Tuesday, May 10, 2011

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

This was the one that my two cousins always talked about when they mentioned the Friday the 13th series to me, that they rented it many, many times because they enjoyed it that much. They also described a lot of abilities that Jason is able to do in this film that they thought were so cool and talked about them as if it was stuff that he was always able to do; it was only after I began watching the movies myself that I found out those abilities applied to this particular film only and that my cousins really hadn't seen most of the others. So, in any case, I grew up hearing them rave about how much they loved this movie but it wasn't until that aforementioned marathon of the series on Spike TV when I was 15 that I finally saw it myself. I must say that I had a lot of fun watching it that first time and so, when I decided to get a lot of the movies on DVD (which wasn't too long afterward because it was my birthday), Jason Takes Manhattan became very high on my pecking order. And to this day, I still really like this one. In fact, I would say that it's my second favorite behind Jason Lives, which I know probably shocks a lot of people since this movie is so reviled by fans but I'll do my best to explain why I like it.

Some time after his battle with Tina in the last movie, Jason lies dead at the bottom of Crystal Lake when he's resurrected by the anchor of a small boat clipping an underwater power cable, causing a massive surge of electricity to course through his body. After climbing aboard the boat and murdering the two teenage passengers, Jason apparently pilots it to a bay where an enormous cruise ship is about to set sail for New York City. The passengers are the senior class of Lakeview High and the trip is part of their upcoming graduation. Of course, Jason climbs aboard and the body count soon begins on the way to the Big Apple.

The main reason most people hate this movie is because, despite the title, a good chunk of it takes place on the ship, with only the last forty-five or so minutes being set in New York. The original plan for this film was for a large portion of it to take place in New York but the budget, despite being big for a Friday the 13th, wouldn't allow it. While I do understand that it is a bit disappointing that you don't get as much of Jason in the city as you probably wanted, I think the section on the ship is just fine. In fact, one of the reasons why I like the movie is simply for the change of location: we've had seven movies featuring either Mrs. Voorhees, Jason, or Roy killing people either at Crystal Lake or somewhere nearby, so this is a breath of fresh air to me. And other than the venue change, it's still Jason doing what he does best and what we love him for, so what's not to like? That leads me to another complaint that I often here about this one, which is that there's barely any gore. Once again, I can't argue with that notion. Part VII is more than likely the one with the least amount of blood but this one was neutered pretty heavily by the MPAA as well, making it on par with the previous one. But, while I do agree that a slasher movie typically doesn't work well without gore, I've always found this movie to be entertaining enough to where the lack of blood just never bothered me. And as for the characters being perceived as not being all that likable? Honestly, I like some of these characters more than those in the previous film. Finally, there's the ending, where Jason is doused in a flood of toxic waste in the sewers of Manhattan and he somehow gets reverted back to his child form. Now, that I can't defend. I agree that that is unbelievably stupid and makes no sense and even though I've heard the director attempt to explain it, I still don't get it. (It's so bad that the next movie seems to just ignore it.) So, I understand everybody's hatred with that aspect but, otherwise, I don't have many problems with this film. I guess it's just personal taste.

This movie's director is Rob Hedden who, at that point, had been directing episodes of Friday the 13th: The Series, the notorious in-name-only TV show, and while he certainly may not be the best director ever, when I see interviews with him, he has so much energy and love for the series that I just can't help but like him. In fact, his commentary on the DVD (at least the one on the Crystal Lake To Manhattan box-set; I don't if the same one is on some of the later editions) is one that I found a lot of fun to listen to. He admits that he made some mistakes while writing and directing this film but, again, he seems to have so much passion for it and had so much fun doing it that I just can't hate him. (As opposed to the next movie's director, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.)

The lead of the movie is Rennie, played by Jensen Daggett and must say that I like this character a lot. She's a sweet, vulnerable girl who's haunted by a fear that she can't explain and the beginning of which she can't remember. She's also constantly being pulled in different directions by her guidance counselor and boyfriend, who want to know what's wrong with her, and by her cruel, overbearing uncle, who keeps trying to isolate her from everybody. When she starts encountering Jason, she's terrified, of course, but she eventually learns that she has a connection to him. When she was a young girl, her uncle pushed her into the lake to force her to learn how to swim and she was attacked by the young version of Jason after he originally drowned, which explains all of the bizarre visions she has of young Jason through the movie. After learning of this, she ultimately stands up to both her uncle and Jason, telling the latter, "You didn't get me in the lake and you're not going to get me now." I also find the moment where she tells her boyfriend about how she found out that her parents had been killed when she was younger to be a little sad, especially seeing as how this comes right after she loses her guidance counselor, who was the one nurturing parental figure she had. You're probably rolling your eyes at this but I can't help it; I do like this character.

