Monday, 27 September 2010

HYPNOBOBS 06 - Autumn Ramblings



As the nights are drawing in and the leaves begin to fall, Mr Jim is in an autumnal mood and has been searching his myriad shelves for suitably seasonal poetry...

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Thursday, 23 September 2010

FUNGI FROM YUGGOTH




When considering the question of who was the most influential author of weird fiction in the 20th century, HP Lovecraft is a strong contender for the title. Although during his lifetime he was only appreciated by the readers of pulp magazines such as Weird Tales, however despite this limited exposure HPL was soon forging friendships and corresponding with the likes of Robert Bloch, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Henry Kuttner, Clark Ashton Smith, Carl Jacobi and Frank Belknap Long – a veritable who’s who of the fantastic fiction of the day.

After his death in 1937, his works were reissued in a series of volumes by Arkham House, a small press set up by his friends August Derleth and Donald Wandrei with the express purpose of publishing Lovecraft in book form. Throughout the ‘40s and ‘50s, Lovecraft began regularly appearing in anthologies of weird fiction, and the ‘60s saw his tales being issued in mass market paperbacks. Much like Tolkien, HPL’s fiction was keenly embraced by the blossoming counter culture; the Cthulhu mythos proving as equally alluring as the legends of Middle Earth, but also his vein of cosmic horror, filled with sanity stretching visions of the infinite struck a chord with the generation who had discovered mind expanding drugs and esoteric practises.

And he has never been out of print since, with many big names; Stephen King, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Guillermo Del Toro, HR Giger, Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore to name but a few, citing Lovecraft as major influence and inspiration. And Lovecraft’s creations are everywhere these days, having inspired countless books, comics, films, records and games. Cthulhu and his kin are seemingly manifesting with increased regularity here, there and anywhere – you can even buy cuddly elder gods now. And even if you’ve never heard his name, if you are into genre fiction then you will certainly seen his influence somewhere, usually in the form of tentacled beasts, malign elder gods being reawakened to wreak havoc, or tales of aliens influencing early man.

However although - what is less well known is Lovecraft’s work as a poet. And in fairness this is largely due to the fact that his poetry lacks the individual flair and imagination that has ensured his stories continue to win ever greater numbers of admirers with each passing year. Indeed much of his poetry has little to do with the strange and fantastic; instead we have political satires, seasonal verses, odes to friends and poems written adopting classical styles – only occasionally did he pen verse that falls under shadow of the weird. And as the Old Gentleman himself observed in later life, poetry was not his true metier; like many us he often wrote poetry for his personal reasons rather than to create great art, and in Lovecraft’s case this was to recreate for himself the atmosphere and ethos of the Georgian period – a time in which he felt he would have been more that home than the early decades of the 20th century. As he wrote in 1929 –

“Language, vocabulary, ideas, imagery – everything succumbed to my own intense purpose of thinking & dreaming myself back into the world of periwigs and long s’s which for some odd reason seemed to me the normal world”

(Selected Letters 1925-29 p.314-315)

Although increasingly modern readers do not realise that Lovecraft’s prose was actually somewhat antiquarian in construction for the ‘20s and ‘30s, the bulk of his poetry is clearly archaic, written in forms and styles from the Augustan age, mimicking the verses of Georgian luminaries such as Pope, Goldsmith and Addison.

(Quick aside – it must be noted that this particular era isn’t exactly highly popular among readers of poetry these days; not that the Augustans don’t still have their aficionados or fail to make it into popular anthologies, but they don’t command the same public recognition and affection as the later Romantic Poets. And hence Lovecraft’s adoption of the Georgian styles hasn’t exactly endeared him to poetry readers – many find the original Augustan poets too structured and overly mannered, never mind Lovecraft’s imitations of them.)

Of the poems he produced that don’t hark back to the 18th century, much of the remainder reflect Lovecraft’s other great passion – Edgar Allen Poe. Much of his poetry that may be considered weird verse, echoes of the gothic poetry Poe produced.

