(On TV, October 2019) By the time you’re eight films deep in a series, it’s a reasonable assumption to presume that anyone still watching is, by that time, a stark raving mad fan of the series. At that point, any change becomes risky—sure, the series has to evolve … but what if you stray so far? It’s also at that time in a series’ lifespan that dismissing previous instalments becomes tempting. (Perhaps that was new in 1993, but by 2019 we’ve seen enough examples of fifth or even fourth films in a series trying to ignore everything but the first or second instalment.) A more interesting question at this point becomes: What about those people who don’t like the series and (perhaps like me!) end up seeing that late warped prequel-ignoring instalment out of obstinacy and list-checking? I am not a fan of the Friday the 13th series, and perhaps that all explains my not-so-dismissive reaction to The Final Friday. The film gets started on a very high note, as supernatural Jason is entrapped by a policewoman playing a vulnerable coed, then trapped in a crossfire and reduced to pulp by a battalion of soldiers. But wait! There’s more in those first fifteen minutes, as the coroner finds himself possessed to eat Jason’s disemboweled but still-beating heart. We’ve already jumped far away from the non-supernatural origins of the series, but it keeps getting wilder as Jason is revealed to be a slimy creature jumping from one body to another, and there’s an ancient prophecy saying that Jason can only be killed by another member of his family through a mystical dagger. This is all completely wild and nonsensical and ignores everything about the series, but to someone who suffered through all the previous Friday the 13th series, this is actually kind of entertaining and a deserved takedown of a disliked premise. In short, I was more entertained by The Final Friday than any of the previous films, even if it’s a dumb horror movie that can be forgotten five minutes after the credits roll.
(On TV, October 2019) Keep your expectations in check, Friday the 13th fans: Despite the grandiose subtitle, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan only makes it to New York City in its last third, leaving the rest of the film to take place on a cruise boat filled by teenagers. (How we get there is a stretch even by the lax standards of the series, given Crystal Lake—formerly situated at least two states inland—now being connected to the ocean.) It’s not a particularly good entry, although it makes up in craziness what it doesn’t have in quality. The last act (located in Manhattan but shot in Vancouver) is by far the most interesting: The first act is just dumb and ham-fisted in how it assembles all the plot pieces, while the extended cruise that makes up most of the movie is just one dull kill after another. Things get warmer once we make it to the late-1980s Big Apple, filled with graffiti, criminals and toxic waste. In the film’s highlight, Jason makes it to Times Square (where he pettily kicks down a punk gang’s boombox), but you do have to get through a lot of nonsense featuring generic characters before getting there. The heroine herself is one of the series’ blandest, and some of his victims don’t get any development whatsoever. Kelly Hu has an early role here, but she doesn’t get much to do before being thrown away from the story. By this time in the series, seven instalments in nine years (not to mention a burnt-out slasher genre), it couldn’t keep the same conventions and so this instalment does try to shake things up … to no positive effect. The ending, which resets Jason to child form, wasn’t really followed up in the following entries in the series, each of which struck out in different directions by ignoring much of the established so-called continuity. There’s a fair case to be made for Jason Takes Manhattan being, in bits and pieces, the craziest episode of the series so far … but it’s not consistent craziness, and that often does make it a chore to watch. Of course, if you’re not a slasher fan, there is only a strict minimum here to keep you interested.
(On TV, October 2019) For cinephiles such as myself who don’t have any affection for the slasher genre and the Friday the 13th series in particular, the most interesting element of its movies is the narrative that holds the instalments together—the way Jason is brought back and dispatched in between the gore and the murdering of horny teenagers. Considering that the Friday the 13th series (justifiably) jumped into supernatural territory during its sixth instalment, it makes sense that its sequel would lean even more heavily in that direction. So it is that Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood features nothing less than a protagonist with telekinesis powers, able to break a mean girl’s pearl necklace at a distance, send a TV flying across the room and (far more crucially) free Jason from the underwater tomb in which he was placed at the end of the previous film. The ending also features a more interesting showdown than usual between zombie Jason and a final girl with the power to fight back. Alas, that ending peters out in an uninteresting finale, concluding the film on a sour note. I haven’t discussed anything in between the beginning and the end of the film because, in many ways, there’s nothing to say: It’s the usual killing-the-teenagers routine with little to distinguish it. (Although, strangely, this instalment intriguingly avoids the over-the-top gore featured in other films of the series—murders aplenty, but always cutting to another shot before the blood sprays out. Maybe it’s the TV version?) Jason is a more formidable menace here thanks to being played by Kane Hodder for the first time, and as a kid who became a teenager in 1988, I still find some of the girls and hairstyles in the film cute rather than dated. Still, that’s a not a whole lot to recommend—Much like the entire series, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood is not particularly good, and you really have to dig in order to find something interesting to say about it.
