Friday, November 23, 2012

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan


The city of lights cast many shadows indeed.

I’m in the minority regarding Jason Takes Manhattan in that I consider this one of the better entries in the long-running series involving serial killer Jason Voorhies, now undead zombie for the past two sequels (or perhaps he’s never really been alive?), boarding a ship (called the Lazarus; nice touch, director Hedden) carrying graduating kids headed for NYC along with chaperoning teachers, Charles (Peter Mark Richman, the real villain of the film) and Colleen (Barbara Bingham). Rennie (Jensen Daggett, with a wild curly mane of hair) has a connection with Jason in that as a child, her uncle, Charles, tossed her into Crystal Lake. As a means to teach her how to swim, Rennie struggles to keep her head above water while little boy Jason is grabbing her ankle. From that point forward not only has Rennie been afraid of water, she also sees a figment of Jason as a boy come and go like a spectre, and Hedden establishes this numerous times on board the Lazarus. She’ll come face to face with the very boy, now a slimy, damp, extremely homicidal, hockey-masked corpse (revived while pinned underneath a fallen pier (thanks to telekinetic Tina from the previous film) by electric bolts triggered by underground currents thanks to an anchor dropped by a couple of students on a yacht boating along Crystal Lake area) who surfaced from his temporary watery grave to take up where he left off, killing kids and the like. I love how Kane Hodder huffs and puffs in the role of Jason, particularly before and after he kills folks. Hodder as Jason seems to convey a majorly pissed and angry character. For instance, when he lifts a victim off her feet, his hands around her throat, once she succumbs, he throws her to the floor with a loud, mean thud.









Here’s the problem: when you build expectations and promise something and fail to deliver, it pisses people off. It would have been better to have just called this Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Leaves Crystal Lake, and then showed clips of him on board boats and in urban areas, promising to change things up a little. That way, you promise the audience a different Jason film without feeding their imaginations with Jason stalking citizens all over New York, hitting all the landmarks, and popping up in familiar tourist spots. Sure seeing Jason on a luxury liner for an hour doesn’t necessarily get the motor running for many fans of the series, but at the very least Jason isn’t still walking all over the forests of Crystal Lake, still using the same machete, attacking the same camp counselors, and gravitating towards the same barn.




If I did have a problem with this film it would be the ending with Jason turning into a boy after the toxic waste gets him in the New York sewers underneath Time Square. It just doesn’t work for me, but I admire Hedden’s attempts at symbolism; he was trying to give Jason the proper funeral and returning him to the innocence of a child does allow him to be cleansed of the evil that held control over him for so long. The Rennie character had rescued herself from the fears pervading over her own life as well as a result of vanquishing Jason.{**}



Regarding the “change of scenery” I think Hedden—even though his storyboarded treatment of Jason on the Empire State Building, near the Statue of Liberty (how cool would that have been?), and other significant parts of New York were denied him due to budgetary constraints—does provide us with plenty of unique scenes with Jason on board the ship and in urban areas. Jason, in his undead, gooey form, seems fitting within the backdrop of a filthy alley or in the sewers under a big city. The scene where he is in Time Square gives me goose pimples; as it did Kane Hodder, seeing Jason re-located from the woods to urban America, walking inside a subway and train (to me, it didn’t have to be in NYC, just seeing Jason walking past sitting travelers is surreal and radical), is so refreshing and epic. Obviously seeing Jason kick a boom box aside as urban gangsta wannabees get an attitude with him, only to see him remove his hockey mask and reveal to them just who they don’t want to mess with is awesomeness. Okay, maybe this means nothing to some of you guys who pass by here from time to time, but for me it is hilarious and clever. Hedden, to me, took this opportunity to experiment with the character and ran with it. He’s taken some slack for removing Jason from Crystal Lake, but I feel we are rewarded with something different; let’s face it, at this point if you want Jason killing victims in Crystal Lake return to five other films in the series, because it was just time to try something new.




I have argued with my own brother about this: he is persistent in his view that Jason isn’t Jason unless he is stalking and slashing people in Crystal Lake. I felt that there’s room to go in a different direction because you have so many films where he does this; mixing the formula up with a couple of fresh locations, to me, was commendable. It’s still Jason, folks, just removed from the same, bland killing grounds. I feel there’s no reason a formula can’t be fooled around with a bit, designed to give Jason a new playground. If anything, the clashing of environments of Jason and the backdrop for which he now hunts, gives franchise fans a change of pace..I just don’t see how this can hurt. 

