FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)
DVD - Image B+ Sound B-
BD - Image A Sound B Extras B+
starring Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram
screenplay by Victor Miller
directed by Sean S. Cunningham
"Do you think you can get through the summer?"
"I don't think I can get through the week."
One look at the teenagers in Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th and we can see they're displaced, without religion or identity. Shallow, dim, they don't have any past and they don't have any future. Their existence is entirely ephemeral and half-developed. Their lives consist solely of pot, sex, and menial work. We know that they're really talking about life in the above-quoted exchange--life as a biological process that will come to an abrupt stop for most of them by the end of the week, if not by the end of the summer. They think they're just talking about work and boredom.
Nobody in the film seems particularly ethnic, and that's appropriate. These people are products of a culture without roots. The film's best gag is the fact that the teenagers in 1958 are generally indistinguishable from those in 1980. The teens in Friday the 13th are extremely bored; time can't be wasted quickly enough. In the film they go swimming, sing songs, and play strip Monopoly--there is an aggressive anti-intellectualism in them, and for that matter anti-spiritualism. A girl tells her boyfriend about a dream she had: "It's raining very hard and it sounds like pebbles. I put my hands against my ears to try and block out the noise. Then the rain turns to blood." Revelation 8:7 talks about "hail and fire mixing with blood and coming down to the earth." Revelation 8:8 talks about a third of the sea turning into blood. We can recognize that the dream is roughly a vision of the Apocalypse; Cunningham repeatedly shows a black cloud going over the full moon, an image that could be in reference to Revelation 8:12, where a third of the moon, sun, and stars is smitten. Needless to say, the characters are blind to it. Both the girl and her boyfriend have no idea that what she has seen is a message from God that the end is near.
Keeping with the Biblical references, take note of the title: Friday the 13th. Friday was the day of the Crucifixion, and thirteen is Judas's number. (Jesus plus twelve apostles equals thirteen.) Granted, Christ died for the good of mankind--we can't give any of these characters that sort of credit. Beyond its religious significance, the joke in setting the film on Friday the 13th is that, Hey, Friday is the beginning of the weekend. As with Camp Crystal Lake itself, the characters regard the date as a mark of leisure time, not as the embodiment of evil or any other such weighty significance. Near the end of the film, Mrs. Voorhees sarcastically laments the youths' deaths: "So young, so pretty." The false sentiment of the dialogue adequately conveys the truth that one's life is not valuable because they are young and pretty. The slasher genre, the idea of having a killer systematically slaughter all but one of these characters, in effect re-establishes the fact of their mortality--and underlines the frivolousness in which they piddle it away.
The killings in the Friday the 13th movies have often been characterized as the uncontrolled id at work, the figure of Jason (or, I suppose, his mother) being animalistic and amoral. The film sometimes leans towards this sort of interpretation. A cop tells the camp manager that all the loonies come out during the full moon. As I mentioned, we see a full moon frequently. Natural, biological forces, underlying the animal nature of the killer, predestine the murders. The murders are likewise often explained as the uncontrolled superego, punishing horny teenagers for their horniness. Sometimes it's interpreted as both, the killer representing the unconscious sex wishes of the surviving virgin, simultaneously acting out her wish and punishing those who are not as repressed. I generally don't feel that any of this plays out very well in this particular film. Virgins are killed alongside the sexually active. The surviving girl may be virginal, but we realize that she is just as likely not, and the boy she's in love with gets it good. It seems there really isn't much of a reason for them to die. They die, I suppose, because they have not produced a life worth protecting. They mean nothing. The motive for the killer, when it is revealed, proves wholly independent of their actions. The psychology of motivation becomes frankly rather inconsequential, because the whole drama takes place in a void.
Friday the 13th is a very minimalist and laid-back film. Horror film critic and scholar Mike Bracken describes it as "lazy." "Lazy" is a sort of partial criticism, and I think Bracken intended it as such. Laziness doesn't have the lift, the stimulating nature, of a really great film. But it still has its own aesthetic. The film betrays a type of nihilism you can only find in a vacuum--a real poetry or sense of hope isn't able to seep in. There are a handful of transcendent moments, including a pre-sex scene with a girl simply lying on a bed in her panties that actually has considerable eroticism to it. The music by Harry Manfredini of course seems to mimic Bernard Herrmann's Psycho score, but the angrily psychotic dissonance is especially fascinating and powerful when it takes on a note of sombre regret in the canoe sequence at the end. It manages to be sappy, but coldly and intentionally unconvincing. The sequence ends with a rotting young Jason dragging the heroine underwater. The film then cuts back to reveal that this was all a dream. Cunningham added the gag during production at the suggestion of makeup artist Tom Savini, who in turn stole it from Brian De Palma's Carrie, natch. In both films, the effect is cheap, heartless, and cruel. It manipulates us--and the victimized heroine--into developing a kind of peace and even empathy with the monster she had been fighting. In Carrie, the argument is that Carrie is a "shit-eating" monster and always was, and that Amy Irving is foolish for thinking otherwise. Similarly, when Friday the 13th's heroine expresses concern that Jason is still out there, we realize from her dream that she asks not out of sympathy, but because there is another monster out there on the loose, putting everyone in danger.
Without much luck, I have proposed in casual conversation that Plan 9 From Outer Space is a satire. (It's not a satire if you didn't intend it as such, I'm told.) I argue that the heroes in Plan 9 From Outer Space are objects of ridicule: they are flat and largely unintelligent. The best characters exist in the periphery--the villains and aliens are more interesting and ultimately more sympathetic. Friday the 13th works in the same way. The film gets a rush of life when Betsy Palmer's Mrs. Voorhees comes onto the scene. It's true that she is campy and over-the-top and unmistakably insane. The character invites the film's worst laughs: her Tammy Faye Baker looks, shiny lips, and bright white teeth make it difficult for the audience to relate to her from the very start. It becomes close to impossible when she starts talking to herself, most particularly in her "Jason voice." The performance is almost baroque, like she wandered in from another movie. But it's alive! Her son drowned because the camp counselors were too busy fucking instead of watching him. This has made her determined to exact revenge and keep the camp closed. There is something tragic and ironic about the fact that she has made it her life's work to avenge her son's death by killing camp counsellors. Whereas most of the camp counsellors apparently get into the business simply because they needed a job for the summer, she has far more emotional investment in their deaths than any of her victims have in living.
by Bill Chambers In reissuing the entire Friday the 13th cycle on DVD in a 5-disc box set entitled "Friday the 13th: From Crystal Lake to Manhattan - Ultimate Edition DVD Collection", Paramount evidently opted against subjecting the eight titles therein to further remastering--but that's okay, since their initial efforts left little room for improvement. (To put it more controversially, you don't want these movies, especially the early ones, looking too good, lest you leech them of their grindhouse flavour.) Presenting the films two-by-two on dual-layered platters (the fifth disc is devoted to supplementary material), the set does, on the other hand, boast improved encoding, which is perhaps most noticeable during Friday the 13th, whose artifacts are now all celluloid-based. If anything, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a touch oversaturated, but that certainly does make the blood "pop." Although scuffmarks abound, it's possible to become numb to them, and contrast is much less murky than anticipated. And while the accompanying Dolby 2.0 mono track is unfortunately tinny, background hiss is kept to a minimum. Simply put: optimal.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Paramount brings 1980's Friday the 13th to Blu-ray in a form that is not only finally uncut (and those additional ten seconds of violence, however tame by today's standards, do make an impact) but also, thanks to the miracle of next-gen video, more visually coherent than ever before. I realize I probably sound hypocritical, having once written "you don't want these movies, especially the early ones, looking too good, lest you leech them of their grindhouse flavour," so allow me to clarify: I'd nonetheless like them to look the best they can barring revisionism, and if the HiDef transfer is conspicuously palatable, it's not because it conceals the picture's low-budget roots, but because when Friday the 13th is not flatly lit it's underlit--and that simply demands a better-than-NTSC resolution. And anyway, who we kiddin'? These aren't Times Square nasties, they're studio films and were huge hits; it's not like the elements ever had much opportunity to be mismanaged. On the 1.78:1, 1080p presentation itself: Despite exhibiting some cropping on all four sides in comparison to previous editions, it's sensational. Grain spikes in the darkest interior scenes, as expected (though there's a greyness to them that suggests they were pushed in post), but the image is never particularly gritty, and shots of the lake's sun-dappled waters are appropriately crystalline. There is at last a sense of contrast, but it doesn't seem imposed, while the colours are toned-down without becoming blandly naturalistic. It's eye candy, relatively speaking, enough that it actually keeps you from falling asleep--no small feat for this sluggish film. I wish I had as many compliments for the attendant 5.1 remix, encoded on this disc as a Dolby TrueHD track, but the volume levels are wildly uneven--Harry Manfredini's score is way too loud, if dynamic in and of itself--and the use of the discrete channels is both gimmicky and inconsistent. Fortunately, the original mono audio is on board as well.
Supplementals begin with a patchwork commentary moderated by former DVD FILE webmaster Peter Bracke and featuring actresses Adrienne King and Betsy Palmer, director Sean S. Cunningham, screenwriter Victor Miller, and editor Bill Freida. Despite having written the lone reference book on the series in Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th, Bracke's interstitial contributions to the yakker are not especially edifying; most of the best stuff belongs to Palmer and any discussion centring around her character, although the only real revelation on that front is that Bonnie and Clyde's Estelle Parsons was initially earmarked to play Mrs. Voorhees. The remaining extras are video-based and in HD, except where noted. Taped on September 13, 2008, "Friday the 13th Reunion" (17 mins.) offers highlights from a horror convention--evidently attended by multiple Mike Bracken doppelgängers--at which King, Palmer, Miller, Manfredini, actor Ari Lehman (a.k.a. young Jason), and gore maestro Tom Savini were brought back together for the first time in almost thirty years. Things take an interesting turn when King is asked about her abbreviated appearance in the second film (she had her own private John Hinckley to contend with offscreen), and Palmer more or less confirms that she turned down a cameo in Freddy Vs. Jason, perhaps an earlier incarnation before it became an A-list production. The somewhat-ironically-christened "Fresh Cuts: New Tales from Friday the 13th" (14 mins.) repurposes many of the stories from the previous segment, but actress Robbi Morgan--still cute in middle-age--joins the roster and Manfredini reveals that the title of the exit music from Friday the 13th is "Sail Away Tiny Sparrow." I don't know why, but that cracks me up.
"The Man Behind the Legacy: Sean Cunningham" (9 mins.) interviews the mercenary filmmaker in his Kubrickian digs, i.e., "The House Jason Built." Cunningham has a few choice soundbites, at one point calling the Friday the 13th franchise a "blue-collar horror film," and it's a pleasure seeing clips from the sequels in 1080p since there are currently no plans to release any of the others on Blu-ray. But Cunningham himself gives off a bit of a gross, George Lucas-ian vibe--the guy is a pure capitalist and doesn't even keep framed posters for his films in his office, save a homemade one for Friday the 13th that King herself apparently mocked up in conjunction with a...children's charity?! Rounding out the fresh material is the inexplicable "Lost Tales from Camp Blood - Part I" (8 mins.), a detrimentally cheap, overdirected (by someone named Andrew Ceperley) vignette in which a couple is dispatched in their home in the middle of the night by a Jason-esque intruder. It's dreadful--and not in a good way; if the killer really is Jason, his body language is far too hesitant and his methods are too sadistic. Joining Friday the 13th's longwinded theatrical trailer in rounding out the platter are two standard-def featurettes recycled from Disc 5 of 2004's "Friday the 13th: From Crystal Lake to Manhattan - Ultimate Edition DVD Collection" box set, "The Friday the 13th Chronicles - Part I" (21 mins.) and "Secrets Galore Behind the Gore - Tom Savini on Part I" (10 mins.), each of which I'll cover below.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981)
DVD - Image B Sound B-
BD - Image A Sound B Extras B-
starring Amy Steel, John Furey, Adrienne King, Kirsten Baker
screenplay by Ron Kurz
directed by Steve Miner
by Alex Jackson In Friday the 13th Part 2, it's Jason himself, not his mother, who does the slashing. This sets the film apart from its giallo roots, since the killer is neither insane nor even exactly human. He's more of a golem, a simple being who knows and understands only destruction. The entire tone of the series changes at this point. Compared with the original, Friday the 13th Part 2 is a lot leaner and meaner. It has a sense of humour about itself. The original did also, but its humour was more a humour of content than one of style. Director Steve Miner includes lots of little visual jokes involving POV shots. At the beginning of the film, we hide behind a doorway, spying on the first victim. She takes a shower, and we follow her into the bathroom. She abruptly opens the curtain and looks directly into the camera. All of these shots are red herrings. Suddenly a cat jumps through the door, startling both her and us. Then she opens her refrigerator and finds a severed head. That's when the killer sinks an ice pick into her neck: The moment the POV shots become objective is the moment she gets it. Another good gag goes almost unnoticed as we crouch in the bushes watching a mostly-nude girl return from skinny-dipping. After drying off, she inadvertently throws her towel over the lens.
Miner is consciously playing around with the conventions of the slasher movie, and he's doing it in a subtle enough way that it works as intended (I imagine a theatrical audience giggles in delight at the abovementioned bits) while not distracting from the mood or suspense of the film. Miner's abundance of POV shots results in us relating to the killer over the victims more than ever before. One of my favourite moments in Friday the 13th Part 2 is when a counsellor is telling two others that joke about the rabbit and the bear taking a dump in the woods. We hear the joke being told as they drive away, and their voices fade. We then hear the punchline in the next shot. I love the way that this decentralizes the joke as the subject of the shot. While I assume that the shot of them driving away is in Jason's very POV, it's rather inarguable that it is from his perspective. Because we aren't in on the joke, because we are standing outside the joke, we become incapable of sympathizing with the victim. We're very much on the side of Jason.