However rather tellingly, as his career in prose progresses the less poetry he writes – over three quarters of his poetic output dates from before 1919. Looking at chronoliogies of his writing, it is very clear that as he embraces the short story as a mode of creative expression his poetic output declines sharply. Seemingly as Lovecraft found his own distinctive voice in prose fiction, the need to conjure up in verse the atmosphere of England in the reign of Queen Anne diminishes. And in his stories he was to find a command of imagery and language that his forays into verse rarely achieved. Although his early works clearly show the influence of Poe and another of his favourites Lord Dunsany, he soon develops his own distinctive voice and iconic creations.

But he never entirely gave up on poetry, and was still producing occasional verse and poems for friends up until his final years. And while I generally concur with Stephen King’s remark in Danse Macabre that “the best we can say about his poetry is that he was a competent enough versifier” – damning with faint praise indeed – it must be said that Lovecraft did produce one epic work of verse that deserves to be remembered and more widely appreciated.

Between December 27th 1929 and January 4th 1930, Lovecraft penned a staggering thirty six sonnets, which he arranged into a cycle which he entitled Fungi From Yuggoth - which can be read here. And this was to be his last major poetical work; the handful of poems he produced in the remaining years of his life are largely brief verses and odes for friends. It would appear that Lovecraft hit something of poetic peak with this great torrent of sonnets. And unlike much of his other poetry, he throws away the Augustan rulebooks and sees him adopt a variety of differing styles and voices. Unusually for a man somewhat obsessed with classical forms, his sonnets don’t follow either of the usual sonnet structures, the Shakesperian and the Petrachian. Equally unusually, unlike a lot of his other weird verse, Fungi From Yuggoth doesn’t read like echoes of Poe; these sonnets are pure Lovecraft in tone and theme.



To begin with I should to clear up some confusions about the title. Firstly it has nothing to do with the trans-Plutonian entities, the Mi-go, detailed in his classic tale The Whisperer in the Darkness written later in 1930. Although the Mi-go are also referred to as ‘fungi from Yuggoth’, the title of this cycle comes lines in Sonnet XIV Star Winds -

“this is the hour when moon struck poets know
what fungi sprout in Yuggoth, and what scents
And tints of flowers fill Nithon’s continents”

Several commentators – Wikipedia included – have alleged that these lines appear to be referring to a place or region, rather than as the Cthulhu Mythos name for Pluto which is how Yuggoth is employed in The Whisperer in Darkness. And this has been held up as evidence in the way that Lovecraft would use the same or similar terms in differing contexts and seemingly to refer to different things in several stories – deliberately building in confusions in his own mythology that mirror the contradictions in real world myth and legend.

And undoubtedly, Lovecraft did play these games with the reader – for example the different references and contexts he attaches to the term ‘Old Ones’ in several of his tales. However in this case, scholars making the case for the reference in Star Winds to be a Yuggoth that is a place rather than a planet, are forgetting that an earlier entry in the poem cycle, Sonnet IV - Recognition, clearly states that “I knew this strange grey world was not my own,/But Yuggoth, past the starry void”, which would suggest that Lovecraft was clearly and consistently thinking of Yuggoth as a world in it’s own right while writing these poems. So having addressed the issues of the title, what of the actual cycle itself?

The first three sonnets form a distinct narrative which tells of a man who discovers a curious tome in an old bookstore, a volume of forgotten lore that details how to open “the hidden way” to experience visions and/or travel to through the interstellar void to other worlds and into other dimensions and times. However after this opening trilogy in verse, the narrative stops and the remaining thirty three poems all stand alone.

We get a variety of styles and tones; many are miniature stories. Some like Sonnets XI - The Well and XXVI - The Familiars, are told in a poetic approximation of colloquial speech, spinning tales redolent of New England folk lore, others employ the same vivid poetic phrasing as his Dreamlands tales (XIII - Hesperia and XVIII -The Gardens of Yin), and of course some invoke the creeping horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos canon (XV - Antarktos and XX - Night-Gaunts).

