Friday the 13th, Part 3 3-D – Blu-ray Review

With the release of the abysmal JAWS 3D in 1983, the short-lived 3D fad of the early ’80s had finally burned itself out with a whimper. But the previous year had given us perhaps the best 3D film of the era: a romp of special effects and atmosphere that proved why horror is still the first, best choice for a 3D production – FRIDAY THE 13th PART 3 – 3-D. Put into production less than a year after Part 2 had wrapped, it’s unknown (at least to us) when it was decided to incorporate 3D into the picture, but it was a likely factor in retaining Steve Miner for the director’s chair, as it no doubt helped to smooth over a technically difficult shoot. Even under luxurious circumstances, making a 3D picture is a complex, and technically tedious process; necessitating a Kubrickian number of takes of even the simplest actions. But working with only a few million dollars (large by the franchise’s standard, certainly) made the shoot a grueling experience – not just for the crew, but for actors who felt neglected while the bulk of attention went to the technical aspects. The resulting film looked completely different than previous FRIDAY THE 13TH films, not just because of the 3D, but because the show was the only film in the series to be shot in an anamorphic 2:35 aspect ratio, giving it a distinctly cinematic feel.
Friday the 13th, Part 3 picks up literally moments after the end of Friday the 13th, Part 2, with the first reports of the latest massacre at Crystal Lake going out over the local news. The show is being watched by a middle-aged couple who appear to run a local convenience store, and quickly give us a good indication of the lack of attention given to performance. The hideously abrasive duo represents the typical Hollywood idea of rural folk: filthy, unshaven cussaoholics that spit dime store abuse at each other like short-bus Tennessee Williams characters. The direction given the actors clearly stopped at “act gross” and they proceed, as if to curry favor with a director that was likely unconcerned with their actions, to bury the needle in the red. Perhaps we’re overreacting, but there’s just something so dismaying low-rent and lazy about this level of stereotyping (and Miner had shown just the previous year that he could be better that that sort of back-row pandering).
Fortunately, this sequence, like the rest of Friday the 13th, Part 3, is saved by the superb use of 3D; nearly every shot – from incidental camera movements to laundry poles right in your lap – conveys both a depth of field and a sense of fun. Unfortunately, characterization doesn’t get much better once we get to the main group of teens; abandoning the notion of camp counselors, we have a party hosted by Chris (Dana Kimmell) at her family’s cabin. Other guests along for the weekend include the hunky Rick (Paul Kratka); a spare, disposable couple, Debbie and Andy (Tracie Savage and Jeffrey Rogers); sad, overweight prankster, Shelly (Larry Zerner); the lets-have-one-more-girl-in-the-cast Vera (Catherine Parks); and a pair of aging, dope-addled hippies (Rachel Howard and David Katims), who appear straight out of a Groove Tube sketch. For variety sake we also get a trio of trouble-making bikers (Crystal Lake is getting worse than Gary, Indiana) as grist for the killing wheel.
The evidence on screen points to a group of young, hungry actors who were given brief character notes and then left largely to their own devices. In some cases, this results in utter blandness; Chris, Vera, and Debbie are utterly interchangeable, and the only defining trait given to poor Andy is the ability to walk on his hands (which does, however, result in the film’s best kill). Too often this results in a replay of the hayseed couple from the opening, with stereotyping as broad as an L.A. freeway and just as unpleasant to encounter. Chubby loser Shelly (not the fault of Zerner) wears out his welcome almost instantly, constantly faking his own murder with homemade SFX makeup from an enormous kit (which he refers to as “my life”) and telegraphing his own demise so forcefully that there’s no surprise when it finally happens. There’s just no way that any of the other characters would be hanging out with this guy, much less the High Times centerfold couple, who seem to be along for the ride because Paramount counted up their Cheech and Chong’s Nice Dreams receipts and decided that America’s love affair with aging hippie dopers was still going strong.
On home video – without the novelty of Friday the 13th, Part 3 became notable only for containing the moment when Jason first dons his trademark hockey mask – iconic, for sure, but a slender thread on which to hang an entire movie.
Paramount has gone a long way towards restoring the film’s reputation with next week’s Blu-Ray release, however. As with Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray edition of My Bloody Valentine 3D, the disc contains both the 3D and flat versions of the film (2 sets of 3D glasses are included, and don’t make the same mistake we did and think you can just use the glasses that came with My Bloody Valentine 3-D – the red and blue lenses are reversed.) The flat transfer is superior to previous home video editions, but not as demonstrably so as the Friday the 13th, Part 2 Blu-Ray release.
The print appears to have weaker colors and somewhat more dirt and print damage than the other titles in the series, though this could easily be a side effect of the 3D photography that more technical savvy people might be able to confirm. It’s not a quite a bad transfer, but if the 3D version were not included it would be difficult to recommend an upgrade from the standard DVD edition.
The 3D version actually has a reasonably stable image that is easily comparable to My Bloody Valentine 3-D; unfortunately, the polarized-lens gasses that made the theatrical experience so special have been subbed out for the inferior anaglyph type for home viewing. Fortunately, the effects translate decently to home viewing, and we found the image less headache-inducing than most 3D films on disc.
Don’t throw out Paramount’s old box set, as the cast commentary track hasn’t been ported over to this release; as with Friday the 13th, Part 2, a Steve Miner commentary track is sorely missed, but there’s still plenty to chew on:

  • Fresh Cuts: 3D Terror (HD) features the affable Larry Zerner and gives an entertaining overview of the difficult shoot.
  • Legacy of the Mask (HD) is devoted to the iconic hockey mask and its almost immediate resonance with the public.
  • Slasher Films: Going for the Jugular is a bit of a ramshackle look at the genre that is too slight to make much of a ripple.
  • Lost Tales from Camp Blood – Part 3 (HD) is yet another chapter in the apparently endless series of loosely connected, fan-made tribute shorts that simply have no business being here while older extras are being left off.

The original theatrical trailer is also included (HD). Paramount has righted numerous past wrongs with this release, establishing a standard to which other major studios should be looking to when it comes to genre releases on Blu-Ray.

Friday the 13th Part 2 – Blu-ray Review

The Body Count Continues with Paramount’s Blu-ray release of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, the slasher sequel that launched Jason Voorhees as a horror icon.

