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 rock music 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 at the box office and 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 very fair, or true!), Jason Takes Manhattan is, while terrifically good fun, also a wee bit of a mess. 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, cohesiveness and continuity (though some would say this never impeded any of the earlier sequels!). It also looks weirdly 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 fairly tensionless, but still fun 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 sneak off to take some drugs, a bad-ass rocker hangs out below deck to play guitar and savour the cool acoustics, a film buff with a camera follows people around filming them, Sean (Scott Reeves) struggles to prove himself to his father (the ship’s captain), teacher/chaperon Colleen Van Deusen (Barbara Bingham) tries to ensure some kind of order is maintained, 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 dastardly, dislikeable character since Dr Crewes. 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 violence all happens off screen too.
Due to budget cuts, director Hedden had to rein 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 addicts who are menacing Renee. Gawp! as Jason fucks up some unfortunate vagrants. Be astounded! as Jason kicks over a street gangs' ghetto-blaster. The brief shots actually featuring Manhattan cityscapes are effectively realised, and it appears to be one of those unmistakably Eighties depictions of the city – all grimy Abel Ferrara-like aesthetics, graffiti-loaded alleys, steaming manhole covers and crack-tastic street people. 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.
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 logic 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 dastardly uncle is actually a complete 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! If you thought the original shock ending was shocking, you ain't seen nothing yet... Aww. Good boy!