Cinemax Friday: City Limits (1984, directed by Aaron Lipstadt)


Fifteen years into the future, a plague has wiped out almost everyone legally old enough to drink and it has instead left behind a post-apocalyptic hellscape dominated by teenagers.  Tired of living in the boring desert, Lee (John Stockwell) hops on his motorcycle, puts on a skull mask, and drives to a nearby city.  He hopes to join the Clippers, one of the two gangs that is fighting for control of the city.  However, the Clippers aren’t as easy to join as Lee thought they would be.  As well, an evil corporation (led by Robby Benson of all people) is manipulating the two gangs as a part of a plan to take over the city and also the world.

City Limits is one of those films that would probably be totally forgotten if it hadn’t been featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  It’s a good episode but, unfortunately, it’s also led to City Limits getting a reputation for worse than it actually is.

City Limits is a dumb, low-budget movie that was made to capitalize on the success of films like Mad Max.  The plot is impossible to follow, too many scenes are shot in the middle of the night, and Robby Benson is somehow even less intimidating as the villain as you would expect him to be.  (All of Benson’s scenes take place in the same bare office and feature him sitting at a desk.  It probably took a day at most for Benson to do all of his scenes.)  Even with all that in mind, though, City Limits is a fun movie, especially if you can turn off your mind, just relax, and not worry about trying to make it all make sense.  John Stockwell is a likably goofy hero and, Benson aside, the film has got a surprisingly good supporting cast, including Rae Dawn Chong, Kim Cattrall, Tony Plana, Darrell Larson, and even Kane Hodder in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him type of role.  James Earl Jones wears a big fur coat and blows people up.  He also narrates the film, which automatically elevates everything that happens.  Some of the action scenes are exciting.  Fans of people shouting insults while riding motorcycles will find a lot to enjoy in City Limits.  And, finally, there are a few genuinely funny moments.  I loved that the gangs borrowed all of their plans for old comic books.

City Limits is stupid but entertaining, whether you’re watching it on your own or with Joel and the Bots.

 

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Victor Crowley (dir by Adam Green)


“Hey, did I mention that I recently watched Victor Crowley as a part of the Last Drive-In on Shudder?”

“Who’s Victor Crowley?”

“It’s a movie! About a killer named …. well, Victor Crowley. He’s played by Kane Hodder and he kills people in the swamp in various gruesome ways.”

“Oh, is that the guy from the Hatchet films?”

“Yes, the same.”

“And aren’t those the slasher films that are really bad but you’re not supposed to care because they wink at the audience and acknowledge that the suck?”

“Yep, exactly. Victor Crowley is the latest installment in the Hatchet series. It came out in 2017. An airplane crashes in a swamp. All of the passengers are in some way connected to the previous Hatchet films. Victor kills them all one-by-one.”

“Was it any good?”

“I personally didn’t care much for it.”

“What as wrong with it?”

“It took forever for the action to actually get going and the humor often felt forced, even by the standards of the Hatchet films. Some of the deaths were creative but since the characters were all pretty much just cardboard figures, it was hard to really care about it. Kane Hodder was an imposing killer, though. He’s definitely the best thing about the film.”

“I like Kane Hodder.”

“Me too. It’s funny. He’s always killing people but he seems like such a nice guy in real life. To be honet, the best thing about watching Victor Crowley on The Last Drive-In was that Joe Bob Briggs would interrupt every few minutes and share his thoughts on the film. Joe Bob, I should mention, liked the film far more than I did.”

“So, do you or do you not recommend Victor Crowley?”

“Well, it’s funny. I didn’t like it but I can understand why some people do like it. Because it’s over-the-top and intentionally silly and it doesn’t make any apologies for being what it is. It’s kind of like the slasher version of a good Lifetime film. So, I can’t really sit here and totally trash the film. It wasn’t for me but if you’re a fan of the Hatchet movies, it’ll give you exactly what you’re expecting — i.e., blood, humor, and Kane Hodder ripping off Felissa Rose’s arm.”

“So, you’re recommending the film?”

“To fans of the Hatchet series, yes.”

“I hope they enjoy it.”

“Me too. Isn’t that what life’s all about?”

Horror Film Review: Wishmaster (dir by Robert Kurtzman)


Remember the Wishmaster films?