When last we left young Jason Voorhees he was just a figment of Alice Hardy’s imagination: the manifestation of the 24 hours of terror spent fighting off Jason’s mother as she butchered her Alice’s co-workers to make sure that no one would ever re-open Camp Crystal Lake, where Jason had drowned as a small child while the teenagers that were supposed to be watching him were having sex. Alice finally defeated Mrs. Voorhees, cutting off her head with her own machete before drifting off into the lake on a small row boat. And while the hideously disfigured boy that leaps out of the water and pulls her under is just part of a bad dream – the sheriff in her hospital room tells her that they didn’t find any boy – Alice is convinced that he’s very real, and her final line closes the film, breathed out in a mixture of wonder and fear, “Then he’s still out there…”
After the money began to roll into Paramount Studios – over $100 million 1980 dollars on a budget of under $500,000 – the studio was very sure that he was still out there, and almost immediately commissioned a script for a sequel to Friday the 13th using Jason as the new murderer, even though his cameo at the end of the film was never meant to be any more than a last minute jolt. After Sean S Cunningham vacated the director’s chair, his associate producer on the first installment, Steve Miner, was brought in to replace him. This was Miner’s first directing gig, though his roots in the genre go back to Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (produced by Cunningham), on which he served as a production assistant. Friday the 13th, Part II had a somewhat more luxurious budget (more than double that of the original – a trend that wouldn’t last long), which allowed for a more polished look, and a generally superior group of decent young NYC actors.
Friday the 13th, Part II begins with a pre-credit sequence that brings us up to date with Alice (played once again by Adrienne King) as she attempts to readjust to life after surviving the massacre of the first film. We probably don’t need to tell you what happens once she finds Pamela Voorhees severed head in her refrigerator, but suffices to say that it represents Ms. King’s final appearance in the franchise. Cut to five years later (and we always wondered why the script was so unnecessarily specific about the time, as it put the series four years ahead of the actual date), at which time Paul Holt (John Furey) is about to open a counselor training facility right next to the Camp Crystal Lake site, in spite of the warnings of some colorful townsfolk (Walt Gorney, reprising his acclaimed role of ‘Crazy Ralph’). Paul passes on the legend of Mrs. Voorhees and her deformed son to his counselors as a fireside ghost story, basically telling them that it’s all bunk, but also admonishing them to stay away from “Camp Blood” just in case. Of course, they don’t – not that it really matters much anyway, as Jason has never really made it clear where his jurisdiction officially ends. Jason spares almost no one, from in-coitus lovers, to old men, and even the handicapped in one of the series’ crueler kills.
We’ve always felt that Friday the 13th, Part II is actually the best film of the series, and catching up with it on Paramount’s new Blu-Ray only solidifies that notion. Filmed outside Kent, in western Connecticut, the film retains the deep-woods atmosphere that Cunningham found in his New Jersey location for the original (Part II would be the last Friday the 13th film shot in the Northeast, the convenience of California or the cheapness of Canada winning out in future installments) and makes for a seamless transition. The steadicam work is cleaner, too, sacrificing the grittier handheld look of the original for a slicker feel that seems more organic than it did in later installments.
There are also quite a few decent performances among the new cast, especially Amy Steel as the all-important “final girl.” Steel has a very appealing tomboyish quality that favorable recalls Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode. In fact, the film represents the last time that characterization was really given any thought at all. Subsequent entries would stick to firmly established horror-movie stereotyping: the gum-smacking slut, the virginal girl dressed like she just walked out of an Emily Bronte book, the joker, the game-playing nerd, the fat kid (who was often combined with others to create “Fat Practical Joker” as in Part III’s Shelly ) the jock , the preppie, etc. The characters in Friday the 13th, Part II are hardly icons of screenwriting grace, but for the most part they seem like fairly normal teens who we could almost imagine hanging out with.
We should also single out the efforts of Tom McBride as the wheelchair-confined Mark, whose naturalistic performance is quite good, giving Mark a happy, positive life-outlook without the irritating After School Special, can-do pathos inherent in most portrayals of the handicapped (sadly, McBride is also the first counselor from a Friday the 13th film to pass away for real – he died of AIDS related causes in 1995.) And we couldn’t talk about this film without mentioning Kristen Baker’s Terry, the object of many a pre-teen crush in the ’80s. It’s partly the bowl cut and sporty workout clothes, but it’s her nude moonlight swim that really set fan’s hearts a flutter. Baker is one of the great MIA cases of the series; bit parts followed her Friday the 13th, Part II job, then she was seen working at an art gallery in California in the ’90s, but like Daniel Simpson Day, her whereabouts are currently unknown.
Another plus in Friday the 13th, Part II’s column is its depiction of Jason. He wouldn’t get his trademark goalie mask until the next picture, and the reveal of Jason here gives us a truly frightening and semi-realistic visage. When we picture killers living in shacks deep in the woods (and thanks to this film, we frequently do), it’s usually in a variant of this very ensemble: mud covered work boots, a filthy overalls and lumberjack shirt combo, topped off a burlap sack with a single eye hole over the head (obviously someone on this film remembered Charles B Pierce’s The Town that Dreaded Sundown). Oddly, the burlap sack gives Jason some personality that the hockey mask took away later in the series, though without the famous mask, Part IV may well have been the final chapter. There’s the most basic stab at creating a personality for the character in Part II – a window of opportunity that was rapidly closing.


Paramount’s new Blu-Ray of Friday the 13th, Part II contains a lovely 1080p transfer that freshens up the 18-year-old film considerably. We didn’t see the DVD release of the deluxe edition last year, but the image on the Blu-Ray is light years ahead of their previous bare-bones issue. It’s still a low-budget horror picture, and folks should set their expectations accordingly, but we noticed improvement in color stability and detail over the Blu-Ray release of the original film.
All the extras contained in the DVD version of the deluxe edition have been ported over; with a single exception, all are in HD.

  • Inside ‘Crystal Lake Memories’ (HD) is a chat with the amiable author Peter M Bracke about writing his tome on the series. It’s a lovingly put-together coffee table book that really is a must-have for fans, as Bracke was given unprecedented access to Paramount’s Friday the 13th archives.
  • Friday’s Legacy: Horror Convention (HD) takes us to a cast-and-crew reunion at an unnamed horror convention (possibly the Texas Frightmare weekend?) that artfully avoids the myriad uncomfortable moments that these events produce and presents a golden-hued view (we guess that Tom Savini, a notoriously ill-tempered con guest, is on his best behavior in front of the cameras).
  • Lost Tales from Camp Blood Part II (HD) continues the bizarre short film series began as a supplement on the original Friday disc. It’s a mercifully brief but professionally-made (by the same names listed in the credits of the other supplemental features) bit of fan fiction that is connected to the Friday the 13th films tangentially at best.
  • Jason Forever mixes archive interviews with more current sessions with the actors and stuntmen who played the character through the Paramount-produced portion of the series.

Also included is the original theatrical trailer (HD) that literally continues the body count motif from the origina Friday the 13th’s preview. It’s a shame that director Steve Miner couldn’t have recorded a commentary track (for this, but especially for Part III) as he’s easily the most successful filmmaker to helm a Friday film (his credits include House, the Mel Gibson vehicle Forever Young, Halloween H20, and Lake Placid).

