Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan celebrates it’s 30th anniversary this year. I’m aware that the majority of Friday the 13th fans consider it to be one of the worst movies of the series. I don’t expect to really change anyone’s mind, but I disagree. I will say that the first four Friday the 13th movies are my favorites. They’re almost interchangeable. I do actually like the first Friday the 13th (1980) the most. I even prefer Mrs. Voorhees (played by the late Betsy Palmer) over her son, Jason. That’s another unpopular opinion. I consider those first four, however, to be the true slasher classics. They’re the ones of a more straightforward horror style, representative of the tone of many of the early ’80s slashers.
After those though, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan is my fifth favorite. Nostalgia is partly to blame. It was one of the first movies of the series I remember seeing. I saw it on TV in the early ’90s. As it was released a few years prior, it was in heavy rotation. I’ll also say that I tend to have fairly unpopular movie opinions. I don’t think sequels such as The Godfather Part III (1990), Rocky V (1990), and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) are as bad as their reputations would suggest either.
Perhaps the biggest reason fans are bothered by Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan is the misleading title. It’s true that Jason spends roughly just a third of the movie “taking” Manhattan. The rest of the movie takes place on a cruise ship. This is the mode of transportation to get a graduating class of high schoolers to New York. Even beyond that, the filmmakers cheat a bit. Director Rob Hedden filmed most of the New York scenes in Vancouver, Canada.
I get the frustration of some of the other Friday the 13th fans. Blame shouldn’t go to Hedden for that though. He had written and directed some episodes for the mostly-unrelated Friday the 13th TV series. Frank Mancuso, Jr. (April Fool’s Day, Species), long-running producer of the movie series, approached him. Writing the next Friday the 13th movie was the initial offer. The chance to direct came later.
Hedden suggested taking Jason Voorhees out of Crystal Lake. It was Mancuso, Jr. who came up with putting him in New York. There were scenes in the original script that took place at the Brooklyn Bridge, a Broadway play, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building. The boxing match between Jason and Julius (Vincent Craig Dupree) was originally at Madison Square Garden. Jason was originally going to kill Eva, played by Kelly Hu (X2: X-Men United, The Scorpion King), in a New York nightclub. Budget constraints altered, or completely cut, most of these scenes. Times Square and the New York Harbor are the actual parts of New York we’d end up seeing.
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan had one of the worst box office records in the series. It was second only to Jason X (2001). Paramount Pictures also decided at that point to sell the series to New Line Cinema. I’ve already mentioned the movie’s reputation among fans. I want to point out, however, that the appeal of slasher movies was dying at that point in general.
The film works better if you drop the subtitle “Jason Takes Manhattan”. Expecting Jason to take Manhattan is going to leave you disappointed. No doubt about it. Halloween fans also widely dismissed Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) initially because it didn’t involve Michael Myers. That movie is better if you shake off that fact, and view it as a standalone movie. So watch Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan without those expectations. In that sense, I still applaud the movie for trying new things.
It’s not the first film to do so. Friday the 13th Part III (1982) was in 3D. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) brought humor to the series. While Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988) gave Jason a notable adversary in a telekinetic teen. That’s only a few examples. But the eighth film was the first to really take Jason out of Crystal Lake. We see him in a big city, but also within the claustrophobic confines of a cruise ship. That’s pretty cool to me.
I acknowledge Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan has other problems. A lot of these problems involve logic and continuity. How does a cruise ship get from a lake to New York? When the ship sinks, does Jason swim the rest of the way to New York? Mrs. Voorhees says in the first film that her son wasn’t much of a swimmer. I mean, we’re led to believe he drowned because of this fact. Does being undead give you abilities you didn’t have previously? Though Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives also implied that Jason can now swim.
There’s a scene where some of the extra students are gathered together in the restaurant as the ship is sinking. We’re later told, “there is no more restaurant.” Are we to assume then that they just waited there until they drowned? In one shot, we do see Jason watching them from outside, implying that he killed them. I would’ve liked to have stronger confirmation of their deaths though.
