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Friday The 13th

Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

Retrospect can bring clarity.  You see, back in 2003, I had never been more excited for the release of a movie than Freddy vs. Jason.  I could barely get to sleep the night before its opening.  I saw it twice on opening day and a third time later that weekend.  It was a massive experience for me, and I was even in contact with an executive at New Line Cinema while running Forever Horror at the time.  Posters, soundtracks, magazines, and the novelization quickly came into my possession because I was so enthusiastic and in love with this movie.  It was a monumental moment in time.  That was a long time ago, and even a few years after the film’s release I realized what this film truly was – a major disappointment.  The hype is dead and buried, the anticipation is a vague memory.  What I see and know now is that Freddy vs. Jason was a monument of missed opportunities due to a poor script “clean up” by David Goyer and the over-the-top comic book stylings of director Ronny Yu.  This film was barely what it should have been, and did not portray Jason to his fullest potential.

Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is in hell, and can’t get out.  Everyone has forgotten about him, he has no power over anyone in the dream world.  He’s searched throughout hell for someone that could help him reignite people’s fear of Freddy, and he has in Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger).  Freddy, posing as Jason’s mother Pamela Voorhees (Paula Shaw), manipulates Jason into reawakening and doing Freddy’s dirty work for a time.  Jason goes to Elm Street in Springwood, Ohio to lay the seeds of fear that will re-empower Freddy, but when Jason becomes uncontrollable and continues to take Freddy’s thunder and victims – the two immediately come at odds and the battle for 80s horror icon supremacy begins.

To be plainly straight forward, Ronny Yu does nothing with this film to make it remotely resemble anything horror-related.  While we have monsters and gore and murder, he doesn’t even try to make anything scary.  He just turns this entire concept into a comic book adventure with larger than life action like a Michael Bay film.  It’s all ridiculously overblown action with absolutely no attempt at building tension or suspense.  Ronny Yu didn’t care to take these characters back to their truly horror-driven roots.  In fact, he demonstrates very little to zero knowledge of the characters at all.  Ken Kirzinger’s performance is forced by Yu to be a slow lumbering Frankenstein’s Monster at times, and then, as an animalistic enraged killer.  Kirzinger does the best he can, but Yu forced him into a very specific, narrow portrayal of Jason that does not display the character at his best.  Ken was Kane Hodder’s stunt double in Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, and so, he knows how to do Jason justice (even if it is Kane Hodder’s version).  Ronny Yu simply knew nothing about the best aspects of Jason’s character, about what worked best in previous interpretations – let alone display Jason’s creative diversity with different weapons.  He may look like Jason Voorhees, but there is little here that resembles the character fans have come to enjoy.  I also severely hate the comical context Jason is thrown into repeatedly throughout the film.

Robert Englund, on the other hand, is allowed to put in possibly the best performance as Freddy Krueger since the original A Nightmare On Elm Street.  Freddy is sick, sadistic, and just totally vile here.  Unfortunately, the wisecracks and one-liners still do pop up to form some very cringe inducing moments.  It seems as if the lame humor aspects of the character will never die, but compared to the portrayal in Freddy’s Dead – this is evil incarnate.  When Englund’s in the moment of the most terrible acts, he delivers something we’ve hungered for way too long – pure, serious villainy.  Freddy may have been given only one kill in this film, but it truly is memorable.  The entire sequence is vintage Elm Street.  The slur in Krueger’s voice is new, but it also adds a touch of sickening evil.  Overall, Freddy is given a far better treatment here than Jason.  I believe that’s mainly because New Line was still the ‘House That Freddy Built,’ and he was their icon.  There’s nobody on board this production that was just as devoted to Jason as others were to Freddy.  I can surely hear the cries for “Kane Hodder,” but he had some ego issues with the role that did not serve him well in the aftermath of his departure.  He certainly had great reason to be upset for being canned from the film, but at some point, you have to be a professional and let it go.

The weakness of this film lies with Ronny Yu and the script.  Screenwriters Mark Shannon & Damian Swift reportedly had a lot more Jason-centric elements in the story, but David Goyer came in, eliminated many good things about it, cheesed up the dialogue, and ultimately made it a worse script overall.  When I saw Blade: Trinity, I saw how bad Goyer’s screenwriting could be when there’s no one to fine-tune it.  The guy isn’t as great of a scriptwriter as we’ve been led to believe.  The level of cheesy, horribly poor dialogue is out-right obscene.  It is cringe inducing to sit through it.  Still, a really good actor can make bad dialogue workable, even tolerable, but the cast we have here was a long way off from winning any awards beyond a Razzie.  Jason Ritter is stiff, boring, and shallow.  Monica Keena has a very ample upper body that’s used to laughable ends, but she displays no decent acting skills whatsoever.  Also, don’t get me start on Kelly Rowland – terrible, horrible, a pure crime against cinema.  It’s acting like this that could make great and proud B-movie actors like Bruce Campbell or Jeffrey Combs ashamed to be associated with the genre.  Although, there are some good efforts here, but unfortunately, they’re gone all too early.  These performances come from Brendan Fletcher as Mark Davis and Zack Ward as Mark’s long-dead brother Bobby.  Freddy uses Bobby to haunt and torture Mark to creepy effect, and Ward does a fine job mimicking Englund’s mannerisms.  Fletcher does very well despite having the burden of tackling most of the exposition in the film.  His character is smarter than all the other teenagers combined, as is Fletcher’s acting talent.  Too bad he’s disposed of once all his exposition dialogue has been delivered.  Lochlyn Munro clocks in as Officer Stubbs, and while his character seems to have some bit of potential, at least in story development, it’s dashed halfway through the film when he’s made into another statistic on the body count list.  That’s the failing of the characters in this film – if you have exposition dialogue in this film, you’re going to die right after you’ve served that purpose.  If you have nothing at all to contribute to the film in character, story, or acting talent, you’ll survive to the final act.

The effects in this movie are decent, but there’s way too much CGI employed.  Visual effects have always been a major element in the Nightmare films, but this is more than enough and too cheesy.  The volume of blood here makes everything very silly and hardly scary.  Also, the fact that Freddy has always had green blood in all previous film entries, and he now has regular red blood shows how little anyone cared for continuity.  Plus, Jason is undead – he has no blood pumping through his veins, yet it all spurts out like geysers.  Ever since undead Jason debuted in Jason Lives, his blood has been a black, gooey substance that oozes out of his wounds, when he did bleed.  The design of Jason is different, and while I like the hockey mask, it becomes too battered by the end ruining the visualization of Jason’s moral blankness that it’s meant to symbolize.  The raggedy clothing he’s draped in makes him look like a homeless derelict.  Why they couldn’t stick with the coveralls or the classic green shirt and tan khakis is beyond me.  He really does look like Frankenstein’s Monster in this film, minus the neck bolts.

Also, the level of comedy here is just wrong.  Even when Freddy is beating down on Jason in the dream world boiler room, it’s all done comically.  Jason’s just hurled around like in a pinball machine complete with sound effects and wisecracks.  I just hate that they couldn’t keep Freddy as a sick, detestable bastard, but instead were so tempted to make a wisecracking “fun” villain.  Freddy Krueger is setup from the very first moment of this movie as a child killer and possibly something even more sickening, but not long after, he’s being played up as a jokey villain.  This doesn’t jibe with me.  Certainly, nothing should be taken too seriously with a film that pits a wisecracking dream demon against an undead killer wearing a hockey mask, but there are certain character traits that should be weighed in when dealing with the character overall.  As a human being, Freddy Krueger kidnapped, violated, and killed children – not a laughing matter at all.  Of course, if anyone had made any attempt to make the majority of the teenage characters in this film any bit real, let alone sympathetic, Freddy would seem more villainous by attempting to kill them all.  Beyond just the portrayal of Freddy, the quality of the comedy is horribly cheap and childish.  It’s just badly written puns that add to the pile of garbage dialogue that this film dumps upon us.  The fact that they blatantly ripped-off the character of Jay from Jay & Silent Bob in the form of Freeberg just shows the laziness of the writing and casting.  While stoners have been a slasher mainstay, I cannot condone them carbon copying a character from a comedy franchise for a few weak, cheap laughs.  It’s a blatant sign of being creatively bankrupt or simply lazy.

The score created by Graeme Revell is grossly disappointing.  It sounds like he composed the thing during a ten minute coffee break in between films.  The same weak musical cues are used a dozen times over, and no real thought out themes exist here.  There was only one Jason “vocal effect” produced for the film, and any bit of Charles Bernstein’s Elm Street theme that appears in the soundtrack was injected in the aftermath of Revell’s scoring.  Knowing that Revell did the brilliant, beautiful, and very gothic score for The Crow made me hopeful that he’d deliver something equally as epic, but sadly, he phones this work in.  I would’ve preferred someone along the lines of Christopher Young scoring this as he did amazing work on the first two Hellraiser films and subsequent motion picture scores.  Regardless, whatever I had hoped for, this score is the most disappointing of either series.  Revell wasn’t even trying here.

The only good part of the film is the end when Freddy and Jason finally battle in the real world, but I’m only speaking of when they get hands-on.  Only when the two are chopping and tearing away at each other – ripping chunks of flesh from their bodies – does it get really damn good.  Everything previous to that is either a ridiculous WWE style brawl with flying elbows and such, or Freddy hurling heavy objects at Jason.  The real meat of the entire encounter is Freddy and Jason dropping the bullshit creativity, and just ripping each other apart!  This doesn’t last long enough, though, and it takes a third party to really allow for a winner of any kind to prevail, despite no one actually winning at all.

Again, another failing of this film is abandoning any sense of horror or suspense.  It’s just a monster movie meant to splatter blood across the screen, and that just doesn’t hold my interest.  There are a few frightening moments and a slew of excellent kills, but a little less time spent over indulging in comical farce and more time spent building up atmosphere and tension could’ve gone an exceptionally long way.  There are also numerous missed opportunities.  There could’ve been a great story with characters from both franchises coming together to deal with Freddy and Jason.  Shannon and Swift had mentions of Tommy Jarvis in the script, but he did not appear.  I think bringing together Tommy and maybe Alice from Dream Master and The Dream Child could’ve made a blockbuster combination.  In the least, we would’ve had a lead cast that could actually act.

