Friday The 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
By happenstance, it seems that I prefer the even numbered Paramount Pictures’ Friday The 13th films over the odd numbered ones, and this is no exception. I won’t deny there are large flaws with this film, but it basically comes to whether or not I have an enjoyable time watching the film. For Jason Takes Manhattan, I find a great deal of enjoyment from this, and tend to find myself watching this one most often when I just need a fun, easy slasher to watch.
The graduating class of Lakeview High is setting out on a cruise to New York, but after a late night diversion by two students out on Crystal Lake, Jason is electrified back to life for an unexpected journey. Rennie Wickham (Jensen Daggett) is among the classmates with her uncle and biology teacher Charles McCullough (Peter Mark Richman), her caring literature teacher Colleen Van Deusen (Barbara Bingham), and boyfriend Sean Robertson (Scott Reeves). Unfortunate for everyone on board is that Jason has hitched a ride on this ship which is sailing straight into a storm. Jason stalks through the ominous, closed quarters of the S.S. Lazarus until the survivors are forced to abandon ship, but even the harbor of Manhattan, New York is not safe for them. Jason Voorhees continues his muderous rampage through the streets of New York as Rennie continually gets chilling flashes of a young Jason which will lead to a personal revelation from her past.
The reason why I like this entry while so many trash it is because it’s quite fun. There plenty of enjoyable characters portrayed by actors who do seem like they were having a fun time making this film. I also truly like the idea of trying out some new ideas and breaking free of the old environments. Unfortunately, there was vast potential wasted due to the film’s budgetary constraints. Writer / director Rob Hedden explains in the film’s DVD commentary track that his original script had sequences taking place at numerous New York landmarks including Madison Square Garden and the Empire State Building, and the New York part of the story would dominate the film, leaving a much abridged section on board the S.S. Lazarus. Regardless of what might’ve been, the film we are left with has definite problems which have to be addressed.
The lack of gore is obvious. Too many off-screen kills make for a more bland slasher movie, but at the time, the MPAA were being very unrelenting with horror films. Filmmakers had to hack n’ slash the gore from their films so badly, the entire genre suffered. Granted, these slashers becoming more campy and less scary attributed to their lack of effectiveness, but the low gore levels didn’t help matters. Still, this film has a few memorable kills with both the electric guitar and boxing decapitation kills. It really is more in their inventiveness that make them memorable than any use of blood or gore. Of course, the entire toxic waste flood taking out Jason with the intent of this being last Friday The 13th movie, ever, is very cringe inducing. Some of the greatly more horrid footage from this scene was very thankfully discarded. New Line Cinema does have to be thanked for not allowing this to be the ultimate cinematic demise of Jason Voorhees.
I will surely admit there is some bad acting in this film, but I feel it’s limited to a few minor roles. Our main array of characters are very lively and amusing. I highly enjoy spending time with someone like Julius who has some bravado and charisma, even if the performance can be a little over the top at times, but I don’t view that as a negative in this film. Saffron Henderson’s J.J is a vibrant 1980s hot rocker who I felt departed the film far, far too early. Wayne, the aspiring filmmaker, is also nicely geeky without becoming stupid or obnoxious. These are characters that just add charm and a little bit of heart to the film. Peter Richman’s stern, uptight McCullough is a great foil in the film that you can love to hate, and his veteran acting skills really benefit the role nicely. Barbara Bingham brings some heartfelt motherly concern to Ms. Van Duesen as she tries to be an emotional counsel to Rennie. Scott Reeves meshes decently well with the film’s female lead in Jensen Daggett. Of the whole main cast, he’s probably the least noticable likely due to not having as much on the page to work with.
I do strongly feel that Jensen Daggett is among the best heroins of the series. Rob Hedden gives her a very nice psychological storyline to deal with that ties into her own personal history, and links it up with Jason at the same time. This gives her a sense of personal determination later on to defeat Jason. Daggett gives Rennie a nice breadth of innocence and likability without losing her strength. At the time of this film, she felt like a fresh faced young woman with a lot of potential and warmth. There’s a fine range of emotions built into the character of Rennie, and Jensen Daggett proved to be a nicely talented choice to handle those demands. I’ve always enjoyed what she had to offer in this role, and I feel she carries the forefront of the film very well.
Kane Hodder steps into the Jason role for the second time, and does what he does. He surely looks more into the performance than in his later outing where he would over-accentuate certain character traits. The only thing I think makes this return performance a little inferior to the debut one is just the trappings. The violence is not as hard edged, the tone is not as heavy, and the appearance of Jason is scaled back a great deal. So, it is a consistent Hodder performance, and a rather effective one, regardless. I do have to say that the “teleporting Jason” style of editing does not strike me very well. It simply succumbs to no logic. The dance floor scene could be explained by an artistic license to reflect the disorientation of Kelly Hu’s character amongst the blaring music and flashing lights, but Jason consistently shows up in places ahead of other characters were he should be lagging far behind. It does tend to bother me when watching the film, but only in those brief instances.
