Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
Dir. Rob Hedden
When an anchor snags an underwater electricity cable at the bottom of Crystal Lake, the power surge reanimates the dormant corpse of Jason Voorhees who winds up onboard a boat filled with teens heading to New York to celebrate their graduation. Bloodless carnage and dreadful Eighties soft rock ensue.
While Freddy vs. Jason had been on the cards for some time, but wouldn't come to fruition for years yet, due to creative differences between New Line and Paramount, the two horror icons actually did go head to head back in 1989 (albeit from within their own respective franchises). New Line released A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child at the same time Paramount was releasing this, the eighth instalment of the Friday the 13th series. Often considered the worst of the sequels (which arguably isn't saying much!), Jason Takes Manhattan is a mess of a film. While director Hedden tried to move the series in a new direction, he was prevented from doing so by an ever diminishing budget and anxious execs, who didn't want to deviate too much from what they believed to be a winning formula. As a result, the film lacks tension, likeable characters, cohesiveness, continuity and its trademark violence. It also looks like a made for TV movie - again due to the low budget. Indeed, even the title is misleading as the vast majority of the film takes place on a boat (named The Lazarus, no less!) bound for New York. By the time we get to Manhattan and Jason pursues the surviving teens through subways and sewers, if you’re still awake, you’ll be ‘rewarded’ with about twenty minutes worth of a tensionless chase scene.
How big is this boat? The small graduating class of stereotypes all split up to do their own thing. The guys gather in the gym for sparring, a couple of girls bitch about everyone else and do some coke, a rock chick with impossibly big hair hangs out below deck to play guitar and savour the cool acoustics, a nerd with a film camera follows people around filming them, sensitive jock Sean (Scott Reeves) struggles to prove himself to his father (the ship’s captain), teacher/chaperon Colleen Van Deusen (Barbara Bingham) flits about being caring, while our Final Girl Renee (Jensen Daggett) deals with her fear of water (brought about by a mysterious incident in her past) and her overbearing uncle/guardian/biology teacher Charles McCulloch (Peter Mark Richman) – the most annoying and dislikeable ‘villain’ ever. Where’s Dr Crews when you need him? Numbers are briskly whittled down as characters wander about on their own and Jason suddenly appears behind/in front/beside them and kills them. Stalking sequences are rendered tensionless as Jason has now become this seemingly ubiquitous being capable of teleportation, appearing, disappearing and reappearing anywhere. So no matter how much the characters try to evade him, he just appears wherever they are running to and gets 'em. This wears thin very fast and sucks all suspense out of the story. The various gory money shots are all cut from the film, too – so we don’t get to see Jason bash in the brains of the rock chick with her own guitar, or smash a hot sauna rock into the chest of a jock.
Due to budget cuts, director Hedden had to reign in his ambitious script which featured the hockey-masked killer fucking shit up in Manhattan during much more screen time. What little we do see of Jason marauding around the already dangerous streets of New York looks suitably impressive. Gasp! as Jason murderlises some crack addicts who are roughing up Renee. Gawp! as Jason fucks up some vagrants. Be astounded! as Jason kicks over a street gang’s ghetto-blaster. The brief shots actually featuring Manhattan cityscapes are effectively realised, and it appears to be one of the unmistakably Eighties depictions of the city – all grimy Abel Ferrara aesthetics, graffiti-loaded alleys, steaming manhole covers and crack whore-tastic street urchins. Events soon move into the featureless sewers though as Renee and Sean desperately try to escape Jason. Much of the scenes in the city were actually filmed in Toronto, again due to budgetary limitations. Shame.
One of the ‘highlights’ comes when boxer Julius is cornered on a rooftop and begins pummelling Jason. Eventually exhausted and not seeming to have deterred Jason any, he dares the hulking maniac to ‘take his best shot.’ Which he does, punching Julius’ head right off his shoulders, over the side of the roof and down into a bin in the alley below.
The ending is nonsensical and features Jason being dissolved by toxic waste in the sewers, and reverting back to the form of a small boy. What does this mean? That he was a ghost all along or something? Doesn’t. Make. Sense. And hey, I realise this is part eight of a series already low on imagination and continuity, but please! Also odd are the flashbacks Renee has of learning to swim as a youngster in Crystal Lake and having a spooky encounter with a young Jason, who tries to drown her. A ‘shocking twist’ reveals that Renee’s gob-shite of an uncle is actually a bastard after all. Shocker.
Nothing beats the final shock ending though, as Sean and Renee emerge from the sewer, only to be startled by the formidable form of... Renee's dog! Scary. If you thought the original shock ending was enough to induce brown pants, you ain't seen nothing yet...