My Bloody Valentine: 3D Blu-ray Review

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MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D, surely one of this still-young century’s most unlikely projects, snuck out onto Blu-Ray a few weeks back, containing an outstanding presentation of the 2D version and a reasonably passable version of the 3D experience. The original Canuck slasher came out in 1981, only to get swallowed up in the tidal wave of maniac-with-a-knife titles that littered the cultural highway in the early ’80s. Its lasting notoriety, however, came from the infamous cuts demanded of the film by an ultra strict MPAA, leaving the ’81 MY BLOODY VALENTINE as an anemic byproduct of the horror witchhunt era.* The edits had attained a legendary stature over the years, mostly through images of the offending frames that were published in Fangoria but also because its distributing studio, Paramount, was responsible for (until very recently) keeping the similarly cut footage from their FRIDAY THE 13TH films under lock and key.
Fortunately, a sale to Lionsgate, along with a far more relaxed attitude towards onscreen violence, allowed an uncut release of the original My Bloody Valentine late in January of this year. Not surprisingly, we found that the added bits of gore didn’t really change the film in any remarkable way (it really was more a matter of principal) though the “shower head” sequence was certainly spiced up considerably. The ever-so-slightly amateurish production wins a lot of points on the plucky ‘hey gang – let’s make a movie!’ drive of the actors and director George Mihalka (that last name always reminded me of a pitched battle between nouns and consonants struggling for dominance), a handful of genuinely suspenseful scenes, and the extremely frightening visage of a homicidal coal miner coming at you in full pickaxe rage. It was a little over a year ago when word of a new version filtered down through the internet, and while there was the expected moaning about yet another remake, we felt that this was exactly the sort of film that should be remade: a far from perfect picture with a decent core idea and a few nicely iconic moments. But when we heard that the remake was going to be in Digital 3-D, thinks looked very interesting indeed.
My Bloody Valentine 3D breathlessly runs through the plot of the original film before the end of the first reel. A flurry of newspaper headlines tell us that coal miner Harry Warden was the only survivor of a cave-in believed to be the result of carelessness by the owner’s son Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles, currently starring in the WB’s Supernatural). While Harry is thought to be wasting away in a coma, Detective Burke (the great Tom Atkins, getting more than just a cameo for a change) discovers that the other men killed were actually murdered by Harry with a pickaxe to conserve the air. A year later, Harry wakes from his coma and slaughters dozens of people in the hospital before heading over to the now closed mine where the town’s teens have gathered for a Valentine’s Day party, including Tom’s now estranged girlfriend, Sarah (Jamie King, better and more mature than we ever seen her.) Needless to say, the party ends abruptly, with Burke shooting and seriously wounding Warden just before he kills Hanniger and runs off bleeding into the mine shaft. Cut to 10 years later, and the return of Tom Hanniger after having mysteriously left the town after the Valentine’s Day slaughter (seriously, the death toll is like 30 people) to find his former girl now married to town sheriff Axel Palmer (Kerr Smith, another TV veteran who resembles Leo DiCaprio’s evil, alternate universe twin.) Still partially blamed for the cave-in, Tom’s popularity takes a few more hits once it’s announced that he’s selling the mill and many townsfolk will shortly lose their jobs; more disturbingly, a new wave of murders has coincided with his arrival – perpetrated by a killer wearing a very familiar outfit.
We were in our prime, pre-teen movie going years when a second wave of 3D films arrived in the early ’80s, beginning with the infectious fun of Italian-produced cheapies Comin’ at Ya and the Raiders knock off Treasure of the Four Crowns, but the wave crested with the headache inducing disappointment of the Universal produced cheapie, Jaws 3D (not to forget the minor sensation caused by our local NYC channel’s showing of Creature from the Black Lagoon, glasses for which could be procured at 7-11 stores.) The process died out quickly for much the same reason that it had three decades earlier; beyond a few undeniably fun show-off moments, wearing those cheap cardboard glasses and staring at a roughly projected anaglyph image for 90min or longer left most people with the feeling similar to that of being driven around in your Aunt’s Buick while she smoked Camels in the summer heat with the windows locked in the up position – it just wasn’t worth the discomfort for most people.
Fortunately, the last few years have seen massive developments in the technology; My Bloody Valentine 3D was the first ‘R’ rated film to use the RealD process (the same that James Cameron is using for his long-awaited Avatar) which augments the stereoscopic process with a much higher frame rate, digital cameras, the revolutionary use of a single projector, and modern, polarized glasses. Much of the distortion associated with older 3D processes is now gone, and the experience is mostly pain-free for people with normal eyesight (those requiring corrective lenses, however, are sadly out of luck.) My Bloody Valentine 3D is, without a doubt, the best 3D experience that we’ve had outside of IMAX, and certainly the most fun. Director (and former editor) Patrick Lussier sets a grand tone right from the opening credits – a deceptively simple collage of newspaper headlines that is rendered hypnotic in 3D. While the film is filled with the expected shock effects – even we underestimated the number of pickaxes that leapt off the screen – My Bloody Valentine 3D has also been designed with a keen eye towards framing objects in the foreground to give the entire show a sense of total immersion – it is the first 3D film that didn’t feel like a vehicle for a cheap gimmick.
The younger cast is also much better than expected. Jamie King seems to be moving from a jokey, party-girl presence into being an actress of some depth. She has an extended scene in a deserted market where her character is menaced along with a younger girl that we know is having an affair with her husband; we don’t find out until later that she knew it as well, and damn if there isn’t a subtle glimpse of that in her performance – it’s good stuff. WB heartthrob Ackles nicely plays the “is he/isn’t he’” crazy angle nicely, and Smith proves he can be good so long as he eschews casting that plays off his appearance (he looks like DiCaprio the same way that Shark Attack 3’s John Barrowman looks like Tom Cruise.)
However, My Bloody Valentine 3D ’s aces in the mine shaft are horror vet Tom Atkins (Escape from New York is currently on in the background by pure coincidence) and character actor extraordinaire Kevin Tighe (Emergency roots go deep, but check out his work for John Sayles in Eight Men Out and City of Hope). They play a pair of town elders who share a secret that refuses to stay buried, and it’s a very pleasant surprise to see so much of the film given over to actors with the muscle to carry it.


Lionsgate’s My Bloody Valentine Blu-Ray comes equipped with separate 1080p versions of the film – flat 2D and 3D – plus a generous set of 4 glasses. Unfortunately, the technology that made the theatrical experience so special doesn’t yet translate to home video, so it’s back to the old fashioned red/blue cardboard glasses and the accompanying loss of image fidelity. With the clarity of the Blu-Ray, a dark room, and with a large enough display, there are some very effective sequences.
Oddly, the opening credits were one of the better-translating bits, but generally it’s the darker scenes that work best, as too much color makes the image distortion worse. The 2D version is a perfectly lovely HD transfer, with an excellent, detailed image that we would recommend viewing first if you haven’t yet seen the film. Keep a mental checklist of standout moments and then go back and watch a condensed 3D version.
The disc comes with the usual making-of EPK material, a selection of deleted and extended scenes (mostly the latter), an alternate ending that isn’t all that alternate, a brief gag reel, and the goofy-fun theatrical trailer. The best extra is the commentary track with Lussier and writer Todd Farmer (who can be glimpsed in the film as the trucker with a penchant for homemade sex tapes) – they strike a nice balance between the fun and informative. A second disc is included that contains a 2D digital copy of the film.

  • What must the original film’s director, George Mihalka have thought when he saw the unholy bloodbath that the remake managed to get away with?!? Not that we mind in the slightest, but there’s more gore in the first 10 minutes of My Bloody Valentine 3D than in the 10 tandem viewings of the original. This poor guy gets crucified by the MPAA for the sins of others, and now he witnesses this? Lionsgate didn’t even need to issue the remake in an “Unrated Version” because there wasn’t any more gore to put in!


