By Steve Newton
As dedicated Vancouver horror fans know, the city has had its fair share of terrible flight flicks filmed here. Some were worse than others, of course. For example, the adaptation of Dean Koontz’s Watchers was way worse than the adaptation of Stephen King’s It.
Then again, it was way worse than anything.
Except maybe Uwe Boll’s Vancouver-shot Alone in the Dark.
Vancouver’s standing as a worthwhile producer of scary movies was redeemed somewhat with the release of 2012’s Cabin in the Woods, but could a movie even that awesome make up for something like, say, 1989’s Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan?
I covered the shooting of the latter movie for horror mag Fangoria, making visits to the set at UBC, downtown, and in Burnaby. Here’s my story as it appeared in Fangoria, issue #85, dated Aug. 1989
On a cool, crisp Canadian night, the sights and sounds of spring are evident on the campus of the University of British Columbia. Midnight joggers cruise the grounds in shorts and T-shirts, tape decks blast from students’ convertibles. The land of ice and snow gives itself over to the inevitable changing of the season.But wait! All is not sweetness and light on this mid-April night. In the UBC Ocean Research Center, sinister plans are being worked on and evil deeds done. The newest saga of Jason Voorhees, master of mayhem and sharp instruments, is underway here, and no one is safe–least of all good-looking, sexually active teens.That’s right, kids, it’s Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan! (And you thought ’89 was just another year.)
Set for release August 4th, at over 1,500 theaters, the latest Jason bloodfest is being put together by Vancouver-based Horror Productions Inc., and produced by local moviemaker Randy Cheveldave. In his claustrophobic trailer on the UBC site, Cheveldave offers the lowdown on the next installment of the world’s longest-running slasher series.”In a nutshell,” he summarizes, “the story is that this is the last graduating class from Crystal Lake High School. The school is closing, and the father of one of the teenagers in the movie owns a ship. As a graduation present, he says, ‘I’ll sail you all to New York.’
“Of course, Jason gets himself on board, and there’s all kinds of murder and mayhem, culminating in essentially the destruction of most life aboard, and the ship itself.”But we have as survivors three of the teens, two chaperones, and a dog, who make good their escape during a storm-at-sea sequence. They spend a couple of days drifting around at sea, and then they actually paddle right into New York Harbor. Unbeknownst to them until they arrive, Jason is still hot on their heels.”
All right! We all knew those rigorous swimming exercises in Crystal Lake would pay off some day! Or maybe ol’ Hockeyface just drops to the ocean floor and trots right up to the Big Apple. At any rate, Jason gets there somehow, in time to mete out rough justice to a gang that kidnaps heroine Rennie (played by Jensen Daggett) and anyone else who gets in his way.
Cheveldave maintains that, this time around, the gore quotient takes a back seat to more subtle frights.
“I’d say that, overall, it’s less bloody than previous Fridays,” the producer ponders. “There’s more suspense. We probably find out more about Jason than we ever have before. To a much greater degree than in any previous film, he interacts with the rest of the cast, causing things to happen other then mere deaths.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that Jason is inviting anyone to tea.
“You’ll see some surprising deaths!” brightens Cheveldave. “I mean, we’re certainly not equipping Jason with semiautomatics or anything like that. He relies on the traditional sharp and blunt instruments, but aside from those, there are some creative deaths. I don’t want to give them away.”
Ah, the old wait-and-see approach. Well, that’s cool, I suppose. But what about that nemesis of blood ‘n’ guts, the MPAA? They’re probably waiting with baited breath to get their scissors into Part VIII’s gore scenes. Judging from recent butcheries, Cheveldave can expect cuts a-plenty.
“We are prepared for some,” he says. “The MPAA seems to be down mostly on gratuitous gore. We’re not like a TV show that has bloodless killings–which I’ve always found very offensive, when television glosses over a death so quickly that it’s virtually meaningless. That gives a wrong impression of death, how hard it is to kill somebody and how hard it is to die. Our deaths are by no means bloodless, nor are they filled with gratuitous gore. I hope we’ve struck a realistic tone with the violence in this movie.”
