Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan Movie Review

This one I used to catch quite a lot on cable. It contains my all time favorite death in a horror movie so it holds a special place in my heart for that. It also takes place (a small portion of it, anyway) in the city I love. But did it scare me as a kid? Probably a little, but the setting of New York City made it much less scary.

Click here for a list of all other films reviewed and considered for this October 2012 series of horror reviews.

Jason frightens some Times Square punks.

Where else could they take it, really? After a mother seeking vengeance for her drowned son; the same son come back seeking vengeance for his beheaded mother; the reins taken over by a third killer; the reins taken back by Jason; and Jason squaring off against a girl with telekinetic powers, what could possibly come next in the Friday the 13th series? Well, in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, we find out.

The film presents the most laughable portrait of New York City. It’s about on the level of Jackie Chan’s Rumble in Bronx for urban authenticity. It wants to believe that New York City is a sewer of junkies and criminals, perhaps even a place in need of a Jason cleansing. Speaking of sewers, it invents a subterranean sewer system below the streets of New York. And filthy city that it is, the sanitation department floods these sewers with toxic waste every night at midnight. What?

Truth be told, only a small portion at the end of the film takes place in Manhattan (although you’d be hard-pressed to convince me it was all filmed there) while the large middle section takes place on a cruise ship full of graduating high school seniors. Never mind how Jason winds up aboard the ship. It only matters that he’s there with a gnashing propensity to kill teenagers.

There is hardly anything in this chapter that is worth talking about in a positive sense. Yes, it contains what is probably the most hilarious and wonderful death in the entire series when a student named Julius (Vincent Craig Dupree), who is a boxer, faces Jason one on one on a Manhattan rooftop. After pounding Jason’s hockey mask (why the hell would you punch a hard plastic mask?) and getting him with body shots he challenges Jason to give him his best shot, at which Jason punches his head clean off. It’s a miraculous kill and the one glorious murder the entire series had been working toward for a decade. And Kane Hodder returns as Jason, which automatically elevates it a tiny bit.

Until that point you have to suffer through Rob Hedden’s (who also directed) wretched screenplay. This is a piece of work that comes across like Hedden wrote it the night before he was due to turn it into his elementary school teacher. It’s like he makes no attempt whatsoever to even craft a story that makes much sense, or to tie scenes together cohesively. He just sets up vignettes into which Jason appears to kill someone.

The protagonist, Rennie (Jensen Daggett), is terribly afraid of water owing to an incident that occurred at Crystal Lake (where else?) with her guardian, Charles (Peter Mark Richman), who is also the principal. Rennie’s girlhood encounter with Jason at the bottom of the lake has left her psychologically scarred with visions of a drowning boy haunting her during waking hours. The idea that a boy Jason at the bottom of a lake pulled Rennie under the water doesn’t mesh with the internal logic of the series as a whole. Additionally, it enacts a rape of the timeline (then again, so does Part VII) of the series.

On board the ship, character motivations are either non-existent or make so little sense the whole thing turns into a big joke. Maybe that’s the idea, but there’s little in the way of a signal that anything is meant to be taken too lightly. This is a movie where no character behaves in a way not dictated by the will of the screenwriter. There is no characterization, no attempt at all on Hedden’s part to play out how a particular character would act in a given situation. Maybe I’m just asking too much now. Horror movies can be fun and they can be scary. They can even be both at the same time, which helps relieve the tension. Jason Takes Manhattan is hilarious unintentionally. The laughs are not in service of relieving tension, because there’s nothing scary to begin with. It’s funny because it’s generally an incompetently made film.

Deaths (with my rating out of 10)

Total deaths: 20 (2 off screen and 2 accidental deaths)
Average rating: 3.2/10
Highest rating: 10 (the highest rating of any death in the entire series)

Ratings are based on my personal reaction to the killing taking into account factors such as shock, surprise, and fear, as well as the creativity involved and how graphic it is.

1.       Jimmy gets a spear gun in his stomach (2).
2.       Suzy gets the spear gun in her chest (3).
3.       J.J. gets smashed in the head with her electric guitar (5).
4.       An unnamed boxer gets a hot sauna rock buried in his chest (6).
5.       Tamara is stabbed with a shard from a broken mirror (5).
6.       Jim is stabbed in the back with a harpoon (3).
7.       Admiral Robertson has his throat slit by a knife in slow motion (4).
8.       Eva is lifted off her feet and choked to death (3).
9.       An unnamed crew member is accidentally shot in the chest with a shotgun (1).
10.   Wayne is thrown on a control panel and electrocuted (3).
11.   Miles is thrown from the ship’s mast and lands impaled on a radio antenna (4).
12.   The crazy deck hand is found with an axe in his back (1).
13.   A street thug is stabbed with a hypodermic needle in the back (5).
14.   The other street thug has his head smashed on a pipe (1).
15.   Julius gets his head punched off at the end of a boxing match with Jason (10).
16.   A cop is dragged into an alley and killed off screen (1).
17.   Mrs. Van Deusen dies accidentally in an exploding car (1).
18.   Charles is thrown from a second floor window to the street (the third time in the series this has happened, but the first time the character doesn’t die) and then drowned in a barrel of green sewage (3).
19.   A sanitation worker in the sewer takes a wrench to the head in shadow (2).
20.   Jason is drowned in sewer waste, which turns him back into a boy (1).

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