All the Boys Love Mandy Lane opens on July 17 – UPDATE: Release cancelled

The Weinstein Brothers bought this slasher film after it earned positive buzz on the festival circuit two years ago, and then they just sat on it. Thankfully, a new distributor aquired the rights and plans to let the movie finally see the light of a projector bulb. Director: Jonathan Levine. Stars: Amber Heard, Anson Mount. Studio: Senator Distribution.
UPDATE: This film seems doomed never to play in U.S. theatres. Get the Big Picture has the story: new istributor Senator Films had a flop with THE INFORMERS and couldn’t raise money to release their remaining slate of films. This leaves ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE once again in limbo.

Pieces (1982) – Film & DVD Review

This oddball artifact from the ’80s is so bizarre it almost demands to be seen, whether it is any good or not: it’s a Spanish production that combines elements of American slasher films and the Italian giallo genre while offering more than enough sleazy graphic violence to qualify as one of the world’s all-time outrageous works of Euro-trash cinema. As a mystery-thriller, the scenario is ridiculous to the point of being amateurish, but the sick premise (a psycho-killer creating a replacement corpse in the image of his mother, assembled from the severed body parts of young female victims like the pieces of a puzzle) offers its own kind of demented fascination: you know you shouldn’t be watching this crap, but you just can’t look away. Fortunately, the gore is so far over-the-top (and in many cases so unconvincing) that PIECES achieves a sort of campy critical mass that makes it entertaining almost in spite of itself.
Set in Boston, the story begins with a young boy being chastised by his mother for assembling a puzzle picturing a naked woman; he responds by chainsawing mom into pieces, then gets away with murder by blaming an unknown assailant. Decades later, for reasons never quite explained,* a masked psycho-killer begins carving up young women on a college campus, using the pieces to recreate the image of his mother. The police arrest a suspect but the murders continue; assigning an undercover female officer also proves useless. But a young male student, initially a suspect, helps identify the killer just in time to prevent his next murder…
One unfortunately weak element of giallo cinema is the lackadaisical approach to the police procedural elements; PIECES takes this to new levels of idiocy previously unseen outside of an outright comedy; in fact, things get so bad you may find yourself suspecting that you really are watching a deliberate comedy. Here are just some of the “highlights”:

  • Although students are being slaughtered on campus with alarming regularity, the police want to keep things quiet, in order to avoid panic. The result is that no one knows there is a killer on the loose, so women keep walking alone after dark, making themselves easy targets.
  • After the chainsaw-wielding gardener (Paul Smith) is apprehended almost literally red-handed, Detective Bracken (Christopher George) laments that he has no leads. as if having a suspect in custody counts for nothing. This is before the killer strikes again, at a time when Bracken has no reason to think he has arrested the wrong man.
  • For no reason more than some vague kind of gut instinct, Detective Bracken exonerates another potential suspect, a male student named Kendall (Ian Sera), and invites him to help out with the investigation. (The script offers no good rational for this. Presumably, two years after DRESSED TO KILL, it was considered a good idea to have geeky young nerd heroes who solve the crime faster than the police.)
  • It is a good thing Kendall is available to help because the Boston police department is so short of manpower that only three officers have been assigned to the case, including a female desk jockey given her first undercover assignment named Mary Riggs (Lynda Day George). Considering the low priority assigned to this case, one wonders what other, even more heinous crimes are getting all the attention in Boston.
  • Although Riggs’ assignment is putting her life at risk (she is being used as bait to lure the killer), Detective Bracken immediately blows her cover by revealing her identity to Kendall – who by all rights should be a suspect.
  • Even if Bracken had not blown Riggs’ cover, it is doubtful she could have fooled anyone; she is ostensibly hired as a tennis coach, but the one match we see proves she is too amateurish on the court to teach anything to anybody.
  • While walking the campus at night, Riggs (who apparently received little training at the police academy) is surprised by a kung-fu assailant who passes out after disarming her. He turns out not to be the killer or even an accomplice but a martial arts instructor who had some “bad chop suey.”
  • After seeing the bloody corpse of one victim, Riggs – supposedly professional policewoman – reacts like any typical hysterical female character, shouting “Bastard!” at the top of her lungs three times. (The over-acting seems part and parcel of PIECES’ giallo heritage – those Europeans sure love melodrama.)
  • When the killer’s identify is finally revealed, Bracken takes Kendall along to help make the arrest. By this point the amateur’s involvement in the case is so great that you almost expect Bracken to give him a gun and deputize him on the spot.
  • Eventually, Bracken’s incompetence becomes so prounced that it almost works as a red herring: he seems to be deliberately sabotaging the investigation, possibly setting up Kendall to take the fall, so you start to suspect Bracken is the killer.

As if this were not enough, wait until you see the sublimely non-sensical ending, in which the assembled corpse’s hand grabs the young hero’s crotch as if emasculating him. There is also plenty of ridiculous dialogue, often delivered in hysterically bad dubbing. Christopher George (who provides his own voice in the English version) does his gruff macho thing well enough, and Purdum manages to be professional, but the supporting cast is hardly worthy of a high school stage play (check out the police officers’ reaction to findinda head in a closet – funny stuff). Even the usuallly reliable Paul Smith does little better than squinting in a way that screams, “You’re supposed to suspect me, but I’m too suspicious to really be the killer.”
Added all up, PIECES is one unintentionally hilarious movie, but it does deliver the horror; every time you think it’s going to drown in a sea of laughter, another murder takes place: heads roll, limbers are severed, and in at least one case we get a lovely lingering shot of a chainsaw carving its way through a woman’s torso. Most of the action is too silly to be taken seriously (even squeamish viewers – if they appreciate camp – can probably stomach some of the stomach-churning scenes, but every once in a while the violence hits its mark: the flash of chainsaw slicing of an arm in an elevator is shocking, and the briefly glimpsed aftermath of one victim, cut off at the waist and left in a bloody toilet stall, is effectively sickening. Gore-hounds, rejoice!
There are even a few moments whose effectiveness is not based entirely on gore (e.g., a slow-motion attack on a water-bed, while bloody, is also weirdly surreal). Also, the script follows its demented premise with a certain twisted logic, aided by editing that draws the parallel between assembling the nude puzzle and assembling the composite corpse. The film almost seems to be making some kind of statement about male sexist attitudes (e.g., depersonalizing women into nothing but an assemblage of body parts), but ultimately it is exploiting the concept rather than examining it.
Fortunately, PIECES is one of those films in which the myriad flaws become part of the entertainment value: the ludicrous plot and melodramatic acting take the edge off the misogynistic Euro-sleaze violence, and the film can be a reel hoot when viewed by an appreciate group of camp-film enthusiasts (knocking back a few rounds during the film can only increase the boisterous joy of the viewing experience). In short, PIECES is nowhere near being good, but it sure is fun.


Grindhouse has released PIECES as a two-disc deluxe edition DVD. As with their recent deluxe edition of THE BEYOND, this one comes in a clear plastic clam-shell case, so that the back of the wrap-around cover is visible through the clear plastic when the case is open, revealing a frame grab of one of the film’s most notoriously gory moments. There is a nice insert that folds out to reveal a copy of the American poster art (“You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre”); it also features the original Spanish poster art, a list of chapter stops illustrated with an image of the assembled corpse, and two pages of notes from Chas. Balun. Balun’s hyperbolic raving, which approximates the enthusiasm of a revivalist preacher, captures the tone of the film; however, although he acknowledges its flaws, he soft-pedals the essential fact that PIECES is fun because it is so bad.
The DVD menus cleverly use computer graphics of a slashing chainsaw for the transitions, along with such colorful imagery as a severed hand spurting blood, while short loops of the film’s bloody action play in the background.
DISC ONE offers a solid transfer of the uncut film, a trailer, some interesting audio options, optional English subtitles, and a couple Easter eggs.
There are three different soundtracks available.

