonight” has a more ragtime feel due to its plunky piano melody. “Love Showered Me” is the track here that is perhaps not only the “loudest,” but also makes the most use of keyboard parts, possibly the one track then that establishes that L’Amour was in fact made in the synthesizer-heavy early ‘80s. “Romance for Two” finishes the album with another smokey, pleasantly lazy and delicate love song; it’s about as marvelous a closing track as could be expected from an album like this.

Even if this album does have a decidedly downbeat feel at times, it’s not a “depressing” album by any stretch and actually sounds quite hopeful by its end. L’Amour’s fourth track, an instrumental called “Even Rainbows Turn Blue,” may be the one that best illustrates the fundamental difference between this and most other “emotionally resonant” albums out there. This track would have been distasteful and corny if used on a record that relied on “button pushing” and flashy, “look at me” moments to get a programmed emotional response from a listener, but in the context of Lewis’ low-key, effortless composition and writing, it works perfectly. Ultimately, it’s strange to think that a deceptively simple album like L’Amour is much more affecting than most modern popular music; this disc would seem to indicate that most musicians striving to make an emotional listening experience are simply trying too hard. Though Randall Wullf appears to have distanced himself from this music (upon being found and approached, he actually turned down any of the royalties from the reissue and appeared to want nothing to do with it), I’m very much glad that L’Amour has been found again for the first time. Albums like this make one wonder what other marvels lay sitting around in flea market and thrift store vinyl bins. Lewis’ music is about the antithesis of most of today’s music, and may actually make some listeners uncomfortable since they would have no frame of reference in which to view the album, but it’s one of the most pleasantly surprising records I’ve stumbled across in a long time. It comes highly recommended.

Fun and Games out at “Camp Blood…” The Original FRIDAY THE 13th

FRIDAY THE 13th

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See it or at Amazon

(4/5)

Pros: Music score; FX work; creepy atmosphere; shock ending(s)

Cons: Stereotypical characters; dumb, familiar script; hasn’t held up well over time

Being the film that established many of the now-cliche elements of the slasher movie (the summer camp setting, sexually-active characters getting killed first, body count formula, and notion of the twist ending to name but a few), the 1980 horror film Friday the 13th has to be regarded today not only as the quintessential ‘80s slasher film but also a bona fide classic. That this film would be regarded as such more than (gulp!) three decades after its release is a bit shocking considering it’s initial reception. In 1980, this was viewed as being one of the most reprehensible, worthless films ever made – renowned critic Leonard Maltin only updated his rating of the film from “BOMB” to “one and a half stars” due to the fact that the original Friday the 13th was better than parts 2,3,4,5,6 or 7. Honestly though, one can’t compare this (or most any horror film really) to the honest-to-goodness best movies out there: most horror films (particularly those of the slasher film variety) are made for minimal amounts of money, and their sole purpose is to create a scary, creepy, spooky, or downright shocking atmosphere. Audiences go to these films expecting to see copious amounts of graphic violence and maybe a bit of bare skin, and if one of these films provides those elements while keeping a viewer entertained and interested, I’d have to call it a success. It’s under those terms that director Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th has to be viewed, and can thus be seen as not only influential, but also surprisingly effective.


…and so the begins the legend of Jason Voorhees…

In the years following the drowning death of a young boy named Jason in 1958 due to the counselors neglecting the boy (the legend setting up the whole of the Friday the 13th film series), a remote summer camp at Crystal Lake has been subject to bad luck and a string of unfortunate circumstances, but a new owner named Steve Christy has come in to try and revitalize and reopen the property. After fixing up the facilities, he invites the group of prospective counselors to move in two weeks ahead of the camp’s opening to get the place ready to go. As it turns out though, the rumors about the “death curse” hanging over Camp Crystal Lake appear to be true since, over the course of one day and night (“Friday, June 13th, present day”), the counselors will find themselves in a life-or-death struggle with a prowler who’s killing them one by one.

