Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Happy Halloween, 2023!

That's five year old JKM as The Six Million Dollar Man!

Given my penchant for horror films, it won’t surprise you to learn that Halloween is a big holiday at the Muir house. 

My love of Halloween goes back to my earliest memories in the seventies.  I grew up in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, a picturesque Essex County suburb, and the trick-or-treating there was pretty great. 

Glen Ridge is a small town, so a kid could cover a lot of ground in one night, if he or she was willing to do a bit of walking.   

My sister and I would get started on Halloween at about 4:30 pm (in costume), trick-or-treat for an hour, eat dinner, and then go back out and trick-or-treat until nine o’clock at night.  

Then, we’d return home, dump our bags out on the kitchen table, and assess the sweet loot.  

For many years, it seemed, we went trick-or-treating “for UNICEF” (United Nation’s Children’s Fund) as well, and I still remember carrying along those little orange boxes filled with loose change.

Part of the fun of Halloween in the 1970s involved those classic, if flimsy, Ben Cooper costumes of the era.  

One year, I went out trick-or-treating as Ben Cooper’s Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man.  As you can tell from the photograph, however, I look more like President Ronald Reagan than Colonel Austin.   

Another year, I went out as Ben Cooper’s Darth Vader, and the next year, as the same company’s Cylon from Battlestar Galactica.  

If I’m being honest, these costumes weren’t really very good, and certainly not “show accurate” to any degree.  

And after a long night of wearing those masks, they always smelled like sweat.

I still went trick-or-treating in high school, and one year dressed up as Freddy Krueger. I had an Indiana Jones fedora, a red-and-white sweater, a Freddy glove and a pull-over mask. 

Instead of focusing on trick or treating, however, I focused on scaring my sister.  I remember that I waited until it was about 8:30 pm, and I found a great perch at the nearby railroad tracks where we had often played as children. The tracks were near -- I kid you not -- a graveyard.  

As my sister crossed the railroad tracks on her return journey, I jumped out from behind a tall signal post and scared the heck out of her.  And man, was it fun.

It’s Halloween.  Everyone is entitled to one good scare, right?

Actually, I had my own bad scare one year while trick-or-treating in Glen Ridge.  

I think I must have been nine or so at the time. I’m pretty sure it was the year I went out as a Cylon.  There I was in my costume, collecting candy in Glen Ridge, when I approached a large suburban house from the side.  

I should have stayed in the light, and out on the front walk. 

Instead, I ran up the side yard trying to beat the other kids. I ran by a large hedge, and then quite unexpectedly fell into a seven or eight foot hole, dug right out of the yard.  It was quite a shock. 

I remember wondering what the hell happened, but fortunately I was rescued after about a minute or so “buried alive” in that ditch.  

One good scare indeed!

Can't wait to go trick or treating this year! 

I’ll make certain, however, I stay on the path, and avoid any ditches…or dream demons.  

Happy Halloween to all!

Monday, October 30, 2023

Back from Monsterama!

After the show, I enjoy a relaxing Jack and Ginger outside...

It was a fabulous weekend in Atlanta at Sinbad and the Eye of Monsterama. On behalf of all those who attended with me, I want to thank the guests, the fans, and the convention staff for a wonderful time.

Here's a photo round up!


Alicia Martin (Theresa) at the entrance!

Kim Breeding-Mercer (Astrid) and Tony Mercer, sound designer (Bill Clark) at the entrance.

Here's Alicia Martin (Theresa on Enter the House Between) making a splash at the Monster Prom: 

Here we are working our table in the vendor's room.

Kim Breeding-Mercer (Astrid) works the room!

Alicia Martin (Theresa) and JKM (Sam),  all set up!

Kathryn, Joel and Alicia

Kathryn and Alicia


My talks/panels!

At the Horror Films of the 1970's Panel.

At the Horror Films of the 1990s panels.

At the Horror Films of the 1980's panel with Mike Ensley of Nightmare Theatre

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Enter The House Between Season 1, Episode 9: "The Last Dream of My Soul" (Season One Finale)

It is with great satisfaction and pride that I announce the arrival of Enter The House Between's season finale, "The Last Dream of My Soul."  