Jason also practically has the power of teleportation. When Jason pursues Eva to the dance floor of the ship, she sees Jason every direction she turns—though this leads to a really cool death. Jason lifts Eva off the ground as he chokes her to death. The music sharply cuts off as he tosses her lifeless body to the ground. The thud we hear is a nice touch. There’s another moment when Jason watches a teen named Miles, played by Gordon Currie (Puppet Master 4, The Fear: Resurrection), scurry up the ship’s mast. In the next shot, Jason is suddenly right there behind him. Rob Hedden claims that Jason’s “teleportation” is intentional, to add to his mythical quality. Do with that what you will.
The younger Jason once attacked the film’s lead protagonist Rennie (Jensen Daggett) when she was just a girl. This is problematic. We can choose to believe that Jason Voorhees never really drowned in 1957. Instead, he fled to the woods and stayed there into adulthood. Remember in the original Friday the 13th that young Jason attacks Alice (Adrienne King) in the canoe at the end. To support that earlier theory, we can believe that Alice really did just have a nightmare. Or she’s lost it so much that her memory is a bit warped. Maybe the Jason that attacks her is an adult, but Alice’s mind has tricked her. When you throw Rennie’s separate encounter into it, it’s a bit harder to believe.
This leads to another problem with Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, which is Jason Voorhees himself. This would be the first time that someone would play him more than once. That someone is Kane Hodder (Hatchet, Wishmaster). Hodder would become a fan favorite as he played the character in four Friday the 13th movies. My personal favorite Jason Voorhees actor was the late Richard Brooker in Friday the 13th Part III. Though I do like Hodder as well, he’s good in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. The problem is with his look. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood was one of my least favorite movies in the series, but it had what was the best look of Jason we’d ever get in my opinion.
So it’s disappointing that we go from that to probably the worst-looking Jason in the series. This is most glaring when he’s not wearing the mask. You could argue that he looks so bad because he’s just gotten his face splashed by toxic waste. I won’t argue that. It just looks completely fake; it’s really bad. Assistant special effects makeup artist Bill Terezakis blames special makeup effects creator Jamie Brown for that, whom he called “Mr. No Continuity.” Even when you throw the mask on Jason, he looks wet and slimy throughout the entire movie. He does spend a lot of time in the film in the water. I believe he would dry off a bit though—I don’t even really care about consistency in this example, it’s just a bad look.
Rennie also has hallucinations (more on that later) of young Jason. A bit of interesting trivia: Tim Mirkovich plays young Jason, the son of editor Steve Mirkovich. These visions of young Jason are not consistent though. Sometimes he has hair, and sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he’s deformed, sometimes he’s not. It seems that the crew here possibly believed that Jason became deformed from spending so much time in the water. Maybe in their eyes, Jason hasn’t been living in the woods, such as that earlier theory. Perhaps he did drown and haunts the water he supposedly died in. In the first film though, Jason had a deformity before he drowned. The other kids ridiculed him because of it.
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan marks a first in the series. It’s the first time that composer Harry Manfredini had no involvement in the music. Fred Mollin would take over for this film in terms of the score. Mollin had already been working on the Friday the 13th TV series. He was actually more of a TV composer in general. He also shared the composing credit with Harry Manfredini for Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood. They recycled a lot of Manfredini’s classic themes, while Mollin contributed some new stuff. This led to one of my favorite compilations of Friday the 13th music.
Fred Mollin’s work for Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan is a mixed bag. He punctuates some of the more horrific moments to the point where they’re a bit over-the-top. While I would say his softer stuff works better for me. One example of this is where our remaining survivors arrive in New York. Another is when the film allows itself a moment to absorb Times Square.
I believe my acknowledgment of the movie’s problems are out of the way. Let’s get to more of my defense. I like the characters in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan more than in the previous movie. The actors claim it was a fun and relaxed set. Jensen Daggett dated Gordon Currie. Scott Reeves (General Hospital, The Young and the Restless) discussed his upcoming proposal to his girlfriend with the cast. The biggest point of tension on the set concerns Reeves’ character, Sean. Lee Coleman was the original actor to play Sean. There didn’t seem to be much chemistry between him and Daggett. Some have said he was too effeminate. So he was fired, and Scott Reeves replaced him.
