“It” Movie Review

September 8, 2017

It

“It” finally arrived…and it was worth the wait. In fact, “It” may be the best adaptation of a Stephen King work yet in a year full of (despite one reputed letdown) solid King adaptations. Some might say “that doesn’t take much” thinking of the less than stellar low-budget horror films “Children of the Corn” (and it’s dozen sequels), “The Mangler” or “Graveyard Shift” but they’re forgetting great films like De Palma’s “Carrie”, Kubrick’s “The Shining” and John Carpenter’s “Christine”.* Others might be saying no way! What about “The Shawshank Redemption”, “The Green Mile” and “Stand By Me”?  To both camps I say–yep, as an adaptation of a King work “It” may be the greatest yet. It captures the heart, tone and feel of the book–updating it just enough to retain relevancy for a younger generation and making a change or two that actually enhance on the original book.** Most of all it does the impossible–it takes the Moby Dick of popular horror novels and films it in a way that works cinematically (that is, in the language of cinema) without sacrificing the story of the original opus. There’s no beat-you-over-the-head explication and voice-over to explain themes and thoughts that the filmmaker uses to tell when  too lazy to show.

No, perhaps best of all—Pennywise is terrifying. If you’re an 80s or 90s baby you probably have fond (or grimacing depending on your tastes) memories of Tim Curry’s original Pennywise in the made-for-TV miniseries back in the day. I mean no disrespect to his performance–it was the only thing of that original teleplay that really holds up but it’s feared more in memory than in re-watching–but Bill Skarsgard sends chills down your spine here. He’s helped in large part by some seriously good special effects and production that a cable TV movie in the 1990s simply can’t be compared with. When this movie goes for the scares it really goes for them–relentlessly. This movie is intense and any illusion that the protagonists on screen will be okay because they’re children is quickly displaced.

Yet beyond the scares this movie knows that to keep you from being overwhelmed there has to be a bit of comedic relief which it provides in full. True to King, there’s as much heart as terror and the kids cast as the Loser’s Club are all a joy to watch. I can only hope that their adult counterparts are as honestly, convincingly cast in the culminating part II. I expect anyone who is a fan of the massively popular throwback “Stranger Things” on Netflix will be a fan of the Loser’s Club and watching them in action reveals just how deep an homage to King (as much as Spielberg) that show truly is.

So yeah.  “IT” exceeded my expectations and is the best mainstream horror film in many years in addition to being possibly the best adaptation of a King work to hit the screen yet.  Pennywise is terrifying, the Loser’s Club are a joy to watch, the score is fantastic, the performances are honest and the special effects are spot on. Andy Muschietti does a terrific job of being true to the source material but not being so beholden to it that he is afraid to make the work his own and make it work on the screen for today’s audience.

Rating: 4.5/5

 

* I think it will take time and a few revisits for me to know where “IT” stands as a movie in comparison to other King-inspired movies like “Shawshank”, “The Green Mile”, and “Carrie”. Certainly “The Shining” is Kubrick’s visionary work on full display and may be a “better” movie than “It” but it’s a far worse adaptation of its source material (which is why King dislikes it so much). But as for an honest adaptation of a King work that captures the story, atmosphere, and heart of the work “IT” may indeed be the best so far. On TV this year “Mr. Mercedes (thanks to Dennis Lehane and David E. Kelly) probably comes closest to retaining all of those same things in an adaptation but we’ll have to see if it ends as strongly and “IT” just stands head and shoulders in an iconic way above that more recent work on the page itself at least.