On my horror movie website Forever Horror, I had an ever-growing article on the history of Freddy vs. Jason from the beginning of both franchises past the point of this film’s theatrical release.  It’s an insanely long article due to how long the film was in development.  It had been trying to get made since 1987, and for all the stacks of scripts, screenwriters, and directors that were attached to this film over those many long years, I cannot believe this is the best script New Line Cinema could come up with.  I cannot believe that Ronny Yu was the best director they could find to helm this.  There must’ve been a half dozen or more horror filmmakers out there craving to do this project that would’ve done an extremely better job with it.  Again, Yu essentially knew next to nothing about either character or franchise, and it just shocks me that New Line Cinema would hand this film over to someone like that.  I can understand wanting to avoid hiring someone with a bias towards Freddy or Jason, but the film still turned out more like A Nightmare on Elm Street sequel guest starring Jason.

I will admit that Friday The 13th is my favorite slasher film series, but even from an objective point of view, it’s easy to see the lack of Jason-centric elements here.  Crystal Lake doesn’t show up until the third act, and there’s a gross lack of creativity in Jason’s weapons and most of his kills.  Practically having that machete glued to his hand the whole film again displays the shallow knowledge the filmmakers had for Jason.  Also, claiming that Jason has some subconscious fear of water is preposterous.  We’ve seen Jason submerged in water numerous times in multiple films without so much as hesitating to do so.  He walked underwater halfway from Crystal Lake to Manhattan without a problem.  Also, regardless of the tone of the Friday The 13th movie, Jason was always portrayed as entirely serious and lethal, but this film pokes too much fun at him.  It puts him into comical moments that could’ve been reworked to be suspenseful.  It’s horrible direction and campy screenwriting like this which also turned Alien vs. Predator into such an abomination.  Both of these films could’ve had so much potential to be absolutely grisly, frightening, and intense films, but bad directors and screenwriters with no sense of respect for the material destroyed those hopes.  While AVP is undeniably the worst of the two, Freddy vs. Jason demonstrated you could get away with showing only little to no respect for the source material, and still be greatly successful at the box office.

What more can I even say about this in a summation?  The movie hit like a wild fire, but all that excitement and praise was just hype.  Today, I don’t buy into hype.  Either the film looks good or it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t deliver on my more matured tastes, no amount of hype is going to overshadow that.  There are films I can admit are bad, but still gain some degree of enjoyment from it.  While Freddy vs. Jason is a more tolerable film than Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare or Jason X, I have not had the genuine urge to watch it in many years.  This is not a film to vehemently avoid, but it is one where your expectations need to be drastically lowered to avoid severe disappointment.  If for nothing else, the horrible, vacuous acting is something you need to brace yourself for because it will make you cringe.  Overall, this movie was a gimmick, plain and simple.  It wasn’t about being faithful to the characters, fans, continuity, or franchises.  It wasn’t about good acting, directing, scoring, or scriptwriting either.  It’s strange that a film built out of the idea of fan service really has little to offer the fans that know the franchises the best.  It’s even worse that after this film was such a huge success, New Line Cinema decided to inflict the curse of the remake upon both Freddy and Jason.  So sad.

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Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

Paramount Pictures had run their course with Jason Voorhees, and gladly sold the rights to New Line Cinema for them to do with it as they pleased.  What they gave us was something that remains a mixed result for many fans.  Personally, I really love Jason Goes To Hell.  I believe it to be a great, original storyline that dared to do something drastically different with the franchise.  The filmmakers populated it with a very solid and impressive cast, and put together an inventive script.

An FBI sting operation at Crystal Lake succeeds in blowing Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) to pieces, and all believe he is permanently dead, except for bounty hunter Creighton Duke (Steven Williams).  Interviewed on the news program American Case File by Robert Campbell (Steven Culp), Duke claims that Jason is not dead, and that he is the only one who knows how to send him to hell for all time.  He sets a bounty of $500,000 to paid for doing so.  Meanwhile, Jason’s demonic heart takes possession of person after person on a path of death back to Crystal Lake in the effort to be fully reborn in the body of another Voorhees.  Coincidentally, Robert Campbell is dating Jessica Kimble (Kari Keegan), the daughter of the woman Duke seeks out in Crystal Lake, but he doesn’t get far as he is locked up for insulting the town Sheriff.  The father of Jessica’s daughter, Steven Freeman (John D. LeMay), eventually encounters Duke after Diana Kimble (Erin Gray) is accidentally killed, and he learns the truth about Jason and what it will take to destroy him forever.

Many fans are content with just leaving all the origins and explanations for Jason being whatever he is unknown.  However, at a certain point, a franchise has to look back on itself, and realize that some sense has to be made of its menacing slasher juggernaut that continually comes back from the dead.  In this case, I believe Dean Lorey and Jay Huguely succeeded in conjuring a story that takes itself seriously while dealing with some fantastical ideas.  This film turned the franchise around from its campy decent into cheap horror, and back into a far gorier and violent direction.  It lays several implications upon Jason’s undead origins such as with the Necronomicon from Army of Darkness sitting inside the Voorhees house.  Granted, it was likely a prop happenstance due to the same effects company working on both films, but it’s presence alone enhances the occult and supernatural implications of the film.  It certainly helped spark the idea for a Freddy vs. Jason sequel, ultimately adapted into a comic book, featuring Ash Williams fighting against both slasher foes.

The addition of the Creighton Duke character was pure brilliance.  A hard edged bounty hunter with the secrets to what Jason is, and what became of his family lineage injects that air of mystery and urgency into the plot.  I have become a big fan of Steven Williams from 21 Jump Street to The X-Files.  He’s an incredibly talented actor capable of a wide range of characterizations.  As Duke, he’s got charisma that really grips an audience.  He can have an mischievous wit when he offers answers to Steven Freeman in the jail, but also has an intense, captivating energy when finally delivering those answers.  Duke’s a man with a dedicated purpose, and a confident, bold attitude backed by his rugged skill set.  He doesn’t offer trust easily, thus, reinforcing a sort of loner attitude.  He doesn’t back down from anyone, but has the intelligence to remain focused and level headed.  He’s not blindly obsessed with destroying Jason.  He knows he cannot do it by himself, and must come to trust that others will do what is necessary when the time comes.  Creighton Duke is one of my absolute favorite characters of the entire franchise, right up there with Tommy Jarvis.  Steven Williams’ performance is immensely entertaining and compelling.

On the opposite side of the hero spectrum is John D. LeMay as Steven Freeman.  He’s very much just an average guy with no special skills, but has his motivations.  He desires to see and hold the child he helped father with Jessica, and wants to see both of them protected from this murderous evil out stalking them.  LeMay starred in the unrelated Friday The 13th: The Series where he solidly played a similar protagonist, but Steven is even more unlikely.  He’s not at all a man of action, but when forced into extraordinary circumstances, he rises to the challenge by doing whatever it takes to survive and protect those he cares about.  LeMay gives the role plenty of light-hearted charm, and an audience easily feels for him when things go terribly awry.

This is undoubtedly the best cast assembled for a Friday The 13th movie.  There is just a wealth of credible talent throughout the ranks, and they are all handled excellently by director Adam Marcus.  For the most part, they project a grounded feeling that works towards the very serious dread and horror that is present in this film.  The diner owners, Joey B. & Shelby, are kind of comical, but in a way that sells Joey’s heartless exploitative nature and Shelby’s warmer sensibilities.  However, Steven Culp is probably the best of the supporting cast giving us a very sleazy, unscrupulous news anchor in Robert Campbell.  This is a guy who has deceived Jessica into a romantic relationship only for the chance to exploit her family for his own personal gain.  Culp puts in an excellent performance as a character you love to hate, but there’s more to it that I will touch on later.

This is undoubtedly the goriest movie of the entire franchise.  The filmmaker made the blood thick and plentiful.  The scene of the coroner consuming Jason’s enlarged heart is beautifully disgusting and graphic.  The gooey black blood oozes and splatters all over.  It’s an amazing effect, yet again provided by the masterful talents at KNB EFX Group.  They really went all out for this installment creating very elaborate effects which are seen in all their glory right there on the screen, in the unrated cut, of course.  New Line Cinema was the first to officially release an unrated version of a film in this franchise, and this couldn’t have been a better film to do that for.  The practical effects work is absolutely spectacular, and the visual effects are also highly impressive.  There is nothing at all that is just mediocre or sub-standard in this film.  Everyone was fully dedicated to making a high quality feature, and I applaud each and every one of them for that commitment and hard work.

Yet, this isn’t just a mindless splatter flick.  There is plenty of classic Friday The 13th style suspense.  Adam Marcus shows a talent for crafting solid atmosphere and tension.  The film has a dark visual tone creating a gritty feel that tells you this is going to be straight-on horror.   Lighting is quite moody with rich, deep blacks that really strengthen that hardened atmosphere.  It’s a hell of a great look for this film that really sets it apart from the rest of the series in a very good way.

What many fans count as a negative mark against the film is that Jason himself is barely in it.  He spends most of the runtime jumping from one temporary body to another in pursuit of a permanent resurrection.  However, this does allow for an unexpectedly menacing and kick ass performance by Steven Culp while possessed by Jason.  He tears through the diner massacre sequence savagely.  It’s absolutely awesome.  Of course, there is no discounting Kane Hodder, but he does appear lethargic in this film.  Possibly, this is due to the padding added to his costume to reflected a bloated and malformed Jason.  It definitely adds more bulk that works well in contrast to everyone in the film, but Hodder just seemed to have a harder time throwing himself into the end fight scene.  Regardless of that, he still delivers a performance up to his established standards for Jason Voorhees.

Now, Harry Manfredini’s score in this film is a split opinion for me.  It is quite good, and might be one of his best of the series.  Unfortunately, instead of using an orchestra, the entire score is synthesized.  He takes what he regularly would have done with an orchestra and apply it to a synthesizer, and it just loses far too much in that transition.  While the composition is very good, the sound of shrieking strings on a keyboard sound like the score to some cheap direct-to-video horror flick.  There are times it doesn’t sound that bad, but certainly from the opening credits and elsewhere, it has always given me that feeling.

