The Phantom Gazette – LouisvilleHalloween.com News
From the original Jaycees WAKY Haunted House to the Baxter Avenue Morgue and beyond, Louisville’s own Lucian Tomes Jr. has seen every horrifying thing the haunt industry has to offer!
Born and raised in Louisville, KY, Lucian Tomes parents told him that if he were born only one month earlier, he would have been born in Eppertshausen, Germany, just a stones’ throw from the Castle Frankenstein ruins where in the late 17th century an alchemist named Johann Conrad Dippel was born and engaged in strange experiments of both alchemy and anatomy. Dippel studied soul transference with cadavers and created Dippel’s Oil, which he claimed to be both the “Elixir of Life” and a tonic that could exorcise demons. Marry Shelley’s infamous 1818 novel is claimed to have been based on the Frankenstein Castle ruins and Dippel’s notorious experiments.
It’s clear that Tomes was conceived in a place of strange and ancient history, and that he has apparently brought much of that dark magic back with him to Louisville, KY.
He isn’t the only one. Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH are the two cities recognized as the birthplace of the modern haunted attraction. The first verifiable charity haunted house, recognized by the Jaycees national office, was the WSAI Haunted House in Cincinnati which operated from Oct. 24-31 in 1970. Shortly thereafter, the Louisville Jaycees created both the WAKY Haunted House and the first Ghost Run, an annual driving game unique to the city of Louisville which would eventually become Danger Run as we know it today.
Louisville has quite a ghastly gaggle of haunt actors that love the scare biz so much that they have dedicated over twenty years of their lives to the cause. Todd Schmidt, for example, started his career as the “chainsaw guy” at the Haunted Hotel in 1991 and worked his way up through Industrial Nightmare and Nightmare Forest. He has gone on to design and build haunts like the Dome of Doom in California and the Paddock of Perils in Pennsylvania. Chainsaw Pete, featured in the Louisville haunt documentary, “Monsters Wanted,” practiced his aggressive chainsaw act for years before landing at the Asylum Haunted Scream Park.
Entering the thirty-eighth year of his career as a haunt actor, Lucian Tomes Jr. is certainly one of the most experienced “lifers” in the Louisville haunted attraction industry. You have likely seen his face on billboards and bus stop ads all across the city as Warren Vanderdark, funeral director at the Baxter Avenue Morgue.
“My first memory of really being scared and becoming fascinated with the feeling is when I saw the Abominable Snow Monster in ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” confesses Tomes. “I grew up in the Tyler Parkway area of the Highlands, and I remember the houses along Windsor Place as my favorite trick-or-treat night adventures.”
“I was 14, going on 15 years old,” says Tomes on his beginnings in the haunt industry, “heavily into monsters, “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine and WDRB-41’s “Fright Night” horror movie program when my dad told me about the Louisville Jaycees and a haunt they were putting on that Halloween.”
“I had already been putting on my own home haunt every Halloween in our front yard and on the porch,” he continues. “I had a Dracula scene and a Frankenstein’s laboratory scene, etc.”
“When I heard about the Jaycees WAKY Haunted House, I went down there to the pre 1976 location at 4th Street and St. Catherine and volunteered my services. For several years I was the Wolf Man at the WAKY Haunted House. I wore an old werewolf mask, a bulky army jacket to make myself look bigger and some furry gloves. I started out as a ‘line actor,’ scaring and entertaining people waiting in line to go in.”
“In those days,” Tomes admits, “haunts were pretty unsophisticated. They were all basically ‘black wall’ haunts. You’d go in and paint all the walls and surfaces black, and your only special effects were strobe lights and maybe a couple of laser lights.”
“The budgets were very, very low,” he continues. “Here’s a funny story: The Louisville Jaycees couldn’t afford a fog machine in those days. Today you can go to Walmart and buy a fog machine, but back then fog machines were things you had to order from the West Coast and they cost about as much as a small car!”
“Anyway, somebody got creative and decided to use a bee keeper smoker as a fog machine. This lasted one night, and everybody working the haunt got sick from the smoker fumes.”
“I saw a lot of strange things at the WAKY Haunted House at the 4th Street and St. Catherine location,” he relates. “One night I was working across the hall from the Phantom of the Opera right next to a stairway that went up a few steps and then back down to the first floor. We heard a ruckus coming down the hallway towards us and we both backed away as this heavy set woman came barreling past us and completely overshot the staircase, plummeting all the way to the bottom. We had to call EMS to come in and get her out.”
