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

*. Jason Takes Manhattan has a special place for me in the canon of Friday the 13th films in that it’s the only one that I saw in a cinema upon its theatrical release. You may judge me accordingly. And by that I mean judge me harshly.
*. It’s also usually regarded as the worst film in the franchise, both among critics and that segment of the general public that cares about such things (meaning fans). This is not, I can personally attest, a revisionist view. We all thought it was shit at the time.
*. There is some legitimate debate over whether this low estimation is because it’s just a shit movie or because the title was so misleading. Jason spends little time in Manhattan, with most of the film’s action taking place on a rusty freighter that has been refitted, rather improbably, as a cruise ship. At least it has a sauna and a disco on board. A bunch of high school grads are taking the ship to NYC. A creepy crew member (the only crew member?) appears at odd times to say things like “This voyage is doomed” and “He’s come back and you’re all going to die.”
*. Of course, the audience is already aware of this because we know that Jason is a stowaway on the Lazarus (get it?). He proceeds to kill almost everyone on board. He then later pursues the survivors through the streets of Manhattan before being dissolved, apparently, in toxic goo.
*. So the story makes even less sense than the previous instalments. The score is less interesting, with none of the signature notes and a very dated theme song (“The Darkest Side of the Night”). They only shot in New York for a couple of days and as far as famous landmarks go only made use of one brief sequence in Times Square. Most of the film was shot in Vancouver, so the streets of the Big Apple are just so many steamy, garbage-strewn alleys.
*. I mentioned how good Jason looked in the previous film, The New Blood. In this version they weren’t trying as hard. Despite Kane Hodder reprising his role they didn’t bother with the rotting physical body and his face isn’t nearly as well done. Basically he’s just a burly guy in a hockey mask.

*. I appreciate that director Rob Hedden wanted to do something different. “The biggest thing we could do with Jason is to get him out of that stupid lake where he’s been hanging out,” he said. Mission accomplished. The script was apparently the result of bolting together two different concepts: Jason on a ship and Jason in a big city. Unfortunately, nothing much is done with either premise and we’re still just watching a string of unrelated killings.
*. As had become usual, these killings were edited to pass the censors. Based on the outtakes I don’t think much was lost though, and only one remains very interesting, with Jason winning a rooftop boxing match with a devastating KO punch.
*. That this is also a very silly scene, ending on a comic beat, gives you some indication of the tone of the film. Let’s face it, we’re all cheering for Jason to thrash the punks he runs into in New York, just as we’re pulling for him to kill mean Mr. McCulloch. But sticking with the latter, I think if you spend the entire movie building up a heel he needs to be given a more spectacular send-off than being drowned in the slum version of a butt of malmsey.
*. It’s not just that the two parts of the film — on the ship and in New York — are only awkwardly linked. The rest of the plot’s construction seems equally flawed. I couldn’t understand how Rennie’s repressed childhood trauma linked her psychically to Jason, as seems to have happened. I also questioned the way Jason reverts to an earlier form at times. What was the significance of that? Was the young Jason supposed to represent his innocent self? Because he seems just as vengeful as the adult version. But then there doesn’t seem much consistency in his appearance among his various youthful iterations either.
*. Oh well. It’s not like anyone would have expected this to be any good. I sure didn’t in 1989, though now I can’t remember just what it was that lured me into the theatre. It had a great poster. Maybe that was it.
*. I may like it a bit more than I did thirty years ago, which is not to say that I misjudged it back then. The passage of time, however, has brought out more of its goofy ’80s charm. It remains a really dumb movie though and I can’t think of any reason to go back to it aside from nostalgia.

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