(On TV, October 2019) There we are. Now we’re talking. Surprisingly enough, there was little in the first five movies in the Friday the 13th series to explicitly state that it took place in a universe with supernatural elements—Sure, Jason was impossibly invulnerable and the plotting contrived to absurd degree, but you could deny, ignore or explain away the supernatural events. Not so much here, as Jason is resurrected by a bolt of lightning, his body still moist-fresh after some time underground. Then we’re back to the usual business of murdering horny camp counselors. This new supernatural focus does bring a bit of energy back into the series, although not as much as improved screenwriting and directing. (It’s not good writing or direction, but at least it’s a step up.) The ending has the decency to lean on the supernatural element in immobilizing the threat (until the next film) but not even pretending to get rid of it. There’s also an element of self-aware comedy to the film, starting with a title sequence that borrows from James Bond’s barrel gun opening but does not quite go into outright parody territory. (I also liked the bit where the camp counselors ask what could be worse than a psycho killer … to be answered by the arrival of a bus filled with kids.) I am certainly not a fan of the series and I won’t try to pretend that Jason Lives is any good, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction—and an illustration that any series that goes on long enough ends up being a parody of itself.
(On TV, October 2019) Even by the low standards of slasher movies and the even-lower standards of its series, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning is a singularly dumb instalment. Jason is dead (yes, really), but what takes its place is spectacularly contrived. The film begins as the young protagonist of the previous film, now grown up but severely traumatized, is sent to a halfway house camp just happens to be close to Crystal Lake Forest Hill. One random axe murder later, we’re once again stuck with a hockey-mask-wearing psychopath murdering teenagers. Characterization isn’t a strong suit of this film as it keeps introducing minor characters just in time to murder them savagely and then repeat until a dark barn-set climax. There’s a lot of nudity, but it doesn’t help as much as you’d think, not when the film even struggles to create a plot around the predictable kill sequences. I did like the idea of a chainsaw-versus-machete combat, but that’s reaching deep in the film’s details to find something worth remembering. The Friday the 13th series was never high art, but A New Beginning plumbs new depths in its attempt to do something without quite going supernatural. But then there was the sequel…
(On Cable TV, October 2019) It’s been decades since I last saw the first Friday the 13th film trilogy and considering my distaste of slasher film, I probably could have gone on the rest of my life without seeing the other film in the series. But this is October and the cable channels are cranking up their horror movie schedule and I figure that this may be as good a time as any to record the rest of the series and make it an endurance contest. First up is the fourth entry The Final Chapter (which was a lie, considering that it was succeeded by no fewer than eight other movies). Made at a time when the slasher craze was fully defined and getting familiar, this Final Chapter is very much in-line with the previous instalments: Here, once again, we have teenagers (some locals and some out-of-towners looking for a cottage vacation) having sex and getting killed by the killer’s nigh-omnipotent craziness. It’s all surprisingly boring despite the deaths accumulating at a fast pace. There isn’t all that much nudity, the deaths are gory without being as disgusting as they would become in later instalments (well, by my jaded 2019’s blood-soaked standards, anyway) and only the presence of a younger boy helps distinguish the film from the usual template. Trying to review these movies is a challenge when there’s so little to say. I won’t bring myself to comment on the quality of the on-screen slashing, and there isn’t much to the rest of the film to comment once you’re bored with those interludes. (Some of the stunts are good, though—there’s a length slow motion falling-though-the-windows-and-then-to-the-ground shot that’s spectacular in its own right.) The 1980s flavour is there but it’s not going to cause any nostalgia along the way. Whatever special marketing hook this film may have had as “a final chapter” has been thoroughly nullified by the endless follow-ups. As a Friday the 13th film, The Final Chapter is pretty much what this series is about—meaning that it ties in a piece with the first three films in the series (indeed picking up moments after the third) but that it certainly won’t make any new fans of the franchise by that point. You already know if you’re going to like it.
