Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

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Happened to catch this on SyFy today and felt compelled to wrangle a few words. Now, there have been some wretched, wretched entries in the Friday the 13th series—but this is the worst. Not only does Jason NOT take Manhattan, his reputation as a first-tier remorseless killing machine takes a serious knee to the groin.

Yet another crop of one-dimensional teens takes a slow boat from Crystal Lake to the Big Apple, and recently revived Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) decides to hitch a ride. (Probably wants to audition for Phantom.) See, it’s a senior class trip for good ol’ Crystal Lake High (?), and Sean (Scott Reeves), the son of the ship’s captain, is in love with Rennie (Jensen Daggett), who as a kid was nearly drowned by the child version of Jason (?) because her asshole Uncle Charles (Peter Mark Richman) dumped her in the middle of Crystal Lake to force her to learn to swim shortly after her parents were killed in a car crash— *has aneurism* Cue funeral march.

Just a few notes for writer-director Rob Hedden: Dude, I’ve read Shakespearian comedies with fewer subplots. All we really want is for Jason to strap on his hockey face and amass a respectable body count, preferably utilizing a battery of imaginative and colorful devices. Fail.

And how come when Jason (finally!) gets to Manhattan, he ignores the teeming masses of street gravy in order to pursue a handful of pipsqueaks from his hometown? Hell, they get mugged within 5 minutes of arriving! Couldn’t Jason go after the Mets or something? Why doesn’t he just merrily filet the entire city? The regulations that govern Jason’s behavior are awfully vague. What’s his deal anyway? I mean, I like the guy, but he needs a reboot. What’s Quentin working on at the moment?

And aside from a shot of Times Square and a few Statue of Liberty cameos, the New York location doesn’t figure into the story at all. Hell, they could have been going to Halifax. Consider this the nadir of Jason Voorhees.

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Student Bodies (1981)

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This early attempt at slasher satire is pure, unadulterated corn. Cheap, goofy gags abound as repressed virgin Toby (Kristen Riter, who would later appear in the J. Geils Band’s “Centerforld” video) tries to figure out who’s killing off her horny classmates. It’s also an “Alan Smithee” production, written and directed by television veteran Mickey Rose (The Odd Couple, Happy Days, The Love Boat, Too Close for Comfort, and like a hundred others).

A maniac known as “The Breather” (he sounds like an obscene phone call—especially when he’s making obscene phone calls) stalks high school kids and waits until they’re getting ready to get it on before killing them off with a ludicrous assortment of weapons, including paper clips, an eggplant, an eraser, and a horse-head bookend. Toby the virgin tries her best to stop the fiend—who strikes during the homecoming parade, the big game, and the prom—but ends up as the prime suspect instead.

Student Bodies isn’t especially witty, but the sheer volume of schtick keeps it afloat, as it turns out the entire faculty, as well as the brain-damaged janitor, are all murderous psychopaths. No nudity or gore, but at one point, a man appears on screen who explains that “R” rated movies make more money. So he says “fuck you” to the audience. An interesting curiosity from decades past that’s at least as funny as anything from the Scary Movie franchise. Yeah, I know, faint praise indeed.

World War Z (2013)

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I haven’t read the book by Max Brooks, but the lovely Barbara assures me that the movie is a major departure. Instead of an oral history of a war with the undead as told by the survivors, World War Z tucks us into Brad Pitt’s hip pocket as a battle-hardened U.N. inspector who swings into action to find an antidote for the latest zombie plague.

One fine day, while shepherding their two darling daughters to school in Philadelphia, Gerry Lane (Pitt) and his wife Karin (Mireille Enos, from The Killing, who is criminally underutilized) encounter a traffic jam caused by a rampaging band of zombies who look an awful lot like those depicted in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. They’re fast and insanely violent, more like bitey berserkers than your traditional Romero-inspired shambling flesh eaters.

Lane is apparently quite an in-demand figure, as he spends most of the film being whisked all over the globe by helicopter, trying to root-source the cause of this worldwide catastrophe. His bacon is saved several times by phone calls to his U.N. superior (Fana Mokoena), who for some reason sees his former coworker as the last, best hope for humanity. Lucky him! And while the rest of the world is engulfed by hungry, hungry humanoids, Lane is repeatedly snatched from the jaws of fate.

You will not be bored by World War Z; it moves lickety-split from one dire scenario to the next, always with swarms of zombies in pursuit, clambering over each other to mount the walls and get at the yummy remnants of humanity. But despite their formidable swarming capabilities, the zombies are virtually indistinguishable and often resemble blurry video-game creations. It’s a CGI world we live in I’m afraid, and that makes for an altogether less frightening zombie holocaust.

Sector 7 (2011)

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In the mood for a Korean homage to Alien set on an oil rig? I hope so, because Sector 7 makes for a dandy monster matinee—plenty of thrills, a kick-ass female lead (Ji-won Ha), and an imaginative creature that takes a pounding and keeps on hounding.

A small crew on an oil rig off the coast of South Korea is menaced by a bloodthirsty beast from below. Resembling a slimy hybrid of giant crocodile and a pit bull with tentacles, the monster grows, regenerates, and catches fire easily since its blood is flammable. But damn, if it ain’t resilient! Hottie heroine Cha Hae-joon (Ha) hits the thing with everything but the good china and it just…keeps…coming.

Sector 7‘s nods to Alien are numerous and easily spotted: the sweaty, gritty industrial sets; a monster that begins its life as a tiny specimen and quickly grows to er, monstrous proportions; a representative from the oil company (Seong-gi Ahn, the Korean Robert Forster) with a secret agenda; and finally, one of the two women crew members proves to be the toughest and most resourceful character in the movie.

The creature and gore effects are outstanding, and director Ji-hoon Kim is a gifted visual stylist, utilizing an arsenal of nimble camerawork, fast, tight frames, and even imparting a knowing sense of cosmic wonder and whimsy into the action, not unlike Guillermo del Toro. Between Sector 7 and 2006’s The Host, South Korea might slowly be revealing itself as a promising player in the import horror market.

The Mummy’s Hand (1940)

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Haven’t sat down with a good ol’ Universal monster movie in quite a while, and that’s a shame since they were the primary catalyst for making me the horror fan I am today. Imagine your humble narrator as a wide-eyed moppet in footy pajamas staring in wonder at another episode of some regional spook show like Creature Features or House of Fear, my shaky hand seeking the comfort of the popcorn bowl in a profound darkness lighted only by a small black-and-white TV set. Or better yet, don’t.

Yes, the Mummy is a slow-moving, clumsy bugger usually manipulated by some dude in a fez to deliver him hot chicks in nightgowns, but not many monsters have such a formidable (and underutilized) mythology behind them. You know, Egypt, hieroglyphics, sarcophagi, curses, tombs, and the like? It’s a wealth of sinister and exotic pageantry, and I for one will never tire of an ambulatory roll of bandages hunting down a bunch of foolhardy archaeologists.

The Mummy’s Hand isn’t the first entry in the series (that would be 1932 version of The Mummy with Boris Karloff) but it’s a fine jumping-off point to get acquainted with the whole premise. Brawny archaeologist Steve Banning (Dick Foran—not much of an actor, I’m afraid) and his comedy sidekick Babe Jensen (Wallace Ford) launch an expedition to find the tomb of Princess Ananka, and instead stumble upon Kharis (Tom Tyler) a 3,000-year-old living mummy who serves the latest in a long line of high priests (George Zucco, who would return to the role two more times in The Mummy’s Tomb and The Mummy’s Ghost).

Interlopers are strangled, a tasty dame (Peggy Moran) is carried away by the lovesick Kharis, and the high priest gets gunned down by the comedy sidekick. It’s a lot of movie packed into a short running time, and even with some unlikely set dressing decisions (I spied a dragon motif affixed to the temple of Amon-Ra. Were ancient Egyptians into dragons? Don’t think so, but I could be wrong) and inexplicable mood swings (e.g., Babe Jensen sits around the campfire with his magician pal, the Great Solvani, trying to learn a corny parlor trick about 10 minutes after they discover a murdered comrade in the forbidden tomb), but it’s fast-paced entertainment with an eerie menace that stands the test of time. Do yourself a favor.

Munger Road (2011)

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Let’s give credit where credit is due. Writer-director Nicholas Smith has quite a pair of balls. Anyone who has the nerve to invite me back for “Part 2” after boring the shit out of me for 87 tension-free minutes, is not lacking in confidence. Does he even know what a horror movie is? Surely no one with any understanding of the genre would so blatantly string us along without anything resembling action or plot development, only to ring down the curtain with “To Be Continued.” Let me guess: somebody’s check bounced.

Smith seems to be under the impression that having film veteran Bruce Davidson (Willard, Dead Man’s Curve, X-Men) stumbling around several poorly lit locations in suburban Illinois in search of an escaped killer and some missing dull teenagers is sufficient to entice the viewer to return for the second chapter of this magnum dopus. How dare you, sir! Munger Road is the facade of a movie that never happens; a shell, a sham, a shame.