The Jason-as-lonely-child motif is established in the very first shot. A little girl is skipping down the street singing a nursery rhyme. We only see her feet. Her mother calls her home, and as she leaves the frame, Jason enters. (How did Jason get away from Crystal Lake and to the suburbs for the kill? Nobody can say for sure.) The heroine is a major in child psychology, and at the end of the film, she traps Jason by dressing in his mother's sweater and telling him that she is pleased, but he needs to put the machete down now. You know, he is so cognitively underdeveloped that he associates any woman wearing her sweater with his mother, just as my wife's nephew used to call me daddy because I'm an adult male. The entire premise of the series is perhaps reliant on this particular hang-up. Otherwise he would be able to differentiate the camp counsellors who neglected him from the ones he is killing. Jason's obedience to his mother is quite a thorny issue. I don't think Jason kills camp counsellors because his mother has told him to.
The whole reason she killed them in the first place was because she believed that that is what he wanted of her. (In the original Friday the 13th, a voice in her head tells her, "Kill her, mommy!") Instead, I think it's fairer to say that both Mommy and Jason are driven by their own emotions and outrage. The idea of disassociation as the primary motivation of the killers is one greatly stressed by the filmmakers in the first two Friday the 13th films. In the original, Mommy holds a potential victim directly responsible for killing her son. But the very idea that this is all that got Jason through roughly nine films is sort of exasperating, if not out-and-out offensive. It's better, I think, to redirect their motivations from a specific teenager they keep on seeing to the entire culture that let Jason drown. This is not that big of a stretch: Mommy says in Friday the 13th that she would not have the camp re-opened. While this would make more sense if she bore some sort of semblance to sane, we can see how easily another drowning could happen.
The teenagers Jason and his mother kill are hedonistic, plastic, and entirely free of both worry and intelligence. The series reminds me of times of H.G. Wells's The Time Machine, with the monstrous Morlocks occasionally plucking off one of the beautiful, child-like Elois they've been raising. At no point do any of these teens so much as begin to suggest that they're different. We meet the one character who survives when she arrives late for orientation, a trespass she can almost freely flaunt as she is sleeping with the head counsellor. Jiminy Cricket!
I mentioned in the previous review how one of the victims had a dream where it was raining blood. It was close to one of the signs of the Apocalypse, and she was basically too dense to realize that this meant the end. Not to mention, of course, the symbolism of the day Friday the 13th itself as the betrayal and crucifixion of Christ. In Friday the 13th Part 2, the heroine makes a curious word choice in describing Jason's return from the dead as a "resurrection." Is Jason a Christ figure? Or rather, in keeping with the apocalyptic thread, an Antichrist figure? It's not that far of a stretch, really. Although I admit to never finishing the book, Dostoyevsky's The Idiot was of course a Christ figure who liked to hang around children. The retarded John Coffey character in The Green Mile was an obvious Christ figure ("J.C.") as well. It's worth noting, I think, that we have no knowledge about Jason's father. He seems almost irrelevant.
There is, of course, a great absurdity to the idea of Jason as an Antichrist figure to which I am not blind. I would think that the Antichrist would want to eliminate good and promote evil. Jason simply eliminates the otherwise insignificant. Nobody in Friday the 13th Part 2 really represents anything that can be interpreted as virtue. The whole Apocalyptic Christian subtext is in itself a sort of sarcastic joke. As Jason's evil stems as much from his innocence as good stems from the innocence of the idiots around him, there proves to be even less to the motivation of his murders than meets the eye. The interpretation of Jason as an Antichrist figure is worth mentioning, however, because I believe that it is symptomatic of our desire to sympathize and take sides with him over his boring victims. Those who are disturbed by how these modern movie monsters--the Jasons and Freddies, the Chuckies and Michael Myerses--become famous by virtue of their mayhem haven't seen the movies: A good deal of the time, they are the most interesting and sympathetic characters in the whole film. The original Friday the 13th played like sort of a lowbrow "Waiting for Godot". Death was mainly there to show how meaningless life was. The common reading that people in Friday the 13th movies die because they have sex--that Jason metes out a puritanical justice upon the encroachment of adulthood (meaning after sex the "child dies"), or by extension that he represents AIDS (although I think that these films precede the disease by a little, especially among the heterosexual community)--is more convincing in this film.
Miner seems to reserve a very extreme hatred for women in this film. This is the first film in the series that shows any nudity, but there is something sort of distasteful about it. One girl in particular is introduced to us in very short, very tight shorts and a shirt that tightly hugs her breasts. She later goes skinny-dipping and we view her from a distance. Where previously her sexuality was accentuated, here it is nearly non-existent. While I believe that in the former scene we are directly seeing her from the perspective of a horny teenager and in the latter we are directly seeing her from the perspective of asexual Jason, in both she is severely objectified.
In From Dusk Till Dawn, honorary supporting actor Tom Savini talks about how it's easy to put a stake through the heart of the vampire prostitutes because their "flesh is soft and mushy." Indeed, as a make-up artist, Tom Savini's special effects stress the softness of the flesh. Who can forget how easily the zombies in Dawn of the Dead chewed through the bodies of their victims? It was indeed nauseatingly tactile. I find the violence in Friday the 13th Part 2 to be especially sexual, due in no small part to Savini's make-up effects. His accent on the flesh makes us think of sex or, in the case of Dawn of the Dead, food. The body is reduced to an object for gratification of the appetite. (Compare to something like Peter Jackson's gross-out classic Dead Alive, where the accent is more in ligaments and pus--the last things you think about there are sex and food.) I'm not sure who came up with idea of using piercing weapons (a spear and the ice pick come to mind) for the killings, but this decision also sexualizes the violence. Miner seems to stress the pushing of the weapon into the flesh. Penetration, in other words.
The conception of Jason mirrors, in some visual elements (and I guess one thematic element), Ed Gein, the credited granddaddy of sexual violence. Jason lives in a shack, where he keeps the mummified head of his mother, whose insanity created his own. He dresses in flannel. We reflect that if the killer were not a supernatural entity such as Jason, he'd be some kind of a crazed loner instead. To be fair, the original film had an understandable debt to the Gein-inspired Psycho. Jason's costume in this film is said to be an homage to 1976's The Town That Dreaded Sundown from (take note, "Mystery Science Theater 3000" fans) Legend of Boggy Creek auteur Charles B. Pierce. I have not seen The Town That Dreaded Sundown, but from the stills on the Internet Movie Database, it seems clear that the homage was intended. From what I have seen of Charles B. Pierce's oeuvre, and from what I've learned of The Town That Dreaded Sundown, a hickish, drive-in vibe is being channelled. The hint of Gein is then compounded.
Compared to the original, these aspects give Friday the 13th Part 2 a somewhat hollower and more nihilistic flavour. The violence is less eerie and inevitable than it is fetishistic and passionate. I can't say for sure whether or not I feel it's an improvement on the original film--it is simply something different in the same vein. The picture ends with a shot of the mummified head of Jason's mother that looks like an album cover for a death metal band. That's appropriate, I think.
by Bill Chambers The second movie on the first disc, Friday the 13th Part 2 likewise receives a 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colours are a bit more naturalistic this time out (a plus), while grain is denser in low-lit scenes (a debatable minus). Ultimately its strengths and weaknesses balance out to produce something on a par with the previous film. Ditto the Dolby 2.0 mono sound--it's thin but clean.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Friday the 13th Part 2 arrives on Blu-ray looking less glossy than its predecessor does on the format, and frankly I prefer it that way. The 1.78:1, 1080p transfer can be fairly grainy, nowhere more so than during the prologue and climax, but it's not the opaque, scummy grain that overtook the DVD. Again like the original, Friday the 13th Part 2 is more saturated than you remember in HiDef, but if there's an objective flaw to the image it's the tendency for blacks to crush. (Remember the DVD, though? I mean, at least there are blacks.) While the attendant 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track isn't nearly as processed-sounding as I dreaded, it's so thin and hemispheric as to be barely distinguishable from the mono alternative. The only benefit to the remix is having dialogue firmly anchored in the centre channel. Extras begin with "Inside Crystal Lake Memories" (11 mins., HD), a quasi-infomercial in which Peter Bracke, author of the titular tome, is interviewed by Del Howison--owner of Dark Delicacies, the only bookstore in America devoted to horror--about the franchise in general and Friday the 13th Part 2 in specific. Howison plays dumb and kisses ass when he doesn't really need to and the semi-literate Bracke acts like he's on "Frontline", but the piece reveals a few things I'd either suppressed or never heard before--chiefly, that Paramount vetoed producer Sean S. Cunningham's plan to launch an anthology under the Friday the 13th imprimatur rather than crank out a proper sequel to the first film. (Halloween III: Season of the Witch would prove the folly of his vision.) Also, Friday the 13th Part 2 was apparently hit hard by the MPAA, and the excised gore seems to have not survived.
"Friday's Legacy: Horror Conventions" (7 mins., HD) is another indirect advertisement, this time for Scarefest, touted by its promoters as being fan-friendly and conscientious enough to screen prints instead of DVDs when hosting a revival showing of something like Friday the 13th. In "Lost Tales from Camp Blood - Part II" (9 mins., HD), writer-director Andrew Ceperley (who credits himself with "visual effects" on the previous featurettes) takes his tone-deaf homage to the series out into the woods but unfortunately doesn't bury it, while "Jason Forever" (29 mins., SD) appears to be a segment orphaned from the 2004 box set. Therein, Bracke moderates a convention panel with four "Jasons" (Ari Lehman (Friday the 13th), Warrington Gillette (Part 2), C.J. Graham (Part VI), and Kane Hodder (VII, VIII, IX, X)), each of whom additionally appears in talking-heads interspersed throughout. Maybe it's the concentrated exposure, but I'm sorry to say that, from Lehman's cross-promotion of his new CD to Graham's weirdly-expressed hope that his son will one day play Jason to Gillette's and Hodder's nursing of grudges, these psych-faux-paths give off a uniformly gross vibe that made me want to shower immediately afterwards. Hodder has the word "kill" tattooed on the inside of his lip; it's not endearing. Friday the 13th Part 2's trailer, in full 1080p, rounds out the disc.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III (1982)
DVD - Image B Sound B- Commentary B+
BD - Image A- Sound B Extras B-
starring Dana Kimmell, Paul Kratka, Tracie Savage, Jeffrey Rogers
screenplay by Martin Kitrosser, Carol Watson
directed by Steve Miner
by Alex Jackson Friday the 13th Part III has a lighter, goofier tone than its predecessors. Jason is still, of course, going around killing teenagers (or rather teenagers-at-heart), but the film almost seems to have forgotten all about him. According to the IMDb, this is the only film in the series where his name is never mentioned (save for within clips from Friday the 13th Part 2); I know that it sounds awfully pointless to complain that the film views Jason as nothing more than a killing machine, but in contrast to the previous films in the series, this becomes a valid criticism. Friday the 13th Part III shortchanges us on the Jason mythology--and that is an almost unthinkable offense. A review at DVD VERDICT complains about the overuse of POV shots in the film; I honestly cannot remember seeing very many POV shots, except of course when stuff is thrown into the screen to exploit the film's original 3-D photography. (Which I cannot imagine is remotely effective: Whenever an object is pushed in front of the lens, the background goes completely out of focus.) Jason's presence is typically handled through the victims' point-of-view, and it doesn't seem to work as well. In addition to this, the "ki ki ki ch ch ch" sound effects appear to be missing. These effects were, of course, meant to draw us into the schizophrenic mind of Jason/Mother. The omission of these elements sends a clear message: this isn't as much Jason's show any more.
The film doesn't get off to a very good start. The prologue is simply a lengthy reprise of the ending of Friday the 13th Part 2. They try to tie things in a little by showing the last survivor being taken away on a broadcast of the evening news, but we realize that it's all highly unnecessary and they are just trying to pad the running time. The opening sequence has the titles zooming towards us. It looks very cheap, and a disco synthesizer score--which is admittedly pretty groovy but is still a disco synthesizer score--compounds the effect. Have they given up all pretense of being serious?
Jason's first two victims are a grocery-store proprietor who regularly sneaks snacks from his own shop from his domineering wife. He also sneaks pet animals, like snakes and rabbits. The wife, her hair wrapped around curlers, looks younger than she should be. The message, I think, may be that these characters should have been killed by Jason years ago when they were still horny teenagers. I can't imagine that the two characters still have sex. The wife suppresses her husband's appetite for food, saying that the doctor told him he shouldn't eat so much. She refuses pleasure for pleasure's sake, pawning off accountability on an unchallenged, nearly unknowable authority. Her religiosity is in a sense not really a fully developed sense of morality, and following that she lacks a fully developed sense of spirituality or humanity. This goes back to my original observation that the victims in the Friday the 13th films do not die because some sort of karmic force is punishing them for their heedless hedonism, but because they do not have lives that are worth protecting. It depresses me to imagine the victims of Friday the 13th not dying, growing up to become the storeowner and his wife and mistakenly thinking that they have grown past their sex-and-pot teenage years instead of simply trading them for a different kind of vapid idiocy.
I suppose that all of this is not entirely without value in a Friday the 13th film, but it's my duty to report that these characters add up to more padding and unwanted silliness. The "rest of the film" involves six teens-at-heart and two hippies out for a vacation in the woods. This is the first film where they aren't camp counsellors, and a brief study of the other films shows that Jason has killed fewer camp counsellors than he has regular joes. The most interesting character is Shelly, a chubby loser with a "Jewfro." He plays lots of practical jokes where he pretends that he has been murdered, or he sneaks up on his friends dressed as a homicidal maniac. He wants to fit in with everyone else, and hopefully get some from a blind date with whom his roommate set him up. Shelly's presence isn't entirely unwelcome. He doesn't have the cookie-cutter appearance of the other characters, whom I found to be highly indistinguishable, and this alienation is used to underscore a very specific thematic resonance. One of Shelly's pranks incorporates the use of a goalie's hockey mask. This mask turns out to be, you guessed it, taken from him by Jason and has now become Jason's trademark. The next seven films in the series feature the hockey mask in their poster art; Jason wears it throughout the rest of the series, natch. In a film where the characters can't even be bothered to utter his name, it's curious that Jason adopts this little memento of one of his kills to be his trademark throughout the rest of his life (and thereafter).
