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Friday the 13th: The Franchise - An Appreciation

October 31, 2012 - 12:02 am   |   By 

Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood

Less than two years later, Paramount re-surfaced the series with the seventh sequel: Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood. Bringing in special effects guru John Carl Buechler on to direct, this time there wouldn't be as many positive aspects to the final product, at least in my opinion. As far as the film itself goes, it's more or less a repeat of The Final Chapter in some ways. There's a party about to happen next door to a family, but in this instance, the family is broken and dysfunctional. It's a mother and her daughter seeking refuge away from the world with a psychologist, who is seemingly attempting to help the daughter overcome a kind of psychosis after seeing her father die when she was young.

Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood

The film was originally meant to be Freddy VS. Jason, which is maybe why there are vague similarities with the film that eventually came later. However, Paramount Pictures didn't own the rights to A Nightmare on Elm Street or the character of Freddy, and when they couldn't reach an agreement on character and distribution rights with New Line Cinema, the project was scrapped and re-purposed. The story was changed to incorporate some of the elements from that script, but with a telekinetic girl instead, who could use the power of her mind to throw objects at Jason to defend herself. The idea may seem a bit far-fetched, even for this series, but I guess if you can buy a superhuman zombie killing people in some very extreme and nasty ways then I guess you'd also have to buy into this as well.

The New Blood is mostly credited with containing the definitive Jason: a zombie that's been trapped under water, looks very bulky and a bit skeletal at times (I can't imagine how he smells). It's also the first film in the series where Jason is portrayed by Kane Hodder, a stuntman turned actor (having been previously played by Ari Lehman, Steve Daskawisz, Warrington Gillette, Richard Brooker, Ted White and C.J. Graham, respectively). The difference between the previous portrayals is Hodder's intensity. Jason is now a violent killing machine, and not just merely a killer. His take on the character was a welcome change to fans and it's the reason that he was brought back for the next two sequels. People tend to give the film a lot of credit for both of these reasons, but I think they've got blinders on in that regard.

Being the successor to Jason Lives, the film feels mainly disappointing because it doesn't really bring much new to the table. Sure the telekinesis is certainly a new element, but everything surrounding it feels like the same old territory. While The New Blood has some very sparse character development, it's the lead character that really makes the film take a nosedive. She's constantly weeping and in a near catatonic state throughout the entire film. She's also socially awkward and hung up on the death of her father, but these things go hand in hand in nearly every scene in the film, and it gets old really fast. By the time she learns to harness her mental abilities and stop Jason, I'd already grown tired of her and would've gladly cheered on her demise. The rest of the characters don't have much to speak of, other than the double-crossing psychologist who claims to be trying to help Tina, but is really out to exploit her abilities. It's rather fitting that his character gets the most over-the-top and ridiculous kill in the film.

Speaking of which, the deaths in the film become more and more silly as the film goes on. Some aren't very creative, like Jason throwing someone out of a window (which we've seen before), but some are beyond extreme and really reach out for the entertainment value. The most talked-about death is when Jason takes the sleeping bag with the girl in it and slams her into a tree (only once in the home video version but several times in the theatrical release). The rest include a party favor to the eye, a standard axe to the face and a lackluster drowning in the lake. It feels a lot milder in comparison to the last film, but Hodder's menacing performance makes Jason much more threatening, and Hodder really throws himself into the role. The most impressive stunt in the film is when Hodder falls backwards through a staircase (nearly killing him, according to him).

This is also the entry in the series where the MPAA came down the hardest on the final cut, as well. Unfortunately, all of the cut footage has been lost forever and we'll never get to see an uncut version of The New Blood, which is a shame. It wouldn't improve the story or the lackluster elements themselves, but it would be interesting to see nonetheless. Overall, the film has some pretty decent moments and some genuine suspense in spots, but it pales in comparison to the entry before it. The anti-climactic end of the film doesn't help much either, which is so quickly brushed over that it feels like a rush to get to the end credits. Just a quick cut to an ambulance driving away and, boom, it's all over. No finality, no commentary, no nothing.

