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

After being revived by a severed electrical cable on the floor of Crystal Lake, Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) embarks on a fresh killing spree. He hitches a ride on a ship sailing to New York, picking off its teenage passengers one by one. His only serious opponent is Rennie Wickham (Jensen Daggett), an aquaphobic young woman suffering visions of Jason as a child.

Welcome to the worst Friday the 13th film so far, a film so arbitrary and pointlessly developed that it actually reaches into the magical zone of ‘so bad it’s good’. You have to laugh at Jason Takes Manhattan – even the title demands ridicule – because the alternative is to cry over the waste of time, money and talent Paramount spent on bringing it to the screen.

There is a strong appeal for seeing Jason let loose on the streets of New York, but the film only reaches the city in its final act. The first two-thirds of the movie leave Jason to carve, stab, smash and murder his way through a class of graduating high schoolers on a ship caught in the middle of a storm. It is generally tedious stuff, simply because this is the eighth time around for Friday the 13th. A simple slasher film cannot justify its own existence at this stage, and while previous sequels endeavoured to provide a fresh angle – a Jason copycat in a remand centre in Part V, supernatural elements in Part VI, and so on – Jason Takes Manhattan plays things in much too ordinary and generic fashion.

There is a weird half-hearted attempt to add a new element. Protagonist Rennie Wickham keeps having hallucinations of the young Jason drowning in Crystal Lake, but those visions – which are peppered throughout the film – never actually amount to any form of explanation or conclusion. It is as if the production team simply lost interest in the concept during the writing phase but failed to cut them out.

The film picks up somewhat once the survivors of the ship massacre reach New York, but it still feels as if the film is working with one hand behind its back. For Jason – who has spent five films slaughtering decadent, disrespectful, drug-taking, over-sexed teenagers – New York should be the perfect hunting ground. Instead he seems fixated on hunting down the survivors instead. There is an overwhelming sense of a missed opportunity. There are also a few too many climaxes, with Jason’s ability survive almost any kind of assault transforming the film into something of a James Cameron tribute – albeit not a good one.

The performances range from the cringe-worthy to the competent, although no one really does themselves any favours. Kane Hodder continues to deliver a lively performances as Jason, but the film is shot and edited in such a way as to make him look silly rather than threatening. He also seems to have developed an ability to teleport around the place, since there is visibly no way he can sneak around from one side a room to another in the manner he appears to.

The film does provide a debut for actor Kelly Hu. Her role here is comparatively brief, but she goes on to appear in such films as The Doors, X-Men 2 and The Scorpion King. All of those films are considerably better than this one.

This is the nadir of the series to date, and I suspect it is no coincidence that Paramount elected to end the series here. When it was picked up for a sequel a few years down the track, it was original director and producer Sean S. Cunningham and New Line Cinema making the attempt.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.