But also among this exercises in micro weird fiction, we have verses detailing strange visions; some revisit lost dreams (XXIII Mirage) and others melancholy whimsy (XXIX - Nostalgia). And also thrown into the mix are verses of a more philosophical bent; for example sonnets like XXVIII - Expectancy and XXX - Background illustrate Lovecraft’s own reasons for writing.

In the introductions and forewords of many collections and anthologies, the following quote appears –

“All my stories, unconnected as they may be, are based on the fundamental lore of legend that this world was at one time inhabited by another ace who, in practicing black magic, lost their foothold and were expelled, yet live on outside ever ready to take possession of this earth”

However scholars have been unable to find a source for this alleged quote, and currently it is believed that this sound bite was actually created by August Derleth, who incidentally also coined the term ‘Cthulhu Mythos’ to describe the shared background lore of places, books and entities that populate many of Lovecraft’s fictions.

Indeed the above quote is hardly accurate of Lovecraft’s canon, and not even apt for his Mythos stories alone . It’s very applicable for The Dunwich Horror but not so much At The Mountains of Madness where the eldritch threats come from beyond the stars. And although best known for his Cthulhu Mythos tales, not all of his canon fits under this umbrella, for example his Dreamlands tales, are concerned with a fantastical world inspired by the work of Lord Dunsany and although some are horror tales, few feature the usual elder gods arising from an aeons long sleep.

As Ramsey Campbell points out in his introduction to his own collection of Lovecraft-inspired tales Cold Print, a better description comes from one of Lovecraft’s own letters. In 1935, HPL remarked –

Nothing is really typical of my efforts… I’m simply casting about for better ways to crystallise and capture certain strong impressions (involving the elements of time, the unknown, cause and effect, fear, scenic and architectural beauty and other ill assorted things) which persist in clamouring for expression”

Not only is this a more helpful and indeed more accurate overview of the premises that underlie all his works, Cthulhu Mythos or not, but it is also a good summary of the themes and motifs presented in Fungi From Yuggoth.

In many ways, this sonnet cycle is like a tour through the different aspects of Lovecraft’s fiction, visiting the varied aesthetics and concepts underpinning his stories. As a whole the cycle is like condensed Lovecraft, and although some of his most famous creations, Cthulhu and Yog Sothoth don’t get a name check, the verses do reflect the core ideas and atmosphere of the stories that do feature them.

Structurally the cycle as a whole is often interpreted as a series of visions or encounters the unnamed narrator of the first three sonnets unleashes from the stolen tome. And this approach does make a certain sense; as Fungi From Yuggoth begins as a narrative, it is only natural that readers expect there is some scheme stretching through the rest of the cycle. Others however see the opening linked verses merely as an introduction or framing device for a random selection of poems lumped together as they were written in the same burst of creativity, or alternatively that Lovecraft had begun the cycle with an idea of a narrative thread that he quickly abandoned.

Indeed in A Subtle Magick – The Writings and Philosophy of HP Lovecraft (Wildside Press, 1996) the high priest of Lovecraft scholarship, ST Joshi claims that “it seems difficult to deny that the dominant feature of this sonnet cycle is utter randomness of tone, mood and import” (p.234). He considers the series of visions approach as “very implausible interpretation” and furthermore discounts any claims to a thematic continuity, arguing that there is no real system to the cycle as just because they share common tropes, as the presence of the same shared elements in his stories do not connect all the stories and novels in his canon into one uber-work. Joshi’s concluding assessment is that Fungi From Yuggoth was an attempt to crystallised a plethora of story seeds and fragments in poetic form as “an imaginative house cleaning” and “a versified commonplace book”.

However I have several problems with this conclusion. Firstly, many writers keep a commonplace book - a tome where stray ideas, quotes and other inspirations are noted down – as indeed Lovecraft did. Furthermore HPL’s commonplace books have the origins of many of the sonnets in them. So quite why he would feel the need to note them again in verse form seems a little perplexing. While it may be argued the cycle was an attempt to give these unused ideas some form of creative expression, I find it difficult to believe that Lovecraft would have no other artistic purpose in mind other than releasing some imaginative pressure.