I know I am not the only one who believes there are many places to take the Friday the 13th concept outside of its formulaic comfort zone, and to me, this film shows it can be done with the right ambition and talent.  It’s certainly a concept that you will either like or won’t, and it’s understandable if you don’t.  Many are happy to revisit the standard formula, and just see Jason killing innocent campers.  However, I find that many franchises could use an infusion of new ideas.  It’s only unfortunate that most times, those new ideas become bad ones that result in poor movies.  Thankfully, the right talents were employed that did love the series, and wanted to do something more supernatural, graphic, and demonic with Jason without betraying the core of his character.  Many would argue otherwise, but this is my opinion on Jason Goes To Hell.

I do hardly believe that even New Line Cinema was serious about this being The Final Friday considering they just picked up the rights to the character.  The ending of this film blatantly and cleverly sets up Freddy vs. Jason, so, there were obvious plans to keep utilizing Jason however they could.  Regardless of that issue, Jason Goes To Hell is one of my top favorite Friday The 13th films, and I feel it is one of the best and most successfully innovative of the series.  There’s a first rate cast here that really push the film towards that more serious, convincing tone instead of one of camp, which is refreshing.  The make-up effects are off the chart incredible giving us more gore than any other film in the franchise, before or after, but it has no lack of genuine suspense or terror.  If you care for a return to more serious horror for this franchise, and don’t mind more fantastical ideas injected into the concept, I strongly recommend giving Jason Goes To Hell an honest chance.


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

By happenstance, it seems that I prefer the even numbered Paramount Pictures’ Friday The 13th films over the odd numbered ones, and this is no exception.  I won’t deny there are large flaws with this film, but it basically comes to whether or not I have an enjoyable time watching the film.  For Jason Takes Manhattan, I find a great deal of enjoyment from this, and tend to find myself watching this one most often when I just need a fun, easy slasher to watch.

The graduating class of Lakeview High is setting out on a cruise to New York, but after a late night diversion by two students out on Crystal Lake, Jason is electrified back to life for an unexpected journey.  Rennie Wickham (Jensen Daggett) is among the classmates with her uncle and biology teacher Charles McCullough (Peter Mark Richman), her caring literature teacher Colleen Van Deusen (Barbara Bingham), and boyfriend Sean Robertson (Scott Reeves).  Unfortunate for everyone on board is that Jason has hitched a ride on this ship which is sailing straight into a storm.  Jason stalks through the ominous, closed quarters of the S.S. Lazarus until the survivors are forced to abandon ship, but even the harbor of Manhattan, New York is not safe for them.  Jason Voorhees continues his muderous rampage through the streets of New York as Rennie continually gets chilling flashes of a young Jason which will lead to a personal revelation from her past.

The reason why I like this entry while so many trash it is because it’s quite fun.  There plenty of enjoyable characters portrayed by actors who do seem like they were having a fun time making this film.  I also truly like the idea of trying out some new ideas and breaking free of the old environments.  Unfortunately, there was vast potential wasted due to the film’s budgetary constraints.  Writer / director Rob Hedden explains in the film’s DVD commentary track that his original script had sequences taking place at numerous New York landmarks including Madison Square Garden and the Empire State Building, and the New York part of the story would dominate the film, leaving a much abridged section on board the S.S. Lazarus.  Regardless of what might’ve been, the film we are left with has definite problems which have to be addressed.

The lack of gore is obvious.  Too many off-screen kills make for a more bland slasher movie, but at the time, the MPAA were being very unrelenting with horror films.  Filmmakers had to hack n’ slash the gore from their films so badly, the entire genre suffered.  Granted, these slashers becoming more campy and less scary attributed to their lack of effectiveness, but the low gore levels didn’t help matters.  Still, this film has a few memorable kills with both the electric guitar and boxing decapitation kills.  It really is more in their inventiveness that make them memorable than any use of blood or gore.  Of course, the entire toxic waste flood taking out Jason with the intent of this being last Friday The 13th movie, ever, is very cringe inducing.  Some of the greatly more horrid footage from this scene was very thankfully discarded.  New Line Cinema does have to be thanked for not allowing this to be the ultimate cinematic demise of Jason Voorhees.

I will surely admit there is some bad acting in this film, but I feel it’s limited to a few minor roles.  Our main array of characters are very lively and amusing.  I highly enjoy spending time with someone like Julius who has some bravado and charisma, even if the performance can be a little over the top at times, but I don’t view that as a negative in this film.  Saffron Henderson’s J.J is a vibrant 1980s hot rocker who I felt departed the film far, far too early.  Wayne, the aspiring filmmaker, is also nicely geeky without becoming stupid or obnoxious.  These are characters that just add charm and a little bit of heart to the film.  Peter Richman’s stern, uptight McCullough is a great foil in the film that you can love to hate, and his veteran acting skills really benefit the role nicely.  Barbara Bingham brings some heartfelt motherly concern to Ms. Van Duesen as she tries to be an emotional counsel to Rennie.  Scott Reeves meshes decently well with the film’s female lead in Jensen Daggett.  Of the whole main cast, he’s probably the least noticable likely due to not having as much on the page to work with.

I do strongly feel that Jensen Daggett is among the best heroins of the series.  Rob Hedden gives her a very nice psychological storyline to deal with that ties into her own personal history, and links it up with Jason at the same time.  This gives her a sense of personal determination later on to defeat Jason.  Daggett gives Rennie a nice breadth of innocence and likability without losing her strength.  At the time of this film, she felt like a fresh faced young woman with a lot of potential and warmth.  There’s a fine range of emotions built into the character of Rennie, and Jensen Daggett proved to be a nicely talented choice to handle those demands.  I’ve always enjoyed what she had to offer in this role, and I feel she carries the forefront of the film very well.

Kane Hodder steps into the Jason role for the second time, and does what he does.  He surely looks more into the performance than in his later outing where he would over-accentuate certain character traits.  The only thing I think makes this return performance a little inferior to the debut one is just the trappings.  The violence is not as hard edged, the tone is not as heavy, and the appearance of Jason is scaled back a great deal.  So, it is a consistent Hodder performance, and a rather effective one, regardless.  I do have to say that the “teleporting Jason” style of editing does not strike me very well.  It simply succumbs to no logic.  The dance floor scene could be explained by an artistic license to reflect the disorientation of Kelly Hu’s character amongst the blaring music and flashing lights, but Jason consistently shows up in places ahead of other characters were he should be lagging far behind.  It does tend to bother me when watching the film, but only in those brief instances.

Regardless of such facts, I do feel Rob Hedden did an admirable job directing this film.  He had the imagination and initiative to try something new with transplanting Jason into new locations, and it feels refreshing.  Eight films in, and you need some new ideas to keep it interesting.  Of course, you can take it into really bad territory, such as with Jason X, but I digress.  I know Hedden could’ve made the film one thousand times better if he had the budget to realize his original script and ideas.  Not to mention, a chance to retain more of the blood and gore in the final cut.  Unfortunately, what’s done is done, and you’ve gotta live with it.  The suspense in the film is decent, but is compensated for by a nice array of exciting or startling sequences.  Instead of the usual third act chase through the woods, we get Jason stalking Rennie and Sean through the urban landscape of Manhattan on the streets, in the subway, and ultimately, through the sewers.  That money shot of Jason standing in the middle of Times Square is just priceless.  Even though most of the film was shot Vancouver, British Columbia, this moment in the film truly adds a sense of credibility and scope to the film.

Fred Mollin takes full reins as composer for this film, and like his work in The New Blood, I find it very good with a heavier, more haunting and relentless style than Manfredini’s work.  Both Mollin and Rob Hedden worked together on television’s Friday The 13th: The Series, and I think that helped their creativity to jibe well together.  The tone of the film is definitely enhanced by the score, offering one of the better works of the series.  Manfredini’s work has never really impressed me.  It tended to feel very one-dimensional, ringing the same bell over and over again.  There would be beautiful moments on rare occasion, but Mollin’s work seems to have a bit more depth, accentuating different styles of tension, suspense, and horror with more effectiveness.  Mollin also co-wrote the two songs that J.J. jams on early in the film, but it’s been revealed by his collaborator Stan Meissner that pretty much everything that was recorded for those tracks appear in the film.  That’s a bit of a shame since they are very stellar hard rocking tunes with a great 1980s pop sensibility.  They really have “hit song” written all over them, and I would buy them up in an instant if they were released as complete songs.  Mollin would reuse one of these tracks when he scored the pilot episode of Forever Knight a few years later.  The track “The Darkest Side of the Night” by Metropolis is one that I really love, and sets a good, yet different tone for the opening and closing of this film.  It is commercially available from their “Power of the Night” album, but not widely or easily so.

While there are instances of a lighter tone sort of playing up Jason’s iconic status, much of the film has a rather haunting and unsettling tone due to the psychological and hallucinatory aspects of the story.  Rennie’s visions of the young, deformed Jason are creepy, and give the film some dramatic weight.  Rennie herself doesn’t know what’s happening, and the audience has to learn the reasons why alongside her.  I just find the tone fresh and inviting along with much of the ideas Rob Hedden mixes into the old Friday The 13th formula.

All in all, the film really is entertaining and enjoyable.  It offers some good brutality, but lacks the proper gore level for a Friday The 13th film.  By today’s standards, these severely cut down slasher flicks are rather tame.  They could almost pass for a PG-13 rating these days, but there are enough creepy and unsettling moments to sway it otherwise.  In any case, despite the poorly conceived ending for Jason, I do find this to be a good, worthwhile way to spend a fun, laid back 90 minutes.  With the consistently shrinking box office takes for the franchise, Paramount Pictures decided that this would be the end of Jason for them.  I’m sure anyone anticipating a glorious swan song for the character would’ve been grossly disappointed even more than the failure to widely deliver on the film’s New York-based premise.

I fondly remember catching Jason Takes Manhattan late night on the USA Network in the early 90s, and it was always great when there would be a Joe Bob Briggs MonsterVision marathon of the films in the late 90s.  Despite all the ups and downs, strengths and weaknesses throughout the Friday The 13th films to this point, they are all classics of the genre, and sparked the whole 1980s slasher film trend that it rode out to the very end of the decade.  By 1989, it was hard to call any franchise the reigning king of the genre, but Friday The 13th surely was the juggernaut and iron man of the bunch.  While Jason Takes Manhattan is not the strongest film one could’ve hoped for, it’s a decent entry with a few flaws that I can generally overlook.  Kane Hodder maintained Jason as a force to be reckoned with, and unlike a character like Freddy Krueger, the integrity of the character can never be damaged by humorous or off-beat approaches.  Jason will always be as bad ass as he ever was no matter what type of film you put him in.  Of course, it’s still hard to get over Jason X, but thankfully, I have one more favorite in the franchise to spotlight before confronting that film, again.


