There will be blood and there will be spoilers
“Dear God no! For the love of Christ no! You can’t do this to me! Make it stop!”
No, that’s not a quote from the movie – that was me when I realised I was going to have to watch this flick yet again before penning this review. If you were wondering exactly why it’s taken so long to get through this marathon of Friday 13th reviews, you can lay the blame squarely on this movie; or rather my reluctance to slip this particular cinematic atrocity into the old DVD player once again.
Yes, this is the film that stank so bad, Paramount finally pulled the plug on the franchise. And it is truly horrible. Yes, they kept cutting back the budget and forcing director Rob Heddon's script through the rewrite mangle, but even so the frequent changes to the story line don’t excuse the huge swathes of nonsense this flick delivers. It’s easily the worst film in the franchise, severed hands down. And while there are a few memorable scenes, on the whole the film is so irredeemably shoddy it doesn’t even cut it in the so-bad-its-good stakes. It’s just plain bad and the only way to get any enjoyment out of this one is to drink heavily and merciless mock the nonsense as it unfolds. So then, let's cry havoc and unleash the dogs of sarcasm…
Right from the start, you know you are in trouble when instead of a proper opening theme we have a very ‘80s slice of pop-rock tosh blithering on about life in the big city. And as we see more of New York in this credits sequences than we do in the rest of the movie, I can only assume the decision to play this even then terminally uncredible song over the top of it was just a vain attempt to justify the film’s title. Look we're in the big city! The electro funk man says so!
You see the biggest problem for this outing is that Jason doesn’t really take Manhattan, in any way, shape or form... And not just because the Muppets had already beaten him to it, or that Leonard Cohen had proposed a similar manoeuvre the preceding year either.
Thanks to Paramount’s budget cuts, scene after scene in the original script were axed. So sequences of Jason wreaking havoc around the Big Apple landmarks, such as Madison Square Gardens, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State building and Broadway, were sliced away one by one until all we were left with was a quick stroll through Times Square in the film’s finale. So instead, we spend most of the running time stuck on a boat. And it is a huge let-down - really this one should have been called Cruise-Alonga-Jason.
Now when you hear the title Jason Takes Manhattan, you instantly start imagining scenes of colossal carnage. Up until now our slaphead anti-hero has been confined to the American backwoods; an isolated milieu where he only ever encountered small numbers of people. And every single person he's ever met, he's attempted to brutally slay. Hence the title of this flick has you picturing him going completely berserk in the metropolis; with tens if not hundreds of people falling to his machete. Entire squads of police dying while trying to halt the unstoppable undead killing machine. The National Guard are called into no avail. CIA, FBI, NSA and sundry other acronyms mobilised and the carnage all builds up to an apocalyptic finale where they have to airstrike a large area of Manhattan in order to stop the tsunani of slashing.
Alright, the studio coffers probably wouldn’t have stretched to all the above mayhem but you get the idea. Jason turning up in Manhattan should have been one long killing spree causing a city wide panic. So then having him stuck on boat for three quarters of the movie was a big disappointment – and for me, more of a slap in the face than The New Beginning and its-not-the-real-Jason Scooby Doo twist.
But it’s no use crying over spilt milk and pondering what could have been. However what we did get unfortunately just doesn’t really cut the mustard either. Now in terms of the direction, in fairness the film is better shot than the hobbled by 3D Part 3, but unfortunately the story contains far more stupidity than Miner’s second Friday flick – some mean feat as that wasn’t going to win any awards for coherence either. Now I’m reliably informed that in the commentary for the US DVD release, director Rob Heddon tells us that his first cut was around the two hour mark, so you may be thinking that in pruning it down to the more acceptable 90 minutes mark accounts for some of the outright weirdness in the plot. However judging from the list of cut scenes on the IMDB trivia page, although the excised material may have built up the characters more, as far as I can see none of the missing material would make sense of some of the highly annoying loopiness the film delivers.
Lordy lordy, where to start… Right, first up the damn boat. Now I can ignore the thoroughly bizarre bending of all the laws of geography of having a lake that leads to Manhattan. We’ll just let that one go, along with the fact that judging from the exterior shots of the ship we see and the interiors we are shown, it would appear that this craft was built with Time Lord technology. Nope, the thing that bothers me most is what the hell happened to the swarms of kids on board? We see a few minor cast members despatched by Jason but the rest vanish into thin air never to be mentioned again. Not even when the ship sinks. What was going on there? An oblique reference to the Marie Celeste?
Next up, why can Jason now teleport? Slasher films are notorious for having their usually slow walking killers catching up with their sprinting prey and popping up in unexpected places, but in Jason Takes Manhattan he does literally appear to have gained to the ability to materialise anywhere he damn well likes. Now presumably this ties into Things That Make Don’t Make A Shred of Sense - Even For This Series #3...
...Which is the whole business of Rennie and her visions of Jason. At first he appears to her as a normal little boy and then throughout the course of the film proceeds to gradually mutate into his more familiar monstrous form. Now firstly in the original movie, we are shown a flashback of Jason drowning and despite the brevity of the shot it is clear he was deformed then, so where on earth this normal Jason fits in is anyone’s guess. The implication seems to be that Rennie has some psychic connection to some deeply buried good side of Jason and that hulking killer we all know is some kind of revenge driven ghost. Yes, I know that sounds nutty but it’s the only thing I can think of to explain what we see on screen. Hedden has stated that the end where we see Jason seemingly transform back to a little boy is meant to represent his spirit going to rest, which sort of fits. I get the impression that this element of the film was meant to clear up the long standing questions over when Jason actually died, and how come if he died as a boy he reappears as a full grown psycho in Part II.