Though it really is a model of efficiency, the story and script (by director Cunningham and Victor Miller) is mostly an excuse to have an ever-increasing number of people be murdered in semi-inventive ways. It’s also quite similar to the premise behind John Carpenter’s classic Halloween only set in a more remote area, but even if Carpenter could be credited with creating the look and feel of the modern slasher, Cunningham does a fine job of replicating that mood and adding a few touches of his own at the same time. Having previously raised the bar of the horror genre with his work as producer on Wes Craven’s debut film Last House on the Left, a film from 1972 that really can’t be overemphasized as a piece well ahead of its time that pointed the way that the genre would head from that point on (i.e. becoming more nasty and explicitly violent), Cunningham was a master of creating exploitation pictures that were able to be swallowed by the general public. Friday the 13th is a prime example of his talents: Cunningham not only crafted an undeniably scary and graphically violent film, but managed to sell the thing (extremely crude though it is) to a major motion picture studio. The not-entirely surprising success of Friday the 13th immediately set the slasher film craze of the 1980s into motion: within a few years, not only were cookie-cutter sequels being pumped out at an alarming rate ( I can vividly recall how Friday the 13th movies were all the schoolyard rage when I was growing up in the late ‘80s), but every studio and film maker around was trying their hand at this genre where cheaply-made pictures could become box office gold.


Say it with Crazy Ralph : “YER ALL DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMED!”

To his credit, Cunningham does a nice job of maximizing the scares in a film that quite clearly made very quickly and inexpensively. Throughout the picture, the camera often takes the viewpoint of an unknown prowler lurking just out of range of the counselors’ vision thus, it constantly seems like the main characters in the film are being watched and stalked. Barry Abrams was the cinematographer here, and he does a great job of capturing gorgeous location and scenery but also building suspense in his shot compositions. There’s a nice editing balance in this film between more quiet moments and thrilling suspense sequences, with glimpses of jarring graphic violence thrown in for good measure. I also liked how the “meat and potatoes” section of the film takes place in the rundown and somewhat decrepit campground during a nighttime thunderstorm – the locations are dark and dreary, with shadows (and also, potentially the murderer) lurking around every corner. Harry Manfredini’s famous music score (ch-ch-ch ha-ha-ha) only adds to the creepiness of the film, ratcheting tension to the extreme during key moments through its use of flatulent, low pitch string accents. His orchestral music during a chase scene through the forest, for instance, is reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s wonderfully unsettling score from Psycho.

On the downside, the script has some dumb moments, no doubt about it. I was simply not able to suspend my disbelief any more at a certain point in the film – so you’re telling me the killer sets up a sort of real-life Mousetrap game with all the corpses just to provide obvious “jump” scares during the climax??!? Additionally, the whole “phone’s dead, power’s out, car won’t start” routine grew tiresome. Characters are ridiculously stereotypical (most of the young people come across as frisky goofballs – do you suppose that the one female not trying to get laid will wind up being the proverbial “final girl?”), and the acting isn’t all that hot. Though the cast (which includes a very young Kevin Bacon) is obviously having a great deal of fun, Betsy Palmer, who’s in the film for all of fifteen minutes or less, is the only cast member who truly stands out.

waitta
Wait a second…who’s THIS woman??!?

The potential problem with the film I noticed most though was the fact that, given its reputation, this film seems VERY tame by modern standards. Tom Savini (make-up and FX man on the hideously gory original Dawn of the Dead) did the special effects here, but the film almost shies away from showing them and isn’t nearly as “wet” as other films Savini worked on. Though this is especially true in the theatrical R-rated version, even the originally X-rated “director’s cut” of the film (which includes more lingering shots of blood flow and spurt) doesn’t hold a candle to what would pass for an R-rating today. Additionally, although slasher films try and come up with clever ways of killing people, Friday the 13th seems rather uninspired in its murder methods. Specifically, several people are killed by bow and arrow, and most every victim here has some sort of knife or stab wound. To be fair, some of the aforementioned issues may simply be due to the fact that the slasher formula was done to death in the years following this film (and even up until today), thus, Friday the 13th doesn’t seem as original and fresh as it did playing in 1980. Viewers without some level of appreciation for the history of the horror film though may be genuinely disappointed by the relative lack of outrageous bloodshed.

summer camp
This summer camp fun time quickly comes to an end.

Even if the film doesn’t quite hold up to modern standards though, I’d have to say that Friday the 13th is a lot of fun to watch, having that appealing ‘80s vibe that (for me anyways) instantly equals a good time. This film has gotten a bad rap over the years, as if people blame this flick for the deluge of slasher films that came in its wake, but I would declare that Sean Cunningham’s film is not just the product of talented collaborators, but is also inventive and innovative – a virtual “how to” in constructing a slasher film. It obviously hit on something to not only make a killing at the box office but inspire eleven sequels (to date) and hundreds of imitators . Friday the 13th may seem like utter rubbish when compared to the likes of Citizen Kane or Gone With the Wind, but it is a defining film that was extremely important in the history and development of the horror genre. A must-see for horror movie fans.