(On Cable TV, March 2017) I went in the Friday the 13th remake with low expectations, conditioned by half a dozen horror remakes on what to anticipate. Generally speaking, the result does not disappoint—for best or for worst, this remake is roughly equivalent to the many other horror remakes of the time: slick production values, buffed-up young leads, adherence to the iconography of its predecessors but not much in terms of wit, soul, humour or anything but mechanical suspense. It’s a rote exercise, singularly uninteresting if you’re not already a convinced horror hound. The death grip that genre conventions hold around the film’s throat makes it impossible to become anything but a pale imitation of a celebrated predecessor. The only area where this Friday the 13th holds surprise is, curiously enough, in its depiction of nudity—while the ’80s horror originals usually came with a generous side order of nudity, most 00s remakes usually didn’t. But this one is the exception, maybe too blatantly so—by the time the characters themselves comment each other on their splendid bodies, it doesn’t matter if we agree with them. Alas, there’s a lot more violence than flesh here, and it quickly blurs into the usual exasperating fights with predetermined outcomes. Saddled with an overlong prologue, mechanistic structure and stomach-churning glorification of its villain, Friday the 13th isn’t worth much more than checking off a box on some completist cinephile list. It’s dull and there are many other better horror movies out there. But then again, I already suspected that going in—I got what I was expecting.
(In French, On Cable TV, July 2016) Watching this movie without much knowledge or affection for either the Friday the 13th or the Nightmare on Elm Street series had me feeling as if I was attending a very strange party to which I hadn’t been invited. The concept of horror villain fandom baffles me—I had the impression that Freddy vs Jason was trying to get me to cheer for one mass murderers of children or another, which just seems wrong. It doesn’t help that Freddy vs Jason is, in most aspects, a thoroughly forgettable slasher: Here are a bunch of teenagers, there are the monsters, watch as they get picked off one by one until the final girl. Yawn. The film’s sole distinction is the amount of worship that Freddy vs Jason has for either Freddy Krueger (cackling one-liners) or Jason Voorhees (silent brute), which doesn’t translate into anything meaningful. Again: I’d like a horror movie that doesn’t make me feel like a psychopath, please. Some aspects of the film warrant mention due to imperfection: the CGI effects, in particular, look fake and dated. Some of Ronny Yu’s direction has some high-energy moments (with Robert Englund clearly having fun in a familiar role), even though the Crystal Lake third act feels far too long for its own good. I almost certainly could have gotten more out of Freddy vs Jason had I watched the interminable series that inspired it. But frankly, I have better things to do.
(On VHS, May 2002) Dull, repetitive piece of trash. Hard to see why this has spawned nine sequels (and counting) except for the low production values and the simplistic storyline that can be understood even by gibbering morons. Simple stuff: Teenager separates itself from the group, gets killed. Repeat until only one’s left. I wish I could say that the handheld shots and the amateurishness of the script are a refreshing change after the slick twenty years of insipid rip-offs, but I’d be lying, really. The insipid drawn-out finale is just annoying. It can be watched while reading a book. Heck, there isn’t even much nudity. Blah.
(On VHS, May 2002) The shocking -shocking!- thing about this series is not how every damn film in the series is a carbon-copy of itself as much as how it wouldn’t take all that much wit or talent to make something special or interesting out of it. (Hey, that explains Kevin Williamson’s Scream after all…) How many time do we have to suffer through the same stupid screaming, running, tripping? Gaak. Not much new to report in installment #3: The composition of some shots is peculiar… until you realize that the film was meant to be shown in 3-D. The disco-biker gang is rather amusing, perhaps signaling the series’ descent in auto-derision. (The hockey mask also makes its first appearance) The frickin’ three-hour-long climax is once again ridiculously drawn-out. Does this series ever improve? It’s not looking like it.
(On VHS, May 2002) Don’t worry if you haven’t seen the first film; it’s recapped (at length) in the first few minutes. To be entirely truthful, this is a better film than the original, if only for the enhanced production values and the better-looking girls. (Still not much nudity, alas) Nevertheless, there isn’t much there in term of cinematic enjoyment. The directing is flat, the actors rather less than convincing and the repetitive structure of the plot starts to grate early on. Naturally, I could also argue that the perfect F13 film would be all porn and no violence. But then again I’m just bored watching that stuff, so what do I know?