“Years later, when the WAKY Haunted House moved to the Spring Street and Story Avenue location,” Tomes responds when I ask him what the weirdest thing he ever saw when working those houses in the early days of the local haunt industry. “I was playing the Wolf Man, as usual, one night when I sprang on a guy who did a complete Lou Costello by turning around, slamming into the wall and knocking himself out cold.”
“There was a story that became legendary involving the guy playing Dracula,” Tomes continues. “This guy went all out. He had a very elaborate make-up, costume and dental fangs. A frightened woman saw him and passed out on the spot. He was a volunteer firefighter, so he picked her up to take her out of the haunt, and took a short cut down a dark stairwell lit only by a red light bulb. Unfortunately, she woke up only to find herself being carried down a creepy stairwell bathed in red light by Count Dracula. She screamed and passed out again!”
Tomes began his career as Warren Vanderdark at the Baxter Avenue Morgue in 2000, performing the introduction scene to the haunt for over a decade, where he also witnessed many strange, maybe even paranormal events. “The Syfy reality show, ‘Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files,’ came out and did an investigation of the Baxter Avenue Morgue building, ultimately declaring it haunted,” says Tomes.
“One night I was working the front parlor next to the yellow room with the coffin, and I peeked into the yellow room where I saw a figure with no face wearing a long, white monk’s robe. It drifted from right to left in front of the coffin and then disappeared into a small dot of light like an old tube TV turning off,” says Tomes. “I wasn’t the only one who saw it. Several others saw the exact same figure during the same night in different parts of the Morgue.”
With over a decade of notoriety at the Morgue, his face adorning billboards across the city, I wondered if he was often recognized in public at the supermarket or in restaurants. “Oh yes,” he admits, “once I was working a part time job at Blockbuster Video when this girl approached me, visibly shivering.”
“It’s you!” she exclaimed.
“I was bagging her rental videos,” Tomes continues, chuckling, “and I just couldn’t resist. I handed her the bag and said, ‘Have a Good Evening, and do be careful when heading home in the darkness.’”
“She ran at full speed out of the store.”
So what does the future hold for Lucian Tomes Jr. as a haunt actor? In a Louisville Halloween exclusive, Tomes has informed us that he has decided to part ways with the Baxter Avenue Morgue and will be playing a new character, a sinister carnival barker, at the 7th Street Haunt for the 2014 Halloween season. He’s also playing the narrator in a new film by director Keith Stoddard (known in horror circles the Don of the Dead) called “Horror Host: The Movie.”
Stay tuned to the Louisville Halloween website, haunt fans, for much more news and reviews coming soon. I’ll be reviewing “The Purge: Anarchy” which opens in theaters this weekend, and in August we’ll be touring some of Louisville’s best haunts to tease new scenes and scares for 2014 haunt season.
Some local haunters have joined forces with Black Cat Fireworks to bring you some 4th of July thrills at Pyro City Fireworks in Clarksville, Indiana!
UPDATE: Here are the Pyro City/Black Cat Louisville tent locations:
1. Shepherdsville Pawn II in Hillview (formerly Sonny Bishop Car Sales): 191 Wilma. Look for the big BLACK CAT Tent.
2. CC Powersports: 327 Centre Drive in Brooks. Right next door to Tumbleweed (make sure you pass the first tent and come all the way down to the end).
3. Metro Auto Spa: 4060 Dixie Hwy in Radcliff.
4. Lee’s Quick Stop (formerly Pop Shop): 12625 Dixie Hwy. (This tent is fountain products only because it is in Jefferson County.)
5. Liquor Palace: 3439 Taylor Blvd. (This tent is also fountain products only because it is in Jefferson County.)
Happy Independence Day weekend, my River City fiends! It’s your favorite patriotic spook, the Phantom of the Ville! If there is one thing I’ve learned over the first three years that I’ve been writing this column, it’s that haunters love to blow stuff up almost as much as they love scaring the pants off of patrons during the haunt season. There must be some part of the brain in all haunters that releases the same pleasure endorphins when they light either jack-o-lanterns or 500 gram fireworks.
There are quite a few local haunters in the July 4th “KABOOM” business.
