“Don’t be a lightweight, this is top dollar toot!”
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN ends the ‘80s on a sour note. It opens with footage of New York skylines, traffic, billboards (including a BATMAN symbol, so we know exactly what year this is) and street punks (one with a mohawk) laying in empty concrete planters passing around cigarettes. We hear some AM radio guy grunting quasi-poetic nonsense…
“It’s like this: we live in claustrophobia. A land of steel and concrete, trapped by dark waters. There is no escape, nor do we want it. We’ve come to thrive on it, and each other. You can’t get the adrenaline pumpin’ without the terror, good people! I love this town.”
…and the credits continue over a song called “The Darkest Side of the Night” by composer Fred Mollin and Toronto singer Stan Meissner’s band Metropolis, who were asked to make something that sounded like the Robert Plant song they wanted to use but couldn’t afford. I guess in a way that’s a good summary of where we were at culturally.
Though it would be invisible to the untrained eye, these opening credits contain what in the context of this full-series analysis is an unmistakable sign that the producers have thrown in the towel: there’s no god damn title sequence! They just show a regular two-dimensional logo over some normal footage like a normal movie! Does something fly at it and blow up? No. Does it bleed? No. Does it do anything? Nothing at all. Seven films of title excellence and then they realize other movies don’t bother to put in the effort so why should they? I feel so disappointed in them, like a parent when their kid goes from A student to drop out. But a movie series doesn’t have hormones. There’s no excuse here. They just figured these types of movies aren’t worth working hard and trying to excel. So when the unimaginatively named character “Deck Hand” (Alex Diakun, VALENTINE) says, “This voyage is doomed” it’s redundant, because the credits already told us.
The way we get into the story almost seems like a parody. Two youths, Jimmy (Todd Caldecott, MOTHER MAY SLEEP WITH DANGER?) and Suzi (Tiffany Paulsen, writer of the 2007 NANCY DREW movie starring Emma Roberts), are making out on a boat on Crystal Lake. Jimmy is nervous because “It’s just that we’re right around that summer camp, where all those murders took place.” He tells the story of part I (with new non-deformed kid [Tim Mirkovich, editor of UNHINGED and many TV shows] playing drowning Jason), but he’s really telling the story just to scare her by jumping out with a hockey mask and retractable toy knife. Of course, he doesn’t realize that their anchor just bumped a power line into the underwater corpse of the real Jason (Kane Hodder, ALLIGATOR II: THE MUTATION), reviving him to climb onto the boat, steal the incredibly accurate replica mask and kill them for real.
Most of the movie takes place on a larger boat – though one that’s very small for a cruise ship. For some reason asshole high school principal Charles McCulloch (Peter Mark Richman, NAKED GUN 2 1/2) and nice English teacher Colleen Van Deusen (Barbara Bingham, BEYOND DARKNESS) are chaperoning a graduating class of only ten students on a party cruise on the S.S. Lazarus. It’s immediately clear that the main character is going to be Rennie (Jensen Daggett, PROJECT: ALF) because
- Principal McCulloch is her overprotective uncle.
- Ms. Van Deusen drives her there and is also protective of her and gives her the gift of a fancy pen that “Stephen King supposedly used.” Rennie is a writer, presumably of horror, though this doesn’t become important.
- She’s nervous and withdrawn and scared of water due to at-first-unspecified childhood trauma (it’s about trauma).
- She brings her dog Toby (Ace, The Odyssey) on the boat.
The other characters are each based around a characteristic, like flatter versions of kids in NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET sequels. Sean (Scott Reeves, EDGE OF HONOR) is under pressure because his dad (Warren Munson, HEAVY METAL) is the captain of the ship and expects him to follow in his footsteps. J.J. (Saffron Henderson, THE FLY II) is a Lita Ford type who brought her electric guitar. Wayne (Martin Cummins, True Justice) is a Garth-from-WAYNE’S-WORLD-esque nerd who carries a camcorder to “get some shockumentary footage” and has “had the major hots for” Tamara since sophomore year, while Tamara (Sharlene Martin, POSSESSION , MYSTERY DATE) is a rich brat who enjoys being a bad girl and exposes herself to the principal to video tape and blackmail him. Eve (first movie for Kelly Hu, HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN, NO WAY BACK, STRANGE DAYS, THE SCORPION KING, CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE, X2: X-MEN UNITED, BATMAN: SOUL OF THE DRAGON) leans goodie two shoes but tries to impress Tamara. Julius (V.C. Dupree, SOUTH CENTRAL) likes boxing, and Other Boxer (David Jacox, TIMECOP) also likes boxing but gets killed so soon (stabbed by sauna rock) they didn’t bother crediting him or giving him a character name. The tenth student, Miles (Gordon Currie, HIGHWAYMEN), has no notable character traits, but writer/director Rob Hedden (ALIEN FURY: COUNTDOWN TO INVASION) says on the commentary track that scenes cut for time established that he was a competitive high diver. They dumped that but kept the punchline that Jason throws him from the mast and he’s impaled on an antenna.
