Friday the 13th Retrospective, Part 2: The “Undead Jason” Era (Paramount Pictures)

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It turns out money could kill off Jason, but it could also bring him back. The Final Chapter ended up being a huge success for Paramount, so it didn’t take them long to render its title false. What follows is an era of Friday the 13th that straddles the line between the “classic” era the preceded it, and the gimmick style films that would follow when Jason made his move to New Line Cinema.

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)

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Just a year after the release of the “Final Chapter” a “New Beginning” occurred. For the first time since Part 2, a surviving character would return. Tommy, one of the survivors from part IV, would return. Instead of being played by Corey Feldman, Feldman would only appear in a cameo at the beginning, with an older actor replacing him for the rest of the movie.

The elephant in the room is the identity of the killer. The idea of it being a murder mystery, is something that I’m not sure the audience ever got. It’s a “Friday the 13th” movie, so of course Jason is the killer. So when it was revealed that it was not Jason, but Roy, a character seen for a few minutes early in the movie, wearing a Jason mask, really confused me at the time. I guess we were meant to be wondering if Tommy had snapped and decided to kill off fellow residents at the halfway house. While I’m not impressed that Jason wasn’t the killer, that is not my main complaint with the movie.

This movie is filled top to bottom, with the most annoying cast of characters in any “Friday the 13th” movie. They’re not just characters you can’t wait to see killed, they are characters you can’t stand to watch. Particularly the rednecks. The idea to set the movie at a halfway house is an odd one, and populates the movie with strange characters.

This is all wrapped in what I would call a “sleazy” movie. The director worked in porn, and you can tell. The movie is more interested in gore and nudity than development and scares. Now, the “Friday the 13th” series isn’t a marvel in well-defined characters and scares, but the best installments at least put effort into them. This movie commits a cardinal sin, in my opinion. It introduces characters that you don’t have to see just to add to the body count. By wasting all our time with tertiary characters that never amount to anything, time is taken away from the characters that we’re supposed to be rooting for in the climax.

To add insult to injury the ending is terrible. After teasing Tommy maybe becoming psycho at the end of “The Final Chapter” they go to the well again here. With Tommy putting on the mask and appearing to attack Pam right before the credits roll. This is a lame move, because we know they won’t go through with it. They tried to play it so that it was possible that he was the killer in this movie, but pulled back. There’s no way they will have the balls to go through with it in the next installment (Spoiler: They Don’t). The idea of the main character going crazy in the ending and possibly becoming the killer was something of a trope at that point in time. I’m thinking of the ludicrous ending of “Halloween 4” when they imply that Jamie is the new Michael Myers. It is laughable there, and it is laughable here as well.

I can’t think of many positive things to say about this movie. The good thing is that the producers of the series knew it wasn’t good as well, and moving forward, they would get one of their best installments in the franchise.

1 Machete out of 4

 

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

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As if the title of the film doesn’t already clue you in, Jason is back. In fact, “Jason Lives” is in a bigger font in the poster than “Friday the 13th Part VI” You could actually call this “Friday the 13th Part VI: Course Correction” and it would be as accurate. This is widely considered to be one of the best installments in the franchise, and I can’t disagree. What this movie does is take the dull, dour tone of the last movie and flip it on its head. While I wouldn’t go so far as call it a comedy as I would argue for a movie later in the series, it definitely has a big sense of humor.

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The changes start right off the bat. We get a much better Tommy accidentally resurrecting Jason. Within 5 minutes of the start of the movie we get a maggot infested Jason rising from the grave and putting on a hockey mask. This is basically the filmmakers saying to us, “Don’t worry, everything’s going back to normal” It is capped off by a pretty hilarious James Bond parody with Jason turning and slicing the machete at the audience.

What really sets this movie apart from the others is the pace. Right off the bat, Tommy knows Jason has returned and tries to stop him. This is in contrast with other movies in the series, in which half the movie goes along before people realize that people are being killed by a masked maniac. I like that this movie cuts to the chase in this way. In addition to the much-improved Tommy, we get good characters like Sherrif Garris, and his daughter, Megan. These characters are more likable than the norm, and particularly “A New Beginning” I actually felt bad when the Sherrif met his inevitable end by the lake.

One thing that the movie has going for it is for the first time in the series, it puts children in danger. Notwithstanding Part 1, when the camp is about to open, the other movies don’t take advantage of the “camp” aspect. With this movie, the re-branded “Camp Forest Green” is open, and filled with children. So for the first time in the series, it makes sense that there are counselors there and it adds a new layer of suspense having children being in danger.

