We present the second half of our entire review of the Friday the 13th series.
Continuing last month’s foray into the woods of Crystal Lake, we bring you our review of the last five Friday the 13th films (of the original series) for this month’s eponymous day of misfortune.
Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (1986) — written and directed by Tom McLaughlin
Until someone else comes along with this kind of wit and energy, Jason Lives is the single best Friday the 13th film ever made. It succeeds on the level of being your prototypical Jason film, and also goes above and beyond the call of duty. We get well written and likable characters, funny dialogue, some terrific homages, and of course we get Jason doing what he does best. The kills in Jason Lives are hilarious when they need to be, and grotesque when it’s called for. Well, not too grotesque… the MPAA saw to that.
The film begins with many tropes we would come to expect from the classic Universal horror films of the 1930s: gothic horror imagery, strokes of lightning, and a reanimated Jason who continues to redefine the idea of a “face only a mother could love.” Tommy Jarvis, introduced to us as Corey Feldman in Part 4, is now played by Thom Mathews, and this time he is center stage. While Part 5 hid his character in the background as a “dude with problems,” writer-director Tom McLoughlin understands the need for an emotional anchor to this ludicrous story, and Mathews brings the thunder and lightning for this performance. Finally we have a character we can follow through a story arc and really root for.
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Surrounding Mathews is a gallery of entertaining characters, all bringing the fun and funnies to a film that dives head first into playing its kills for dark comedy. McLoughlin’s direction is spot on. He sets up almost every scenario with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek before unleashing Jason in ways that occasionally shock but always make us laugh. The most shocking revelation of all in Jason Lives is that McLoughlin takes special care in establishing a father-daughter dynamic that yields unexpected dramatic weight later in the film. The mere idea that the characters in these films even have parents is something that’s always glazed over, but McLoughlin’s writing is far superior to anything we have seen before in this series, and it contains surprises we would never expect. If only there wasn’t this compulsive need to retcon with each sequel, we might have gotten some more great things. Some folks have a strange idea of entertainment, and this is mine.
Friday the 13th: Part 7 — The New Blood (1988) — directed by John Carl Buechler
After hitting a high note of dark comedy bliss in Jason Lives, there was really nowhere for this series to go but down. Thanks to some incredible special effects makeup from the film’s director, The New Blood doesn’t hit rock bottom, but there are moments when it feels like it could have come close. Buechler’s approach could have easily backfired so hard it would’ve blown up the camera. This feels like he took the driver seat from Tom McLoughlin and decided to reverse-slam a race car that was barreling forward at top speed. The writing here just isn’t good, and the tone of wicked jubilation from Jason Lives is forgotten as if they thought it was a bad idea. Schmucks.
With that being said, The New Blood gives us a saving grace: Kane Hodder. Known to this day as the definitive Jason, Hodder’s portrayal behind the mask is actually a performance to speak of. Prior to now, the job of any actor playing Jason was just to look imposing and kill shit. By the end of The New Blood, we’re able to see distinct mannerisms in Hodder’s take on Jason. How he moves, the way he grinds his visible jawbone, and the tangible viscera to this performance are a first rate companion to his stunt work. Never before have we seen Jason take this much punishment. It’s a wonder that Kane Hodder isn’t dead, especially since they put him up against the poor man’s version of Carrie. Oh, did I mention that our heroine this time is a girl with psychokinetic powers? Let’s all jump the shark together.
Taken for what it is, The New Blood is still an entertaining entry. Lar Park Lincoln makes a good nemesis for Jason; someone who can actually challenge him and mess him up. She does telekinetic constipation face as well as anyone can expect. Where this film falls short is in its reliance on technical trickery instead of characterization. No one — aside from Hodder and Terry Kiser’s deliciously deceptive shrink — is really memorable, and the only thing they share in common is that the script thinks they are all prat-falling idiots. The setups Buechler engineers for the kills defy all common sense. For example, the nerdy girl who spends the better portion of the film caking on ten gallons of makeup for a game of seduction decides to go prowling for penis… and the first place she checks is outside behind the cabin? Why not check the living room or see if his stoner ass is camped out by the fridge? It’s hard to tell whether or not this is supposed to be an attempt at genre satire or if the writers are just that stupid.
Friday the 13th: Part 8 — Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) — written and directed by Rob Hedden
Remember how I talked about how the low point for the series still lied ahead? Welcome to New York. It takes an ineptitude of a thousand Ed Woods to explain the banality on display here. I really don’t get how Cinescape Magazine could actually say with a straight face that this is the best Friday film “by far.” Are you kidding me? With a such a well-written sequel only two films in the rearview, this is the best you can come up with? Suck it long and hard, Trebek, because the sharp objects are coming out. I’m going to cut this one up and serve it cold. This movie is so bad, Satan wouldn’t accept it if you offered it with your soul. I would rather watch Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin on repeat for a week. On repeat, constant, y’all.
