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Friday the 13th: From Crystal Lake to Manhattan DVD Review

Friday the 13th: From Crystal Lake to Manhattan

April 30, 2005

Director: Sean S. Cunningham, Steve Miner, Joseph Zito, Danny Steinmann, Tom McLoughlin, John Carl Buechler, Rob Hedden,
Starring: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Kevin Bacon, Amy Steel, John Furey, Dana Kimmell, Paul Kratka, Kimberly Beck, Corey Feldman, Crispin Glover, Melanie Kinnaman, John Shepherd, Thom Matthews, Jennifer Cooke, Lar Park Lincoln, Kevin Blair, Kane Hodder, Jensen Daggett, Scott Reeves, Kelly Hu, ,

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DVD Review

It sure is hard to keep a good movie monster down. Freddy vs. Jason (2003) proved that audiences were still interested in Mrs. Voorhees’ indestructible son. With eleven installments under his belt, Jason has proven to be one of the most prolific and profitable franchise monsters. The Friday the 13th films rose to prominence in the 1980s, riding the coattails of the massive commercial and critical success of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). The ironic ‘90s proved to be a tough decade for Jason with only one sequel being produced. Audiences were caught up in the Scream trilogy and its offspring without realizing that these films owed much of their existence to the Friday the 13th series.

Friday the 13th (1980) begins in 1958 at Camp Crystal Lake with the death of two counselors. Flash-forward 22 years and a whole new batch of fresh faced kids are ready to be slaughtered. It doesn’t seem to bother anyone that the camp now has a death curse or that all the locals warn outsiders to steer clear of the place. Of course they are systematically dispatched by mad Mrs. Voorhees (Palmer) who, in a nice twist on Norman Bates in Psycho (1960), is a schizophrenic with her dead son, Jason, sharing time in her head.

Released in 1980, this first installment still carries residue from many of the excellent horror films of the ‘70s, like The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Franchise directors Sean S. Cunningham and Steve Miner were both producers on Last House and obviously took Wes Craven’s nasty low budget film to heart by taking its scary, unpredictable vibe and applying it to their own movies. There are also nods to Halloween (the spooky, point-of-view shots of the killer) and the film’s entire structure (and even some of the deaths) are ripped right from Mario Bava’s little seen, yet very influential, body count/murder mystery, Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971).

With mom dead, son, Jason, appears (I guess he didn’t drown after all!) in Part 2 (1981) to continue her work, punishing kids for having pre-marital sex at summer camp. Alice (King), who was the only survivor of the first one, returns understandably tormented by what she saw. This gives the filmmakers an excuse to rehash footage from the first one in order to bring all the newbies up to speed (this would become a practice for subsequent films in the series). She is then quickly killed off a la Janet Leigh in Psycho as if to say all bets are off on this one. Jason is a chip off the ol’ block as he dispatches some poor guy in a wheelchair with a machete and skewers a young couple with a spear.

Cashing in on the 3-D craze of the early ‘80s, Part 3 (1982) marks the first appearance of Jason’s iconic hockey mask. Sadly, the 3-D gimmick has not been transferred over to the DVD and so a lot of the more obvious tricks look a little awkward now. With this installment one is baffled at why anyone would want to keep going back to Camp Crystal Lake after the events in the first two movies? I guess you’re not really supposed to be thinking about this when watching these movies or the whole façade falls flat.

In hindsight it probably wasn’t a good idea to subtitle Part 4—The Final Chapter (1984). Gore make-up effects guru Tom Savini is back (he also worked on the first movie) in this latest installment that finds Jason particularly frisky—especially after an axe to the head in the last one. He comes to life in a hospital morgue after a technician stupidly leaves his door ajar and gets a bone saw to the neck for his troubles. Before long Jason is off on another killing spree. However, this time he’s up against his toughest opponent: a machete wielding Corey Feldman. Throw in a surprisingly normal looking (and acting) Crispin Glover and you’ve got all the makings for a pretty standard sequel.

The franchise wisely covered its ass with the next movie by subtitling it, A New Beginning (1985). Two dumb yokels foolishly dig up Jason’s grave on a dark and stormy night (I know, everyone’s idea of a good time) and are rewarded by being killed by Jason who rises from the grave with a new lease on life. Tommy (Shepherd), our hero from the last movie, is all grown up and a mental patient being taken to a facility located in, you guessed it, the woods. Pretty soon Jason makes his presence known by killing lots of people.

Jason Lives (1986) sees everyone’s favourite hockey mask-wearing psycho dug up…again! This time by Tommy (Matthews) who is still bent on revenge. Unfortunately, he provides the perfect opportunity to reanimate Jason a la Frankenstein (1931). Initially, Jason looks more like an ancient mummy but as soon as he dons his favourite hockey mask he’s back to his old ways of slaughtering hapless teens. At this point the series had only one way to go: self-parody with intentionally stilted dialogue and over-the-top set pieces.

When we last left Jason Voorhees he had been transformed into an anchor. Trapped underwater, he quietly bides his time until a girl with telekinesis sets him free to kill again in Part VII: The New Blood (1988). The rest of the film plays out in a grisly cat and mouse game as Jason knocks off her friends one-by-one until the inevitable confrontation.

Tired of killing teens at an isolated summer camp, Jason decides to branch out and start killing people in New York City in Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989). He stows away on a boat named The Lazarus (ho, ho) headed for the Big Apple after being reanimated by that pesky electricity again. To keep himself busy until he lands on Manhattan, Jason starts killing all the young kids onboard. There’s a reason why another Friday the 13th movie wasn’t made until four years later—the franchise had become creatively bankrupt and played out. It was time for a break.

Special Features:

Part 3 features an audio commentary by Peter Bracke, Larry Zerner, Paul Kratka, Dana Kimmell and Richard Brooker. It’s a nice reunion of key cast and crew as they deliver a spirited track, joking and laughing as they tell all kinds of anecdotes regarding the making of the movie.

On the Part VI DVD, the film’s writer-director, Tom McLoughlin contributes an audio commentary. He speaks surprisingly eloquently about how he wanted to establish a gothic feel and look with this installment and discusses the influence of Hammer horror films. This quite an engaging track as McLoughlin comes across as an interesting fellow with decent observations on his own work.

Part VII features an audio commentary by the film’s director, John Carl Buechler and Jason himself, Kane Hodder. The two men talk about the challenges of making the movie and fondly look back at the experience. Buechler actually argues that the film contains a subplot (!) while Hodder, with a wonderfully dry sense of humour, comments on all the gore that was cut out.

Director Rob Heddon contributes an audio commentary on Jason Takes Manhattan. He points out all the locations and characters shown in the opening credits that play a part later on in the movie in this informative track.

The bulk of the supplemental material appears on a bonus disc. The centerpiece is “The Friday the 13th Chronicles,” a feature length retrospective look at all eight films that can be viewed in eight separate featurettes or altogether. Directors Sean Cunningham and Steve Miner thought up the title, designed a poster and based on this they were able to get enough money to make a movie before realizing that they had no story or script! There are new interviews with cast and crew from almost all of the films, including insightful comments by the always entertaining Tom Savini and even Corey Feldman. Not surprisingly, the first film receives the bulk of the screen time and features the most interview subjects. By the time we get to Part V, the number of interviewees gets smaller and smaller.<

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 85%

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