As you know, this is an independent production, and that means the cast and behind-the-scenes folk have worked tirelessly to create and tell these stories to our audience.  

I am so proud of everything this amazing team has accomplished, and want to give a shout-out to sound-designer/series editor Tony Mercer, in particular, who has created the world your ears have been enjoying since the premiere last April.  

Writing and acting in this milieu are tremendous challenges and joys, but editing is an Everett Branch unto itself, and Tony has, I think you'll agree, proven a master of it.  

And the good news is...a second season is on the horizon!

In the meantime, "The Last Dream of My Soul," the first season climax, finds the denizens of the smart farm caught between a rock (Father) and a hard-place (The Dark Matter Entity), as they attempt to rescue Eris and preserve the Quantumsphere itself.    

All bets are off, as the confrontations keep coming, on after the other...

"The Last Dream of My Soul"  is available on YouTube, here:

Here is the link on Spotify:


Tuesday, October 24, 2023


 (Available wherever you listen to podcasts and music!)

Saturday, October 21, 2023

40 Years Ago: The Right Stuff

"There was a demon that lived in the air. They said whoever challenged him would die. Their controls would freeze up, their planes would buffet wildly, and they would disintegrate. 

The demon lived at Mach 1 on the meter, seven hundred-and-fifty miles-an-hour, where the air could no longer move out of the way

He lived behind a barrier through which they said no man could ever pass. They called it the sound barrier..."

- Opening Narration, The Right Stuff (1983) 
The Mercury 7: Men with the right stuff.

Sometimes, in the day-to-day struggle to make ends meet, it's easy to forget the scope and breadth of human achievement.  

We don't always recognize that the sky itself is no longer the limit, perhaps because our feet are planted so firmly on terra firma as we concern ourselves with mortgage payments, health insurance, and keeping our cars running.

But The Right Stuff (1983), directed by Phillip Kaufman and based on the best-selling book by Tom Wolfe, is a splendid cinematic reminder of our potential and possibilities as a species; at least if we keep our gaze heavenward.  

One of the film's valedictory flight scenes -- in which a test pilot daringly aims his needle-nosed jet heavenward and zealously attempts to pierce the veil of stars -- gets at this idea with emotional intensity, not to mention lyrical visual storytelling.  

Sometimes here on the blog, I write of "perfect movie moments," and this brief, climactic passage in The Right Stuff certainly qualifies as one of them. The accomplished special effects, the quiet, sturdy performance of Sam Shepard, and the resonant feeling of the moment -- of a deep-seated human yearning to achieve escape velocity and see what no man has seen -- combine to forge something special and indeed, universal. This is cinema as expression of the human spirit.

Taken in toto, the 1983 movie is an epic, heroic poem concerning a can-do nation in its prime, and the heroes that it produced during an all-out "space race" with the Soviet Union.  

But it's also a movie about the things that man can accomplish at his best. Critic David Thomson said it perfectly when he wrote that The Right Stuff is "a mix of beauty and satire, comedy and pathos, character and reputation, that is endearing and challenging." (Have You Seen? Borzoi Books, 2008, page 727.)

"We want the best pilots that we can get..."

A funeral and tribute to the fallen.

In some ways, The Right Stuff is actually two parallel narratives in one.  

The first story concerns the unassuming, tell-it-like-it-is test pilot Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) and his on-going attempts at Edwards Air Force Base to "push the envelope"  by breaking the sound barrier and other human speed records.  

Yeager continues this task -- after his initial record aboard the X-1 in 1947 -- with little fanfare or recognition.  He doesn't do it for the plaudits.  He certainly doesn't do it for the money (he gets paid 283 dollars a month).  He does it because there's a mountain before him, and he feels the need to climb it.  To see what's on the other side.

The second story concerns our nation's first team of NASA astronauts in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  

You'll recognize the names of this famous seven: John Glenn (Ed Harris), Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn), Gordon Cooper (Dennis Quaid), Gus Grissom (Fred Ward), Wally Schirra (Lance Henriksen), Scott Carpenter (Charles Frank) and Deke Slayton (Scott Paulin).  