While The New Blood didn’t match the overall majesty of Jason Lives, it at least made up for it by upping the ante in other ways. It kept it classy with the technical aspects and gave us a juicy Terry Kiser performance to chew on. The makeup effects that comprised Jason’s look are iconic to this day — I actually own a foot-tall figurine of Jason as he appeared in that film. Jason Takes Manhattan offers us nothing but one scene, when Jason confronts a spitfire boxer on a NYC rooftop, but you have to sit through an onslaught of awful to get there. I won’t even get into how big of a letdown Jason’s unmasking is. After Buechler’s makeup, he looks like the victim of a hiring quota at Timmy’s Makeup Effects School for the Special Needs.
If Dick Warlock’s slow motion walk in Halloween II drove you nuts, Rob Hedden’s direction with Kane Hodder will give you an aneurysm. He has Hodder move so damn slow that you will swear the film projector is dying. It’s a good thing his victims seem to react to everything out of the ordinary like a deer in headlights. One chicks lays there and throws a tantrum while Jason bends over, rips a huge fart, takes a coffee break, watches the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, and then finally plunges a spear into her chest. That’s when he’s not inexplicably teleporting within a scene. And no, that’s not an exaggeration: There’s literally no other explanation for the events in this film other than human teleportation. You know, there’s “suspension of disbelief,” and then there is “insulting my f**king intelligence.” This movie sucks.
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993) — directed by Adam Marcus
I know I’m gonna accrue some heat for this one, but this is a terrific entry in the series. There, I said it. Only a completely inexperienced foolish mortal like Adam Marcus could pull off something like this: Making his first feature in an established franchise, and going so deeply against the grain that it was destined to piss a lot of people off. But dammit, it works, and it’s one of the only films in the series that does something different. Now that I’ve said that about the new guy, let’s flip the cards and discuss the veteran: The music really really sucks. Harry Manfredini wasn’t much of a composer to begin with, but his iconic themes have been an atmospheric staple of the series. This score sounds like he took a day off at Radio Shack to play with a little kid’s synthesizer and thought it sounded good.
If the original Friday the 13th owes a debt to Halloween, this one owes one to John Carpenter’s The Thing. Marcus and his writers go full on sci-fi/supernatural, with a heavy dose of camp and a lot of help from the wizards at KNB Effects Group. The makeup effects on display here are both inspired and absolutely disgusting. Where the hell was the group that reviewed this film at the MPAA when The New Blood ran across their desk? They emasculated every other Friday the 13th film prior to this one. When New Line Cinema took over the brand, I guess they thought they could take a day off? This movie is proudly foul from its first frame, and never lets up. We get skull crushings, geysers of blood, melting bodies, impalements, exploding bodies, vaginal demons, and for an hors d’oeuvres, a bile-filled heart on a platter. There’s something to be said of a movie that makes you lose your appetite during the opening credits.
It’s true, we wish there was actually more Jason in the movie, but many of this film’s harshest critics focus solely on that, much like many of Halloween III’s critics focus on the absence of Michael Myers. But while Halloween III is an insipid pile of crap no matter which way you spin it, Jason Goes to Hell comes out with its dick swinging. There is — dare I say it? — audacity to this entry. I applaud the balls it took to part with such an established formula and try something new. Whether or not it’s a complete success is open to interpretation, but when Marcus gets the film going, it rocks hard. The last act is phenomenal, and would have been a terrific ending to a series in desperate need of one.
Jason X (2001) — directed by James Isaac
Let me just start by saying this: You’re either on board for the ride or you’re not. “Jason in Space” sounds like bad fan fiction before you even find out that we eventually get a cyborg super-Jason before the end credits. When David Cronenberg shows up with his freak flag flying in the opening sequence, that should give you an idea of just how little f**ks are given by the cast and crew of this train wreck… but like all train wrecks, we can’t look away. This is the first full-fledged comedy of the series, and when you look at it that way, it succeeds.
In a nutshell, no one can kill this bastard, even though we clearly saw him dragged to Hell on the same train as Alison Lohman. So Lexa Doig wants to cryogenically freeze Jason to ensure he’s incapacitated forever. Needless to say, this doesn’t go entirely as planned and Jason winds up on a spaceship in the 25th century, full of people who prove that Idiocracy could have been marketed as a documentary. It’s all worth it to hear the line, “It’s okay, guys! He just wanted his machete back!”
James Isaac and his screenwriter Todd Farmer milk this setup for all its worth, even if it isn’t all that much. The visual effects on display here are hilariously awful. Where did the $11 million budget go? My guess would be the catering. The food would have to be good enough to keep Kane Hodder around for this laugh riot. He is officially the star of the show this time. Isaac spends a good chunk of the runtime shooting and lighting Jason like a monolith of comic badassery, and in the process delivers two of the best and most entertaining kills of the entire series. If you thought the sleeping bag kill in The New Blood was a good one, just wait until Jason walks onto the Sanford and Son version of holodeck, grab your popcorn, and just wait for one of the biggest laughs of the decade.
— Blake O. Kleiner