Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #67
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: July 28, 1989
Sub-Genre: Eighties Slasher
Country of Origin: United States/Canada
Box Office: $14,343,976 (domestic)
Running Time: 100 minutes
Director: Rob Hedden
Producers: Randy Cheveldave, Barbara Sachs
Screenplay: Rob Hedden
Special Effects: Jim Gill, Bettie Kauffman, Gary Paller
Visual Effects: Dale Fay
Cinematography: Bryan England
Score: Fred Mollin
Editing: Steve Mirkovich
Studio: Horror Inc.
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Stars: Todd Caldecott, Tiffany Paulsen, Jensen Daggett, Barbara Bingham, Alex Diakun, Vincent Craig Dupree, Peter Mark Richman, Ace, Warren Munson, Fred Henderson, Scott Reeves, Gordon Currie, Saffron Henderson, Martin Cummins, Sharlene Martin, Kelly Hu, Tim Mirkovich and Kane Hodder as Jason Voorhees
Suggested Audio Candy:
Fred Mollin Main Theme
When does a film become so bad it’s good? I frequently ask myself that very question as the line between good and bad is often decidedly slender. There’s quite often beauty in the beast and, depending on your chosen viewing settings, utter trash can be downright enjoyable. Sometimes a film is aware of its limitations and focuses on purely entertaining, nothing else. In the correct company such a movie can provide infinite pleasure, as long as it allows its shortcomings to work to its advantage. Wearing its heart on its sleeve proudly, it becomes difficult being too hard on such well-meaning offenders.
Xtro offers an ideal example of the point I am trying to make. Never looking likely to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, Harry Bromley Davenport’s loveable E.T. antithesis walked away with a lofty eight out of ten from the Crimson Quill, despite being utterly shambolic from start to end. While other more pompous “critics” may be less forgiving of its numerous crimes against cinema, I refuse to read the riot act to any film that openly celebrates its ridiculousness and has no purpose other than pure entertainment.
Not every film you watch will be Shakespearian. If they were then the output wouldn’t be anything like as diverse and that would be a very sad state of affairs for the industry. If something discerns only to cater for a specific audience then it has no misconceptions and knows precisely what way its bread is buttered. I’m like a playful vagabond when viewing such honest works of questionable art, throwing the trash around me with gay abandon akin to Woody Harrelson with a suitcase brimming with crisp hundred-dollar bills, only it doesn’t take an indecent proposal to encourage me to fling about my currency willy nilly. Just give me some B-grade trash and I’m as happy as the next bum.
Which brings us tidily onto Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. Rob Hedden’s film is a bizarre creature. On one hand, it is aware of its many failings and doesn’t attempt anything other than to entertain at every juncture, achieving this with a magnanimous body count and some undoubtedly original dispatches. On the other hand it is part of a franchise and, therefore, has a duty to appease a devoted fanbase that were already starting to waver after John Carl Buechler’s seventh entry committed the cardinal crime of being merely so-so. Admittedly, The New Blood was ravaged by the censors and this harmed the overall experience considerably. However, the fact remains, that the once-popular series was standing on decidedly shaky ground and one more misstep could have disastrous repercussions.
Metropolis Darkest of the Night
Looking to mix things up some, Jason Takes Manhattan attempts to free Voorhees from the shackles that have denied him from vacating his beloved Camp Crystal Lake and offer the murderous momma’s boy a welcome change of both pace and scenery. Things evidently aren’t what they used to be at his regular stomping ground so Hedden considers it high time he move on to pastures new. Spotting an opportunity to change his fortunes, Voorhees locates the first available outbound vessel and stows away in the ship’s cargo hold as it sets sail for the Big Apple and a far more populated playground for the pruning.
If this seemed like a good idea at the time then, regrettably, it isn’t. Study the evidence. Jason would soon be engaging in body-swapping antics, followed by a one-way trip to the outer reaches of our solar system, before returning to Earth to do battle with another faltering eighties idol, Freddy Krueger and rounding off his misery with a somewhat limp remake. These have been the ramifications of his wayward decision to part company with the green grass of home and it all could have been avoided if he had only listened to his mother. While I understand that he felt it necessary to loosen the apron strings some, Jason simply wasn’t cut out for inner city life and the franchise lost whatever credibility it had left as a result of his wantaway actions.
