Paramount held the rights to “Friday the 13th” for the first eight films before handing them off to New Line Cinema, and it closes the era with a whimper in “Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan” (1989). The idea of taking Jason (Kane Hodder) out of Crystal Lake, N.J. (even serial killers need a vacation now and then), is refreshing and filled with potential. But the execution is atrocious.
Writer-director Rob Hedden would later write the entertaining “The Condemned” (2007), and the writing – although bad — is among the least bad parts of “Jason Takes Manhattan.” It’s the direction, editing, pacing, acting and even the sound mixing (long stretches go by without a music score) that conspire to make this nearly unwatchable. These movies are usually 90 minutes long, but this one is 100, and those extra 10 minutes come from scenes being too long – not only at the front and back, but within scenes.
The actors are given nothing to work with. The big conflict is that Rennie (Jensen Daggett) is scared of the water and can’t swim. She has lots of visions of Young Jason pulling her underwater, and the big revelation is that … wait for it … her guardian, Charles (Peter Mark Richman), threw her into the water as a kid to get her to swim. That’s a nasty thing to do, but not enough of a zinger to justify all the buildup.
On this graduation yacht trip to New York City – Crystal Lake is part of a river system that goes to the ocean, I guess – Rennie hits it off with Sean (Scott Reeves). It’s not that the actors lack chemistry, but the screenplay is so empty that I don’t even care about these two relatively likable people. Rennie’s favorite teacher, Colleen (Barbara Bingham), is also on this trip, but when Rennie – haunted by her latest Jason vision – crashes a car and gets Colleen killed, she doesn’t even seem to care.
“Jason Goes to Manhattan” is clearly set in 1989 – judging by the fashions, hairstyles, boomboxes, camcorders and “Batman” advertisement – even though this should be at least 2010 to account for the time-jumps in the series. But whatever.
A yacht trip with a bunch of rowdy high school grads should at least provide the requisite backdrop for nudity, gore and slasher-genre debauchery. Unfortunately, this was during the time when the ratings board was extremely strict about both nudity and gore (it would let up on gore by the time of “Scream” seven years later).
There’s one shower-based kill scene featuring the Mean Girl where we see nothing. Jason’s kills are sometimes original — like when he buries a heated sauna stone in a victim’s chest – but the most we can hope for is that they’ll be funny. “Jason Takes Manhattan” is so far from scary that it doesn’t seem right to label it “horror.”
Hedden’s screenplay includes a couple laughs, but not enough that this can be called a comedy. The highlight is when Jason destroys the boombox of a group of punkers, they pull out their switchblades, and then Jason simply removes his mask and they run off in terror. I also like the payoff to a (way too long) rooftop boxing match between one of the teens and Jason. After receiving dozens of blows, Jason finally delivers one of his own and literally takes his opponent’s head off.
There’s one decidedly gross kill wherein annoying villain Charles – who denies Jason’s existence right up until Jason kills him – gets dunked in a barrel of sludge in an alley. The special effects artists deserve a nod for when Jason’s visage is revealed to the audience, although it doesn’t have the same coolness factor it did in “Part VII: The New Blood” (which is “Citizen Kane” compared to this one).
Inspired moments like these are isolated rather than part of the flow of “Jason Takes Manhattan,” because there never is any flow. Well, except the flow of toxic waste (nonsensical, but appropriate for this movie) in the climactic showdown in the sewer. (Unfortunately, the Ninja Turtles don’t show up to help our Final Girl.)
“Jason Takes Manhattan” is saved from a lower rating only because the streetlight-and-billboard-lit NYC streets are nice to look at; it’s the one occasion where I’m fine with the loose editing. But this is clearly the worst of Paramount’s “Friday the 13th” movies, so flat and boring that I’d rather watch another generic killing spree back at the camp.