There’s a small amount of time for them to get into teen hijinks, but Jason is on the boat, and almost immediately kills J.J. I would’ve liked to get to know her better, but I do appreciate that she gets the cheesy line “Ah man – this place is achin’ for a video!” before pretending to rock out on her guitar in various parts of the boat. Jason, of course, bashes her head in with the guitar.
Tamara snorts coke and tries to get Eva to partake. When the principal suspects them, Tamara assumes “that narcing bitch” Rennie told on her, and she knows she’s afraid of water, so she pushes her off the boat and she almost drowns (believing that young Jason is pulling her down). Ms. Van Deusen witnesses it and saves Rennie but seems surprisingly unconcerned about one of the students she’s responsible for attempting and almost succeeding to murder one of the other students she’s responsible for. Luckily Jason takes his duties as one of the adults on the ship much more seriously and stabs Tamara with a shard of mirror. That’s kind of a Freddy thing, too – killing her with a symbol of her vanity and/or her cocaine habit.
I know the conventional wisdom is that Jason kills people for having sex or doing drugs (or playing guitar?) and that the movies are judgmental of such activities. But I would argue that the marijuana enthusiasts of the earlier films are portrayed as either regular people having fun or just lovable stoner goofballs, while Billy in A NEW BEGINNING and Tamara here using coke definitely seems like shorthand for “look at this fucking yuppie asshole right here.” It demonstrates not only the way the series devolved, but the shift in attitudes toward drug use from hippie recreation to risky me-generation hedonism.
Eva and Wayne are separately killed on a little dance floor. Wayne’s is funny because Jason throws him into an electrical board and not only is he electrocuted but his pants immediately catch on fire and set off the fire alarm. (If this was Freddy it would’ve been some kind of reference to him being a liar liar pants on fire.)
One unusual event in the movie is that Jason throws Julius off the boat, but he survives. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anyone survive a Jason attack in the middle of a movie, nor Jason doing such a non-lethal attack. If he was trying to show Tamara how it’s done he sure failed.
After some nonsense about the principal thinking the Crazy Ralph-esque deck hand is responsible for the murders and some more death, Rennie, Sean, Julius, the two chaperones and the dog manage to escape on a lifeboat.
I don’t really know how to not be annoyed that they call the movie JASON TAKES MANHATTAN and then make us wait until 1:03 into the movie for them to approach the Statue of Liberty. But Crystal Lake Memories makes me more sympathetic toward Hedden. According to interviews in the book, he asked, “Can we take him and put him in a bit city?” and Frank Mancuso Jr. said, “Oh, Jason Takes Manhattan.” Hedden knew that was a funny idea, so he went with it, and “The way I envisioned it, for the first third of the movie we’d be on the boat, then we’d get to New York at the end of Act I. Everything about New York was going to be completely exploited and milked. There was going to be a tremendous scene on the Brooklyn Bridge. A boxing match in Madison Square Garden. Jason would go through department stores. He’d go through Times Square. He’d go into a Broadway play. He’d even crawl onto the top of the Statue of Liberty and dive off.”
Of course all of that sounds great and those cheap bastards didn’t budget enough to do even one of those things, plus they shot mostly in Vancouver. But Hedden (a MacGyver story editor who was hired on the basis of directing two Friday the 13th: The Series episodes) was grateful they were letting him make a movie, so he accepted the compromises. Meanwhile, they understood how cool the original idea sounded so they advertised it as if that’s what it was, pretty much guaranteeing universal disappointment. Only all these years later do I realize that if they had advertised it as FRIDAY-THE-13TH-on-a-boat and then he ends up at fake New York at the end it would’ve seemed like an exciting bonus, like when the t-rex makes it to civilization at the end of THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK. I still don’t think it would be a great movie, but I definitely wouldn’t hold the same grudge against it.