These guys are hot-shots and patriots, family men and explorers, and all their exploits are recorded under the bright lights of an enthusiastic, supportive and even frenetic national media. The Seven are American "stars," and yet  -- just like Yeager, again -- they undertake great, heroic tasks too. Shepard is the first American in space; Glenn the first American to orbit the Earth, etc. 

The high-profile astronauts ultimately use the press's unceasing attention and devotion to assure that they get a "say" in their own destinies at NASA, and on the direction of the space program itself. In return for being heard and respected, they invest themselves -- heart and soul -- in the program.

We are meant to understand the parallel stories of The Right Stuff as deliberate reflections of one another.  Yeager is held up as an example of an iconic, mythic American hero: an old-fashioned, aw-shucks cowboy-type.  

Yet the very modern Mercury Seven have a difficult task too. "The astronauts are depicted as struggling to maintain a sense of individual heroics in the face of mediation between technology and the press hullabaloo that surrounds their every move," suggests author Geoff King in Spectacular Narratives: Hollywood in the Age of the Blockbuster (I.B. Tauris Books, 2000, page 69).

That intriguing fulcrum -- the so-called mediation between technology and the press hullabaloo -- is, in some senses, the core of modern America, and American celebrity/politics.  How do you use the press to get your message out? How do you control both technology (such as the net, or television) and the mechanisms of the press to stay true to your own values?  These are not small issues, and The Right Stuff functions as a critique of the new hyper-connected America, thus forecasting, perhaps, the dawn of the 24-hour news cycle and the domination of Cable TV.

Yet the film succeeds because it portrays the astronauts -- the new heroes of the space age -- both as innately courageous and also as very real men. A few of 'em have wandering eyes; one of 'em cracks jokes that might be perceived as racist (or at least in bad taste), Glenn enjoys having the microphone a bit too much, and so on.  

In one great and utterly human moment, the film cuts from a broadcaster (Eric Severeid)  at a launch, wondering -- to the entire, rapt nation -- about astronaut Alan Shepard and his thoughts on the verge of his first space mission.  

"What can be going through a man's mind at this moment?" the journalist muses aloud.

The movie provides an immediate and indecorous answer.  "I have to urinate," Shepard tells his friend Gordo, at Mission Control. "Permission to relieve bladder?"

To some folks, that moment may play as something perilously close to farce. And indeed some scenes in The Right Stuff involving Jeff Goldblum's character (at the White House, with Eisenhower) qualify as political farce, as a circus. But moments such as Shepard's request to go to the bathroom are also  real. So The Right Stuff suggests that the more connected we are, and the more the press pushes the narrative of astronauts as heroes of the classic mold, the more the men themselves remain...men.

We can admire these "public" men at the same time we acknowledge that they are, in the end, men.  Warts and all. In fact, the movie's awareness of their common humanity is what helps us relate to them and understand their achievements as ones that -- with a little luck and in the right circumstances -- we would hope to make ourselves.

In both of The Right Stuff's parallel narratives, the viewer is left to marvel at the daredevil capacity of such men as these to achieve what others have not, and in some cases simply because they don't like the idea of retreating before hurdles, bowing before an unseen "demon in the sky," as the film's opening voice-over describes the unknown.

Whenever I get down about our nation, or the direction it might be headed, I remind myself of The Right Stuff and this story of such heroes who made a better, smarter future happen through their own grit and fortitude.  

Or as Vincent Canby wrote in his review of The Right Stuff for The New York Times"The film almost makes one glad to be alive in spite of famines, wars and even ''the greenhouse effect...''  

I would modify that thought only to say that the film does make one feel glad to be alive. Very definitively.

"It takes a special kind of man to volunteer for a suicide mission, especially one that's on TV..."

Death Himself has come for another courageous pilot.

The Right Stuff goes to great lengths as well to portray the dangers that await the men who first approach the next frontier of knowledge.  

Test pilots have an astounding death rate, the movie notes, something like a one-in-four chance of dying in the cockpit, or in flight.  

