Interview & article by Michael Lizaragga.
Before he ever went to hell, fought Freddy, froze through time, or launched into space, Jason Voorhees embarked on one of the scariest, weirdest and most craziest frontiers of them all: New York.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN stands as a classic amongst Jason Junkies, forever revered and remembered as the hockey mask’s first outing outside Crystal Lake (unless you count Part 2, in which Jason tracks down his mom’s decapitator and bumps her off during the first five), as well as Paramount’s final stab into the billion dollar franchise. And like its unstoppable poster boy who never dies, the 13TH legacy will always remain—along with generations of fans requesting tales and testimonies from those who have taken part in the Jason saga.
One such participant, actor/producer/writer VC “Julius” Dupree who starred in JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, commemorates the chapter’s 25th anniversary by taking Famous Monsters on a little cruise ship down memory “lake”.
In JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, Dupree plays high school boxer Julius Gaw, a tough street-like character who, in a popular climatic scene, knuckles up with Voorhees in a one-round boxing bout. Ding! After socking the psycho killer sixty-plus times (literally), the exhausted Julius utters, “Take your best shot,” and his powerful opponent swats his entire head off with one slap. Yeah, Julius “heads” home (okay, no more head puns, I promise). But hey, how many Jason victims have stood toe-to-toe with the goalie goon and defied being his hockey puck?
“On the heels of shooting this film, I had absolutely no clue that this was a Friday the 13th movie,” Dupree confesses, dressed in a stylish black shirt embroidered with a way-too-cool, custom-made Jason mask. “All I knew was that they were going to pay me X amount of money to fly out to Vancouver and fight a monster. That was it.”
Dupree shared not only his fun experiences with JTM, but also his rather gruesome yet gnarly decapitated “head”, one of the the three prop heads used in the movie (the other two went to his mom and grandma). Having had the head restored and placed in a glass case for all to delight in at cons, Dupree was asked what the going rate would be if he ever decided to sell the piece, to which the Encino, CA resident coyly replied, “I’ve had offers all over the board—all over the world from various Friday the 13th museums, who are really expansive in their memorabilia. There are some that want it for free (grimaces); there are some that offered me $30,000.”
During JTM’s pre-production, Dupree did not have the actual experience of a gritty street-hard boxer that the casting director was looking for (having visited boxing gyms all throughout Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit), not to mention the size and physique of a fighter (Dupree wore layers and layers of sweatshirts to his audition, which, to his dismay, did nothing to fool anyone). But there was something about the then-novice, Los Angeles-based actor that caught the eyes of the executives and director, and he was selected over countless professional boxers, body builders, and actors.
“I was a green actor, inexperienced, and yet fresh, enthusiastic, and with absolutely no concept of the word fear,” Dupree recalls. “This came across as an energetic teenager who you could conceivably see as a high school senior going up against this monster.”
Dupree’s fight with Jason was one of the most grueling scenes he’s ever done, filming sun up till sun down, his swollen knuckles from photo stills only looking like prosthetics. “There were times I actually hit the mask,” shared Dupree. “Another thing that made that scene so difficult was that it was on a rooftop between two apartment buildings, so several times we had to stop shooting because of “silhouettes” peaking out of windows observing the fight.”
While the boxing training itself wasn’t hard for Dupree, it was working out in a new body weight that was the challenge, making something as simple as walking up stairs a whole new experience. And then there was keeping the weight on. “Though I was hitting the weights everyday, the intense cardio workout in the ring made my overall training an oxymoron,” recalls Dupree. “I skipped no meals, because if I did, I’d drop a few pounds.”
Filmed almost entirely in Vancouver with a lot of alley and subway scenes made to look like NY, one of the major disappointments about JTM amongst 13TH fans was that it took place mostly on a cruse ship and not in Manhattan. As director Rob Hedden stated, “In my first outline, two thirds of the movie was in New York, and a third was on the boat. The problem came down to budget; [the producers] said we couldn’t spend that much time in New York.” Originally storyboarded for JTM were scenes on the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building. Dupree comments, “One of the main [conceived] scenes that was never shot was where I’m running from Jason in a back alley and enter a door, finding myself in Madison Square Garden. Blam! The lights suddenly go on, and my fight with Jason ensues in the actual boxing ring.” Dupree notes this rejected scene as being reconstructed into another in which actress and former Miss Hawaii Kelly Hu runs from Jason and ends up in a discotheque.
“I dug the whole idea of being on a cruse ship,” Dupree said. “I thought it worked for the movie. The only thing I would have liked seeing was more students on the boat—still having focal characters, of course, but the presence of more kids would have brought a better vibe.”
Veteran stuntman Kane “Jason” Hodder, who also portrayed Leatherface at one time, is known for playing the heaviest of heavies. Asked if the four-time Jason actor ever clowned around on set, Dupree replied, “No, actually. Sounds kinda boring, but [Kane] maintained a very quiet, low-key persona. That isn’t to say he was a jerk or anything, but it was what worked for him. I actually appreciated it, because it kept him and everyone around him in character.”
Asked of his interactions with cast and crew members of other 13TH films, Dupree replied, “It’s like a fraternity amongst us who have acted in these films. Once you’ve been in a Friday the 13th movie, it’s like, it will always be there, you know? It’s not going anywhere, and we appreciate that about each other. [Laughs] “It’s funny, because whenever [cast members from various 13TH movies] are sitting at the ’round table’ at conventions, we’re constantly asked about our deaths. Never is it about us as people or individuals. As if all we ever talk about in our daily lives is how we died in a Friday the 13th movie.”
Quite remarkable was Dupree’s portrayal of an African-American lasting till the end of a popular slasher film during the 1980s, as well as taking a strong stance against an unstoppable killer like Jason. For non-white actors during the era, this was rare.
“I haven’t seen a big change as far as African-American ‘killees’ are concerned,” says Dupree. “I think they’re still very much the victims; there are still a good portion of them that are axed within the first 10 or 15 minutes of a horror film. The answer to that, however, is what the Wayans brothers have done with the Scary Movie series, which is why there are more African-Americans in those movies—they’re spoofing the legitimate horror genre.”
Shortly after JTM, Dupree transitioned from boxing to karate, in the action film MARTIAL LAW starring David Carradine, learning everything from nunchucks to grappling and being trained by legendary martial artist Benny “The Jet” Urquidez. “Learning from Benny was almost like learning from osmosis,” comments Dupree. “Just watching him move through space and how he was so comfortable in his own skin was enough for me.” Dupree currently attends a Gracie gym with his 9-year-old son, and though he doesn’t do much boxing these days, he engages in a lot of MMA, cross-training, and running.
Once considered for the lead in Steven King’s SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK and 2005′s THE FOG, Dupree was asked if he’d ever return to horror movies. “If handed the right script, I would absolutely love being in another horror film,” commented Dupree. “There’s nothing like this genre and its loyal, die hard fans. Not to mention the magic of a horror movie set. That ‘campfire’ vibe, filming at night. Everyone trying to stay warm, drinking coffee, drinking cocoa. A really, really fun, almost guerilla atmosphere.”
Immersed in monster books before he could read, Michael Lizarraga is a Los Angeles-based horror/fantasy author, freelance magazine writer, and old school Gothic-thriller/comic book/kung-fu flicks junkie. http://www.MichaelLizarraga.com