However none of it adds up – if Jason is some vengeance powered apparition, as his teleporting suggests, how come he has a body, which has been buried, sunk at the bottom of a lake and twice revived by electricity? While I applaud the attempt to make some sort of sense of the series’ mythos, it is done in such a way as to actually confuse matters further rather than clarify anything about Jason’s back-story. From the finale, you could be forgiven for thinking that as well as killing him, the toxic waste has caused him to physically regress in age. Indeed on my first exposure to this scene – I caught the second half on late night TV – I assumed that either a) the first half explained this or b) The New Blood - which I hadn’t seen at the time - had something to do with it or finally c) I’d had a bad pint down the pub and was now mildly hallucinating.
And if this wasn’t enough to contend with, there is also the utterly bonkers circumstances leading up to it. According this film, New York flushes its sewer system every night by pumping the afore-mentioned toxic waste through it. Yes, you did read that right! Flushes. Sewer system. With toxic waste. Every damn night. To CLEAN it!!! A large pint of WTF please barman! Considering that the New York Tourism Committee complained about the posters which featured Jason popping through the ‘I heart NYC’ logo, I’m amazed they didn’t sue when they saw the movie itself. One wonders why not … does Heddon know something we don’t?
At this point, I think we can safely say that the case for the prosecution now rests, and this flick is guilty as charged on numerous counts of Grievous Intellectual Harm, and Assault and Battery With A Deadly Weapon to whit the script. All that remains now is sentencing…
Now when watching horror flicks, you do not apply the same laws for assessing story credibility or narrative logic as one does when watching serious cinema. And when watching entries in the Friday 13th saga, we usually are not even apply a version said laws revised for the genre. After the first few entries, this franchise is operating in a bubble universe of its own making, complete with its own rules of cinema. And while the better films in the series, like the original, Final Chapter and Jason Lives, may be fit enough to survive outside this pocket critical environment, most do not. They may only be judged in relation to the following criteria - how cool is Jason, how spectacular are the deaths, is the acting competent rather than howlingly bad, and can you stand any of the characters for more than 10 seconds without wanted to machete off their heads yourself.
So then, is Jason cool is this flick? Well largely no. Kane Hodder stalks and looms well enough but the teleporting antics are frustrating and his look in this movie is frankly poor. After the superb bone-tastic Jason of The New Blood, this rendition just looks cheap - no visibly decay, just a bit of token tattering on his outfit, and mainly he just looks a bit soggy. And as for the unmasking scene, oh dear Lord! Not only does the toxic waste appear to possess the power to restore ones youth, it also has trans-species mutagenic properties too! For when the hockey mask comes off, it appears that Jason is now a melting albino chimp! Were they planning a cross-over with Planet of the Apes? Or was he trying to blend in Manhattan’s Muppet overlords?
In the absence of any sensible answers, let’s move on to the slayings. On the whole, they are fairly standard fare, nothing too shabby but possessing no real wow factor either. That is, apart from Julius’ death. Credit where credit is due, not only is this the best scene in the movie, but one of the best kills in the entire series – Jason literally knocks his block off, decapitating him with a single punch. It’s beautifully set up and executed; spectacular, very funny and a satisfyingly ironic end to Julius, one of the most annoying characters in the movie.
And speaking of which, I’ll also have to give some credit to the characters and acting. The script attempts to give our protagonists some depth and the performances are too bad either. Yes, Julius is a monstrous arse but I think he was meant to be. Jensen Daggett and Scott Reeves are pretty likeable as a leading pair, and special mention must be made of Peter Mark Rickman who has good fun hamming it up as the harsh and overprotective Uncle Charles. As well as chewing the scenery, he bears an uncanny resemblance to Jonathan Harris, in both looks and performance, which just adds to the fun – indeed, on the first viewing I was convinced I was watching Jason hunting down evil Dr Zachery Smith from Lost in Space.
But the trouble is despite trying to create proper characters, the script is so full of errant nonsense, they get very little to do that passes for basic common sense. Even Jason himself acts very out of character on a couple of occasions. As he normally slays anything or anyone in his path, it is somewhat perplexing him to see him seemingly rescue Rennie from those muggers fresh out of Clichéd Street Punk School. Similarly when he encounters the Times Square hoodlum wannabes, he scares them off by raising his mask. While it's understandably they'd leg it sharpish considering the terrifyingly poor make job lurking under there, and it's meant to be a funny scene, it's not nearly as hilarious if he’d kebabbed them all in one go.
And this is another major problem the film has; although there are flashes of humour, there are not nearly enough gags to indicate that we shouldn’t be taking anything that happens on screen too seriously. On the contrary, the stream of nonsense that is masquerading as a plot, with its psychic visions and psychological elements of Rennie’s story arc suggests that Heddon and co. set out to play this straight.
There was a decent concept behind the film which Paramount's budget cuts scuppered, and the script shows some signs that there were some interesting ideas that were mangled on route to the screen. But the problem is, Heddon is simply too competent a director to make the film so bad it’s unintentionally funny, which may be the biggest back-handed compliment I’ve ever given out. All of which adds up to a film that is very unsatisfying and the few good moments in it taunt you with what the movie could have been.
And this is the crux of the matter, Jason Takes Manhattan is just annoyingly bad rather than entertainingly so. It isn't directed with an ironic trash aesthetic which encourages us to laugh WITH the movie, nor is it such misbegotten dreck you can laugh AT it. Admittedly with a few beers, a few chums and an ample supply of Mystic Jim’s Patent Michaels Remover, you could enjoy this flick as a piece of comically bad cinema – but you will just be laughing NEAR the movie and have to supply most of the comedy yourself…
JIM MOON, 2nd July 2010