[Father’s Day] Vacation (1983)

Director: Harold Ramis
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Imogene Coca, Randy Quaid, John Candy, Christie Brinkley
Screenplay: John Hughes
98 mins. Rated R.

Happy Father’s Day! I was wracking my brain about great cinematic fathers, ones that deserved to be recognized on such a special day as this, and while there were a number of contenders, there’s really no way I can avoid talking about the best of the best in terms of film daddies: Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase, Caddyshack, Panda vs. Aliens). There’s no one that exemplifies the American vacation ideal, complete with its many faults, like Clark Griswold, and considering Vacation is one of my all-time favorite comedies, it felt perfect.

Clark Griswold is a fairly simple American family man. He just wants one thing: to give his family the ultimate road trip experience. Their destination: Wally World, home of Marty Moose. It’s clear that fate is not on their side, though, as problems arise before they even leave town. The car Clark ordered for the trip is not in, they consistently lose luggage at every turn, and Clark’s mid-life crisis shows up in the form of an attractive woman in a Ferrari that seems to be going the same way. Through it all, Clark tries to maintain a level of sanity for the sake of his wife, Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo, American History X, Frat Pack) and kids, Rusty and Audrey, but Clark is about to learn that getting to Wally World is only part of the journey.

John Hughes (Uncle Buck, Weird Science) seems to have had a hand in just about every major comedy of the 80s (okay, not really, but you know what I mean), and he based his screenplay off the short story “Vacation 58” that he wrote for the National Lampoon, based on elements of his own childhood. The script is clever, biting, and feels like something that you can jump right into at any point. In fact, when he presented the script to Jeffrey Katzenberg at Paramount, he criticized the plot for being “too episodic.” I would agree with him, though I see it as a strength. Everyone in America has gone through the best and worst kinds of vacation, and by writing it episodic, it doesn’t rely on the audience connecting with every single sequence. There’s a progression to the characters, most notably Clark, but the plot is presented in practically a vignette format, something that makes it easily digestible. Hughes was also clearly not above steering into uncomfortable territory. I’ve said it many times before, but this film is incredibly dark at times. No writer would even dream of doing the Bumper scene where Clark gets pulled over in today’s film landscape, and the scene is funny for how outrageous awful it is.

The script is not without its faults, though, and it’s perhaps the one area that loses the film its perfect status. The scene where the Griswold’s end up in a bad neighborhood does not work, and I’m not sure it ever did. It’s more that it has just aged very poorly. The idea that all black neighborhoods are filled with criminals just waiting for unsuspecting white families to drive through is just really bad taste, and I’ll applaud director Harold Ramis (Year One, The Ice Harvest) for admitting as much in his commentary for the film, calling it the most regrettable scene of his career. You can’t and shouldn’t delete this scene from the film, but it just stops the film dead now. The script also contained a really bad original ending involving a darker level of kidnapping, hostages, and plane hijackings that thankfully were replaced with the better ending that the film now has, and let’s be clear: I’m not even sure who put some of these scenes in the script originally (it is generally believed that Ramis and Chase did uncredited rewrites on the film switching the focus from the kids to the adults, and some of these poorer choices could’ve come from them.

When I go on vacations with my own family, I’m not embarrassed to admit that I am the Clark of the group. I’m the planner who tries to squeeze in every bit of tourism, all the while clashing with those that just want to relax or skip some of the lesser destinations. I think that’s the most relatable element of these films and the character of Clark. He exists in every family, and either you know someone like him, or that someone is you. He also embodies the idea of meaning well. He loves his kids, he loves his wife, and he’s just in a perpetual state of screwup. That makes him someone to root for, even through all the other horrible things he has done in this franchise. Unlike other famous film characters, I cannot see anyone outside of the legendary Chevy Chase in the character. Chase, as an actor, brings a spark to Griswold that makes him a larger-than-life everyman, a charismatic meshing of the kind of the parent that we all have in our memories. My dad had elements of him, as do I. This is perhaps Chase’s most famous character, and that’s for good reason. It’s the best and funniest that the actor has ever been.

The supporting cast is all terrific here as well, and most everyone will talk about Beverly D’Angelo as Ellen or Randy Quaid (Independence Day, Brokeback Mountain) as Cousin Eddie, and both are terrific, but I also think they are better serviced in other films in this series. In particular, I want to single out the work of Imogene Coca (Hollywood: The Movie, Buy & Cell) as Aunt Edna. She’s a unique character to the franchise in that she only appears in this first film, and she’s excellent, mostly because she plays antagonistically with the entire Griswold family the entirety of her screen time. Coca originally turned down the role of Edna, fearing she couldn’t play mean enough for what the film needed, but she becomes wholly memorable for what she brings to the film’s dynamic. This is what makes Vacation, and so much of Hughes’s filmography, work so well. We all know an Aunt Edna, not just form our families, but in life. There is someone you know in your past who is an Aunt Edna, and that realistic character work amid the zanier aspects of a Hughes story make for a unique experience. Edna is one of those perfect realistically over-the-top characters that Hughes did so well, and originally, her story had a much different ending which potentially would have led her to more appearances, so one only wonders what would’ve happened.

