Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan [DVD]
Director : Rob Hedden
Screenplay : Rob Hedden
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1989
Stars : Jensen Daggett (Rennie Wickham), Scott Reeves (Sean Robertson), Barbara Bingham (Miss Colleen Van Deusen), Gordon Currie (Miles Wolfe), Sharlene Martin (Tamara Mason), Kelly Hu (Eva Watanabe), Alex Diakun (Deck Hand), Kane Hodder (Jason Voorhees)
By the seventh installment of the illimitable Friday the 13th franchise, it seemed that any hope for originality or innovation was long gone, if it had ever existed to begin with. As a new movie in the series had been released virtually every year since 1980, there just didn't seem to be that much more to add to the tried-and-true stalk-and-slash formula. They had already used the gimmick of 3-D in Part 3, claimed that 1984's entry was The Final Chapter and 1985's was A New Beginning (which also recycled the notion of the mystery killer from the original), and turned the unstoppable hockey-masked slasher Jason Vorhees into a supercharged zombie in Part VI, which is also notable for playing with the idea of parody.
What's left to do?
Apparently, writers Manuel Fidello and Daryl Haney and director John Carl Buecher (Troll) decided that the best way to reinvigorate the series was to pit Jason against a truly worthy opponent. Having been faced down by a series of final girls and a 12-year-old kid, the makers of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood decided to pull out all the stops and match the supernatural Jason against another supernatural entity, in this case a sensitive and troubled teen girl named Tina Shepard (Lar Park-Lincoln) who happens to be telekinetic.
A great premise if ever there were one in a Friday the 13th movie; but, like a bad golfer, Part VII turns out to be all swing and no follow-through, essentially wasting an interesting premise on tepid writing, bad acting, silly characters, and mediocre direction. The story again takes place around Crystal Lake, which the filmmakers apparently forgot had been renamed Lake Forest Green in Part VI. (No matter—these movies are not about details.) Tina and her mother (Susan Blu) travel out to her childhood home along the banks of Crystal Lake where Tina caused the death of her alcoholic and abusive father 10 years earlier, something about which she still carries a great deal of guilt. Along with them is Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser), Tina's psychiatrist who claims he just wants to help her get over her guilt, but is clearly interested in studying and controlling her mind powers.
Since this is a Friday the 13th movie, there has to be a gaggle of partying teenagers somewhere nearby, lest Jason not have any meat to slaughter. In this case, it is a houseful of randy, dope-smoking kids throwing a surprise birthday party. Tina meets the one sensitive guy in the group, Nick (Kevin Spirtas), who is lusted after by the uber-bitch blonde Melissa (Susan Jennifer Sullivan), who is so nasty to Tina that you hope Jason saves something extra-special for her.
Once Jason emerges from his watery grave at the bottom of Crystal Lake (courtesy of Tina, who was attempting to use her telekinesis to raise her dead father ... or something), he goes on his usual killing spree, this time incorporating tent spikes, an axe, and, in the most deliriously ridiculous (and funny) moment, a weed eater (a subtle homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, perhaps?). Alas, the MPAA was at its most restrictive in the late '80s, and The New Blood felt its wrath. Almost every killing is awkwardly truncated, the obvious result of last-minute tinkering to ensure an R-rating.
Thus, despite the fact that director John Carl Buecher started as a make-up special effects artist and has continued to work in that capacity through the present day, The New Blood is one of the least-gory of the franchise, particularly in comparison to the first few in the series. If The New Blood is notable for something other than its interesting (and botched) premise, it is for having one of the most ludicrous endings of the series (in fact, until I saw Jason X last spring, I would have noted it as the most ludicrous ending).