Inside the UBC Ocean Research Center, production designer David Fisher has overseen the construction of a one-sided wooden cruise ship replica–portholes and all–against the back wall of a huge water tank. Strawberry-flavored fog and hydraulic wave machines give the scene an authentic ocean effect, as director Rob Hedden films the lucky (so far) survivors of Jason’s maritime maraudings. During a break in shooting, the 35-year-old filmmaker (who barely looks 25) elaborates on the violence (or lack of it) in the upcoming release.
“Well, it’s going to be scarier,” promises Hedden, between bites of pumpkin pie, “but as far as the blood content, it’s really up to the discretion of the MPAA. I’ve been shooting it in two versions. For example, in a scene where the captain of the ship gets his throat slit by Jason, I did one version where the knife goes across his throat as he’s sitting there, and you don’t think he’s been cut. He leans back, and then you see the slit open up in his throat, and then blood starts dribbling out. That’s the ‘A’ version.
“In the ‘B’ version the slit appears in his throat but there’s no blood. We cut away before the blood flows. So I’ve got it covered either way. More people are killed in this movie than in any of the other Friday The 13ths–like 20 or something, an outrageous body count. There are quite a few where you come into it after it has happened. You see it about to happen, then we come back as a shocker afterwards.”
Jason Takes Manhattan is Hedden’s first voyage helming a feature film, though he has directed documentaries in the past, and written and directed two episodes of Friday The 13th: The Series (“The Electrocutioner” and “13 O’clock”). Dedicated Friday followers will recall that the previous Friday the 13th–1988’s Part VII: The New Blood–began and ended with Jason at the bottom of Crystal Lake, and the new movie–which Hedden wrote the script for–gets the waterlogged fellow outta there and on his way to some brand new killing grounds.
“The very first frames of the movie are completely different from any of the other Fridays, I can say that much,” Hedden teases. “The question is: How do we bring him out of the lake? That’s what the people go to the movie to see–how he comes to life, how he gets on the cruise ship, how he gets to New York, what he does when he gets to New York. All those things are, you know, fun!”
Rob Hedden isn’t one of those high ‘n’ mighty, artsy-fartsy directors who look down on genre films even as they make them. He’s a dyed-in-the-wool horror fan and he’s proud of it. He did his homework on the first seven Voorhees slaughterthons.
“I’ve seen every one of them several times,” he admits. “Storywise, the very first one, because obviously it set up the whole thing, was the best. Final Chapter and Jason Lives were great, too. I hate to go on record saying, ‘I didn’t like this part or that part,’ they all had their moments. The first, fourth and sixth were probably my favorites.”
Hedden remains adamant that Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan is the most adventurous installment. And from the sound of things, he could be right. He’s quick to give credit to his co-workers on the film for its uniqueness, with particular emphasis on director of photography Bryan England.
“Bryan’s given this movie a look different from all the other ones,” Hedden enthuses. “It’s very ethereal, with enriched color saturation. He just finished doing The Gate II, and he did I, Madman-in fact, that’s how Brian got this job. He showed me a few reels of I, Madman, and that was such a rich looking movie that I thought, ‘This is what I want.’
“Usually in these movies it’s like, ‘Let’s shoot it quick and move on to the next setup.’ Brian paints with light, and we take our time with every shot. That includes the effects. We don’t rush through any of this stuff. [FX coordinator] Marty Becker has worked on a bunch of Fridays, and he says Jason looks better and scarier in this movie than in any of the other ones. I can’t take credit for that.”
Martin Becker heads Southern California’s Reel EFX, and has worked on the third through sixth Fridays as well as the fourth Freddy Krueger venture. The night after visiting the UBC location, on a set near downtown Vancouver, Becker and the second unit film a New York subway scene. Inside a cavernous transit tunnel, David Fisher’s production crew have assembled several dozen feet of authentic looking subway tracks and the back end of a subway car garnished with an official New York Transit System logo.