Scott Reeves plays Sean Robertson, Rennie's boyfriend, and we get something of a backstory for him as well. His father, who's the captain of the ship, has apparently been pushing him all his life to get a job in the shipping business, which is shown by the first scene with him where his father gets annoyed at him for not knowing the proper procedure for leaving a dock. Sean gets frustrated and stomps out of the room, slamming the door behind him, which later leads to his father realizing that he's made a mistake in pushing Sean all his life. On top of that, Sean later tells Rennie his sentiments on the situation: "I'm never going to be what he wants." It's not much, granted, but at least we get something, which is pretty rare in this series. The kid also comes across as a really decent guy overall, especially when it comes to Rennie. He's very protective of her and gets really angry at her cruel uncle when he treats him and everyone else like crap. I especially love what he does to her uncle when she remembers what he did to her as a child, which I'm confident makes him a boyfriend that any girl worth her salt would want to have.

Peter Mark Richman plays Charles McCulloch, Rennie's overbearing uncle. The guy is just an absolute asshole who thinks he's above everybody else, especially when it comes to Rennie's well-being. He treats everyone like dirt and is always telling Sean and Colleen, the latter being Rennie's guidance counselor, to stay away from Rennie. He also refuses to believe anybody when they tell him that Jason is behind the murders, continuing to treat them like garbage. Even after they escape from the sinking ship, he's still a douchebag, particularly to Sean. One part I hate is when they're rowing in the middle of the fog-covered ocean and he says to him, "I hope you find shore soon, captain. We all don't want to drown out here." Dick. And then, when they get to New York and dock the boat on the seedy side of the waterfront, he says, "Wonderful place to dock a boat, Mr. Robertson. Wonderful." If I was in that group, I would have been like, "Buddy, if you say one more thing!" Like Melissa in the previous movie, he doesn't die nearly soon enough but boy, do you cheer big time when Jason does kill him.

Barbara Bringham plays Colleen Van Deusen, Rennie's guidance counselor and teacher. Not much to say about her other than she's a very sympathetic woman who truly wants to help Rennie overcome her demons and it's a shame that she doesn't survive. V.C. Dupree plays Julius, a senior who's great at boxing. Not much to say about him either
other than he seems like a tough guy you can depend on and I love how he puts McCulloch in his place at one point and how he's gun-ho about trying to save Rennie after she's kidnapped by these punks in New York. His death is also a memorable one. The other characters have nothing to them, honestly. Martin Cummins plays this geek Wayne, who's too stupid to understand that the slut he likes is just using him to do things for
her. I love when she burns him and he says to himself, "Wayne... you're an asshole." No, Wayne. You're just a moron. There's voice actor Saffron Henderson as a wannabe rock star named J.J. who gets killed right after she's introduced with her own guitar; Sharlene Martin as Tamara, the slut I mentioned earlier who uses Wayne for her own selfish purposes and goes as far as to fake making out with McCulloch to blackmail him (it takes McCulloch an awfully long time to finally throw
her off of him, don't you think?); Kelly Hu as Eva, Tamara's would-be friend who knows when she takes something too far; Gordon Currie as Miles, whose name I didn't even remember until I just looked it up because he does nothing; and Alex Diakun as a weird deck hand who knows a lot about Jason and is clearly meant to be a callback to Crazy Ralph from the first two films.