When Paramount released Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood on May 13, 1988, it proved once again that Jason still had some staying power. I think a lot of this success had to do with coming off of the success of Jason Lives, kind of like how A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master was a big success because of the popularity of the previous film, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: The Dream Warriors. It feels very much like that to me, because in both cases, the final product wasn't nearly as compelling or as interesting as the one before it. Don't get me wrong though. I don't think that the film is a total waste, but at this point, it's definitely starting to feel like these movies are beginning to tread water, which is ironic considering the direction of the next film.

 

Friday the 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

When Paramount hired Rob Hedden to write and direct the next film, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, they wanted him to incorporate some kind of finality to the series (despite the franchise being seemingly ended in two of the previous films). The original series definitely ended at Paramount Pictures, but mostly for the wrong reasons. My feeling about it is that they wanted to close out the series before they sold the rights to New Line Cinema, so that the series would be bookended somehow and New Line wouldn't be able to make a direct sequel (which is what ended up happening). Regarded by most fans as the worst of the series, Jason Takes Manhattan was disowned early on because of its misleading title. Despite the detractors and the hardcore fan community seemingly hating it outright, I'll admit that I kind of like Jason Takes Manhattan more than The New Blood.

Friday the 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

Now before you start sending me vicious hate mail, let me explain myself a bit. At the time this film was released, the Friday the 13th series had become stale. It had been sort of rebirthed two films earlier, but there wasn't much left that you could do with it without getting ridiculous. To add to that, the public seemed to be getting tired of Jason and his status in pop culture made him more a figure of fun than anything else. If they were going to do another film, they needed to do something pretty risky, and there's no mistake about it: Jason Takes Manhattan IS a risky film, but unfortunately it's a risk that didn't pay off. For starters, it was nice that we weren't stuck on dry land at a summer camp or a similar location again. We've seen that so many times, not to mention the cavalcade of other slasher films doing the same thing over and over again. It was definitely time for a change of setting. It's basically the same plot of murdering a bunch of teenagers (or anyone else that gets in Jason's way), but it's more appealing visually.

There also seems to be an element of creativity to it. Anyone who has seen the deleted scenes from the film might realize that they were really trying to develop the characters a bit more, and give them some motivation outside of running from a maniac. Renny's character, for instance, has a fear of the water and is trying to overcome that fear. The captain of the boat also has a slight arc to him, despite his early demise. There are some clever things in the film as well, such as when they have one of the characters walking around with a camcorder and when he loses his glasses, he pulls focus on the camera to see properly (only to discover Jason in front of him). Overall, the film seems more creative and more engaging than most people give it credit for.

That being said, yes, the film definitely has a lot of flaws. A plethora of questions seem to pop up in most of our minds when we see the film. Since when is Crystal Lake connected to a waterway that leads out to sea? Why does Jason revert to a little boy at the end of the film? Why doesn't the ship start sinking despite taking on all that water? Since when did Jason learn to teleport? Why did the captain not bleed when his throat was slit? Why was Tamara even allowed on the boat in the first place if she hadn't completed her senior project? If Renny is only hallucinating because of her trauma as a child, then why does her dog see her hallucinations too? Why do the sewers of New York flush out toxic waste every night? All of these questions have been burning up fans for years, including myself, and contribute to the film's overall dislike.

The biggest flaw of Jason Takes Manhattan, however, is the fact that despite the title, Jason doesn't even set foot in Manhattan until the last thirty minutes or so of the film. Unwittingly or not, all that did was basically set up audiences for disappointment, which is where the film ultimately failed. It would have been great to see Jason all over New York City, causing mayhem left and right with pedestrians, thieves, hookers and policemen. Sadly, the budget didn't allow for that, but they based the title and advertising campaign around it anyway. In my opinion, it was a huge mistake on Paramount's part to do that. If it had been titled something like "Jason's Final Voyage", "The Final Friday", or anything else that didn't have Manhattan or New York in the title, I think it might have fared a bit better than it did (no pun intended).