Re-released many, many times over the years on video, so there are numerous ways to see this film. The may be preferable – this set contains ALL (and I do mean all) the Friday the 13th films, with extended versions (the director’s cut of part I for instance, is included), and a batch of special features. I watched Friday the 13th as part of the DVD box set – a decent, widescreen presentation of the R-Rated theatrical print. This box set includes parts I-VIII of the series, with a nice bonus feature package of its own (including extended gore sequences cut from the theatrical versions). Not confused enough? The original Friday the 13th has several stand-alone releases on either DVD or Blu-ray with varying technical specifications and special features.


8/10 : Though this film was seen as being pretty extreme (and even X-rated) in 1980, it’s quite tame by today’s standards of excess. That said, there are some very gory scenes here, including several throats being slit, an arrowhead through the larynx, and a blood-spurting decapitation. It may be too much for some people not used to typical horror movie violence, but I’ve seen worse…


5/10 : Some profanity, but hardly the barrage one might expect. There’s also some sexual and drug content in the dialogue – as well as brief drug use.


5/10 : Young adults getting frisky on camera, with brief topless nudity seen. Quite a few females scurry around in their skivvies, and one sports a see-through top. Nevertheless, this film is, again, fairly tame by the standards of ’80s horror.


9/10 : This is arguably THE ’80s slasher classic.


“You’ll never come back alive…It’s got a death curse…”
gameover

Energetic ’80s Victory Music: THE 12″ MIXES by Koto

THE 12″ MIXES by Koto

 

(4/5)

Pros: Great melodies; energetic, feel-good music
Cons: Very repetitive; not much true variety to the sound; could be very “cheesy” to some listeners

One of the bands most associated with 1980s EuroDance music (and specifically, the genre known as “Italo-Disco”), synthesizer-based music group Koto formed in 1982 as a collaboration between Italian musicians Anfrando Maiola, Stefano Cundari, and Alessandro Zanni. Within about a year, the group already had a bona fide hit on their hands with the single “Chinese Revenge,” and over the next several years, Koto (recording for their own Memory Records label) would produce a string of mainly instrumental tracks which epitomized ‘80s dance club music. The fact that some of their songs utilized sampled vocals straight out of the fantasy and sci-fi of the era demonstrated how closely the genres of space- and Italo-disco were connected, both having been formed in the wake of 1977’s Star Wars.

By the mid ‘80s, with record sales dwindling, Memory Records closed up shop and the Koto library was acquired by the ZYX label, who recruited Dutch musician Michiel van der Kuy to carry on the Koto name. Van der Kuy eventually released the first full-length Koto album called Masterpieces that had remixed and re-done versions of the original hits produced by the Maiola-Cundari-Zanni lineup. The fact that this disc (obviously marketed as a sort of “best of”) doesn’t actually contain the original songs makes a disc like Koto’s 12” Mixes compilation so valuable, since these were the tracks originally produced by the group’s first incarnation.

Listening to Koto today, it’s immediately noticeable just how limited a vocabulary of sounds this band was working with – I’d almost compare the band’s sound to how Nintendo NES soundtracks were made. Since NES composers could only make about four tones sound simultaneously, they had to ensure that melodies really stuck out – there wasn’t room in the 8-bit medium to play around with complex arrangements with lots of different sounds. Koto’s sound is similar in its simplicity: the melodies are the most noticeable element of these songs, with only a hint of accompaniment and rhythm. It’s also glaringly evident how darn primitive electronic sound was at the time Koto were making their early singles. The majority of these tracks feature bass lines that sound identical, probably due to the limitations of the synthesizers they were working with. On some level, the repetition of sounds from one song to the next might make this music seem cheesy or boring to some listeners – especially those used to expansive modern production techniques that can quite literally add anything to the mix. While I can certainly identify the limitations present in the group’s sound, I think the players in Koto actually did a pretty nice job with what they had. These songs certainly have a ton of energy to them, and it’s no wonder that this was one of the groups that personified European club music of the early-to-mid 1980s.

