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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Friday the 13th’: A Side Trip to Manhattan

Picture this imaginary (but not unlikely) scenario: It’s late 1988 and an early planning meeting is under way for the inevitable “Friday the 13th Part VIII.” A production executive outlines the obvious: “So we figure out another hokey way to resurrect Jason from the briny, then he kills a dozen and a half campers at Crystal Lake, then the last surviving bimbette kills him again. We shoot cheap in Canada and recoup the first weekend. Miss Smith, could you please find some soulless TV hack to write and direct, and we’ll see you all in the spring. Morton’s, anyone?”

Suddenly the clouds part as some brave soul in the back of the room--a mail-room boy with auteur aspirations, perhaps--timidly raises his hand and squeaks out: “Sir, what if we had Jason slaughter teen-agers somewhere besides Crystal Lake this time?” He is, of course, immediately fired for gross insolence but later, a higher-up arrives at the same ingenious epiphany: Perhaps the eighth installment isn’t too soon to throw the slightest of wrinkles into a largely plotless series? Talk about high concept, dude: Jason takes a road trip!

Whatever its creative genesis, we now have the would-be departure from formula that is “Friday the 13th Part VIII--Jason Takes Manhattan” (rated R, citywide). Funny ad campaign; a real dunghill of a major motion picture. To begin with the very least of complaints, they went ahead and shot the bleedin’ thing in Canada anyway. It takes the plot a full hour just to get Jason and his victims away from camp and sea and onto the title island, and even then, except for a few fleeting scenes set in Times Square, it’s all too obviously set-bound. Try singing “Vancouver, B.C.” to the tune of “New York, New York”: It just doesn’t work.

This time, our ripe-for-the-maiming Crystal Lake teens are on a senior cruise to Manhattan; only a few of them make it even that far, as this is mostly a slasher-on-board sea snooze. Once the survivors finally reach dry land, Jason--who by this time has spent so much time underwater that he’s a dead ringer for Swamp Thing--lurches after them and does his share to carve up the Big Apple.

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Satirical potential is rife, to be sure, in the idea of Jason coming to the biggest of big cities, only to have his mere homicidal monstrousness dwarfed by the real-life horrors of drugs, rape, homelessness, disease, despair and all-around urban decay, all of it unrealized in a script as witless and willfully imbecilic as any of the preceding seven.

And there can be no suspense when--as usual--Jason goes after whomever he goes after, usually quickly, until the last couple of survivors. Not that this urgency means there aren’t still a few lingering shots of cowering femmes screaming as the invincible stalker takes his time going for the final kill. Whether you’re a callow teen coke fiend or a courageous athlete, you die violently anyway, so why bother being virtuous, kids? Given the degree of slow-mo sadism on view, whether this was made by sick minds or for sick minds is a distinction that finally matters little.

Rob Hedden wrote and directed this, his first feature; there’s no reason here to look forward to his second. Meanwhile, since it seems like just about anyone who’s taken a film school class or two can get a shot at doing one of these, we’d like to take this opportunity to pitch the only possible palatable scenario for another sequel. It’s a little treatment we like to call “Friday the 13th Part IX: Jason Disembowels Bill and Ted,” to be shot on location, of course, in the Great White North. Morton’s, anyone?


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