To express this notion of danger visually, Kaufman expertly utilizes the technique of cross-cuttingDuring Yeager's historic flight to shatter the sound barrier, for instance, the film cuts to an interesting tribute; to photographs of dead pilots, mounted on a wall in a bar called Pancho's.  

This visual connection establishes that Yeager's great accomplishment is not just a personal one, but the cumulative effort of every pilot who has put his life on the line to increase the breadth of human knowledge. Again, we are being conveyed important information about us; about the human animal. To move forward, to progress, we must climb over the backs of those who have gone before. We don't do it alone, or in a vacuum.  We do it through connection to our past, and to explorers of the past.

The test pilots and astronauts are legitimately pioneers, and their vocation is incredibly dangerous, so Kaufman portrays the ever-present danger in other interesting cinematic and symbolic ways too. There are two funerals featured in the film's first thirty minutes, for instance, and then there's also the unusual presence of a taciturn man in black, a preacher (Royal Dano).  

This grave-faced figure represents nothing less than the specter of death itself, solemnly appearing out of black silhouette to notify next-of-kin that a pilot has died, or later silently stalking a rocket launch countdown at Cape Kennedy; as if to remind the audience that Death is ubiquitous and  always ready to claim his next victim.

In the race to get a foothold in space, there is no room for cowards, and yet, simultaneously and perhaps paradoxically there is great terror in the quest.  Ultimately, Yeager -- who could have been an astronaut and wasn't -- recognizes the brotherhood of astronauts as kindred spirits.   This recognition is both a blessing from a father figure (and national hero) and an important passing of the torch to a new era of modern men.

When a colleague suggests that monkeys could fly a space capsule, Yeager's protective response is blistering, and telling:  "You think a monkey knows he's sittin' on top of a rocket that might explode? These astronaut boys they know that, see? Well, I'll tell you something, it takes a special kind of man to volunteer for a suicide mission, especially one that's on TV."

Perhaps that's "the right stuff" of the film's title: the ability to take a personal risk for the betterment of everyone else.  It doesn't necessarily matter how you get there (a capsule riding an exploding fire cracker, as "spam in a can," or aboard a new and dangerous test vehicle).  It matters where you're going, and the grace with which you face that destination.

The Right Stuff strongly benefits from great, traditional special effects. This film was crafted well before the age of CGI, and every flight depicted in the film is accomplished with miniatures; with models.  It's amazing, meticulous, and stirring work and it hasn't aged a day (unlike the CGI effects of Apollo 13 [1995], which today appear somewhat cartoonish, to my dismay). 

The class of 1983.

Equally as important, The Right Stuff features great performances from arguably the most talented class of actors in modern Hollywood history.  

Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Dennis Quaid, Lance Henriksen, Jeff Goldblum, Harry Shearer, Sam Shepard, Scott Paulin, Charles Frank, Barbara Hershey, and Fred Ward...and on and on.   I mean...these guys are the best-of-the-best in Hollywood, and yet there's never,  ever a sense in this film that anyone is trying to one-up anyone else, trying to claw to the top of the pack.  

The ensemble work is flawless and charming, and among the Mercury 7 a strong feeling of esprit-de-corps -- of brotherhood -- is transmitted.  

Just as powerfully, the scenes of the strong, silent Sam Shepard (as Yeager) really resonate in the memory.  He is the lone wolf, unappreciated and even forgotten in the 1960s, but still damned courageous. The movie strongly equates Yeager with an old fashioned cowboy at several important points. He prowls the desert on horseback, and arrives at his X-1 riding his trusty steed. The Marlboro Man takes to the sky.

What I also appreciated in The Right Stuff is the film's good understanding of the realities of space travel.  NASA relies on funding, and the good graces of the public (and yep, the press). As soon as public awareness fades, or press attention dissipates, the funding dissolves too.  The astronauts must put on a dog-and-pony show to remain in the public eye; it's actually part of their job description in this new modern, mass media era.  

This is so true, and the movie  also very ably captures some cruel, unspoken aspect of our fast-moving popular culture.  One day, Chuck Yeager is the cock of the walk...the next day he's a feather duster (to quote Thunderdome).  He's forgotten.