There were four of them and they all deal with this ancient Djinn (Andrew Divoff) who, during each film, would escape from his magical prison and then wander around granting people their wishes.  Of course, since the Djinn was evil, there was always a catch.  He would either interpret the wish very literally or he would manipulate people into asking for the wish in the wrong way.  As a result, people would always get their wish but they’d get in a way that would make them suffer.

For instance, a typical Wishmaster conversation would go something like this:

“I wish I was a better actor.”

“Am I to understand that you wish you were John Wilkes Booth?”

“Wait …. what?”

“As you wish.”

Sic semper tyrannis!”

The first Wishmaster was released in 1997 while the fourth (and, to date, last) installment was released in 2002.  They’ve never gotten as much attention as some of the other horror franchises from that period, largely because there was really only so much that you could do with a character like the Djinn.  Part of the problem was that almost every scene depended on someone not understanding the importance of being clear when making a wish.  There’s only so many times that you can watch the Djinn trick people into saying, “I wish I never get old,” before the whole novelty of it all wears off.

That said, the Wishmaster films did have one thing going for them and that was Andrew Divoff.  A veteran character actor (and one who you might recognize from Lost, where he played a member of the Others who was both Russian and who had only one eye), Divoff was always creepy as fug in the role of the Djinn.  Whenever someone made the mistake of making a wish, this little smile would appear on Divoff’s face and you knew that someone was about to learn an important lesson about being careful what you wish for.  Divoff was seriously frightening of the Djinn, so much so that you regretted that the films themselves could never quite keep up with his performance.

Last night, I watched the first Wishmaster film for the first time in six years and it was actually a little bit better than I remembered.  The plot itself is typical Wishmaster stuff.  The Djinn is trapped inside of a gem that eventually makes it way to the United States.  An idiot lab worker attempts to experiment on it, which leads to the gem exploding, the Djinn getting free, and an epidemic of mass wish granting.  Nobody seems to have learned the lesson that the first thing you wish for is more wishes.

Wishmaster is stupid but fun.  The first film was produced by Wes Craven and perhaps that explains why the film is full of cameos from everyone who was anyone in low-budget 90s horror.  As a result, you’ve got Kane Hodder saying that he would “love it if” the djinn “tries to go right through him,” and Robert Englund playing a businessman and Tony Todd showing up as a doorman.  It’s nice to see them all, though ultimately the main reason to watch the film is for Andrew Divoff’s wonderfully smirky turn as the Djinn.  It’s hard not to wish that he had another horror franchise to dominate.

Be care what you wish for!

(Sorry, had to do it….)

 

12 Things You May Or May Not Have Known About Friday the 13th!


As we all know, with one notable exception, the majority of the cast of the original Friday the 13th didn’t exactly go on to greater heights of stardom.  The movie may have made a lot of money but it didn’t lead to bigger roles for Laurie Bartram and Mark Nelson.  When the movie was released in 1980, Betsy Palmer was the best known member of the cast and, according to the book Crystal Lake Memories, the cast of Friday the 13th Part 2 used to joke that maybe the cast of the first film actually had been murdered in the woods because no one ever saw them again.

Of course, today, no one can watch Friday the 13th without saying, “Oh my God, Kevin Bacon’s wearing a speedo!” but, at the time he was cast as doomed Jack, he was just another struggling actor.  However, if things had gone as originally planned, today Bacon would not be the only respected actor with Friday the 13th on his resume.  When the film was in pre-production, director Sean Cunningham originally tried to get a star to play the role of Alice, the only camp counselor to make it out of Camp Crystal Lake alive.

Who was that star?

Sally Field.

The future multiple Oscar-winner was seriously pursued for the role of Alice.  She did not, as some sources claim, audition for the role.  Instead, she merely turned it down and went on to win her first Oscar for Norma Rae.  Once it became obvious that Field had no interest in going to Camp Crystal Lake, Cunningham decided to go with a cast of unknowns and Adrienne King was given the role of Alice.

Personally, I think that worked out for the best.  Not only was Adrienne King perfect for the role but the use of unknowns undoubtedly made the film more effective when it was released.  After all, everyone knows that a star is going to survive.  (That’s one reason why, when seen today, it’s still jarring to see Kevin Bacon get dispatched.)

