Friday, December 13, 2013

Wicked Rewind: Jason Takes Manhattan


How enchanting that my favorite random day just happens to align with my favorite month this year. Friday the 13th gives me an excuse to be all extra weird in my horror fandom and once more, sit through a handful of my favorite Friday the 13th films as well as listen to my favorite retrospective on the series. It's a formidable franchise whose staying power rivals any of the bigger 'icons of fright,' even Freddy Krueger. In 2013, a documentary was released and the announcement of a new film.

My favorites are some of the most contested, debated, reviled, and rage-inducing for many invested in the franchise. Which I admit is more fun than annoying because everyone (for the most part) has really great points, pro and con. My tried and true debate technique is taking the films that I enjoy that many people seem to hate and giving them social relevancy. What's the bigger message hidden within the bad acting, incoherent story and bad one-liners? Because I can almost guarantee that is one of the reasons people still watch these films.

Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) is my "passion piece". If slashers are good for our society, they do so in relating to our lives when we were teenagers in less superficial ways. Even the "bad ones"...

My memory is pretty hit or miss. Many things I remember vividly and others stay in recollection limbo. That being, to conflate such an esoterically appreciated 80's rock/pop song with a visual montage of an equally very 80's New York City nightlife to the opening of your film will guarantee a very excited me until the opening credits have faded. Stan Meissner and Peter Fredette, the Metropolis duo's "The Darkest Side of the Night" was a marriage of epic proportions with Friday the 13th's 8th installment. Call me a giddy fangirl for finding such joy in the simplest things because that's what I am.

I can probably understand for many of you who have seen Jason follow his unsuspecting victims all the way to the Manhattan docks that a decent opening simply wasn't enough to salvage any quality that this film may have lacked, but I feel it had a well rounded story, even in its banality. Let's start with how our opening scene, post-credits is introduced. From the Hudson to Crystal Lake, the seconds of water consuming the screen is a set up for ominous fear of powerlessness. Drowning and the lack of control that it conjures becomes the film's central theme as lovebirds Suzi and Jim become Jason's first victims. Suzi's death (especially terrifying as it is dumb) by trapping herself in a stowaway space where Jason takes his sweet, sweet time piercing a sharp, aerial object to her chest is a sequence of scenes that are about the terror of small, dark, closed-in spaces. Suzi's flailing and screaming for mercy while hilarious is a bit scary. And you gotta imagine, what now?

The central focus becomes Rennie (Jensen Daggett, for anyone old or cool enough to remember a little short lived show on FOX in the 90's called Medicine Ball) a fellow writer/avid dog lover who never learned how to swim due to a traumatizing experience in the water that somehow psychologically connects her to Mr. Vorhees. That or she's got some serious PTSD issues. Both? Once deciding to join some of her fellow classmates and (love?) interest Sean on a high school graduation celebratory boat ride to New York City, it's her coming out declaration to face her fears head on, and her utterly annoying Uncle Charles, who I admit to cheering for Jason when he finally meets his end, who insists on coddling the young woman.

Throughout the film, characters talk about their futures, unrequited love, and the active rush they're getting from their budding independence as high school graduates. However, they were all crapping their proverbial pants in fear of the unknown. Enter Jason as the not-quite-living or breathing shape of all that pent up fear. As their short fates are sealed by his inventive hand, the terrible place of the boat does nothing to assuage the viewer's fear either. Where in the world are these kids to retreat to? Nowhere to run and certainly limited places to hide because Jason is lurking just around every corner.

McCulloch: Senior predictions started five minutes ago and Rennie isn't there.
Wayne: Maybe some of us don't want our futures predicted.
McCulloch: In your case I'm sure that's true.

And poor Eva. Trapped in the ships mock nightclub, music blaring, lights flashing, doors locked but one that Jason prevents her from exiting. In the middle of the dance floor poorly attempting to make quick eye of Jason's every move with some excellent, nail biting camera work then Jason grabs two handfuls of just 18 neck until she stops the good fight for her life.


Choking to death is already one of the most unnerving things to watch because you can imagine being cognizant of the life being wrangled out of you. This scene magnified that with close ups, the conclusion being Jason throwing the victim to the ground "like a sack of potatoes" (thank you, Alex from The Skeleton Crew!).

Sean's father is the captain of the ship until Jason has his way with him. And Sean, at first in the dumps about his relationship to a father he feels he'll never please as a ship manning ace is forced during a devastating loss to catapult his urgency for survival as much as Rennie's. Finding his father with his throat slit gave him some fortitude to take demand of how to handle both the ship and the other survivors. Rennie is special because she is the survivor: the loss of her parents as a child and favorite teacher while staving off Jason spark within her a new attitude that is grown up, fed up, and takes Jason head on with some quick thinking after making it off of the boat trip from hell, is trapped underground with limited time before toxic waste floods the halls. Heed the opening words of narration:

"We live in claustrophobia..."

 Because no, not even the city that never sleeps can stop Jason nor nonchalant pedestrians can save Rennie or Sean. Manhattan's location is the irony for such a sense of safety in numbers and lights. It makes us aware that cities are a fool's philosophy on humanity. The more close we are together, the more far apart. People walking past even more people, their minds cloaked within their own neurosis and selfish motives. Minding their next step and not that old lady trying to cross the street. So in the end realizing it's going to a be one on one battle, Rennie manages to save herself and Sean as we wonder (okay, I wonder) about their start anew in such a vibrant city still in stages of renewal from a tumultuous late 1970's.
                                                   

I can't depart my argument without mentioning one of the most memorable and entertaining Jason kills ever. Julius, the bastard child of Joe Frazier boxing Jason on a city side rooftop, Jason taking it, wearing him out just enough then the,

"Take your best shot... You motherfucker."

My biggest gripe with this movie is the fact that Crystal Lake I'm certain is in New Jersey. And the English teacher felt it logical to take a boat trip to New York City?! Doesn't it take like 90 minutes from Anywhere, New Jersey to get to NYC?! Why was a boat the most amazing idea considering a luxury bus would've sufficed? Well, if Jason hoisted himself on the roof on the bus the movie probably would've been about 10 minutes, much to many Friday the 13th fans satisfaction. Apparently, this was not a fan favorite. But I love pointing out why it has some weight and value as an effective horror film. Jason Takes Manhattan was out for scares that attempted to penetrate its core audience: the unforgiving transition from adolescence to adulthood.
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