Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Friday the 13th part 8 (1989)
Directed By: Rob Hedden (The Colony, Alien Fury: Countdown to Invasion)
Starring: Jensen Dagget (Asteroid, Major Leagues: Back to the Minors), Peter Mark Richman (The Naked Gun 2 ½ The Smell of Fear, 4 Faces), Scott Reeves (Edge of Honor and for those Soap Opera fans out there he was Steve Webber in General Hospital), and Kane Hodder once again playing Jason.
Released By: Paramount Pictures and Horror Inc.
Release Year: 1989
Release Type: Theatrical Release
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Review by: Andy Taylor
I have a very strange habit, one that sets me apart from my fellow humans, and that habit is, I try to let people enjoy the movie, television show, or musical act they love without chiming in about how much I might hate it. There are so many different varieties of entertainment, and within each of those varieties, a plethora of genres to pick from, so I fail to see the point in ruining someone else’s time by letting them know how wrong their opinions are to me.
Take The Walking Dead television show for instance. I completely understand not liking it, the show bores me so much it’s one of only two television shows I’ve ever quit watching at the episode before a season finale, but I just don’t watch it. My tv came with this nifty little device that changes channels and even streaming services, I think it’s called a “Television Changer Thingamabob,” and I use it to watch one of the million and one other things available at any given time. That said, there are times when something, be it a movie or a book, upsets me to the point I have a little difficulty shutting my mouth and letting people enjoy what they want to enjoy (I’m looking right at you The Predator). For those moments, I remind myself that Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan is my absolute favorite movie in the Friday Franchise. If that doesn’t work, I remind myself that 1986’s Howard the Duck is one of my favorite movies of all time, and that usually does the trick.
The 8th installment of the Friday the 13th franchise begins were many Friday the 13th installments begin, with a couple of randy high school seniors, some beer, and a soundtrack that would make Dokken jump with joy. These mid-twenties “teenagers” are celebrating an upcoming trip that the entire senior class of Crystal Lake High will be taking to New York City. Unfortunately for the horny couple, their sexy time is on a boat that happens to be floating not far from where Jason Voorhees’ body was left submerged after the telekinetic shenanigans of The New Blood. When the boat’s anchor hits an underwater powerline, an electrical surge is sent pulsing through Jason’s waterlogged body, both bringing the maniacal killer back to life and destroying my argument that he’s more zombie than Frankenstein’s Monster, this now being the second time electricity has been responsible for his reanimation.
FrankenJason makes quick work of the “teenagers”, much to the audience’s surprise I’m sure, and then relaxes on the boat for a bit, sipping pina colada’s and occasionally napping while the small houseboat makes it way toward the much larger vessel, not so subtly named the SS Lazarus, taking the senior class on their trip. Okay, he probably doesn’t do the drinking and napping, but you must admit, the mental image is a lot more entertaining than him standing silently in the middle of a boat as it floats across the lake. Once aboard the Lazarus, Jason proceeds to do what he’s famous for, the killing, not the massive Oedipus Complex, and slaughters his way through the ship as it edges closer towards its destination. With no way to stop Jason before the Lazarus reaches New York, The City That Never Sleeps might find itself put to sleep for good.
I know that I’m one of only a handful of people who enjoy Jason Takes Manhattan, and to be perfectly honest, I completely understand why. It’s not a good movie. In fact, it’s so bad that this is the film that tanked the series for Paramount Pictures. They were so distressed over how Part 8 turned out, they ended up selling the franchise to New Line Cinema who gave us classic Friday the 13th films such as Jason is a Vagina Goblin, Jason Goes to Space, and the timeless We Give Up So Let’s Just Have Him Fight That Other Horror Icon We Own. I don’t blame Paramount for wanting to unload the franchise, it had been on a steady decline for years, and every early attempt to take the series back to its more serious roots ended in failure. Think back to Part 4 (The Final Chapter my backside) and the guy towards the end who screams “He’s killing me” as Jason repeatedly attacks him with a garden claw. That death is considered one of the funniest deaths in the whole franchise for many fans, and it was meant to engender the audience’s sympathy because people had already begun laughing at the kills by the first sequel. No, I don’t blame Paramount for finally throwing in the towel, even if New Line’s Friday films made everything Paramount did look like horror movie gold. Jason Takes Manhattan is full of problems, and no problem is more apparent than the one given in the title.
You’d think a movie with the moniker “Jason Takes Manhattan” would feature everyone’s favorite hockey masked killer murdering the denizens of, well, Manhattan, but that’s not the case. If anything, the city seems more like an afterthought than a major plot point. I can almost imagine the moment they realized they forgot Manhattan:
“Hey, did we get everything we needed to do for Part 8? You know, Jason Takes Manhattan.”