The outcast Shelly has used the mask for a dual purpose: to hide his hated appearance, and to incorporate himself into the lives of the people he feels exist outside of him. We can imagine that the mask serves a similar purpose for Jason. I remarked in my review of Friday the 13th Part 2 that the killings lean towards the sexual through the use of piercing weapons. While I believe that the purpose of this was mostly to produce a more pleasingly misogynistic murder and nihilistic tone, the parallel with Shelly seems to suggest that the Jason killings may be an attempt towards intimacy. Given that Shelly could be a reference to Mary Shelley, and that Shelly is arguably to Jason as Mary Shelley is to Frankenstein (that is, the author), perhaps these murders are the only way the creature can communicate with the rest of the world. We imagine that Jason has been without his mother for so long that these murders represent the extent to which he is able to maintain contact with her. Or perhaps he acts out of compulsion and frustration. The only way that any of these characters could possibly recognize him to any extent is if he is out to kill them. Recognition, rather than vengeance, may be what both Jason and Mother had been wanting all along. In that same vein, both Shelly and Jason force the characters to face the sort of ugliness in their being that everyone else wants to ignore. Shelly almost revels in his gawkiness as Jason revels in his lunking monstrosity, an admittedly invaluable aspect that reflects well on Friday the 13th Part III's contribution to the series.
There is an interesting added subtext to the meaning of Jason and thematically why he is killing. The heroine mentions that she ran away from home after her mother hit her. She was sleeping in the woods when Jason attacked her. She woke up in the hospital. Her parents never mentioned anything about what happened ever again. Her attack by Jason is then meant to parallel the attack by her parents, each entity trying to restrain her freedom as an adult through physical means. Similarly, these entities have their very existence denied by most of the rest of the characters. This may be one of the first times a character in a Friday the 13th film is given enough of a background for their encounter with Jason to amount to something substantial. At the end of the film, she tries to hang Jason on a makeshift noose. In order to free himself of the rope, he lifts his mask and slips through. She sees his face and recognizes him as her attacker. We are then to believe she has something invested in defeating Jason: not only is she fighting for her life, she is fighting the threat that her domineering parents have put onto her. She is liberating herself as an adult and as a woman. I fear that this aspect is not completely effective. The relationship seems to be grossly underdeveloped, as we are not given very much insight as to just what being an adult means to her, or really why her mother slapped her. It's curious that the filmmakers tried it at all.
In the where-are-they-now department, the actor who played Shelly, Larry Zerner, now works at Kirsch and Mitchell practicing entertainment law! Meanwhile, actress Tracie Savage ("Debbie" in the film) is an Emmy-award winning news anchor for Channel 4 News in Los Angeles. She was the chief field reporter for the O.J. Simpson trial! This was interesting to me because Savage seems especially bad in this film, even according to Friday the 13th standards. Debbie is the only female who has sex in the film (and almost shows some nudity in so doing and in taking a hot shower afterwards), but although she calls the encounter "the best one yet," she doesn't seem at all winded or exhausted from the experience. Or maybe (slaps forehead), that's the entire point. It's hard to adequately judge the acting in these films because the actors are never really given characters to play or things to do. But Savage makes you realize how much better other Friday the 13th veterans were in actually portraying the aftermath of an allegedly earth-shattering orgasm.
Debbie claims she is pregnant, but Savage seems to forget this in her portrayal. Seriously though, I think this may be the entire point. After sex, her boyfriend offers to get her a beer. She agrees but then later decides she doesn't want one. I suspect that the character actually forgot that she was pregnant, but then suddenly remembered while pontificating on it a little. Debbie does not seem to possess any sort of fear or excitement about being pregnant. She treats it very stunningly in an entirely nonchalant manner. When she is murdered, we are not shocked because of the humanity that the pregnancy has lent her character, but because of the lack of humanity the pregnancy has lent her character. It could be said that Jason is just cutting to the chase. What chance could that kid have to develop beyond a Friday the 13th victim when the environment into which he/she is born in is so hollow and soulless?
The hippies in the film blend in pretty well with the other characters, although I don't recall an adequate explanation for their existence. They look old enough to have attended Woodstock. Early in the film, smoke comes pouring out of the gang's van. They run to it thinking it's on fire, but of course it's just those wacky hippies breathing in a bong. Yuk yuk! More stoner humour follows shortly thereafter when the cops are driving behind them, sirens blazing. Thinking they've been had, they try to eat their stash. It turns out the cops are just going to the scene of a gruesome slaying; the gang collectively "awww"s when they realize they ate all that pot for nothing while simultaneously betraying relief that they weren't caught. The facile irony behind the idea that this killer they are shrugging off can do more harm than some officers looking for a pot bust nonetheless suggests an air of superiority towards the shallow priorities of its victims. They have an extremely limited perspective towards the world, and view the police as an institution that serves no other purpose but to spoil their party.
The filmmakers eventually introduce a biker gang that teases Shelly and his date when they're buying groceries at the town market. Shelly accidentally knocks down their motorcycles pulling out of the lot, and so one of the gangsters breaks his window. This pushes Shelly over the edge, motivating him to turn around and smash their motorcycles for good. When this same scenario played out in the Mystery Science Theater non-classic Girl in Gold Boots, it was to help establish, to some degree, the protagonist's lawlessness and fearlessness. That is very much the point in Friday the 13th Part III, I think: Shelly doesn't look nearly as much of a wimp when he runs over the motorcycle, and doing so greatly softens his date's view of him. Outside of character exposition, the scene didn't serve much of a point in Girl with Gold Boots, as it is never mentioned again. In Friday the 13th Part III, it's folded into the plot. The gang needs revenge for the crime, and so they siphon out the gas from their victims' car and intend to burn down their barn, I think. A car without gas proves to be a menace when you are trying to get away from a crazed slasher.
The costumes of Friday the 13th Part III's biker gang are so heavily contrived that the gang seems to become a knowingly artificial construction. They are all in leather and have skulls silk-screened onto their shirts. One biker is seen constantly smoking a cigarette. When he is murdered, he gasps and the cigarette falls from his lips soaked in blood. This kill is almost complemented by the one where the stoner hippy is electrocuted and fumes rise from his corpse. His girlfriend is killed with a hot poker, and again, more fumes. They died, unfortunately, literally smoking. Gags like this are more at home in a Mel Brooks-/Keenan Ivory Wayans-like parody. I am not entirely without affection for the distance and hatred for their targets that those filmmakers find through their sarcastic satire. But the Friday the 13th films are a more delicate species, one where the distance seems more subtle and direct and I think more poignant. I better prefer an in-joke like where the surviving character falls asleep in a canoe, just like the last two actresses in the last two films, and gets attacked by not young Jason, not older Jason, but by Jason's sweater-clad mother, who should be headless. That scene manages to work on its own level and on a higher one, unlike those other two.
Still, the smoking gags used in the film are still funnier and more subtle than most of Brooks's and Wayans's jokes, even if they are of the same breed. While I think that Friday the 13th Part III is one of the lesser Friday the 13th films, it doesn't stray too far off the beaten path. As different as the film is, it manages to remain very much the same. In a way, I would like to recommend it as a guilty pleasure for Friday fans, if you can detect what I mean without interpreting that statement as doublespeak. I think it's quite telling that for as many people who feel that this is one of the least, there are as many who feel it's one of the best. It probably depends mostly on why you are watching a Friday the 13th movie in the first place.The kills in Friday the 13th Part III, including the ones I have mentioned, are among the more memorable in the series. There are a few more gag murders. Jason squeezes one victim's head until his eyeball pops out towards the camera, and the effect is amusing, if obviously fake. One character is walking on his hands when Jason slices him down the middle with his machete. One of the of the most disturbing murders is the execution of Shelly's date: Shelly had just scared her, and told her that he has to pull pranks on her, because otherwise nobody would like him. She tells him that he's wrong and she does like him. He goes away, and she sighs. She picks up his wallet and looks through it, seeing a picture of him and his mother. She smiles; Shelly really is an OK guy. She then accidentally drops his wallet into the water (an obvious sexual symbol) she's wading in. While fishing for it, she sees a guy with a hockey mask. She assumes this is Shelly, but on a second glance realizes that it's a stranger. Abruptly the stranger raises a spear gun and fires one into her eye socket.
What is so interesting about the scene is that a real relationship was developing here. We half want these two to get together. Jason doesn't allow them that sort of relief, because he doesn't give a damn. The more you care about these characters, the more absurd you realize the idea of caring for them is. Why make plans, why look or think of love, when you exist for no other reason than to be gutted like an animal? This girl's entire existence doesn't have much more value than that of a used tissue. The thought is frightening and sort of tragic. And that is basically the backbone of the Friday the 13th experience.
by Bill Chambers Paramount's 2.32:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of Friday the 13th Part III is truly a conundrum. For starters, the studio has once again denied us a 3-D viewing option, and registration issues resulting from the downconversion to 2-D are a constant source of irritation. Yet large portions of the film not only are free of this bleariness, but also sparkle more than they have any right to. (Note that the opening credits are windowboxed at about 2:1--for reasons indecipherable, considering that the preceding Friday the 13th Part 2 excerpt is cropped to fill the 'scope frame.) Meanwhile, the Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio lives up to lowered expectations.
The first entry in the series to sport extras of any kind, Friday the 13th Part III reunites actors Larry Zerner ("Shelly"), Dana Kimmell ("Chris"), Paul Kratka ("Rick"), and Richard "Pierce Brosnan" Brooker ("Jason") for a feature-length commentary moderated by Peter Bracke, the former webmaster of DVD FILE. The mood is convivial and the participants have surprisingly vivid memories of the shoot, maybe because most of them never went on to anything else of note. Zerner's is the highlight among the audition stories that pepper the track; a non-actor, he landed the role because he played into the screenwriters' perception of Shelly--and try as he might to convince us of otherwise, he doesn't seem to have changed all that much in the intervening years. (That's Zerner's own mother in the wallet photo, by the by.) To be sure, the conversation runs out of steam with a ways to go (and Kimmell's polite-company voice reaches a point of inaudibility), but the sheer novelty of reassembling this cast is such that I'm willing to overlook its flagging momentum.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Thanks to Friday the 13th Part III's Count Floyd-worthy gimmicks--and contrary to Alex's hypothesis--this is probably the most effective 3-D experience I've had at home. Subtlety may be a virtue on the big screen, but it's not on the small one--not if you're going to pay the price of a headache and mild nausea. That being said, now that Blu-ray 3D is here, this 2009 disc's anaglyphic presentation looks pretty primitive, and one wonders if Paramount will go to the trouble of reissuing it on the new format. Unlike on DVD, the film's 2.35:1, 1080p transfer is about as grainy in 2-D (the default viewing option) as it is in 3-D, which is to say very. But the image is also, in 2-D at least, tack-sharp, so much so that any schmutz trapped behind the state-of-the-art 3-D lenses becomes comically apparent--particularly in daytime sequences such as Shelly's run-in with the biker gang. (The increased detail doesn't annul the stereoscopic registration issues, of course.) Really, aside from its periodically crushed blacks, the video is beyond further improvement, while the 5.1 remix sounds a lot less harsh in Dolby TrueHD than it did in plain ol' Dolby Digital on DVD. (Not that the original mono track, also on board (in lossy DD 2.0), is dramatically inferior.) Note that the festive group commentary from the "Ultimate Edition" DVD box set did not survive the next-gen transition, though two pairs of red/blue glasses are included for your 3-D viewing pleasure.
Extras follow the template set by the Blu-ray editions of the earlier films. A trio of featurettes begins with "Fresh Cuts: 3D Terror" (13 mins., HD), in which "3-D supervisor" Martin Jay Sadoff recalls growing up with a guy who used to dream of running a movie studio where he'd resurrect 70mm and 3-D and employ all his friends. In true "The Rest of the Story" fashion, it turns out that guy was future Paramount head Frank Mancuso, Jr., who made good on his word by hiring Sadoff to work on a 3-D instalment of the Friday the 13th franchise. Sadoff proceeds to show off a trick lens that seems to have made staging the "comin' at ya" gags easier (though not much: actor Larry "Shelly" Zerner and others recall an arduous, time-consuming shoot), while Crystal Lake Memories author Peter M. Bracke recounts the film's alternate endings in lieu of footage of the same. For what it's worth, Sadoff alleges that the movie earned $28M in its first three days and notes how impressive this is in 1983 dollars, but in fact the opening-weekend gross was closer to $9M, at least before inflation. "Legacy of the Mask" (10 mins., HD) explains the logic that led to Jason donning a goalie mask in the second sequel; Douglas White provides my favourite tidbit, revealing that the mask is a clear plastic shell painted on the underside in order to prevent chipping. Lastly, "Slasher Films: Going for the Jugular" (7 mins., HD) is a generic primer on the titular sub-genre that squanders the likes of Tom Savini and Tony Todd. The final instalment of Andrew Ceperley's tedious triptych "Lost Tales from Camp Blood" (5 mins., HD) joins Friday the 13th Part III's theatrical trailer in rounding out the platter. Sadly, the latter's in 2-D.
FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984)
***½/**** Image B Sound B-
starring Kimberly Beck, Peter Barton, Corey Feldman, E. Erich Anderson
screenplay by Barney Cohen
directed by Joseph Zito
by Alex Jackson At the time it was made, I suppose that the filmmakers were thinking--or at least wanted us to think that they were thinking--that this would be the very last Friday the 13th movie in the entire series. They seem to have gone all out with it, ramping-up the quality despite a budget significantly decreased from that of Friday the 13th Part III. For what it's worth, The Final Chapter's cinematographer Joao Fernandes had a lot more experience under his belt than either Barry Abrams (Friday the 13th), Peter Stein (Friday the 13th Part 2), or Gerald Feil (Friday the 13th Part III) did. I think it shows; compared to the first three entries in the series, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter looks slicker, more like a "Hollywood" venture. In regards to the photography, it's plausible to cast doubt upon the professionalism of Fernandes: many of the pictures he lensed were porno films or close satellites of porno films. He did Fantasy with Gerard Damiano and shot movies with titles like The Spy Who Came, It's Not My Body, and Little Girl...Big Tease, about which little other information can be obtained.