Another actor who only appeared in one of these is Hughes staple Anthony Michael Hall, who puts forth the best interpretation of Rusty Griswold of the entire franchise. Hall has great onscreen chemistry with Chase as a father/son dynamic, and it’s obvious from the very first scene where he and Clark arrive at the car lot to get their new family car for the trip. In fact, Hall may have inadvertently begun the tradition of the ever-swapping ages of Rusty and Audrey. During reshoots to fix the film’s chaotic and uneven ending, Hall showed up to film new scenes but had been through a growth spurt so they had to fix dialogue so that Rusty was the older child where this wasn’t initially the case, and I believe it had a hand in the drastically inconsistent ages of the kids as the series progressed, something that would further cement the Griswolds as the every-family archetype.

The only other character that isn’t praised enough in this film is the “character” of the Wagon Queen Family Truckster, the iconic metallic pea-painted car that enters the Griswold’s possession at the start of the film. It’s a unique and memorable prop that is featured across the entire film and is just as notably funny as the rest of the cast. The way this prop is utilized as the most frustrating element of the film is a wonder and every time another piece of luggage is hurled from the top, every time its rear bumper commits a crime, every time it is juxtaposed with the Ferrari, it’s a damn funny piece of film because of the strangeness of this Family Truckster. It’s one of the greatest cars in film history.

Vacation is one of the best comedies of all time. The film is endlessly rewatchable, Chevy Chase is hilarious, and the supporting cast all play to their strengths. The film has aged poorly in a few areas, and I still don’t think it’s as strong as its Christmas counterpart, the film is a blueprint for the modern road trip film. Often imitated, this is a movie with a great cinema father, and here’s hoping 2021 will be full of memorable vacations to make up for last year.

4.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Jeremiah S. Chechik’s Christmas Vacation, click here.
For my review of Harold Ramis’s Bedazzled, click here.

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 2 – A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)

Director: Jack Sholder

Cast: Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Rusler, Clu Gulager, Hope Lange, Robert Englund

Screenplay: David Chaskin

87 mins. Rated R.

 

The first sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the more interesting tales out of Hollywood. The sequel that saved New Line Cinema.

Five years after the events of the first film, the Walsh family has moved into Springwood. Jesse (Mark Patton, Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, Family Possessions) has not been sleeping well since the move. The air conditioner is broken, the heat upstairs is unruly, and the nightmares have been unyielding. But things are looking up. He has the hots for Lisa (Kim Myers, Hellraiser: Bloodline, 10,000 Days) and a new best friend in Grady (Robert Rusler, Weird Science, Blood Feast), but he still can’t shake the feeling that there is something dangerous within him. In his dreams, that danger takes the form of a burned man named Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund, Kantamir, Lake Placid vs. Anaconda).

So let’s talk about the magic that is Robert Englund. This franchise would be nothing without him, and he seems to find himself in a different way with each installment. The magic in this series mostly rests on him, as we’ve seen in the remake that did not feature the iconic actor in role. Just think, though, that there was a time when Robert Englund had not been hired for this sequel. Instead, New Line thought it best to get an extra or stuntman. Thankfully, that mistake was rectified a few weeks into production and we now have the franchise and character we know and love.

I want to shift focus now to the screenplay and David Chaskin. For those of you that have watched the brilliant Never Sleep Again documentary that chronicles the making of this franchise, you will already know that in its time since release, Freddy’s Revenge has been discussed heavily for its homoerotic themes. Director Jack Sholder (The Hidden, 12 Days of Terror) has vehemently denied any knowledge of it, and screenwriter David Chaskin (Midnight Child, I, Madman) has only recently taken credit for the themes in his screenplay. Couple that with Mark Patton’s performance (Patton himself claimed he was the first male screen queen) and you can see the layers of sexual repression and how Jesse just wants to bottle up all the anger and hatred and fear that one would experience after coming out and you can see where this is all coming from. It’s an interesting theory but I have to call bullshit on David Chaskin. I don’t believe for a second that Chaskin chose to put this in the screenplay. Chaskin, in interviews, comes across as a smarmy liar who wants credit for everything good in the film but takes no blame on any of its faults.