12” Mixes kicks off with a track that may represent the band at its best: “Visitors” from 1985. This track has a nifty bouncing bass line and airy, back-and-forth melody elements that plug away with repeating themes. Like most of Koto’s songs, this one is fairly repetitive, with only a handful of main elements, but there’s a spacey bridge that occurs intermittently throughout the track that more or less ensures that a listener doesn’t get overly bored by the main themes. Honestly, this track plays in much the same way as many Euro club tracks of its day (the 12” mix of Space’s “Tender Force” for instance also runs around six minutes in length, without much variation), and the fact that it’s simplistic to modern ears says more about how concepts of electronic and/or club music have changed over the (gulp!) decades than anything else. “Jabdah” features a synthesized guitar and bass lines that seem to be what Daft Punk is trying to mimic in their modern recreations of ‘80s dance music. This track (which is one of the few on this disc that’s not the original club mix) features some sampled vocals (its title being a possible reference to Jabba the Hutt), with background sci-fi sound effects, and a stomping rhythm that features an ever so subtle cowbell ding-a-ling. The pace is relaxed, the song very agreeable: it’s just feel good music, even if it doesn’t have much of anything to say.

“Dragon’s Legend” seems a bit more active, with bass arpeggios and quickly crescendos of keyboard tone. This track sounds very ‘80s to my ears, with (goofy?) vocal samples taken from the Dragon’s Lair video game – a female voice pleading “Please save me…the cage is locked…with a key…the dragon keeps around his neck.” This third number also has some more experimental elements to it, including garbled, staticky samples that seem to be prerecorded Japanese dialogues. The playful “Japanese War Game (Club Mix)” is next, with a straight-forward beat and bass line along with oriental-sounding keyboard parts and bleepy melody. What I would consider the chorus part of this song is really cool, with a louder bubbling bass descending through a series of notes as warm keyboards sound off and twinkly sound effects swirl in the stereo mix. “Time (Dance Mix)” includes additional Japanese vocal samples and an instantly darker feel, with bell-like keyboards clanging before the song picks up the familiar gurgling Koto bass line and busy synthesizer work. A vocoder-manipulated vocal part featured throughout the song positions this as a direct link to Daft Punk’s music, and Koto’s work with electronic voice manipulation continues on “Mind Machine.” Sounding like quintessential ‘80s victory music, this track is more expansive and “spacey” than some of the other, more minimalistic tracks included on this album.

After the burpy and pretty simple early single “Chinese Revenge,” The 12” Mixes heads into its home stretch with “Acknowledge,” another somewhat darker track that includes a bunch of samples from old Star Trek episodes infused with driving ‘80s electro. This also quite possibly is the track here that for me, sounds the most cheesy, with the clipped and manipulated samples of Shatner and Nimoy only sealing the deal. “The Koto Mix” plays like a mashup of various other Koto songs: pretty much all the previous tracks are incorporated here, if only for brief snippets. As might be suggested by this description and the general concept, I’m not overly impressed with the end results, and the album ends with another track that (for me) isn’t spectacular. “The End,” while not necessarily awful, doesn’t hit me as being as majestic nor as creatively or musically interesting as some of the earlier tracks. It feels like a hastily-produced track tacked onto the end here in an attempt to give this album some semblance of closure, and I don’t think it really works as such.

As it stands then, the hour-long 12” Mixes compilation has good and bad parts. The song selection is good, and I like pretty much all of the singles here to some extent. It’s also great to hear these songs in their original versions as they played in dance clubs. On the other hand, the last trio of tracks seem by turn gimmicky, cheesy, and pointless, which makes this album lose steam down the stretch. Viewed today, I could see many people just writing off this fairly repetitive music as pure schmaltz. Koto’s sound hasn’t aged all that well, due largely to it being a product of the technology of its time. Still, it’s difficult not to be impressed by the fact that this group and many others of the era clearly influenced musicians of today with their sense of innovation and experimentation, the types of keyboard work featured in the tunes, and the playful and generally pleasant mood of the music. Though imperfect, this may be the best representation of this band, and possibly of the Italo-Disco sound in general. I’d certainly recommend it to listeners interested in this musical genre or those following the evolution of dance and electronic music over the years. 12” Mixes also would hold definite appeal to those who appreciate sounds from the “decade of excess”: this is all ‘80s, through and through.