Ever since I was a kid I’ve known that if you want to get the “good stuff,” anything other than sparklers and cherry bombs, you must cross the river into Indiana. Louisville hosts some of the biggest fireworks spectacles in the country, but if you want to put on a show in your own backyard, you need to go see the pyromaniacs at Pyro City Fireworks (www.pyrocityfireworks.com) at 2227 Koetter Drive in Clarksville, IN 47129 (812)285-1656.
Pyro City Fireworks, which is part of a chain of fireworks retailers owned by the legendary Black Cat Fireworks, is run by a ghostly trio of local haunt owners who all love a good explosion as much as film director Michael Bay. Jason Weber and Jeff Howlett, co-owners and operators of Nightmare Forest, and Mike Kimzey, co-owner and operator of Danger Run, have joined forces to give fireworks fans the most bang for their buck this year.
“Black Cat makes the best fireworks in the business,” says Mike Kimzey, “and they also own a number of other brands that they’re in the process of bringing together under one tent. Next year, everything we stock will be on the Black Cat label. Our direct relationship with Black Cat allows us to give the customer the best price they’re going to find anywhere in the region.”
The big, new product that Black Cat is unveiling this season is called the Diablo, which contains 24 shells that they claim will “send the devil back where he belongs.” Pyro City is selling the Diablo for $79.99 apiece, while the nearest competitor is selling the equivalent in 2-packs for $199, so you can save $40 on the very same package from these seasonal Spookmasters.
One of the biggest assortment packages they’re selling this season is called the Godfather, which is an entire fireworks show in a box. It normally retails for $900, but Pyro City is selling it for $499. You can also win one for FREE! All you have to do is come in and sign up for a chance to win.
Also, they’re giving away lots of extra fireworks depending on how much you intend to purchase. For example, if you bought the Godfather, you would also get one free 500 gram finale cake, a fireworks fiesta kit and a Black Cat t-shirt. FREE extra fireworks start at only $100 spent in store. Check the store for further details.
In recent years, I’ve noticed the connection between the Halloween business and the fireworks business has continued to get stronger. Fireworks packaging and labeling is splattered with zombies, demons, devils, haunted houses and spectral fiends. As I went up and down the aisles, I took a few pictures of some of the monstrous, carnival-style art adorning the packaging of colorful artillery.
Of course, if you want sparklers for the kids, Pyro City has all that kind of stuff too. You can find rockets with parachutes, black snakes and one of my childhood favorites, pull string smoke bomb grenades! How I loved smoke bomb grenades!
No matter how big or small of a fireworks show you plan to put on this weekend, whether it’s just a few sparklers or Thunder Over My Backyard, please be safe and follow the safety rules printed on the packaging. The Spookmasters at Pyro City want all of you to have a safe and fun Independence Day so they can scare you to death in October.
Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay Waterpark are now back under local ownership with some new thrills to chill your bones during the heat of summer, but the Kentucky Fairgrounds also holds a haunted secret from our colonial past that very few theme park visitors are aware of!
Summer is here and Kentucky Kingdom has returned from the theme park graveyard with a fresh coat of paint and some new multi-million dollar attractions. As much as I loved having an abandoned amusement park sitting in the middle of the Ville (where I liked to imagine the Funland Robot from “Scooby Doo Where Are You?” running amok night after night), it’s a much greater pleasure to know that the park is back under local ownership.
Long Live King Louie!
This week I took my first seasonal trip to the newly refurbished park to get a peek at the new Lightning Run roller coaster and some of the other new additions to the park. I also stopped by the nearly 200 year old, haunted cemetery on the property.
What? You didn’t know there was a haunted, Civil War era cemetery right next to Kentucky Kingdom in the middle of the lot used for the Thrillway during the Kentucky State Fair?
It’s true, and you can see it for yourself. When you reach the front gates of Kentucky Kingdom, go to the far right end where the Season Pass Processing area is located. Just fifty yards east through the parking lot you’ll find the gates of the Oldham Family Cemetery.
During the Civil War, the area that now makes up the Kentucky State Fair and Exposition Center was owned by the Samuel Oldham Plantation. It was called “Fair Hope” Plantation. The first grave you’ll encounter as you enter the cemetery gates is marked the “Oldham Family Cemetery,” which claims to hold the grave of “Samuel Oldham, Revolutionary War Patriot, 31 October 1779 – 31 January 1833” and his wife, “Ann Lipscomb Oldham, 17 November 1755 – 27 April 1822.” That’s right, Sam Oldham was born on Halloween!