  1. You can view the film in English with library music (supplied by “CAM”) that echoes motifs from the Italian rock group Goblin’s score for DAWN OF THE DEAD (yet another link between PIECES and the Italian giallo tradition, as Goblin was best known for scoring Dario Argento films like DEEP RED).
  2. You can watch the film with its original mono Spanish soundtrack, which features original music by Librado Pastor. This acoustic score has a certain haunting quality suggestive of the “horror of personality” genre; it’s not bad but it somewhat takes the edge off the sleazy Euro-trash feel, which is part of the film’s appeal. (The English subtitled translations of the Spanish dialogue offer several distinctions from the English dub. For example, the Spanish version tells us that the murderous little boy’s father “died in Europe” in World War II; the English dub says that dad is “away in Europe, with the air force.”)
  3. The most unusual audio option is a 5.1 surround sound mix recording live at the Vine Theatre in Hollywood on August 24, 2002, which allows you to experience the thrill of seeing the film with a crowd full of ecstatic horror hounds. As funny as this sounds, the idea soon wears thin, as the mumbling and rustling obscures the movie’s real soundtrack, which sounds tiny – like what you used to hear out of a cheap speaker at a drive-in. On the plus side, the enthusiastic audience responses go a long way toward redeeming some of the more ridiculous moments – especially the incongruous intrusion of the martial arts instructor, whose brief walk-on prompts rounds of applause from viewers impressed with the idiocy of the scene.

There is an option that allows you to watch the Spanish version of the opening prologue, with the original title (Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche) and credits, which are interspersed throughout the sequence instead of stockpiled into one group just before the action shifts to modern day. After the prologue, the DVD shifts seamlessly to showing the rest of the Spanish-language version of the film.
There are two Easter eggs on the disc:

  1. With “Play Movie” highlighted on the main menu, click the Up button and a chainsaw icon will appear. Clicking it takes you to a video, shot before a screening at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, of Eli Roth telling the audience not to talk back to the film because (he believes) they cannot possibly top the brilliance of the absurdity on screen. After Roth finishes citing some of running down some of his favorite illogical moments from PIECES and noting how it influenced his work, actor Clu Gulager (FEAST) shows up for a moment to express his admiration for the film’s unflinching gore.
  2. On the menu for the Vine Theatre Experience, clicking the dot of the letter “i” in “Vine” reveals a chainsaw icon that starts a trailer loaded with graphic gore from the film. This is totally different from the official trailer, from the 1983 theatrical release, available elsewhere on the disc. That trailer consists mostly of ominous narration warning about all the horrible things that cannot be shown, illustrated with only a few seconds of footage from the film.

DISC TWO contains the bonus features (video interviews, photos galleries, cast and crew bios), plus a dozen or so trailers for other Grindhouse Releasing DVDs (e.g. CAT IN THE BRAIN, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, CANNIBAL FEROX).
The two video interviews are with director Juan Piquer and with actor Paul Smith. Both are wide-ranging, covering  their entire careers, but with a fair amount of time spent on PIECES.

  • The Piquer interview (shot with the director sitting in a theatre with a skeleton a couple rows behind him) drags a bit as her recalls his early years, growing up, watching movies, and dreaming of becoming a filmmaker. Interest picks up when discussion turns to PIECES: Piquer recalls that he thought the premise was so crazy, it would be a challenge to make it even moderately believable.
  • The Paul Smith interview is the highlight of the bonus features. Smith is a lively and lovable talker, whose bright eyes and cheerful demeanor belie his threatening on-screen presence. He talks at length about his career, from  MIDNIGHT EXPRESS to POPEYE to DUNE (and more), filling the conversation with plenty of amusing behind-the-scenes anecdotes.

The four galleries consist of Production Stills (behind the scenes), Pieces Publicity (theatrical posters from around the world), Video Releases (home video artwork), and Juan Piquer’s slide show. The later is actually a video interview, with Piquer commenting on some of the artwork for the film. The production stills contain some images of the graphic mayhem, including disturbing shots of a dead pig trussed up athletic shorts (matching those worn by the female victim on screen) for a shot of the chainsaw slicing into flesh.
The Cast & Crew entries are more interesting than most seen on DVDs. Besides biographies and filmographies, several of the titles contain links to access trailers or, in some cases, further interview snippets from Piquer and Smith, talking about specific films. This is one case where you will want to go through each entry carefully, so as not to overlook any of the goodies.
PIECES hardly seems like the kind of film worthy of a “deluxe edition,” but the Grindhouse double-disc DVD is surprisingly entertaining, even for someone not particularly enamored of splatter films. It presents the movie in all its gory glory, along with some good bonus features, particularly the Paul Smith interview, which is worth watching whether or not you are a fan of the actor’s work.
PIECES (a.k.a. Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche[“The Night Has a Thousand Screams”], 1982). Directed by Juan Piquer Simon. Written by Dick Randall and “John Shadow” (Joe D’Amato). Cast: Christopher George, Lynda Day George, Frank Bana, Edmund Purdom, Ian Sera, Paul Smith, Jack Taylor, Gerard Tichy, May Heatherly, Hilda Fuchs, Isabel Luque.

  • The closest we get to an explanation is a scene of the first victim riding her skateboard into a collision with a mirror – which apparently reminds the killer of the mirror his mother smashed while scolding him.