Let’s now discuss our final girl, Rennie. Tina from the previous film, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, seems to be a fan favorite. People often lump her in with some of the original final girls. I wonder if this is simply because she has the powers of telekinesis at her disposal. Personally, I find Tina to be simply a dour character that sucks the fun out of the movie. I tire of her constant whining and crying throughout the whole film. I don’t put that on actress Lar Park Lincoln (House II: The Second Story, Freddy’s Nightmares) however. It’s the character she plays.
In contrast, people often overlook Jensen Daggett as Rennie. I, however, put her among my favorite final girls, alongside Adrienne King (The Butterfly Room) in Friday the 13th, and Amy Steel (April Fool’s Day) in Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981). Rennie’s my kind of girl. She’s shy and reserved, like me. She’s a writer like I claim to be. I also like that we see her go through a character arc that makes her stronger.
Rennie is afraid of the water from something that happened when she was a young girl. Her uncle Charles McCullough, played by Peter Mark Richman (The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear), pushed her into the water. He did this as a sink-or-swim approach. McCullough also tries to scare Rennie into believing that Jason is down there waiting to grab anyone who can’t swim. He’s not serious, but Jason is indeed down there and attacks the girl. McCullough becomes Rennie’s legal guardian after her parents are killed in a car wreck.
I will admit that Rennie is a bit of a mixture of previous Friday the 13th girls. She’s similar to Chris in Friday the 13th Part III, played by Dana Kimmell (Midnight Offerings, Sweet Sixteen). Memories of Jason attacking them when they were younger haunt them both. Rennie attempts to work through the trauma of her childhood. This makes her similar to Tina in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood.
I also want to credit Rob Hedden here. The way he depicts this trauma is interesting. We see memories that Rennie repressed coming to the surface in a series of supposed hallucinations. This is where Hedden gets to display some of his visual style. There’s a moment where Rennie thinks she sees a young Jason drowning from beyond the ship’s porthole which leads to the actual, adult Jason smashing his hand through the glass to attack her.
I also like the introduction to this scene. We go from Jason walking up to the porthole, and then the camera goes through the porthole into Rennie’s room. To do this, Hedden had fake walls connected. People pull the walls apart as the camera clears the porthole, which allows the crew to enter the room. There’s also the scene where Rennie is looking in the bathroom mirror. Suddenly the arm of young Jason comes through the mirror to grab her. I love the strobe-like, purple lighting and fog machines in this scene; they really heighten the effect.
I enjoy the other characters in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan as well. I’m engaged in the blossoming romance between Rennie and Sean. Ms. Van Deusen, played by Barbara Bingham (Beyond Darkness), is Rennie’s teacher and mentor. She’s also one of my favorite supporting characters in the series, being encouraging and protective of Rennie. I’m sad when she exits the film. Boxer Julius is amusing in his tough-guy persona. I love the moment when the teens are gathering weapons on the ship to protect themselves from Jason. Someone asks Julius what he’s taking. Julius’ response: “Nothing…but this gun.” It’s funny as we see him change his mind and drop the act after a moment of consideration.
There’s a cool rocker chick named J.J, played by Saffron Henderson (The Fly II). Sadly she’s one of the first people to go, but she has one of the coolest deaths in the movie. Jason smashes her head in with her “Flying J” guitar. The MPAA made Rob Hedden cut the original shot. It’s cool what he does under those limitations—a glass pane was put over the camera lens so we can see the blood splash across the screen.
I even find the asshole characters to be a bit sympathetic. I imagine we’re supposed to be cheering for Jason to kill them though. Charles McCullough, who is also a teacher of this school, is overprotective of his niece, sure. You can see some of it as a power play though I never doubt his love and concern for her. You could look at him pushing Rennie in the water years before as possibly abusive. I see it more as tough love.