As part of his last will and testament, Samuel Oldham stated that two acres should be “set aside forever in trust as a burial site for all the white and black members of his family.” The Oldham family were pre-abolition slave owners, so according to the document, both family members and slaves are buried on the property. The State of Kentucky has determined that Oldham’s definition of “forever” means literally forever, and so the cemetery has been declared an Exempt Cemetery, meaning that it’s illegal to change, move or encroach upon the land there.
It’s an interesting enough bit of historical curiosity to know that a Civil War era graveyard exists close enough to Kentucky Kingdom that you can hear the screams of thrill riders from the cemetery, but according to a 2006 Courier-Journal article by Byron Crawford, it’s also haunted!
There are names of quite a few young children on the crumbling gravestones amid the lot, and according to Fairgrounds workers and grounds people, some of them might still be hanging around. A grounds keeper named Tom Lee, who has since passed away himself, claimed to have heard a baby crying in the cemetery and then saw the spectral child himself.
He said it was “wearing a long christening gown with a bonnet on,” and that it was hovering above the ground. Then he said it floated towards a stone, which it appeared to pass right through before it stopped crying and disappeared. Longtime grounds maintenance supervisor, Dennis Thorpe, confirmed the story and said that he also has heard the disembodied cries of a child coming from the graveyard.
Other ghostly stories of an older man wearing a long coat and a fedora that disappears into thin air have been reported on numerous occasions in the Fairgrounds’ greenhouses across the other side of Interstate 65.
I heard no cries myself on a steamy hot afternoon this week when I stopped by to pay my respects. The only sounds I heard were the screams coming from Lightning Run inside the park. My goal for the afternoon was to check out the new park and experience the new steel coaster for myself.
As a longtime fan of magic and illusion, no one should know better than me that looks can often be deceiving. It’s a lesson I got a refresher course in as I approached the entryway for Lightning Run. My first impressions were that it didn’t really look that big or seem to be traveling all that fast. I was confident that I would easily conquer the blue hills, twists and turns of Lightning Run without much of a shock to my system. As soon as we crested the first hill, all of my false bravado disappeared like the ghost baby in the Oldham Family Cemetery.
Lightning Run is much, much more intense than it appears. This steel blue beast is not to be taken lightly! In fact, it delivers more “air time,” that zero gravity feeling of weightlessness that makes you feel like you’re floating out of your seat, than just about any coaster I have ever ridden. Louisville is lucky to have such a brilliant new thrill machine.
I was also fairly impressed with how nice the rest of the park looks in its reopening season. The waterpark is nearly double its original size. From the top of the Giant Wheel at 150 feet I looked across Hurricane Bay and realized that one of the new water slides, Deep Water Dive, actually stood about 20 feet higher than the Giant Wheel, with a 70 degree drop angle. No thank you!
I was glad to see that someone captured a giant great white shark and hung it up for everyone to take photos with as you enter the Family Wave Lagoon. I would hate to think that thing was still swimming around in there!
It’s a great gesture on the part of the park owners that drink stations are set up across the park where, if you have a Season Pass (and there’s no reason you shouldn’t!), you can get a soft drink for only one dollar. It’s also really nice that all the water fountains near the restrooms have a contraption where you can fill up an empty bottle with cold water. It’s important to stay hydrated on hot summer days.
There’s a nice area of rides for small children, some of which are still being completed, like the Tea Cups ride I took a photo of. This year they also have a live sea lion show featuring rescued sea lions and a 5D theater featuring a condensed version of the animated children’s film, “Rio,” with moving seats that make you feel like you’re part of the movie.
So if you’re planning to visit Kentucky Kingdom this summer, enjoy Lightning Run and all the new attractions, but as you’re leaving for home in the evening when things are starting to quiet down, perk up your ears. Is that crying baby you hear coming from a tired infant who has been playing in the park all afternoon or is that crying coming from somewhere else?
Louisville Squatchers and beer lovers take heed! A new expedition called the “Jeffersonville Craft Crawl” is heading out from the Big Four Bridge in search of the legendary Red Yeti!
Ahoy, my landlocked Louisville friends, it’s the Phantom of the Ville calling out from the Big Four Bridge overlooking the murky depths of the Ohio River. In case you hadn’t heard, the Jeffersonville ramp is now open, allowing all us ghouls and ghosts in the Ville to creep right on over and haunt the unsuspecting streets of Jeffersonville.
