This is easily the most disappointing of the original FRIDAY THE 13TH movies – which is quite an achievement when you consider that the overall quality of the franchise was hardly high enough to raise expectations to a level that would allow for disappointment. Paramount Pictures and company pulled off this neat feat by promising more with the advertising campaign than they could deliver with the film itself. Despite the subtitle JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, this eighth entry in the series takes place mostly on a slow-moving boat, and when the story finally reaches the Big Apple most of what we see is generic back allies and dark streets that could be part of any city. Jason doesn’t take Manhattan; he barely glimpses it. Whatever potential the concept had, for horror or comedy, is wasted; this is one of those films whose trailer is the superior work of art – see it and spare yourself sitting through the whole film.
The movie launches with another horny couple, this time floating on a boat through Crystal Lake. Their anchor drags a powerline across Jason (who has been lying at the bottom since the ending of PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD), and before you can scream, “It’s Alive!” the masked maniac is making mincemeat of the mincing lovers.
For reason left unexplained by the screenplay, Jason does not get off the boat and head back home to the woods; instead he drifts on until he encounters a luxury cruise ship taking a bunch of high school kids on a graduation trip up the coast to New York. This raises a couple of other questions that also go unexplained:
- How is is that Crystal Lake, previously presented as some tiny, land-locked backwater in the middle of nowhere, feeds into a river that leads to the ocean?
- Why the hell does Jason want to kill any of these kids when he previously was in the habit of either (a) killing camp counselors whom he blamed for his mother’s death or (b) killing anyone who wandered into the woods, which he defended like any territorial beast?
Of course, FRIDAY fans have long shown a capacity for ignoring problems of continuity and logic; otherwise, they never would have flocked to PART 2, which contradicted the original by telling us that Jason was alive.
Onc aboard, Jason quickly gets down to business – quickly being a relative term. Sure, he takes out victims at regular intervals, but the pacing is slow and dreary, never building up any tension. The idea apparently was to mimic ALIEN, with a monster stalking victims within the claustrophobically confines of a ship, but the execution is lackluster and formulaic.
After about an hour of this, the surviving kids finally abandon ship and float into Manhattan, where they are pursued by Jason, and for a moment or two it seems that the film is going to deliver on its promise. Instead, we get only more disappointment. There are a few brief scenes of Jason filmed on the actual location, but the film never really explores the possibilities of this backwoods maniac turned loose on a thriving Metropolis.
Jason does kills some muggers who are trying to drug and rape our leading lady – a scene presumably intended to register an irony of some sort as we wonder which form of evil is worse. However, moral speculation is quickly cast aside as the film returns to the familiar formula with Jason tracking down and killing the rest of the kids from the boat (although why he wants them, when there are so many other victims around, is never clear).
The whole thing ends up in the sewars, appropriately enough, with one of the most ridiculous endings in the history of horror movies. Throughout the film, Rennie (Jensen Daggett) has had flashbacks to the traumatic moment when she nearly drowned in Crystal Lake and saw a young boy trying to pull her under. The boy is clearly supposed to be young Jason, but this creates some more unresolvable continuity problems: even if you’re one of those fans who believe that Jason really did drown as his mother says in the frist FRIDAY, Rennie is of such an age that her childhood flashbacks must take place after Jason had emerged from the lake to avenge his mother’s death in PART 2.
Anyway, the point of the flashbacks, such as it is, comes to fruition when the city of New York conveniently floods its sewers with toxic slude. Rennie and her boyfriend manage to climb a ladder to safety, but unstoppable zombie monster Jason is swept up and drowned – reverting to the small boy that Rennie saw in her flashbacks.
What this means is anyone’s guess. Has Jason been restored to a state of innocence, or is the film setting up a sequel in which the serial killer can be reborn in a new form? Most best fall on the latter option. (Perhaps not coincidentally, a “baby” version of Freddy Kruger was used to justify bringing that character back to life in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 5: THE DREAM CHILD, which came out the same year.)
Whatever the intentions, they never came to fruition. JASON TAKES MANHATTAN was the least successful of the original FRIDAY films, and Paramount Studios sold the Jason character to New Line Cinema (owners of Freddy). The subsequent JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY ignored the events of JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, relocating the story back to Crystal Lake. Considering what a disappointment this film is, the strategy made perfect sense.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN(1989). Written and directed by Rob Hedden, based on characters crated by Victor Miller. Cast: Jensen Daggett, Kane Hodder, Peter Mark Richman, Tiffany Paulsen, Barbara Bingham, Warren Munson, Fred Henderson, Scott Reeves.