Luke Owen examines the classic horror franchise Friday the 13th in the second of a two-part feature… read part one here.
While the first half of the Friday series was a bit hit (parts 1, 2 & 4) and miss (parts 3 & 5), the latter half was more cut and dry in the miss department. The franchise was in a decline. With box office takings dropping and the interest in the series dwindling, Paramount was to take drastic measures to install some appeal back into the franchise. The first step? Bring back Jason.
Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (McLoughlin, 1986)
After the disaster that was A New Beginning, the decision was made to bring Jason back into the series as its full time villain. Even though having Tommy become the new killer would have been an interesting plot development, it’s not what the fans wanted. They wanted Jason.
After the incident with the copycat killer of New Beginning, Tommy Jarvis is still being haunted by dreams of Jason and needs to know that he is really dead. So he and one of the other Pinehurst patients escape to go and visit the grave of the supposedly deceased Mr. Voorhees. Upon finding his grave, Tommy opens it up to find Jason is really dead as is evident by the decomposing body. In a fit of rage, Tommy stabs Jason in the chest which, with a stroke of unfortunate luck, gets struck by lightning and brings Jason back to life.
So, they’re not taking it too seriously then.
This isn’t a terrible film. Tom McLoughlin does a good job of adding some fun comedy into the film to break the monotony of the stalk and slash genre. The paintball scene in particular is quite funny if a little bizarre considering the film it’s placed in. The death sequences are well played out and the pacing of the film is very well done. The final climactic scene is excellent and does a great job of leaving it open ended for a sequel without resorting to the tried and tested “wake up from a dream” ending. Its continuation of the Tommy Jarvis arc works really well and, despite him being played by yet another actor, we can identify with him because we know what he’s been through the past couple of films. In fact, this could be one of the stronger entries to the series.
Speaking of furthering the story, there were rumours abound that this film would have introduced Elias Voorhees, Jason’s father. The biggest clue to this comes from Jason’s grave being plotted next to his mothers – hinting that someone paid for it to be there. McLoughlin even went so far as to have a treatment for the character, describing him as a silent yet intimidating character with red hair. In the novelisation of the film, Simon Hawke explored this by detailing out the purchasing of the plot of land and him witnessing his son’s drowning at the end of the film. While this was never explored in the films (apart from a brief mention in Jason Goes To Hell), it has made for some interesting canonicity. My personal feelings behind this are ones of positivity. If you recall my issues I had with the convoluted back story surrounding Freddy Krueger in my Nightmare retrospective, this character introduction would have only bogged down the plots progression while at the same time serving no purpose. This is evident in Elias’ appearance in other forms of Friday cannon; most notably Jason vs. Leatherface and the Jason X spin off novel Death Moon. These incarnations of the character all conflict with one another and don’t help further any form of the overall Friday myth – and this was something that the film canon really didn’t need.
Paramount had answered the fans demands and had brought Jason back from the dead. So what was next for this now seemingly immortal zombie killer? A teenage girl with psychic powers.
Jason was about to meet his match.
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (Buechler, 1988)
Part 2 of the drastic measures of installing some more interest in the series came in the slender form of Tina, a 17 year old girl who accidently killed her abusive father when she was 7 years old using her psychic powers. Traumatised by her actions, Tina’s mother helps her seek counselling with the seemingly innocent Dr. Crews. Part of her counselling sees her return to the house where he father died, which just so happens to be next to the lake were Jason has been laying dormant for the last 10 years. After one of Tina’s freak outs, she runs out to the lake and thinks she feels her father’s presence at the bottom of the lake. She uses her telekinetic powers to try and raise him out of the waters. She raises something alright, a very pissed off Jason Voorhees.
I love this entry and I’m never 100% sure why. The plot is wafer thin, the acting is pretty awful and the premise is just ridiculous. Jason fighting a teenager with telekinetic powers? Who came up with that idea?
Well, a lot of the writing for the film is shrouded in mystery. Original writer Daryl Haney, who came up with the “Jason vs. Carrie” concept, was fired after his agent told the producers that he wanted a bigger pay cheque (a comment that Haney claimed he never made) and the rest of the script was completed by a Manuel Fidello. The thing is that Manuel Fidello doesn’t exist. As far as I’m aware, the replacement writer of The New Blood still remains unknown to this day.