While I'm not very familiar (hell, not at all familiar) with '70s pornography, it's fairly well-known that they were made like other independent films. You know, with an actual cinematographer and stuff. And Damiano's films are said to be some of the most respectable of the period. (The recent SIGHT AND SOUND poll shows one critic declaring The Devil in Miss Jones one of the ten greatest films ever made.) The point is that Fernandes shot real films, and lots of them. I realize that we can again argue this assumption not only through my never being exposed to Fernandes's work, but by virtue that the inferior Friday the 13th Part III was shot by Gerald Feil, who worked under Peter Brook on the original Lord of the Flies.
We may have less difficulty attributing the superior feeling of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter to director Joseph Zito. Zito didn't make very many films, but the quality of his direction is better articulated through the film itself than by any assumed experience he had beforehand. His approach is decidedly removed from Sean Cunningham's underhanded mysticism or Steve Miner's sly humour; Jason is seriously harsh in this film. He doesn't just kill his victims, he tears them apart.
Lots of glass panes get smashed in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. If you aren't (and even if you are) hip to the Friday the 13th groove, it gets awfully repetitive and derisively silly. Whereas I began to think maybe this was symbolic of stolen virginity, I soon came upon a more coherent and more viable explanation: the glass is simply the breath of life in Jason's victims. He smashes it thoroughly, violently, and loudly. It is evidence of his awesome strength and the determinism of the violence he commits. I remember acknowledging that the killings in Steve Miner's Friday the 13th Part 2 were done by piercing weapons, sexualizing them. In Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Jason doesn't have piercing weapons. He has knives, in particular a machete. He doesn't use them to slice or chop, mind you, but to stab. The visual is likewise of the flesh being penetrated, again simulating the sex act. Much more disturbingly, however, pain seems to be the leitmotif of the murders. These people really suffer.
Jason murders a sexy nurse and a guy taking a shower in part by fairly slowly pushing their skulls in. A hitchhiker gets one through the neck while she is eating a banana (the banana is squeezed, then plops off). One guy is crucified across a doorway and casually pulled down later by Jason, tearing his hands like clay. While there is one cutting death (one with lots of documentation from horror fan websites), it's with a hacksaw to the neck. Imagine getting cut in the neck with a hacksaw--not a machete or an axe, but a hacksaw. If you don't cringe, you're either already dead or one of those sick fucks who has actually seen the full Guinea Pig series. These people die profoundly long deaths, and Jason is able to enjoy and accentuate their suffering. In earlier entries, a cut is made in the body and the victims bleed to death. In Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Jason holds onto the weapon as the victim flops around. This makes the sexualization of the violence much, much more disturbing. The killings obtain a sadistic kink. Not only is the violence in the film more extreme, but so is the T&A.
There is much more nudity in this instalment, although no actual sex. The absence of any actual on-screen sex leads us to better accept a certain theory about the Friday the 13th series that I'll get to later. One of the attractive things about the nudity and sex is how utterly unashamed the girls are. There was one skinny-dipping scene in Friday the 13th Part 2, but it was late at night when nobody was supposed to see. In Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, everyone goes skinny-dipping in broad daylight. Later, a girl takes a dip in the lake expecting her boyfriend to run in after her. He does, and we see him stripping down before joining her. Which brings us to another point, that these Friday the 13th films have often been accused of misogyny for showing lots of women getting naked and getting killed. True, they lean that way, but we sure do see our share of bare-assed guys. And there is one sequence I find especially interesting: a couple is taking a shower, making out. She gets out and tells her lover that she'll be waiting for him. While he finishes, Jason comes to get him. Thinking it's his friend Teddy, whose previous boasts of sexual prowess were found to be grossly overstated, the showering guy makes a crack about dropping his soap and invites Teddy to jump in. Even if the character is joking, we have a fairly good case for projecting that he and Teddy are having sex. Or if they are not having sex, the stage is set to view the character in a homosexual context. Jason kills him, again in a bit of painful sexualized violence. We have here then a guy who, after making a jestful pass at another guy while taking a shower, is murdered. The famous shower scene in Psycho was of Janet Leigh receiving a "rape by steel" from Norman Bates, who can only let out his sexual frustrations through murder. Similarly in his murder of the showering guy, as is the case with all the women he has murdered, Jason's killing is in effect a "rape by steel."
What is fascinating about this scene is not so much that it levels the playing field (there is still that sexual violence against women), but as there is sexual violence against men, men are thus turned into victims and sexual targets for destruction. The sex in Friday the 13th films has more often than not existed between people in relationships. This is not the case in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, in which random pairings happen left and right. Carrying the Larry Zerner torch from Friday the 13th Part III, Crispin Glover's Jimmy actually gets some from a hottie he had just met that evening. Teddy, the target of that "dropped the soap" crack, has explained to Jimmy that Jimmy's girlfriend dumped him because he was a "dead fuck." This is a running gag throughout the film, and what plot exists generally revolves around whether or not Jimmy will be able to redeem himself.
Well, he does, natch. When he asks his lover if he was any good, she smiles and rubs against him moaning, "I think you were incredible." After handing Teddy a pair of stolen panties as evidence of his conquest, Jimmy is murdered. This of course does not seem nearly half as cruel as Part III's execution of Zerner, who remained a virgin and undesirable loser all the way up to the end. It's nice, I guess, that Jimmy regains his sexual prowess. Nonetheless, I must acknowledge that that term "dead fuck" has secondary meanings which are impossible to deny or ignore. Being dead and "fucking" make up the only two traits that are needed for Jimmy and for that matter the majority of the characters. I was going to write that the murdered hitchhiker exists only to be murdered, and that she is entirely peripheral to the plot. As I've written again and again, though, there is no plot, only periphery. None of these people exist for any other reason than to be murdered.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has been read as a pro-vegetarian film. The meat eaters in that film learn what it's like to be at the other end of the fork. ("They just shoot a bullet in their head, and then retract it. It's just BOOM-shht-BOOM-shht." "Franklin, I like meat, please change the subject!") The idea is that they, and the audience, are treated like animals and we have to acknowledge what we do to animals in order to eat by vicariously experiencing their slaughter. Now, quite a few of the animals we eat do not naturally procreate. We have bred them in a manner where they would not be able to survive without us. Whereas at one point, cows, turkeys, and whatnot existed for their own sake, they are now at a point where they exist only to be killed and eaten. This is the life of the Friday the 13th character. Whereas in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre we identify or are meant to identify with the characters, we stand above them in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. We look at them objectively, not personally. Jason is not cannibalistic, of course. Also, he is not hunting these characters down; there is no sport. It's more like their murders are a foregone conclusion, an excuse to work out the muscles in his arm, and amuse himself. The film suggests that Jason is exacting revenge against those who have murdered his mother and caused him so much pain--but that doesn't seem to accurately explain the nature of the film's killings, as it would put Jason on an equal plane with his victims. It's very clear here that he is superior to them.
In the best movie monster tradition, we have further evidence of Jason being a product of the subconscious, doing that which the conscious entity cannot. Corey Feldman's Tommy Jarvis is a disturbed little kid. There is a strong implication that Jason is an extension of his subconscious. He sees his horny teenage neighbours getting dressed and is visibly highly excited. The Jason character could then be Tommy's way of "having sex with them." Tommy makes masks, and invites a teenage boy (on whom he has a sort of boy/male adult figure-type crush) to his room to see them, whereupon he plays a bunch of little jokes with his masks. This seems to further the idea that the murders themselves are a form of communication between Jason (as Tommy) and the other characters. Tommy is the one who finally defeats Jason. He sets the stage by first shaving his head and dressing like young Jason. When Jason sees this he is visibly confused. After he gruesomely puts one through Jason's eye socket, Tommy embraces his sister only to notice that Jason's fingers are still twitching. Upon seeing this, Tommy flies into a rage and heavily hacks Jason to pieces. He is vicious and crazed at this point. Although the film appears to be saying that Tommy is now becoming Jason, Tommy supports the popular theory of Jason punishing people for having sex and of the virgin surviving until the end because he/she is most like the killer and has remained a child. This theory is illustrated rather brilliantly in Manny Coto's Dr. Giggles, but until now seemed difficult to properly ascribe to the Friday the 13th films. None of the characters until Tommy Jarvis had a whole lot to them. They are better as victims, empty vessels to be valued solely because they exist as sexual beings. Either way, I suppose that this is more or less a chicken/egg type of argument.
Corey Feldman and Crispin Glover were not exactly stars when Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter was released. Respectively, The Goonies and Gremlins and Back to the Future were just around the corner. Both Feldman and Glover were experienced child stars, however, and considerably more visible than many of their Friday the 13th brethren. (I believe I would argue that Kevin Bacon in the original Friday the 13th remains the series' most famous veteran.) The presence of both actors nonetheless helps transform the film into a true oddity. Glover takes great pains to be an eccentric in his career. He wrote and directed a mostly unreleased film called What Is It? where the entire cast was afflicted with Down's Syndrome, and has since published the occasional book of poetry. Most famously he showed up dressed like his character from River's Edge on "Late Night with David Letterman". Apparently staying in character, he threw a swift kick at Letterman, missing his head by inches and causing them to cut to commercial. You've convinced us, Crispin: you're entirely out of your gourd.
Glover does the best work of any Friday the 13th actor up to this point. I was actually curious about what was going to happen to him. Nonetheless, one has suspicions regarding the sincerity of his performance, as one must. The only time Glover slips that trademark weirdness through is in his now-infamous dancing scene. He passionately, sincerely, and forcibly jerks around in a contra-rhythm to the music. It's embarrassing and delightful to watch. Glover looks and sounds a helluva lot like David Lynch in this film. He conveys a Lynchian "Jimmy Stewart from Mars" vibe he would tap into again in Neil LaBute's bizarre and disturbingly pat Nurse Betty. This is Glover "acting normal," seeping into the woodwork of an irrelevant Jason victim while maintaining all the properties of a Crispin Glover. He's a bouillon cube adding salty flavour to the formula.
Corey Feldman's role as Tommy Jarvis is of course highly significant, and I didn't like his performance as much. But Feldman is a real oddity. We don't tend to treat his career like a piece of performance art, but perhaps we should. His latter years include a sequel to Rock 'n' Roll High School called Rock 'n' Roll High School Forever (when I was younger, I believed that Rock 'n' Roll High School Forever was the best movie ever made) and Meatballs 4. Not to mention Stepmonster, Bordello of Blood, and the occasional appearance on "Son of the Beach". Feldman, too, has more or less taken a Generation X-like stance of irony over the films of his hated childhood. His hipster/geek persona is then cannibalized and turned into crap that knows and celebrates its crappiness. Feldman seems to loathe himself something awful. His presence in ludicrous pop fantasies like The Lost Boys, The Goonies, and Gremlins automatically obtain a knowing "train wreck" effect due to all that has followed. The accumulated impact of Feldman as Tommy Jarvis takes the best qualities of both Miner and Cunningham's work, turning the Friday the 13th film into something of a ludicrous pop fantasy. What Feldman's Tommy does is nuts and insanely over-the-top, but it's the sort of nuts and insanely over-the-top that Feldman's presence can only accentuate.
Together the heightened sex and violence, the professional approach, and the possibly unintentional strength of Corey Feldman and Crispin Glover add up to a film that rewards Friday the 13th fans for sticking it out. Is Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter a great movie? Is it a masterpiece? Oh boy, that's a tough question, but it's one that we must finally ask, as this is probably as good a Friday the 13th film as we can get without them ceasing to be Friday the 13th films. The Final Chapter is far from perfect as a self-contained piece, and unfortunately that is how I feel we must view movies. I'd prefer to simply say that the Friday the 13th experience is one of the greatest of all cinematic experiences, with The Final Chapter serving as one of its high points. If you only bother to see one Friday the 13th film, you'll want to make this one it.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter begins with a highlight reel of Jason's killings edited into a brutal montage. We see pretty much every murder he's committed thus far. For the unconverted this may seem tasteless and cheap. For the converted, we see it for what it is: a celebration of our beloved mass murderer's life and afterlife on this, the final Friday. Fortunately for us, Jason would come back for four or five more sequels, going all the way to outer space. It almost brings a tear to my eye.
by Bill Chambers The second movie on the second disc, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter sports a fair-to-middling 1.75:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. There's a seemingly inescapable '80s patina to the image: Everything looks a little washed-out, a little too brown, and a bit too blotchy. That being said, the studio has probably squeezed as much blood as they can from this stone. On the other hand, the Dolby 2.0 mono track doesn't sound as brittle as the previous three.
FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING (1985)
***/**** Image A- Sound B-
starring Melanie Kinnaman, John Shepherd, Shavar Ross, Richard Young
screenplay by Martin Kitrosser & David Cohen and Danny Steinmann
directed by Danny Steinmann
by Alex Jackson As you will remember from Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, young Tommy Jarvis vanquished our favourite hockey-masked homicidal maniac Jason Voorhees, bringing an end to Jason's four-year regime of terror. He had shaven his head in order to resemble Jason, a technique that allowed him to establish trust with the monster. They are of the same origins: children who don't fit in, capable of understanding but incapable of enjoying the hedonistic pleasures of adolescence. The implication on the one hand is that their motivations stem from sexual frustration--Jason and Jarvis are both fascinated and repulsed by sex. This is a secondary factor, though. At the core, and consistent with all the Friday the 13th films from the very beginning, is the frustration of being haunted by demons (such as the subtextual sexual jealousy and frustration of The Final Chapter's Jimmy, or of the Larry Zerner character in Part III, from whom Jason obtained his hockey mask) while everyone around you is entirely carefree. These Friday the 13th films are essentially parallel to David Lynch's Blue Velvet. Some have mentioned that Blue Velvet's Dorothy and Frank are the two most sympathetic people in the film. They are sick people, whereas the Jeffrey character has the privilege of his naïveté. Friday the 13th is about film noir anti-heroes and their jealousy of the plastic Ghost World in which they live.
In Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Jarvis appears to turn into Jason. Jarvis's brutal slow-motion beating of Jason certainly reminds one of Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs; is the killing of Jason then proof that Jarvis has become as Jason is? I recently watched David Fincher's Fight Club, wherein Edward Norton destroys his alter ego Brad Pitt by shooting himself. This ending and its subsequent final shot make up for a moralistic third act. Pitt has told Norton that eventually they really will be the same, and following Norton's final and complete act of self-mutilation, his enormous suffering develops into a fully-realized consciousness, thus fulfilling Brad Pitt's prophecy. Similarly, the connection of Jason with Jarvis suggests that Jason is a creature of Jarvis's id, acting out the repressed fantasies of his subconscious. The shaved head and total mutilation of Jason's corpse imply that Jarvis has destroyed him because he finally is him. He is now all-powerful, a creature of physical supremacy and emotional and moral sublimation. My friends, Jarvis doesn't kill Jason to regain a sense of justice for the murder of his family, just as Jason doesn't kill everyone to regain a sense of justice for the murder of his family. Revenge has absolutely nothing to do with regaining justice--it has to do with regaining power. One is weakened by an attack, and through attacking back they can feel strong again. Justice is a buzzword that ignores what's really going on. This is the reason I argue that films like Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter or I Spit on Your Grave are occasionally brilliant, while films like Death Wish or Enough are seriously confused.
I cannot say that Friday the 13th: A New Beginning adequately recognizes or builds upon the promise of the last film. It has Tommy Jarvis, grown up as a teenager, haunted by memories of destroying Jason. He keeps seeing Jason in his dreams. He is unable to stop the masked one from doing his thing. Jarvis is put in the funny farm but eventually transferred into a halfway house so he can prepare to re-enter society. Quiet and moody, he does not get along well with the rest of the people at the halfway house. One guy spooks him with a mask and Jarvis wails on him. There is another round of Jason-style killings in the film. Is Jarvis now Jason, finishing what he started? In a word, no. The film gets major points for staying in the shadows. We don't cheer for Jarvis or the real killer, but we sympathize. Again, they are very much film noir antiheroes in a plastic Ghost World. They have baggage, baggage, baggage and nowhere to leave it. But the film loses major points for plain spreading thin Jarvis's transformation into Jason. It's quite obvious that I am one of the largest Friday the 13th apologists, I actually take these movies pretty seriously. But by the end of Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, you realize that the film is quite the tease. What was very significant is now the stuff of cheap gimmicks.
The violence in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning is only really sexualized twice. A girl gets undressed for bed, wearing nothing but a pair of panties. I'm prepared to believe that some women sleep in this manner, but how many pull the covers to just under their nipples? I never knew breasts had to breathe so much. Anyway, she is sleeping on the top of a bunk bed. Jason (or rather the killer--more on that later) stabs her from underneath with his machete. This is a stabbing and not a slashing, very important--it's a piercing wound simulating sexual penetration. She flops around in suffering/mock orgasm. In the other sexualized killing, a braless, dye-haired cutie in a tank top is pushed against the wall and stabbed to death. Again we hear her moan in shocked suffering/mock orgasm. Jason then sets the two up along with a boy he had previously killed in a makeshift ménage a trois. I believe he even puts this display in Tommy Jarvis's bedroom.
There is also a noticeable degree of eye violence in the film. In Friday the 13th Part III, an eyeball pops out of a skull, but in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, orbs are mutilated on three different occasions. Two of them are lovers slaughtered post-coitus. (This happens in every Friday the 13th film, but most of the time people are killed without having had sex.) The girl stretches out naked on the ground, content and satisfied with her sexual experience while her boyfriend bathes. It's one of the more erotic images in a Friday the 13th film, simply because she is so relaxed and so free with her body and her sexuality. (Understand that this is precisely what gets you killed in a Friday the 13th movie.) Jason materializes with some gardening shears and slices open her eyes. Her boyfriend comes back and Jason wraps a leather strap around his eyes from behind a tree and tightens it until it slices through the top of his head.
Now, why the eyes? The eye is often symbolic, I think, of God's omniscience. It's His all-seeing eye. It knows all. By taking it from them, Jason is robbing them of their omniscience. The taking of the eyes is the ultimate humiliation, as the power that they once had over him is usurped. Remember the serial killer in Se7en blacking out the eyes of little boys in their underwear? Speaking of the serial killer in Se7en, there may very well be an air of superiority stemming from this usurpation of power. I notice that the original 1985 poster art features red light shining through the eye sockets of Jason's goalie mask like lasers. Because Jason has extensive eyes, eyes that go in all directions, his omniscience is all-encompassing. The deterministic nature of the Jason character is then deeply realized. Without their eyes, the meaninglessness of his victims is reduced even further. (This is of course a major theme of the series.) The third victim is a cook, who simply has his eyes gouged out. This certainly throws a wrench in the machinery, as I don't know why his power would need to be usurped. The significance of his life is reduced by default. That's one of the maddening things about the movie: the philosophy behind its violence is never consistent enough, but a good deal of the time it's ear-splittingly loud.
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning is not liked very much by fans of the series. Still, the film is certainly not for people who are not fans of the series. I'm going to have to argue against the reputation the fans have given it. The problem that everyone has with the film is that the actual Jason is not in it. The person in the film doing all the killings is just wearing a Jason mask and has the same MO as the Great One. As horror film scholar Mike Bracken points out, they are still basically getting Jason. The reason most people see these movies is to see a stalking hulk of a man in a mask slaughter people in a variety of different ways. That's why the critics hate them, and that is why, I guess, we love them. Fundamentally, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning brings home the goods. However, I can sympathize with the complaint. This is the first film of the series that does not show any clips from previous Friday the 13th films. There is some dialogue from Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter on the soundtrack, but the picture never brings up how Adrienne King killed Mrs. Voorhees, or how Jason drowned as a boy, et cetera. Jason is regarded as a sort of urban legend, which is right, but the characters are much more detached from it all than in the previous films. The mythology of Jason himself is overly downplayed.
The killer turns out to be a father slaughtering in revenge for the murder of his son; he used the dead Jason as a disguise. On the one hand, this turns him into Mrs. Voorhees. She killed for the very same reason. The film therefore illuminates a thin distinction between Tommy Jarvis, the killer, and Jason Voorhees--this is a highly meaningful contribution to the Jason mythology, even if it is indirect. On the other hand, I am able to see this denouement as very Scooby-Doo. The killer isn't becoming Jason as much as pretending to be Jason. I think I would have preferred it if the film had not provided any motivation at all for him to wear the Jason mask. Mulling it over, I think the film respects the Jason mythology more than it disrespects it. Charges against it on the grounds that Jason isn't there are largely unjustified.
A bigger shock for me initially was how divorced the film is from the usual Friday the 13th aesthetic. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning is by far the goofiest Friday the 13th yet. I have heard people say that there is no humour in it--have they been seeing the same movie? From the very beginning of the film, where a young Corey Feldman is looking on as Jason Voorhees's grave is desecrated, the film develops its own brand of delirious hilarity. The Harry Manfredini score seems to be aping John Williams in a way you sometimes hear a bad movie aping John Williams. An impending Jason massacre is made to sound like a magical adventure. Later in the film the kid in the movie, named "Reckless" Reggie (Shavar Ross of "Diff'rent Strokes" fame), attacks Jason by driving a tractor at him. When one of the camp counsellors--I mean halfway-house therapists--has a chainsaw/machete duel with Jason, Reggie is enthusiastically cheering for her. Reggie prides himself on being reckless; it's not so much that he is disaffected, but that he is more than ready to take on the challenges of the adult world.
Reggie is black. Early on in the film especially, his dialogue is sprinkled with Ebonics. Reggie's blackness is used because it more strongly establishes him as streetwise. It's easier to write a child as precocious if you make him black. I am not sure that this is racism as much as it's racial shorthand through stereotype. I am sure that for many it looks like I'm using overly complex euphemisms, but Reggie is not portrayed as inferior. At one point, we see him with his brother Demon, played by black character actor Miguel A. Núñez Jr.. Demon is a stoner who lives in a trailer park and dresses like Michael Jackson. He gets diarrhea from bad burritos and has to run to the outhouse. While in there he sings back and forth to his girlfriend a song that consists almost entirely of the phrase "oh baby oh baby." I have little doubt that you would have a much easier time describing Demon as a racist caricature. Then again, I could easily imagine a white actor in this role with few, if any, alterations.
The reason that the violence in the Home Alone films hit such a cord is because it shows boys establishing their autonomy. The humour and joy of that film was in watching little Macaulay Culkin establish his manhood and his ability to be on his own. For the most part, this is healthy or at least normal stuff. Moments like Reckless Reggie's attack on Jason and his cheering during the chainsaw fight provide children watching the Friday the 13th films someone they can relate to. I think that's exactly the joke director Danny Steinmann is making here: This is self-consciously a slasher movie for kids. It's a cheap Xerox of the Spielberg magic that reminds of the quite atrocious Lady in White and The Garbage Pail Kids Movie. Assuming this material is aimed directly at kids, because this is a Friday the 13th film the presence of these elements strikes a harshly sarcastic note.
Reggie does not share any kinship with Jason as Tommy Jarvis did in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. The material is still the same, adolescence is feared and hated, but the film's childish tone does not add any thematic significance. It exists more in reference to the film's new aesthetic qualities. There is a departure from the traditional Jason mythology. It's much slicker, and doesn't take itself as seriously as its predecessors do. The first three films (Part III being the goofiest) had the texture of pulp. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter was pulp done 90% professionally. It paid homage and respect to its predecessors. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning is a lark, though. It doesn't distance itself through minimalism--it hardly considers minimalism at all. Its distance is primarily through self-conscious irony. (Friday the 13th Part III was a mixture of the two.) Steinmann does not make the film into a Mel Brooks movie, but he's clever in the way he subtly reconciles the more professional look, a personal style and a sense of humour with all the conventions of the series. The film is a crude fit, but it fits and establishes itself as a uniquely oddball contribution to the series.
In addition to the "cheap Spielberg" tone, Steinmann shoots a few of the killings in a Raimi-esque fashion. For a few quick shots we get a point-of-view shot of the weapon zooming into its screaming victim. Steinmann even ups the ante on the bad dancing shown by Crispin Glover in Friday the 13th: The Final Friday: before the tank-topped braless girl gets killed, she's dancing the Robot to some New Wave music. This is all very delirious and funny. The film is clever in having the story take place at a mental hospital halfway house, allowing for loony-on-loony violence. One resident offing another resident is the picture's first kill, the victim of which is so obnoxious that, combined with the idiocy of the murder itself, you can laugh without feeling callous. You may feel embarrassed that you haven't any semblance of taste, but you can laugh. The halfway house is generally interchangeable with a summer camp or summer house in the woods--the film's victims are to stay there until they're ready to re-enter society. The point of the Friday the 13th films is that they never are.
by Bill Chambers Don't be alarmed by the scratchy Paramount logo that precedes Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, for when the film proper commences, special guest star Corey Feldman's visage is free of such wear-and-tear. Moral quandaries regarding the revisionist gloss aside, the 1.76:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is rich and filmlike, with just a hint of flicker from time to time. The accompanying Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio boasts more fidelity than usual.
JASON LIVES: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI (1986)
**/**** Image A- Sound B+ Commentary A-
starring Thom Mathews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen, Renee Jones
written and directed by Tom McLoughlin
A female character says, "I've seen enough horror movies to know any weirdo wearing a mask is never friendly." McLoughlin is attacking his audience in that the girl thinks she's in a Jason movie, as her repeated viewings of them have distanced her from the reality of violence. The line of course does not suggest that the movies have informed her about weirdoes wearing masks inasmuch as they have taught her to write off weirdoes wearing masks as the weirdoes wearing masks she sees in the movies. It also, I think, puts a blow against the often-accused derivative nature of these films that has been assigned by snoozing critics. Essentially all of these horror movies have an unfriendly weirdo in a mask. Roger Ebert has even given a derisive name to their genre; McLoughlin is not arguing with these critics, he is conceding to them.
Jason Lives has however been very well received for its sense of humour by the very people you think would be insulted by it: Friday the 13th fans! Many feel this is one of the series' best--if not the best. Because I imagine that a lot of the people reading this like Friday the 13th films and Jason Lives in particular, and so I don't offend these people, instead of doubting their sanity, we'll have to politely agree to disagree. But man, this movie upset me. Tom McLoughlin's smarminess is an insult. Friday the 13th Part III and Friday the 13th: A New Beginning each had a goofy sense of humour, too, but they made you work for it a little, and they never really thought they were above the material. "Wakka wakka" disco music is great; what McLoughlin does in this movie is not.
The film does attempt to get back to the roots of the original Friday the 13th film. An early draft included scenes with Jason's father, for instance, and this is the first entry to include camp counsellors since Friday the 13th Part 2. McLoughlin even has a sort of recap of the theory of Jason as a misunderstood child forwarded in Friday the 13th Part 2. Unfortunately, the actress in the film telling the story looks like she can barely contain her laughter. In Part 2, it was strictly melodramatic--the right tone. These connections are largely superficial. Although this is the return of Jason from The Final Chapter, as he was not present in A New Beginning, I feel that A New Beginning did a far better job connecting to the roots of the Friday the 13th films. McLoughlin creates these connections, I fear, to mock them.