If I have one major problem with this film, it's the young Jason motif with Rennie that runs throughout the film. I do commend Rob Hedden for making a connection between this film, which was meant at the time to perhaps be the last, and the original, as well as actively incorporating young Jason into the film for the first time since the original, but this motif kind of flies in the face of what I think they were trying to do with Jason's character ever since he became the villain of the series in Part 2. It was implied back then that Jason didn't drown, in fact, and had been living in the woods around Crystal Lake ever since. Since it was stated that they never found his body, you could more or less believe that. But here, we learn that Rennie had her first encounter with young Jason when she was a little girl. The problem with that is that this film can't take place in 1989 because, by this point in the timeline, after Tommy Jarvis growing up and the stuff with Tina, we have to be almost into the 2000's at least, so to suggest that Rennie had her encounter with young Jason when she was a young girl means that it would have had to have taken place some time between the events of the later films. That makes no sense and what's more,  having Jason still be a young boy and living at the bottom of Crystal Lake puts a supernatural turn on things that I didn't think came into the series until his resurrection from the dead in Jason Lives. Maybe that young version of Jason is a separate entity from the undead hockey masked killer he is now, representing the innocent child he once was and trying to make what he's become all the more tragic? I don't know. I know the Friday the 13th series isn't known for doing a good job with continuity but this is major for me.

Aside from the plotholes they create, I've always felt that the hallucinations Rennie has about young Jason are really out of place and feel more like something you'd expect from A Nightmare on Elm Street than Friday the 13th. The one that especially compounds that for me is the scene in the bathroom when Rennie turns on the faucet, the running water becomes blood, and then young Jason comes out of the mirror. Plus, did you notice that throughout his appearances, young Jason starts out looking completely normal and becomes more and deformed until by the end of the film, he looks the way he did in the original movie? For that matter, during the aforementioned scene in the bathroom, he even looks freaking Japanese! What the hell? And like I said earlier, the ending scene where the toxic waste causes Jason to turn back into a little kid makes no sense. What did that even mean? Hedden has said that since he thought this was going to be the last movie, he wanted to bring Jason full circle and turn him back into a little kid. If this were indeed the last movie, I guess it wouldn't be that big of an issue but since there are more and this ending is apparently forgotten, it renders it a bizarre curiosity piece of the series.

Now as for the Jason we all know and love, Kane Hodder reprises his role for the second of four times here and, as before, Hodder brings an anger, rage, and presence to Jason that is hard to deny. In addition, I like the little mannerisms Jason does, like when he first comes ashore in New York, looks up at a large sign displaying a hockey mask, and tilts his head in curiosity. One of my favorite parts of the entire series is when Jason is chasing Rennie and
Sean down a street in Times Square and he kicks a radio that these punks are listening to out of his way. The punks, of course, prepare to beat the crap out of Jason but when he turns around and lifts his mask up, showing them his face, they decide that this isn't someone they want to mess with and run away. I love that moment because it shows that Jason is intelligent enough to know that he's hideous and uses that to his advantage. Jason also breathes very heavily in this film, sounding almost like Darth Vader, which he had never done before. Some would argue that something that's undead wouldn't breathe at all but it doesn't bother me because, at this point, are you really going to be looking for logic?

As for Jason's actual design this time around, I don't have any problems with it for the most part. Some don't like how he's wet and slimy throughout the entire film, that his outfit is now completely black (which it was in the previous film, I might add), or that he's wearing gloves when he wasn't in the last movie but it never bothered me because, again, why should I complain about that kind of stuff by this
point? In addition, I do like the way the hockey mask he wears in this film looks. However, like many, the one problem that I do have with his design here is the face, which is revealed after Rennie throws toxic waste on him and he tears his mask off in pain. His face looks absolutely stupid. It looks like a pumpkin, especially when it's first revealed, and is major comedown from the incredible design in the previous film. When he grabs onto Rennie as she and Sean are trying to climb out through the manhole, it doesn't look as bad as did when it was revealed, but it's still dumb looking. I also hate the ridiculous roar that he makes when he rips the mask off and I wasn't a fan of his young voice coming out of his mouth as well. I didn't get why he randomly puked water, either. That was just silly.

One odd thing that Jason does do in this movie is teleport. There are plenty of moments when somebody is running away from him and he'll suddenly appear ahead of them. I know it's happened before in the series but it's really overdone here. The weirdest moment comes when Jason traps Eva in the dance room on the ship and no matter where she turns, Jason is there. It's edited in such a way that it really does look like Jason is teleporting all over the room. There's also a moment in Manhattan where Jason chases McCulloch through an alleyway and he takes shelter in a building, only to suddenly be thrown out an upstairs window, followed by Jason appearing at the window and looking down at him. I will admit that does baffles me and is weird, but it still doesn't ruin the movie for me.