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

Now that the Tommy Jarvis storyline had concluded, it left the door wide open for anything to be attempted in Friday The 13th, Part VII.  Paramount had a great decision by hiring the awesome make-up effects master John Carl Buechler to direct the film, and then, there was the debut performance of Kane Hodder as Jason.  There were workable elements in this film to make it great, but whenever I watch it, I just feel this doesn’t hit the mark.  I don’t even think it’s a fault of MPAA censorship on the gore, of which there was an excessive amount.  It just sort of feels like a poorly executed concept with not enough talent behind the script or in front of the camera to make it what it could’ve been.

Tina Shepard (Lar Park-Lincoln) has the ability of telekinesis, but this ability has haunted her for years now as it caused the death of her father on the docks of Crystal Lake when she was a little girl.  As a young woman, she has returned to the lake with her caring mother Amanda (Susan Blu) and the deceitful and manipulative Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser), who wants to exploit Tina’s powers for his own fame.  However, the teenage residents of Crystal Lake have something more to fear than Tina’s emotionally charged powers as she accidentally frees Jason Voorhees from his watery grave.  He begins yet another killing spree, but is not prepared for the challenge Tina’s powers pose for the undead killer of Camp Blood.

I believe what I don’t like about this movie is the lack of worthwhile characters and fun.  There was always a sense of levity in these movies from even a few light hearted characters.  People that were just fun to spend some time with before the slaughter began.  The only characters in this film making any jokes are the insensitive jerks that are not worth spending time with.  Our female lead of Tina is far too troubled of a character to gain any levity or much relatability from.  There’s really nothing accessible about the character in how she’s presented.  I really don’t think Lar Park-Lincoln was a good casting choice in this instance.  She really does nothing interesting with the character, and spends most of the time with very dour or pouty expressions on her face.  The film starts out when Tina’s ten years old, but her behavior never matures beyond that of a child when we flash-forward.  While she is an active part of the story, it still falls back into that trap with Tommy Jarvis from A New Beginning in trying to make a hero out of a depressed, introverted character.  The potential of what this character could’ve been really required an actress of more textured emotional ability.  I don’t have an issue with the telekinesis idea as it’s something that really could’ve worked very well, but I don’t think it was well realized here.  It feels like a concept that was nothing more than something on the page.  It wasn’t developed with a sense of depth in concept or with the actress.  Like so much in this film, it’s flat and hollow.  The various effects are good for it, but it just needed a stronger character and performance behind it to really sell that this is someone worthy of combating the powerful undead Jason.

The rest of the cast is rather forgettable due to the uninspired writing.  These characters are once again shallow stereotypes played up for one note gags or bland character conflicts.  Not much effort is put into writing them.  I’ll grant that they are better realized stereotypes than most, maybe due to the decent acting talents here, but that doesn’t make them good.  I’ll certainly take this cast and its characters over the boring, disjointed group from Friday The 13th, Part 3, but I’d still rather spend my time with a more entertaining array of people.  On a side note, it’s an interesting retroactive quirk that Terry Kiser happens to be in this movie, and does get killed since he’s partly best known for playing a corpse in the two Weekend at Bernie’s movies.  Kiser is a solid actor with a fine range, but the role of Dr. Crews is such a badly written, one note, obvious bad guy that there was nothing substantive here for him to work with.

The music of the film is terribly uneven.  It features Manfredini cues recorded for Jason Lives and original pieces of score from composer Fred Mollin, and they don’t mesh at all.  They have very different tones and approaches.  Clearly, the Jason Lives music is a little lighter and more fun than the usual Friday The 13th scores mostly utilizing horns, and Mollin’s stuff is very heavy, dark, and menacing primarily using percussion and strings.  It suits the more grim, merciless, and dark edge of the film’s tone.  I have no idea why this mish mash of different scores were used, let alone why they used recycled recordings from the previous film.  This would be fine if they were comparable, but they clearly are not.  It would’ve been better to solely use Fred Mollin’s music throughout as I love everything he did in this film and in Jason Takes Manhattan.  Mollin also did some fine work as the composer on the unrelated television show Friday The 13th: The Series.  I think he took this film and the next into a far more dynamic and foreboding musical realm than Manfredini ever demonstrated.

The climax of this film, how Jason is defeated, is just a horrible idea that is terribly executed.  There’s just so much possibility that could have been taken advantage of with the film’s premise, but what the filmmakers do is just plainly bad.  I mean, you’re telling me that no one ever fished the body of Tina’s dad out of that lake to have a proper funeral?  They just left him to decay at the bottom of the lake forever, and he just happens to come back to life without a bit of decay on him?  In theory, it’s a nice reversal of the dream sequence ending from the first film, but I can’t buy Jason getting taken down in this ridiculous, piss poor manner.  The build up to this moment is excellent.  Great action beats with high production values really ramp up the danger and menace of Jason.  So much is thrown at him, and he just keeps coming back, more pissed off than before.  Kane Hodder even does a full body burn in a rather long take (slow motion or no).  Buechler really makes the whole third act impactful and visually impressive, but to have it end the way it does just feels like someone’s slap dash idea who got too tired to write a proper ending to the film.  It’s just a bad idea, through and through, which makes me want to forget I ever saw it.

I will credit the film for having a distinctly darker tone than the rest of the series.  Visually, it’s very dark and imposing.  It surrounds Jason in far more presence and aura than ever before.  This is also a credit to Hodder’s performance.  He created a very thorough body language and mentality for Jason, and it truly penetrated through the screen.  It truly made Jason frightening again, even if the film itself lacked suspense, a decent plot, or good lead acting.  I get that people are supposed to scream in horror movies, but Lar Park-Lincoln seems to inappropriately scream at the top of her lungs at almost everything in the third act.  It’s like she’s not there inhabiting the scene as an actor enveloping herself in the mood, but just screaming as if that’s the only reaction people are supposed to have in a horror movie.  There’s just no genuine fear or intensity in her performance, despite how purely menacing Kane Hodder is as Jason.  I think his debut performance was absolutely his best.  It’s just unfortunate that it wasn’t in a better movie.

Hodder is greatly aided by the stunning make-up design Buechler created for Jason Voorhees.  Seeing the bones stick out from underneath the decayed flesh, and making use of the partially shattered mask to show just a glimpse of Jason’s zombified face are brilliant touches.  This is a masterwork of special make-up effects artistry and craftsmanship, and is something that has not even been remotely challenged anywhere else in the franchise since.  What gore we do get after the MPAA’s severe slashing of this film is exceptionally good, but even still, you hardly see any of it.  This really was the most heavily edited down entry in the whole series of films, and I’m sure an uncut version would be filled with hardcore gore and graphic violence.  That surely feeds into the overall darker, more aggressive tone of the movie.  John Carl Buechler does give us a film that is nicely and consistently paced with a lot of creative kills that have become classics.  However, it all does just feel like a blunt instrument due to a lack of real suspense.  Anyone can show brutality and gore splattering across the camera lens.  It takes a skilled filmmaker to tightly craft suspense, and Buechler hardly makes an attempt to deliver that integral part of good horror.

It’s been said that Paramount Pictures and New Line Cinema considered the crossover idea of Freddy vs. Jason at this time, but the two studios simply could not come to an agreement.  Thus, what ideas Paramount had for the film were adapted for The New Blood – which is a horribly generic title for a slasher sequel.  It’s hard to picture it aside from a protagonist with a supernatural ability, but I doubt they had anything more than a vague thought of a plot for a 1988 Freddy vs. Jason movie.  Maybe just the thought of it got the screenwriters anxious to throw a more powerful adversary at Jason this time, and really push the supernatural angle further.  Of course, I think the script could’ve used more work overall to develop its premise and characters beyond just base concepts.

The New Blood had some potential, and did deliver on inventive kills and a hard edged approach.  It feels like a brutal horror movie, but without the graphic visuals to complement it, due to the MPAA required cuts.  However, it really comes down to a weak script, and some uninspired casting choices that just make this an unimpressive sequel for me.  This could’ve delivered it all, but ultimately, delivered very little of anything, in my view.  There’s not much entertainment value that I take from this sequel as the characters are often yawn inducing with the lead of Tina Shepard being the biggest offender.  Again, it is very difficult to give a damn about who lives or dies when the characters are badly written or poorly acted.  I know this film has its big fans, but I just need more than edited down, suspense deprived brutality and Hodder’s great debut performance as Jason to win me over.


Friday The 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

This has always been one of my absolute favorites of this franchise.  It delivers largely on entertainment value, and a far superior script and cast than A New Beginning had to offer.  This wraps up the Tommy Jarvis trilogy of films with a very satisfying climax, and there is so much that goes into making it such a great film.

Crystal Lake has been renamed to Forest Green in order to distance the town from its blood soaked past, but Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews) is not yet free of his past.  Tommy and his friend Allen Hawes (Ron Palillo) return to the town to dig up Jason’s corpse and cremate it to eradicate the nightmare that’s plagued Tommy since childhood.  However, an iron rod and a lightning strike resurrect Jason as an undead juggernaut, and he immediately resumes his killing spree.  Tommy attempts to motivate the local police into action, but knowing of Tommy’s institutionalization, Sheriff Mike Garris (David Kagen) writes him off as disturbed and has him locked in a holding cell.  However, the Sheriff’s daughter, Megan Garris (Jennifer Cooke), becomes intrigued and invested in Tommy while she and her friends re-open Camp Forest Green for the weekend to host a bus load of kids.  As Jason closes in on the camp and builds up his body count, Megan chooses to aid Tommy in bringing an ultimate end to Jason’s reign of terror.