There may be thematic elements of the Friday the 13th series that McLoughlin has touched on, but there are major portions he is unable to grasp. He has a little girl falling asleep while reading Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit. In a sense, it's essentially just a visual joke, unnecessarily pointing out the inescapable fate of her mortality. There is "no exit," she is doomed. I know that it's funnier to have a child reading it, but since she doesn't die, the joke doesn't have much power. Simply as a sight gag, I may have liked it a little more if the film weren't constantly trying to call attention to its own sense of self-awareness. If we begin to consider No Exit and how it applies to Friday the 13th, we realize that this girl may be one of Jason's creators. The characters in the Friday the 13th films are essentially living the sort of Hell in No Exit. They, of course, die for the simple reason that they do not lead lives worth preserving, that is inarguably how and why they have been constructed. Life in a Friday the 13th film is basically waiting. Jason and his friends, the freaks, geeks, and Tommy Jarvises, are in tune with this concept and have learned to loathe Friday the 13th characters. The thought that "Hell is other people" is a remarkably on-target assessment of the philosophy of slasher cinema. While I really do wish that he would have done it with a little more subtlety, like when Crispin Glover's identity was summed up as being a "dead fuck" in The Final Chapter, McLoughlin is accurate in labelling his victims with bandannas that say "dead." They are dead; they haven't any other purpose but to die.
Where I feel McLoughlin has failed more severely, though, is in his use of the Tommy Jarvis character. Jarvis was our connection to Jason. The Final Chapter and A New Beginning implied that he would "turn into" Jason. He was complex, at least relative to the characters in a Friday the 13th movie. The case is that he is sort of like the Dennis Quaid character in Far From Heaven: surrounded by all this plasticity where everyone seems to be at peace, unable to join them. He's a little jealous and angry with this. In McLoughlin's film, he becomes a hero. While he resurrects Jason in his attempt to actually cremate him, he is also responsible for helping to take Jason down. The local sheriff has a beef with Jarvis. He thinks he is crazy, and when the Jason murders happen, suspects that he has committed them. The only person who believes Jarvis's side is the sheriff's daughter! This is rather inexcusable. In giving Jarvis a love interest, he becomes associated with the victim and not the killer. When we begin to fear for Tommy Jarvis, his connection with the killer is destroyed. This is an essential aspect of the Friday the 13th experience.
Jason Lives does not have any nudity in it, and its only sex scene is clearly played for laughs. There is no eroticism in the film. Accordingly, McLoughlin has de-sexualized the violence, sanitizing the Friday the 13th experience as well as further destroying the thematic link with his sexually jealous protagonist. It is important to note that the teenagers in these movies are not killed after sex because sex is immoral. Nor is it exactly because sex is a sign of emotional maturity that is being rejected by the childlike Jason or the virgin who has summoned him out of his/her subconscious. I'm taking the position of your father now, but using sex as evidence of maturity is the very definition of an immature view towards sex. Indeed, teenagers and certain divorced, sexually promiscuous older women I know have forwarded this ideology with great gusto. Though I generally squirm at the notion of defining masculinity (and adulthood) through sexual experience, this idea still gets a good portion of what is going on in the slasher film.
The real reason that Jason kills people who have sex, the reason he commits those "rapes by steel," is because as a manifestation from the subconscious of the virgin, he represents a frustration with the comparative lack of guilt of his victims. They haven't really any hang-ups about sex, and their freedom from sexual guilt is what is so frustrating. That is what enrages the Jason character to kill. It is useless and meaningless to impress morality onto an immoral person. Morality is essentially a very private and personal thing, and we really shouldn't care about the choices that others make. It's not logical to incarcerate a murderer because what he did was immoral as much as because with him in prison it is safer for us to live our lives. And so the real problem is in seeing these people doing what they will. You see this and ask yourself, "Why am I cursed with inhibition, shame and fear?" The only thing you have is a fear for the consequences.
I suppose that it is not necessarily about sex. Just a handful of the characters in the Friday the 13th films are worried about being killed by Jason himself, whereas everybody else isn't until it's far too late. Fear and shame are more or less interchangeable in this sense. What is ideal for Jason and his creator is to become disaffected from everything that makes them so miserable. The universe in the Friday the 13th films is essentially atheist. There is no promise of spiritual rapture. There is a sort of hollow loneliness; it's stylistically minimalist. The ephemeral pleasures of all that life or existence have to offer. The denial of this fact through Jason's jealousy is what lends the series such great poignancy.
McLoughlin understands that these characters are, as we would say in the perspective of an emotionally haunted character, shallow. I have read that they are more complexly written than those in previous entries, but no. They are thankfully as non-written as they ever were. McLoughlin lets his characters have sex, party, and laugh. They don't smoke pot as I think they should, since the weed is symbolic for a relaxed pleasure-seeking existence and casual immaturity. But that is excusable. In portraying the victims, McLoughlin is pretty respectful of Friday the 13th tradition. The problem is that nobody in the film feels guilt or frustration. Tommy Jarvis's demons have evaporated away. He warns people about Jason, but unlike previous protagonists in the Friday the 13th films, he easily relates to his love interest. Jason does not have any real motivation for killing people now. He seems to exist independent of anyone's subconscious.
I suppose you could argue that the film is about how Tommy battles Jason because he no longer has any use for him. It is about Tommy's battle of industry over inferiority, as we learned from Erik Erikson. The problem with that is two-fold. Firstly, McLoughlin makes Tommy into as shallow a character as the rest of the characters; Tommy doesn't have the chops for that kind of psychological complexity. Secondly, I think that healthy might be bad. Part of us really doesn't want us to see Tommy conquer his demons because his demons set him apart from the victims. This is the last film in the series to use Tommy Jarvis--I guess Jason moved on. It's a pity that he couldn't have followed that next logical step and executed Tommy.
When Jason is resurrected through lightning, McLoughlin shows us a close-up of his eye. This is a reference to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein--the novel, not any of the films. The title character of Frankenstein narrates much of it, and describes seeing an eye open as being the horrifying evidence of the monster coming to life. If you think about this reference in terms of Tommy bringing Jason to life (he stabs him with an iron pole to make sure he is dead, the pole acts as a lightning rod bringing him life), it is certainly quite fascinating. McLoughlin unfortunately seems to use this image more for its satirical impact. In another movie it would have meaning; here it is yet another joke.
McLoughlin appears to regard Jason as a force of nature reclaiming the woods from these intruders. He has one of the teens talk some nonsense about Indians and how they built traps to aid their quest for obtaining new women. Some of Jason's early victims are corporate executives playing paintball in the woods. Through his destruction of these assholes, Jason is essentially strengthening the boundaries of the supernatural world. While I think that it is appropriate to view Jason as a monster and a supernatural entity, McLoughlin's apparent reading is awfully primary, and much of this idea is encompassed in the reading of Jason as the creation from the subconscious to deal with jealousy.
I have heard a few horror fans say that this isn't just a good Friday the 13th movie, it is a good movie period. If we view it outside of the context of the Friday the 13th films, it's truly kind of thin. As a horror/comedy, it doesn't quite match up with the slasher version of Jack Frost (which features a rape-by-carrot nose, but earns its stripes in a scene shortly beforehand where two teenagers race to strip their layers of clothes off in a small, nice moment) and certainly not with Dr. Giggles, which for all its humour and goofiness was often actually scary and respected the conventions of the genre. (Incidentally, I saw and reviewed Dr. Giggles the day after I lost my virginity.) It's the sort of nuttiness that aims to distract rather than to help form its own sense of identity.
The film looks professional in the same way that Jack Frost and Dr. Giggles do. I don't consider this a good thing. Watching the film, I found myself sincerely missing Friday the 13th's grainy texture. It had the soul and voice of an exploitation film, a minimalism that was highly appropriate for the material. This sort of high-definition gloss was present in A New Beginning and confirms that the latter half of the Friday the 13th Decalogue loses the aesthetic that made the original so pleasurable. The film has a soundtrack of songs by Alice Cooper. The one played over the end credits is called "The Man Behind the Mask"--it's not a very good song. There's nothing memorable about the tune, and the lyrics sound rambling and forced. It reminded me of the Todd Solondz song at the end of Fear, Anxiety & Depression, "A Neat Kind of Guy." Solondz could probably claim to be making fun of New Wave music and self-indulgent masturbation, especially in view of the content of Fear, Anxiety & Depression. I'm not sure that McLoughlin and Cooper could angle for irony, no matter how hard they want to.
All the same, part of me desperately wants to download the song and burn it onto CD simply because it's a ROCK SONG ABOUT JASON! I suppose that my feelings for Jason Lives are honestly a little like that. It's difficult for me to really dislike a Friday the 13th film. I'm a fan and my affection runs deep. But what is going on in this film really isn't cool, and it upsets me that people are always saying how this is what a Friday the 13th film should be like.
by Bill Chambers On DVD, Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI arguably looks and sounds the most polished of any of the Friday the 13th films. The exceedingly clear 1.76:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is matched by dynamic, if hemispherical, "Ultra Stereo" (read: Dolby Digital 3.0) audio that honours the almost-unsolicited attention to detail Dane Davis--who would go on to win an Oscar for The Matrix--brought to the soundmix. Listen closely, says hyphenate Tom McLoughlin in his affable feature-length yak-track, and you can hear one post-coital character peeling off a condom. (Let me get this straight: people practise safe sex in these pictures?) For his part, McLoughlin takes pride in the film's love/hate relationship with genre cinema, alternately referring to Jason Lives as a satire of and homage to the same. (He sets the tone for that schizoid attitude by introducing himself twice: once as the film's writer and once as its director.) A self-professed child of the movies, the Culver City-raised McLoughlin strikes a good balance between reflection and edification while providing pre-emptive commentary for deleted footage included as a supplement on the "Killer Extras" platter. Bonus points for admitting he played the monster in John Frankenheimer's Prophecy.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII - THE NEW BLOOD (1987)
**½/**** Image B Sound B+ Commentary B
starring Lar Park Lincoln, Kevin Blair, Susan Blu, Terry Kiser
screenplay by Daryl Haney and Manuel Fidello
directed by John Carl Buechler
by Alex Jackson One of my favourite episodes from "The X Files"' first season is called "Roland." It's about a mentally handicapped man named Roland who works as a janitor at a rocket research laboratory. Roland ends up dispatching of the scientists by turning on the rocket systems. Later, he leaves behind complex equations. How could this be? After all, Roland is no rocket scientist! It turns out that his colleagues murdered his twin brother, who was a rocket scientist, so that they wouldn't have to share credit with him. All that is preserved of the twin brother is his disembodied head, which is cryogenically frozen and communicates with Roland through telepathy. If this sounds ridiculous so far, wait 'til you get to the thawing of the frozen head, or Roland being given a love interest. It's tardsploitation at its finest. "Roland" is a guilty pleasure in that you genuinely feel guilty in taking pleasure from it. Both the mentally handicapped and the physically handicapped (the brother is a frozen head, heh heh) are exploited with such seriousness and earnestness that you realize the filmmakers were unaware of just how utterly tasteless it all is. Furthermore, the episode is so goofy, but in that same serious and earnest tone, that you realize the filmmakers had no idea that they had lost any semblance of credibility.
There are a couple moments like that in Friday the 13th Part VII - The New Blood. One involves Jason killing a girl in a sleeping bag. He picks her up and swings her against a tree. It's one of the sickest and funniest things I've ever seen, in a Friday the 13th movie or otherwise. You laugh, and you know that you really shouldn't be laughing. Jason, in general, kills like he can't kill fast enough. He treats it like an annoying chore. The dominant thought that seems to be going through his mind is "Fucking die already."
The victims in The New Blood may be the most irritating yet in a Friday the 13th movie. They are just plain mean. If you're familiar with this entry in the series, you know that it's about a girl with telekinesis who fends off Jason. Well, she was admitted to a mental institution and the other characters openly ridicule her for it. Believe it or not, the previous victims in the Friday the 13th films were never bullies. There was the bike gang in Friday the 13th Part III, but that was a bike gang. The antagonism here is much more intimate. These are her peers tormenting her. One of the bitchy girls sets her sights on the telekinetic girl's boyfriend. In order to spark jealousy in the boyfriend, she makes out with another guy. When this doesn't work, she kicks the decoy out of bed, casually admitting to him that she led him on and he has failed to turn her on. "Hey, at least I gave you a chance," she purrs.
I have to say that it was deeply satisfying to see Jason casually dispose of this bitch. We tend to become desensitized to the violence in Friday the 13th films. We aren't interested in the why of a killing nearly as much as we are in the how. We have something invested in the characters of The New Blood, however. A good deal of the time, we really want to see them die. The intense desire to see a character die is not a feeling rarely mined by the cinema. Bloodlust is a strong emotion, and like all strong emotions it ought to be thoroughly exploited. You see this even in children's films. I remember thinking when watching The Rescuers Down Under that the evil poacher was so evil that death was not punishment enough for him. I remember leaving that movie unsatisfied because all they did was have the bad guy fall off a cliff. What is somewhat unique to these movies is having the unlikeable character taken out by the villain instead of the hero. In Gremlins, the title creatures executed a Mr. Potter-like character. We hated her and cheered for the Gremlins, making the subsequent triumph of the Zach Galligan character sort of perfunctory. Ronny Yu's Bride of Chucky killed off unlikeable characters so often that we did not feel that the good guys were ever truly threatened.
Especially sticky is the fact that this character gets this critic--and, I honestly believe, the filmmaker, and the theoretical audience--angry simply by virtue of being a cocktease. Sexual frustrations are sadly not a part of the violence in The New Blood, though, and this aspect can't really be commented upon. None of the killings in the film are rapes by steel; Jason basically just cracks them in the coconut. At one point he even goes after someone with a weedwhacker! (Later to be spoofed by the 1993 Super NES video game "Zombies Ate My Neighbors". I went so far as to add that little factoid to the Internet Movie Database.) In the Friday the 13th films, those who do get them usually see sex as a pastime. A sexually-uninitiated outsider creates the sexual frustration shown through the rape by steel of the sexually experienced.
The outsider from The Final Chapter on was Tommy Jarvis. He became like everyone else in Jason Lives, and so is replaced by this telekinetic chick. She accidentally murdered her abusive father with her powers when she was a child and the experience left her with tremendous emotional scars. She hasn't been able to come to terms with it, and it has since left her maturity--towards sex in particular, I suppose--stunted. The girl repeatedly cries out for her daddy; the idea appears to be that if she has sex, she will be betraying her deceased father. While this aspect is not very well-developed within the film, the association between Jason and the deceased father is very strong. She tries to use her powers to resurrect her drowned father, but instead brings Jason to the surface. Her psychologist repeatedly tells her that her delusions of seeing Jason and his crimes are directly related to her guilt over murdering her father. Jason is then a manifestation of her fear of her father. Not her real father, of course, but the idealized protective father.