He gets a funny moment involving a teen named Tamara, played by Sharlene Martin. McCullough gives Tamara a warning. She won’t get to graduate or tour New York unless she turns in her final biology project. Tamara’s “biology project” turns out to be her in only her underwear. A marker highlights the different organs on her body. Tamara has someone recording this so she can use it as blackmail. But the way McCullough says, “Hey!”, in response to the sight of her nearly-naked body is hilarious. He tries summoning up some authority. At the same time, it obviously arouses him.
There’s another funny scene involving McCullough. He encounters the cameraman named Wayne, played by Martin Cummins (Omen IV: The Awakening, Riverdale), in an earlier scene. McCullough mentions that he’s looking for Rennie, as senior predictions are about to start. Wayne replies, “Maybe some of us don’t want our futures predicted.” To which McCullough condescendingly remarks, “In your case, I’m sure that’s true.” Going back to Tamara, she’s the other character we’re meant to hate. Tamara finds out that Rennie is afraid of the water. I’ll admit that the scene in which she pushes Rennie off the ship is awful. Also, Rennie would’ve most likely died from that in reality. However, I can see the insecurity and hurt beneath Tamara’s surface.
Tamara also gets a cool death, though It’s maybe too obviously metaphorical. Tamara hides her insecurity behind vanity. We also see her sniffing cocaine (hey, it was the ’80s!) off a mirror. So naturally, Jason will stab her with shards of glass. The moment he smashes through her bathroom door is most likely a reference to The Shining (1980). If Jason talked, he might say, “Here’s Jason!” Let me bring this back to my main point. I feel the characters in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan are stronger than in the previous film. Not only that but their relationships with each other are stronger as well.
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan takes the series in some new directions. However, there are also several callbacks to earlier movies. The credit sequence does tease us with some of the New York locations we’ll see later. There’s also a voice-over by a talk radio host talking about the darkness of the city. After that though, we go back to Camp Crystal Lake for Jason’s revival. There’s also that flashback scene later where Jason attacks Rennie in the waters of Crystal Lake. I like how bright the scene is, and the voices have his echo effect. But my main point is that it feels like the camp from the original Friday the 13th.
That opening scene gives a retelling of the Crystal Lake legend. Jim (Todd Shaffer) tells the story to his girlfriend Suzi (Tiffany Paulsen), with the hopes of scaring her. Originally, flashback shots of Betsy Palmer as Mrs. Voorhees from the first film were meant to appear in the scene as well. After a power cable resurrects Jason, Jim and Suzi are his first victims. I’ve already mentioned how the film references the origin of the series, young Jason drowning in the lake, multiple times.
There’s also a nutty deckhand who warns that the voyage is doomed, played by Alex Diakun (The Surgeon, Valentine). This is obviously a callback to Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney) in Friday the 13th and Friday the 13th Part 2. A bit of trivia: Walt Gorney also provides the opening narration in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood. There’s also a similar character named Abel, played by David Wiley (Society), in Friday the 13th Part III. This is the prophet of doom character. The character who everyone mocks when he warns them, even though he ends up being right.
I actually feel that Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan has the most in common with Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. This is probably no coincidence. Rob Hedden has implied that his favorite movies in the series are the first and sixth movies. Both the sixth and eighth movies shock Jason back to life. Both films have rock tracks. I’ll admit that Peter Fredette is no Alice Cooper, who brought the rock in the sixth film. In fact, this is the only instance I’ve been aware of Fredette. Regardless, I still really love the theme song of the movie, “Darkest Side of the Night.”
Another way in which the two films are similar is that both have a sense of humor to them. Even the original ad campaign of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan was funny. The original poster had Jason slashing through the “I Love New York” logo. The filmmakers would eventually remove the poster after the tourist commission sued them. There’s also a trailer that has a corny instrumental rendition of “Theme From ‘New York, New York'” playing. We see someone admiring the New York skyline. It feels like a different movie until the person turns around. It’s Jason Voorhees, of course.