Slasher films of the mid-to-late 1980s were getting tamed down by the MPAA requiring a lot of gore to be cut to gain an R rating.  That hurt the quality and effectiveness of so many horror movies at this time, but Jason Lives was able to offer more entertainment value beyond the gore.  Writer / director Tom McLoughlin approached this film with a love for classic horror, but also, a desire to add some appropriate humor to liven up the movie.  Bringing Jason back from the grave required a bit of leap for the franchise, but it was handled very smartly with the use of some classic monster movie ideas.  Jason being resurrected by a lightning bolt much like Frankenstein’s Monster is a clear example of that.  The atmosphere McLoughlin added stands out amongst the franchise.  The whole film has this wonderful blue tone with shadow and fog which sets a great visual atmosphere that is evocative of those old noir like Universal monster movies.  Unfortunately, the Deluxe Edition DVD of the film screwed up the color timing so the blue tones are now green, and if this ever gets a Blu Ray release, this is possibly the transfer they will use.

Thom Mathews is my favorite Tommy Jarvis.  He’s finally a full fledged hero taking action to combat Jason directly.  Mathews has plenty of diversity to easily handle the dramatic, action, and lightly humorous demands of the script.  Tommy’s presented as a stronger character than before, but still with an underlying twinge of obsession.  Still, he is ultimately driven to destroy Jason in order to prevent him from killing more innocent people.  That is the right turnaround from the previous film where Tommy just stood around and did next to nothing.  He’s still haunted, but is taking action to rid himself of this waking nightmare once and for all.  Thom Mathews is a strong lead that really shines through, and sparks up a wonderful chemistry with his female lead Jennifer Cooke.  She provides a very spirited and strong willed young lady that is hard to handle for her father or Tommy.  Cooke has charisma, energy, and allure to spare.  She carries herself very well amongst this fun and talented cast – always standing out but never eclipsing anyone.  Megan Garris is a tremendous lively addition to the formula as a smart, fun, assertive, and sexy female lead.

David Kagen is very impressive as Sheriff Garris.  He’s smartly written to be a well-rounded character that is never dumbed down for convenience’s sake.  Kagen makes a big impression right from the start as an assertive man of authority.  Yes, he’s antagonistic to Tommy Jarvis, but anyone would be hard pressed to buy his story of Jason rising from the grave.  Looking at it from Garris’ perspective, he’s acting entirely properly since he doesn’t know what we know as an audience.  He’s an excellent protector for the people of Forest Green and his daughter.  Kagen does a great job making him both a realistic hard ass that you don’t want to mess with, and a rational and often fatherly man with a heart.  It’s wonderfully diverse from McLoughlin’s writing to Kagen’s acting.  Certainly by the third act, he becomes a solid heroic figure that you’re rooting for all the way.

The rest of the cast is a lot of fun.  They feel very much of the 1980s with their fashions, haircuts, and just their general personalities.  Each character has plenty of richness to them to feel like fully realized people, and the cast have plenty of chemistry and charisma to remain entertaining and pleasant to spend time with.  This is one of the most talented casts of the whole franchise, and truly the most fun of them all.

The role of Jason Voorhees eventually fell to C.J. Graham in this film.  However, there are a few scenes, most notably the paintball one, where Jason is portrayed by someone else, but he was quickly replaced with Graham.  That was a very good choice because C.J. truly defined the undead Jason.  He gave the slasher a more menacing body language that was just enough zombie while still being aggressive and intimidating.  He’s definitely one of my favorites.

To aid Graham’s notable turn behind the hockey mask, Jason Lives offers up a slew of creative kills and substantial gore.  While a good deal of graphic content still had to be cut, the horror aspects still sell very well.  Hawes getting punched through the chest, and Jason ripping out his heart is very shocking early on.  It’s an excellent first impression of the strength of this resurrected Jason.  Tom McLoughlin definitely showed he had fun conceiving and creating this film with all the original kills, and indulging in some nice action sequences.  An RV gets flipped on its side driving down the road, and there’s a nice car chase between the cops and Megan’s classic red Camaro.  It’s all very exciting and new stuff injected into a franchise that needed a breath of fresh air at this point.  The addition of several great Alice Cooper tracks from his Constrictor album was just brilliant.  It gave the film an additional promotional boost, and for Cooper, it gained him me and many others as fans.  However, the song “Hard Rock Summer” didn’t see release until the 1999 “The Life & Crimes of Alice Cooper” box set along with the Movie Mix of “He’s Back.”

I’m sure the dark humor of the film turned a number of people off in 1986.  The box office takes of the films steadily declined after Part 3 until the big success of Freddy vs. Jason, and so, this was no bigger of a hit than A New Beginning.  However, since its release, Jason Lives has gained a strong standing in the franchise.  It’s regularly praised as one of the best, and it is easy to see why.  Again, it’s very exciting and filled with a strong visual atmosphere.  Of course, it’s the story and its pacing that are the strongest.  The film has almost a constant urgency about it with Tommy facing the obstacles of Sheriff Garris and the police while Jason is out slaughtering people.  There’s enough going on with the Tommy / police conflict to keep it exciting with him being escorted out of town, getting apprehended in the car chase, and then, having to breakout of his cell with Megan’s help.  It’s a very solid build up to a especially fresh, strong, and fiery climax.  Intercutting between two stories is usually the most surefire way to maintain momentum and rhythm in a film, and McLoughlin shows a great sense of both.  Editor Bruce Green deserves a lot of credit for also keeping the pacing tight and sharply to the point.

Composer Harry Manfredini’s music changed distinctly with this sequel.  I’m sure there are those that would have preferred him sticking with the classic sound of Friday The 13th, but I have no particular preference either way.  It’s become part of the overall identity of the film which tonally sets it apart from most of the other films.  While I’m sure a first time viewer might have difficulty adjusting the new sound, I still feel it’s appropriate for the film Tom McLoughlin made.

While Friday The 13th Part 2 is my favorite of the classic formula, Jason Lives really is my favorite of the undead Jason era.  I believe writer / director Tom McLoughlin put together a thoroughly satisfying sequel which strongly wraps up the Tommy Jarvis storyline, and is filled with a fun 1980s style.  After the creative failure of A New Beginning, he gave us a film that felt lively and entertaining with some highly memorable and enjoyable characters.  The self-referential humor is nicely balanced with the horror aspects, and careful avoids falling into self-satire or parody.  It remains light and realistic, never making the characters appear dumb or foolish.  It is a very smartly written film that is executed with an equal level of intelligence.  I give this film glowing praise all around, and I highly recommend it.


Friday The 13th, Part V: A New Beginning (1985)

So, Jason Voorhees has been hacked to pieces, and Paramount decided to launch a new direction for the franchise.  Fortunately, it was short lived with this lower grade, poorly conceived sequel trying to position Tommy Jarvis as the new killer of the Friday The 13th films.  Quite frankly, this has a lot wrong with it right from the start, and it’s easy to see why Paramount quickly rebounded with the far superior Jason Lives.  I’ve just never really liked this entry much because of it’s very direct-to-video production quality, bland execution, and lack of decently written characters.  The director and screenwriters simply did not have the talent to make this a good movie, regardless of the MPAA cuts.

A few years have past for Tommy Jarvis (John Shepard) since he saw Jason Voorhees killed, and after some time in a mental institution trying to recover from those horrific events, he’s been transferred to a halfway house far from Crystal Lake.  Unfortunately, soon after his arrival, a volatile young patient named Vic Faden suddenly murders the young, obnoxious, and obese Joey with an axe.  Shortly thereafter, it seems as though Jason has been resurrected from the grave to murder more people.  Meanwhile, Tommy suffers from hallucinations of Jason repeatedly, and they are slowly driving him mad.  As the bodies stack up, and Tommy seems to have disappeared, suspicions intentionally fall upon him.  However, it eventually becomes clear to the audience that this is not the work of Jason, but of a mysterious imposter using the Jason lore as a façade for his murder spree.  The aftermath of this violent experience hints at a new direction for the franchise that would quickly be discarded after backlash from the fans.

Firstly, John Shepard does a partially good job as the new Tommy Jarvis.  I think a lot of the hallucination scenes are excellently handled giving Tommy an obvious mental imbalance.  However, a lot of Shepard’s screentime is him standing or sitting around silent and introverted.  Shepard doesn’t put any effort into making Tommy seem like a troubled young man outside of those hallucinatory freak out scenes.  The screenplay doesn’t give him anything to do to showcase such behavior.  He also has almost no character interactions in this movie, and thus, it doesn’t give Shepard much to work with.  So, it’s a fine line to divide this issue which can also cut towards director Danny Steinmann’s way since he also co-wrote the script.  Instead of directing Shepard to demonstrate that internal turmoil, he just has him be a blank slate that shows nothing of what Tommy is going through.  Still, in the vast majority of his screentime, John Shepard just fills up the frame, and even in the big climax of the film, he still comes off as a waste of space.  Corey Feldman, who does cameo as Tommy in the opening dream sequence, did a stunningly impressive job with the diverse range the character of Tommy Jarvis offered in the previous film.  He hit everything dead-on-the-mark, and made a powerful impression throughout the movie.  There is nothing within John Shepard’s performance to remotely equal that exceptionally well-rounded and captivating performance from Feldman.  In the following film, Thom Mathews would serve as an excellent hero for this franchise, and do so much more than Shepard even tried to do in this sequel.

The mood and scares are decent enough.  I especially feel Violet’s stalk and slash death scene is exceptionally effective with the soundtrack of “His Eyes” by Pseudo Echo behind it.  Unfortunately, you definitely get very little gore due to the MPAA’s stringent standards of the time.  Still, the big problem of this film is the lack of decent characters to give a damn about.  There are a lot of random people added to the body count who only show up for one scene to get killed.  That’s one sense of why I feel it comes off like a bland and cheesy direct-to-video movie.  You can contrast the characters in this film to those in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.  The main characters in both are all in a mental health facility with their own quirks and personal issues.  In Dream Warriors, the roles are smartly written and greatly cast to create a very strong ensemble of young characters that add vibrancy and emotional relatability to the film.  In A New Beginning, the characters all seem very under-developed as if they are just there to just fill up the screenplay.  They are not given any depth or background, let alone particularly likable aspects  They either come off as too weird, too irritating, or just uninteresting.  They bring no life to the film for an audience to really get scared for them, and the casting is not all that memorable.  There are some decently entertaining bits here and there with one or two characters, but other characters are just blandly written or underwhelmingly acted.  Nobody stands out.  They all blend into the background creating a film with no real tension, energy, or charisma.  Considering The Final Chapter and Jason Lives have two of the best young casts of the series with nicely fleshed out characters that are memorable and enjoyable, this makes A New Beginning even more of a sore thumb in the franchise.  Horror and suspense work best when an audience cares about the characters in the story, and I really could not care less about these.