Anyway, Jason Takes Manhattan will ultimately be judged by its ultra-violence and gore quotient, and this will probably disappoint series fans even more than removing Jason from Crystal Lake. I remember this energy fill the theater in 2003 when the surviving characters in Freddy vs. Jason headed for Crystal Lake; for some reason, this familiar setting just is the end-all/be-all for Friday fans.

I don’t fault Hedden for an hour’s worth of film set on a boat. When you design desired set pieces you plan to direct only to have the rug pulled from under you by the producers who deny access to parts of NYC, what happens is improvisation. All Hedden could do is use the camera and exploit the cramped confines of the ships halls and quarters where Jason hides in rooms (Hedden often shows characters pass by rooms, with doors opening and revealing Jason’s head peeking at them as they walk away) and sneaks up when they are most vulnerable.


One particular scene, I believe the highlight (although, it seems Jason’s TKO severed head gag receives top honors), has a kid, after sparring with a tough boxer named Julius (Vincent Craig Dupree), lying down in a sauna with Jason ramming a hot rock in his torso (Jeepers!). That kind of viciousness is prevalent. Jason, on board the opening yacht, takes a harpoon gun, burying it deep in the male, then after finding his girlfriend, slowly takes a harpoon spear (this as she pleads helplessly, crammed in a cargo holder) and jams in right into her chest. 



I think what really sells Jason Takes Manhattan isn’t The Final Chapter type bloodshed but how Hedden and his gifted cinematographer, Bryan England shoot Jason. My favorite is the virtuoso sequence where England’s camera rotates from inside a disco dance room on board the Lazarus as a young Kelly Hu turns around in circles trying to determine where Jason is and the proper exit to escape; the shot of Jason when he enters the room is really eye-popping. Any lensing of Jason, the camera shooting from ground level up at him, really works for me because it is as if doom is casting its presence down upon you, no escape, no refuge, no salvation. 

I realize that most look at the head of Julius popping off, down a building into a garbage bin, after he stupidly punches Jason numerous times (into the hockey mask, which just always leaves me befuddled because how can he hurt Jason punching him that way?), asking for the hockey-masked behemoth to give him his best shot (Hedden later admits that he wanted the POV from Julius’ spinning head badly in the film), is considered a showstopper, but I winced at the sauna rock stomach stab (I actually cringe at that; I reward a kill that causes me to go “Ohhhh” with applause for a job well done). Obviously a Friday film that gives Jason an opportunity to use a guitar shot to the skull (I think this is the most stylish of the kills for how Hedden has Jason swing for the fences with the guitar coming right at the camera with a loud bang; good stuff right there) of a hungry rock chic gets bonus brownie points from me. I’m such a cretin. 

I guess the scene where that hot blond bitch Tamara (shortly after framing teacher, Charles, in bra and panties on her bed while he attempts to stop her, albeit with some reluctance (haha)) is done taking a shower, is stuck in the bathroom as Jason literally pulverizes the door (a constant of the Friday series is how Jason demolishes any door that stands in his way, wood exploding on impact), breaks a mirror with his bare, decaying fist, and comes with a large and very sharp piece of glass, may bring back memories of The Final Chapter in how trapped and vulnerable the victim is (she has only a robe and the room is small and compact). It isn’t graphic as Hedden goes away before Jason does the deed, but it does suggest that what happens to her will not be pretty. I think the death of the camera guy (who had the hots for Tamara) as Jason hurls him into a control box causing sparks and bolts to light him up like a Christmas tree, eventually causing a fire (his limp carcass lighting up also leaves an impression on me) is pretty memorable a murder set piece. This leads to the boat flooding and burning, forcing the remaining survivors to have to flee in a tiny boat to NYC harbor. There’s a cool scene, to me anyway, where Jason sees a fire alarm button—when it goes off, this lets you know that some reasoning skills still work in that zombie brain of his.

The character of Charlie is certainly the one that will elicit the most emotional response, I bet, because of his antagonistic nature. He’s a pathological complainer, someone who doesn’t hesitate to order people around, use what clout and authority his teacher/chaperone/adult role will allow him, and his need to shelter Rennie (always telling people to stay away from her, like teacher Colleen or Sean) is anal. He’s a nuisance, sees that he has some ability to throw his weight around, so when he is lifted off his feet, dumped in a barrel of toxic waste (amazing how industrial waste in barrels just sit comfortably on street corners and flush through the city’s sewer system), and held immersed (kicking those legs as he drowns) by Jason until all life ceases will probably be considered a crowd pleaser. 