Secondly Lovecraft paid very close attention to the form and structure of his works. He was a master stylist; choice of spelling, length of phrasing and even the placement of every punctuation mark mattered a great deal to him. He was often greatly annoyed by the edits imposed by the pulp magazine editors; seeing the glosses to his texts as ruining his carefully crafted prose. And somewhat unfortunately until ST Joshi began examining the original manuscripts, no one had realised that the texts printed by Arkham House and subsequent publishers were in fact quite corrupt.

Lovecraft has always had something of a reputation for being difficult reading, partly due to his archaic style and dense verbiage, but when corrected texts were published it was apparent that his prose style that some find somewhat torturous to read, was to a degree due to the editorial amendments by the magazines which resulted in clumsy phrasing where the original punctuation had been changed and often where several sentences were compacted into one.

Sadly many of the editions in book shops are still using the old corrupt texts (see here for details) with only the Arkham House editions and the Penguin Books collections featuring the complete corrected versions compiled by Joshi.

However to get back to Fungi From Yuggoth, the point is I find it difficult to credit that such a meticulous literary craftsman as Lovecraft would just collect together thirty six sonnets without any thought to structural arrangement. Personally I have always favoured the interpretation that after the opening trilogy the rest of the cycle is a kaleidoscope of visions from beyond conjured by the cobwebbed tome. Furthermore I believe there is a definite scheme of links in the arrangement of the verses. If one looks closely at the order of the poems and carefully examine their content – the tone, imagery, and themes featured, it would appear that this trip through Lovecraft’s universe is not quite as random as many have thought it is.

And I shall be looking in depth at this seemingly so far unnoticed continuity in the cycle in a second article. So in the mean time, do read the poems yourself and see what conclusions you can come up with. Is there links betweens the sonnets or it just a wild random ride through Mr Lovecraft’s imagination?

But while the scholars of weird fiction have much debated the orchestration of Fungi From Yuggoth, it would appear that there is something to this arrangement of sonnets that appeals to musicians. As early as 1932, Harold E Farnese, dean of the Los Angeles Institute of Musical Art, wrote to Lovecraft proposing they collaborate on a one act Cthulhoid operetta to be named Fen River and set on Yuggoth. Fungi From Yuggoth had apparently inspired this proposed project, and Farnese have already set two of the sonnets, Mirage (XXIII) and The Elder Pharos (XXVII) to music. Unfortunately this collaboration never happened, and sadly the two compositions Farnese’s wrote appear to have vanished into the ether too.

With the boom of interest in Lovecraft in the ‘60s and ‘70s, unsurprisingly Lovecraft inspired songs and titles began to regular appear, with even folk/psychedelic outfit naming themselves HP Lovecraft. However it wasn’t until the late ‘80s that any of the sonnets from Fungi From Yuggoth appeared in musical form. In 1989, small press publishers Fedogan & Bremer issued a cassette of the complete cycle set to music, and this version of the cycle is easily my favourite of all the many readings of this work available. The narrator John Arthur gives a fantastic performance, adopting different voices and intonations for the readings and the music by Mike Olsen is atmospheric, eerie and beautiful. Although reissued on CD some years later, sadly this work is now out of print, and as Fedogan and Bremer seem to be lost in some administrative limbo it seem unlikely we’ll see it released again any time soon. However you can hear the complete cycle in several parts on Youtube here, and although the sound quality isn’t as high as you’d hope (but it’s better than my oft played and now wobbly sounding cassette*), at least you can hear it. Perhaps we could all write to Arkham House, F&B’s partners and ask for digital download to be made available as it is a real shame this masterful production is languishing in the OOP void.

More recently Jim Clark has recorded another reading of the cycle set to music. Again this can be found on Youtube (here) with some quite strange animations of Lovecraft ‘performing’ the vocals. Also Colin Timothy Gagnon has done a reading set to his own compositions which is available for download here. Plus Greek composer Dionysis Boukouvalas has an ongoing project to set the cycle to music.