While, like I said, the mood is decent, I do feel this movie is lit a little too brightly.  It feels a little too slick and polished taking away the dark and gritty feeling the series had up to this point.  That takes away from the effective, harder edged horror atmosphere the previously films generally had.  Plus, without having some abundant, high end gruesome gore effects to elevate the graphicness of the film, it all just feels cheap.  The Final Chapter felt like a franchise high point as a standard bearer for what a slasher film should be.  This film is just the opposite.  It shows the bottom of the barrel quality of what the genre should avoid becoming.

The direction of Danny Steinmann is just not very good.  I know there are far worse, more ineptly made movies out there, but for a mainstream horror franchise, this is as bad as you’d ever fear it would get.  Again, everything is cheap – the characters, the gore, the cinematography, the story, and the screenplay itself.  Steinmann co-wrote this with Martin Kitrosser, one of the writers of Friday The 13th, Part 3, a film that shares many of the same problems as this one, only not to this degree.  The third writer, David Cohen, wrote two other films no one’s heard of and that was it.  Steinmann never made another film after this one, and it is severely evident why.  This is not a theatrical release quality film.  It does reek of direct-to-video quality with its abundant cheesiness, poor script, and bland direction.  The attempt to make Tommy seem like the killer in this is lazily handled.  The film tries to throw a number of red herrings into the mix, but really, it plays up no mystery aspect whatsoever.  It’s entire intent is to push Tommy to becoming the new killer of Friday The 13th, but puts nearly no effort at all into fooling you into believing he might be the killer at large.  Anything that is dropped in to allude to that seems like a weak afterthought.

I’m not singling Steinmann out for any personal reason.  His 1984 revenge exploitation film Savage Streets has a strong cult following, and while I have never seen it, I am generally intrigued to see it.  With that cult following, it does seem to say that Steinmann was capable of making a satisfactory film filled with violence, sexuality, and grit.  Maybe Friday The 13th, Part V: A New Beginning was just a wrong choice of film for him, or he worked with the wrong creative team.  Anything is possible, but the fact remains that he did not handled this movie well in any creative aspect.  Even if the gore was re-instated into the film, it would not make up for the poorly executed story, the flat characters, or the overall cheesiness of the film he made.

And it’s hard to even be fooled into thinking this is Jason Voorhees back from the dead.  Frankly, he looks and moves more like a poor Michael Myers imitation than a decent Jason Voorhees ones.  The blue coveralls, the slender build, the more mechanical movement, and the lackluster hockey mask just scream “bad imposter.”  Even the old VHS box cover couldn’t get the hockey mask right.  It looked like some cheap plastic mask you’d buy at the corner drug store.  Everything about this film just drives home the fact that this isn’t Jason, and we’re not even trying to fool you.  Conversely, the Jason seen in Tommy’s hallucinations looks very authentic in every detail.  Now, that clearly shows that the filmmakers could have given the imposter a more faithful design to heighten the second guessing of whether this really was Jason or not, but chose to just cheap out on that aspect.  They even still give this regular mortal man superhuman strength, just like Jason, but in every visual aspect, he clearly is not Jason Voorhees.  It’s simply bad conceptualization and poor execution.

The climax is easily one of the weakest of the franchise.  I really did not like having some wise-ass kid running around this film in Reggie, and him being part of the climactic action is just cringable for me.  He’s treated like a big hero in the whole thing, and there’s even a big music cue to support that intention.  I simply couldn’t get invested in these weak characters to really care who survived or if there was a true protagonist here.  Tommy is such an inactive part of the story that the film, in order to build suspicion that he’s the killer, is able to have him disappear for a good long while, and it doesn’t make a single bit of difference at all.  It’s very hard to sell Tommy as a potential hero when, at the same time, you are lazily trying to sell him as the potential villain.  It just comes off as very shoddy work.  This is a script that just meanders from one death scene to the next with no idea of what story it’s trying to tell.

All in all, this is really a sad sequel that delivered next to nothing worthwhile, and Paramount heard the cries of fans everywhere regarding it.  They ignored what this film attempted to setup for the Tommy Jarvis character, and took the following film into a far more satisfying and enjoyable direction.  I think it was a very fortunate turn of events that Corey Feldman was already working on The Goonies at this time, and could only do a single scene cameo.  It undoubtedly gave his career a massive boost to be working with great filmmakers like Richard Donner and Steven Spielberg on an eventual blockbuster instead with Danny Steinmann on a low grade slasher sequel.  Again, there are vastly worse films you could subject yourself to, but there are also so many better slasher films around than this sad entry in the Friday The 13th series.  However, there is one worse entry in this franchise, in my opinion, but it’s much, much further down the line in the New Line Cinema era.


Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

This purported “Final Chapter” of the franchise would not be the last, but it made for a convincing conclusion.  However, as is the way in Hollywood, if it makes money, make more of it!  So, they did.  Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter is arguably the best of what I call the classic formula before Jason rose from the grave or any self-aware satire crept into the films.  However, I do have one terribly stinging point with this film that has actually forced me to turn it off time and again.  Now that I have you intrigued, let me break down the premise for this fourth film.

The film begins, again, where the last one left off.  Jason’s supposedly dead body is carted off to the Wessex County morgue, but it is only a matter of time before Jason Voorhees is back on his feet killing his way back to Crystal Lake. Arriving at the lake is the Jarvis family which include the mother (Joan Freeman) along with daughter Trish (Kimberly Beck) and the pre-teen Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman).  Of course, there is a whole station wagon full of teens on the way, and soon after, there is also a man named Rob Dire (Erich Anderson) camped out in the woods who is on the hunt for Jason.  He has caught word that Jason’s body is missing from the morgue, and believes that Jason is alive and headed back to Crystal Lake.  His sister was a victim of a previous massacre, and he’s out to stop Jason himself.  He crosses paths with the Jarvis family, and becomes an instant friend with young Tommy who shows him his collection of personally created horror monster masks.  Shortly after Rob departs back into the woods, Jason begins to pick off the fun-loving teens next door one-by-one, as usual.  However, the climax of the film shows Jason getting the tables turned on him in the worst way, despite how madly he fights to off these final few potential victims.

Okay, the positives here are many.  First off, Tom Savini returned as special make-up effects artist to kill off Jason.  His talent and quality elevate the film very high up beyond the previous two films.  It’s not just the quality of the effects, but the dynamic ideas that Savini can put into practical execution that make for more inventive kills and scenarios.  This only gets better and more graphic as the film goes on.  They don’t hold back in the climax, and really drive home the “death of Jason” intent with highly convincing and elaborate make-up and physical effects.  It’s one of the most successfully graphic films of the series being able to put more of the unsettling violence on screen than ever before.

Director Joseph Zito does a wonderful job to make this a more cohesive piece than the previous entry, and also brings along some character depth.  Screenwriter Barney Cohen develops the characters well giving them strong introductions with distinct personality.  As with Part 2, we get actors with some charisma, energy, talent, and rich personality.  They jump into their roles fully, and have an enjoyable time in front of the camera.  Among the young talents featured are Crispin Glover and Corey Feldman.  Both of which turn in solid work.  Glover is mostly known as George McFly from Back to the Future as well as the Thin Man from McG’s Charlie’s Angels films.  Director Zito clearly knows how to work well with actors, and how to bring some entertaining qualities out of their performances.  He also crafts some of the best suspense of the series using Manfredini’s music, smart camera work, and nicely plotted scenes to create a tense atmosphere for Jason to thrive in.

This is one of Manfredini’s most tense scores, yet.  I think it tends to depend on the director he’s working with on how good his scores end up being.  On the films where the directors have a strong, vivid vision for the film, and know how to craft horror with suspense, we get his musical talents at their best.  This is a prime example of what Manfredini can do when collaborating with the right filmmakers.

Focusing back on the cast, Feldman richly demonstrates the potential he had as a young actor here.  He’s essentially a lead actor, but an unexpectedly so.  He surely charms an audience, and is highly relatable.  Still, one would not focus on him as the real forefront character of the film until they see where the story weaves itself in the third act.  As Tommy Jarvis, he starts out like any young kid – fun, energetic, and imaginative.  However, when the story finally takes a more dangerous turn near the end, Feldman shows his diversity with a very intense and dramatic performance.  It sells the ending of the film entirely, and could have been a gross failure with any lesser of an acting talent.

Ted White has never been a standout Jason performance for me.  From many accounts, it seemed like he didn’t care for the job himself, and was just collecting a paycheck.  How accurate that is, I’m not sure, but where Richard Brooker seemed to have a definite and distinct personality for his portrayal, White’s seems less distinct and more generic.  There’s nothing particularly bad about what he does, it has just never made much of an impression on me.  However, he does do a quality job that some fans do appreciate and enjoy.

Now, the big negative mark I personally put against this film is the character of Trish Jarvis.  In the latter end of the film, she becomes so painfully DUMB that it literally becomes a chore to continue watching the film.  Now, this is a bit of a spoiler, so, avert your eyes for until the next paragraph if you wish to avoid such things.  It’s the dead of night, Rob Dire goes down into the pitch black basement, and gets bludgeoned to DEATH by Jason!  So, what does Trish do?  She runs away, but then, changes her mind – as if she suddenly came to her senses (when she really takes all leave of them) – and goes back to find Rob in that basement where Jason is undoubtedly still lurking around!  This is moronic beyond comprehension!  Anyone who would get anywhere NEAR believing this to be a good idea deserves to have their brains bashed in!  Sorry, but this level of moronic incompetence just pisses me off, and I think Barney Cohen owes me an explanation for writing the character like this.  Unless you’re doing a horror movie parody, this sort of writing is just ridiculous, and is reflective of the worst, most clichéd writing in the horror genre.  It’s dumbing down the characters to the point where they are just short of brain dead to service some idiotic need in the storytelling.  Furthermore, she continues on from this point being a total moronic idiot making the stupidest decisions in the midst of an attack from a homicidal madman, and it is only a total shame that it’s her who embeds that machete in Jason’s cranium!

