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Review

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

I got my swim trunks and my flippie-floppies

Don’t be misled by the title. You’d think from the marketing that this would be “Friday the 13th in New York,” but that’s only the closing half hour. The opening two acts are “Friday the 13th on a Boat” and “Friday the 13th at Prom” — not separately, but (bizarrely) simultaneously and heterogeneously. And you would be quite right to say “gee, none of those loglines even sound particularly like a Friday the 13th movie.” Jason Takes Manhattan is by far the least representative of the franchise’s first eight films from start to finish.

Nonetheless, I kind of wish that this was three different movies, or at least two: “Friday the 13th on a Boat” is a premise I could probably go without seeing, but “Friday the 13th at Prom” is very much my idea of a good time, deserving more than a handful of scenes exploring the idea. And “Friday the 13th in New York” is the most compelling of these: This last half hour is not good, but it at least offers a vision, a compellingly garish and caricatured portrait of an urban hellscape, as if writer-director Rob Hedden’s view of city life comes entirely from prime time news bites and movie trailers.

This film is also the end of an era: It’s the last of the eight Friday films produced by Paramount Pictures, as this one failed to turn much of a profit. All good things — and all middling things too — must come to an end. The juice had been squeezed; the dead horse beat; etc. Yet we’ll be back four more times: three times with New Line Cinema, once with Warner Bros.

Anyways, Part 8 opens with Rennie (Jensen Daggett) reluctantly boarding a high school graduation party boat that’s also a ferry to New York City for a graduation party. Our second lead is Rennie’s boyfriend, the annoyingly handsome Sean (Scott Reeves), whose dad is the captain of the boat. The other attendee of note is our old pal Jason, who is resurrected by electric shock again, and kills two graduating seniors before hopping aboard.

The next hour or so flips between nautical-themed kills and high school trope-themed kills, none of which are particularly memorable, but are often decently gory. The order of the characters’ demise feels particularly chaotic this time around: the Cyndi Lauper-esque rock guitarist JJ (Saffron Henderson) goes almost instantly; and the not-so-mean girl Eva (Kelly Hu) falls before the slutty mean girl Tamara (Sharlene Martin). I guess Tamara had some more dramatic potential to realize, as she frames the uptight biology teacher (Peter Mark Richman) for sexual impropriety.

And then we get to NYC proper (shot in Vancouver) and things get real loopy. The surviving characters make it about 20 steps into the city before they’re mugged by a group of raping, drug-dealing gangbangers. The film milks some perverse comedy in the city’s obliviousness to Jason’s murderous rampage, as if they see worse shit every day. And this section has the kill that made me laugh the hardest out of any in the series to date — martial artist Julius (V.C. Dupree) gets decapitated with a single punch in a boxing match with Jason.

This city-set section gets some tremendously fun production design of a dystopia: buckets of glowing industrial waste on every corner, steam shooting out of vents, broken glass windows, a deep grid of alleyways, etc. I reiterate that I wish the whole movie had explored this setting.

As if the movie didn’t have enough on its plate, Part 8 also dips its toes into a weird mystical curse subplot where we learn that final girl Rennie saw the drowned body of Jason in Crystal Lake as a kid and is haunted by aquaphobia and visions of a corpse ever since. Then, in the final scene, Jason inexplicably reverts to his human child form after getting drenched by a river of acid.

Where Part 7 was so laser-focused on its high-concept premise and Part 6 felt guided by such a clear voice, Part 8 is more reminiscent of Part 5’s more-is-more, spaghetti-against-the-wall mindset. The body count has to be close to Part 5’s, though the sex and nudity is pretty median for the franchise. We also get the series’ first hard drug usage, if I’m not mistaken, with some coke bumps.

Some discipline would’ve helped Jason Takes Manhattan tremendously. The resulting mess is strange enough that it remains watchable the whole way through, but it also feels borderline non-functional; a pretty incompetent piece of filmmaking half-formed and slapped together like it’s another episode of a weekly TV show. And that’s basically what Friday the 13th had become by this end of its first 8-film run: a nearly-annual outing meant to be consumed and forgotten to burn an idle evening, not a sacred slasher text revisited 35 years later by weirdos like me.

Is It Good?

Not Very Good (3/8)

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2 replies on “Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)”

But which is better, Jason On a Boat or Dracula On a Boat? (The correct answer is Dracula vs. Jason: On a Boat.) And in full earnestness, Part VII, with Jason fighting Carrie, has already prompted the question why it didn’t become Jason fighting knock-off versions of 80s movie monsters, Universal Pictures Frank Meets Wolf-style. (I’ve never seen Freddy Vs. Jason. Would I like it? Possibly!)

I still like the idea of Jason on a boat. He’s already sort of a water elemental.

“with some coke bumps”

Also heroin, but maybe it doesn’t count.

By heroin do you mean what the gangbangers inject into Rennie? I didn’t even process that as heroin; more as a mythical nonspecific “drug of the streets,” but, yeah, heroin is probably right. (Or is there another heroin scene I’m forgetting?)

Now that you mention the idea of Jason vs. other monsters, it’s a bit surprising in the post-MCU world that there hasn’t been more of a “slasher cinematic universe.” I guess the ill-fated Dark Universe is the closest attempt to that, and its floppage was for the annals, so maybe nobody wants it. (Maybe that’s what the Fear Street movies are to some extent? I don’t know, haven’t seen them.)

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