Friday night at the home drive-in: Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! (1989)

I didn’t see this movie when it first came out. In fact, I saw Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991) before I ever saw this one. I think I had probably been turned off by Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987), which had seemed to be nothing more than an excuse to retread footage from the original Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984). Having recently re-watched Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 on Joe Bob’s Red Christmas, I have discovered a whole new appreciation for it… but that’s another story.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! (1989) is a movie that could stand on it’s own. It does make use of some brief flashbacks to the first movie, but they are minimal and integrated well into this story. I could imagine that if a person had never seen the first two movies, they might believe that these flashbacks were shot for this movie. Either way, the flashbacks work well here.

Remarkably, Silent Night, Deadly Night 3 was directed by Monte Hellman, who made movies such as the Not Quite Classic Beast from Haunted Cave (1959), the westerns Ride in the Whirlwind (1966) and The Shooting (1966), and the revered Two Lane Blacktop (1971). This could explain why notable actors such as Robert Culp and Richard Beymer are among the cast of Silent Night, Deadly Night 3. Even more amazing than the fact that Hellman directed this movie, is the fact that he has apparently said that he considers it to be his “best work”, although not his best movie.

This got me to thinking, is it possible for someone to do their best work on a project that doesn’t turn out to be their best movie, or book, piece of art – whatever?

I remember John Carpenter once saying that Halloween (1978) was the easiest movie he ever made. It is certainly one of his most loved and respected films. But according to Carpenter, he planned it carefully and everything went off without a hitch. So, in a way, you could say that he didn’t have to work very hard on it. That’s not to say that the end result wasn’t due to Carpenter’s talent and skills. But perhaps Carpenter was at the top of his game, and nothing about that movie challenged him to stretch beyond his limits.

On the other hand, a person can work very hard on something, facing a series of near disasters, somehow managing to keep everything on course, but in the end, the results are merely adequate. Without all the hard work, the results might have been terrible, or perhaps even non-existent (how many projects get abandoned in disgust, due to insurmountable problems?), but nobody ever gets to see that.

I remember one of my high school science teachers saying “Work is measured by results. For example, you might ask me what I’ve done today. I may tell you that I pushed on this wall for eight hours. I expended a lot of energy, worked my muscles hard, stretched my endurance to the limit, but, at the end of the day, the wall has not moved. So, you would most likely conclude that I’ve done nothing.”

Can work be separated from results? I’m not sure. But I am sure that I enjoyed Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! (1989), in spite of it’s low imdb score and Rotten Tomatoes rating. It may not be as notable as some other films in Monte Hellman’s oeuvre, but I think it deserves a place in the annals of #NotQuiteClassicCinema.

Friday the 13th at the home drive in: Friday the 13th: Part 2 (1981)

As I said in a previous postFriday the 13th Part 3 3D was the first movie I saw in the series. I quickly followed it with the original Friday the 13th. I didn’t see Friday the 13th Part 2 until some time later. I had heard people talk about Part 2 being their favourite, or call it “the best” of the three, so I think my expectations must have been pretty high when I finally sat down to watch it.

I was disappointed to discover that I didn’t enjoy it as much as the other two. My memory of that first viewing is a little bit hazy now, but I think I felt it was basically the same movie as Part 1, but without the surprise ending. Of course, I had already seen the ending of Part 2 at the beginning of part 3, so maybe that didn’t help. I may also have felt that it was the same movie as Part 3, but without the 3D. I’m not sure. It just didn’t thrill me as much as it had those other kids at school who said it was “the best.”

Looking back on it, I think I found it to be a bit of downer that they (possible SPOILER ALERT here, although who doesn’t know this by now?) killed off the only survivor from Part 1 in the first ten minutes of Part 2. I thought it was a cruel and unnecessary ending for a character who had earned the right to live by surviving Part 1. Worse than that, by killing off Alice (Adrienne King), the series lost it’s opportunity to have a Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) or Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) who could help tie the films together, and give us someone to root for. Already a huge fan of Halloween (1978) and Halloween II (1981) by the time I saw Friday the 13th Part 2, I couldn’t understand why the filmmakers wouldn’t have wanted that.

But that’s 38 years of water under the bridge now. And as an adult, I’ve watched Friday the 13th Part 2 several times, and enjoyed it thoroughly. I would still never call it my favourite of the series, but there are days when I feel like watching it more than any of the others. And that’s more than I can say about some examples of #NotQuiteClassicCinema.