When they do get to New York it is very much lacking in 1. being New York and 2. visual style, but I have grown to somewhat appreciate that it’s one of these exaggerated post-DEATH WISH hellholes, so pretty much the moment they step ashore they are accosted by street creeps (Sam Sarkar [THE BRAVE] and Michael Benyaer [DEADPOOL]) who mug them at gunpoint, rapily drag Rennie to their alley living room (“Welcome to the casbah, princess,”) and forcefully shoot her up with a RE-ANIMATOR-looking narcotic. Jason comes and kills them (he more impervious to gunfire than in JASON LIVES because now it doesn’t even knock him over) and luckily Rennie hasn’t nodded off, so she escapes before he gets her.
(I would like to introduce the theory that these mugger/drugger/rapists [credited as Gangbanger #1 and #2, but named Homes and Jojo according to fridaythe13th.fandom.com] are two of the inner city youths who Annie said were going to be the campers in part I. But because of the return of Jason the season was cancelled, Homes and Jojo did not have Alice, Jack and the others as a positive influence in their lives and they ended up on a negative path. The full consequences of Jason’s massive body count may ripple through our world of possibilities beyond anyone’s understanding.)
He’s not able to invade a department store or Broadway play, but he does burst Kool Aid Man style through the door of a crowded diner, where a huge bouncer approaches him and gets thrown over the bar. More New York specific scenes include chasing them on a subway and getting thrown on the third rail. (Again, the effects of electricity on Jason Voorhees are inconsistent from scene to scene.) I like those parts, but the obvious highlight is when Julius encounters Jason on a rooftop and decides to box him. He hits at him for a couple minutes, until his hands are bloody and he’s out of breath, with Jason barely reacting. Then Jason grabs him by the collar and takes one swing, decapitating him. Not only that but the head bounces down the roof and lands in a dumpster, knocking the lid shut. I don’t think this is enough to save the movie, but it’s a scene that cannot be denied.
A much winkier scene that I still kind of like, mostly for its corny depiction of street tuffs, is when he walks by the punks from the opening credits and kicks their boombox while it’s playing a rap song written by Meissner, which says “Livin’ in the city ain’t no big deal / you gotta have a heart made of U.S. steel…”
One of them says, “You’re dead meat, slimebag!” but Jason steps toward them – we only see the back of his head – and simply lifts up his mask. They see his face, apologize and run away. (It’s kind of a version of a BEETLEJUICE joke, isn’t it?)
Speaking of his face, when we do see it later on it’s nice and cartoony. Since this is New York City of 1980s cinema there happens to be a bucket of deadly green slime laying around in a sewer tunnel, ready for melting Jason’s face, and even better – a sanitation worker informs them that every night at midnight the sewer floods with toxic waste. To show us Jason’s humanity when he re-dies, Rennie sees him turn into his childhood self (but mutated now) and also hears his child voice crying “Mommy!” from his adult body and spewing water from his mouth. Like a virgin spring.
I think he’s cute though. I want to hug him. He kind of looks like a jack ‘o lantern, or the Newborn from ALIEN RESURRECTION. Poor guy.
Toward the end of the movie Rennie recovers a childhood memory – Uncle Charles tried to get her over her fear of swimming by throwing her into Crystal Lake, and she was pulled down by a child Jason. This makes the mythology even more confusing (was he a ghost for a while before he came back as an adult and then got killed and buried and came back as a zombie?), but I’m not necessarily against that. Anyway I don’t understand why Jason and Rennie have to be connected, but this revelation does make it more enjoyable to see the principal dunked head first into toxic waste. That’s much further than Twisted Sister could go in their videos.
Similar to part VII, the ending is allowed to be happy. Toby suddenly shows up alive, and it’s not a fake out like Muffin in part II. He was probly off having his own adventure like BINGO or BABE: PIG IN THE CITY.
Sadly, the song repeated for the end credits is the fake-Robert-Plant song and not the fake-Melle-Mel song.
JASON TAKES MANHATTAN has always been one of my least favorite of the series, including last October when I got the box set, watched all of them and started working on these reviews. But then I worked on them for long enough that I decided to watch it again, and on this viewing I got a little more of a kick out of it. It certainly doesn’t have the suspense, atmosphere, pacing or musical competence of the better installments. Part VII co-composer Fred Mollin takes the reins and does a really bad job with the “KI-KI-KI MA-MA-MA,” changing it to straight up say “Jason” and sound like cackling a couple times. And nothing against cinematographer Bryan England (CHEERLEADER CAMP, THE AMERICAN SCREAM, THE HIDDEN II) and production designer David Fischer (DOUBLE DOUBLE TOIL AND TROUBLE), but this is not a particularly visually appealing movie. And it’s not really a great idea to follow the template of the disappointing last installment by having a blond lady troubled by traumatic childhood events who has visions of Jason while a bland hunky guy tries to protect her.