I think what angered a lot of people about the way Freddy’s Revenge conducted itself was that it seemingly threw the rule book out and took the mythology in a completely wrong direction. In certain circumstances this could work, but for Freddy’s Revenge, it took all the magic out of a film and turned Freddy Krueger into a traditional slasher. He loses all his power. There’s some cool new pieces to the mythology but overall it’s a disappointing installment.

That being said, this installment happens to be my fiance’s favorite and I have a special place in my heart for it being that a sequence in the film was so frightening that I had nightmares for years as a child. Can you imagine if I had been deranged?

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, click here.

For my review of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part III, click here.

For my review of Joseph Zito’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, click here.

For my review of Danny Steinmann’s Friday the 13th V: A New Beginning, click here.

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 4 – Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

fridaythe13ththefinalchapter1984a

Director: Joseph Zito

Cast: Erich Anderson, Judie Aronson, Peter Barton, Kimberly Beck, Corey Feldman, Crispin Glover, Alan Hayes, Barbara Howard, Laurence Monoson, Joan Freeman, Camila More, Carey More

Screenplay: Barney Cohen

91 mins. Rated R.

 

Ah, The Final Chapter. Never what it truly means. Hell, Jason Voorhees had two film touted as the Final Something. You just can’t keep a slasher down.

fridaythe13ththefinalchapter1984c

In Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, the bloodbath from the previous installment has ended, and as Jason Voorhees’ body is dropped off at the morgue, the staff quickly discovers that the killer has not yet died. Now, Jason is up and going, determined to seek further vengeance over the death of his mother. His reign of terror has been going on for days (technically this movie takes place from Sunday the 15th to Tuesday the 17th, but hey, who’s counting), and the body count continues to rise as Jason makes his way back home to Camp Crystal Lake.

This fourth entry is the Friday the 13th franchise is where the series hits its comfortable stride. The producers know the formula, and they aren’t ready to change it. Friday the 13th Part III was supposed to end the franchise, but fans clamored for more and so Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter was created to be a true finale. Tom Savini was even brought in to kill the franchise he helped create. Paramount also wanted a finale as they felt the series tarnished their good name. Director Joseph Zito (Missing in Action, The Prowler) was brought in to helm the Final Chapter.

This is also the film that started to really show the insanity behind the scenes. Actress Judie Aronson (Weird Science, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) was supposed to have a long scene in the cold water, and as Zito kept demanding takes, it was clear she was developing hypothermia. Ted White, who played Jason, actually had to threaten to quit before Zito came to his senses. Then there’s Crispin Glover (Back to the Future, Alice in Wonderland). Damn, this dude is insane. He hadn’t quite gone off the rails at this point in his career but legends from the set arose about his unhinged mental state. That being said, his portrayal of Jimmy is one of the more interesting characters from a Friday the 13th entry. Laurence Monoson (The Last American Virgin, Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation), who plays Jimmy’s asshole friend Ted, had a scene smoking pot, but as Monoson had never done so, he thought the night of his big scene would be the perfect time to partake. Lots of insanity from the Friday the 13th set helped to mold an interesting if messy entry.

But about the film itself, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is indeed messy. It doesn’t have the same kind of tone that the previous entries had, which would be fine if the film actually had a tone to begin with. It feels like Zito is collecting a check because that’s all he’s doing here. This film just feels like a whole lot of ideas crammed into a movie. For one thing, the character Rob (Erich Anderson, Unfaithful, I Married Who?) is supposed to have been Sandra’s brother from Friday the 13th Part 2. You may remember her as the girl who gets kabob-ed by Jason while with her boyfriend Jeff. Well, Rob is there to exact revenge or find his sister, I’m not entirely sure of his full motivation. But Part 2 took place two days prior. He’s made a lot of ground and learned a lot in two days. Rob shouldn’t be as capable as he is. This is just one of the many problems with the film. I feel like there were good intentions all around, but The Final Chapter is just really weird.

The best thing to come out of this film, though: Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman, Stand By Me, Lost Boys: The Thirst). Tommy Jarvis is an accidentally successful character played nicely by Feldman. The fact that he kept coming back to face Jason is one of the most enjoyable elements of the franchise.

This screenshot was taken from http://www.tepg.se owned by Krister Nielsen (info@wonderworks.se)

As I said before, I really enjoy watching Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. It’s a lot of fun. The formula works and there’s no reason to change it. It just isn’t anything new. Even slapping the tag The Final Chapter on it doesn’t really do anything, and the franchise wouldn’t even skip a beat in order to drop the next film, Friday the 13th V: A New Beginning, the next year. If your a fan of Jason, you’ll find a lot to love here. If not, this probably won’t convince you.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, click here.

For my review of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part III, click here.

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