Roid Rage Part 5 (Conan the Barbarian, 2011)

Conan_the_Barbarian_2011_PosterAfter the attempt to (kind of) expand the Conan Universe with Red Sonja in 1985 fell short of expectations, the Conan Franchise went silent on the silver screen. While barbarians and fantasy seemed to have a fanbase on television throughout the 90’s, it was not until Game of Thrones that people seemed to feel like the genre of sword and sorcery could be revived.

Stepping into the loincloth of Conan was Game of Thrones star Jason Momoa.  This film begins a bit more dramatically.  We are treated to a narration by God (an uncredited Morgan Freeman). The film explains Conan was born of Battle and then makes this wholly literal, as his pregnant mother is fighting at her husbands side.  Upon being mortally wounded, she commands her husband to cut the baby out so she can see him before she dies. So, it is a bit…over the top.  Conan is raised by his father, the chieftain of a tribe dedicated to being powerful and wise warriors. But when their village is overrun by Khalar Zym who is hunting for a piece of a mystical artifact that Conan’s father has kept hidden, Conan and his father are tortured.

The movie then jumps ahead to a grown Conan living the lifestyle of adventurer. He finds himself drawn back into the fight to end the dark plans of Zym, who, along with his daughter Marique, seeks revenge on the world for the loss of his wife.  They are seeking a pure blooded virgin for their special sacrifice. This turns out to be Tamara, whom Conan saves, forcing a battle of wills.

This Conan is a bit different from the Schwarzenegger version.  Momoa is a leaner and more verbal Conan.  This is actually more in line with Howard’s writings.  The massive musculature we associate with the character was a development of Fantasy artists and the 1982 and 1984 films.

They are clearly trying to touch on all the versions of Conan.  There are hints of the comics, the TV shows and films.  Here Conan is a more skilled warrior.  His father emphasizes the importance of the mind as a major component of the warrior.

Momoa is certainly entertaining as Conan.  But the story is rather lackluster.  Stephen Lang brings more to his role than seems to have been in the script.  And Rose McGowan is fairly creepy as Marique.

Tamara is a problem for the film though.  There is little for her to be, beyond a damsel in distress.  She spends a good chunk of the final action tied up, and contributes little to the resolution of the film.

Conan the Barbarian is uneven, and this results in a lot of it just not keeping one’s attention. We are left with a rather average film, rather than an epic barbarian adventure.

Let’s Visit Texas Part 5 (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 2003)

texas_chainsaw_massacre_2003_posterPeople stopped trying to make sequels and the franchise looked to be quietly slipping into history.  Then, in the early 2000’s Michael Bay formed Platinum Dunes and purchased the rights to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Instead of going the sequel route, Bay opted for a remake.  This was also a reboot of the franchise.  The film was still set in 70’s and featured a young CW TV type of cast…before the CW existed.

The film opens with the same basic narration of the original (with John Laroquette reprising his role as narrator-which is a fun reference to the original) before introducing us to a group of friends on a road trip.  They pick up a hitchhiker (much like the original), a young woman who seems very traumatized (unlike the original).  She kills herself, which results in the kids looking for help.  They meet local sheriff Hoyt.  He is gruff and seems a bit off, but it is only later the kids realized what danger they are in.

Directed by music video director Marcus Nispel (among his video work?  An Amy Grant video short) the film is definitely stylish.  There are all sorts interesting camera shots (one gruesome shot pulls out from the terrified friends through a head wound an out of the bullet hole of the van’s rear window).   The various citizens of the small Texas Community are all slightly creepy. Every location is unnerving.  The film’s color scheme causes it to feel like it could be filmed in the 70’s, giving a gritty look to the film.  Nispel went on to direct the glossy Friday the 13th reboot a few years later.

Leatherface is big and imposing…and R. Lee Ermey steals a lot of scenes with a character who is like his Full Metal Jacket drill sergeant, but slightly nicer.  Okay, kidding.  Ermey’s Sheriff Hoyt is disturbing and genuinely frightening.

The film’s cast is actually quite good, though the central young women are overly sexualized (not a big surprise from a Bay production).  The film lingers especially on shots of Jessica Biel in her midriff top (well, technically, Erika Leerhsen is in less).

This is one of those remakes that manages to be pretty decent in it’s own right.  It manages to take the things that matter from the original while choosing to tell it’s own version of the story.  After the first two films, this is probably the strongest entry in the franchise.

Let’s Go Camping Part 11 (Friday the 13th, 2009)

friday-the-13th-remake-poster2009 one of those reboots, much like 2010’s Nightmare on Elm Street.  And, to an extent, you know…maybe a franchise should get a fresh reboot every few years.  But the only fresh thing about the 2009 reboot of Friday the 13th?  They compressed the entire first film into a two minute opening sequence.  It follows the basic trajectory of  a Jason based movie.  No new take.  Just more CW actors, lots of gratuitous nudity of the female variety (unlike the Nightmare reboot, girls drop their tops for things like wake boarding).

Sure, the violence is slicker, the kills a bit more over the top.  But the story is no stronger, the humor falls slatt-uh-flatter…

In rebooting, they basically follow exact same formula.  Campers go out and party, stumble on Jason (or vice versa) and mayhem follows.  It’s the same old story.  Well, except, there are now underground tunnels.

Jason is “smarter” in this film, seeming to make plans and set traps. So, there is that.  The teens, on the other hand, are a mixed bag.  You have the first totally disposable group.  Jason offs them quickly so as to set up the plot of Jared Padelecki from Supernatural (now both leads from that show have a horror remake under their belts) as a concerned brother looking for his missing sister.

He meets up with a group of kids led by the requisite rich jerk that apparently hangs out with people who hate him-but want to take advantage of his awesome cabin conveniently located right on Camp Crystal Lake.  You have the funny black guy, the desperate virgin Asian guy, the hot free spirit, the hot sensitive girl and the hot sex kitten (who is almost indistinguishable from the hot free spirit), the rebel and the rich jerk.

Jared and the rich jerk do not get along-because Rich Jerks do not care about little things like missing and possibly dead family.  But Rich Jerk’s girlfriend-the hot sensitive girl- takes pity on Jared and they go walking through the woods.

Jason has set up shop beneath the old and abandoned camp in tunnels.  Because… why not?  (Real answer: it was a solution by the screenwriters to explain how Jason can just “show up” everywhere)  He has Jared’s sister chained up because…well, we do not really know, there is some indication she looks a lot like Jason’s mom.  So, like any good son, he chains his mother figure up in a cave.  What?  You wouldn’t?

There are a series of random deaths, as Jason works his way through the characters.  Eventually, Jason has whittle the cast down to Jared, Hot Sensitive Girl and Jared’s Sister.  They have a final showdown with Jason and dump him in the lake.  Then it’s time for the Sudden Scare.

The movie never makes any use of it’s potentially interesting aspects.  I mean, why not play around with Jason’s apparent mother fixation on Jared’s sister?  Maybe show Jason trying to be the good but homicidal son?  Not understanding why mommy is displeased with gifts like a human head?

What we are left with is a film that pretty much reinvents the wheel with a glossy finish.  There are kills, weak jokes, predictable jumps points, and zero surprises.  Some of the various sequels took bigger risks than this reboot.

But hey, white supremacist horror movie fans will be relieved to know that non-white people still cannot get out of one of these movies alive.

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