Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
In the wake of New Line Cinema’s announcement that it will be rebooting the Friday the 13th series, there will be some filmgoers that will be introduced into the famed franchise for the first time and will want to check out the previous eleven entries. Those newcomers will be hard pressed to find a worse film in the entire Friday the 13th collection than Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. If the name of the film itself doesn’t evoke just a bit of laughter, then perhaps the poor character development, shameful plot, and careless ending will do the trick. Please keep in mind that the Friday the 13th series started with a serious horror film.
Conveniently enough, most of the films in the Friday the 13th series follow the same general plot outline, which is rather simple and straightforward: Jason, a hockey-mask-wearing psychopath, returns from the dead to terrorize the teenagers that reside in the town of Crystal Lake, home to the now infamous Camp Crystal Lake (often referred to as “Camp Blood”) where Jason drowned as a child. In Jason Takes Manhattan, a slew of teenage stereotypes find themselves in peril when Jason (Kane Hodder) appears on their cruise ship during the senior field trip. A few “don’t-go-in-there”-moments later and the graduating class of nearly a dozen is reduced a more manageable (and remembered) few: Rennie (Jensen Daggett, Major League: Back to the Minors), our heroine, her boyfriend, Sean (Scott Reeves), their principal Charles McCulloch (Peter Mark Richman, “Dynasty”), and favorite teacher, Mrs. Van Deusen (Barbara Bingham).
One initial problem that I found with the film is its inconsistent setting. Interior shots of the boat make it look like a cruise liner; on board there’s a sauna room, a dance hall, and even a full gymnasium complete with locker rooms. From the outside, however, the ship looks no bigger than a tugboat, and the audience is forced to suspend disbelief and accept the fact that these two substantially different locales are one in the same. Even if the film tried to explain this and provided an utterly ridiculous reason behind it (like that there’s a time portal or something), at least the audience wouldn’t feel as though director Rob Hedden either ignored this fault or, what’s worse, didn’t notice it himself.
But a magical tugboat that turns into a cruise liner is something I can come to accept as long as the film is filled with a colorful bunch of characters for me to invest interest in. Alas, no luck. Hedden, also serving as the film’s screenwriter, has filled Jason Takes Manhattan with a cast of characters so devoid of development that to even wait around for them to be killed off would be devoting too much time to their existence in this film. Granted, the Friday the 13th series has not been jam-packed with gems, but at least the characters of the past have had some consistent tie to the tale of Jason Voorhees (either being related to one another or to the killer himself). Here we have characters that not only have nothing important to say, but provide no real advancement of the legend of Jason. There is little that is discernable from these kids except for their stereotypical appearance (the rock star, the jock, the smart girl), which also makes them extremely replaceable. It’s obvious that these one-dimensional teenage wastes of space are meant to be fed to Jason, but come on, at least fatten them up first with a little more character development.
Surely, at this point in the review, there must be kind words to be said. Perhaps the ending, in which the two teenage heroes take one final stand against the unstoppable Jason Voorhees inside a sewer, will do the trick. After all, this movie is called Jason Takes Manhattan so there must be some solace at the end of the film when the action moves to the bustling streets of New York circa 1980, enough so that the entire first half of the movie is forgotten. Right?
Wrong. In fact, I would argue (and I will) that the last act of the film, the Manhattan part of Jason Takes Manhattan if you will, is more of a waste of cinematic space that the previous 80 minutes on that magical tug boat cruise. Chalk it up to missed opportunities. During these final twenty-minutes-or-so of film, the New York setting is used more or less like a backdrop, the kind that is found at all photo centers across the nation. There is not one point during the last part of the film that New York could have been lifted out of the shot and — I don’t know — a nice thick forest or some rich blue clouds put in its place and I would have cared or even noticed. It’s more of the same running, chasing, stabbing that we’ve been watching on the boat, it’s just now the teenagers have more room to get caught. A few not-so-friendly encounters (with some gangbangers and two homeless men) serve as further possibilities that were never quite realized. Sure, it can be entertaining to watch Jason scare the gangbangers or beat up the homeless, but imagine a movie where the real oddballs of 80s New York come out to take on Jason. Keep imagining, because it’s not happening here.
Instead, we have our two teenage saviors running from Jason inside a sewer where a rampaging tidal wave of nuclear waste is not far behind. You don’t need a spoiler alert inserted here to know what happens next, though I’m sure it’ll come as a complete surprise to find out that Jason is turned back into a child upon being hit with the nuclear waste. If that doesn’t make sense then join the club, because evidentially even Kane Hodder opposed to this ending and the entire film itself was forgotten when Jason Goes to Hell (aka Part 9) was made. I think that’s a much better ending.
There is a reason Jason Takes Manhattan holds the lowest rating on Rotten Tomatoes infamous “Tomato Meter” (an abysmal 0%) for a Friday the 13th film: because it is a paper-thin movie. So desperate was I to find something particularly positive to write about the movie that all I could think of was that at one point, a character is fighting Jason on a rooftop and Jason punches the character’s head clean-off and it falls off the building into a dumpster (and somehow closes the lid behind itself). I felt like taking this movie and throwing it from a tall building somewhere, hoping it lands in a dumpster and closes the lid behind itself, but it won’t. No, it’ll crawl out of the dumpster and walk off into the night, just waiting to be remade.