**[minor] spoiler alert—The changes made in the film from the book are mostly minor and all are for the better at least for the screen. The book set the children’s portion in the 1950s and the adult half in the 1980s (when it was published) and the movie bumps the children’s half to the 1980s presumably so the adult half will be set in modern day. It’s interesting how seamlessly this change works–nothing about the kids really changes that much with the 30 year jump. I think that’s largely due to the timelessness of great kid stories like this and such settings can probably be fluid anytime post-rock and roll to pre-smart phone fairly easy. The big change was that there’s a particularly infamous scene in the book in which the kids make the jump to adulthood and bond themselves to each other in a way that Steve thought was largely metaphorical and symbolic but which would certainly strike most of us as tasteless and questionable on the movie screen. That act is changed to a blood oath hand-holding style which works better by all counts IMO.

 

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Today I’m back to my ongoing project of ranking horror franchises, sub-genres and directors. I’m exhausted with the news and have nothing of worth to say about it today. I’m also taking a quick break on heavier writing I’m doing professionally and creatively so it seemed like a perfect time to hack out the next list in this series. Today’s topic–the “Halloween” franchise. If you’d like to read my “Nightmare on Elm Street” or “Friday the 13th” lists please do so by clicking the embedded hyperlinks.

Today’s list will rank every “Halloween” movie—that’s right, both timelines of the original franchise (Halloween-Halloween II-H20-HResurection as well as Halloween-HII, H4, H5, H6) as well as the remakes and the standalone “Season of the Witch”. So both versions of Michael–the Shape and the overgrown redneck! Here we go!

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10. Halloween: Resurrection

To be honest, I couldn’t bring myself to slog through the Big Brother meets Scream via who knows what crap fest of Resurrection. Most Halloween fans pretend this one didn’t happen. It does feature kung-fu fighting between Bustah Rhymes and Michael Myers if that sounds appealing to you.

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9. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers

What a crap-fest. What makes it a crap fest is it’s “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach. This film undoes everything that was worthwhile in its predecessor and sets up an absurd side-plot that overtakes the film, ends it, and is never followed up on in successors. It’s disjointed, confusing, boring, repetitive…It may be the worst installment of any 1980s horror franchise and if you watch behind the scenes features on it you’ll hear the obvious confirmed in that it was just an attempt to quickly cash in on the unexpected financial success of its predecessor.

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8. Halloween II (2009)

Maybe Zombie’s worst film, definitely his most boring. Largely forgettable.

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7. Halloween (6): The Curse of Michael Myers

Most fans hate the thorn cult aspect of “Curse”, the 6th installment of the original franchise. I actually like it though I find its details and much of its execution lacking. I have no problem with an occult grounding for the Shape but this is the only film that tries to do it so it involved a fair amount of retconning. There are some genuinely creepy moments, it’s well shot and well acted, and I particularly liked the introduction of Tommy Doyle as an adult (Paul Rudd in his film debut) nemesis to the Shape. However as it is, nothing in 6 is grounded to what came before or followed up with in what came after so it stands as its own island (or hiccup).  Still, this is the first entertaining film mentioned thus far in the rankings so everything gets better from here onward!

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6. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later

“Scream”, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and a slew of other 90s bubblegum horror flicks ushered in a very lucrative, commercial, and ultimately forgettable era of mainstream teen horror films. What made “Scream” terrific wasn’t ported over to H20 but what every other knock-off at the time did pretty much was. However, H20 was solid and enjoyable with a fresh-faced popular cast. H20 completely jettisons the “Halloween” timeline by pretending installments 4-6 never happened. Thus it follows as a direct sequel to II albeit “20 years later”. It’s worth it for the Laurie Strode-Michael Myers stand off though and it put the exclamation mark on this particular timeline of the series.

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5. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

This is peak-’80s horror franchise film-making. The censors were watching so you have a rather bloodless affair that is shot a bit glammier and acted passably but clearly aimed at the mall crowd. However, “Return” is enjoyable and seemed on the verge of actually surprising and prepped to give an exciting new direction to the series with the narrative (and twist) on Myers’ niece Jamie. However, everything that could have been great about 4 for the franchise was quickly undone in a truly atrocious follow-up.