More recently though Rhea Tucanae (one of the aliases of electronic artist Dan Söderqvist) has teamed up with Pixyblink to adapt eleven of the sonnets into musical pieces. And the results are quite stunning – after many years the Arthur/Olsen version finally has a rival for my affections. Dark and very evocative, this is a superb LP which had me reaching for the credit card as soon as I heard it - you can hear samples for yourself here. The only downside is that it only comprises of a small portion of the cycle and naturally some favourites aren’t included. But nevertheless this is a fine piece of work and I can only hope a second volume will appear at some point.

I think one of the reasons Fungi from Yuggoth has proved to be so popular with musicians and readers is that there is great variety in the sonnets themselves; they other a diversity of voices and language which inspires performances. Of course there is also the fact that the cycle is a marvellous piece of writing.

And while it’s unlikely anyone is going rank Fungi From Yuggoth above classic works by Keats or T.S. Eliot, it is a very pleasurably read. The simplicity of many of the verse echo in the mind and its gentler verses show a lighter, less doom-laden side to Lovecraft. He may have never had the talent to be regarded a great poet but with Fungi From Yuggoth he did produce a remarkable work of verse. Poetically speaking, the sonnets may be simply, even naively, constructed but that does not detract from the beauty, imagination and atmosphere they conjure.



* If anyone out there can point me in the direction of the CD or a decent rip of it I’d be profoundly grateful!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

HYPNOBOBS 05 - Doctor Who : Ghost Light


In this episode I take a look at perhaps the oddest of all Doctor Who stories, Ghost Light...

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Monday, 6 September 2010

JASON GOES TO HELL - The Final Friday... Honest



There will be spoilers and there will be blood!

It seemed like Jason was finally dead. That ill fated trip to the Big Apple has succeeded where countless cops and final girls had failed and everybody’s favourite psychopathic slaphead was finally resting in pieces. After Friday 13th Part VIII – Jason Takes Manhattan garnered dismal box office returns and a poor reception from even the fans of the series, Paramount had decided enough was enough, and plugged the plug on the ailing saga. It looked like Jason had his room booked in the Famous Monsters Retirement Home, destined to swap stories of the glory days with the Gill Man and other movie creatures whose franchises were long dead.

Years rolled by and just when it seemed like Jason was forever condemned to playing Scrabble with Dr X and giving the similarly recently retired Michael Myers evil looks, rescue came from an unlikely source. New Line Cinema (RIP), the home of Jason’s arch rival, Mr Frederick Krueger, acquired the rights to his character and promptly arranged a reunion with his long lost stepfather Sean S. Cunningham. And needless to say Mrs Voorhees’ little boy was delighted to be heading back to the silver screen.

But there was an air of apprehension surrounding the project. While it was good that Daddy Cunningham was back in the executive producers’ chair overseeing this long overdue resurrection, Jason was a little perplexed by the title. Due to legal wrangles, that he certainly could have sorted out quickly with his trusty machete if they’d only bothered to ask, New Line didn’t actually have the rights to the title ‘Friday 13th’ and so his 1993 return would be titled Jason Goes To Hell – The Final Friday. But that date was his birthday dammit! And what was this ‘final Friday’ business? Was he to be freed only briefly?

Well at the time New Line was keen to acquire the rights to other iconic horror characters; they’d also bagged Leatherface in this period, seemingly keen to set up shop as a modern day house of horrors studio. But the real motivation for getting the rights to Jason was that at long last they could pit him against their boy Freddy. If you recall previous editions in this series of reviews, Friday 13th Part VII – The New Blood was originally planned realise the fanboy dream of seeing Jason and Freddy go head to head. However back then, New Line and Paramount failed to reach an agreement both studios were happy with.

But the dream lived on, and so when the rights to Jason appeared on the market, New Line was quick to snap them up in order to proceed with their plan to stage this epic clash of the terror titans. However as four years had passed since his last slaying spree, it made sense to turn Jason loose again in a solo venture first and hopefully reignite his popularity with the movie going public.

