Where do you start with Friday the 13th part 8 Jason Takes Manhattan? I suppose you could start with me. This was the only Friday the 13th film I saw in the cinema, which in itself is a bit of a miracle. By 1989 the Friday movies were no longer released in UK cinemas. I guess it was because Part 5 was so roundly rejected by British cinema goers (and rightly so) that the audience over here just evaporated. After that, if you wanted to watch a Friday film you had to wait for the one copy to appear on VHS at your local video store. There was never a need to reserve it.
I was fortunate enough to be on holiday in Florida with my oldest friend Chris during the summer of 1989. That season was a bumper year for the cineplexes. We saw Batman, Lethal Weapon 2, The Abyss, When Harry Met Sally, Ghostbusers 2, er… Turner and Hooch? There was also the big horror sequel we were all waiting for. No not Jason Takes Manhattan, it was A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: the Dream Child. Nightmare 4 had been the most successful one yet and the marketing was going into overdrive to promote the next film. Unfortunately, when it arrived everyone realised that Freddy’s days were numbered as people were tired of the same old game.
This was particularly unfortunate for Jason takes Manhattan as the producers of the Friday the 13th franchise were now desperately trying to emulate Nightmare‘s success. This is most notable in the lighter tone of the film but also how the characters would have some trait that they would die by. For example a rock chick is battered to death by her own electric guitar. If Nightmare 5 was taking a hit at the box office, that was nothing compared to how bad things were for Jason Voorhees. Chris and I saw this film in an air conditioned shopping mall, we had the whole screen to ourselves. Despite the Manhattan gimmick, audiences stayed away in droves.
This is probably because the New York stuff barely shows up. It is a full hour before the cast arrive in the Big Apple and even then there are very few shots which even look like the right location. But we’ll get to that later.
In the mean time let’s start at the beginning. Jason is revived, again, from the bottom of the lake by… oh god, you know what? I can’t remember. I watched this yesterday but I’ve watched so many Friday the 13ths this week they’re all blurring into one. Was he unhooked from his grave by an anchor or an electric cable at the bottom of the lake? Or was that the last film? I have no idea. There are two teens on a boat on the lake though, having sex obviously. The guy tells the girl about the legend of Jason Voorhees, but really he’s telling the audience in case we don’t know what the story is by now. Then the boy dons a hockey mask to scare the girl, into I presume having more sex with him. Every film has to have some kind of prank in it, and it always an incredibly lame one. On the positive side it means when Jason climbs out of his watery grave he has a nice new hockey mask to put on so he can kill those horney teens in his usual style.
Still, we’ve got to get to New York somehow so we catch up with some other teens who are going on a school trip there on an ocean cruiser. They are the usual bunch of lifeless souls even before they are dispatched. However as mentioned before, this time they have certain skills which result in barely ironic, and certainly not clever, deaths. There’s the rock chick of course, but also the vain girl who is stabbed to death with a mirror, an amatuer film maker who is killed by his camera and best of all the boxer. This guy goes several rounds of body hits and upper cuts with Jason without doing any damage. Exhausted he tells Jason to give it his best shot, at which point the big guy punches the boxer’s head clean off, it tumbles down a building and into a trash can that slams shut. Its the highlight of the film.
The character actor Peter Mark Richman is also there as the rather mean teacher. He’s an incredibly negative force to be reckoned with. He spends the entire time refusing to believe that Jason exists. He also belittles this film’s hunk, Sean, who manages to get them off the sinking ship into a lifeboat, guide the boat through thick fog to New York and get them all safely on land. None of this is good enough for Richman. They finally climb up onto the New York docks and all he can say is “what a lovely place you’ve found for us Sean” Sarcastic git. Mind you, he’s the one who also gets to say “I think we’d all be much more productive if we split up” so he’s obviously a drooling moron.
Talking or morons, there is, of course, a salty old sea dog who tells everyone that “they’re all dooooomed”. This character was a cliche in the first Friday the 13th, do we really still need him to tell us this yet again?
There are a number of questions I would like to know the answers to. Firstly, why does Jason get on the ship? He seems to have some vendetta against the final girl Rennie (Jensen Daggett) because he met her underwater at Crystal Lake when they were both children or something. This whole sub plot makes no sense whatsoever.
Secondly, Rennie is constantly haunted by the child ghost of Jason. Obviously this is related to the above subplot but the writers obviously fail to understand the very nature of what a ghost actually is. How can the ghost of child Jason be there when the adult Jason is standing there too? Also how did he become an adult if he died as a child? There’s even one bit with both the child and adult Jasons standing next to each other. I mean, it can’t be just Rennie’s wild imagination because her dog sees the ghost Jason child before she does. Yes, the dog sees the ghost. And he seems to know who Jason is too and runs away accordingly. Its ridiculous. Although the dog acts everyone else off the screen.
All this cruiser ship stuff goes on for a very long time. I almost forgot we were meant to be going to New York City. During that time we are subjected to another prank. The vain girl develops some hatred of Rennie so, for a laugh, accidentally pushes her off the side of the cruiser into the ocean. How is this a good idea? It could result in death which surely is borderline murder. She’s out of her fucking mind!
Finally, we get to New York, well, Vancouver doing a very poor impression of New York. I worked in Vancouver for six months and, as lovely as the city is, at no point did I think that it was anything like New York. Obviously the budget must have stretched to one night’s shoot in the real place though because our heroes and Jason, or is it our hero Jason because really we’re on his side now, end up in Times Square. This is the one moment we see the film that the title could have been, with a larger budget. Jason framed infront of the glowing billboards looks pretty cool and iconic. He meets some local street punks listening to rap music. He kicks their ghetto blaster out of the way and they all pull knives on them. He turns around and takes off his mask at which point they all shit themselves. This is the Friday the 13th equivalent of the “now this is a knife” scene in Crocodile Dundee. Its stupid but it works. If only the rest of the film could have been like this. This and the boxing match.
Instead, the rest of the New York/Vancouver stuff is all in this weird world where there no cars, open barrels of toxic waste and lots of furniture on the sidewalk so the characters can sit down and relax for a bit in between being chased by Jason. There are a couple of New york archetypes here; a cop with a trigger finger and a broad accent, and a few street gang members. The gangsters kidnap Rennie for a bit for some gang banging which is kind of depressing. Fortunately they are quickly torn apart by Jason, but not before injecting Rennie with heroin. The upshot of this is that this is one of the few slasher films where the final girl spends the climax smacked out of her face.
The climax we get has Rennie and Sean try to escape Jason in the sewers before the nightly toxic waste flushes the through the tunnels. Does this actually happen in New york? Have the film makers ever even been to New York or no anything about the place? Do they think we’re idiots?
Actually I think they DO think we’re idiots. Having two only minutes of a film with Manhattan in the title set in Manhattan is a bit of a joke. Why bother with that crazy title if you can’t fulfill its promise. And I’m sure there were better, smarter ways they could have integrated the New York aspect without spending an hour getting there. There is just too little of what we have paid to see, the audience has been cheated and this time they do not forgive easily.
When Chris and I stumbled out into the Florida heat after seeing Part 8 we didn’t really talk about it, there wasn’t much to say, it felt flat and boring, telling us nothing new about Jason Vorhees, and definitely nothing about New York because it was barely even shot there. We rejected the Friday the 13th films after this entry, and so did everyone else. With such little care on the filmmakers part, could you blame us?