Friday night at the home drive-in: Revenge of the Ninja (1983)

I rented Revenge Of The Ninja with a friend when it was a brand new release on VHS and Beta, probably sometime in 1984. We thought it was one of the greatest movies we had ever seen. The action was (it seemed to us, at the time) non-stop and absolutely spectacular. We watched the tape several times before returning it to the store the next day.

We rented Enter The Ninja (1981), the first film in the series, very soon after that, and we enjoyed it, but it just didn’t live up to the impossible expectations that Revenge Of The Ninja had set. When Ninja III: The Domination (1984) came out later that year, we were excited beyond measure. If Revenge Of The Ninja was better than Enter The Ninja, then it stood to reason (in our young minds) that Ninja III: The Domination would be even better. Alas, we were puzzled by Ninja III: The Domination.  It was a strange mix of action and horror that just didn’t seem to work for us. Years later, while studying film at university, I saw Ninja III: The Domination on late night TV and realized it’s brilliance – but that’s another story.

I watched Revenge Of The Ninja a few more times during the ’80s and it never let me down. Sure, I saw other ninja movies, too, but none of them could hold a katana to Sam Firstenberg’s martial arts masterpiece. Oddly enough, I never bought a copy on VHS and I didn’t see the movie again for almost 30 years. Perhaps I was afraid that it wouldn’t live up to my memories of it. What if Revenge Of The Ninja seemed silly to me as a grown up? I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about that. But when Kino Lorber released a nice blu-ray with extras, I knew it was time to face up this lost chapter of my youth.

The good news is, I still love Revenge Of The Ninja. The action is still spectacular – the sequence in which Sho Kosugi chases down a group of thugs in a van is still one of my all time favourites. The other good news (there really is no bad news here) is that Revenge Of The Ninja does contain what could be described as campy humour; moments that weren’t designed to make you laugh, but still do. Some of my favourite movies have been described as “camp classics”, so this is not a bad thing (I once wrote a musical set in a women’s prison, after all). I suppose my experience of Revenge Of The Ninja is kind of like many a person’s experience of high quality children’s entertainment: you take it seriously as a child, but as an adult you see the moments of humour that were previously invisible to you. And that’s a good thing. It makes the movie fresh again.

Most movies are either “bad” (in that Ed Wood kind of way), or “good” in that Citizen Kane, Shawshank Redemption, whatever-looks-like-a-good-movie-to-you kind of way. And both types can be enjoyed immensely. It’s a rare, special movie that can tread the fine line between truly good, and campy fun. And I think Revenge Of The Ninja is one. If I had a rating system, I would call it a perfect four or five star, ten out of ten, two-thumbs-up masterpiece of #NotQuiteClassicCinema.

Friday night at the home drive-in: The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960)

I’ve seen a lot of versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde over the years – including the notorious play (Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde: A Love Story) that bombed right across Canada in 1996 – but until last Friday I’d never seen this Hammer take on the classic Robert Louis Stevenson story.

My favourite version has always been the 1931 film adaptation by Rouben Mamoulian, starring Fredric March and Miriam Hopkins. Anyone who knows me, knows that I have an interest in Pre-Code Hollywood movies – and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) is about as Pre-Code as Pre-Code gets. Put simply, it is very open about the sexual nature of this story. Movies that came out later, in the 1940s and ’50s, were much more restrained (under the watchful eyes of Will Hays, Joseph Breen, and the rest of the merry bunch of censors at the Production Code Administration. I spent a few years writing a three hour musical about all of this (which unfortunately never saw the light of day), so I won’t write any more about it now. If you want to learn more about Pre-Code Hollywood, Wikipedia is a good place to start.

The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll AKA Jekyll’s Inferno (1960) by Terence Fisher feels like a return to the Pre-Code spirit of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931). Sex is a big part of Jekyll’s Inferno, and one of Mr. Hyde’s main motivators. The movie is quite explicit for 1960, and a nice change from some of the more “respectable” versions of the story. It features a love triangle between Dr. Jekyll, his wife, his friend, and Mr. Hyde (okay, it’s a love square) that must be seen to be believed.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) is probably still my favourite version of his story. But in light of how much I enjoyed The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll AKA Jekyll’s Inferno (1960), I just may have to add it to the always growing playlist of #NotQuiteClassicCinema.