4. Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter (1984)
We can laugh at that title now, but at the time that was the intention. Paramount were ashamed that they were producing such low-brow horror trash, and so decided to give Jason one last hurrah. Then when it earned over thirty million dollars, they decided that they weren’t that ashamed after all – and the rest is history. But, with it being the intended final chapter the filmmakers decided to make it count.
Director Joseph Zito wisely put more of a focus on character development this time around and brought back gore master Tom Savini, making for the quintessential slasher film. We have a family living in the forest, all feeling real and likable – especially little Tommy Jarvis, played by the talented Corey Feldman. We have our usual teenagers, but now they have little ticks and quirks that give us just enough to care about them – well, some of them anyway. Jason Vorhees is transformed from the lumbering idiot out to kill kids, into a savage psychotic hunter, who will kill anyone who dares enter his woods.
It is outright scary. The kills are gory, but quickly edited. This gives us enough time to be shocked, while not enough to be repulsed or entertained. What we do see is excellently delivered by Savini – this is some of his best work. The only kill lingered on is Jason’s, which is far better handled than Freddy’s so-called Final Nightmare. It feels like an end – they could have left it here and it would have been perfect. Don’t go looking for high art or great characters and a story, because you won’t find it. But if you want a good, masked maniac slasher film this Halloween, then you will not do better.
The Best Kill: All the kills in Part IV are contenders for the best. The throat-slit and neck break of the mortician. The girl being thrown onto the car, which blows all the windows out. Jason sliding down the blade of his machete. But, if one had to be picked, then it would have to be that of the before-they-were-famous Crispin Glover. Stabbed with a corkscrew and then hacked with a cleaver, all to perfect comedic timing. ‘Ted, where the hell’s the corkscrew!’
3. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
A film that decided to think outside of the box and deliver a meta story with more focus on horror than comedy. Only Wes Craven could have pulled it off. New Nightmare, in hindsight, feels like the proto-Scream. The story has a demon taking on the form of Freddy out hunting Heather Langenkamp – playing a fictionalized version of herself. Craven’s stylistic directing and watertight script make this film the perfect apology for all the lackluster Freddy sequels. New Nightmare even pokes fun at them.
The film is the longest of the entire series, and there are parts that start to drag in the middle. Other than that, New Nightmare is as perfect as it could get. The demon is the scariest performance Robert Englund has ever done. Gone are the jokes as the sadism is cranked up to eleven. It is hard to remember a more sadistic villain in horror history. This is killing and tormenting for joy – plain and simple.
New Nightmare is a story about the relationship between horror films and kids. Should we let kids watch them? Would they be scarred by the experience – scared and possibly aggressive? Or can kids take more than we give them credit for? Will they find their own ways of coping or simply know that what they are watching isn’t real? New Nightmare doesn’t give a straight answer, but it asks the question in a fascinating way. Even if you don’t like the Elm Street series – or horror films in general – this is one that you should watch.
The Best Kill: Much like in the remake, there is a kill that is a direct call back to a famous kill from the original. Unlike the remake though, this one builds on it. The young woman is levitated and dragged across the walls and ceiling before being slashed to death – just like before. But this time, we see the demon. She can’t. But we can. So can the kid that Freddy is haunting. It’s a great homage and makes for the most brutal moment of the film.
2. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
At this time, there were a lot of horror comedies being produced – from The Evil Dead, to Gremlins, to The Re-Animator. Jason Lives falls right in line with all of the above. Hilarious and parodical – Jason Lives at times feels like a Mel Brooks film. As the title suggests, Jason is back from the dead – literally. A bolt of lightning gives him all he needs to come back – with incredible strength and endurance to boot.
Director Tom McLoughlin created the only Friday film to feel like a Hollywood film. This doesn’t feel workman-like, it feels like a director trying to achieve a vision – all the while still knowing exactly what it is he is making. The atmosphere, with a perpetual fog, feels very much like a classic monster film. The music is more rock than before, with numerous songs from Alice Cooper on display. The story is as bare as they come, but the characters make up for it by being so likable. As for the jokes, while the James Bond-like title card may be a bit too far, they almost always land. The drunken grave digger being a highlight.
As silly as it is though – and it is very silly – Jason is still treated seriously. No joke is made at his expense. His kills – mostly bloodless this time, it is the least violent of the Friday series – are vicious. There is little weapon usage, with Jason using his new found strength to crush and break people. He is still a terrifying figure.
This is the film that made him an icon. Jason is no longer the man hunting teenagers, he is the horror legend. Unstoppable, unkillable and with no dialogue he is finally oozing personality. Add on a good final girl and Tommy Jarvis as our heroes and there is nothing else you could ask for.
The Best Kill: All the kills are creative, but few are great. There are many who would pick the man impaled on the tree. While that is fun, I have always enjoyed the girl in the RV. Her airheaded boyfriend is driving like a maniac and playing Alice Cooper so loudly that he has no idea she has been dragged into the toilet. After a struggle, Jason crushed her face into the side of the RV. Her face coming out the other side is worthy of Looney Tunes.
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The horror classic that terrified a generation. A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the best horror films ever made. Wes Craven’s greatest creation follows the return of a child murderer, able to invade the dream of his victims. There is no escape and little chance of fighting back. It’s the perfect horror story.
Never before or since has a horror film set up its rules so effectively and clearly. We know what Freddy is capable of and how he can do it – yet this comes at a price to Freddy too (he can be pulled into the real world). After seeing so many slasher films, it is impossible to express the relief felt when you care for every single character. Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) gets the best development but being our hero that is to be expected. The other non-Freddy characters (including a very young Johnny Depp) are all memorable and each have some depth to them.
While it may not terrify as it once did – with the tone being campier than expected – that doesn’t mean it isn’t scary. Freddy’s earlier moments are still haunting, with creepy traps, transformations and his constant self-harming for the fun of it. The final note of the film is a poor one – Craven himself was displeased and was forced to do it for sequel baiting. Other than that, there is not a single issue with the film. Creative, perfectly written, with amazing acting and a haunting score, all delivered to us by one of the masters of horror. It is impossible not to love this film.
The Best Kill: Tina’s death is a legend of cinema. Levitated and dragged across the ceiling and walls of the house by an invisible force. When the claw marks show we know it is all over for her. The effect is impressive on a technical level. But we thought that Tina was to be our heroine. We had just seen Freddy toying with her for an entire scene before this. Both points make it shocking and horrifying. Freddy is a force to be reckoned with – and nobody is safe!