She is telekinetic, but this is an extension of her femininity and sexuality, not a force--like Jason--intended to suppress it. Telekinesis is, after all, a condition that manifests itself during the teenage years, when the adolescent body goes through a wide variety of changes. Her defeat of Jason through telekinesis serves as an acknowledgment of her sexuality and femininity, and of course a triumph over the (self?)-repression from her father manifested in Jason. This then excuses the film from attacks by critics (admittedly influencing my preconceptions) who claim that the use of telekinesis is a gimmick employed to resurrect a dying series. You know: it's Carrie vs. Jason. The description itself points to the strength of the film, as it allows us to differentiate Carrie from Jason; while I'm not sure that I would go so far as to say that Friday the 13th Part VII - The New Blood is better than Carrie, I would certainly argue that it is more optimistic and more humane. Carrie is a good guy here.
Reading Jason as a manifestation of her protective father is also interesting. It justifies the new murdering method. Jason is not trying to have sex or create some other sort of personal intimacy through his murder, he is just trying to dispose of them. Jason is a hypermasculine entity, and as his controller is a decidedly feminine female, it makes sense that he will not try to rape people with some sort of phallic symbol (i.e. ice pick, machete, spear). The character is not really much of a character this time around, but I think that, too, is typical for the entries this late in the game. We can pretty much forget that Jason is getting revenge for his death and the death of his mother. Jason is portrayed a bit more like a mythological character. His demise and resurrection--being chained to the bottom of Crystal Lake and being summoned by a teenage girl--even sounds like the stuff of myths.
Director John Carl Buechler has produced the fastest-paced Friday the 13th film to date. But just as he doesn't let us catch our breath, neither does he allow for introspection and resonance. The earlier, grainier Friday the 13th movies knew they weren't going anywhere, and so they had some laziness to them; they were comfortable. We had nice little moments like that scene in the first film where the girl impersonates Katharine Hepburn in front of a bathroom mirror while wearing a T-shirt and a pair of panties. The Friday the 13th films never really had plots that mattered, and we were okay with that. We understood that the story was a pretext for Jason to kill everyone. With The New Blood, the plot takes precedence, and that is a misstep. The telekinetic girl is enough character and plot. The doctor who wants to upset her so that she uses her powers more often and he can better document her to get rich and famous is too much narrative.
Buechler doesn't understand that part of the charm is in the waiting, in the fact that nothing happens. Because of its fast pace and the overvalue allocated to the characters and plot, The New Blood actually feels like the least satisfying Friday the 13th film to date. Not the worst, mind you, but the least satisfying. Pretty much all the films in the series have this sort of problem--that is their blessing and their curse. But this film probably does leave you emptier than most. The New Blood is lacking in the minimalist hopelessness of the earlier films. I'd go as far as to say that the old films had poetry. Perhaps it's a sign of the times, like the spirit of the '70s has finally left the earth. The newer Friday the 13th films have more of a studio gloss and less of an independently-financed, exploitation flavour. (We are speaking relatively, of course.) But The New Blood has more unintentional comedy and is goofier than the old classics. Granted, it's an improvement on the previous Jason Lives in that we are laughing at the film more than we are laughing with it. Or if we are laughing with it, which I think could be the case, Buechler is better at subtlety.
But the goofiness still reduces the victims of their personality. They are perhaps reduced further than ever before. When Jason destroys the dicktease, it plays like a particular Shania Twain song. The creature she has made herself up to be don't impress Jason much. There is something in The New Blood that gives it the strongest '80s flavour of all the Friday the 13th films. I really cannot say for sure what that is, it might be the clothing. The actors wear brighter colours. They somehow look tackier than usual. The squatty girl with the glasses who wants to prove she can get a man somehow reminded me of Natalie from "The Facts of Life". The idea of Jason terrorizing the cast of "The Facts of Life" is, of course, a very pleasant thought. One of Jason's victims is dressed as a preppie. As I have learned from the VH1 documentary "I Love the 80s", the preppie style was meant to be a reaction to punk. That, too, is a very pleasant thought, as it helps the film develop a sort of superficial culture of crap. (Trivia: Susan Blu, the heroine's mother, voiced Granny Smurf on the super-banal "Smurfs" cartoon series.)
The origin of the heroine's telekinesis is interesting. Her father is directly mentioned in the dialogue as being a drunk, but he doesn't look like one. He is said to have beaten the mother, but she doesn't show outward signs of abuse. There is cleanliness to the dysfunction. You realize that there really isn't any place for the outsider to fit into. Her problems cannot be articulated properly in this universe, as most of the people who inhabit it do not have very many problems. Writing that, I realize it sounds awfully naïve, but the attitude is neverthless not without its validity. When you're young, there are several times you have to ask questions like, Why isn't everyone else this fucked up? How can they be so comfortable when the walls are closing in? And I suppose that that is a large part of the reason so many teenagers and college students get involved in causes, cults--even gangs. There comes a point where you are almost forced to get involved in something bigger than you are, just so you don't end up like the characters in these movies. We tend to think that audiences relate to the characters in the Friday the 13th films. I think it's really the opposite. These are the people we don't want to be and don't want to be seen as. They are shallow, empty, and very stupid. That's why audiences cheer when they die. Much of Friday the 13th Part VII - The New Blood can be described and, moreover, celebrated as a B-movie joke that is sometimes in delicious bad taste. The film is never boring. The twist at the end is among the stupidest on record, but its stupidity has its own sort of audacity. All the same, it is respectful to the conventions and mythology of the series. I can't remember the last time I had so much joyous disrespect and respect for the same film.
by Bill Chambers The 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of Friday the 13th Part VII - The New Blood takes a minor step backwards from Jason Lives in terms of quality, with blacks lacking their usual depth and grain occasionally muddying up the image in a way that isn't aesthetically beneficial. In addition to a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix, the disc contains the film's original "Ultra-Stereo" audio, presented here in a 3.0 surround configuration, and there's really no discernible difference between the two listening options: both are stingy with rear-channel and LFE cues. Welcome to the '80s, in other words. Director John Carl Buechler and series stalwart Kane Hodder reunite for a feature-length commentary bound to appeal to Friday fans, although Buechler lacks Tom McLoughlin's oratorical flair and what makes Hodder uniquely qualified to discuss the psychology of Jason also lends an unfortunate subtext to his play-by-play. ("Oh, I'm comin', baby. You're done," Hodder coos at the start of the sleeping-bag murder; this is one role you don't want filled by a Method actor.) Battles with the studio--euphemistically referred to as "the powers-that-be"--over everything from the carnage to the ending (radically restructured in post) are catalogued yet rarely elaborated-upon, but that still leaves an awful lot of production minutiae to wade through. Buechler shines brightest when discussing the cast, especially Lar Park Lincoln, who auditioned on four separate occasions, always returning with a new hairstyle to fool producer Frank Mancuso into thinking he hadn't already rejected her.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN (1989)
***/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Commentary D
starring Jensen Daggett, Scott Reeves, Barbara Bingham, Peter Mark Richman
written and directed by Rob Hedden
by Alex Jackson I have to say, I'm quite surprised to be in the minority on Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. Jason fans really, really loathe this movie--many consider it the worst of the series. To add insult to injury, Leonard Maltin gives it two stars and says that it's one of the best! Somehow, I found this entry to be the most satisfying since part 5, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning. It's toned down a bit from the glossy campiness of the previous Friday the 13th film, but it stays in your stomach longer, and it is often really tremendously powerful.
Maybe I was just feeling overly sensitive last night, maybe it's because I had just finished reading Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking, but there is a scene in the film that is somehow one of the most revolting things I've witnessed in a long time. Two thugs take the heroine into a back alley. They hold her down and inject her arm with heroin so she'll be high for her rape. The actual rapist tells his friend that they'll need a lot of this stuff as they plan to go all night. Why do they want her to be high, exactly? That's not an attack against the film's mastery of logic, but a question of, "What exactly is the nature of their perversion?" They say something about how it will feel better if she's high, but how will it make her feel better? It seems that by injecting junk into her, they hope to frighten her that much more. The goal of rape is basically to humiliate your victim. You want them to feel ashamed of what they are. You want them to remember you, how terrified they were when you used them. In other words, rapists know full well about the ramifications of their acts, and that is the whole point. It's not so much that she asked for it; it's that she deserves it. When the thugs inject that needle into that girl's arm, she doesn't know where it has been or what exactly is in it. Her terror is a turn-on for them. Also part of the connection of forced drug injection is this idea that they want to somehow fill her with filth. In effect they are raping her with both their dicks and with a needle, reminding this clean-cut teenage white girl that she is in now in Manhattan and they are giving her a disease she'll keep for a long time.
Man, rape is one of most profoundly hateful acts that humankind could have cooked up. The thugs, for what it's worth, are Hispanic. The scene makes a statement about ethnicity in New York, namely that non-whites are animalistic and hateful. It's awfully gratuitous and offensive, but I'm nonetheless fascinated in that which is politically incorrect and destructive to the social fabric. The racist slant is thorny; you know that it's wrong but it nonetheless hits a cord. It's not embarrassing like a good deal of racist imagery, but confrontational and angry. When I evoke the Rape of Nanking in a review of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, I want to stress that I'm not trying to trivialize that any more than I would trivialize some image or event within the Holocaust, although that has been exposed enough to perhaps have grown a bit more of a skin. I'm trying to say that this sequence in this Friday the 13th movie is in that league of atrocity.
The rape itself doesn't actually transpire. Jason breaks into the scene and kills the thugs. I suppose that if director Rob Hedden were truly sincere about the visceral horror of the moment, he would have gone through with it. But the scene is powerful enough to be worth mentioning all the same. A couple fans complained that none of the characters act like what they just went through really bothered them. The male hero's father is slain, and he doesn't seem to be at all affected by it. (Even more curious is the lack of an aftermath for that attempted rape.) I can't call this an unsound argument, as the terror is muted when we realize that the survivors are going to be able to go on with their lives. This was also a problem with the far-too-happy ending of Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI. The series had made fairly good use of the Tommy Jarvis character only to say goodbye to the torments he faced by giving him the girl and the promise of a bright future?!
The survivor of the first Friday the 13th film, played by Adrienne King, is plagued with memories of the insane Mrs. Voorhees. In the second she is stuck with an ice pick, in effect making her Jason's very first kill. It was a great joke. The character hadn't died in the first entry, and so she bided her time before the sequel basically waiting and dreading judgment day. The power and absurdity comes in the lack of a conclusion. There is something very nicely insane about the first three films in the series. They actually try to pick up where the last film left off. Adrienne King survives the first and dies in the second, and the survivor of the second is seen on TV by a cranky modern couple in the third. These are of course movies where the plot consists of mostly filler, and so this idea of hooking them all up in one long story helps to underline the meaninglessness of it all. Like the last two films in the series (6 and 7), the filmmakers seem to want to create a feeling of closure for the audience. It's not a good idea. The lack of closure was a virtue of the series. We don't want these characters to grow or get on with their lives. We quite simply do not like them that much. It's interesting to me that the two surviving characters get on with their lives in Manhattan. Even in being filled with trash, graffiti, and rapists, it's home for them. I think that the feeling is sincere. The villains in New York are real, but defeatable. You can protect yourself from them. Whereas Jason will hunt you down and it is basically a forgone conclusion that he is going to get you.
The film is adamant about establishing Jason as a mythological figure, a boogeyman. The heroine's uncle forced her to learn how to swim by throwing her in Crystal Lake and telling her that if she doesn't swim, the little boy Jason, who had drowned years ago in that lake, would come and get her. She never swims again. Destroying Jason is, of course, destroying her fear of autonomy. With Jason gone again, she can now swim, grow up, and basically live peacefully. There is certainly something post-modern about the idea of Jason taking Manhattan, which is why it's a pretty good gimmick. He emerges from the sea onto Manhattan, an immortal mythological being journeying into a temporal, myth-less environment. When the heroes run into a restaurant and exclaim to a waitress that a maniac is trying to kill them, she wisecracks, "Welcome to New Yawk." The citizens of New York are unable to recognize that Jason is not just any maniac--he's Jason, for Christ's sake! That's part of the humour; New Yorkers--well, in this movie, at least--are an irreligious, arrogant bunch. They know that they have seen it all and can deal with it all, and so when they encounter Jason, they can't muster surprise or terror as much as frustration with their inability take him down the same way they can take down your typical maniac.
One of the most common complaints I have heard about Jason Takes Manhattan is that Jason doesn't arrive on-shore until the final third of the film. The rest of the time, he's on a ship bound for Manhattan. They apparently didn't have enough money to shoot much footage in Manhattan, or the faux-Manhattan up north. I wouldn't say that the title isn't misleading, but then again, I'm not sure that there was that much more that could have been said about Jason taking Manhattan. It would have been sort of a good gag to see him take over famous New York landmarks or something, but that is perhaps a different movie for a different time. In this case, it occurs to me that less is better. In order for the scenes in the city to have much significance, I think that it's necessary to establish a Camp Crystal Lake-like setting on the ship.
Series creator Sean Cunningham's DeepStar Six (released the same year as Jason Takes Manhattan) has the tagline "Not all aliens come from space," implying that some aliens come from deep underwater. A deep body of water is an obvious symbol for the subconscious, as the planet is covered with it but we only skim the surface of it. So basically there could be all sorts of things going on down there that we know nothing about. Underwater aliens are as alien as those from outer space; the irony is that they are here with us all along. The film takes great pains at establishing, then, that Jason is one of those "monsters of the id," as they said in Forbidden Planet. Jason is even introduced with the phrase "according to legend." The heroine keeps hallucinating Jason as a little boy, as that is how she has always pictured him since her uncle told her about his drowning. She has a certain kinship with Jason. They were both left to drown in Crystal Lake, and their failure to swim in the water is an all-purpose symbol of their inability to operate on the level of everyone else.
