Saturday, June 13, 2009

Friday the 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

Directed by:
Rob Hedden

Even though I personally consider this one of the better entries in the series, I completely understand why it rubs many FRIDAY fans the wrong way. In some regards, it's a break from formula, which I view as being a break in familiarity - to me, a good thing. Sure at its core it's the same old same old, but this entry moves the menace from the woodsy Crystal Lake area to new locations for the very first time, includes more comedy than usual and actually has less on-screen blood than what fans have been accustomed to. So why did I like it? In part because of the location change, but mostly because it's technically superior to any of the seven earlier films, with direction that's much smoother and more imaginative than what we've seen previously. Not content with the simple point-and-shoot camerawork of the other films, director Hedden, his editor and his cinematographer set up some very nice shots and scene transitions here, which is evident right from the opening credits. After a collage of NYC street life, the camera bobs up and down in New York Harbor, getting a glimpse of the Statue or Liberty, before being completely submerged in the water. When it surfaces again, the location has changed to Camp Crystal Lake, where two teens are about to meet Mr. Voorhees for the very first time. This sequence, as well as many other instances in this film (a POV from a blood-stained window, a victim's scream echoing up through a pipe, etc.) show a bit more flair than usual.

Another aspect that gets frequently criticized is Jason's ability to "teleport" from location to location. Personally, this didn't bother me in the least. After all, we're talking about some undead killer here who has already been axed to the head, hung, brained by a machete, drowned, blown up, struck by lightning and sliced, diced and chopped seven ways to Sunday, so is it really that hard to swallow him as being some kind of supernatural or ghost-like being who can basically do whatever the hell he wants? I can't imagine being too caught up on the details of a franchise that requires so much suspension of disbelief in the first place. In other words, why is a zombie-like killer any easier to swallow than a ghost-like killer? In my estimation, it's not, but again I can see why series fans disliked this change.

With all that said, it's basically business as usual, as Jason (Kane Hodder again) stows away on a cruise ship taking graduating high school students to New York City for their senior trip. The luxury ship, complete with a sauna, a dance floor, a below-deck power room, etc., provides Jason with a good enough arsenal of weapons. A girl gets smacked upside the head with a guitar, a guy gets a sauna rock thrust into his chest, the resident bitch queen gets stabbed with a shard of glass after a shower and others are impaled, strangled, stabbed, you name it. This goes on for about an hour, until just about everyone is dead and the ship starts to sink. Five people (including our heroine, who is haunted by a childhood Jason encounter) manage to survive, board an emergency boat and row to New York City. Guess who shows up? The Manhattan scenes are actually really fun and amusing; though the misleading advertising and the title would lead you to think more of the movie had taken place there.

So far four more Friday films have been made - JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY (1993) would add needless complication to a series that really needs none, JASON X (2001) featured a cryogenically frozen Jason thawing out for a slaughter in space, FREDDY VS. JASON (2003) found Jason and Freddy teaming up (at least for a short time), and the 2009 "reboot" would pinch ideas from the first four films in the franchise, yet came across as yet another sequel. In fact, I preferred all eight of the original films to the latest installment.
Jensen Daggett stars as troubled heroine Rennie, along with soap star Scott Reeves, Barbara Bingham as a compassionate teacher, Peter Mark Richman as the asshole high school principal (and Rennie's stepdad), Martin Cummins (TV's Poltergeist: The Legacy), Sharlene Martin, Kelly Hu, V.C. Dupree as a boxer, Gordon Currie (who'd later star in the underrated vampire film BLOOD & DONUTS), Alex Diakun and Warren Munson. Ken Kirzinger, who'd nab the Jason role from Hodder in 2003, makes an uncredited appearance as a diner cook who gets thrown into a mirror.


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