However, while the movie that writer/director Adam Marcus delivered certainly kept the Voorhees name alive, the project somehow ended up missing its target. Aside from the somewhat short sighted aim to finish off the Friday saga, quite why they chose to give us a film that actually delivered very little Jason is something of a mystery.

Recall if you will the general reaction to Friday 13th Part 5 – The New Beginning - despite lots of Jason action, the revelation that the slayings were being perpetrated by a fake still incenses fans to this day. Even though we have a hulk in a hockey mask dishing out the carnage, many still feel it’s a cheat it’s not Jason himself behind the battered face piece.

So then, if you are looking to relaunch Jason’s career the decision to make a movie that only has our deformed antihero at briefly at the beginning and end is a puzzling one. Considering the loud and vociferous fan damnation The New Beginning provoked, it’s surprising no one at New Line said “hang on guys, this making Jason a demonic body hopping slug... Are we sure this is what the fans want?”

Yes, you did read that right. Demonic body hopping slug... But we’ll get to that in a moment.

The movie opens well enough. A pretty college age girl – i.e. typical Jason fodder - is faffing about in a cabin in the woods, with the camera stalking her as she goes about her ablutions. Its classic Friday 13th shenanigans, with the cinematography making it clear to the audience that at some point Jason is going to pop up and dispatch her horribly. It’s very reminiscent of the opening of Friday 13th Part 2 and like that pre-credits sequence even features a spring loaded cat fake out scare. So far, so good.

However when Jason finally does lurch into shot and sets about terrorising his prey, the film throws us the first of many curve-balls. Our favourite masked killer pursues the girl out of the cabin into the woods and then is spectacularly ambushed by the FBI. Jason steps into a clearing and is riddled with a barrage of bullets and finally taken down with high explosives. Legally speaking, I believe this is what they refer to as 'terminated with extreme prejudice'...

Now it’s a fabulous sequence but by the time the credit roll our villain is literally in pieces. No doubt some of the original patrons of the movie would have been sat in the dark of the theatre wondering if the projectionist had had the ultimate visit from Mr Cock-up and shown the final reel first. So far Jason had risen from the dead at least twice and recovered from seemingly fatal wounds many times, but literally pulling himself together from a bin liner full of bloody kibble was a lot to expect, even given the notorious physical resilience of slasher killers.

How were Adam Marcus and co. going to get out of this plot corner? Well in a scene that is both creepy and downright bizarre, the coroner conducting the autopsy on Jason’s remains sees his blackened heart begin beating and then promptly is drawn to devour the reanimated organ. And subsequently he becomes possessed by our undead killer and the killings begin again.

However Jason’s new body quickly begins to degenerate and so throughout the movie we have him hopping from host to host, appearing as a slimy devil worm slithering from mouth to mouth. And until the finale, all we see of ‘proper’ Jason is when his hosts pass a reflective surface and we see his hockey masked figure in place of them.

Now the reason for all of this turns out to be that apparently Mr and Mrs Voorhees were devotees of the dark arts and somehow Jason is the product of their dabbling in black magic. I say ‘somehow’ as the script never really elaborates on this new origin story – it’s unclear whether Jason was the result of an attempt to create a demonic ‘moon child’ (a human sired by mystical forces for those of you who don’t have a head stuffed full of occult flotsam and jetsam), a family curse akin to the Myers’ druid heritage, or just plain old diabolic possession.

What we do learn though is that Jason can only be properly reborn through the flesh of another Voorhees, hence his host bodies short shelf lives. And the plot of the movie follows the various good guys trying to prevent the undying Jason from body hopping to his remaining kin.

Now a body hijacking psychopath is an intriguing premise for a movie, but that movie was 1987’s The Hidden, a very fun sci-fi horror thriller hybrid, also made by New Line and widely seen as director Jack Sholder’s apology for A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 - Freddy’s Revenge. And sadly it’s just not a good premise for a Friday 13th flick; while I will always applaud an attempt to do something new with an old character, there are limits of what you can do without breaking the core concept that makes said character appealing in the first place.