The gore in the film was toned down after the MPAA cracked the whip. The first kill nonetheless proves slightly shocking: Jason guts a guy with a spear gun. When he pulls out he is surprised by the splash of fluid. The most sadistic kill belongs to Kelly Hu, who's choked in mid-air, only to be thrown violently to the ground when Jason is finished. This stuff is harsher than its reputation suggests. I do have to say that I don't feel that it has the same sort of impact as previous entries. Yet again, the murders are not penetrations or "rapes by steel." (Well, actually the first two, happening soon after (or maybe it was just the preliminaries of) coitus, were murders by a penetrative weapon.) The killings lose that creepy feeling of sensuality. The connection between the heroine and Jason is stronger, the former a creation of the latter's subconscious, but Jason doesn't act out of sexual jealousy or frustration as was the case in earlier entries.
Thinking somewhat heavily on that issue, I've come to realize that Jason's existence is similar to the one he enjoyed in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood. Jason's goal (as well as that of his controller) is again simply autonomy and emotional peace, not sexual intimacy. Thus when Jason is defeated, the heroine is saying that she can conquer her demons, and we can develop closure. Closure is a lot harder to establish in the reading of Jason as a sexual being. If there is a motif to Jason's killings, for a while it seems that it may be a sort of "turning the sin against the sinner." The fornicating couple is killed through a piercing weapon. A rock-and-roller is beaten to death with her guitar. A film geek is electrocuted. One of the druggie thugs is stabbed with a needle. And so on. In everybody's favourite kill, Jason knocks a cocky boxer's head clean off. I don't think that Jason kills, in this case, as a product of conservative dogma. If anything he kills the people the audience wants him to kill. I suppose you could argue that the target audience for these movies is sexually inexperienced, or mostly inexperienced in anything. After all, they're getting high from watching a Friday the 13th movie.
A better explanation may be that these characters are just plain annoying. In previous entries, I think it was the case that the audience wanted to distance the characters into the roles of victims in a Friday the 13th film. If they related to them, that would be a confession that their lives really are that shallow and meaningless. In this film, I don't think there's any threat of the audience relating to the characters. They exist as stereotypes, and at times the stereotype itself may be the victim. It can be read almost like a Spike Lee routine, or Eric Harris's tirade on niggers, spics, and racist white people. Jason executes tough-guy blacks, gangbanging Latinos, and Asians with scholarships. Maybe it's strictly racism, or maybe it's an attack on the way we confine minorities into those roles. In other words Jason isn't attacking Latinos--he's attacking the idea of the gangbanging Latino. Somewhat more comfortable, I suppose, is the way that some of Jason's other targets include a tight-assed principal, who complains about how one of his students was paddling the boat through the night while he himself took a nap; and the traditionally skanky blonde, who snorts cocaine before getting slaughtered by Jason in the shower with a shard of a broken mirror.
The abundance of broad stereotypes lends the film a healthy campy feel. They are far from actual human beings, so we can laugh at their deaths in good conscience. The knocked-off head is still my favourite gag. When it lands in a dumpster, the lid slams shut. The film doesn't have the superior attitude that Jason Lives did. It's funny, but funny with a relatively straight face. Yes, even when Jason scares off some punks by lifting up his mask and showing how ugly he is, or the part where he sees a billboard for hockey masks, the film does not sink to the depths of Jason Lives' jokery.
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan was the final film in the series to be released by Paramount. They apparently found them very embarrassing yet wanted to continue producing them as they were extremely profitable. This film turned a profit (the total gross was around $15M against a $5M budget), but it was nevertheless the least successful entry in the Friday the 13th franchise. Grosses had dropped significantly after Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, maybe because it was the best of the series, maybe because people realized that the horribly cynical subtitle, The Final Chapter, was a bald-faced lie.
by Bill Chambers Probably due to its relative recency, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan continues to look the freshest of the original octet on home video. Taken from a source print that acts up only during optical effects, the 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer features rich blacks and controlled saturation, though one laments the egregious application of edge-enhancement the few times it leads to shimmering artifacts. The attendant Ultra-Stereo (read: Dolby Digital 3.0) audio is lively and spacious, if characteristically unimaginative. Director Rob Hedden meanwhile contributes a yakker so lame it wouldn't even be a contender for THE ONION A.V. CLUB's "Commentary Tracks of the Damned." Despite a compulsion to annotate the violence for gorehounds curious to know where the artistry stopped and the MPAA interference began, Hedden can't seem to resist narrating the onscreen action--and in a maddeningly condescending fashion, to boot: "Now, the question is, What happened to Jim?" Hedden asks following the disappearance of a character named Jim. Here I thought he was being tongue-in-cheek in his opening statement ("We're showing shots of New York because this is Jason Takes Manhattan"), but it turns out that no one schooled him in the difference between a yak-track and a seeing-eye dog.
BONUS DISC - FROM CRYSTAL LAKE TO MANHATTAN ... KILLER EXTRAS
by Bill Chambers
Part I (21 mins.)
In the grand tradition of Roger Corman and William Castle, Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham worked backwards from marketing by taking out a full-page ad in VARIETY about the impending release of the most terrifying movie ever made--all before he had a script or even the money to realize what would become Friday the 13th. Cunningham is the predominant talking head here, though well-preserved actresses Adrienne King and Betsey Palmer ("The Katie Couric of her day," according to Cunningham) and makeup man Tom Savini also get their day in court. Particularly amusing is Palmer's admission that she took the role of Mrs. Voorhees--"What a piece of crap," she says, recreating her reaction to the screenplay--to finance a new car.
Part II (14 mins.)
Why is Steve Miner AWOL? Cunningham offers some clue in saying that the director of the first and second sequels "had been a close friend." Miner's absence is never more deafening than when King struggles to fill time by making a mountain out of her molehill cameo. The majority of the piece is given over to stars Amy Steel (now going by Amy Steel Pulitzer) and Warrington Gillette (Jason himself), both of whom seem vaguely embarrassed to be discussing this film in middle-age.
Part III (9 mins.)
With the commentary taking care of cast reminiscences, this instalment focuses on the 3-D aspect of Friday the 13th Part III. Cinematographer Gerald Feil reveals that he had coincidentally spent six months researching 3-D photography just prior to the project coming along and admits that they (the production) were essentially guinea pigs for a new polarized system called Marks Depix, which led to a severely inflated shooting schedule and much flying blind. Looking a little like Will Ferrell, Larry Zerner is the only actor interviewed, and while he's mostly there to confirm how effective the film is in 3-D (thanks for the cocktease, Shelly), he actually reflects on the curious bit of trivia that Jason inherited his goalie mask from Zerner's character.
Part IV (13 mins.)
Corey Feldman hams it up at first, pretending he's there to discuss his nonexistent role in a nonexistent Halloween sequel. Meanwhile, director Joseph Zito outlines his specific contributions to the sequel, i.e. a kid, a dog, hot identical twins, and the occasional subversion of convention, such as the shower murder of a guy instead of a girl. Feldman spins an amusing yarn around the picture's climax, referring to his character jokingly but not inappropriately as Jason's "Mini Me."
Part V (6 mins.)
Feldman returns to discuss his single day of shooting on Friday the 13th: A New Beginning whilst admitting that he would've been the star had The Goonies not thrown a wrench in the studio's plans. Alas, one measly anecdote about filming in somebody's backyard on a Sunday makes for a pretty sorry-ass retrospective; the disc's producers would've embarrassed themselves less by pretending the fifth film didn't exist at all.
Part VI (15 mins.)
Seated in his gothic abode, Jason Lives writer-director Tom McLoughlin basically gives us the READER'S DIGEST version of his commentary track, although he slips in the occasional post-script, such as the fact that the film was shot under the title "Aladdin Sane" (after the David Bowie album) to throw fans off its scent. And you thought there wasn't any need for that kind of thing before the Internet came along.
Part VII (12 mins.)
Director John Carl Buechler and actor Kane Hodder likewise offer bite-size portions of their yakker, with Lar Park Lincoln shoehorned into their pauses. Looking like a Clinique saleswoman, Lincoln remembers getting the script and being deeply confused by all the Jason stuff, since the title--again to keep the gorehounds at bay--made no allusions to Friday the 13th whatsoever.
Part VIII (14 mins.)
Turns out Rob Hedden is capable of engaging listeners. In this concluding segment, the hyphenate behind the final Friday explains how he got the gig (his work on "Friday the 13th: The Series" brought him to the attention of Frank Mancuso), how his original idea--Freddy Vs. Jason--pitted too many attorneys against each other, and how the movie would've taken place almost entirely in New York City had Paramount not put a cap on the budget. (To prove his point, we're treated to storyboards of Jason on the town--frightseeing, as it were.) That said, Hedden doesn't play pass the buck, acknowledging as he does the common criticisms about the film with genuine humility. Hodder, the only other interviewee, recalls the Times Square shoot with immediacy and an endearing lack of guile.
SECRETS GALORE BEHIND THE GORE
Tom Savini on Part I (10 mins.)
Savini divulges the primitive techniques behind the first film's impressively-staged kills. I'd say he "shatters the illusion," but outside of specific names for the prosthetic devices, it's very easy for us laymen to reverse-engineer the various effects. Cunningham actually offers the most applicable bit of wisdom when he speculates that half the reason Kevin Bacon's murder is so successful is because of a key misdirection that leads us to expect the killer to strike from above, not beneath.
Tom Savini on Part IV (13 mins.)
This is half a deconstruction of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter's deaths and half a PSA for Savini's new school, which looks like an awesome place not only to learn the art of F/X makeup, but also to meet cute goth girls. As the type of guy who wanted a subscription to FANGORIA for his eleventh birthday, I used to long for a place that would give you a degree for slathering your friends in latex, so I can't say this bit of propaganda made me feel anything but wistful. Are fake beards and vampire chicks what George Burns had in mind when he sang "18 Again"?
John Carl Buechler on Part VII (11 mins.)
Hodder once again joins Buechler, who started out in the industry as a makeup designer. Somewhere along the line we catch a glimpse of the unabridged sleeping-bag murder, but a more in-depth exploration of that footage is forthcoming.
CRYSTAL LAKE VICTIMS TELL ALL (16 mins.)
Zerner rehashes his "Lana Turner story," Lincoln discloses the encrypted title of the screenplay ("Birthday Bash"), King personalizes the toll of low-budget filmmaking with a story about boots, and Feldman bestows co-star Judie Anderson with the honour of being the first woman he ever saw naked. In other words, DVD superintendent Donald R. Beck is cherry-picking from the leftovers; the piece counts William Butler (one of the meatbags from Friday the 13th Part VI: The New Blood) as the only fresh face--and furthermore, did Feldman and Lincoln even play "victims"? Zito--whose appearance makes the least sense of anybody's--goes on the most fruitful tangent with his observation of the often devastating impact that seeing themselves die onscreen has on Friday the 13th cast members. He also becomes Crispin Glover's proxy via candid remarks about the actor's unorthodox working methods. So it's not a total loss, but the poor turnout of series vets is thrown into relief by that hyperbolic title.
TALES FROM THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR (17 mins.)
Rather awkwardly, this is a continuous block of elided or extended footage, albeit in chronological order. Shame that the protracted murders of Friday the 13th, presented for comparison's sake in a splitscreen with the more familiar bowdlerized alternatives, weren't reincorporated into the film--a pair of flailing hands, barely registering in the final cut, lend verisimilitude to the decapitation, for instance. Three deleted scenes crop up from The Final Chapter, in the first of which (previously seen in one of the Savini featurettes) Feldman's Tommy Jarvis demonstrates his finger guillotine. (Jokey irony--Tommy's mom complaining that Tommy needs a haircut--closes out the final omission, with cheesecake filler comprising the interim.) We return to a picture-in-picture format for Jason Lives, though sometimes the difference between two sequences is a matter of McLoughlin having used the angle from camera A rather than camera B. Buechler and Hodder provide commentary for various extended sequences that were unfortunately sourced from a VHS dub with timecode, in effect obscuring the violence anew. They admit to preferring the sleeping-bag murder as it appears in the compromised theatrical release, but lest you think they've adopted a conscientious attitude, they refer to one slashing victim as "cootchie face." The lamented alternate ending, for what it's worth, is retarded, even taking into consideration the stupidity of The New Blood 's deus ex machina. Gotta side with the powers-that-be on that score.
FRIDAY ARTIFACTS AND COLLECTIBLES (7 mins.)
Hedden kicks things off by holding up the actual electric guitar used in Jason Takes Manhattan, facilitating Gillette's segue into musician Brooks Burton's fan project to have all the Jasons sign his personal ax. Hedden returns to bedazzle us with Jason's toxic-waste-ravaged mask, McLoughlin shares an amusing story regarding the Jason Voorhees tombstone in his backyard, and Nicole Puzzo hawks NECA's line of Jason toys. The highlight is Buechler getting belated revenge on the (unnamed, but female) producer who nixed the use of makeup on Tina's undead father by submitting the original rotted-corpse design for our evaluation. Needless to say, that woman had no business producing horror movies.
So things end on a somewhat hollow and vacuous note, but that's really not such a departure from the rest of the set. Truth is there's a lot to be said about the Friday the 13th movies (as I think Alex has proved), whether or not you insist on approaching it like vacation slides. What prompted the re-launch of the franchise with The New Beginning aside from simple avarice? Why is Steve Miner the only director to have helmed more than one instalment? When, why, and how did Paramount divorce themselves from their meal ticket? I'm tired of making educated guesses. Trailers for every chapter in the Friday the 13th saga (Jason Lives' is strictly a teaser) round out the fifth and final platter. "Friday the 13th: From Crystal Lake to Manhattan - Ultimate Edition DVD Collection" individually packages the five discs in less-than-secure wafer cases, which are collectively housed in a handsome cardboard container. B