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

Author: Wes R.
Submitted by: Wes R.   Date : 2008-06-13 11:14

Written and Directed by: Rob Hedden
Starring: Kane Hodder, Jensen Daggett, Tiffany Paulsen, Peter Mark Richman, and Scott Reeves

Reviewed by: Wes R.

“We live in claustrophobia, the land of steel and concrete. Trapped by dark waters. There is no escape, nor do we want it. We’ve come to thrive on it and each other. You can’t get the adrenaline pumping without the terror, good people. I love this town.”

By the end of the 1980s, the franchises that had been the springboard for the decade’s horror boom were winding down. Box office was shrinking fast but not before a few last entires in the series were released. 1989 saw the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, and the final entry by Paramount Pictures in the Friday the 13th franchise… Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. Fans have been torn on the film since its release. Initially intended to be two films, Paramount could see the writing on the wall for franchise horror and hastily decided to combine the scripts into one film. Knowing this makes the resulting Part VIII much easier to swallow.

Tattered and left for dead at the bottom of the lake from Part VII, Jason is revived literally by the rocking of a boat due to a pair of amorous teens. The boat’s anchor drags onto a large electrical cable, which then shocks Jason back to undead life. After killing them, the boat drifts into a harbor, where it meets with a larger cruise boat bound for Manhattan (somehow Crystal Lake can empty into a river or ocean… eh, why not, it’s a movie I guess). On the cruise ship, he terrorizes the graduating class of a nearby high school on their way to the Big Apple. Abandoning the ship, a handful of survivors take a life raft and end up in New York. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a movie if Jason didn’t follow them. What will happen when Jason winds up in Vancouver... err... Manhattan?

The biggest problem with Friday the 13th Part VIII is that it was born of two separate scripts and that during the combining process, one got the most screentime, while the other supplied the title. If you go into the film thinking it’ll be 90 minutes of Jason stalking and slashing in a big city, you will be disappointed. He gets to New York, but only during the film’s final 20-25 minutes. The rest of the time is spent on the cruise ship. However, I really enjoy this entry in the series. I think with a title more fitting of the boat scenario, I don’t think so many fans would’ve turned on the film. I think it would’ve worked better with Jason and the group’s arrival in Manhattan being left as a surprise. I like the secluded “nobody can leave the boat” atmosphere of the film. In past films, you could always run away from Jason somewhere, and if you were lucky enough to find a car, you could drive off and possibly get away. Here, there are only so many places that you can run on a boat, unless you decide to dive off and swim for it (which, with sharks and other sea dangers, isn’t the best of ideas). It pretty much boils down to, either stop Jason or you don’t get off the boat alive. I thought this was an interesting change for the series and made for a good deal of suspense (something lacking in past entries). Music video director Rob Hedden gives us a film that is by far the most stylish of the series, without resulting to the overblown kinetic editing that similar music video directors resort to when making feature films. He’s not done a great deal since, although he did work on the screenplays for the Paramount kids adventure Clockstoppers and the recent Stone Cold Steve Austin vehicle, The Condemned.

In most shots, Vancouver doubles for New York. To the average viewer, they won’t even notice, but now having seen Vancouver double for the city in so many films and TV shows over the years, it’s hard to see the city in Part VIII as any other place than Vancouver. Hedden also gives a subtle commentary on big city life with the film. Late in the movie, Jason is standing right in the middle of the city, with cars passing and plenty of people walking around... yet nobody screams at the sight of a hockey masked brute like Jason. Perhaps people in the city are so jaded by crimes committed by their own masked psychos that adding Jason to the mix doesn't really become a real threat until he engages the citizens directly. Jason’s appearance is somewhat in line with what we saw in Part VII though he strangely has more “meat” about him this time around. Gone are the skeletal aspects that made John Carl Buechler’s work in the previous film so memorable. Once the mask comes off, we also have a letdown. Though I’ve never been a huge fan of the look of Jason without the mask in Part VII, it’s a great deal better than the dopey-faced zombie we’re given in this film. The musical score is adequate, but Harry Manfredini is sorely missed. It just doesn't seem as much like a Friday the 13th movie without him. We're also 'treated' to a bad but strangely catchy late 80s type rock ballad Metropolis called "The Darkest Side of the Night". It's no "He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)" by Alice Cooper or even a "His Eyes" by Pseudo Echo, but it suits the film fine and is far from being the worst song associated with the series.

The cast is fun and because of their personalities, their deaths actually mean something (which is quite a change from the usual goofballs that have been present in the series). Jensen Daggett is charming and sweet as Rennie, if a tad uninteresting as a lead protagonist. Kane Hodder delivers another menacing performance behind the hockey mask. Longtime TV character actor Peter Mark Richman delivers a great stick in the mud curmudgeon (the kind you only see in 80s horror and sex comedies). The deaths are creative and brutal (if a little tame when it comes to the red stuff). My favorite was the shoving of a hot lava rock into the torso of a boxer looking for relaxation. It's worth noting that each death scene had an alternate "uncut" version, as opposed to the R-rated versions in case the MPAA made them cut anything. Another area of fan debate and criticism comes from Jason’s apparent limitless power in the film. He seemingly teleports from one location to another with ease. Whereas in past films, if you outrun him, he catches up to you somehow, but it’s not really that difficult to believe. But in Part VIII, there’s one sequence where Jason is following a character who runs into an abandoned building. The next thing we know, the character is thrown through the second story window of said building. When last we saw Jason, he was following the character, and we never saw Jason even come close to entering the building. So, how did he get there? Was this the result of sloppy editing? Perhaps the filmmakers just wanted to make Jason scary and get the point across that he could “pop up anywhere”. It’s a noble goal, but the result tends to make Jason kind of silly, since he’s never really had such power before. I prefer to think that Jason is just good and efficient at what he does, rather than think that he teleports from location to location to snag the kill.

The ending of the film is somewhat of a letdown. Coming off of high-priced special effects extravaganza endings in such films as A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 and Friday the 13th Part VII, the low-key toxic sludge turning into water and bringing Jason back to a child is both confusing and a visual bummer. In past entries, Jason’s been shot up, burned, etc. In this one he’s… well to be frank, I have no real idea what implications the ending of this one make. I’d like to think that he died a really gruesome, melty death in the tunnel, and that the image of the quivering child was simply a hallucination of Rennie’s due to the toxic fumes. For the first time, Paramount doesn't give us so much as a hint that the series will be continuing. No last minute jump scare or ominous lingering shots to hint at future films to come. It's very obvious with this ending that Paramount was considering this their final entry. As such, it's a letdown that they couldn't come up with a better conclusion then what they gave us here. At least the original "last" entry, The Final Chapter, had gusto and gave fans a truly brutal Jason death scene.

Die-hard fans are still divided on this film, but I really enjoyed Friday the 13th Part VIII. It’s not the bloodiest entry in the series, but I think a lot of fun can be had with the film. It’s much more serious and tense than Part VI and it’s a great deal more interesting than Part VII. What’s not to love here? Just because the title’s a cheat doesn’t mean you should hate an otherwise decent film. Afterall, isn’t Jason Goes to Hell an even bigger cheat? Jason spends much more screen time in New York than he does in Hell. At least when Ernest went to camp, he stayed there the whole movie. But regardless, don’t be so hard on this one. It’s a fun and thrilling entry in what was a highly entertaining horror franchise of the 80s. If you want a bloodbath, go for The Final Chapter. If you want tension and a killer in a secluded location, this often overlooked and misunderstood Jason romp is definitely your cup of tea. Rent it!

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