So while the idea that anyone can become the killer might seem like a decent premise for making a scary movie, when the killer in question is an iconic slasher like Jason, you are effectively removing the main thing the audiences have coughed up their hard earned cash to see. I can understand that at the time Jason and hulking slashers in general had been done to death and so naturally the good people at New Line thought that giving the character a new supernatural twist, and moving the franchise more in line with new horror favourites like Pinhead, the Deadites or Freddy would look like a sound plan on paper at least. And I can even understand that the whole business with the evil devil slug meant they could also mine the body horror seam - Jason Goes to Hell as well as trading on The Hidden also borrows from Cronenberg’s Shivers and The Fly.

However once again you have to wonder why they expected a Jason-less film to play well to an audience who were ponying up cash just to see him. Considering how fleeting the appearance of the ‘real’ Jason actually are you could be forgiven for thinking that New Line were pulling a similar stunt to Dimension Films approach to the later entries in the Hellraiser franchise i.e. taking a script that wasn’t originally penned as a Friday 13th movie and shoe-horning Jason into it. Regrettable this was not the case; it was a brave but ultimately utterly wrong headed approach to revitalize a character mired in his own cliches.

Now we’ll get back to Jason and the muddled mythos this flick introduces a little later, but giving the film a provisional pass as an experimental entry in the saga and looking at the movie in its own right what does Jason Goes To Hell actually deliver?

Well on the plus side, we get some fantastic effects work – there’s bloody kills galore – indeed the most explicit we seen in a while as you can get this one uncut on DVD - and lots of oozy body horror degenerations so there’s at least something for the gorehounds out there to enjoy. There’s also some cheeky references to other famous horror movies thrown into the mix – look out for visual references to Creepshow, The Birds and The Evil Dead*. And as a director Marcus is competent enough, setting up some nice scenes and bringing far more flair to the proceeding than the last two outings. But unfortunately, as is so often the case, the script is just a mess.

While the movie tries its hand at building up some proper characters, unfortunately the script is quite unfocused on which characters we are actually meant to be following. You are never sure whether the lead is supposed be bounty hunter Creighton Duke (Steven Williams), hapless everyman Steven Freeman (John D. LeMay) or TV journalist Robert Campbell (Steven Culp) – too many Steves all round and that’s just the male leads!

Furthermore the characters themselves don’t all seem to fit either. The afore mentioned Creighton Duke in particular seems to have wandered in form an entirely different film and the script doesn’t flirts the idea of satirising true crime television but Campbell and his subplot is never really developed enough. And this lack of a proper dramatic focus or clear plot line leaves the film lurching about between scenes rather than flowing as a good story should.

All in all, even if you can forgive the lack of proper Jason action, Jason Goes To Hell is still a misfire. While it delivers the mayhem is pleasing amounts and if you are of a kindly disposition you may forgive or even enjoy the new additions to the Crystal Lake lore, at the end of the day the script is simply too uneven. There are just too many characters cluttering up the narrative and all the switching between leads wrecks the pace of the movie. And that’s not to mention the plot holes – aside from lack of details on the implied origins of Jason himself, the FBI sting and Creighton Duke leave you wondering where the hell they’ve been for the past eight movies. Duke in particular, although marvellous fun, really needed some kind of back story explaining his history with Jason.

On one hand, there’s enough action and inventiveness to save the movie from being an utter train wreck. Spotting the references to other horror flicks is fun and even when the plot lurches into utter nonsense it’s still a lot of fun. But lacking a solid backbone for its story, the movie ends up drifting from one set piece to another like some gore obsessed jellyfish.

And that’s an assessment based on giving the movie a pass for what it has done to the Jason mythos - which as you may well have gathered, I don’t! Firstly the actual details of all these new occult origins are fudged and the rules are never quite clear. If Jason can be reborn through the flesh of his kin folk, why does he return in the same somewhat battered shape we saw at the beginning? Surely a fresh new body, not bearing the scars of seven other films would be more appropriate. Furthermore it’s never explained why only a Voorhees can kill a Voorhees, or how come Jason has absorbed the souls of those he has slain which see released in the form of optical visual effects? The movie seems to think that just showing the dagger and Necronomicon from The Evil Dead is enough. But if you are going to so radically rewrite the origins of your villain, this just won’t do. I suspect they left the background murky so as not to contradict the first eight films but really having set up Jason’s parents as meddlers in the dark arts, they’d already done that.

