It takes a lot of balls to make a movie that’s essentially Psycho in reverse. It takes even more cojones to follow it up with 7 dreadful sequels, all slight variations of the second chapter. That’s what Paramount Pictures accomplished between 1980 and 1989 when they agreed to distribute the Friday The 13th franchise. Beyond the second film, there’s been no point in continuing the series (not that Parts 1 and 2 were any good). But because these stupid movies make tons of dough, especially on home video, Paramount couldn’t resist. Horror was their crack.
After screening the first six in order (four in January, one in June and one in November) last year, I finally got through seven and eight earlier this evening.
Before going any further, though, a quick recap is in order. A young camper named Jason Voorhees, born with a disfigured face, accidentally drowns one summer while two overly horny teenage counsellors are busy getting busy. Shortly thereafter, they’re murdered. Years later, Camp Crystal Lake (nicknamed Camp Blood, for obvious reasons) re-opens but more counsellors get offed. It isn’t until the final act that we learn the identity of the killer.
In the second film, even though he was supposed to be dead, Jason appears as a fully grown man with a score to settle. Once he settles it, he goes on his first killing spree. It says a lot about this character that there was nothing distinguishable about him until Part III (the only chapter filmed in 3D). In a memorable scene, he appears out of nowhere wearing that old-school hockey mask where he commits his first murder in the new identity.
After finally getting killed off in The Final Chapter and taking a hiatus in A New Beginning, he was hilariously brought back to life in the most ridiculous of circumstances in Jason Lives. (His first kill after being unintentionally resurrected? Horshack. Thanks, Jason.) It was the last film to feature the Tommy Jarvis character, who, in The Final Chapter, is a kid who has a fascination with science fiction (he designs his own creature masks) and video games. In A New Beginning, he grows up to be tortured by the hallucinatory presence of Jason to the point where he appears to be ready to take over for him by the end of the film. But in Jason Lives, that plotline is completely dropped. After Jason’s rebirth, Tommy squares off with him one last time and succeeds in vanquishing him.
And that brings us to The New Blood. Part VII, if you’re keeping track. Once again, despite the laws of science and the lack of imagination on the part of the filmmakers, the masked one is reborn once more.
A little blond girl named Tina, who looks like she just walked off the set of Poltergeist, runs away after yet another fight between her mother and father. Her dad has just slapped her mom and she wishes him dead because of it. The next thing you know, he is dead. The kid’s been suffering from terrible guilt ever since. When we meet her as an adult, she has just finished dreaming about the tragedy after being released from a mental hospital. We learn she possesses strange telekinetic powers that only work when her emotions become extreme. (Example #1: she can make stuff move without using her hands. Example #2: she can set a book of matches aflame with her mind.)
Her doctor, Terry Kiser (yep, the dead guy from both Weekend At Bernie’s movies), thinks it would be best to go back to Crystal Lake to revisit the scene of her father’s death. He wants to push her into these extreme emotional states so he can observe and study her unique powers. Is it just me or is this guy a quack of the highest order? Someone should’ve checked his credentials before agreeing to this extremely bad idea.
Meanwhile, a group of teenagers are planning a surprise birthday party for a friend who, unsurprisingly, never arrives. How come? Well, Tina, the tortured daddy-killer, tries resurrecting her father from the same lake he drowned in years earlier (didn’t they find the body and bury it?) but, shock of all shocks, she ends up restoring the killing impulses of Mr. Jason Voorhees instead. Gotta love those telekinetic powers, eh? No wonder she passes out at the sight of the masked one who, once again, is back to brutally murdering archetypes including the above-mentioned birthday boy. Can’t a lad take a whiz without losing his life? Are you with me, people?
One by one, Jason reduces the cast of mostly unknowns (a sci-fi nerd here, a couple of stoners there plus a token black couple and an unapologetic bitch), although I did recognize a couple of future soap stars. Each killing makes you wince automatically without any thought whatsoever, which makes perfect sense since there was absolutely no thought put into any aspect of this story. The New Blood is more disturbing than scary, more ridiculous than serious and more pointless than anything else, just like Parts III through VI.
But if you think that movie is lacking a brain, you should try Jason Takes Manhattan on for size. This might be the most unintentionally hilarious installment since A New Beginning.
Once again, we have a troubled heroine stuck in the past. This time, it’s an aspiring writer named Rennie who has this fear of water. She also keeps having these bizarre visions of a young boy drowning and crying out for help. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who that young boy is. But, then again, this is a Friday The 13th movie and it takes forever for these characters to figure out what the audience already knows. They’re all allergic to common sense.