They also made the mistake of trying to come up with a backstory for the lead character of Renny without really paying it off. She is nearly drowned by Jason as a young girl and develops a bit of a psychosis because of it. Over the course of the film she has these hallucinations of a young Jason calling for help and near the end of the film, she brings forth her repressed memory of nearly being drowned. At the very end, Jason becomes that little boy again, leaving us with many unanswered questions. It's also unclear about her parents and why she's having to be looked after like an orphan, but her main focus is to get over her fear of the water, which is tied into Jason's story, somehow. If you're confused, don't be ashamed. Also, what is it with this series and making the lead characters basket cases or people with deep psychological problems? They really ran that one into the ground, didn't they?

Both the acting and the kills in the film are pretty good, at least more imaginative than the previous film. We also finally get another harbinger of doom again like Crazy Ralph from the first two films. The film tries to play with the idea that he might also be in on the killing, but it's a dead end, of course, when he's found with an ax in his back. The best kill in the film, however (and one of my favorites from the entire series), is the boxer's death. He spends at least a minute and a half of screen time punching Jason repeatedly until he tires out. When he does, Jason grabs him and punches his head clean off. We switch to his point of view as his head tumbles off of the roof and into a dumpster. It's built up wonderfully to that moment and you have to laugh out loud when it happens. It's also nice that for once everybody knows there's a killer on board early on, instead of each of them finding out one by one. It gives the film a bit more urgency and better suspense value, at least to me.

Released on July 28, 1989, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan saw a disappointing decline at the box office, and became the least money-making film of the series. Some of it had to do with the disappointment of the film not living up to its title, but I think it had more to do with the public just being sick of Jason. There had been a film in the series released almost once a year since the debut of the first one in 1980, and the grueling pace had finally caught up with the series. As with the previous film, it also came under heavy scrutiny from the MPAA and, as a consequence, isn't as bloody or as brutal with the onscreen violence as you would expect. Despite all of its problems, the film is much more entertaining for me, and is FAR better than what came next.

 

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday

Four years would go by without another Friday the 13th sequel. The series seemed to have run its course, but despite that, New Line Cinema purchased the sequel rights to the character and story. While Freddy VS. Jason was still stuck in development hell, the decision was made to make a definitive final film in the franchise that would ultimately lead to the match-up between the two icons. What we got from director Adam Marcus and Sean S. Cunningham, who produced the film, was Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. However, this time around there would be very few positive aspects to the proceedings.

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday

The story involves Jason being killed by the F.B.I. at the beginning of the film. The only problem is that his spirit takes over other people's bodies until he can be reborn through one of his blood relatives: his sister, her daughter or her daughter's daughter. Hot on Jason's trail is Creighton Duke, a bounty hunter who is out to destroy Jason once and for all, but only with the help Jason's sister's daughter and her ex-husband John. According to Duke, Jason can only die by the hand of a Voorhees... with the use of the Necronomicon and Candarian dagger from The Evil Dead found in the Voorhees house. Right.

Not only is Jason Goes to Hell my least favorite film in the series, it's also probably the worst overall. You would have thought that after the backlash of A New Beginning, wherein someone was pretending to be Jason, that they would have foregone the idea of Jason inhabiting the bodies of other people in order to survive, but no. They went with it anyway, and we had to suffer as a consequence. To be fair, Jason IS onscreen in the film, but only for about fifteen minutes, if that. The rest of the time we have to watch actor after actor pretending to be him. Also in this film, instead of Jason being a supernatural serial killer just out for revenge against those who've wronged him, we learn that he's also an evil spirit. It reminds me a lot of the direction that the Halloween series took. After they had done all they could do with the reality of each series, they had to get some unreality in there. In fact, there are quite a few similarities between the franchises at this point that it becomes both ironic and ridiculous.