This weekend I made the journey across the river in search of a legendary beast that Native Americans called Red Sasquatch, known today by the locals as Red Yeti. Back here in the Ville, we have our own mythological creature known as the Pope Lick Monster that lurks near the Pope Lick railroad trestle in Jeffersontown. In Jeffersonville, IN they also have a woolly crypto-creature that lurks near the former six-span railroad truss bridge known as the Big Four Bridge.
The Red Yeti is real. I found him, and he goes by the name of Paul Ronau. Ronau is the owner of the Red Yeti Brewing Company located at 256 Spring Street in Jeffersonville, IN. Red Yeti is a brand new restaurant and brewpub located less than a block from where the Big Four Bridge exits into Jeffersonville. Just look for the furry red Bigfoot logo wearing sunglasses.
“I am the Red Yeti,” says Ronau. “It’s a nickname that came from my time in the army that just stuck. When the drill sergeant would make me do pushups, my face would turn blood red and that, along with my red hair, earned me the name Red Yeti.”
“I’ve always been called Red,” he continues. “My Dad, who was a little guy by the way, was Big Red. I was Little Red. Later, when I used to play a lot of online videogames, I always used Red Yeti as my call sign.”
Originally from Sacramento, CA, Ronau has worked in the IT department for UPS since 2003, during which time he has developed a passion for microbrews that has finally led him to create his own microbrewery. “I’ve got five three-barrel fermenters with which I can make up to five different brews at any given time,” he says.
“I’m just waiting for the TTB (The Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) to sort out my paperwork before I can start brewing and selling my own brand of Red Yeti brews,” admits Ronau. Right now, you can choose from as many as 10 different microbrews on tap every day while you enjoy lunch and/or dinner in the dining area or outside on the patio.
“My wife is the fulltime manger here and we’ve hired an excellent chef, Michael Bowe, to make everything we serve from scratch,” says Ronau. “Michael is formerly of Z’s Oyster Bar and Steakhouse, and he has already created an amazing menu that includes our brisket sandwich, buttermilk fried chicken and smoked pork belly.”
“I’d also like to mention our head bartender, Tabby Hurst, who is the secret weapon that makes everything work around here,” says Ronau. “She’s like a ball of energy. I don’t know what we would do without her!”
“This is an amazing little area for beer lovers,” says Ronau about the several blocks of businesses surrounding Spring Street. “I call it the Jeffersonville Craft Crawl. You can get 50 different craft brews within just a two block area surrounding the Red Yeti.”
So what is the Red Yeti’s favorite beer? “Well, you can’t get it here. It’s from a microbrewery in California called Bear Republic. It’s called Racer 5 IPA. That’s maybe the best beer I’ve ever had.”
Right next door to the Red Yeti, you’ll find one of our favorite places in the Kentuckiana area, Horner Novelty (http://www.louisvillehalloween.com/the-haunted-history-of-horner-novelty/), where you can get a taste of Halloween any time of year in their Dark Room! Just down the street you’ll also find the best candy store in the region, Schimpff’s Confectionary (http://www.louisvillehalloween.com/schimpffs-the-best-halloween-candy-in-the-region/). When I passed Schimpff’s this weekend the shop was already closed, but a crowd had gathered by the store’s kitchen window to watch Warren and Jill Schimpff making their famous Red Hots.
So head out across the Big Four Bridge on the “Jeffersonville Craft Crawl” on your own Red Yeti expedition, and don’t forget to post here about your experience.
The Phantom of the Ville gives a golden hockey mask to the best and takes a machete to the worst of the entire “Friday the 13th” franchise.
Happy Friday the 13th, my River City fiends, it’s the Phantom of the Ville checking in from my secret crypt in Cave Hill Cemetery with a look at the entire film franchise for which this unlucky day was named. As a young horror fan, I was often annoyed that the professional film critics of the day spit their collective venom at all the “Friday the 13th” movies with equal bile and contempt, when as true fans of the genre, we all knew some of the movies were much better than others.
The following rankings of this bloody and much beloved B-movie franchise are only the opinion of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the larger Louisville Halloween crew. As far as credibility is concerned, I can only tell you honestly that I have seen every single “Friday the 13th” sequel, spinoff and reboot during its original theatrical release and have watched each and every one of them multiple times on cable, VHS, laserdisc and DVD over the years.