However, the blame can’t fall squarely on his doorstep as the SS Lazarus is admittedly packed from stem to stern with the usual disposable teens. The graduating class of the local high school is embarking on a luxury New York cruise, chaperoned by English teacher Colleen (Barbara Bingham) and head of biology Charles (Peter Mark Richman). Among those setting sail are his niece Rennie (Jensen Daggett), her potential love interest Sean (Scott Reeves), and the usual cannon fodder students. Rennie isn’t over enamored by the prospect of her seafaring expedition as she suffers from aquaphobia and is far happier on terra firma. To make the voyage even more traumatic, she is having some particularly dubious visions, all of which involve a certain stowaway on the lower decks.
Needless to say, it isn’t long before Jason starts to make his presence felt in no uncertain terms and, long before they drop anchor in Manhattan, he has whittled down the numbers considerably. This leaves just a handful of stragglers to dispose of and, regardless of New York boasting a population of over eight million people, the remaining survivors find it increasingly hard shaking their dogged pursuer. To throw another spanner in the works, over-inflated egos and the customary villainous guardian scupper the group’s chances of working together. While the group bicker and back-stab, Jason is preparing to finish the task in hand.
In the correct frame of mind, Jason Takes Manhattan can be enjoyed for what it is – playful poppycock. However, there are a number of key areas where Hedden’s film falters. The cast is largely nondescript and there are simply too many characters, offered too little screen time to care about their demises. Jason ploughs through them like he has the keys to a brand new combine harvester and we are left with the dregs by the time the second act draws to a close. Unfortunately, a bloated body count doesn’t translate into a bloodbath as too many of the kills are practically bloodless and this seems suspiciously like a wasted opportunity to me.
Once we dock in Manhattan, things grow increasingly preposterous. It seems Jason had already been out collecting recon as he manages to negotiate the mean streets as though he’s spent a month watching back to back episodes of Sex and the City. He knows all the shortcuts and anyone attempting to outrun him soon discovers his ability to warp between A and B seemingly at will. I get that we are supposed to be suspending our disbelief here but it just feels wasteful, given the unique opportunity provided by moving the carnage to such a bustling metropolis.
However, there are a few instances to savor amidst the ho-hum shenanigans, albeit often faintly ridiculous. Given that our juggernaut has spent so much of the film in transit and been offered little resistance en route to The Big Apple, he decides it best to test his strength and engage in a spot of roof top fisticuffs to keep his reflexes sharp. This doesn’t end well for budding boxer Julius (V. C. Dupree) as, like Rocky Balboa, Jason manages to summon his innermost resolve when seemingly on the ropes and turn their bout on its head in the final round, without any need for a rousing montage, with hilarious results.
Alas, moments like this are thin on the ground and his Manhattan rampage is never quite as decisive as it could have been. Ultimately, this would have benefitted from being two separate movies shot back-to-back as it proves a touch too ambitious for its 100 minute running time. Moreover, when it arrives, the showdown positively reeks of miscalculation. Endowed with such a profusion of super powers, Jason picks the worst one imaginable by transforming back into a pre-adolescent and cowering in raw sewage. This hardly provides the swan song we have been expecting and an unsatisfactory conclusion for such a formerly formidable foe.
To its credit, Jason Takes Manhattan plays it straight although it treads a rather fine line on occasion. While there are positives to be gleaned from our masked marauder’s first run-out away from his comfy inclosure, its tough to overlook the pretty odious crimes that Hedden’s film commits. The real dilemma is scoring a piece of knowing tripe like this as it highlights just how much the once great series has fallen from its pedestal. Taken on its own merits, it’s just eventful enough to warrant guilty pleasure. However, the apple has fallen far from its tree and, whichever way you look at it, said apple picks up countless bruises along its lengthy roll.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 5/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: The kills here are a decidedly mixed bag. The hot coal sauna dispatch is my personal standout, while our most heinous offender has to suffer the indignity of being dunked in a drum of toxic waste. Meanwhile, the boxing bout is ludicrous in the extreme and watching that sucker punched head tumble into a nearby dumpster is a sight to behold, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Other than that, there is little to inspire and a distinct lack of bloodshed detracts from its bloated body count. Even the customary T&A is fleeting and, for a franchise usually magnanimous in this regard, the lack of bare flesh on display seems decidedly stingy.
What Funny Dog Poo?
For as much as Jason Takes Manhattan never plays the spoof card, it has got me thinking about what is possibly my least favorite sub-genre. While often of the lowest common denominator, it does has its highlights and, thus, here are twelve (and a third) examples of spoof movies nigh-on impossible to loathe.