Here’s a few more bits of trivia to make your Friday the 13th a good one:

2. After the success of Friday the 13th, Adrienne King was stalked by an obsessed fan and, when she was asked to return for 1981’s Friday the 13th Part 2, she requested that her role be as small as possible.  As a result, Alice showed up just long enough to be killed off.  Amy Steel replaced King as the film’s heroine.  Steel would later go on to star in another classic slasher film, April Fool’s Day.

3. Originally, 1982’s Friday the 13th Part 3 was envisioned with Steel returning to play Ginny.  However, Steel turned down the chance to return, leading to the filmmakers instead simply remaking the first film (in 3D!).  After being cast in the lead role, Dana Kimmel requested that the sex and drugs featured in the original script be toned down.  That’s just one of many reasons why many consider Friday the 13th Part 3 to be the worst film in the series.

4. Even if she didn’t return for Part 3, Amy Steel was instrumental in convincing her friend, actor Peter Barton, to appear in 1984’s Friday the 13th — The Final Chapter.  Barton’s likable performance as the handsome but definitely doomed Doug was a highlight of the film.  Another highlight was Ted White’s performance as Jason.  As opposed to the character he played, White once threatened to quit the film because he didn’t like the way the director was treating the film’s cast.

5. The working title for 1985’s Friday the 13th: A New Beginning was Repitition.  Having killed Jason at the end of The Final Chapter, Corey Feldman returned for a cameo that he shot at the same time that he was filming The Goonies for Richard Donner.  Along with the first film, this is the only one to not feature Jason Voorhees committing any murders (unless you count the ones that he committed in Tommy’s nightmare) and the film’s ending was specifically set up so that Tommy could take over Jason’s murderous ways.  However, the film’s disappointing box office reception led to Jason returning as a zombie in the next film.

6. With its intentional comedy and its emphasis on action over blood, 1986’s Friday the 13th: Jason’s Lives is a rarity in that it was a Friday the 13th film that actually got somewhat good reviews.  John Shepherd, who played Tommy in a New Beginning, was offered a chance to return to the role but turned it down, saying that the film’s went against his religious beliefs.  As a result, Thom Matthews was cast as Tommy.  Matthews also played the lead in another horror comedy, Return of the Living Dead.

7. 1988’s Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood was originally envisioned as being a cross-over with A Nightmare on Elm Street.  However, when Paramount (who held the rights to Jason) and New Line Cinema (who held the rights to Freddy) could not come to an agreement, the project was temporarily abandoned.  According to Crystal Lake Memories, the film’s executive producer, Barbara Sachs, wanted Friday the 13th Part VII to be the first Friday the 13th to win an Academy Award and came with an extremely ambitious storyline that she envisioned being directed by none other than Federico Fellini.  Cooler heads prevailed and, instead, The New Blood found Jason battling a young woman with psychic powers.

8. The initial working script for 1989’s Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan was entitled “Ashes to Ashes.”  The film’s anemic box office convinced Paramount to sell the franchise to New Line Cinema.

9. After New Line purchased the franchise, the first film’s director, Sean S. Cunningham, returned to produce 1993’s Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday.  Much like The New Blood, this was originally envisioned as being a Freddy vs. Jason film but that plan was, again, abandoned.  Freddy Krueger does make one brief appearance, when his clawed hand appears and drags Jason’s hockey mask to Hell.  Director Adam Marcus also included a shot of a book that was meant to be the Necronomicon as an attempt to link Jason to the Evil Dead universe as well.  Because New Line did not own the rights to Evil Dead, Marcus did not tell them what he was planning to do and instead asked Sam Raimi if he could borrow the prop.  Raimi thought it was a great idea.  Less amused was Tom Sullivan, the man who actually created the prop and who received no money for its use in Jason Goes To Hell.

10. The 8 year gap between the release of Jason Goes To Hell and 2001’s Jason X was a result of Freddy vs. Jason being stuck in development Hell.  Jason X was largely produced to keep audiences from forgetting about Jason.  Screenwriter Todd Farmer appeared in Jason X, playing a character named Dallas (a nod to the original Alien).

11. After spending two decades in development, 2003’s Freddy vs Jason finally brought the two infamous serial killers together.  Kane Hodder, who had played Jason in every film since New Blood, was not asked to return for Freddy vs. Jason, supposedly because the film’s director wanted Jason to tower over Freddy and it was felt that Hodder was not tall enough.  At one point, Freddy vs. Jason was envisioned as ending with Pinhead appearing and defeating both of them but New Line could not secure the rights to the Hellraiser character.

12. 2009’s Friday the 13th was meant to reboot the series.  Perhaps the less said about it, the better.  Plans for a sequel to the reboot are currently trapped in the same development Hell that once imprisoned Freddy vs. Jason.

Happy Friday the 13th!

 

The Daily Grindhouse: BTK (dir. by Michael Feifer)


Kane Hodder as The BTK Killer

One of the unfortunate things about being a self-appointed “film critic” is that the majority of the films that have been released over the past century are neither good nor bad.  Instead, they’re simply “bleh.”  Neither good enough to be memorable nor bad enough to be truly entertaining, a bleh film sits in the gray area between good and bad.  These are the films that you watch and maybe if you’re in the right mood or you’re watching with the right audience, you’ll find the experience of watching the film tolerable.  And if you’re not in the right mood, you’ll end up bored and will probably start to forget about the film before the end credits even roll.  When you make it a point to see (and review) as many films as you possibly can, the end result is that, in between the joy of discovering some really great examples of cinematic art, you end up sitting through a lot of bleh films.

The 2008 horror film BTK is the epitome of a bleh film.

Like many direct-to-DVD horror films, BTK is based on a true-life case of serial murder.  Dennis Rader was an animal control officer living in the suburbs of Wichita, Kansas.  He was also a prominent member of the local church and, by most accounts, a devoted family man and father of two.  He was also a remorseless serial killer who, over two decades, killed at least 10 people.  His oldest victim was 62.  His youngest was 9.  When he wasn’t murdering, Rader was writing taunting letters to the police in which he named himself the “BTK,” for Bind Torture Kill.

What makes Rader’s crimes even more disturbing is that he nearly got away with them.  It wasn’t until 13 years after his last confirmed murder that Rader was arrested and confessed to being the BTK killer.  When Rader appeared in court for sentencing, he again gave the details of all ten of his admitted murders and, for a few weeks afterward, it was next to impossible to turn on a TV without seeing the footage of this mild, middle-aged men calmly explaining how he killed ten people.  I was 19 at the time and I can tell you that I had more than a few nightmares as a result of Dennis Rader.

It wasn’t just Rader’s crimes that frightened me.  It was the fact that Dennis Rader wasn’t some masked psycho like I used to seeing in the movies.  What frightened me was that Dennis Rader seemed so normal.  Dennis Rader was literally the killer next door.

A lot of great horror films have been based on the concept of the killer next door but unfortunately, BTK, though competently directed by Michael Feifer, is not one of them.  Offering up a highly fictionalized account of Rader’s crimes, BTK is pretty much a typical psycho film that uses its true life origins to hide the fact that there’s not really much going on.  Playing the title role, Kane Hodder (of Friday the 13th fame) is menacing and effective when the film calls on him to be the evil BTK but he’s far less effective when it comes to recreating the mask of normalcy that Rader used when dealing with his friends and his neighbors.

The reason why the real-life Dennis Rader was such a frightening and disturbing figure was because he seemed so normal and ordinary.  The fear that he inspires comes not from his crimes but from the fact that if Dennis Rader could have been a serial killer than just about anybody could be.

That’s a genuinely scary idea that the cinematic BTK never seems to grasp.

In Conclusion: 10 Final Thoughts on The Friday the 13th Franchise


Over the previous two weeks, I reviewed all 11 films in the Friday the 13th franchise.  I reviewed the final film, appropriately enough, on Friday the 13th.  Now that I’ve sat through all 11 of these films, I’d like to provide just ten thoughts in conclusion:

1) Have you seen Cabin In The Woods yet?  While that brilliant film is obviously influenced by a lot of films, the Friday the 13th influence was especially obvious, right down to the crazy old man trying to let everyone know that they were doomed.

2) As for the Friday the 13th franchise itself, what is left to be said?  I think my interest in these films comes from the fact that even though their critically reviled and utterly dismissed by many, they’ve managed to survive and they’re still being watched by viewers (like me) who weren’t even born and/or weren’t old enough to see the majority of them when they were first released in theaters.  Like it or not — and again, this is a point that should be obvious to anyone who truly appreciated Cabin In The Woods — these films appeal to something primal in human nature.