While the camera rolls, Jason (Kane Hodder) steps down from the car and walks stealthily along the tracks, before the film’s hero Sean (Scott Reeves) leaps off a platform and knocks the killer onto a rail conveniently labeled DANGER: 6000 VOLTS. Sparks fly every which way, and Jason squirms like a worm on a hook before laying completely still. (If you think he’s finished, here’s news for you: That hardly even gave him a buzz.)
During a 3:00 a.m. lunch break at the back of his trailer-turned office, Becker figures out just what’s so special about this latest chapter.
“We’re definitely out of Crystal Lake with some of this stuff,” he beams. “We’ve dealt with car crashes, we’ve dealt with boxing matches on rooftops. We’ve even dealt with depicting New York City. And there’s a new way of killing Jason in this one, but [executive producer] Frank Mancuso Jr. won’t let me tell you that one. The electrocution is not gonna stop Jason. We’re more along the lines of nukin’ him.
“And,” he adds with a grin, “we establish some new characters in this. You might say that Jason has a son.”
Well, you heard it first right here. Wonder who the proud mom could be? And is Jason Jr. a chip off the old block? These questions come to me when I finally meet Jason actor Kane Hodder a few days later while he’s shooting some scenes at an abandoned high school in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby. Not one to pry into family affairs, I stick to more pressing questions, like does he get to kill more people this time around?
“Yeah, there are a few more kills,” Hodder assesses between bites of lasagna. “And there are a few that are kind of veiled, which sometimes makes for a scary movie. You can’t get away with much gore anymore, but it can be just as scary–if not more so–without really graphic stuff. There are still a few things, of course.”
Well, of course. It just wouldn’t be a slasher flick without ’em. So how about a little teaser for the gorehounds who can’t quite wait till August? Come on, Kane, what’s your favorite kill in this one? Pleeaasse?
“Well, I don’t really want to give away too much,” says the only actor to play Jason a second time. “But there’s a nice inventive kill where I give a guy a real bird’s-eye view of this barrel. And then there’s one with a boxer,” Hodder grins, nodding to makeup-FX boss Jamie Brown beside him. “Jaime did a really nice job on that one.”
Although Brown–a veteran of such mainstream flicks as Buffalo Bill and The Indians, Dead-Bang, and Death Hunt–was trained in Hollywood during the early ’60’s, he is a newcomer to the horror-FX biz.
“I specialize in old age and smaller appliances,” he explains, giving Hodder a chance to eat. “I was a little hesitant about doing this film, because I’d never seen Jason and I wasn’t a great believer in horror movies. To me, it looked like they just scraped a bunch of mess together and threw it on someone’s face. Now that I’ve gotten so involved with it, I’m becoming immensely interested in it. There’s a hell of a lot more to it than I had thought.”
Brown gives a lot of credit for the latest Jason look to his Vancouver-based technicians, Bill Terezakis and Tibor Farkas–who also worked with Brown on two episodes of cable TV’s The Hitchhiker series. But he’s pretty close-lipped about the specifics of the new Jason makeup, except to say that there’s been quite a change. “We just tried to make him more human,” he discloses. “He has just come to life.”
At this point in the conversation, a group of kids edge close to where Hodder stands, gazing appreciatively at the famed mask he’s just taken off to chow down. Word has gotten out in the neighborhood that Jason’s in town, and everybody wants an autograph.
When a boy of about 10 hands Kane a pen and paper, yours truly shoots the kid the million-dollar question: Who’d win in a fight, Jason or Freddy?
“I think probably Jason,” decides the youngster, “’cause he gets better weapons.”
Man, looking back, I really put a lot of work into that set-visit piece. And I was so psyched to be on the set of a Friday the 13th film that I went a little overboard building up how great Jason Takes Manhattan might actually be. Sorry about that. As everyone knows, Part VIII sucked the biggie.