“Of course we did! We have Jason killing people in increasingly ludicrous ways. We have twenty-something actors playing teenagers. We even made sure to pepper the movie with lots of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. What else could we have forgotten about Jason Takes Manhatt…well damn.”
I know director Rob Hedden had to cut much of what he wanted to do thanks to budget constraints, but it would have been nice if the place named in the title had featured prominently in the movie. They get there eventually, yes, but even then, it’s mostly used for comedic effect, sometimes unintentionally, and that’s another problem with Part 8, the unintentional comedy. I don’t entirely hate how humorous Part 8 is, it mostly works for me, but if you’re not into the kind of antics one might see in a cheesy b-movie, I don’t see it working for you.
I doubt anyone who has sat down and watched the franchise up to this point is expecting a completely serious Friday the 13th film, that well dried up by the end of Part 5, but one might not be expecting the kind of hijinks you’d see in a really messed up Three Stooges episode either. Jason Takes Manhattan has some of the silliest, most ridiculous kills of the series. Heads are punched clean off, people are killed with musical instruments, saunas become steam filled deathtraps, and dance floors become bloodbaths. The thing is, each kill in this movie is supposed to be deadly serious, or at the very least the kills are treated as if it’s supposed to be serious, but most of them are anything but. Mind you, I’m not saying I hate them, the aforementioned head being knocked off is among my favorite Friday Franchise kills, but they are very silly.
As an example, and since I already mentioned this kill, I’ll use the decapitation of boxing protégé Julius. The young boxer gets into a one-sided fistfight with Mr. Voorhees, and I say one-sided because not one of the repeated punches he lands manages to hurt the reanimated serial killer. Jason responds by literally knocking Julius’ head off. Do you remember the old Rock’em Sock’em Robots, the little red and blue robots you and a friend could make box each other for five or so minutes before you both got bored? Okay, now picture them designed to look like actual humans. Got that mental image all set? Now picture one of those skin covered robots getting its head knocked off. You’ve now seen Julius’ death in your head, rather accurately too, and there’s no way you didn’t at least lightly chuckle.
Even the way Jason acts can come across as somewhat comedic. They made him much more vindictive for this one, to the point where he seems to enjoy what he does. Instead of this newfound vindictiveness adding another level of intimidation for the big guy, it either makes his actions darkly humorous or worse, just makes him kind of dick. While I imagine being shocked back to life every now and again might become frustrating, it takes away from the character to make him more human than the feral but calm killer we’ve dealt with before. I adore what Kane Hodder brings to the table in his portrayals of Jason Voorhees. He has the perfect size, his movements are generally robotic yet fluid enough that he isn’t overly stiff which is perfect for a walking dead guy, and his mannerisms only serve to make Jason a more threatening killer, but it doesn’t work out very well here. I think that has less to do with his acting, and more to do with how he was written. He’s too smart, too angry, and far too vindictive. He’s a cartoon character, and it’s funny. I don’t mind Jason being a little silly, but I don’t care too much for him being outright funny.
The most depressing thing is that the two problems I already mentioned are just the biggest. There’s an entire list of things wrong with this movie. Since I don’t want to have you sit here reading my rantings for an overly long amount of time, I’ll try to break them down quick:
- Having the senior class travel to Manhattan via boat was a mistake. I can accept that Crystal Lake, being somewhere in New Jersey from what I understand, could have an outlet that leads to the ocean, but it makes the camp seem a little less isolated. Without that isolation, it makes a person wonder how no one ever stumbled upon Jason before the events of the first/second movie.
- While Jason is interested in killing everyone onboard the ship, he’s particularly interested in Rennie Wickham. The pair have some kind of psychic connection due to Rennie coming in contact with him years earlier when she was pushed into Crystal Lake as a child. I say “some kind” because the movie never gives us the details of why she has this connection. There are a couple of lazy attempts at half explaining it, but the movie could have been immensely improved by cutting this character detail out.
- Speaking of their psychic connection, little kid Jason is very poorly done. When Rennie gets her visions, they are either of Jason drowning as a child or the same ten-year-old Jason (played by Rob Hedden’s son) silently, or not so silently in some cases, asking for help. The problem is that he looks mostly normal for these scenes, coming across like he might have just bumped his head a few hours previously. You can’t spend 7 movies showing a severely deformed Jason and then give us a young Jason with only a swollen eye.
- Of the Paramount Friday the 13th films, the makeup for Jason is easily the worst here. I appreciated that they stopped showing his bones as prominently because I’ve always wondered how I’m supposed to fear a serial killer who’s mostly rotted away, but they made him look more salamander than man. I understand that they may have been going for a look that reflected his years at the bottom of Crystal Lake, but his constantly slimy skin, so slimy that even after being out the water for days he’s still dripping goo everywhere, looks cartoonish. It would have been better to show him as initially slime covered but toned it down about ten minutes into the film.