3) The most frequent complaint made against the Friday the 13th franchise is that the films are anti-female.  I don’t agree.  I think that, unfortunately, a lot of people who watch these films are anti-female but I don’t think that the same can be said of the films themselves.  Quite frankly, if I was ever cast in Friday the 13th, I would rather play a victim than a survivor because the victims are the ones that are remembered afterwards.

4) Instead of seeing the Friday the 13th films as some sort of attempt to punish women, I see them as simply being updated bits of American folklore.  Those famous urban legends — the escaped mental patient with the hook hand, the vanishing hitchhiker — are about as close as America can get to having its own mythology and the Friday the 13th franchise (and similar horror films) are a reflection of that mythology.

5) Much like the scary story told at slumber party or around a campfire (not that I’ve been near a campfire though I have been to a few thousand slumber parties), Friday the 13th is meant to be a communal experience.  It’s a chance to admit that we’re all scared of the dark.  We scream and jump because, ultimately, it’s fun to do that in the safety of a theater or your own home.

6) Friday the 13th, as a franchise, was at its best when it kept things simple.  As you may have noticed from my reviews, I struggled more with the gimmicky later films in the series than I did with the originals.

7) The first two Friday the 13th scenes are both excellent examples of how to use a low budget and a largely unknown cast to your best advantage.  There is a lesson there for all aspiring filmmakers.

8) Having now rewatched the 11 films in the franchise, I have to say that I think that Part 4 is the best, followed by Part 2Part 3 remains the worst while Jason Takes Manhattan is perhaps the most pointless.  Ted White was the best Jason but Kane Hodder is a close second.

9) When I was reviewing these films, Peter M. Bracke’s book Crystal Lake Memories proved to be an invaluable resource.  I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in film, horror, or both.

10) Finally, did you all enjoy me devoting two weeks to reviewing one film franchise or were you thinking to yourself, “Oh my God, Lisa, give it a rest already!”  I enjoyed writing them but, to be honest, I’m really in the mood for a romantic comedy now.

Well, that does it for Friday the 13th.  Again, I hope everyone enjoyed revisiting this franchise with me and I hope that everyone will enjoy revisiting the James Bond films with me in October.  As always, stay supple!

Film Review: Jason X (dir. by Jim Isaac)


Last night, my friend Evelyn and I stayed up way too late and we watched the 10th film in the Friday the 13th franchise, 2002’s Jason X.  I was watching it for a second time because I’ve been reviewing the Friday the 13th films for this site.  Evelyn was watching it for the first time because she’s my BFF, we were having ourselves a girl’s night in, and she’s willing to watch anything with me because she has complete faith in my taste in movies .*

Anyway, after the end credits rolled, we both immediately agreed on one thing: Jason X sucks.  Seriously.

Jason X is yet another one of the Friday the 13th gimmick films.  This time the gimmick is (all together now): JASON.  IN.  SPAAAAAAAAACE!  However, before we get into space, the film opens in the “near future” of 2010.  Apparently, there is now some sort of underground, government controlled lab underneath Lake Crystal Lake and being held prisoner there is Jason Voorhees (played, for the last time, by Kane Hodder).  Apparently, the government has spent the last two years trying to figure out a way to kill the bound Jason but his cells keep regenerating. (No mention of demonic slugs for this film!)  Government scientist Rowan LaFontaine (Lexa Doig) wants to freeze Jason but another scientist, Dr. Wimmer, wants to use Jason as a weapon.  We know Dr. Wimmer is evil because he’s played by David Cronenberg.

Anyway, while Dr. Wimmer and Rowan are arguing about the ethics of exploiting an undead serial killer, Jason manages to escape and kills everyone in the underground lab except for Rowan.  She manages to freeze him in a cryogenic pod but gets frozen herself in the process.

Nearly 500 years later, Earth has been abandoned because Al Gore was right (yawn!) and the planet is now too polluted to live on.  Humanity had relocated to Another Earth.  However, students occasionally conduct field trips to the old Earth and one of those field trips comes across Jason and Rowan, still in deep freeze.  The students take the two of them back to their spaceship, thaw them out, and — needless to say — things don’t end well for the majority of them.