The astronauts, we are acutely aware, face the same problem.  The bulk of the film simply occurs early in the continuum; when the public is still fascinated with them and the space race.  We know today that the space program rarely draws headlines or much enthusiasm from the general public, and these great modern astronauts -- great men like Yeager -- toil without any real recognition or appreciation for the dangers they face.  The space program too often comes up in headlines only in the case of budget cuts, or worse, human tragedy.

If The Right Stuff bears any structural weakness, it is that the movie makes the engineers and scientists at NASA figures of fun, ostensibly for the sake of glamorizing the noble astronauts and pilots.  These engineers and scientists clearly don't know their asses from their elbows, according to the movie. 

This is simply wrong...those men and women are heroes and patriots too.  In the space age, everyone is part of the team, down to the folks in mission control, and down to the brilliant, problem-solving engineers who make rockets fly...and function, in the most difficult of situations.  In this regard, Apollo 13 is a more well-rounded film.  It ably demonstrates the contributions to space flight of not just heroic pilots, but those who remain on the ground and shepherd our star voyagers safely home.

Still, this is a relatively small quibble with a film that I consider one of the best movies of the 1980s (even if it was considered a box office bomb at the time).  If you were ever inspired by space travel, if you ever had an unyielding desire to touch the stars with your bare hands...The Right Stuff is a powerful depiction of those feelings.

Finally, permit me an indulgence.  

I would like to close today's review of a great film with the stirring words of another national hero, President John F. Kennedy, as they were spoken on September 12, 1962.  

Philip Kaufman's 1983 film perfectly reflects the spirit of the President's message to all Americans on that day:

"The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space. 

Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolution, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. 

We mean to be a part of it--we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding. 

Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world's leading space-faring nation. 

We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. 

For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man..."

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

John and Jim's Excellent Journey #7: Star Trek ( Part I)

Dr. James McLean and I return for our irregularly scheduled cult-television podcast, John and Jim's Excellent Journey on (Kasterborous) to talk all things...Star Trek.  

Give it a listen on Spotify:

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Schedule Change: Enter The House Between Season Finale Drops 10/25!

The Quantumsphere is in trouble! Father is on the attack!

Meanwhile, in this reality, we have a (short) delay in the premiere of our season finale for Enter The House Between

"The Last Dream of My Soul"  will now drop next Wednesday, 10/25.   

Stay tuned, and our apologies for keeping you hanging!

But to hold you over, here is a sneak preview of the finale.

Enjoy "The Return of Legion..."

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Come See Me (and Enter The House Between Cast & Crew) at Monsterama Con: 10/27 - 10/29!

Kim-Breeding Mercer (Astrid) and Alicia Martin (Theresa) will be joining me at Monsterama, in Atlanta, from 10/27 - 10/29, along with our series sound-designer Tony Mercer (Bill Clark)!

I hope if you are in the area, or up for a road trip, you'll come to see us, and the show in two weekends!

We'll have an Enter The House Between table with books for sale/signing, and participating in panels about the show, and my -- oh my god --25-year writing career.  

We'll be giving away "Lar Lover" (!) buttons and series stickers too for those who show up first!

Don't be shy, stop on by!  

Here are the deets:  https://monsteramacon.com/

Friday, October 13, 2023

13 Reasons I Love The Friday 13th Movies

Given that today is Friday the 13th, it seemed a good time to pay my respects to the original films; the ones I grew up with as a teenager in the 1980s, and love with affection...even when they are really, really bad.

So, without further introduction, here are 13 reasons I love the Friday the 13th movies:

1.) There's a consistent, Old Testament-style argument to be made in the interpretation of the old school Friday the 13th films (1980 - 1991). I describe this thesis a bit in my book, Horror Films of the 1980s, referring to it as "vice precedes slice and dice." 

That means, simply, that misbehaving teenagers (screwing, drinking, snorting coke, and getting high...) are punished (violently...) for their moral transgressions. Jason, whose trusty machete might as well be the wrathful Hand of God Himself, is the Punisher. The not-so-subtle subtext of these Reagan Age horrors is that if you play...you pay.