Alas, ludicrous endings are not enough to end a perpetual-motion-machine series like Friday the 13th, so Jason rises from his watery grave again for Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, which has the distinction of having the best (if somewhat misleading) title of any movie in the series, even if it is one of the most despised by the series' legions of fans. The cornball title would seem to suggest parody in the vein of Tom McLoughlin's superior Part VI. But, as it turns out, writer/director Rob Hedden, who has worked primarily in television, is more than content to play it straight, although he tries at various moments to ape the more original and daring Nightmare on Elm Street franchise with several surrealistic visions and flashbacks, including one in which Jason appears to reach out from inside a psychedelic, swirling bathroom mirror.
The main character this time around is another troubled teen girl, Rennie (Jensen Daggett), albeit one without the benefit of telekinetic powers. Rennie does have a historical connection to Jason, although once it is revealed it is so lame that one wonders why it was even included.
Jason is resurrected by an underwater power line, and it doesn't take him long to sniff out teenage blood and stow away on a ship populated by high school seniors celebrating their graduation en route to the Big Apple. There, he takes care of a half-dozen or more nubile teens before disembarking in Manhattan to wreak some havoc. The whole of Part VIII is a basic waste of time until Jason actually makes it to New York, where Hedden cuts loose and has some fun up until another silly ending, this one taking place in the sewer system and involving millions of gallons of toxic waste and the Statue of Liberty being struck by lightning.
Hedden perhaps overplays his hand by giving us a opening-credits sequence depicting New York as an absolute hellhole filled with rotting alleyways, sewer rats, longhaired crack smokers, and gang members waiting in shadows to beat up anyone who wanders into their domain. This all plays out again once the cruise survivors arrive with Jason in tow and find themselves navigating dank alleys and avoiding muggers and rapists. The big city is painted as being so nasty that Jason doesn't seem all that bad in comparison—at one point, he even becomes an unlikely hero who rescues Rennie. Maybe that's why Part VIII was the end of the road for the Friday the 13th series at Paramount: As most people had already realized long before, Jason just wasn't scary anymore.
| Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood DVD |
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan DVD
|Friday the 13th Part VII and Friday the 13th Part VIII are sold as separate DVDs, each with a SRP of $24.95|
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 (both)|
|Languages||English, French (both)|
|Distributor||Paramount Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||September 3, 2002 (both)|
| 1.85:1 (Anamorphic) |
Both Friday the 13th Part VII and Part VIII are presented in new anamorphic transfers in their original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratios. Both transfers are quite clean and good-looking, with Part VIII looking slightly brighter and sharper, possibly because it is both newer than Part VII and also a generally more colorful movie. There is some dirt and grain to be found throughout both movies, particularly in some of the darker sequences in Part VII, but overall both transfers are very good.
|Part VII: English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, 2.0 Stereo Surround, French Dolby 1.0 monaural |
Part VIII: English Dolby 2.0 Stereo Surround, French Dolby 2.0 Stereo Surround
For the first time, a Friday the 13th movie has been given the 5.1 treatment. Part VII boasts the new remix, and while it is not overly impressive, it has some good effects, particularly with the punched up bass level on the separate LFE channel, which gives an added kick to an explosion near the end of the film. The surround channels are used particularly well during the sequences set in the forest, which allow for a more ambient feel. Although Part VIII only features a 2.0 Dolby stereo surround soundtrack, it is quite good, as well, even though the movie features what is perhaps some of the worst late-'80s hair metal songs you can imagine.
| No supplements at all are included on either of these discs, not even trailers. Again, Friday the 13th fans will be disappointed to know that Paramount has not taken this opportunity to include the more graphic footage that is widely known to have been cut from both movies in order to secure an R-rating during theatrical release. Part VII is particularly notorious for what was cut out, and there have been online petitions circulating for years asking for an uncut version to be released on home video (director John Carl Buecher has also vocalized his willingness to re-edit the film back to its original state). It is still unfortunate that unrated director's cuts—either via seamless branching or on separate DVDs—have not been made available to those who would appreciate seeing these movies as they were intended to be seen before the MPAA got involved. |
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick