December 8, 2013

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

As the tradition has gone, they did not waste any time getting another Friday in front of the cameras. For the eighth time in ten years, a Friday the 13th film graced theaters across the country. This time around, rather than take it back to the cabins, rather than go back to the lake, the decision was made, for the first time in the series history, to take Jason away from the woods, out of Crystal Lake, and put him somewhere with recognizable landmarks, never mind how it happens, that is the stuff of movie magic. Jason was sent on a mission, a mission into the big city. That's right, 1989 saw the arrival of the eighth film in the series, Jason Takes Manhattan.



Ever since the released the almost entirely Jason-less Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, the box office grosses have steadily slipped. This movie was the biggest eye-opener that the franchise might be nearing an end. While all but one of the first seven movies opened at number 1, including Manhattan's predecessor, The New Blood, Jason Takes Manhattan finished in a very disappointing fifth place. It was beaten out by movies like Batman (in its sixth week of release), Lethal Weapon 2 (in its fouth week), and the week's champion, the new arrival Turner and Hooch. Friday the 13th Part VIII is not a good movie and the box office shows. Funny thing is, I still kind of enjoy it.


Taking over where John Carl Buechler left off is writer/director Rob Hedden. This is only the second time in the series where both writing and directing duties were handled by the same guy, joining Tom McLoughlin who did Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. Hedden has spent the majority of his career, both before and after Jason takes Manhattan, on television projects, although he did pen the feature films Clockstoppers and The Condemned.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan opens like none of the previous films. There is no flashback or recap, there is no familiar title sequence, instead it has an opening credits sequence that makes it feel not only very 80's but also like a very different kind of movie. There is a pop-style song with a voice over talking about life in the city while giving us a few different views of the Big Apple and its streets. It then takes us to a boat on Crystal Lake. Here we are given our history lesson of Jason and his legendary kills, delivered by a young couple in love.


This opening bit is also where the problems begin, or at least the stuff that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. As we learn of Jason's drowning, we get a flashback, but the Jason we see looks like a normal little boy. Apparently they forgot about his deformities (well, later on they toss on some makeup but it seems clear they were not using prior films as a guide). We are also given his third reanimation sequence, caused when the boat's anchor snags and rips up a thick power line trunk laying across the bottom of the lake. Say what? How did that get there and why is it there? Eh, whatever. The cable releases its power into the lake and reanimates Jason, who has been lying down there since Tina's telekinesis created dead father broke through the dock and dragged him down. Did you follow that? I am not sure that I did.

After that opening sequence and subsequent kills, the scene shifts to where most of the action will be taking place. A graduating class at a local high school is taking a boat trip to New York City and they are just about ready to leave, complete with one killer stowaway. I wonder where this Crystal Lake really is that is only like an hour by boat from Manhattan? I also did not know that Crystal Like had river access? I always figured it was pretty much land locked. Anyway, we are introduced to some new kill fodder, the girl who would immediately appear to be the Final Girl, and even a new Crazy Ralph-type who goes around telling them they are doomed, DOOMED I tell you!


The ship sets sale and thee kids start doing what kids do. You have the jocks doing there thing, a couple others doing drugs, the rocker messing around with her guitar, the nerd trying to hit on the popular girl, the mean principal trying to keep order under his iron fist, and the Final Girl trying to find herself and overcome her fears (plus, deal with the principal who is also her uncle). Sadly, Jason kills the more interesting of these characters in rather short order, leaving behind a rather bland collection as they finally arrive in New York City.

The scenes in Manhattan, and the city the stand in for most of those scenes, are interesting. It was kind of cool to see Jason in such a setting. It is a shame they could not shoot more in city and make even more use of the unique locations. Frankly, the boat is just not as interesting a location.


As I sit here and watch the movie for the first time in awhile, it feels as if they were courting a more mainstream audience. The violence and gore seems to be toned down somewhat, it has a more jovial tone, and plenty of bright colors. It has a feel unlike any of the other movies up to this point. It is kind of like Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which is set in the present and feels a lot more accessible than other films in the series. The difference is that the Star Trek movie was actually good (in my opinion, anyway), or at least successful at overcoming the inaccessible nature of the series, where this Friday entry fails and would have been better off to stick with what they do best.

In the past, the series has excelled at ensuring the victims had no, or very little, adult supervision. It helped increase the sense of danger. One of the problems (besides not fully living up to its title) is having the adults stick around for too long. Well, there are lots of problems, most is that it just doesn't really feel like a Friday movie. Then there is that ending. Are we supposed to believe that toxic waste gets flooded through the sewers every night? In a see on the unbelievable, some things just take it too far.


Jason Takes Manhattan is pretty ridiculous, even considering what has happened for the rest of the series leading up to this. I still can watch and enjoy it as a little piece of the past, nostalgic purposes. Also, this being the end of the Paramount run, it is kind of a sad way to go out. The series definitely went out with a whimper rather than a bloody roar.

Not Recommended (unless for nostalgic reasons).


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