Jason X was made, of course, because Jason Vs. Freddy had spent the previous 9 years languishing in development Hell.  Jason X was New Line’s way of reminding people that they owned the Friday the 13th franchise and it certainly managed to do that, though it didn’t bring that many people to the theaters.  (Jason X is the second-lowest grossing film in the series.)  The reviews, at the time, were scathing and it’s easy to see why: the special effects looked incredibly cheap, everything about the film’s vision of the future (from the garish set design to the ugly costuming choices) felt tacky, and the acting was terrible.  Lisa Ryder, who played the perpetually cheerful robot KM 14, had a role that should have been actor-proof but she still managed to give a memorably bad performance, the worst moment being when she let out a weak-sounding “Yeah,” after it was incorrectly felt that she had killed Jason.)

The one exception: Kane Hodder.  In this unworthy little film, Hodder probably gives his best performance in the role of Jason.  Here, Jason is less an undead serial killer and more just an old man who is sick of kids wandering across his lawn.  He kills less because he’s evil and more because he’s just frustrated at being surrounded by so many stupid people.

And after watching Jason X, ever though you still can’t sympathize with him, it’s harder to blame him.

—-

* Evelyn has requested that I make it clear that the main reason she ended up watching Jason X with me was because she was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Film Review: Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (dir. by Rob Hedden)


Continuing my review of the Friday the 13th film franchise, today I find myself reviewing the 8th film in the series, 1989’s Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.  As opposed to my previous reviews, this is going to be a short one because, quite honestly, there’s not that much you can say about this film.

As I discussed in my reviews of both Jason Lives and The New Blood, Jason Takes Manhattan is the product of Paramount’s attempts to revive the Friday the 13th franchise by adding in a gimmick.  This time, the gimmick is pretty much spelled out in the title.  Jason leaves Crystal Lake, goes to Manhattan, and maybe even get a chance to make his Broadway debut in a revival of Forever Plaid.  Seriously, you look at that title and you imagine that Jason going up agaisnt the Taxi Driver and or maybe taking Al Neri’s place as Michael Corleone’s personal bodyguard.  Unfortunately, as is detailed in Peter Bracke’s excellent book Crystal Lake Memories, any plans for truly having Jason take Manhattan were abandoned when it became apparent just how expensive it would be to film in New York.  As a result, this film is less Jason Takes Manhattan and more Jason Floats Around Aimlessly Until He Somehow Ends Up In Times Square For Two Minutes.

And, in the film’s defense, Jason Takes Manhattan is a catchier title.

As Jason Takes Manhattan begins, we find Jason (played again by Kane Hodder) once again coming back to life as the result of his corpse floating into an underwater power line.  Or something like that.  To be honest, it’s kind of hard to figure out just why exactly Jason has come back to life.  All that matters is that Jason comes back to life and ends up stowing away on a cruise ship that is carrying the graduating class of Lakeview High to New York City.  Needless to say, Jason is soon killing everyone on the boat, most of whom apparently die off-screen.  (Either that or Lakeview High had a graduating class of 12 students.)  The few who survive the massacre (including aspiring final girl Jensen Daggett and her boyfriend Scott Reeves) end up in a row boat and float around aimlessly until they arrive in New York.  But guess who is waiting for them in the city that never sleeps?

Several critics consider Jason Takes Manhattan to be the worst Friday the 13th of all time.  While I still think that Part 3 is the worst of the series, Jason Takes Manhattan is still pretty bad.  Among the film’s many flaws: 1) characters that are underwritten even by the standards of the slasher genre, 2) bloodless kills that, for the most part,  fail to make much of an impact, 3) very little of the action actually takes place in New York, and 4) this film features perhaps the most ludicrous and nonsensical ending to be found in a series of films that were famous for their refusal to make sense.

Still, Jason Takes Manhattan is not a total disaster.  Jensen Daggett and Scott Reeves make a cute couple and Kane Hodder, as always, makes for an intimidating Jason.  As well, even though very little of the film takes place in New York, just the idea of Jason actually taking Manhattan is amusing enough to be occasionally effective.  If nothing else, the title inspires you to imagine a better film than the one that you’re watching.