Rennie lost her parents in a car accident years ago and as a result, she’s been in the care of a couple of teachers who act as her legal guardians. Rennie wants to join her high school class of graduates on a boat trip to Manhattan which displeases Mr. McCulloch (veteran TV actor Peter Mark Richman), one of the aforementioned guardians, who might be the most inept authority figure ever to appear in a horror film. (Incredibly, in one ridiculous scene, he allows himself to get seduced, albeit temporarily, by the very slutty, coke addicted and extremely desperate prom queen who thinks painting internal organs on her admittedly nice body is the equivalent of a thoroughly researched high school biology paper she needs to hand in before the end of the trip. Did I mention part of their shenanigans are caught on tape?) He doesn’t think it’s a good idea because of her water phobia but there’s nothing he can do about it. Along with her dog, Toby, she’s along for the ride.
Meanwhile, that pesky Jason has been unintentionally brought back to life again. (Does electrocuting a drowned man underwater really restore his vital signs?) Somehow, he manages to sneak onboard Lazarus (get it?) without alerting the passengers. In time, he’s killing one underdeveloped character after another. (Would you believe Kelly Yu is one of them?)
The situation looks especially grim when the ship’s captain and his first mate are brutally slaughtered in the middle of a bad storm. The surviving kids and the two teachers are at odds about what to do. Some of the grads, led by an aspiring boxer, want to kick some ass, but they’re the only ones gung-ho about that doomed idea. (They must’ve missed Parts 1 through 7.) The ever helpful Mr. McCulloch, despite increasing evidence to the contrary, can’t possibly believe that a murderous maniac has gotten onto the ship and gone on a killing spree. No, it must be that weird shipmate who keeps telling everybody they’re gonna die. Right. Good thinking, Mr. M. Here, take this flare gun and go find that hunky crew member who’s already dead. He’s sure to offer advice in your time of need.
Despite one ongoing disaster after another – a dead CB radio, a dangerous fire in the engine room, flooding, all those murders – it takes forever for the survivors to get the hell off the boat. This causes much unintentional hilarity, especially when some of the actors seem emotionally indifferent to the general awfulness enveloping them. (Lots and lots of water onboard? Meh.)
But wait, it’s gets better. At one point, the female teacher gathers a few students into the dance room and tells them to wait until she comes back with the others. But then, she bumps into Rennie, Mr. McCulloch, and Rennie’s love interest (future soap star Scott Reeves) who are not the least bit interested in saving their friends. So, what do they do? They get in a lifeboat and leave those poor kids on Lazarus with Jason! Although that boxer guy, who Jason tosses overboard, manages to appear out of nowhere to catch that much-needed ride with Rennie and company, we never know what happens to those kids in the dance room. Screw you guys, we’re going to New York.
After rowing endlessly during the night, our heroes end up in Manhattan. Would you believe Jason manages to catch up with them? (Did he ever dispose of those remaining passengers? We’ll never know.) How can a guy who has drowned more often than any other film character I can think of suddenly make Mark Spitz crap his pants?
After an exploitive and deeply disturbing mugging sequence that almost leads to an attempted rape (classy, right?), it’s back to the hilarity. The boxer throws dozens of punches to the head and stomach of Jason during a rooftop confrontation. How pointless and silly. His hands bloodied and his energy drained, Jason pulls a Mortal Kombat fatality on his ass and decapitates him with one punch. Scorpion would be proud.
More dopey stuff happens. A helpful flashback Rennie experiences makes us question Mr. McCulloch’s sanity even further. No one bothers to save yet another character, for some unknown reason. Jason appears to move at the speed of light in Manhattan (Kelly Hu makes that discovery, herself, in an earlier scene on the boat.) And there’s even a pitstop in the sewers. How lovely.
All in all, it’s hard to fathom the heartlessness and chronic stupidity of this eighth installment. When there are more laughs (a couple of intentional moments, it should be noted, along with the unintentional ones) instead of genuine scares, you’ve reached the end of the road, a cold, hard fact even the greediest of movie executives couldn’t deny any longer. But then again, none of these films ever made a serious effort to be good in the first place. With dwindling box office totals and increasingly bad reviews, even Paramount knew the jig was up. Sure, home video sales and rentals were highly addicting but it was time to go cold turkey. Now Jason is New Line Cinema’s problem.
I haven’t even mentioned the bizarre fixation this series has with killing young lovers. It’s not an original point, by any means, but the uber-conservatism of the Jason character is baffling. Rarely is a female killed with all her clothes on. And while earlier installments in the series have had male characters espouse mysogynistic dialogue (totally unnecessary and demeaning to the audience), men and women are both killed in equally appalling ways. You often wonder if the filmmakers even like their fellow human beings.
Still, the Friday The 13th franchise, appalling in so many respects, is not nearly as bad as the Police Academy movies. As The New Blood and Jason Takes Manhattan prove, at least they make you laugh. Too bad it’s for all the wrong reasons.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, June 25, 2007
CORRECTION: It has taken me 6 years to realize that I misspelled Kelly Hu’s last name. I originally had it as Yu. My apologies for the error. The correct surname has been added to the original text.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, October 12, 2013