Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
Dir. Rob Hedden (1989)
A group of high school seniors take a graduation boat trip to Manhattan, but a famous Crystal Lake resident tags along for the ride.
New York in the 80's was wildly different from what it was today. Depending on who you ask, it was either a legendary worldwide center of culture or an unbridled cesspool of crime and racial terror. Thankfully, Rudy Giuliani came along and turned it into just another large city filled with investment bankers, police misconduct, and rampant social inequality. What New York also had in the 80's, of course, was a foreign, big-city ambience that both dazzled and terrified small-town folks all around the country, and filmmakers could assure that they would bring in the popcorn crowd by staging their movie in the City That Doesn't Sleep. In 1989, the Friday the 13th franchise pulled the same stunt by sending iconic slasher villain Jason Voorhees to the Big Apple... kinda.
Rennie (Jensen Daggett) and her friends are taking a boat trip to New York City to celebrate their graduation, but unbeknownst to them, Jason was resurrected after another boat carrying a couple of amorous teenagers dropped anchor directly on top of him and brought him back to life. Jason climbs aboard the party yacht, which more closely resembles the Titanic than the boat that tours Lake Wallenpaupack in one of the better episodes of The Office. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie more closely resembles Titanic than Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, because the teens and their monster don't make it to the city until almost 3/4 of the way through the film. Along the ride, Jason rips and tears through through the schoolkids with whatever tool is available, from electric guitar to broken mirror pieces.
Before the film moves to New York, it's a relatively standard Friday the 13th film, with Jason stalking the teens from shadowy corners and offing them in various relatively bloodless ways. The gore in the film is minimal for the most part, with several kills happening just off-screen and most of the action cutting away before flesh is pierced by whatever instrument Jason has at his disposal at the moment. Once the action transitions to the big city, however, things get darker and way more entertaining. Immediately after leaving the boat, Rennie is kidnapped, drugged, and almost raped by a group of hoodlums before being saved by Voorhees. There is very little glamour to the city at all, in fact, as Part VIII focuses heavily on the darker and dingier side of the city. Crime, graffiti, and trash fill the city streets, and while the film never really escalates the violence above light-R rating, it's a punk-rock attitude that the series has thus far missed.
Jason Takes Manhattan is not a good movie, make no mistake about it. In fact, it lacks even a lot of the successful pieces of the formula that have already been established in the series. It also has major racial fear-mongering vibes, and while one could certainly argue that the concerns would be applicable given the state of NYC in the 80's, in retrospect it comes across as a little insensitive. Big cities can be scary places no doubt, but I know that I would've been pissed if I had seen this film as a New Yorker in the 80's. Is there really nothing else in the city but criminals, drugs, and toxic waste? And why the fuck are they dumping toxic waste in the sewers on a nightly basis anyway?
There are often secondary villains in slasher films, regular characters who are just kinda douchey or who are available as unsympathetic cannon fodder for the main bad guy. This movie is fucking full of them. Literally every character but the Final Girl, her boyfriend, and their teacher (and arguably the dog I guess) are worthless assholes, each of them well deserving of their fates. You've got the dad who pressures his son into taking his familial career path, a scheming prom queen, an arrogant boxer, an uncle who almost drowns his niece. Every character fucking sucks. While it's nice to have someone whose death the audience can cheer, it becomes a bit overkill when there are exceedingly few the audience doesn't want to see get their heads cut off.
All in all, Jason Takes Manhattan is just a so-so entry that feels like it should've been so much more. There was such potential that was squandered, and I would've loved to see a movie where Jason tore it up through Manhattan. Alas, instead we're left with a cookie-cutter sequel with only a few scenes of brilliance within. It's entertaining enough, but it's hardly the film that it should've been. We should've been watching Kane Hodder destroy some city folk and ended up with a slasher-movie Love Boat. I guess we'll have to wait for when Freddy goes to Chicago instead.
Who this movie is for: Friday the 13th fans, Slasher connoisseurs, John Jacob Astor
Bottom line: While Part VIII is far from the worst film in the series, it's such a letdown because there was so much potential missed. Rather than giving Jason an entire city of victims, we're left with the same boring teenagers, but on a boat. The city scenes are pretty rad and there are definitely some interesting kills, and of course Hodder is the man as always. But if you're looking for the F13 movie with the most misleading title, look no further.