Jason Takes Manhattan was the lowest grossing of the Friday the 13th movies.  It’s disappointing box office performance would lead to Paramount selling the franchise to New Line Cinema and to a major change in the character of Jason Vorhees.  That’ll all be dealt with tomorrow when I review Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday.

Film Review: Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (dir. by John Carl Buechler)


Hi, did everyone out there have a good Easter?  I did!  My entire family got together up at my Uncle’s place.  There was a big Easter egg hunt and me and Erin smuggled in extra Easter eggs which we then “helped” our niece and nephew discover.  Usually, going to my Uncle’s place means a day spent laying out near the pool in a bikini and trying to work on my tan.  (Though, to be honest, I’m a redhead so I don’t so much tan as I just burn.)  However, this Easter, it rained so most of the day was spent inside and watching figure skating with my sisters and cousins.  I hope everyone else had a good Easter as well and I hope you’ll forgive me for being a little late with my latest review in my series looking at the Friday the 13th franchise.  In this post, I review 1988’s Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood.

(Minor Spoilers Follow)

As I mentioned in my review of Jason Lives, The New Blood was the first of what I like to call Friday the 13th’s gimmick films.  In these films, Paramount Pictures (and later New Line Cinema) attempted to revive the franchise’s declining profits by adding a gimmick.  No longer would it be enough for Jason to simply show up and stalk unfortunate campers.  Previous installments had their gimmicks (such as Part 3 being filmed in 3D) but they all stuck with the same basic story and structure.  However, from now on, Jason would no longer just be a silent antagonist in a communal cinematic nightmare.  From now on, he would fight psychics and Freddy Krueger and go to both outer space and New York City.  (And don’t even get me started on the film where he was revealed to actually be some sort of weird space slug.  Not yet, anyway…) 

The problem with the gimmick films is that, along with dealing with the gimmick, they still had to deal with the business of killing summer counselors and other random campers.  Whereas previous film made at least a little effort to provide the viewers with interesting and/or attractive characters, the gimmick films are distinguished by a real laziness when it comes to characterization.  Ironically enough, surrounding the gimmick with such weak material only served to remind the viewer just how gimmicky the gimmick ultimately was.  That is why the gimmick films are my least favorite of the franchise.

That said, The New Blood is probably the best of the gimmick films.  Anyone who doesn’t think that being called the best of the worst is much of a compliment has obviously never been in a community theater production of Little Shop of Horrors

The New Blood of the title is a girl named Tina Shepherd.  When we first meet Tina, she’s ten years old and living in a house that sits on the shores of Crystal Lake.  (Apparently, the residents of Forrest Green decided to change the name of the town back to Crystal Lake sometime after Jason Lives.  If nothing else, these two films convinced me of the importance of zip codes.)  One night, as Tina listens to her father and her mother fight, she runs out to a nearby dock, gets in a canoe, and starts to float away.  Her father runs out onto the dock and shouts at her to return.  Tina yells back and suddenly, the entire dock collapses and her father drowns.  As all of this is going on, we discover that Jason just happens to be in the lake, chained to a rock below the dock.  (You have to wonder what having a zombie serial killer chained up a yard away from your house does to property values.  Nothing good, I imagine but then again, what do I know about real estate?)

Anyway, jump forward ten years.  Tina (now played by Lar Park Lincoln) has just been released from a mental asylum and returns to Crystal Lake with her psychiatrist Dr. “Bad News” Crews (played by a wonderfully evil Terry Kiser).  Dr. Crews claims to be helping her deal with her feelings of guilt but actually, he’s seeking to exploit the fact that Tina has latent psychic abilities.  What all can Tina do?  Well, that’s a good question because the film itself seems to be unsure of just what exactly Tina is capable of.  As a result, Tina often seems to have whatever psychic abilities are most convenient for whatever’s happening on-screen at the moment.  While most of the time Tina seems to be telekinetic, there are other times when she can see the future, set fires, and even raise the dead.

It’s this last power that gets everyone in trouble when, one night after getting annoyed with Dr. Crews, Tina runs out to the lake and attempts to bring her father back to life.  While she fails to bring back her dad, she does manage to free Jason (played here, for the first time, by Kane Hodder) from his chains.  By this action, Tina joins the long line of horror film heroines who are ultimately responsible for every death that occurs over the course of the movie.

