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From Crystal Lake to Manhattan Review

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No stranger to the film business, producer/director Sean S. Cunningham had been involved with everything from the 1972 cult-classic Last House on the Left, to soft-core porn, to family films. After the unsuccessful youth-oriented comedies Manny’s Orphans and Here Come the Tigers failed to make any money, Cunningham desperately needed a hit, and fast. His next effort as a film maker? A low-budget horror picture called Friday the 13th.

Unleashed on an unsuspecting world in May of 1980, Friday the 13th was the film that set the standard for the teenkill subgenre for over a decade and as of this writing, still continues to spawn successful sequels (Freddy vs. Jason 2 should hit theatres next year). Originally filmed with a surprise ending that served no purpose other then to force theatre patrons to toss their popcorn in the air in fright, the scene with young Jason rising from the depths of Crystal Lake quickly became the catalyst for a follow-up. The rest as they say, is history.

Unfortunately, as the popularity of the Friday the 13th films grew (and box-office receipts piled up higher with each release) the MPAA began to rip these things to shreds, and by the time they hit theatres, almost all the blood had been removed. Fans have been bombarding Paramount Pictures for years with letters (and more recently, e-mail campaigns) to release the series fully uncut on home video. When word of a proposed box set of the first eight films in the series broke (the rights changed hands to New Line Cinema after Jason Takes Manhattan was released) fans salivated at the thought of what would come out of the vaults. Prepare to be disappointed if you are one of those folks who expected to see every frame restored and recut to pre-MPAA condition.

There are those who see the glass as half-empty, and those who see it as half-full. There are those who will see this set as half-assed, and those who…well, you get the point. Put me in the camp of the latter. I like the set, and for those who will never be happy, this set isn’t going to change your mind. But enough teasing, let’s get to the meat of it, shall we?

THE FILMS:

The original film was a fairly straightforward revenge potboiler, with a bit of a twist as to the killer’s real identity. It’s hard for many younger fans to remember a Friday flick without Jason running around in his iconic hockey mask slicing up fornicatin’ teens, but in fact it was Mommy V. who handled the dirty work in 1980′s Friday the 13th. You see, Mrs. Voorhees was driven mad by the death of her “special” son, who drowned while the camp counselors were off making the beast with two backs. Like any dedicated mother, she set about systematically slaughtering all involved with “Camp Blood”, in an effort to avenge her son’s death. Surprisingly, this little horror picture went on to gross big bucks and suddenly Paramount Pictures (who distributed it via a negative pickup deal) wanted more. Well, since mommy got her melon whacked off in the climax of the film, they took the only logical step, which was to resurrect the boy in the lake and have him continue on in his mother’s bloody footsteps. Did I just say logic in regards to a Friday film? Scratch that. Sequels, ahoy!

Part 2 picks up where the original left off, (after an undetermined period of time) and the sole survivor, Alice Hardy (played once again by Adrienne King) is around long enough to find Mommy’s noggin’ in her fridge and get an ice pick in her temple for her efforts. Since we last saw him leaping out of Crystal Lake, Jason has grown up and fashioned a shack in the woods to hole up in (and serves as an altar to his mother, which her head sits upon) and continues his mother’s vengeful killing spree, this time with a group of counselors-in-training located in the same vicinity of the original campsite. What follows is pretty much a re hash of the first film, save for an inspired performance by Amy Steel as the film’s heroine who ends up going toe-to-toe with sack-headed Jason (played by Warington Gillette and Steve Daskawisz) and burying a machete in his neck. Ironically, it was the same machete that was used to slay his mother. The terror is over. All is safe, right? Well, not exactly.