How could I even consider not putting this in the pilot seat? Jim Abrahams and David Zucker’s majestic mirth-bringer remains the flag bearer for the whole kit and caboodle. Leslie Nielsen + Peter Graves + Robert Hays + Lloyd Bridges = pure deadpan brilliance. Anyone who disagrees that this is comedy gold is either an accountant or should be asking themselves some pretty uncomfortable questions.
A closer second than we have been led to believe, the same double act combine to mostly marvellous effect and bring Peter Cushing and Omar Sharif along for the glorious ride. While unquestionably a hit and miss affair, when it hits the bullseye it does so in style, while the underwater Wild West-styled bar room brawl is pure undiluted genius.
Those Wayans brothers are easy to discount but, before they began to scrape the barrel, they proved worthy adversaries with a Blaxploitation spoof that pokes fun affectionately and yields comedy platinum. Antonio “my bitch betta have ma money” Fargas, Isaac Hayes, Richard Roundtree, Chris Rock; the cast reads like a who’s who of black cinema past and present and, therefore, pips CB4 to this particular list. I’ll never tire of watching Fly Guy discovering that he is no longer “the man” he was before his incarceration.
While we’re on the bruddahs, this one simply cannot be overlooked. Hits more than it misses which surely is the largest prerequisite for any spoof movie worth its salt. Plus, it has Anna Faris at the midpoint of all the shenanigans and few ham it up it quite as effortlessly as she. Credit where it’s due, this has inspired a moderately consistent franchise given the dubious modern-day alternatives.
Howard R. Cohen’s delightful forgotten gem is as entertaining as all hell, even though it frequently blunders in its pursuit of tickling our funny bones. Perhaps rose-tinted spectacles are to blame for me holding this in such lofty regard but the heart knows what it wants and who am I to deny it such guilty pleasure from time to time? Interchangeable with Wacko, Pandemonium or National Lampoon’s Class Reunion, all three of which are far more entertaining than they have any right to be.
There’s nothing guilty about this particular pleasure. Gene Wilder need only to open his eyes in the morning to leave me prolapsed like an ageing fishwife. The floppy-haired goon ranks alongside the late Leslie, right-hand man George Kennedy and Lloyd Bridges in the crème de la crème of the industry and funny man director Mel Brooks created a monster here that truly stands the test of time.
No need for alarm, this undisputed gem was never going to miss out on the shortlist. Brooks is the epitome of flawed genius and his films can admittedly miss the mark wildly but how any director responsible for both this and the aforementioned can fail to be considered worth their weight in gold is a mystery to me.
I select this over any of the Naked Gun franchise with clear and sound reasoning. Although the trilogy is reasonably consistent, it is simply better to watch this episode by episode in one sitting considering that the lion’s share of frolics originating here anyhoots. The whole genre owes its commercial success to this priceless pioneer.
There’s a distinct reason why I choose this over more obvious choices such as The Jerk, The Man with Two Brains or, my all time most watched movie, L.A. Story. Arthur Hiller’s sorely overlooked treasure pairs Martin with the undisputable legend that is Charles Grodin to pitch-perfect effect, managing to be both delicate and touching, whilst encouraging tears of laughter which is no mean feat in itself.
Ripped apart by baying wolves on its release; I implore reappraisal of Gene Quintano’s admittedly inconsistent spoof of the eighties buddy movie. Emilio Estevez and Samuel L. Jackson prove their aptitude for comedy and do their best with some occasionally cringeworthy material. Again, not the obvious choice when talking of the languishing Lampoons but I feel that both Animal House and Vacation are simply too good to pigeonhole.
Some consider John Landis to have had a career of peaks and valleys but I would argue passionately that the valleys are far outweighed by the peaks. Kentucky Fried Movie is the obvious choice here but I actually prefer this and that says everything for a subjective viewpoint. I will simply never tire of watching an oblivious Ed Begley Jr. ghosting around minus clothing believing himself invisible or witnessing Arsenio Hall suffer a technological shocker at the hands of his own mean-spirited apartment.
The most debatable spoof in my dirty dozen, Bob Logan’s film falls neatly into the so bad it’s good bracket as it misses the target with the accuracy of an archer with cataracts. However, every so often, he gets one dead in the bullseye. By casting Nielsen you afford yourself that opportunity and watching Linda Blair ape The Exorcist yields hilarity that simply cannot be ignored, no matter how godawful the rest of the movie may be.
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
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Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2013 (Revised Edition 2016)