That’s pretty bad news for the vapid collection of potential victims who are trying to throw a surprise birthday party in the house next door.  Among those potential victims: nice guy Nick (Kevin Butler) who falls in love with Tina, evil Melissa (Susan Jennifer Sullivan) who wants Nick, Eddie (Jeff Bennett) who spends his time talking about a sci-character called “Space Mummy,” and about a half-dozen other people whose names I didn’t manage to catch.  Seriously, this is the most empty-headed and shallow collection of dumbfug toadsuckers ever!  As opposed to previous installments (in which the actors at least had enough chemistry that you believed that they just might actually spend a weekend at the lake together), the victims in New Blood feel as if they were just randomly dropped in the house just so that Jason could kill them.  They’re such a vacous, spiteful collection of people that, for the first time in the series, you truly find yourself rooting for Jason. 

Anyway, the birthday boy never shows up for his party but that doesn’t really worry anyone at the house.  As one of them puts it. “You know Michael.  Guy probably got arrested for drunk driving and spent the night in jail.”  (Sounds like a great guy, no?)  No, Michael’s not in jail.  Michael’s dead because Tina brought Jason back to life and soon, so is just about everyone else.  It all leads to a final apocalyptic battle between Jason and Tina that manages to be both silly and exciting at the same time.  It also goes a long way towards making up for what we’ve had to sit through in order to reach it.

One of my favorite chapters of Peter M. Bracke’s excellent oral history of the franchise, Crystal Lake Memories, deals with the making of The New Blood.  Say whatever else you will about this film’s cast, they’re some of the most outspoken in the history in the history of the franchise.  Reading their memories about making this film, three things quickly become clear:

1) Everyone was scared of Kane Hodder.

2) Lar Park Lincoln didn’t like the majority of the cast.

3) The majority of the cast didn’t like Lar Park Lincoln.

In fact, quite a few really nasty things are said about Lar Park Lincoln but you know what?  Outside of Kane Hodder and Terry Kiser, Lar Park Lincoln probably comes the closest to giving an actual performance than anyone else in the cast and I think it can be argued that she makes Tina into one of the few truly strong female characters ever to be found in a Friday the 13th film.  Take it from a former community theatre ingenue: it takes as much talent to make a slasher film “final girl” credible as it does to play Margaret Thatcher.  As for the rest of the cast of disposable victims, they’re some of the most forgettable of the series.  In the role of Nick, Kevin Blair (who reportedly did not get along with Lincoln and who has absolutely no chemistry with her on-screen) is stiff but handsome and Susan Jennifer Sullivan has a lot of style as the bitchy Melissa.  Otherwise, they’re a pretty bland group and director Buechler doesn’t seem to have much use for them other than to make sure that they’re in the right position to be killed by Kane Hodder.

The New Blood is best remembered for introducing Kane Hodder in the role of Jason Voorhees.  Though I personally believe that The Final Chapter’s Ted White was the best Jason (he was certainly the most ruthless), it can’t be denied that Kane Hodder was the perfect embodiment of the version of Jason that came to dominate the last few films in the original series.  Whereas Ted White’s Jason was a calculating killer, Hodder’s Jason is a machine that happens to be designed for killing and little else.  He kills not so much out of anger or pain as much as he kills, like any good zombie, just because that’s the only thing he knows how to do.  One reason why this film’s final battle is actually exciting to watch is because it’s set up as a confrontation between the literally cerebral Lar Park Lincoln and the overwhelmingly physical Kane Hodder.  Hodder, famously, is the only actor have played Jason in multiple films and he earned that right with his performance here.

And make no mistake about it: Hodder gives a performance in this film and, as a result, The New Blood is a lot more watchable than it has any right to be.

(I would also suggest that if you do watch this movie on DVD, be sure to listen to Hodder and Buechler’s commentary track.  Both of them seem to be having so much fun watching the film that it actually makes the film more enjoyable.)

While The New Blood did, ultimately, make more money than the previous Jason Lives, it still failed the match the box office success of the first few films in the series.  Though Lar Park Lincoln apparently wrote a script for a sequel that would have featured Tina and Jason once again going to war (interestingly enough, it’s rumored that Lincoln’s script opened with Kevin Blair getting killed off), Paramount decided to try out another gimmick and abandoned the new blood for Manhattan.  The end result was one of the worst films in the series but we’ll deal with that in my next post.