1982 saw the third Friday film hit the screens in as many years, this time using the gimmick of 3-D to entice audience members. And it worked, because the cash was raked in by the truck loads. Aside from being in 3-D, this one is notable as the first film to feature Jason donning his trademark hockey mask. Director Steve Miner returned behind the camera again to deliver pretty standard slasher fare, with a terrific performance from Richard Brooker as Jason. After taking out 7 teens and 3 members of a local biker gang, he gets an axe in the head at the end of the film, only to inexplicably rise from the coroner’s office in 1984′s The Final Chapter. Joe Zito keeps the same flavor the first 3 films had, but ups the ante a bit with some nifty camera work and solid direction. The creative kill movement was definitely in full swing by this point, and is notable for having a character killed by getting shot in the balls with a speargun. Ouch. This one also introduces the character of young Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman), who ends up putting a machete through Jason’s cranium (in a terrific FX sequence by veteran splat-meister Tom Savini) and hacking him in 52 pieces in a fit of rage that would eventually land him in the looney bin. Which brings us to the next installment, 1985′s A New Beginning. Tommy Jarvis is back (played this time by John Shepherd) and residing in the Pine Hurst mental facility. His hallucinations of Jason make us wonder who the killer is (Ha!) after, of course…grisly murders start happening again, by someone using Jason’s M.O. Gasp! Who could it be? Well, I’ll save this “mystery” for you to figure out, but I will say that this much-maligned installment of the Friday franchise isn’t that bad. No, really. Aside from having some hot chicks (Deborah Voorhess and Tiffany Helm, in particular) to look at, there are some pretty tasty kills in this one, including a dude getting his head crushed with a strap. Despite what the credits read, it should be noted that veteran stuntman Tom Morga handled the chores as The Masked One. 1986′s Jason Lives was a breath of fresh air to the series, and featured some much-needed doses of humor and really likeable characters in addition to the carnage. Tommy (Thom Mathews) decides to prove to himself that Jason is really dead, and digs up his corpse in a Frankenstein-inspired sequence that involves an iron rod, lightning, and a maggoty-faced re-animated Jason crawling out of his grave. Groovy stuff, indeed. Writer/director Tom McLoughlin made a very well-crafted flick on a low budget and in doing so revitalized the franchise. No longer was Jason just a mindless killing machine, he’s now a freakin’ zombie killing machine! My personal fave of the series.

After getting chained down to a big-ass rock and getting an Evinrude facial at the end of Jason Lives, 1987′s The New Blood picks up several years later (don’t they all?) with Jason still chained to the rock, and getting mucho putrid down there. The years haven’t been kind to ol’ hockeyface, and he’s in pretty bad shape: his rib cage and spinal column are exposed, half of his face is ripped off, exposing his teeth and in general looks like 10 pounds of shit in a 9 lb bag. Kudos to director/effects man John Carl Buechler for crafting the definitve Jason look to date. In The New Blood, Kane Hodder assumed the role of Jason and would do so for the next 3 films. His performance brings a new level of ferocity and depth to Jason, and really is impressive considering the mountain of latex he was buried under. Like McLoughlin, Buechler tried to go a different route and had elements of the supernatural injected into the story via Tina (played by the lovely Lar Park Lincoln), a girl with telekinetic powers who accidently resurrects Jason from his watery grave. Aside from the normal stalk n slash, you got to see some nifty battle scenes as Tina and Jason duke it out, and Mr. Voorhees getting various heavy objects (including a porch that really drilled the veteran stuntman) dropped on him, set on fire, and in general getting put through the paces more then in any previous installment. The only drawback is that the MPAA cut everything even slightly resembling gore from the theatrical cut, which subsequently left many fans with a bad taste in their mouth for the film.

Which brings us to the last installment included in this box set: 1989′s Jason Takes Manhattan. Let’s just say that while the idea was great, and director Rob Hedden did what he could with the budget he had, it’s not that great of a way to close the Paramount era. Jason ended up taking a boat ride to Canada (where the bulk of the material was filmed) instead of the Big Appple. I will applaud Hedden for taking some chances with the characters, and trying to tie the heroine to Jason’s past with some groovy flashback sequences, but it just comes off as less then what it could have been. Even Jason’s look in this one was lacking, and appears to have been covered in Play-Doh during the films’s climactic unmasking. The sequence in Times Square is great and actually lends some credibility to the production. The scene in the NY diner is also notable for Jason angrily tossing the cook over the counter into a big mirror. The cook just happened to be Ken Kirzinger (who doubled for Kane in a few scenes), who has since gone on to replace his mentor and assume the role of Jason Voorhees. All in all, Jason Takes Manhattan missed the boat.