Even more interestingly behind the history of the film is that it was destined to be Freddy vs. Jason. Sean S. Cunningham had put the idea forward and talks were in place. The only problem was that Paramount and New Line Cinema (owners of the respective franchises) couldn’t come to an agreement on who would have the control over the film (something that would leave the film in development hell for years to come). It is from my understanding that the “Jason has met his match” was the initial idea when bringing Freddy across. When New Line pulled out, Freddy was replaced with Tina and dream invading was replaced with telekinesis. This could however be an unfounded statement seeing that a lot of the pre-production side of The New Blood remains unknown.
While writing this section of the review, I went back and re-watched The New Blood to see if I could hammer down what it was about this entry that I liked. And the conclusion that I have come to is that Jason looks great.
This may seems like quite an insignificant cog in an otherwise sub standard machine, but Jason’s look is so improved in this film from previous instalments in terms of believability that it raises the bar of the film on a dramatic and immersive level. The suit he wears in the 6th film is now dissolved and ruined from 10 years of slumber at the bottom of the lake, his face has become even more decomposed since he rose from his grave and his mask is discoloured from the lake and wrecked from Tommy’s knife attack of Final Chapter as well the propeller attack of Jason Lives. It’s these attentions to detail that really sell me on the film. It takes the franchise from just your bog standard hack and slash soirees into a series with continuity, thought and dedication.
The box office still wasn’t reacting to the film. They needed to take Jason in a new direction.
And boy were they taking him somewhere.
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (Hedden, 1989)
What a great premise. Taking Jason out of the environment we’d seen him in for the last 7 movies to somewhere that not only exists but is known the world over. They also had a great marketing campaign that had Jason tearing through a “I love New York” poster and a great tag line, “New York Has a New Problem” (something that the New York tourist department were not happy about). Paramount was almost guaranteed to have the people queuing around the corner, just as they had done nearly 10 years ago.
But they were wrong.
Jason Takes Manhattan is so boring. It’s nonsensical, badly acted, badly scripted, badly put together and just so ungodly boring. For a film to advertise Jason “taking” Manhattan, he is only there for about the final 20 minutes of the film and when he is there, it looks a lot like Vancouver. The rest of the film is set on an ugly looking boat with boring decor and ends up being the Crystal Lake woods without the trees.
The problem was that after Rob Hedden had finished his final draft of the script he was informed by Paramount that his budget was to be slashed (no pun intended) and he could no longer afford to film at all the New York locations he’d planned. Elaborate death sequences and set pieces were written to take place in Madison Square Garden, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building but they all had to be cut due to financial restraints. Instead the film had to be replaced with a boat trip to Manhattan for ¾ of the film and a stupid asinine back story between Jason and the leading lady Jensen.
The other problem is that the film doesn’t follow on from any form of continuity laid out by the previous instalments. Jason is now back in the water (despite being blown up in a house), his clothes have changed, his mask (bearing in mind that he picks up a new one) remarkably has the Tommy Jarvis knife attack but not the Jason Lives propeller damage, he doesn’t look as decomposed as he did in The New Blood and he’s been given a stupid convoluted back story to facilitate a boring sub plot of the film. Everything that they had right in The New Blood has been thrown out of the window and forgotten about and for me it really affects the film. And Rob Hedden can’t blame that on his budget cut.
The back story given here is that our leading heroine nearly drowned as a child whilst learning to swim because a young Jason (who was still in the lake) tried to grab her leg. She grew up traumatised by the water and has visions of this boy in the lake.
Completely ignoring the time frame inconsistencies, we know that Jason didn’t drown in Crystal Lake, because we’ve watched him as an adult for the last 6 movies. This is lazy, unjustified writing and no one bought into it. It hangs over the film like a bad fart in a filled church and really drags it down. This all leads to a completely nonsensical ending that really spoils what was already a pretty horrible picture.
The box office reception reflected the poor reaction the film received. Taking only $14 million made it the 2nd lowest earner in the franchise (the lowest was Jason X but that was down to its massive budget) and it is commonly agreed by fans as one of the worst entries in the series.