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4. Halloween (2007)

Here’s another one many didn’t like—but I actually really enjoy Rob Zombie’s re-interpretation of “Halloween”. I think Zombie is a creative (if often derivative) director who has made some terrifying work. “Halloween” (2007) is second only to “The Devil’s Rejects” in his cannon. Many fans of the original series disliked this version because it explained too much—we get a grounding in “reality” for everything that was left mysterious in the first film. We get psychological exploration of Michael Myers, an origin story and an extensive background that “humanizes” the Shape. However, if it had been a shot for shot remake (e.g. the “Psycho” remake) it would have been pointless. Instead we get an original film that is disturbing, fast-paced, scary, and visually stunning.

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3. Halloween II (1981)

Taking place in the immediate wake of the first film (the same night!), Halloween II upped the body count and gore and followed through the Myers-Strode storyline for the night “he came back” to it’s culmination. Everything that worked in part one works in part two and though it’s not as original the second time around it does serve as a satisfying horror film and is worth a double-feature most Halloweens.

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2. Halloween III: Season of the Witch

A lot of people initially didn’t care for the third installment of Halloween—and many probably still don’t. “Season of the Witch” isn’t a Michael Myers film at all despite bearing the franchise moniker. After all had (thought to have) been said on Myers as a character by the end of the second film the idea was to use the franchise banner to present a new tale of terror each year in an annual anthology. “Season of the Witch” was the one and only such installment before the hard detour back to Michael in the following installment. However, just judging films by their own merits there’s no denying the quality of this one. This tale of technology, Halloween (the holiday) and “haunted” masks is a winner. It’s the best film in the series after the first. The soundtrack is great, the setting is creative, the story is cool. It’s an under-rated ’80s horror classic with a genuinely creepy ending.

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1. Halloween (1978)

John Carpenter’s original “Halloween” is one of the greatest horror films of all time and set the template for every American slasher film that would follow. Carpenter makes unique movies that evoke a definite style and feel that is wholly his own—yes “Halloween” borrowed from predecessors especially Italian horror films but what makes it his own is the soundtrack he composed and the vision he provides with every camera choice he makes. He also got a terrific cast for this film. This movie was terrifying for what it didn’t show as much as it was for what it did show and even more for what it did not explain (or need to). If you came to Halloween late after years of more gorier derivative fair it likely didn’t have the impact on you that it did for previous generations. It also is certainly not without fault—Loomis’ doomy declarations of danger are certainly hokey if you don’t give yourself over to the film and appreciate the greatness of Donald Pleasance. But if you’re a fan of horror this one is a must-see at least once a year and it retains a sense of fright, fun, excitement and nostalgia (it was nostalgic even when it first came out in the purposeful tranquility and design of the town’s sidewalks and atmosphere) that are unmatched elsewhere.

 

 

This is the second of these installments. If you’d like to read my rankings of the Friday the 13th franchise click here and if for some reason you want to read my long-winded prologue as to why/when I started doing these feel free to click here.

I googled “A Nightmare on Elm Street” to check the date on the remake and saw a slew of “Nightmares ranked” posts from Buzzfeed to Nerdist and everything in between. I didn’t read any of them and as far as I know I’ve never read one before but I’ll check some of them out after I post this to see how my picks compare with others. As with Friday, if you disagree with my order that’s cool. I’ll be doing these lists with other horror franchises over the next few months as well as horror directors and certain adaptations, notes, etc.

Re-watching the Elm Street franchise after the Friday films revealed a few things. Though I loved Freddy as a kid/teen (“Freddy’s Dead” was one of the first R-rated horror films I ever saw and I loved it) the series has aged a bit worse than Friday particularly with the effects but also in some of the installments with the villain. Wes Craven came up with one of the most terrifying villain concepts ever—a child-killer with home-made knife gloves who worked as a school janitor that was burnt alive by the town parents only to come back as a dream demon who can kill you in your sleep—good lord, that is the stuff of nightmares)—but the character got more accessible and caricaturist with every installment. That said, there are still some good films in the batch and horror fans who came of age in the 1980s and ’90s will always be Krueger fans (or “ [his] children now”).