AUDIO:

Contrary to popular belief, not every film soundtrack has the need for the 5.1 treatment, and the original Friday flicks are no exception. While I have no problem with multichannel audio remasters if they are done right, but for the most part they aren’t. When working with low-budget monaural elements, a 5.1 remix is usually a recipie for a crap-tacular soundtrack. That being said, Paramount has seen fit to present Parts 1-5 with their original theatrical mono soundtracks, and the results are satsfying enough. It’s obvious the limitations of the budget cramped composer Harry Manfredini’s abilities, but his infamous score worked well enough to be recycled in various forms throughout the first 6 films (Fred Molin contributed soundtracks for Parts 7 and 8). Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout with a few instances of hiss due to the limitations of the source material. Jason Lives was the first to feature a multi-channel soundtrack (Ultra-Stereo) and it is the best of the bunch. The New Blood has a 5.1 soundtrack but it sounds weak and tinny. Not much use of the surrounds, and limited (if any) LFE activity. For whatever reason, Jason Takes Manhattan reverts back to Ultra-Stereo (Dolby Pro-Logic). Not a big deal, but kind of odd that the 7th installment is the only film of the bunch to get a remastered soundtrack for DVD (same as the original release). You gotta love the “Jason…Jason…Jason” echo repeats as the Paramount logo appears on the screen at the beginning of Jason Takes Manhattan. Tres cool, indeed.

One of the most notable additions on the audio front is the inclusion of the missing sound effect from the title sequence of The Final Chapter. On it’s previous DVD release the “whooshing” sound when the hockey mask explodes was gone from the English track, but inexplicably present on the French language track. Well, rest easy you Friday completists, that effect has been added back to the English language track in this box set.

VIDEO:

With the exception of the first film (more on that later), apparently the transfers used for Parts 2-8 are receycled from the previous DVD releases. That isn’t exactly a bad thing, as they looked pretty damn good to begin with. And considering they were released with brand-new anamorphic widescreen transfers at a time when friggin’ Titanic didn’t get one, props to Paramount for getting the job done right the first time. Transfer quality varies from film to film and does seem to improve with each installment, but is fairly consistent for all included. Each print does show it’s age with occasional pops and scratches, but considering the second-class citizen status of these films at Paramount, their appearance is wholly acceptable.

The first DVD release of Friday the 13th provided fans with a bizarre amalgamation of the R-rated theatrical release and the “uncut” international version. Annie’s throat slashing death was presented fully uncut with her sliding down the tree out of frame before the fade to white, while Mrs. Voorhees’ beheading was trimmed down from the R-rated version. What the…?? Your guess is as good as mine. When this set was announced, word of a brand-new print being struck got around, and fans expected the best (again). Hold on to that previous release though, as this is just the R-rated theatrical cut. It does look fabulous with very, very few print blemishes and is also a tad brighter then the previous release. This is the best looking version I’ve ever seen the film, and is probably be the best it will ever look on home video.

EXTRAS:

Now…here’s what you’ve been waiting for, isn’t it?

For starters, we get four brand-new audio commentaries for Parts 3, 6, 7 and 8. Part 3 features cast members Dana Kimmell, Paul Kratka, Larry Zerner, and Richard Brooker and is moderated by Crystal Lake Memories author Peter Bracke. Right off the bat, it’s obvious they had fun making the film (although the 3-D process was extremely difficult to work with) and provide a good mix of on-set anecdotes and technical info. One drawback is that the commentary is poorly recorded, and the films soundtrack can be a bit distractingly loud at times. All in all, it’s a very good track that is worth a listen (or two).

Next up is Jason Lives with writer/director Tom McLoughlin going solo for this track. He keeps the track moving without long gaps of silence, and his admiration for the film shows. He points out some of the horror references he inserted throughout the film, including “Karloff’s General Store” and “Cunningham Road”. Very clever stuff that may or may not have slipped by you when watching the film. McLoughlin also points out his cameo in the film in the opening sequence at the graveyard. Who’d have though that those “gnarly” hands opening Jason’s coffin belonged to the director? Tidbits like that are what makes really me enjoy listening to these tracks, and makes you respect the tremendous amount of work that goes into making these films that we love so much.