Paramount had had enough. The cinema takings had dwindled film by film and, despite them not costing that much and always making their money back, they didn’t think the franchise was worth keeping. By the end of 1989, the rights to the Friday the 13th franchise reverted back to the original producers of the first instalment who then sold it to New Line Cinema. Great news for series creator Sean S. Cunningham who wanted New Line to have the rights so he could make the Freddy vs. Jason film he planned in 1988.
With New Line now in control of both the Friday and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises, Cunningham’s plans were looking to be coming into fruition, but Wes Craven had other ideas…
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (Marcus, 1993)
Sean S. Cunningham had dreamed of making Freddy vs. Jason since before Paramount made The New Blood. Now that New Line Cinema held the rights to the respective franchises, all they needed was a good script. And that’s where all the problems started.
In the time it took to develop a script, 4 years had passed and Wes Craven, who was disappointed by Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, announced he was going to make Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and finish of the franchise himself. With Freddy now being out of action in a different film, Freddy vs. Jason was once again shelved. With New Line having paid a lot of money of the franchise and not making a single penny back, Cunningham made the decision to make another Friday film. And this would be the final Friday.
With no explanation after the rubbish ending of Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason is once again back in Crystal Lake killing campers (there was a comic released that bridged the gap, but even that skipped over the crux of Manhattan’s terrible ending). Out of nowhere, an army task force show up and, quite literally, blow him up. With Jason now in bits, he is taken back for an autopsy. Whilst performing said autopsy, the doctor takes a bite out of Jason’s cold black heart and “transfers” the soul of Jason into this new body. This all leads to a convoluted mess where Jason is trying to make his way back to the Voorhees house to be “reborn” while trying to avoid a bounty hunter who has discovered that the only person who can kill Jason and send him to hell is his sister. I can almost hear the groans from the cinema audience.
As Albert Einstein once said, “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” A lot of courage maybe, but there is nothing genius about this move at all.
This film is a mess. It’s all the over the place and so badly put together you have to wonder how this even made it past test audiences. Jason Takes Manhattan may be regarded was one of the worst entries in the series, but this is commonly agreed by many to be the worst of the lot.
The film was originally slated to called Friday the 13th Part IX: The Dark Heart of Jason Voorhees, which would have been a more appropriate title considering that none of this film is set in Hell and Jason has about 15 minutes of screen time. The rest of the time is spent with annoying and poorly written characters transferring the soul of Jason between each other. Keeping the titular character out of the film was a huge slap in the face of the audience who paid to see him.
The addition of Freddy’s daughter in Freddy’s Dead didn’t sit well with horror fans so it baffles me that Cunningham and his team thought it would be a great idea to add another member to the Voorhees clan. If you recall what I wrote many paragraphs ago regarding how the addition of Elias Voorhees would have needlessly convoluted things, well Jason Goes To Hell is all the evidence I need to back up my claim. Jessica is a horrible character with no charisma or charm and makes a mess of the entire back story to the franchise. She is so unnecessary and brings nothing to the table that her being there was just unneeded.
But the most annoying thing of all about this horribly turgid movie is that it’s only purpose of existence is to build up to Freddy vs. Jason. The final shot of the movie has Jason’s iconic hockey mask lying on the sand pit when Freddy’s trademark glove comes out of the ground and pulls it under. So Jason Goes To Hell was essentially an hour and a half trailer for a film that wouldn’t come out for another 10 years.
The Friday series had hit a brick wall and seemingly had come to an end. Sean S. Cunningham would spend the rest of the 90s trying to get Freddy vs. Jason off the ground but to no avail. As the new millennium drew in, it was time to bring Jason back on to our screens and be shown in a new light.
Jason X (Issac, 2001)
The 90s was quiet time for Jason Voorhees. Aside from the atrocious Jason Goes To Hell, he stayed away from our screens. The problem was that the audience who used to queue round the corner for the latest instalment no longer existed, they’d moved on. The slasher horror sub genre movement had come to a close.
That was until Wes Craven directed a screenplay entitled Scary Movie that would eventually grow up to be called Scream. It sparked a short lived and not well received slasher revival that would last up until the end of the decade.
During this time, Sean S. Cunningham was still working towards Freddy vs. Jason. A script had still yet to be agreed on, directors kept walking away from production and the whole process appeared to be stuck in that horrible limbo known as Development Hell. Cunningham was annoyed and frustrated. He turned to Todd Farmer and brought him on board to pen the 10th entry for the Friday series, a Friday the 13th for the new millennium so to speak. Jason was going on a one way trip to space.