Dark Reel – DTV Horror Film Review

Dark ReelOnce the decision to review modern horror films is made, the critic must make an uneasy peace with certain issues of quality. We understand perfectly well that lower budget productions can’t be held to the same standard as their slick studio cousins (though judging from recent efforts like Prom Night and Mirrors, that might not be such a bad bargain) so a slightly different grading system is used. The use of talent that is more typically found selling autographs on the horror-con circuit is easily forgiven, along with the lack of sufficient camera coverage during a given scene, or even a script that needed one or two crucial extra rewrites, as long as it remembers the most important thing – to be scary. Conversely, the lack of actual scares can abruptly rip down the curtain of clemency and bear the critical fangs; patience runs out and we go for the groin.
Dark Reel is the newest release from North American Motion Pictures, a company that really wants me to know their name, as the review copy sent out has their company name burned into the screen for roughly 40% of the film’s egregiously overlong running time. The story begins with a black & white prolog that would appear to take place in the late ’40s or early ’50s (or the 1860s, if you go by the bartender’s mustache) where a glamorous young actress is picked up in a bar by a dashing studio executive with the promise of a screen test. Things quickly take a turn into Peeping Tom territory when the actress, Scarlett May, is butchered by the young man with the camera still rolling. We move to present day Los Angeles for the balance of the film and pick up out protagonist, Adam Waltz (Edward Furlong), who just won a bit part in a poverty row pirate picture produced by the egomaniacal Connor Pritchett (Lance Henriksen). Soon, an actress on the film is brutally killed (in a strikingly familiar way…) by a figure in a black trench coat and a grotesque mask, bringing the attention of two detectives (Tony Todd and Rena Riffel) to the set. When Adam thinks he sees the ghost of Scarlett May walk off the screen while watching the dailies, he begins to think that the murders are somehow related to the slaying of Scarlett all those years ago.
First, the good news – Dark Reel is one of the few horror titles we seen in the past few years that feature bloody murder set pieces without the (apparent) aid of CGI, something even Dario Argento’s latest can’t claim. Patient gorehounds will be rewarded with several scenes that are surprisingly graphic for a film carrying an R rating – that is, if the obscene 109min (!) running time doesn’t put their lights out first. There is quite a bit of humor as well, though it’s impossible to tell how much was in the script and how much was added during filming out of desperation to retain the audience’s attention. We see enough of Pritchett’s previous film, Gnome Killer, to wonder how farfetched the concept actually is, though the pirate film that the characters are making is more befitting a porn spoof than a genre programmer. Though even we don’t know quite what to make of the police representatives; Tony Todd’s wardrobe suggests that his character spends nights stealing from Goodwill kiosks, while his partner looks made up to be a ’90s variant of a Vargas girl and sports distracting tattoos that bring to mind a rock groupie rather than a detective. Other bits, like the Julian Sands-like leading man’s obsession with eating onions, die on the vine long before it becomes a heinously unfunny running gag.
We’re not sure what to make of Furlong, with his puffy, tired eyes and general disheveled air. He appears lost much of the time, with a hazy expression that makes him look like he’s constantly trying to adjust to unfamiliar surroundings. It’s an odd, flinchy performance that can be physically uncomfortable to watch. As always, Lance Henriksen has a blast with the screen time given him; he’s been at this game for more than 3 decades now and has learned well how to amuse himself while laboring on unworthy projects. We were pleasantly surprised to see the great character actor Tracey Walter turn up in a small role as a tabloid photographer.
The film is being released on Blu-Ray and DVD on March 10th, and is supposed to feature 2 commentary tracks, along with deleted scenes and a production featurette, though none were present on our review copy. It’s unknown what sort of mischief the studio thinks reviewers will get up to with a full retail copy of the finished product, but we certainly appreciate letting us see the 8min of trailers for upcoming North American Pictures releases!
DARK REEL (2008). Directed by Josh Eisenstadt. Written by Aaron Pope, story by Josh Eisenstadt. Cast: Lance Henriksen, Daniel Wisler, Edard Furlong, Tifany Shepis, Rena Riffel, Tate Hanyok, Alexandra Holden, Mercedes McNab. Brooke Lyons, Tracy Walter.

Last House on the Left (1972) – Film & DVD Review

last_house_on_the_leftWes Craven’s landmark 1972 shocker gets a second DVD go-around with a much more comprehensive set of extras, but the recent UK DVD release easily trumps all previous entries. Last House on the Left is as important a step in the growth of the modern horror film as either Night of the Living Dead or Halloween, even though House rarely gets recommended on that level. The zombie flesh eaters of Night are practically genteel in comparison to what Romero wound unleash in later decades (not to mention the merciless levels of violence that would become part and parcel of the European variant), and the elegant steadicam photography of Carpenter’s Halloween would easily justify its place alongside Kubrick’s The Shinning in any discussion of the evolution of modern cinematography. But after almost 40 years, Last House still possesses the raw power to shock and offend – not just through the plethora of cheap, improvised makeup EFX, but by confronting its audience with the kind of absolute horror that most films dealing in murder as entertainment conveniently overlook.
Craven’s film uses the barest outline of Bergman’s The Virgin Spring in telling the story of teenagers Mari (Sandra Cassel) and Phyllis (Lucy Grantham), who stop off in a sketchy neighborhood in NYC’s lower east side to buy pot before going to a concert. Their would-be dealer, Junior (Marc Sheffler) leads them upstairs to conclude the deal, where they are set upon by escaped convicts Sadie (Jeramie Rain), Weasel (soon-to-be legendary adult film director Fred J Lincoln), and worst of all, the malevolently evil Krug (actor and musician David Hess, guaranteeing himself exploitation cinema work in perpetuity). The next morning, the gang throws the girls into the trunk of their car and race up to the country to have some more “fun” with their captives, but coincidently choose an area nearly in the backyard of the Collingwood’s home – Mari’s parents.
It’s easy to dismiss Last House as the worst sort of pandering grindhouse fare; several of the filmmakers were involved in the adult film world both before and after its production (an early draft of the script was rife with outrageous pornographic content), and the majority of the acting on display is desperately amateurish. The local police (including a young Martin Kove) are straight out of a Bethel Buckalew picture, and the scene where they pull over an elderly black woman driving a depression-era truck filled with chickens (actually Cunningham’s parent’s housekeeper, Ada Washington) is perhaps the most epically out-of-place moment in the history of American horror cinema. The intent of the ham-fisted comedy relief is clear, though the tonal shifts are enough to give a first time viewer whiplash.
Fortunately, nothing can blunt the power of the infamous sequence when Mari and Phyllis are ravaged in the woods. Until that point, the cheap production values and semi-pro performances have served to distance most viewers. But something happens from the moment Krug and Company (actually one of the myriad alternate titles used for the film early on) drag the girls to what will likely be the last place on earth that they will ever see.
It begins with the performances of Cassel and Grantham (Cassel spent the early ’70s appearing in several NYC-lensed adult films with titles like Love-In ’72 and Teenage Hitch-hikers, while Grantham’s film CV consists of only Last House), both of whom appear realistically and distressingly frightened for their lives. From the first, relatively benign atrocity of forcing Phyllis to urinate on herself, to the almost unwatchable (and heavily edited) sequence in which the girls are made to be “intimate” with each other, nothing is presented to titillate – it’s a rape of the girls’ body and spirit.
The realistic vibe put out by the actress is picked up in turn by Hess, Lincoln, and Rain, each of whom demonstrates with terrifying verisimilitude the utter absence of humanity or compassion. The sequence concludes with a moment as remarkable as we’ve ever seen in a genre film, in which we actually see the killers reach their collective limit, and their sadomasochist glee is turned off as if by flipping a switch. Is it remorse that we see on their faces, and are we willing to grant them the very thing that we’ve just watched them brutally take away from their victims?
The sequence – as with the rest of the film – is shot in a very grainy, verite style that is both a product of the budget and the stated aesthetic of the filmmakers to achieve the documentary look of TV news reports coming each night from Vietnam. Critics who complained about the level of violence were missing the point; the violence in Last House was itself the central theme, not merely an exploitable byproduct. Craven saw a culture being slowly desensitized by the horrors around it – a world where the Manson ‘family’ perverted the hippie idealism of the ’60s and used it as trappings for their murderous antisocial rage, and where Craven’s own generation were being systematically slaughtered halfway around the world in a war nobody wanted. The audience is forced to coldly observe the atrocities of the film’s crew of killers until the mayhem passes beyond the comfort zone of even the most hardened genre aficionados and asks “Is this what you came to see?”
The show falters somewhat during the second half, once the gang arrives at the Collingwood home after their car breaks down. Here the film becomes more of a traditional revenge picture and ceases to challenge its audience (though one quick dream sequence is undeniably effective).
Few horror pictures have had as checkered a history on home video as Last House; two different edits appeared on VHS, courtesy of the beloved Vestron Video, the second of which was billed as ‘complete and uncut’, running roughly 83min. MGM/UA’s first go around with the title on DVD was back in 2002, and offered the most complete version yet, along with commentary by Craven and Cunningham, featurettes on the production and Hess’ music, and several minutes of outtakes, some of which feature extra moments of intestine-pulling that was best left on the cutting room floor.
Last year, the UK was finally able to see the film without cuts in a nation-wide release (it had previously held a place of honor at the top of the BBFC’s “video nasties” list) via a massive 3 disc set from Metrodome, featuring an additional commentary track with baddies Hess, Lincoln, and Sheffler, a brand new 40-min production documentary produced by Blue Underground (“Celluloid Crime of the Century”), which provides an extensive look into the making of the film; the interesting “Krug Conquers England,” which covers the first uncut theatrical showings in the UK; an excerpt from the short film “Tales that’ll Tear Your Heart Out ,”which reunited Craven and Hess; all of this in addition to the same set of outtakes and general ballyhoo from the previous release.
However, the main selling points that might drive interested parties to double-dip are housed on the second disc, which includes a marginally different cut of the film under the title “Krug & Company” (which contains some footage found in no other version and has at least one astounding plot difference regarding the fate of Mari), and some the infamous soft core sexual footage shot during the forced copulation of Mari and Phyllis. Like much of the film’s more extreme footage, it had fallen victim over the years to the vagaries of local “decency laws”, with theater managers excising out any would-be offending material (and saving it for their own personal collection, of course) and few prints making it back to the distributor’s office intact.
Not even Craven and Cunningham appear sure of what exactly would constitute a final cut; while much of the ‘intestine’ footage was clearly never intended to be used, who knows how much of the forced lesbianism ever actually made it into any complete version? (We’ve heard from various parties that this footage has always been around, but until recently no one had bothered getting the actresses to sign off on the necessary release forms).
MGM/UA’s newest offering is geared to take advantage of Rouge Pictures’ upcoming remake, and cherry picks several features off the Metrodome set, while leaving off the Krug & Company alternate cut and the “Krug Conquers England” featurette to fit onto a single disc (the 3rd disc on the Metrodome set was devoted to a documentary, Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film). Unfortunately, the new MGM release continues the tradition of no-thought, Photoshop paste ups for the cover art; Last House has some of the most memorable promotional artwork ever made for a horror film (much of which is retained on the Metrodome set), and MGM’s disc makes it look like a DTV Wrong Turn sequel.
We would like to acknowledge our dog-eared copy of David A. Szulkin’s invaluable book, Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left, the best available resource for anyone interested in the film. Portions of this review were previously published on my blog, The Blood-Spattered Scribe.