It's also abundantly clear that after Jason Lives filmmakers were more comfortable in making more and more changes to the series to prevent it from becoming stale. This isn't a bad thing, per se, because it was indeed stale, but perhaps just leaving the series alone and not making anymore sequels would probably have been the best idea. New Line Cinema taking over the franchise didn't really help that much either. I think they hoped to breathe new life into it somehow, but instead they were just flogging a dead horse.

I know I'm bitching quite a bit and you're probably asking yourself 'is there anything positive to this film?' Well, the actors do an ok job with their roles, I suppose (not that there's much there to work with in the first place). The dialogue is gut-wrenchingly bad most of the time, so there's no room for creativity there. Some of the gore effects are pretty good, in particular the melting man scene (despite the scene not making much sense). The only really good scene in the film is the jail scene between the characters of Duke and John when Duke breaks John's fingers in order for him to "pay" for information about Jason. It’s the moment when the film stops being schlock for a few minutes and actually pulls off something character-driven and interesting. It seems to have a nice build to it, and it's about the only really positive thing I can say about it. Everything surrounding it is garbage.

I've already talked about the awful plotline, and there are many scenes that accessorize that awfulness. The scene that really stuck out as not making any sense was when Jason (disguised as the coroner from earlier in the film) has a naked man strapped to a table and proceeds to shave him before the "evil spirit" leaves him and enters his body. While he's shaving him, the guy says "What the hell are you doing?", which is what I was wondering myself. Why exactly does Jason do this? What will it achieve? He's already in disguise as another person so why would making him look different be any help to him at all? And why does the guy melt into a pile of goop after Jason leaves his body for another? The guy wasn't dead or anything. He was just possessed, more or less. There's also the scene when Jason attacks everybody in the diner and suddenly this little waitress becomes superchick, shooting shotguns with efficiency and moving with stealth (all in slow motion, I might add). Or how about the moment when John goes to the Voorhees' family house, only to discover it's a mansion of some kind with a large playground out back? The mailbox doesn't even have the proper spelling of the name on it. It says "Vorhees", despite the name being spelled correctly elsewhere in the film.

Other mistakes include the score for the film, which is absolutely terrible. I've never really objected to Harry Manfredini's score before, or cared that people accused him of blatantly ripping off the score from Psycho, but it stands out in this film as just needlessly appalling. It's basically a synthesizer-driven score that's trying to be epic in scale, but it just sounds like a MIDI file most of the time. It's not even laughable, it's just annoying. I'm sure the point was to signify with the music that this was a big film, but it fails miserably. It ends up just sounding over-the-top and sticks out like a sore thumb.

However, the biggest mistake that the filmmakers made was that in going with the storyline that Jason inhabits other people's bodies that Kane Hodder wasn't one of those bodies. Sure, he has a small cameo as a SWAT team guy who Jason murders off-camera, but it was a missed opportunity for people to see Hodder onscreen for once in this scenario. To be honest, I don't believe that the filmmakers thought that much about the actual content of the film while making it. They just showed up and did their jobs. There doesn't seem to be any passion or logic behind anything that's happening. You might be sitting there wondering why I'm disregarding this film as opposed to Jason Takes Manhattan, where I slightly defended it. Well, that's the reason. The director was trying to do something different with that film and had a passion for it, as opposed to Jason Goes to Hell, wherein there doesn't seem to be a need to make anything more than just a generic slasher trying to be an epic conclusion, which it fails at tremendously.

Released on August 13, 1993, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday was met with lukewarm response, but managed to rake in a bit more cash than the previous sequel. I'm not exactly sure how it has shaped up over time with fans, but I for one find it the least-interesting and most poorly-made of the series. The film manages to depart from the franchise's formula significantly, but in the wrong direction. As I stated previously, there just seemed to be no passion behind it and it felt, more or less, like people just showed up and got it over with, as opposed to something like Jason Lives. It ended up being a black eye to the series anyway because we later learned (unsurprisingly) that this was indeed NOT the final Friday.


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Adam Jahnke

In 50 years or so, the @Criterion edition of The Interview will make a nice bookend with The Great Dictator.

by Adam Jahnke