As I said, the kills in this movie are hardly gory at all but that's never really bothered me. The first victims are Jim and Suzi, the two teens aboard the small boat whose anchor hits the power cable and brings Jason back to life. Jim gets a harpoon gun shoved right in his stomach and when Jason pulls it out, it looks like his intestines are on the tip. As for Suzi, she deserves to die because she's so stupid. She just runs and hides in some hatch on the boat instead of swimming for shore. She doesn't even try to fight back as Jason slowly sticks a harpoon down into the hatch and stabs her in the chest. Jason's first victim aboard the cruise ship is J.J.: he bashes her head in with her own guitar. One boxer who is relaxing in a sauna gets one of the hot rocks shoved into his torso. Ow! Tamara is killed after she gets out of the shower: Jason smashes the mirror and stabs with her a big shard of glass. He kills the chief engineer with a harpoon to the side and slits the captain's throat with a machete (no blood oozes out whatsoever). After that disorienting scene in the dance room, Jason violently strangles Eva. Wayne (after he accidentally shoots somebody because he loses his glasses) gets thrown into a control panel, which starts a fire that ultimately dooms the ship. Miles gets thrown onto the deck post. Jason seemingly kills Julius by throwing him overboard but it's later revealed that he survived. He kills that deck hand off-screen and the guy later appears with an axe in his back. Jason's first victims in New York are two gang-bangers who kidnap Rennie: he puts a hypodermic needle all the way through one and bashes another one's head into a pipe. Julius' death is my favorite. After Julius punches Jason until his hands bleed, Jason punches his head off and later puts it in a cop car! He kills said cop but you don't really see it and Colleen is killed when the cop car they're in crashes. Jason kills McCulloch by dumping him in a barrel full of raw sewage. He sends a restaurant waiter (Ken Kirzinger, who would later play Jason himself in Freddy vs. Jason) into a mirror: don't know if that counts as a kill or not but I figured I'd mention it anyway. His last kill is this sanitation worker in the sewer; he smashes a wrench into his head.

My favorite part of the movie is the final quarter where Rennie and Sean are the only ones left and Jason relentlessly chases them throughout Manhatttan. I find it very exciting for the sheer action as well as the aforementioned sight of Jason in a new environment. I also think it's funny how nobody gives Jason a second look. I guess they think he's just another punk but if they only looked closer, they would be able to tell that he's clearly decaying. Plus, even though there are scores of people that he could kill, Jason is focused primarily on killing Rennie and Sean and ignores everyone around him, which makes me wonder what he would have done if he'd killed them. Would he have continued killing everybody in New York or would he have just gone back to Crystal Lake? Moreover, how would he get back? I doubt Jason would have thought that far ahead. But then again, he probably would have just swam or walked on the bottom of the ocean or whatever he did to get from the ship to New York in the first place.

This film is unique in that it's the one where no new music is composed by Harry Manfredini and none of his old cues are used either. Here, it's all Fred Mollin and, I have to say, I like his music here. It definitely doesn't sound like any other Friday the 13th score and that's what's I like: it's its own thing. My favorite cue is the exciting cue when Miles is trapped by Jason on deck and he's forced to climb up onto the mast, as well as the music that plays when Jason steps out onto Times Square for the first time. The stuff for the horror and chase scenes are nicely exciting and Mollin also takes the famous "ki, ki, ma, ma," and uses it in varying ways, even having some guy whisper "Jason" in an eerie way at some points. Honestly,  I just can't help but like the way the music sounds here. There's also the song Darkest Side of the Night that plays over the beginning and ending credits, which I don't love but don't hate either. It's an okay song. Speaking of which, I have to say that the opening credits for this one are very standard. This is the only film where the title just comes up in the usual way they typically come up, which is so weak considering what came before and what would come afterward but, oh well.

Okay, so maybe Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan isn't everyone's ideal film in the series and it may not really deliver on its title as much as it could have but I can't help liking it. It will always be a personal favorite of mine for the nice change of venue, some characters I really do enjoy watching, and another stellar portrayal of Jason by Kane Hodder. It's also kind of sad when put into the context of the franchise's history because it's the end of an era. After it bombed at the box-office, Paramount decided they'd had it with the series and sold it, making this the last classic Friday the 13th. After New Line Cinema took over the franchise, it would never again have that same feel except maybe for the 2009 reboot (but we'll get to that later). So, like it or not, this was the last film in that classic period of the series heyday.

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