This kids off the “Undead” era of Jason. Up until now, Jason has been alive and just lucky to survive the various attacks on him by characters. This movie puts a line in the sand by flat out showing that he is now a re-animated corpse that is unstoppable. The way that Jason is taken out at the end of the movie is appropriate and fun, while leaving room for another sequel.
Overall, with the likable cast, solid humor, and fast pace, this is one of the better installments in the series.

4 Machetes out of 4

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)

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This movie was intended originally to be Freddy vs. Jason, but the two studios: Paramount Pictures, and New Line Cinema, could not come to an arrangement. Keeping the idea of Jason facing a foe stronger than he ever has, he essentially battles Carrie. The supernatural elements that were introduced in the last movie, come into more focus here. The movie takes place an unspecified amount of time after “Jason Lives,” with Jason still trapped at the bottom of Crystal Lake. A psychic girl, Tina, accidentally unleashes Jason while she’s trying to bring her father back after she accidentally drowned him at Crystal Lake years earlier.

This is a controversial movie for fans of the series. After the knowing hilarity of “Jason Lives” this movie slides back into the typical stalk and kill mode of the other installments. In my opinion this isn’t a bad thing. Isn’t that what we come to when we see a Friday the 13th movie? It turns out this movie was heavily edited by the MPAA, with many of the kills edited down, which diminishes it a bit. While I understand the furor over the edits, I think it is a solid entry in the series. It has enough victims and doesn’t go out of its way to introduce disposable characters to be murdered. It also features one of my favorite final girls, the psychic Tina. That she is constantly abused by her doctor and the mean girl from the group of partying kids, generates sympathy for her on my part. When she actually faces off with Jason it is exciting because usually the final confrontation with Jason involves the final girl running around screaming while Jason chases her. At least in this one, she gives Jason a run for his money.

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It is actually Jason that puts this one over the top for me. This is probably my favorite Jason in any of the movies. Stuntman Kane Hodder takes on the mask and turns his Jason into the most physical and dangerous Jason of them all. Jason’s look is his best here as well, with is torn outfit and hockey mask showing all the damage gathered throughout the movies. The movie also doesn’t shy away from showing him without the mask. The make-up job done on Jason is quite impressive and blows away the few times we see him without his mask in the series.

In the end this is a solid entry in the series. Not a classic, but a notch above the others in the series.

3 Machetes out of 4

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

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With box office going down, the producers knew some gimmick would be needed to lure people back to the series. Moving Jason from his typical location of Crystal Lake seemed like a good start. Putting him in an urban setting even better. On paper, Jason Takes Manhattan” sounds like a terrific idea for the series. The reality, however, doesn’t match the hype. The reality is more “Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes a Boat”, than “Jason Takes Manhattan” and that reality really undercuts any positive idea this movie has.

The original script had set-pieces with Jason at many locations in New York such as the Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge, and Madison Square Garden. It is no secret that Paramount Pictures didn’t exactly hold the slasher series in high regard, so the budgets were always limited, and New York City isn’t a cheap place to shoot. The script kept getting whittled down until only what we see on screen remained. What was once a movie filled with scenes in New York ended up with a movie that mainly takes place on a boat. What little of NYC there is is mostly filmed in Canada. The only scene shot in NYC is a scene with Jason walking in Times Square.

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The positives of this movie are that Kane Hodder remains Jason, and his performance follows where he left off in the last one. Where the look falls off is in the makeup. I don’t really care for the toxic look that Jason employs in this one. I prefer the crispy version from the previous movie. Whenever Jason walks in this movie you can hear squishing noises, and his appearance is like someone dumped water over his outfit in between takes.

The first half of the movie is the typical stalk and kill mode of the series. It is just like a regular installment of the series taking place on a boat instead of a house. When the survivors of the boat finally make their way to New York City, it really doesn’t look like the NYC I’m aware of today. It is pretty much depicted as a hellhole where criminals are around every corner waiting to kidnap you and shoot you up with drugs. Taking Jason out of the woods and into the “city” takes away what little suspense that exists in the movie. The final set-piece takes place in the sewers of NYC, where there is a dump of toxic waste nightly (!). This is where Jason is disposed of in one of the strangest scenes in the series. When Jason is hit full on with the waste he reverts back to being a child. Not even as the child that he was in the original, deformed and strange looking, but instead a normal kid with a full head of hair. I mean, what the hell? What’s even stranger is that Jason is seen as a child by Rennie, and in that vision he is the weird looking one from the original. The filmmaker really dropped the ball here.

In the end, this movie is just “there” for me. I can’t muster up any hate for it. But I can’t say anything too great about it. What it truly is is a waste of potential that pretty much ended its tenure at Paramount Pictures, who were more than happy to let it go…

2 Machetes out of 4

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To Be Continued…

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