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“Friday The 13th” Movie Retrospective


RavensFilm Productions presents the Forever Cinematic Friday The 13th movie retrospective covering all twelve films in the slasher franchise.  Reviews by Nick Michalak.

Written Reviews:
Friday The 13th (1980)
Friday The 13th, Part 2 (1981)
Friday The 13th, Part 3 (1982)
Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Friday The 13th, Part V: A New Beginning (1985)
Friday The 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Friday The 13th, Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
Friday The 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

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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.