Most of the humor in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan is during the New York section. There’s the moment where Jason cocks his head at a hockey ad on a billboard. Or the scene where Rennie and Sean run away from Jason on the subway. It’s funny how the other passengers just can’t be bothered. This is nothing new to them.
Similarly, there’s a scene where Rennie and Sean end up at a diner. They frantically tell the waitress, “There is a maniac trying to kill us!” To which the waitress merely replies in a thick Brooklyn accent, “Welcome to New York.” Rob Hedden’s sister Peggy plays the waitress.
Also in that diner scene, Ken Kirzinger plays the cook that Jason tosses at the mirror. Kirzinger was not only the stunt coordinator of this film. He would also replace Kane Hodder as Jason Voorhees in Freddy vs. Jason (2003). This outraged the fans, but I thought he did a good job, and he’s a nice guy too. There’s another funny scene where Jason kicks a stereo that belongs to a group of gang members. They angrily threaten him in response. Jason scares them off by merely lifting his mask and letting them see his face. There’s also the moment when Jason drowns McCullough in a bucket of toxic waste. During the credit sequence, we saw a rat swimming in that bucket. In this later scene, there’s a dead rat in the bucket. Is this Chekhov’s rat perhaps?
The best, and funniest, death of the whole movie is that of Julius. Julius wears himself out hitting Jason repeatedly on the roof of a building. It doesn’t even faze Jason. So Julius tells him, “Take your best shot, mother fucker,” which by the way is something you should never do. Jason decapitates him with one punch. Not only that, but there’s a shot from the point-of-view of the decapitated head! The head rolls down into a dumpster, and the lid slams shut to punctuate the moment.
Let me put the humor aside for a moment. I want to give the film some credit in a different way. Rennie, Sean, Charles McCullough, and Ms. Van Deusen come across Julius’ decapitated head in a cop car. Rennie ends up behind the wheel and tries to floor the car away from Jason, who is nearby. Then, suddenly, Rennie sees young Jason ahead of her. The music in the scene cuts off as the film goes into slow-motion. And then we get a series of shots getting closer and closer to Jason. A musical stinger accompanies each shot. This moment creeped me out as a kid though it’s the only moment that ever did.
One scene that should have been played more for laughs comes at the end. Rennie and Sean bump into a sanitation worker as Jason pursues them. He tells them that toxic waste floods the sewers of New York City every night at midnight. What?! I mean, c’mon! That’s ridiculous! And yet they play it completely straight. They take in this information and are like, “Yeah, toxic waste flowing through the sewers. Sounds right. Let’s go!” You can probably see where this is going. Jason ends up a victim of the toxic waste. As the waste clears, only the child form of Jason remains. A lot of people hate this ending and find it illogical. Maybe so, but I like it.
It feels almost like a callback to Friday the 13th Part 2. The scene where Ginny psychoanalyzes Jason Voorhees and ponders his essence and motivation. She questions at one point if Jason might be a child trapped in a man’s body. I also think that you don’t have to take the ending literally. This could just be another one of Rennie’s hallucinations. She was also abducted by a couple of punks earlier who drugged her up. Maybe she’s just straight-up tripping. Or perhaps the movie is metaphorically saying that things have come full circle. Jason has been put to rest. Maybe he can find some peace. Alright, I agree I’ve gone a step too far now. I like the ending either way. It’s certainly better than the end of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood. You know, where Tina’s undead father merely pulls Jason into the water with chains.
Alright, so we’ve reached the end. Have I changed anyone’s mind? No? This doesn’t surprise me. However, I’ll still be here, arguing for the nostalgia of my childhood. Maybe Jason didn’t take Manhattan. But he got out of his comfort zone of Crystal Lake. He went on vacation, checked out some new locations, tried new things. I had fun traveling with him. Again, I think this is because I was able to shake off expectations. I had fun with the characters, the visuals, the callbacks, the humor, the psychological subtext. However you may feel about Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, I’ll always like it. You can’t take that away from me.