Box Office: Jason lives again

The new version of FRIDAY THE 13TH easily sliced and diced its way to the top of the box office. Making its debut in 3,105 North American theatres, the film earned an estimated $42.3-million. To put that number in perspective, in one weekend, FRIDAY THE 13TH has already matched the money earned by THE UNBORN in five weeks of release, and even if it drops precipitously in its second weekend, it will still easily surpass the $46-million earned by MY BLOODY VALENTINE.
As for holdovers…
CORALINE’s sophomore session netted $15.3-million, raising the two-week total to $35.6-million. The film dropped from third place to fifth.
PUSH skidded into tenth place, down from its debut at $6 a week ago, earning $6.9-million. Total is now $19.3-million.
THE UNINVITED dropped out of the Top Ten, going from #9 to #12. A $4.7-million weekend take lifted the three-week total to $24.1-million.
Read the complete results for the weekend Top Ten here.

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993) – Horror Film Review

This film is a complete anomaly: the first film in the series not to be titled FRIDY THE 13TH, it radically reinvents the mythology of Jason Voorhees. After the diminishing box office returns since FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER, and especially after the disappointing FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, it was no doubt necessary to go in a new direction; unfortunately, in this case “new” meant ripping off another popular film, namely THE HIDDEN. In JASON GOES TO HELL, we are no longer dealing with a mere masked maniac or even a resurrected zombie; instead, we learn that Jason is actually merely a vessel carrying a slug-like creature from Hell that can pass from body to body. This opens up possibilities to do something different with the franchise, but the script makes so little effort at synthesizing the new mythology with the previous films that it is might almost as well have been a stand-alone effort. Fans may object that it’s not their idea of a FRIDAY film, but at the end of the day, you have to admit that this is actually a pretty decent movie.
Ignoring the ending of JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, the new film begins with a typical slasher scene: a beautiful woman (Julie Michaels) heads out to Crystal Lake, strips down for a shower, and soon finds herself pursued by the hockey-masked murderer. In a neat twist on expectations, the woman turns out to be an FBI agent leading Jason into a trap, where he is promptly blown to smithereens. This serves a double purpose:

  1. It is a literal visualzation of what the filmmakers are doing with the franchise, blowing it up so that they can put the pieces back together in a new way.
  2. It depicts something obvious that the previous films overlooked. Jason is only dangerous because you encounter him unexpectedly in the woods. If you know he’s there – as indeed you should after the numerous massacres he has perpetrated, involving survivors who lived to tell the tale – it is not really that hard to prepare yourself and get the upper hand.

The rest of the film, then, becomes an effort to re-imagine a new version of the threat, one that cannot simply be blown up. Unfortunately, this involves a rather obvious version of the traditional “Johnny Explainer” character: Creighton Duke (Steve Williams), who somehow knows all there is to know about the origins of Jason and conveniently ends up in a jail cell where he can tell it all to our hero, Steven Freeman (John D. LeMay, previously seen in the FRIDAY THE 13TH television series).
As arbitrary and contrived as the new explanation is (it even involves a magic dagger necessary to kill the evil slug), it provides an opportunity to tell a story about a protagonist who knows about the menace and is trying to stop it. In other words, rather like JASON LIVES, this is a FRIDAY film with an honest-to-god old-fashioned dramatic structure involving a hero pursuing a goal, so it is no longer necessary to pad out the running time with lots of irrelevant peripheral characters who simply take off their clothes and die. JASON GOES TO HELL actually exceeds JASON LIVES in this regard, telling an interesting story with likable characters that actually compensates for the fact that the exploitation elements are toned way down.
As hard as it tries, JASON GOES TO HELL still suffers from some typical horror movie cliches, such as the fact that the monster (in whatever body it possess) is able to kill off the supporting characters without breaking a sweat, but when it comes to the final showdown between Steven and the resurrected Jason, it suddenly seems as if an evenly matched pair are fighting it out – what Liz Kingsley at And You Call Yourself a Scientist terms the “Hero’s Death Battle Exemption.”
There is also a lot of supernatural hooey in the dialogue: besides the magical dagger, we also are told that the devil-slug was born in a Voorhees, can be reborn in a Voorhees, and can be killed only by a Voorhees – but why is left up to our imagination (as is the question of how there could be a surviving member of the Voorhees family in the small town near Crystal Lake without anyone knowing about it but outsider Creighton Duke).
Inevitably, there is also some disappointment that the figure of Jason Voorhees (here embodied once again by Kane Hodder, who had played the role since PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD) is given so little screen-time. Hodder’s version of Jason is probably the most memorable one, thanks to some reasonably expressive body language; it’s sad that probably the best film in which he portrayed the character features him the least. As compensation, Hodder gets a brief cameo as a security guard who unwittingly mouths off to the latest body hosting the evil paraside – and pays the price for it.
Although it may not be a “good” FRIDAY THE 13TH movie (by whatever strange standards that is reckoned) or even a very good Jason movie, JASON GOES TO HELL works reasonably well on its own terms as a supernatural thriller. It’s still not very original, but by this late date, ripping off THE HIDDEN was probably preferable to simply setting up another line of victims in a row for Jason to mow down.