Kane Hodder and John Buechler pair up for The New Blood, and it’s obvious these guys are old friends. It’s a very informative track without being overly technical, and really sheds some light on things some fans may not have known about (like Kane getting painfully drilled by the porch when it fell on him, the original ending sequence with Tina’s father coming out of the lake and the one scene I really wish was filmed, where Tina hallucinates a young Jason Voorhees in the road holding his mother’s severed head, which the producers nixed for being too “surreal”). It’s also quite humurous the way Kane stays in character sometimes, such as the scene where the girl in the tent exclaims “Come and get me, you big hunk of a man”, and Kane responds “Oh, I’m coming for you, alright”. Good stuff, indeed.

Jason Takes Manhattan features writer/director Rob Hedden doing a pretty straightforward commentary track, giving some good nuggets of info along the way, but reverts to narrating the onscreen action a bit too much at times. If you’re a fan of the film, I’m sure this would be an interesting track to listen to, as Hedden is a heck of a nice guy who really appreciates the fans and comes off as very sincere about his efforts to make the best movie possible at the time.

Included on the “Killer Extras” disc of supplements are five new featurettes, including “The Friday the 13th Chronicles”, an eight-part documentary (arranged by film) that contains interviews with the priciples and behind-the-scenes photos. This is the most lengthy of the docs, clocking in at an hour and forty-five minutes. It’s mostly a lot of talking heads, but really do contain some good info.

Next up is “Secrets Galore Behind the Gore” which feature Tom Savini recalling his experiences on Parts I and IV and John Carl Buechler and Kane Hodder talking about The New Blood. Clocking in at around forty-five minutes, it’s padded considerably with film clips, and there’s a good chunk of the Part IV section devoted to Tom Savini’s Makeup School. Hodder and Buechler are obviously having fun (they rip on each other frequently) and it’s interesting to see the various artifacts lying around Buechler’s shop, including full-size castings and dummies of Kane that were made during the film’s shoot.

Up next is “Crystal Lake Victims Tell All”, which is pretty much another fifteen minutes of the same interview sessions as the Chronicles just placed in a different featurette. One funny highlight is William Butler from The New Blood introducing himself as “Hi, I’m Jason Voorhees victim number fifty-seven”. Classic. It is great to see such series icons as Adrienne King and Amy Steel (both still look fantastic) sharing their stories from the set. In many cases these were young actors just starting out in the business, and while many have gone on to other things, Friday fans will always remember them as their on-screen alter egos. I mean c’mon…Larry Zerner is Shelly!

Tales from the Cutting Room Floor is the one special feature that fans have been clamoring for the most over the years. We want to see uncut footage! Well, you got it kiddies. Sort of. What we get is a split-screen set-up with the “Final Edit” on top and the “Alternate” on the bottom. It’s not the best way to see the footage, but we do get to see more gore from Part 1 (currently available on DVD overseas in a fully-uncut anamorphic widescreen presentation) and Jason Lives, some of which has bever been seen before (like the triple decapitation of the paintballers). We also see some deleted scenes for The Final Chapter, which are all dialogue scenes that were used during network television broadcasts.

The highlight of the feature is without a doubt the uncut gore from The New Blood. Pulled from a crappy video tape of the film’s workprint footage, it’s a bit hard to watch but the content is fantastic. Fans who were blaming Buechler for directing a bloodless film should watch this first. The crushed head, cootchie-face, the extended sleeping bag kill…it’s all here. The red stuff flows freely, and we can only hope that the original negatives still exisit somewhere.

Next up is the “Friday Artifacts and Collectibles” featurette which runs about six minutes in length and features Tom McLoughlin and Rob Hedden showing off some of the items they kept from the sets of their respective films, including the actual granite tombstone from Jason Lives which now resides in McLoughlin’s garden. Also shown is a fan who got his guitar signed by many cast members at the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors in January ’04, and a rep from the NECA table at the same con. Very brief, and could have definitely used some more material.

Closing out the set are theatrical trailers for all eight films, except for Jason Lives, which is represented by it’s teaser trailer. In speaking with Tom McLoughlin, he doesn’t recall shooting a full-length trailer, and only remembers doing the very creepy teaser, which is nothing but Jason’s empty coffin slowly opening. Effective to say the least. The trailers for The New Blood and Jason Takes Manhattan are available for the first time on DVD in this set.