The original “Friday the 13th” (1980) was only the second R-rated film I managed to talk my parents into letting me see while it was still playing in theaters. The first was “Alien” just a year earlier. I’m a die hard Jason Voorhees fan, and for better or worse, I will go to the theater to see whatever the franchise owners have in store for our hockey mask wearing antihero in the future (even if it does turn out to be another “found footage” reboot).
Let’s start by wiping all the blood, guts and dirt off the bottom of the machete first and work our way towards the sparkling, shinning edge of the blade. Ki ki ki, ma ma ma—
12) “Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday” (1993): I hate this movie. I really, really hate this movie. In fact, I originally thought another series entry was going to come in last when I started compiling this list, but the more I thought about it, the more it became clear that “Jason Goes to Hell” can go straight to Hell itself. Apparently the screenwriters thought they were being particularly clever by abandoning everything we know about Jason Voorhees up to this point and suddenly making him a body swapping alien slug, a device probably borrowed from a forgotten little sci-fi film called “The Hidden” (1987), but they clearly forgot that fans like to have Jason in his rotting, hockey mask wearing body as the star of his own film and not a rotating cast of possessed character actors. Nothing in this piece of crap makes one bit of sense, and I really, really hate it.
11) “Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning” (1985): I know that this sequel has its defenders, and I can respect that, but I remember it as a major disappointment in the theater and still don’t care much for it today. With Jason finally killed beyond any reasonable doubt in the previous film, the producers decided to play up the mystery angle of who was wearing the hockey mask this time (the only time the mask ever had BLUE stripes!), and the result was like a gory episode of “Scooby Doo.” If this sequel didn’t exist, it wouldn’t really matter.
10) “Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan” (1989): This sequel still takes the brunt of fan disappointment for pulling the biggest bait and switch of the entire series. After presenting fans with one of the best (and funniest) teaser trailers for any sequel in the franchise set to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” the movie itself delivers three fourths of its running time aboard a dingy cruise ship before arriving in Vancouver! The idea of taking Jason out of his natural environment in Camp Crystal Lake and placing him in the Big Apple was a novel one, but budgetary constraints forced the production to shoot in Canada, which doubled for NYC, and only around 60 seconds of footage was actually shot in Times Square. “Jason Takes Manhattan” is the true definition of a rip-off!
9) “Jason X” (2001): Both the biggest budget film in the franchise and the lowest earner at the box-office, “Jason X” is often cited as the nadir of the series. After taking Jason to the big city and the gates of Hell itself, I suppose the only place left to go was outer space, so it was off to the final frontier for old Jason who ultimately gets an upgrade to the Terminator-esque, Uber Jason. As supremely silly as the premise is, I actually think “Jason X” is sort of fun. It plays like an episode of “Star Trek” gone wrong. The holodeck version of Camp Crystal Lake at the end generates some genuine laughs. In the end, however, it fails to do the one thing horror fans expect a horror film to do; be scary. Anyone can relate to the fear of being away at Summer Camp or camping in the woods at night. Very few folks can relate to being trapped on a spaceship.
8) “Friday the 13th” (2009): This reboot of the franchise cycles through some of the best bits of the original film, “Friday the 13th Part 2” (1981) and “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” (1984) while updating Jason Voorhees to a more athletic hunter who has learned to live off the land. The best thing I can say about it is that it’s not terrible. It takes a very, very simple premise and doesn’t monkey around with it too much. Kids go into the woods. Jason emerges from the mists of legend and the killing begins. Slick production values and above average acting boosts a mostly forgettable franchise place holder.
7) “Freddy VS Jason” (2003): This comic book style smack down between the two greatest 80’s horror icons delivers what it promises in a bloody and energetic final duel to the death, but the road to the main attraction is as bad as some of the worst “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” sequels. In a lot of ways, “Freddy VS Jason” feels more like an “Elm Street” movie than a “Friday the 13th” movie, and a lot of this probably has to do with the great Robert Englund reprising his role as Freddy Krueger while the current “Friday” series regular, Kane Hodder, was unfortunately replaced by Ken Kirzinger. While Kirzinger is physically fine in the role, I think this film would rank higher in the hearts of fans if Hodder and Englund were allowed to face off as God intended!
6) “Friday the 13th Part III 3-D” (1982): For all you kids out there who grew up watching this sequel in two dimensions on VHS, let me be the first to tell you that you didn’t miss a thing. I saw it theatrically in 3-D in 1982 and it looked terrible! You saved yourself a migraine headache. In “Friday the 13th” lore, this is the film where Jason first gets his hockey mask, so it has that going for it. It also opens with an amazing disco version of Harry Manfredini’s nerve jangling theme. Other than that, I’ve always felt that “Part III” was a pretty run of mill entry in the series.