2.) There is an alternative interpretation of the Friday the 13th films too. Stated bluntly, it is implicit in the original films that Jason Voorhees -- hockey mask, machete and all -- is the natural (or supernatural...) result of a modern world in which there are no more predators for man. 

Jason is therefore but a mechanism, a response from nature, to man's invasion of a natural terrain (in this case, Camp Crystal Lake). Screening the Friday the 13th film together, it's clear that the one factor in common is not Jason himself (who, technically, doesn't appear in Part V: A New Beginning), but rather...a storm. 

Yep, bad weather inevitably brings thunder, lightning., and evil, serial-killer predators (whether Mrs. Voorhees, Jason, or the Jason Impostor). The arrival of bad weather is important in the various Friday the 13th narratives for practical reasons, of course. Storms knock out power (and particularly lights...) plunging frightened teens into darkness, preventing telephone calls for aid, and making the youngsters ripe for the picking off. 

But it's more than that. It's as if nature is rising up and rebelling against these aimless, decadent humans and Jason is the mechanism to destroy them. If Jason didn't exist, Mother Nature would have to invent him. 

Consider also that Jason is tied to nature in an interesting fashion: he is believed dead for years when in fact he is alive and "incubating" at the bottom of Camp Crystal Lake.

3.) The SurvivorsThey were no longer little women...they were final girls.

Horror-hating moralists and not a few feminists perpetually and blindly misinterpret the Friday the 13th films as misogynistic when nothing could be further from the truth. Virtually every Friday the 13th film provides the audience a laudable and heroic "final girl" who outsmarts, out-thinks, and out-fights the powerful (and male) Jason Voorhees. While her friends are fucking, getting high, or getting drunk, the final girl alone is actually paying attention to what's happening around her, and able to sense -- and ultimately combat -- looming danger. Tell me that's not a positive message to send to teenagers. Keep your wits about you, don't submit to peer pressure, and remember where you left the chainsaw...

4.) The sleeping bag kill. This is a murder featured in Friday the 13th: The New Blood (1988), and it's my all-time favorite sequence in the franchise. As you may recall, Jason zips up an unlucky camper in a sleeping bag and then -- like she's a sack of potatoes -- repeatedly slams the bag and camper into a tree trunk.  

It's not the goriest kill; it's not the silliest kill; but in some ways this basic bludgeoning is the most brutal and -- oddly -- the funniest kill in the series. I get a kick out of it every time I see it.

5.) The Cassandra Complex. This character archetype appears in several Friday the 13th films (particularly the first, Part 2Jason Lives and Jason Takes Manhattan). There's always a drunk stumbling around the perimeter of Crystal Lake warning oblivious teens that they're all "going to die." This Cassandra figure goes right back to Greek myth -- the tragic seer who is never believed by those in danger. Critics and moralists can accuse the Friday the 13th films of being pandering, stupid horror movies as much as they want...but many of the entries are actually constructed with an eye towards some classic literature, both in terms of Mother Love (the relationship between Jason and Mrs. Voorhees) and in the inclusion of the discredited seer. 

6.) Tom McLoughlin's sense of humor. McLoughlin directed Part VI, Jason Lives! and once more found the fun in the aging Friday the 13th saga, injecting the series with fresh blood in a number of clever sequences. The film opens, for instance, with a nod to the famous James Bond gun barrel sequence, except this time Jason is on-screen armed with a machete. 

The humor permeates in the film in little ways too. A child camper at Crystal Lake is seen, briefly, reading No Exit. Again, the meme that these are just "stupid" horror movies is proven wrong.

7.) The Stars in Waiting. Kevin Bacon, Crispin Glover, Corey Feldman, and Martin Cummins are just a few of the young actors who showed up at Camp Crystal Lake, got horribly murdered by a Voorhees, and moved on to bigger things.  

Everybody's got to start somewhere...

8.) Harry Manfredini's trademark "chi-chi-ha-ha" riff. Okay, so it's not the Halloween theme by John Carpenter. But this creepy, classic composition defined the Friday the 13th sound for a generation of teenagers, entered the pop culture lexicon, and was widely imitated and mocked. And, if I'm not mistaken, the cue is resurrected for the 2009 remake.

