in The Vault

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

By 1989, Jason Voorhees had become a joke. Don’t believe me? Watch the YouTube clip I’ve posted below.

In a way Jason’s downfall was inevitable. You make enough sequels and you better believe you’ll be ridiculed. In the first few Friday the 13th films, Jason lacked style, but he was still scary. The turning point was Jason Lives. Despite the film being my favorite of the series, it presented the franchise with a new challenge: finding the balance between horror and comedy. This is no easy feat for any writer or director. Case in point the film that directly proceeded Jason Lives, The New Blood.

The New Blood didn’t attempt to recapture the satirical nature of Jason Lives yet kept the ridiculousness of undead Jason. I would argue you can’t have a lumbering zombie murderer without a few jokes here and there. The results were solemn, stupid and boring. Which in many ways describes today’s film—I’m going to cut to the chase, Jason Takes Manhattan is the worst Friday the 13th I’ve seen yet.

The premise sounded promising “Jason’s going to ditch Crystal Lake and kill people in the Big Apple? Just think of how much fun you could have in that setting.” Which unfortunately is none. In fact, this movie shouldn’t even be called “Jason Takes Manhattan” it should be called “Jason Rides a Boat for Ninety Minutes and then Walks Through Some Alleyways.” Probably wouldn’t look good on a marquee, though.

I knew the film was going to be bad from the opening credits. Because instead of opening the film with a scare all we get are shots of New York City set to generic 80’s rock. The band’s name is Metropolis and their terrible song is “The Darkest Side of the Night.” Supposedly, writer/director Rob Hedden wanted the band to write a song that “sounded like Robert Plant.” Like, solo Robert Plant? Not Zeppelin. Does anyone like solo Robert Plant? In the 80s? Rob Hedden does.

Next, we are introduced to a horny couple on a houseboat over Crystal Lake. The guy tells his best gal about the legend of Jason and gives her a scare in a hockey mask but it’s all in good fun. I don’t get it. The “Legend” of Jason? We all know he’s real at this point right? I mean, look at all the corpses.

The boat’s anchor rips open buried cables in the lake and the shock brings back a waterlogged Jason. He climbs aboard and does his thing in predictable fashion. None of it is particularly memorable, but at least it would have made a better opening scene than B-roll with America’s favorite Robert Plant tribute band.

I will note that Jason’s appearance is striking. I like that the whole movie he looks all wet and swampy, like Shrek, but less scary. Still, I give props to the design and of course to Kane Hodder as Crystal Lake’s favorite son.

A day later, a group of graduating teens and their mean teacher (Peter Mark Richman) are boarding a ship to New York City. I guess it’s like, a senior party? But there are only six or seven kids. Anyways, Jason appears from the water and hitches himself to the boat. This is where I get annoyed.

Why did we have the houseboat scene if that in no way ties to this ship? I thought the houseboat was maybe going to drift through an inlet or something. But no, it’s almost like the houseboat scene only exists to prepare us for a movie with a lot of boats. I get that it was an opportunity to resurrect Jason but the plot in no way feels like a natural story progression. In a good script, every word and action builds upon the previous scene and simultaneously prepares for the next, moving the story along. These scenes don’t seem to have anything to do with each other. Yet here we are. We have another ninety minutes of this garbage.

Here’s where the film takes a toll. Jason wanders an ugly setting killing teens in unimaginative ways at the pace of a corpse. None of these characters are remotely interesting. There’s a girl who’s a wannabe rocker (Saffron Henderson) and is always filming a personal music video. She’s not interesting, but it’s different. There’s also a wannabe boxer guy (V.C. Dupree) who has a fairly entertaining death.

The only interesting room in the whole damn ship is a disco but again nothing interesting is done with it. At this point, I’m confused as to why this film is called Jason Takes Manhattan. I looked it up and apparently, they only had enough money to film in the Big Apple for a few days. What a ripoff, huh? We do get there eventually but man, it’s so not worth it.

Eventually, a group of students escapes from the ship via a raft. I won’t bore you with which ones made it. FINALLY, we’re in Manhattan and I’ll hand it to them, they got some nice shots. It’s pretty cool to see Jason in Time Square. There’s also an amusing scene where Jason kicks a gang’s boombox.

But for the most part, this is the same shitty shack with a different coat of blood red paint. Jason has maybe two good moments in the whole film and it ends in an anticlimactic battle in a sewer. Jason’s face looks terrible by the way. Like the director’s son made a mask out of putty for an art project and they just went with that. Speaking of sons, after Jason is coated in toxic waste he turns into a boy played by the editor’s son. Wait, what? Is this a dream sequence? We never find out. Then it just kind of ends.

Jason Takes Manhattan is a victim of false advertising. It barely takes place in New York City and does nothing new or remotely interesting with the franchise. The film would go on to be the lowest grossing Friday the 13th film and led to Paramount cutting ties with the franchise, ouch. At this point, the series felt like it was on life support. So let’s put ‘ol Jason out of his misery with next week’s entry: Jason Goes to Hell.

Now that’s what I call “taking out the trash” am I right? Well, am I?

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