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9) A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

I would say it was pointless but I do in fact see the point of trying to update and remake Elm Street for a new generation with modern effects and solid acting. The Friday remake was actually pretty good (in my opinion). However, this one was terrible. It’s possibly the worst horror remake of the last 20 years. What a wasted opportunity.

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8) Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (part 6)

So this introduced me to Freddy and in some ways horror films…but my recent revisit of the film revealed that this did not age particularly wel at all. I find it especially funny that it was set in the future but everything in that future was concretely rooted in early 1990s technology and culture…for example the power-glove super Freddy? You do get some early Goo Goo Dolls on the soundtrack to remind you they were a hard rock act once. The timeless past of the dream demons prior to Freddy are played with a bit but the effects don’t do the concept justice. There are some solid scenes and it’s not a complete waste of a watch as I’ll likely give it additional views in the future, it’s just not the best of the series and Freddy is at his most ridiculous here (“wicked witch of the west”ing it?).

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7) A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
This one is hilarious and unique. You have an over the top male as the final girl and a metric ton of gay-subtext which the writer and director admitted as intentional later. You have some truly weird dream sequences. You have a lot of odd character choices and horrible (yet funny) dialogue. Then there’s the idea of Freddy needing to possess the protagonist and use him to come back, an idea not quite revisited later. You have an ending that just ends without being resolved in the follow-up. But you also have some dark, scary Freddy appearances—scarier than he would be in any of the follow ups other than “New Nightmare”. It is actually a solid movie and I can see how this one has garnered a cult following.

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6) A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child

Alice is perhaps a better protagonist than Nancy and here she makes her second appearance—and she’s tough. She fights back and fights hard. There are some of the best dream sequence effects of the series in this one and it may be the most under-rated film of the series.
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5) A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

Alice makes her first appearance and the story propels nicely forward from the extremely successful (and fan favorite) “Dream Warriors” predecessor. Dream Master and Dream Child fill in some Krueger history and chronology, feature a great protagonist and decent supporting cast and work very well as a double-bill. Solid 1980s horror installments done right.

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4) Freddy vs. Jason

Fans waited so long for this movie. For the most part it always seemed like a pipe dream that wouldn’t ever really come to fruition until it actually did. So after that infamous Freddy glove made its appearance in “Jason Goes to Hell” speculation about what the movie might entail went on for years—as such, nothing would live up to that anticipation. What did come out though was thoroughly entertaining. I didn’t include Freddy vs. Jason in my Friday list because as I said there, it seems much more like a Nightmare movie featuring Jason which it does. This movie basically picks up where “Freddy’s Dead” left off and now that Freddy is “dead” he’s looking to make his entry back into the world via Jason—using Jason to kill and raise the body count and fear on Elm Street so that kids think Freddy is back enough that he can actually come back. The more modern special effects and make-up did wonders for the ultimate battle between these two horror icons and the movie had its share of thrills, laughs, and fun. I still like the idea that at one point they planned two endings to air in different theaters each with a different victor.

 

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3) Wes Craven’s “New Nightmare”

Craven played around with meta-narratives quite a bit, most strongly here and later in Scream. New Nightmare is a blast—audiences get to see most of their favorites from the first film back playing themselves (including/introducing director Craven). Let’s face it, Heather Lagenkamp wasn’t the world’s strongest actress back in the day or later in this one playing herself but it’s still nice to see her back. The visuals were the best they had yet been when this one showed Freddy and he was certainly more frightening than he’d been in almost a decade. Good story through and through.