Regardless of such facts, I do feel Rob Hedden did an admirable job directing this film. He had the imagination and initiative to try something new with transplanting Jason into new locations, and it feels refreshing. Eight films in, and you need some new ideas to keep it interesting. Of course, you can take it into really bad territory, such as with Jason X, but I digress. I know Hedden could’ve made the film one thousand times better if he had the budget to realize his original script and ideas. Not to mention, a chance to retain more of the blood and gore in the final cut. Unfortunately, what’s done is done, and you’ve gotta live with it. The suspense in the film is decent, but is compensated for by a nice array of exciting or startling sequences. Instead of the usual third act chase through the woods, we get Jason stalking Rennie and Sean through the urban landscape of Manhattan on the streets, in the subway, and ultimately, through the sewers. That money shot of Jason standing in the middle of Times Square is just priceless. Even though most of the film was shot Vancouver, British Columbia, this moment in the film truly adds a sense of credibility and scope to the film.
Fred Mollin takes full reins as composer for this film, and like his work in The New Blood, I find it very good with a heavier, more haunting and relentless style than Manfredini’s work. Both Mollin and Rob Hedden worked together on television’s Friday The 13th: The Series, and I think that helped their creativity to jibe well together. The tone of the film is definitely enhanced by the score, offering one of the better works of the series. Manfredini’s work has never really impressed me. It tended to feel very one-dimensional, ringing the same bell over and over again. There would be beautiful moments on rare occasion, but Mollin’s work seems to have a bit more depth, accentuating different styles of tension, suspense, and horror with more effectiveness. Mollin also co-wrote the two songs that J.J. jams on early in the film, but it’s been revealed by his collaborator Stan Meissner that pretty much everything that was recorded for those tracks appear in the film. That’s a bit of a shame since they are very stellar hard rocking tunes with a great 1980s pop sensibility. They really have “hit song” written all over them, and I would buy them up in an instant if they were released as complete songs. Mollin would reuse one of these tracks when he scored the pilot episode of Forever Knight a few years later. The track “The Darkest Side of the Night” by Metropolis is one that I really love, and sets a good, yet different tone for the opening and closing of this film. It is commercially available from their “Power of the Night” album, but not widely or easily so.
While there are instances of a lighter tone sort of playing up Jason’s iconic status, much of the film has a rather haunting and unsettling tone due to the psychological and hallucinatory aspects of the story. Rennie’s visions of the young, deformed Jason are creepy, and give the film some dramatic weight. Rennie herself doesn’t know what’s happening, and the audience has to learn the reasons why alongside her. I just find the tone fresh and inviting along with much of the ideas Rob Hedden mixes into the old Friday The 13th formula.
All in all, the film really is entertaining and enjoyable. It offers some good brutality, but lacks the proper gore level for a Friday The 13th film. By today’s standards, these severely cut down slasher flicks are rather tame. They could almost pass for a PG-13 rating these days, but there are enough creepy and unsettling moments to sway it otherwise. In any case, despite the poorly conceived ending for Jason, I do find this to be a good, worthwhile way to spend a fun, laid back 90 minutes. With the consistently shrinking box office takes for the franchise, Paramount Pictures decided that this would be the end of Jason for them. I’m sure anyone anticipating a glorious swan song for the character would’ve been grossly disappointed even more than the failure to widely deliver on the film’s New York-based premise.
I fondly remember catching Jason Takes Manhattan late night on the USA Network in the early 90s, and it was always great when there would be a Joe Bob Briggs MonsterVision marathon of the films in the late 90s. Despite all the ups and downs, strengths and weaknesses throughout the Friday The 13th films to this point, they are all classics of the genre, and sparked the whole 1980s slasher film trend that it rode out to the very end of the decade. By 1989, it was hard to call any franchise the reigning king of the genre, but Friday The 13th surely was the juggernaut and iron man of the bunch. While Jason Takes Manhattan is not the strongest film one could’ve hoped for, it’s a decent entry with a few flaws that I can generally overlook. Kane Hodder maintained Jason as a force to be reckoned with, and unlike a character like Freddy Krueger, the integrity of the character can never be damaged by humorous or off-beat approaches. Jason will always be as bad ass as he ever was no matter what type of film you put him in. Of course, it’s still hard to get over Jason X, but thankfully, I have one more favorite in the franchise to spotlight before confronting that film, again.