This is all just sad because the film is filled with smartly written characters.  The cast has great chemistry, and make for a very entertaining film.  Zito balances the light-hearted moments out well with the hard hitting horror elements.  It’s all solid examples of what the genre can offer at its best, which many films don’t tend to strive for, or don’t have the talent involved to make happen.  So, it baffles and angers me to see such a dumbass character be given the run of the third act of the film.  Actress Kimberly Beck does nothing in her performance to make it any more bearable.  He flashes these dumbfounded expressions over and over again throughout the movie further instilling no confidence in Trish’s intelligence.

If you ever wonder why I don’t tend to post numerical ratings on my reviews, it’s because of maddening conflicts like this.  It’s a great, excellent film except for this one terrible element.  I should look on The Final Chapter as a crowning achievement in the franchise, its high point, but because I have to spend a third of the film watching a badly written character run around like she’s looking to get killed, I can’t do that.  I have literally turned this movie off after that basement scene and not gone back to it.  It’s at that point where the film takes a nose dive for me, but that’s just me.  For whatever reason, other fans can look past that, or just never viewed it in the same light as me.  I just can’t tolerate a stupid character unless there’s something endearing about them, but there’s none of that here for me with Trish Jarvis.

Aside from that, this really has all the best elements the franchise has always strived to bring together in a cohesive whole.  The previous three laid the ground work, some doing a better job than others, but this entry got it right in spades – suspenseful tension, high quality make-up effects, and a solid story with wonderful, memorable characters.  Regardless of my sole gripe with the film, you can hardly pass this one up because Joe Bob Briggs says, “it’s got important plot points,” in regards to the following two sequels.  This begins the Tommy Jarvis trilogy of the Friday The 13th franchise, each film starring a different actor in the role Feldman originated, and I have contrasting opinions on the following two films.


Friday The 13th, Part 3 (1982)

Oh, 3D.  You are the current bane of my cinematic existence.  Back in the 1980s, there was a short run of 3D horror movies trying to revive this quick cash grab gimmick, and they all sucked – Amityville 3D, Jaws 3D, and Friday The 13th, Part 3: 3D.  Straight up, this film is a prime example of leaning heavily on the 3D sight gag gimmicks to provide entertainment value instead of actually making a good film.  Even in current times, this is still done, but my disdain for 3D is the fact that it’s never worked right for me despite me having no visual impairments.  It detracts and distracts from the theatre going experience instead of enhancing it.  I have never seen this film in a 3D presentation, and so, there will be no assessment on it.  Still, it does factor into the lightweight quality of the film.

F13, Part 3 begins where Part 2 left off where Jason Voorhees has been wounded, but is able to slip away into the woods and the night.  He wanders to a small market in Crystal Lake, and while he kills the cranky couple which own it, he grabs himself a new set of clothes (and apparently a shave as well).  Meanwhile, a sizeable group of teens set out on a weekend at Crystal Lake at Higgins Haven, the woodland retreat for Chris Higgins (Dana Kimmell) and her family.  Also, tagging along is the uptight Rick (Paul Kratka), and the jokey Shelly (Larry Zerner) along with a pair of old stoners.  Chris is very weary of returning to the area because of an attack by a freakish man in the woods two years prior, but Rick does what little he can to comfort her.  In the meantime, Shelly and one of the teenage girls take a ride to a convenience store where a trio of bikers cause them a bit of trouble, but Shelly leaves them a bit humiliated.  This provokes the trio to follow them back to Higgins Haven, but their snooping around the barn costs them a great deal more than they bargained for.  Jason gradually kills off each and every person in the area – as per usual – until the climactic confrontation with the heroine.

This is the first misstep in the franchise for me. After a great outing with Friday The 13th, Part 2, I’m rather disappointed in how uneven and disjointed the direction and story are here.  Not to mention the quality of the cast and characters fall down one big notch, and the makeup effects aren’t anything to note.  Steve Miner does return as director, but it just feels a little lazy.  I think the problems mainly boil down to a flimsy script and the irritating and stupid 3D sight gags. Co-writer Martin Kitrosser also co-wrote Friday The 13th, Part V: A New Beginning, an even worse entry in the series, and so, you can easily judge his lower grade talents by that.  Aside from a few sparse screenwriting credits, Kitrosser essentially only works as a script supervisor since this film.  That means he just maintains a film’s internal continuity during production and records the daily filming progress.  The other co-writer, Carol Watson, has extremely little on her filmography.  So, it really doesn’t inspire confidence looking back on everything.  Ron Kurz, writer of Part 2, also has very little on his résumé, but he wrote a solid and coherent script that worked and flowed well.  The same cannot be said for this movie.

Whereas Part 2 had some vibrant performances, this falls into flat stereotypical characters.  These screenwriters attempted to bring some emotional depth to Chris Higgins with her previous frightening encounter with Jason, but it falls flat because of the actress in the role.  Amy Steel and Adrienne King were head and shoulders above Dana Kimmell.  Her performance is a little too one dimensional to fill the character out, but even then, it’s written with nothing but vulnerability.  The best female heroes of the series have always been ones that had a strength to pull on to fight back in the end despite their emotionally vulnerable sides.  Chris Higgins really is just an increasingly hysterical would-be victim.  Her uptight boyfriend Rick does not inspire strength or confidence, either.  Larry Zerner’s Shelly is a loveable misfit that pulls too many cheap practical jokes, and ends up pissing everyone off – unlike Stu Charno’s Ted from the previous film who was a master of practical jokes, and everyone still had a good laugh afterwards.  The difference?  Ted was everyone’s friend.  Nobody seems to really like Shelly even though he is supposed to be, at least, someone’s friend in this group.  They treat him like a lame annoyance, and I can’t disagree with that sentiment.  His only redeeming act is that he provides Jason with his very first hockey mask.

And instead of tight pacing, too much time is dragged out to indulge in those atrocious 3D sight gags.  Beyond that, the screenwriters throw in a lot of extraneous characters who eat up screentime for the sole purpose of increasing the body count.  They really add little to the entertainment value.  Other films later did this, but they would be more to the point and the characters usually would have something to do with the plot.  The three bikers are okay, but it just feels like a frivolous side plot which amounts to little.  It’s just another blah element piled into this film that further disjoints the story’s flow.  Not surprisingly, I have many of the same issues with A New Beginning.

And really?  A disco theme?  This movie was released in 1982.  Disco was deader than Jason’s mother by then.  Thankfully, this horrid opening credits tune is the extent of this bad 70s flashback.  Still, Harry Manfredini and Michael Zager should be ashamed of this.  It also horribly dates the film as older than it actually is because disco was long gone by the time of release.  The hippy stoners don’t help either.  In 1982, the big hit songs were Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky III along with tracks from John Cougar Mellenkamp, Hall & Oates, Foreigner, The Cars, Journey, J. Geils Band, Tommy Tutone, Rick Springfield, Soft Cell, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, the Steve Miller Band, and Fleetwood Mac.  All solid pop, rock, or new wave songs.  Manfredini and Zager could’ve gone for something more contemporary, and made it fit into the musical landscape of the time.  Instead, they drudge up disco for no good reason.  The theme hardly sets a good tone for the movie seeming more akin to a parody than an actual straight horror film.  Beyond that, the score is not too memorable.  When the worst part of it is what you remember the most, that’s an ill sign.

The only real highlight of this movie is Richard Brooker’s performance as the now hockey masked Jason Voorhees.  It’s a more nonchalant, confident performance that exudes a menacing quality.  He’s more calculating and focused in his slaughter.  The body language is very strong and deliberate.  He takes his time and wastes no motion.  He doesn’t need to rush his actions, he can stalk with patience, and strike at his leisure.  What Brooker does also adds to the blankness of the character.  He shows no panic, no rage, no urgency.  He is without conscience or contempt.  He merely kills because he’s imitating what his mother did, but possibly also due to a territorial mentality that these are his woods and anyone who enters is a trespasser.

The kills are still good, but the make-up effects fall down in quality a little more.  I just know that little from this film has stuck with me in a good way.  The climax is pretty good starting to show off more of Jason’s tolerance for pain and ability to survive injuries that would kill anyone else.  Brooker just gives Jason a lot of consistent personality here, and the climax is boosted by his talent and physical ability.

I wish there was more to delve into with this sequel, but it’s just too thin and shallow.  The tension is not very taut, and the storytelling is quite lax.  There’s no real urgency or looming suspense to maintain interest for me.  I just groan at the flat stereotypes that populate the screenplay – the stoners, the hysterical heroine, the heroine’s comforting boyfriend, the sexy girls, and so on.  It comes off like a lesser grade film compared to its predecessors with less talent in front of and behind the camera, aside from Richard Brooker.  No one was really trying to make a good horror film, they were just riding on the gimmickry of 3D to pull in the bucks, and of course, it worked.  This out-grossed both of the previous films in the series with just over $36 million.  However, bad movies that use 3D still top the box office today, and it makes me sick.  Yes, I still hate you Jim Cameron.  As for Friday The 13th, Part 3, I know there are people out there that do like this film, and so be it.  That’s your opinion, and this is mine.  I don’t like it very much because it pales in comparison to the far more tightly structured, more lively, and more intelligent Part 2.  There won’t be another Friday The 13th film that I 100% enjoy until Jason is struck by lightning and rises from the grave.  Let that act as a cliffhanger for my inevitable, almost entirely positive review of The Final Chapter.


Friday The 13th, Part 2 (1981)

There are few sequels that manage to improve upon the original, and even fewer in the horror genre.  However, when the main filmmaker behind the project is superior to the original, it is no surprise.  This was Steve Miner’s directorial debut, and of course, no one could anticipate anything of his quality at the time.  However, he has gone on to have a very successful career as a director of films and television, and so, in retrospect, it is easy to see that Friday The 13th, Part 2 was in more versatile hands than the original.  This is indeed my favorite film of the classic formula, despite being in the pre-hockey mask era.  This is a good, classic piece of horror cinema, and I want to detail why it was a marked improvement over the first film.