9.) The trailer for Jason Takes Manhattan. I'm not certain how many of you are old enough to recall this TV advertisement...but it was bloody genius. To the chipper tune of "New York, New York," a camera crept up on a figure gazing at the iconic New York City skyline. As we moved in on the figure -- his back to us -- he whirled around and it was...Jason! T

his trailer was actually more inventive than the farmed out-to-Canada movie it was created for. I appreciated the tag-line too: "Now New York has a new problem."  

Also, I can't help but think of The Muppets Take Manhattan...

10.) High Concepts Gone Horribly Wrong. The makers of the Friday the 13th films attempted desperately to keep the long-in-the-tooth series going, infusing new and crazy ideas into the later sequels. 

For instance, A New Blood was sort of Carrie Versus Jason, an idea that sounds great on paper but doesn't play so well, especially when "Carrie's" psychic powers miss their target and wake up Jason Voorhees from his deathly slumber at the bottom of Crystal Lake. 

And who can forget Jason X -- which sent Jason into deep space and brought in Star Trek: The Next Generation's holodeck technology? Just the thought of that movie gives me a sense of giddiness.

And in the underwhelming Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason is overcome by toxic waste in Manhattan's sewers...because you know, in New York, toxic waste gets flushed through the sewers every night! The toxic sludge doesn't kill Jason though...it just transforms, him into a pre-pubescent kid wearing his bathing suit.

11.) Amy Steel. Ginny from Friday the 13th Part II is my personal favorite "final girl" in the series.  Not every Final Girl can adorn a bloody wool sweater, talk sternly to Jason, and get the killer to back down. If I can't have Jamie Lee Curtis in a horror movie...give me Amy Steel any day.

12.) The Motive To Kill That Makes No Sense. So let me get this straight. Mrs. Voorhees went on a killing spree in 1980 (in the first film) because her little boy, Jason, drowned at Camp Crystal Lake in 1958 thanks to neglectful counselors. 

But...as the end of Friday the 13th proves...Jason didn't drown. He's still alive. So if Jason isn't really dead, why is Mrs. Voorhees after Alice (Adrienne King) and her friends?

It makes no sense at all. 

Then, Jason kills new teenagers because Alice killed his mother. But his Mother shows up alive in the lake at the end of Part III. 

It kind of reminds me -- in a really bad way -- of Jaws IV: The Revenge (1987). There, the great white shark wants revenge against all Brodys because Chief Brody...killed it. 

13.) The sting-in-the-tail/tale from Friday the 13th. Director Sean Cunningham crafts a perfect, mind-shattering coda for Friday the 13th, even if it makes no sense in terms of the specifics of the narrative. 

A spent Alice is alone in a row boat, in the middle of Camp Crystal Lake when a deformed Jason Boy leaps out of the water to attack her. This sting-in-the-tale/tail is second only to Brian De Palm's Carrie (1976) in terms of terrifying impact. Everything about this finale is pitch-perfect, from the placid, idyllic look of the lake, to the tranquil, misleading music, to the sudden attack itself. Indeed, the longevity of the Friday series may originate from this unforgettable denouement (which passed the serial killer torch from Mother to Son).

There you have it. Happy Friday the 13th! Here's to you, Jason...with an arrow in the eye!

Ranking Friday the 13th

Ranking the Friday the 13th Movies: Worst to Best.

To celebrate Friday the 13th, let's take look back at the movie slasher saga, which has been too long absent from our screens. 

We start at the bottom (the worst) and work our way up to the best.

12. Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985): This movie totally bungles the second movement of the Tommy Jarvis trilogy (IV, V, VI), and gives us not a reappearance by Jason, but rather a Jason impostor.  That sounds like it could be a reasonable narrative if handled correctly, but it is never explained how the impostor manages his Jason-like survival rate. He gets hit by a bull-dozer, and then stands back-up to continue fighting. How this possible for a mere mortal man? A sub-standard, really terribly movie in the canon. 

11. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989): So, Toronto substitutes for Manhattan here, and Jason only reaches it in the last act, for a few minutes. Adding an insult to that injury, the movie seems to `believe that New York City utility companies flush toxic waste through the sewers every night. At the film’s conclusion, Jason gets caught in the toxic flood and is reverted to the form of a child.  WTF? The death scenes are ludicrous, including one set in a disco aboard a cruise ship, where a female victim dies, literally, because she has no attention span. If she just kept her eyes on Jason, she might have survived. Instead, she can’t manage that feat, and he just appears in front of her and kills her. This character suffers from a serious movie malady: no peripheral vision.

10. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993): The fun of a Friday the 13th movie is seeing a big, hulking slasher in a hockey mask hack people up with a machete. So what does this movie do? It eliminates Jason’s body and turns the slasher into a body-hopping ghoul. What is this, The Hidden 2?  And then there’s some serious and lame retconning of the overall story. For example: the Voorhees house.  Jason and his mom had a house that everybody knew about?  That still exists? That is well-furnished? That has a mail box? Are people sending mail there? If so, then why was Jason living in a shack in the woods in Friday the 13th Part II?

9. Freddy vs. Jason (2003). Jason is Freddy’s patsy for the first part of this film, and then reveals, oddly, that his mortal fear (and Kryptonite, essentially…) is water. This revelation occurs even though we have seen in Jason in functioning ably in water attacking people -- without fear -- in virtually every Friday the 13th movie since 1980. Whatever.

8. Friday the 13th Part III in 3-D (1982): Folks my age have a lot of nostalgia for this particular movie, but it doesn’t hold up well outside that context. The stoner characters (who look like Cheech and Chong) are cringe-inducing, and the 3-D effects (with everything flying at the screen) look low-rent and ridiculous.  All the characters are dumb clichés, so the third time’s not the charm for the series. Now Jason moves and acts more like Michael Myers than an original character.

7. Friday the 13th (2009): The reboot plays like a Friday the 13th “Greatest Hits” mix tape, taking good ideas from many of the individual entries and working them into one intriguing narrative. That’s not a bad approach -- hitting all the visceral hot spots of the saga -- but the film somehow comes across as shallow and lacking in any real sense of fun.

6. Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter (1984): Not a great entry in the saga, but a fun and generally quite popular one. The film demonstrates a love for the horror genre by making young Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) a make-up artist.  He uses that skill to good effect to decapitate Jason in the last act (while pretending to be a young Jason).  An eminently watchable entry, although nothing fresh or exciting in terms of storyline or effects, really.

5. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988): This impossible-to-resist entry is basically Jason vs. Stephen King’s Carrie. Accordingly, Jason falls victim to a slew of telekinetic trickery, well-orchestrated.  The first two acts aren’t great, but the last act is a hell of a lot of fun as a monster of the physical realm, Jason, does pitched battle with a heroine of the psychic realm. Much more entertaining than it has any right to be. My favorite murder also occurs in this film: the sleeping bag death.

4. Jason X (2002). Are you surprised that this one made it so high on the list? Well, can you think of another Friday the 13th movie that is so relentlessly inventive, and which plays so wittily on the tropes of the series? Sure the movie’s premise is ridiculous, but it knows it is ridiculous.  The scene with Jason encountering nubile hologram characters who just “love” premarital sex is absolutely priceless and alone worth the price of admission.

3. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986): This entry turns Jason the slasher into a full-blooded supernatural monster (revived from the dead by lightning) to good and often funny impact. The James Bond-style opener, Jason’s encounter with survivalists, and a cameo appearance by Sartre’s No Exit are just few of the moments worth treasuring.  

2. Friday the 13th Part II (1981): This film pits a smart, resourceful child psychologist, Ginny (Amy Steel) against Jason’s developmentally-arrested “retard” (to quote the film; not my words). Lean and efficient, the film also introduces Jason’s mom fixation

1. Friday the 13th (1980): Still the best of the bunch, thanks to a smart screenplay, and some stand-out scares (including the final sting-in-the-tail/tale). Here (as in all Jason films), it is suggested (through the presence of a storm) that the killer is a force of nature. Similarly, there’s a Garden of Eden/Snake in the Garden metaphor at work at Crystal Lake.

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