But I guess you have a choice to make each time you watch this, and that’s whether to be annoyed or delighted at how stupid it is. Whether to be insulted or amused that they couldn’t film in actual New York but they thought a good way to simulate it would be to spray paint “SULTAN GANG RULES” on a wall in their regular handwriting. Whether to groan or chuckle at such crisp dialogue as “Is that a muscular bod, or what?” and “Is this ax” (as in guitar) “awesome or what?” and “Whattya say we track down those babes later?”
I’m still not able to love this movie, but at least on this viewing I got kind of a kick out of the high volume of ridiculous ingredients (electric guitar, punched off head, toxic waste), if not the way they’re mixed together. But I realize now more than ever that I wish there could be a remake of JASON TAKES MANHATTAN. It wouldn’t even have to be the actual New York movie Hedden pitched. I just think that now you could get someone with more style and a retroactive appreciation for the essence of the era. It’s not as if the actual movie accurately represented the ‘80s in a literal way, so it could be vastly improved by taking place in the parts of the ‘80s we love with the benefit of hindsight. I want to see better graffiti, bigger mohawks, some neon. Even more toxic waste. Trans-Ams. Breakdancers. I want the New York City of ALPHABET CITY, but also of (filmed in London) DEATH WISH 3, and a side of THE WARRIORS. Perhaps a little RUMBLE IN THE BRONX if we must. (Wait, no – THE PROTECTOR! That opening scene!) We could definitely have a way better score and soundtrack. Maybe get the PSYCHO GOREMAN guy to direct, unless they can talk Nicolas Winding Refn into it.
As a director, Hedden stayed in TV except for the 2007 DTV comedy BOXBOARDERS! (“Two slackers put a refrigeration box on a skateboard and accidentally invent a new extreme sport”) and the 2011 romantic comedy YOU MAY NOT KISS THE BRIDE starring Dave Annable, Katharine McPhee, Rob Schneider, Mena Suvari, Kathy Bates and Tia Carrere. Notable writing credits include the 1991 TV movie KNIGHT RIDER 2000, a story credit on CLOCKSTOPPERS (2002) and that Stone Cold/WWE Films joint THE CONDEMNED (2007).
JASON TAKES MANHATTAN was a little more expensive than the previous FRIDAY THE 13TH movies, but made the least of any of them to date. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD came out two weeks later and was considered a disappointment while making more than JASON TAKES MANHATTAN. Meanwhile, Frank Mancuso Jr., having lasted four movies past what he genuinely wanted to be “the final chapter,” had established his long desired respectability by producing INTERNAL AFFAIRS, and officially left the series.
And that’s when original FRIDAY THE 13TH director Sean S. Cunningham decided to get the rights back. Like some dork kid in your class who had terrible ideas that you knew would never happen, Cunningham dreamed of cashing in on his famous creation by making a JASON VS. FREDDY movie. It had been discussed before, but neither Paramount or New Line Cinema (The House That Freddy Built) had been willing to split the profits. Now, with Paramount not really giving a shit about the series anymore, Cunningham was able to finagle a deal to move it over to New Line.
Meanwhile Wes Craven, who had also left his most famous series while sequels continued without him, decided to come back to do a different type of ELM STREET sequel, NEW NIGHTMARE. New Line wisely decided that’s what they wanted and that the fighting Jason thing would have to wait. Meaning Cunningham would have to wait too.
So he decided, “Ah, fuck. I guess I’m making god damn FRIDAY THE 13TH sequels now.”
According to Crystal Lake Memories they originally did want to continue the story of THE NEW BLOOD’s telepathic Jason demasker Tina. Actress Lar Park Lincoln was interested but they offered her so little money they “never got past negotations.”
In the early ‘60s, Peter Mark Richman starred as ex-mob lawyer turned FBI crimefighter in the movies THE MURDER MEN and THE CRIMEBUSTERS, and then the TV series Cain’s Hundred. He later guest starred on numerous TV shows including The F.B.I. and Lancer. What I’m trying to tell you is that if Rick Dalton hadn’t gone to Italy maybe he would’ve had Richman’s career, doing the voice of The Phantom on Defenders of the Earth and being the asshole principal/abusive uncle in JASON TAKES MANHATTAN.
WORM ON A HOOK NOTES:
Although I do have a boat trip in the book I did not look at this one for inspiration. Coincidentally I do have my doomsayer character first approaching them as they get off the boat. (Here it’s as they get on and he literally says, “This voyage is doomed.”)