Two months after the events of the previous film, Alice Hardy (Adrienne King) is trying to put her life back together, but that is short lived as she is murdered in her own house by a silent killer.  Five years later, Paul Holt (John Furey) is opening up a counselor training camp near the now shut down Camp Crystal Lake.  Holt is joined by many young men and women including, among others, the practical joker Ted (Stu Charno), the wheelchair bound Mark (Tom McBride), the sly Scott (Russell Todd), and Paul’s spirited girlfriend, the film’s female lead, Ginny Field (Amy Steel).  The locals like what he’s doing with these young people, but don’t like that he’s doing it so close to “Camp Blood.”  Paul even tells the story of Jason Voorhees around a campfire, but with a jokey scare at the end treating the legend lightly.  Even the prophetic warnings of Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney) don’t scare them away.  As night falls, while some go into town for a fun time, many of these teens begin to fall prey to the film’s new killer, an adult Jason Voorhees seeking vengeance on anyone who treads through his domain.

Okay, before the true highlights begin, I do have to admit that the special make-up effects are not as good with the departure of Tom Savini.  That is almost inevitable as his talent is not easy to replicate.  At this time, Savini went to work on the Friday The 13th rip-off The Burning.  It is a film I did see many years ago, and did not care for at all.  It is only a shame that I had to purchase the VHS tape to see it.  That aside, with this film, Carl Fullerton and his team still deliver some high quality physical effects that serve the film well.  It is merely a disservice, as would become a regular stinging point for the franchise, that the MPAA required numerous cuts to be made to tone down the violence and gore.

The pacing this time out is increased and steadier.  The film begins with a great suspenseful sequence that jump starts the hearts of the audience.  The character introductions are more tightly woven together, allowing for the film to keep moving forward instead of lingering.  The kills are nicely interspersed throughout the movie to maintain the tone it sets from the start.  It keeps an audience gripped into the film as the terror continually stalks these characters.

Speaking of such, we are treated to some charismatic and enjoyable characters this time out with more distinct personalities than before.  The actors in the prominent roles such as John Furey, Amy Steel, and Stu Charno are great and memorable.  Furey nicely projects Paul Holt’s maturity and level headed sensibility while still being a light-hearted, fun loving guy.  Ginny is a fun challenge for Paul, but it is clear they have a lot of affection for one another.  Amy Steel portrays her with a lot of likability showcasing an assertive attitude that is playful.  She displays intelligence while still being able to have fun.  Ginny has enough strength to carry her through the madness of the climax, but surely shows moments of vulnerability.  I also really love Stu Charno’s prankster Ted.  He’s all kinds of fun playing some elaborate and inventive practical jokes on his friends.  He keeps the tone light at times, and because of Charno’s charisma, he is instantly entertaining.  He makes things lively and vibrant while never descending into bad one liners and wisecracks.  He’s a very realistic friend that many people have who just likes to have a great time, and an even better night out on the town.  However, this never betrays the overall tone of the movie, it merely enhances the versatile enjoyment of the picture.  The chemistry of this cast is some of the franchise’s best, and even the supporting cast gets fine opportunities to add to the flavor of the picture.

Director Steve Miner gives this film some solid suspense and tension in every potential stalk-and-slash scene.  From all accounts, he had heavy influence from Mario Bava with this film, and it really helped deliver a great first sequel.  Miner knows how to handle his acting talents well and balance them out evenly to excellent effect.  Everything is shot very well to enhance the slight unsettling vibe flowing through the film.  The addition of the storm during the climax was an excellent touch.  It just adds more to the atmosphere and intensity of the sequence, but it never dominates or disrupts what each individual scene is doing, tone wise.

The score by Manfredini is possibly a step up from the previous film.  With a more evenly paced film, the music has more chances to slip in and out to create individual moments of horror than a chain of kills clumped together.  Again, atmosphere and tone is set early on with the intelligent visual storytelling and underplayed music.  The filmmakers let the score, subtle sound effects, and performances play up the unseen killer until he finally strikes, and creates a deeply disturbing moment that jumps straight into the opening credits.  The film is able to continually create great sequences like this all the way through to the clever ending that throws in some nice psychological elements to Jason.  It’s also smart that Ginny raises the idea of her deception earlier in the film so that the audience grasps onto what she’s doing as she’s doing it.

Warrington Gillette and his stunt double Steve Daskawisz do a very good job as Jason.  He’s not the more refined or confident killer as we have come to know, but the physical acting is well done.  The sack on the head look is very similar to the killer in the 1976 film The Town That Dreaded Sundown, which was based on true events.  The hockey mask surely became a much better iconic image which forged his personality, but for this version of Jason, I think that one eye peaking out of the hood works very well.

Writing this review, I never realized just how good of a film this is beyond just being highly effective and enjoyable for me.  There is no reason why this can’t be viewed among the best of its genre.  It delivers everything a solid slasher film should as well as a lot of what good horror is meant to.   While it doesn’t have the technical elegance or subtle brilliance of a Halloween, it has good atmosphere, tight suspense, intense scares, and entertaining characters who never devolve into moronic stereotypes.  They might not all have great depth, but they are grounded in reality.  Overall, this is a strong highlight of the series, and surely set the bar higher than the original Friday The 13th.  Subsequent sequels would vary in quality to great degrees, some just as good, some not nearly, but not for the lack of having a solid reference for doing it right and well with Friday The 13th, Part 2.


Friday The 13th (1980)

Sometimes, the first film in a franchise is the best and all sequels are just watered down retreads.  Other times, the first film is merely a rugged blueprint for future installments to build upon to create better films.  I believe the original Friday The 13th fits into the latter category.  That is not to say it doesn’t have admirable qualities, but the formula and execution is not as refined as some of the other films in the franchise later became.  There are numerous elements that downgrade this even in comparison to the first sequel, and the difference in who the killer is does not factor into my opinion here.

Camp Crystal Lake used to be an idyllic summer camp for kids, but for over twenty years, it has had a supposed death curse upon it.  Camp counselors found dead, the water gone bad, and various accidents of sorts have plagued it.  Even the local prophet of doom, Crazy Ralph, tries to warn all comers to the danger ahead.  However, Steve Christie is determined to re-open the camp and mend its reputation.  The teenage counselors feel safe and comfortable in the deep woods, but soon, on this Friday the 13th, an unseen killer stalks them all intent on seeing their bloody corpses litter the campgrounds.

First off, the positives.  You can never deny the high quality talents of Tom Savini.  He’s a master make-up effects artist, and he had honed his skills most notably on George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead prior to this film.  Here, he created some of the best gore effects and special make-up of the series.  They are seamless, and that only enhances the surprise elements of the movie.  I believe the success of this Friday The 13th owes a lot to what Savini accomplished as it raised the bar for gore very high, and that gave it something different than the more atmosphere-driven Halloween.  This film really started the bloody slasher film craze, and it is due to the effectiveness of these physical effects.

The score by Harry Manfredini has always been a divided issue for me.  In some ways, it is suspenseful, but in others, it is just wild strings shrieking on the soundtrack with no sense of tension or rhythm at all.  However, it rarely feels like a Friday The 13th movie without his signature style, but there are exceptions.  For what Manfredini offers, his first foray with the franchise is a solid effort.  It creates a good atmosphere that services the film’s style of horror.

The acting from our two leads is very admirable in a subgenre known for a lot of cringable performances, to say the least.  Adrienne King is a fresh faced, likable talent here, and reflects a lot of vulnerability and sympathy.  Yet, she is able to demonstrate some strong will in the more intense fight-for-your-life sequences.  The other talent I mention is who portrays the killer, and that acting talent really elevates the film above its unrefined shortcomings.

What truly detracts from this movie are two things.  The first is the pace.  Even by my patient standards, the film drags along at a very slow pace.  By modern cinematic standards, it’s terribly sluggish.  This is mainly due to the fact that very little occurs in the story.  People slowly arrive in town, and it goes along like a slow, calming weekend until the killings really pick up the pace.  That doesn’t start happening until about halfway through the movie.  The characters don’t offer up much personality or charisma to maintain interest or momentum in the first half of the movie.  By the time the film really gets a good stride going, it’s almost over.

The second issue is that Sean Cunningham is not a very inventive or dynamic filmmaker.  There is nothing outright bad about what he does, but there’s also nothing exceptional or impressive about it either.  The incessant use of the killer’s point of view shots tend to take away from the tension and mystery since you always know where the killer is, and who the killer is stalking.  Some sequels would lay off of this idea, and create suspense and tension through more clever methods.  Here, it works for a little while, but ultimately, it overstays its welcome by wearing thin quickly.  It’s almost as if Cunningham saw the opening scene of Halloween, and wanted to recapture that idea and feeling for this entire film.  I don’t feel it works to that extent.  Hiding the killer’s identity was key to the story, but better filmmakers later demonstrated a more diverse approach to maintaining that idea.

If, by chance, you have not had the identity of the film’s killer revealed to you by now, I won’t be the spoiler.  Let’s just say, it is an unexpected twist in the story that is probably the most intelligent part of the screenwriting and casting.  This is before Jason Voorhees began his killing spree under a burlap sack or a hockey mask.  So, it has a different sort of ending as we get a killer with dialogue who can showcase their madness without a mask.  There is a further twist ending beyond this that captivated and terrified audiences in 1980, and gave the franchise a jumping off point to actually become a franchise.  It truly is nightmarish.

Friday The 13th does deliver some good scares that remain effective to this day, and again, Savini’s work has been key to maintaining that effectiveness.  However, there’s little beyond that to hold the film together through its run time, and even then, the scares are not spread out enough to keep that heightened tension going for the majority of the film.  It was not a film written with compelling characters, and not vastly cast with charismatic acting talents.  So, it shouldn’t have been plotted out where the performances or characters needed to carry the movie for a hefty distance before the horror aspects took over.  Again, this works as a template for future installments to build upon to make more well balanced and tighter films.  The Friday The 13th franchise is my favorite slasher film series, and just because Jason is not the killer in this film does not affect my opinion of it.  At one time, I had hoped that a remake could take this film, and re-manufacture it into a more evenly paced and tighter movie.  Bring it up to the more intense and entertaining levels of the better sequels.  Sadly, the 2009 remake from Platinum Dunes was an utter failure, and like many horror remakes, put a death nail in the franchise.  I will give credit that this 1980 film was a horror milestone, and it launched the entire slasher subgenre that ran rampant through most of the decade.  However, it was not the best of the genre, and there are better films within the franchise than Sean Cunningham’s original.