5) “Friday the 13th” (1980): Here is where I’m likely to lose some hardcore “Friday the 13th” aficionados by not immediately placing the original film in the top slot, but I honestly don’t think it merits that reputation. Sean Cunnigham’s original camp counselor bloodbath was clearly inspired by some of the popular Italian Giallo murder mysteries of the time, Mario Bava’s “A Bay of Blood” (1971) in particular. Here, however, the mystery of who is killing the teens at Camp Crystal Lake is unsolvable to the audience because, in spite of delivering red herrings throughout, the murderous villain isn’t introduced until the very last reel. Even though the film certainly had the power to shock audiences back in 1980, by today’s standards it’s actually a bit dull. Still, the final coda delivers one of the greatest unexpected scares in the history of horror cinema.
4) “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” (1988): The cruelest cut delivered in this chapter was not by Jason Voorhees, but by the Motion Picture Association of America who had by this point singled out the “Friday the 13th” series as a blight on civil society and the cause of all youth violence in America. MPAA demands made the filmmakers cut almost every drop of blood just to be granted an R-rating. In spite of having its teeth removed, “The New Blood” delivered a new twist on this now old story by giving Jason a nemesis with supernatural powers that could fight back against his unstoppable carnage. It was a “Carrie VS Jason” concept that included the very best Jason makeup of the entire series by makeup wizard and film director, John Carl Buechler. This entry has grown on me over the years and has eventually moved up several slots on my personal favorites list.
3) “Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI” (1986): With a graveyard stake driven through his rotting, worm-ridden heart and a bolt of lightning from an ominous storm cloud, Jason is brought back to life as a supernatural force in an opening scene straight out of a Universal Studios monster movie from the 1940’s. By this point in the series, the silliness of the whole franchise with its shameless box-office cash grab mentality and indestructible villain had become a strain on even the most devoted fan. It was time to have some fun with Jason, and this sequel isn’t worried about whether or not the audience is laughing or screaming as long as they’re in the mood for a ride. From the James Bond spoof in the opening credits to the casting of “Return of the Living Dead” star, Thom Matthews, as Jason’s nemesis, Tommy Jarvis, “Jason Lives” owns its title. This is also the only “Friday the 13th” film to actually have little campers in the cabins when Jason attacks, and they’re pretty funny. One kid asks another one as they hide under their bunk bed, “So, what did you want to be when you grew up?”
2) “Friday the 13th Part 2” (1981): This quickly assembled sequel to the unexpected box-office success of the original film is actually more action packed, more thrilling and scarier than its predecessor, in my opinion. Long live baghead Jason! For some reason, I’ve always though the sight of Jason in a potato sack with one eyehole cut in it was just as terrifying as the hockey mask version. Like “Goldfinger,” which was actually the third James Bond film in the series, it was really this film, and not the original, that set the formula that this franchise would follow for the rest of its days. Amy Steel is one of my favorite “final girls” in any sequel and the coda here packs almost as big of a wallop as the one in the original.
1) “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” (1984): Believe it or not, back in 1984 this really was going to be the end of Jason Voorhees, and the producers brought back practical makeup effects wizard, Tom Savini, who had created all the gore and dismemberment for the first film, to finish the job. To his credit, Savini delivers the best demise for poor Jason of the entire series. Even if “The Final Chapter” didn’t deliver the jaw dropping, head splitting end for Jason Voorhees that it appears to, this single series entry encapsulates everything that I love about “Friday the 13th.” Probably the best ensemble cast the franchise has ever lucked into, “The Final Chapter” delivers a nutty performance from Crispin Glover as a nerd who just wants to get laid and introduces Corey Feldman as Jason’s young nemesis, Tommy Jarvis. Erich Anderson also plays an interesting heroic role in the film as a guy who lost his sister to Jason’s rampage and is actually hunting the hockey mask wearing killer. Only final girl, Kimberly Beck, isn’t particularly memorable, but I’ll let that slide because everything else here is as sharp as the gleaming edge of Jason’s machete.
All of the “Friday the 13th” films are available to rent on Amazon.com and Vudu.com for $2.99 each. Most of them are also available for streaming on Netflix.