 

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2) A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Probably the best cast (Laurence Fishburne), best lines (“Welcome to prime time…”), and some of the best visuals (Freddy the puppeteer) the series had. The soundtrack was solid as well, so there’s little wonder why this is many fans favorite of them all. Freddy also made a definite move to wiseass mischief maker who dished out comic relief and one-liners though which set the tone for every appearance he made afterwards (until New Nightmare). But this one works by pretty much every count: bringing back Nancy for a bit, expanding on the mythology, and squaring Freddy off against a group of quality adversaries.

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1) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

In this instance (contrary to Friday) the original is by far the best of the batch. Wes Craven came up with a truly terrifying concept that was original and provided a twist on the slasher genre much different than what anyone else was doing. He assembled a mostly top-notch cast, shot it with the best effects he could muster (and there are really only 1-2 instances where said effects are overly dated), and gave horror fans a creative, unique, and original experience. The bath tub scene, the ceiling drag, the blurring of waking and dreaming life, this one is a true horror classic was truly unmatched by every successive film regardless of how fun those sequels were.

First off—Friday the 13th isn’t high-brow art just in case you’ve never seen it and were wondering. Let’s go ahead and acknowledge that this franchise isn’t about creativity or originality so much either while we’re at it. Watch any of the panel discussions and behind-the-scenes pieces on the first film and you’ll hear that producer Sean Cunningham simply saw that Halloween was doing big things at the box office and he wanted to rip it off and rush a film to theaters to strike while the iron was hot. Like Halloween (and all other 1980s slasher films) Friday the 13th stylistically and thematically owes a great deal to “higher” art of previous Italian horror and giallo pictures. But Friday was huge—it printed money and brought in crowds in droves for what was a modestly produced work yielding tons of cash. So then you had a string of sequels, some of which (to outsiders) seem to just rehash previous entries and others which do truly bizarre things (Jason in space, Jason in Manhattan). Despite it all, if you were young in the 1980s or ‘90s chances are you saw a Jason film or two fairly early in your horror exploration. If you’re a horror fan, even one with a preference for more “serious” horror films, chances are you have a soft spot for this franchise. It’s fun, it’s over the top, and it still has what it takes to surprise you with a scare. I recently watched the whole franchise from front to back over the span of a month or two. Some I’d seen before, some not for years, some never at all. Kicking off my series of horror film lists and articles I begin here by ranking the Friday films in order of my least favorite to my most favorite. Some observations I made while watching these about horror in general and cultural changes over decades made evident by genre films will be revisited in later articles.

Note—not listed in this ranking is “Freddy vs. Jason” as I view it more as an Elm Street movie featuring Jason than I do a true Friday film. I have included the 2009 remake, however.  Lots of folks have ranked these films prior to me and there are often serious horror-nerd arguments over differences of opinion on order. This is just my personal opinion and taste. If your opinion is different, that’s cool.

 

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11) Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

This is the worst entry in the franchise, period. There are a few entertaining moments, a couple of okay characters, and a few laughs but it’s the most boring of the batch and the problem contrary to what you might think if you haven’t seen it is not that they pull Jason out of his natural environment and throw him in one of the busiest sections of city in the world—it’s that in contrast to the title itself he’s not really in Manhattan! Well, at least not for long. The first 3/ 4 of the movie takes place on a cruise ship between Crystal Lake and Manhattan. Even after the ship docks in NY it takes even more time to actually make it to Manhattan so in total Jason spends about 10 minutes in Manhattan. There could actually be some good (if silly) story there but it was an opportunity wasted. Don’t even get me started on the “Jason reverts to childhood” effect. But—the heads-off KO was pretty cool.

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10) Jason X

This is the Jason in space movie and you know what? There are some fun things going on in this one. Uber-Jason, the flash-freeze kill scene, and the guest spot by David Cronenberg in particular. The plot is ridiculous and over the top but so what, it (mostly) works. There are some slow segments, several weak characters, and a complete disconnect with every other Friday movie to its fault though.