This is the first film in the franchise not distributed by Paramount Pictures; instead the honors went to New Line Cinema, home of Freddy Kruger. Prior to this, there had been some talk of Paramount and New Line co-producing a film that would pair up the two characters, but New Line honcho Robert Shaye was reluctant, claiming that he doubted the idea could be developed into something more than a “dumb-hoot” movie. Shaye also wanted any cross-over film to be distributed through New Line, not Paramount – which became a sticking point that prevented negotiations from proceeding. With Jason now ensconced at New Line, these earlier objections became moot, and JASON GOES TO HELL famously ends witha teaser for a cross-over sequel: after Jason is destroyed, Freddy’s famous gloved hand reaches up from beneath the ground to drag Jason’s mask out of sight. In fact, FREDDY VS. JASON would not appear for ten years, thanks to difficulties developing a satisfactory script; in the meantime, JASON X (2002) put Jason into outer space. 
After the poor box office of JASON TAKE MANHATTAN, Paramount sold the rights to the Jason character to Sean Cunningham, who had produced and directed the first FRIDAY THE 13TH; however, the studio retained rights to the “Friday the 13th” title (which conseqeuntly did not appear on any of the subsequent sequels). The irony is that Cunningham’s FRIDAY film had featured Mrs. Voorhees as the killer, and Cunningham had no direct involvement with any of the sequels that had turned Jason into a horror icon. Consequently, it should be little surprise that JASON GOES TO HELL does not take a particularly reverential attitude toward Jason.

JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY(1993). Directed by Adam Marcus. Screenplay by Dean Lorey and Jay Huguely, story by Huguely and Marcus (inspired by characters created by Victor Miller, uncredited). Cast: Kane Hodder, John D. LeMay, Kari Keegan, Steven Williams, Steven Culp, Erin Gray, Rusty Schwimmer, Richard Grant, Leslie Jordan, Billy Green Bush, Kipp Marcus, Julie Michaels.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan – Horror Film Review

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes ManhattanThis is easily the most disappointing of the original FRIDAY THE 13TH movies – which is quite an achievement when you consider that the overall quality of the franchise was hardly high enough to raise expectations to a level that would allow for disappointment. Paramount Pictures and company pulled off this neat feat by promising more with the advertising campaign than they could deliver with the film itself. Despite the subtitle JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, this eighth entry in the series takes place mostly on a slow-moving boat, and when the story finally reaches the Big Apple most of what we see is generic back allies and dark streets that could be part of any city. Jason doesn’t take Manhattan; he barely glimpses it. Whatever potential the concept had, for horror or comedy, is wasted; this is one of those films whose trailer is the superior work of art – see it and spare yourself sitting through the whole film.
The movie launches with another horny couple, this time floating on a boat through Crystal Lake. Their anchor drags a powerline across Jason (who has been lying at the bottom since the ending of PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD), and before you can scream, “It’s Alive!” the masked maniac is making mincemeat of the mincing lovers.
For reason left unexplained by the screenplay, Jason does not get off the boat and head back home to the woods; instead he drifts on until he encounters a luxury cruise ship taking a bunch of high school kids on a graduation trip up the coast to New York. This raises a couple of other questions that also go unexplained:

  1. How is is that Crystal Lake, previously presented as some tiny, land-locked backwater in the middle of nowhere, feeds into a river that leads to the ocean?
  2. Why the hell does Jason want to kill any of these kids when he previously was in the habit of either (a) killing camp counselors whom he blamed for his mother’s death or (b) killing anyone who wandered into the woods, which he defended like any territorial beast?

Of course, FRIDAY fans have long shown a capacity for ignoring problems of continuity and logic; otherwise, they never would have flocked to PART 2, which contradicted the original by telling us that Jason was alive.
Onc aboard, Jason quickly gets down to business – quickly being a relative term. Sure, he takes out victims at regular intervals, but the pacing is slow and dreary, never building up any tension. The idea apparently was to mimic ALIEN, with a monster stalking victims within the claustrophobically confines of a ship, but the execution is lackluster and formulaic.
After about an hour of this, the surviving kids finally abandon ship and float into Manhattan, where they are pursued by Jason, and for a moment or two it seems that the film is going to deliver on its promise. Instead, we get only more disappointment. There are a few brief scenes of Jason filmed on the actual location, but the film never really explores the possibilities of this backwoods maniac turned loose on a thriving Metropolis.
Jason does kills some muggers who are trying to drug and rape our leading lady – a scene presumably intended to register an irony of some sort as we wonder which form of evil is worse. However, moral speculation is quickly cast aside as the film returns to the familiar formula with Jason tracking down and killing the rest of the kids from the boat (although why he wants them, when there are so many other victims around, is never clear).
The whole thing ends up in the sewars, appropriately enough, with one of the most ridiculous endings in the history of horror movies. Throughout the film, Rennie (Jensen Daggett) has had flashbacks to the traumatic moment when she nearly drowned in Crystal Lake and saw a young boy trying to pull her under. The boy is clearly supposed to be young Jason, but this creates some more unresolvable continuity problems: even if you’re one of those fans who believe that Jason really did drown as his mother says in the frist FRIDAY, Rennie is of such an age that her childhood flashbacks must take place after Jason had emerged from the lake to avenge his mother’s death in PART 2.
Anyway, the point of the flashbacks, such as it is, comes to fruition when the city of New York conveniently floods its sewers with toxic slude. Rennie and her boyfriend manage to climb a ladder to safety, but unstoppable zombie monster Jason is swept up and drowned – reverting to the small boy that Rennie saw in her flashbacks.
What this means is anyone’s guess. Has Jason been restored to a state of innocence, or is the film setting up a sequel in which the serial killer can be reborn in a new form? Most best fall on the latter option. (Perhaps not coincidentally, a “baby” version of Freddy Kruger was used to justify bringing that character back to life in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 5: THE DREAM CHILD, which came out the same year.)
Whatever the intentions, they never came to fruition. JASON TAKES MANHATTAN was the least successful of the original FRIDAY films, and Paramount Studios sold the Jason character to New Line Cinema (owners of Freddy). The subsequent JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY ignored the events of JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, relocating the story back to Crystal Lake. Considering what a disappointment this film is, the strategy made perfect sense.

One of the few scenes set in the Big Apple.
One of the few scenes set in the Big Apple.

FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN(1989). Written and directed by Rob Hedden, based on characters crated by Victor Miller. Cast: Jensen Daggett, Kane Hodder, Peter Mark Richman, Tiffany Paulsen, Barbara Bingham, Warren Munson, Fred Henderson, Scott Reeves.