The Friday the 13th franchise holds a special place in my old, decrepit heart. I was around for its initial run, which makes me ancient, but also give me a different perspective on the series and what it might mean. Shout Factory has released a gorgeous box set of all the movies on individual Blu Ray, with most of the extras imported from other release versions, as well as a few new ones to spice up the mix. I’m going to be going through the movies, three at a time, doing a little walk down memory lane/review of each as I go along. I’m not going to be dipping into much talk about the Extras found on each disc, because I simply don’t have the time of day to watch everything in one go. So here are some mad ramblings from a big fan of the series. Hope you enjoy them!
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood Here begins the Kane Hodder era, the finest era of Jason as far as him being an actual “character” that extends beyond a simple killing machine. You don’t need me to explain how Hodder brought a certain kind of physicality and personality to the role that others did not; there’s lots of articles and interviews out there to elucidate all of that. Watching this one in the theater carried over much of the excitement from Part VI. Here was “Jason vs. Carrie” and it was promised to be very wild. What we actually got was something a little bit tamer than advertised, although the last thirty minutes or so did rock, and the crowd was totally into it. The characters here are the most unlikable of any of the movies. They’re all self-absorbed assholes, except for main badass Tina and, to an extent, her mother (who, no offense, has the worst 80s hair of any movie during that whole decade). This is truly the first Friday where I felt like I was cheering on Jason as he killed these punks, not because I wanted cool FX or interesting death scenes, but because I genuinely didn’t like most of them. The gore was gutted by the MPAA (something that’s not worried about now, not in the least, but back then, they were a big thorn in the side of any horror fan) so we got a lot of cutaways or flashed glimpses of the carnage. That was okay, though, because when Jason and Tina went at it, the fight was pretty spectacular. And, despite a really, really dumb ending (we were promised a shocking twist, and it was, uh, shocking alright), I remember leaving the theater feeling pretty good about ol’ Jason and the franchise. It wasn’t quite up to Part VI, but it continued in the same, fun spirit.
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan Here is where we see a sharp decline that will carry over to the following movie. First off, by the time this came out, people were tired of the endless sequels. I can testify to this personally because I was there on opening night, and while Part VI and VII had entertained packed audiences, the theater was maybe a third full for this one. In the short time between “Carrie vs. Jason” and “Jason is going to New York, yo,” things had drastically changed. What we faithful followers got for our reward is the worst of the Jason movies. Hodder is great in it, absolutely spectacular, but the movie is hamstrung by a terrible story (why would Jason get on the boat in the first place? They were leaving Crystal Lake and weren’t a bother to him anymore. What’s up with this girl getting psychic visions? All it took was one touch from Jason as a child and they were linked together forever?), and some truly awful characters. The “teens” in Part VII were bad but these kids had nothing going for them. They were simply caricatures, with so little going for them I couldn’t even work up sufficient hate to watch them die. And don’t get me started on the lack of gore or creative kills. Yeah, there were a couple of cool moments (dude literally getting his block knocked off was great, but totally cartoonish in a Freddy kind of way, not a true Jason one) but they don’t save this mess. And of course, they don’t really get to Manhattan until the end (when Jason emerges from the subway is an admittedly rousing moment). And who thought up this version of NYC? Were they popping speed and watching too many Troma movies? Jesus. Yeah, because there’s alleys in Manhattan and those alleys are either totally deserted, or filled with street punks and open barrels of toxic waste. WTF? Anyway, there were a few good moments, enough to keep this from being a total disaster, but the writing was on the wall. Jason needed some time off.
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday Where we now get into the “Jason” title movies, dropping the Friday the 13th part, and we start really getting lost. I get it, they needed to change things up, and at the time, I totally agreed. I saw this one when it came out and it had a slightly bigger audience than Part VIII, but it was still stunted compared to the 80s. I did like this when it came out, but watching it again, I see nothing but problems, lame attempts to explain what Jason was exactly, and some really embarrassing storytelling. Most importantly, there’s hardly any Jason in this. Didn’t they learn from Part V? Apparently not. So Jason is really some kind of demon penis-turd that enters bodies and takes them over and they “become Jason” and this is how he keeps coming back? Okay. There’s a lot of junk about the Voorhees family history and all of that. In the end, it cribs from The Hidden and Halloween and utterly flops. I will say, in retrospect, this is the worst movie of the franchise (sorry Part V, but you “lose” this one). Like Part VIII, there’s enough here to make it interesting, and when Hodder is actually Jason, the movie manages to get out of its own too-cool-for-school way and be entertaining. But Hodder can’t save this mess.
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood: ★★★☆
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan: ★★✮☆
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday: ★★☆☆