Also you have to wonder why having decided to make Jason a hell-born slug thingamajig, they’d didn’t go the whole hog and reveal that this demonic beastie inhabiting our favourite deformed slaphead is one of the same wormy little buggers that Fred Krueger did a deal with in Freddy’s Dead. After all at the very end we get Freddy’s gloved hand dragging Jason’s hockey mask down to Hell, a deliberate set up for the planned Freddy Vs. Jason, so it would make sense to tie this new black magic origin for Jason to the Krueger mythology.

But even when we do get Jason onscreen creating carnage, I wasn’t particularly happy. Basically I just don’t like the look he sports in this film; much like the treatment of the mythos as a whole Jason Goes To Hell just gets it wrong. In general this incarnation is easily my least favourite Jason, and yes that includes Roy! Only the melting monkey mask version seen in Part 8 tops it for sheer awfulness. Now it’s not that the make-up job is bad per se, it’s just that for my tastes he’s just far too lumpy and bumpy to the point where his deformities seems to be swallowing the sides of the his mask. And therein lies the problem: the sides of his bonce are overwhelming the iconic hockey mask. Now you could argue that this new exaggeratedly malformations are due to the toxic waste bath that did him in the last movie but when the script makes no mention of the events of Part 8 or explains how come he’s up and about again, you have to wonder why they bothered keeping in with continuity in the make-up.

But also, aside from him having little to do in this film, I really didn’t like the fact that this Jason grunts and wheezes. Previously Jason has been pretty much mute and part of his effectiveness as a screen monster is that he is the silent implacable killer; however this Jason with his wordless vocalisations loses the eerie silence of the character. Plus there’s a lot more running and lumbering about, which in conjunction with his new found voice, make me wonder whether at some stage the script was intended as a sequel to the earliest films; as the portrayal is saying ‘human deformed maniac’ louder than ‘undead killing machine’ you wonder whether perhaps they initially were planning on ignoring the later sequels much like Halloween H20 did.

Yes, just when you thought the question of whether Jason is alive or dead would never come back, this movie manages to resurrect it! Aside from the questions the performance raises, the fudged mythos leaves us some awkward questions. If Jason can only be truly killed by some one sharing his blood line, how then did he drown in the first place? We’ve never had a satisfactory explanation of whether he did originally die as child or not and like the previous entry you can’t help feeling they missed a chance to consolidate all the mythos once and for all.

And while this new addition to the lore that he will rise again if slain by a non-Voorhees covers his revivals in Part 3 and Part 4, it doesn't sit well next to the ghostly nonsense of Part 8... Oh alright, NOTHING sits well against Part 8 but it still doesn’t jib with the ‘return him to original resting place’ hokum of Part 6.

And so, a disappointing Jason coupled with an unsteady script leaves us with a poor entry in the series. On the plus side though, there is plenty of action and it is a real treat to be able to view this one completely uncut for a change. I’d say there is enough good stuff in it to save it from being a truly terrible film; for all its faults at least it isn’t dull. But it doesn’t really work properly as either as a Friday 13th flick or a horror movie in its own right. It fails on many levels, but it’s an interesting failure; it’s an oddity in the franchise rather than another stinker.

However as any casual movie fan could have told them, the experiment to do a Friday 13th largely sans machete wielding slaphead was doomed to fail. In the box office stakes, Jason Goes To Hell did slightly better than its predecessor but not that much better. Hence the poor ticket sales and generally negative reaction meant it was back to the quiet halls of the Famous Monsters Rest Home for young Jason. It did indeed look like this was to be the Final Friday...


* The crate in the cellar is the same one Fluffy lives in, the jungle gym is the same model as the one in Hitch’s classic.