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9) Friday the 13th Part III

Some hold the first 4 films as the cream of the crop, even as horror classics. They are the “human” era Jason movies and all of the major ingredients are in place by III: stalking killer Jason, Camp Crystal Lake, counsellors, mayhem. This is also the one where Jason grabs his famous hockey mask and adorns it for the first time. All that said, this one had some of the weakest characters, silliest gags, and slowest parts. It was also “3D” in the old-school sense. It doesn’t work quite as well as the films surrounding it.

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8) Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning

Spoiler alert—the one without Jason. Who knows if this was to signal an entirely new direction or not but after the fact Jason was back in the follow-up. Despite no “real” Jason, this movie has its fair share of shocks, scares, and other such ‘80s slasher fare. Commentary from the director suggests the sexuality was much more troubling to the MPAA censors than the violence and as such it’s probably the goriest of the Friday movies until the censors stopped caring in “Jason Goes to Hell”.

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7) Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (pt. IX)

So a lot of people hate this one as it does mess with the mythology of Jason in ways never hinted at (or revisited) elsewhere. Some like it only for the exploding Jason at the beginning or the Freddy glove reveal at the end. The entire thing is entertaining though if you just roll with it and it has some of the best effects of the entire franchise. Jason possessing others as a force of evil is entertaining.

 

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6) Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood

This one is the “Jason versus the teen psychic who can raise her surprisingly un-rotted long dead father” one. There are funny moments in this one, a solid cast, and a surprisingly tense showdown with a final girl that fights back. Not to mention a rotten mask-less Jason in full-on battle mode.

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5) Friday the 13th (2009)

Largely hated by the hardcore fans of the original franchise, I say the 2009 remake worked surprisingly well, better by far than most of the ‘00s remakes (Nightmare, Last House, etc.). This one is basically a cliffs note version of the first 3 films updated for a new generation. Sure most of the characters are annoying though I think the final girl and the older brother looking for his lost sister both work just fine.

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4) Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives

 Jason lives–that he does I guess. This one is a fan favorite for good reasons. Jason brought back to life by lightning—bigger, rotting, tougher, cooler looking than ever—facing off with the only major adversary he ever had (Tommy Jarvis). Great shots, music, and solid acting with cool effects make this one of the best Friday movies in the canon. 

 

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3) Friday the 13th IV: The Final Chapter

They really meant to kill Jason in this one (maybe). This is with Corey Feldman as a (surprisingly un-annoying) child adversary fighting off (and ultimately “killing”) Jason.

What Friday fan can forget the gruesome eye socket slide of Jason to his “death” or Tommy’s psycho gaze in the hospital?

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2) Friday the 13th (1980)

So the original is not listed as my favorite. This is very rare for any series as you quite often get diminishing returns with each successive film in any series no matter how entertaining but for Friday I actually prefer the first sequel to the original (more on that below). The first one though—this is a genuinely entertaining slasher that was also a mystery of sorts in its time as the killer reveal wasn’t made until the end. There’s some acting chops on full display with Mrs. Vorhees in particular as she seeks her psychotic revenge. Not the best slasher of all time but one well worth watching a few times. The atmosphere of the entire series is at its best in the original and the final 10-12 minutes are among the most entertaining in slasher horror history.

 

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1) Friday the 13th Part Two

 What else can I say? Potato-sack masked Jason is the scariest of the bunch for me. This movie has everything an ‘80s slasher film needs. Jason is legitimately scary in this movie making his first adult (or arguably “real”) appearance. He’s a bit crafty, plotting, agile, and human. What’s not to love? There’s the revenge on the first movie’s final girl in the opening sequence. There’s Jason lying in wait and creepily rising off the bed to stalk his unsuspecting victim. Creepiest of all, there’s Jason with his macabre alter to his late mother. This is the best film of the franchise and the most traditionally “horror” of the batch. Jason would never be as scary as he was in this one and the story would never get better no matter how much more complex the successive scripts strove to be.