In the year 2008, (it had to be set at this point as to not conflict with the Freddy vs. Jason timeline which coincided with the Friday timeline… not that they’d ever cared before) Jason has once again been captured and is now being held in Crystal Lake Research Facility where they plan to cryogenically freeze him. To the surprise of pretty much no one, Jason breaks free and starts to kill people. Remarkably enough he is actually frozen along with one of the doctors who was there to administer the procedure. They remain there until they are discovered by some students on a field trip in the year 2455. The students, unwisely, unfreeze both of their finds and Jason continues his murderous rampage.
This is the point the Friday series “jumped the shark”. Taking Jason into space was a last ditch attempt to install some energy back into this lifeless corpse – something they’d been trying to do for years. The thing that makes me laugh is that the Leprechaun series put its titular character into space as a joke, yet here is Sean S. Cunningham putting his creation into space as a way to bring some interest back into the franchise. So did it work?
Yes and no. The film polarises its fans, with some thinking it’s a bit of harmless Friday fun in space whereas the others think the film is a steaming pile of pants. Personally I’m in the former half with my left foot ever so slightly leaning into the latter.
The acting is bad and the dialogue is poor, as are its characters in all their stereotypical terribleness. But the death sequences are creative, the set pieces are well laid out and well presented and the overall feel of the film is a light and fun one – the kind of feeling I got when watching Jason Lives. This is by no means the worst of the series but it’s certainly not the best. But comparing it to Jason Goes To Hell, it’s an absolute masterpiece.
It’s becoming a fruitless argument to complain about the continuity of the hockey mask so I’m not going to bother because as with Jason Takes Manhattan and Jason Goes To Hell, the continuity of the look of Jason was thrown by the wayside. But this didn’t really matter because, as the tag line promoted, evil was about to get an upgrade.
Keeping the Uber-Jason idea quiet was such a tall order that it couldn’t be done. Had this movie been made before the internet then it would have been a cool reveal, however we live in a digital age and it’s hard to keep things under wraps. In the movie, Jason is blown to pieces by the cyborg character Kay-Em but is put back together by the nanotechnology of the ship into a half zombie, half robot killing machine in a shiny hockey mask. It was a bold move that could have back fired drastically, but fans reacted so positively to it when the images were leaked that they based the entire advertising campaign around it. Jason had been reinvented for a new age – and he actually looked kind of cool.
As stated, I do like this movie. It may not be a masterpiece but it really isn’t the worst of the series and it only gets a bad rap for its ridiculous plot. But it’s a lot of fun and an interesting and bold addition to the franchise. The film is definitely worth watching if only for the “frozen head smashing” death or the “virtual 80s” scene.
Luckily, depending on whose view point you take, the producers never had to tackle the “where do we go from here” as this was the last entry in this series. It had come to an end.
So where does the series stand in cinema history? Well, the first film will be forever in the hall of fame but a lot of its sequels will be quickly forgotten about. With only a few exceptions, the series itself is pretty poor and quite shoddy at times. The acting is never good, the plots are laborious and painfully repetitive (aside from some stupid plot points) and a lot of the production looks very dated and clichéd. As a horror fan, it’s difficult to show these films to people who don’t appreciate the art as a way to argue the case of slasher horror.
But, just like Nightmare on Elm Street, the series isn’t about the acting and it isn’t about the characters and it’s never really about the plot. It’s about Jason Voorhees killing amorous teens in various creative ways. We’ve watched this character as a young child being tortured by the older kids only for him to come back to have his vengeance. We’ve seen him die only to be brought back to life as a immortal killing zombie. We’ve seen him drown only to be resurrected so he could journey to Manhattan, Hell and even the deepest regions of space. It was a hell of a roller coaster ride, and I loved every bit of it.
In fact, the series itself is a lot like its main character Jason. Sure he’s a little bit ugly and sure he’s a little bit on the slow side but there is something redeemable and quite likeable about him.
Thoughts, opinions, questions all can be sent to to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website www.boddicker-scripts.moonfruit.com
“You see, Jason was my son and today is his birthday” – Pamela Voorhees (Friday the 13th, 1980)
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