- Last but certainly not least, Jason’s “death” at the end of Jason Takes Manhattan is utterly hilarious. Jason’s death at the end of each film should be a lot of things, but funny is not one of them. I have seen his death in this dozens of times at this point in my life, and it never fails to get a laugh out of me.
That’s seven issues at this point, seven things that don’t appear as if they should have been all that hard to fix before filming even began. Here I said this was my favorite film in the Friday Franchise, and all I’ve done is list a series of complaints. “How is this your favorite in the franchise” I’d wager you’re thinking. The answer is very simple, it’s a fun movie.
Most people would argue that a movie being fun doesn’t make up for stumbling into several easily avoidable pitfalls, but I tend to disagree. If a movie is fun, if I enjoy watching it, then to me, it’s a good movie. Notice the “to me” part because I’m not claiming that a generous dollop of fun makes a bad movie good, just that it makes it good to me. I grew up on a steady diet of corny sci-fi and horror films, films that were far from great, but films I enjoyed nonetheless, and Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan is no different. The kills are silly, ridiculous, and laughable, but they’re a blast to watch, Jason’s dalliances with vindictiveness make for some very entertaining bits, and the New York City scenes, brief though they may be, are wonderfully cheesy. Yes, there are a lot of problems when it comes to Part 8, but there’s also a lot of fun to be had by giving it a watch, and for me, it’s the kills that exemplify that fun.
As mentioned a couple of times before, the kills are completely ludicrous, but I very much enjoy them. Young Master Voorhees goes on a rampage the likes of which are unseen anywhere else in the franchise. Jason also tends to use several absolutely preposterous items to perform his particular brand of justice, and while many of them are hilarious, they are all awesome to watch, so much so that several of my favorite Friday the 13th deaths are from Part 8, even Julius losing his round of Rock’em Sock’em Robots. I was a fan of the previous film, The New Blood, mainly because of the telekinetic beat down Jason receives from Tina, and it was nice to see the big guy get another beating, a useless beating to be sure, but a beating regardless. Julius stands up to Jason in a way no other character in the franchise ever did or will again, and in the middle of this outlandish chuckle fest, one that had me maniacally laughing at most of the deaths, I found myself mourning his loss. The whole scene is very well done, and it’s made all the better by a man’s decapitated head sent soaring through the New York air.
I think there’s two major things that will determine whether a person is going to enjoy Part 8. One, how you view the franchise, and two, how you view cheesy films in general. Regarding number one, if you measure the franchise by the first few movies, Part 8 might not be your cup of tea, but if you, like me, measure the franchise by its middle section, you’re probably more likely to enjoy the eighth installment. Don’t take that to mean I consider the first movies bad, they’re hands down the best in the series, but they’re not my favorites, that’s 4 (, 6, and 8. Regarding number two, how you view cheesy movies, is going to be far more important in terms of how you much you might enjoy Part 8. If the kind of cheese that permeated low budget horror and sci-fi during the 1970’s and 80’s is your thing, there’s a good chance Jason Takes Manhattan will be too, but if you hate that type of film, you’re more than likely going to hate this too.
I know this has been a weird review. I spent most of the time tearing apart a movie I love, then tried to convince you of its value afterward, but I wanted to stress how awful this movie is and why I still love it. Hopefully, you’ll love it too.
Jason’s Kill Rate:
Spear Gun: 1 (3 series total)
Sauna Rock: 1
Broken Glass: 1
Spear: 1 (5 series total)
Machete: 1 (16 series total)
Knife: 1 (8 series total)
Electrocution: 1 (2 series total)
Axe: 1 (3 series total)
Hypodermic Needle: 1
Head Crush: 1 (5 series total)
Head Knocked Off: 1
Car Explosion: 1
Pipe Wrench: 1
Vat of Goo: 1
Unknown: 1 (4 series total)
Jason Total Kills This Film: 19
Jason Total Kills: 91
Series Total Kills: 116
Side Note: There are a certain number of kills on the Lazarus that are assumed rather than shown. This number includes the few slaughtered members of the crew and the rest of the senior class. I didn’t want to include them in the main number because I really wasn’t sure if I should, however, being obsessed has its benefits, one of which happens to be counting everyone who was not shown to be killed but is shown on the boat at one point or another. That number is 38. You can choose to count them or not but for me, I’m leaving them off to the side.
Andrew Willis Taylor lives in St. Louis, MO with his wonderful girlfriend who doesn’t mind his lengthy diatribes on why Benjamin Sisko was the greatest captain. When he isn’t writing or turning old junk into usable household items, you’ll find him exploring new areas, volunteering downtown, or plopped in front of a television watching Doctor Who and Star Trek. He also has a weird aversion to writing short bios that leaves him unable to figure out what to put down. I think he likes puppies or something too. Be sure to read his debut review here on Machine Mean with Near Dark.
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