In this film, Charlie’s only competitor for worst scumbag is a pair of druggies who hold up the survivors from the Lazarus as soon as they dock taking Rennie off to get her momentarily high. Jason actually rescues Rennie from a potential rape which, to me, is rather setting a precedence in the Friday franchise. When Jason takes one of them, slamming his head into a pipe, dislodging it from a connecting pipe that lets out steam, is another great Kane Hodder moment that shows him use excessive force to bludgeon a victim. Its badass.

So, Jason Takes Manhattan isn’t the bloodiest, not located at Crystal Lake, and barely has any sex/nudity. Wonder why it is listed at the bottom of Friday favorites’ lists? I can only speak for myself as it doesn’t feature Manfredini’s score (Fred Mollin provides original music), has an opening of locations where Jason will stop by in the city (of mainly Vancouver) set to a rock song, and has Jason Voorhies on the subway train and in Times Square, breakaways from the norm I personally found a breath of fresh air. If you want same ole/same ole, just stick with the formula of the previous films. Oh, and to close, I did notice that, starting with Part Six, that there were not only final girls, but final guys. I kind of like this actually, although I still prefer the final girl besting Jason; because so many girls are always victims, I do think it is only fair that a chick gets to take out Jason at the end.


Walking corpses are not real.

Look, you don't understand, there's a maniac out to kill us.
Welcome to New York.

You didn't get me in the lake, and you're not going to get me now. 


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{**} I slept on this and I think I’m a bit different in my feelings for the finish with Jason. Because each time Rennie sees Jason a little worse as far as his increasingly malformed face (when we first see Jason as a boy to Rennie, his face is like any other child, but during the film his face develops the malformation on the left side a little more and a little more), and just the fact that he continues to appear to her, like a ghost reappearing to give her the unease that comes from such visits, by the time Jason is *put down*, she sees him as a boy laid to rest. The child never leaves her because Jason, as the boogeyman killer that refuses to go quietly, is still walking and killing. With her, and Sean Robertson (Scott Reeves), able to finally able to see that Jason can kill no more, the child lies dead, Rennie no longer will be tormented by the long-term memory of his presence when her despicable uncle pushed her into the water of Crystal Lake. Hedden, perhaps as a means to give us a jolt from time to time, has Jason remerge to Rennie. Kind of cool is a particular scene where she sees Jason as a child drowning and begging for help—also, we see Jason as a child reaching out from the reflection of a mirror, from a port hole—as the real Jason reaches in from a port hole to grab her by the throat..both the figment and real Jason terrorize Rennie.
 

4 comments:

  1. Yeah, I'm with you on this one. A surprisingly enjoyable late entry in the franchise and I loved the humour that was in there. Everyone was pissed off by the lack of actual NYC shots but there were a few in there and the rest is all just fun fun fun.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yeah, I was the same way for years, until I watched Hedden's commentary on the document of his sequel in the paramount "From Crytal Lake to Manhattan" Friday set (God, I wished I owned this!), and then I had a better understanding of why more wasn't shot there in NYC. It really could have been epic.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I don't care what anyone says, this is absolutely one of the better ones in this series. I think diehard Friday fans were mostly pissed that it's not set in the woods / a campground. I liked the change of location, the humor and the fact the direction and camerawork are both much more imaginative than most of the others. Some of the scene transitions (like the camera bobbing underwater in Manhattan to emerge in Crystal Lake and going from the boiler room where the girl is killed to above deck to the scream echoing through the pipe) are also surprisingly clever.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think because Hedden was so thrilled to get the gig and has such an energy while directing the film, it translates well. I just really found myself very entertained.

    ReplyDelete

Battlestar Galactica - And So It Begins

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Psycho '60

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Kife

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Meg

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The Church 1989

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You are one of us now. The Queen of the Night will bear you up on her black wings

The Unknown 1927

No....not sick. But I have lost some flesh.

Alonzo, the Armless.

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Glen: We'd like to speak to the Townsends, please.

The Butler: They are not available till after sunset.

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Mad Love 1935

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Lavin - Waxworks Proprietor: Gala - who? Not wanting a statue of him, are you?

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