Saturday, March 31, 2012


It's hard to defend FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN. The film is the worst of the original 80's series, but oddly Jason Takes Manhattan has a certain charm and nostalgia that can't be ignored. Really, it is the last film with the feel and structure of the Friday the 13th  series. It is the last Friday made in the 1980s, a decade synonymous with the series. It is also the last one made by Paramount Pictures, as the following year New Line would acquire the rights of the series. What would follow would be some of the all-time worst (JASON GOES TO HELL and JASON X), movies that in retrospect make Jason Takes Manhattan a not-so-bad slasher film.

Usually the biggest complaint against Jason Takes Manhattan is that Jason doesn't actually takes Manhattan. If you're expecting a rampage across the Big Apple, you're in for a huge let-down. Only the third act takes place in New York, as the rest is set on a cruise ship. Realistically, only the first act of the movie should have shown how the characters came to arrive in New York City, with the second and third acts inducing carnage in Manhattan. But due to budget issues, certain substitutes needed to be made.

Few people acknowledge the film's heroine as the main problems with Jason Takes Manhattan, but she is: Rennie (Jensen Daggett) is an uninteresting and unlikable character. She is without a doubt the worst "final girl" of the first eight movies, largely due to her passive nature. Her character is terribly selfish: she is single-handedly responsible for the death of her beloved teacher Colleen (Barbara Bingham), yet sheds no guilt or remorse for her mistake. Minutes after Colleen's death, Rennie is self-indulgent and feels the need to recall to her boyfriend Sean (Scott Reeves) about the day her parents died when she was a little girl. At that moment, her story inconsequential because everyone she and Sean knew - including Sean's father (Warren Munson) - have just been slaughtered. Immediately, Rennie becomes selfish and unlikable, not the type of final girl we're used to rooting on.

The fact that everyone is always coddling her, giving her gifts, and feeling bad for her doesn't help, either.  She is spoiled and bland, as even her dog Toby (Ace) has more charisma. Rennie is not tough and independent like a Friday girl should be.

Rennie's history with Jason does not work, either. After her parents died, Rennie lived her cruel Uncle Charles (Peter Mark Richman) who tried to teach her how to swim by pushing her in to Crystal Lake, where she encounters a young Jason Voorhees (Tim Mirkovich), who looks very different than when we saw him in the original FRIDAY THE 13TH. While the idea of giving ther a history with Jason could work (look at FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III), it is implausible here, considering the timeline: The last time Jason was a child was in the original movie; PART II-PART IV: THE FINAL CHAPTER take place five years after the events of the first movie; PART V: A NEW BEGINNING and PART VI: JASON LIVES take place ten years after Part IV; then PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD takes place several years after those movies, meaning that even if Jason Takes Manhattan took place the day after The New Blood, there would still be at least twenty years between the original film where Jason was young and Jason Takes Manhattan. Rennie can't be any older than eighteen in this film, so she would not have even been alive yet when Jason was still young looking in the original movie.

Aside from Rennie, the characters aren't that horrible, but most of the real fun ones are the first to die. Take the wicked bitch Tamara (Sharlene Martin) and heavy-metal goddess JJ (Saffron Henderson) - two of the most memorable characters are barely given any chance to have fun before they are offed. They would have been great fun in the New York City scenes. The movie does suffer from having characters that are copies of those in The New Blood; Uncle Charles is a carbon-copy of Dr. Crews; Tamara is scheming like Melissa; Colleen shares many qualities with Mrs. Shepherd; and of course, Sean and Rennie are weaker versions of Nick and Tina.

But the star of the show is Jason, once again played by Kane Hodder (only with less enthusiasm than in The New Blood). Jason has become a full antihero here, killing off all those who pose as some kind of threat to our heroes, such as two gang-bangers in Manhattan that drug Rennie and try to rape her. Unlike the earlier films, there are instances where the audience wants Jason to show up, because he will save the day. But there are also questions raised by his character, such as why doesn't he kill any New Yorkers unless they directly get in his way of reaching Rennie and Sean? This goes against his normal killing-machine character, as in the previous films he just hacked anyone for no reason.

There also has to be a better way to move the story from Crystal Lake to Manhattan without taking the kids on a cruise ship. The geographical logic behind this just doesn't add up. Crystal Lake was confirmed in earlier films to be in northern New Jersey, so why wouldn't the group take a bus to New York? Plus, even if for some reason they wanted to take a ship, they would have to go on the Delaware River. But the Delaware does not turn into the high seas during a storm...

The movie begins with a cool montage of the New York City locations that will be revisited in the third act of the movie. But then it dives into the worst opening of the franchise: two teens, Jim (Todd Shaffer) and Suzy (Tiffany Paulsen) are making love and Jim tells Suzy about the "legend" of Jason. Really? Jason is once again a "legend" to these kids? An urban legend? These people have to be the dumbest, most clueless kids in history. Also Tiffany Paulsen might be the worst actress ever. Literally. It's painful watching her. To make this opening segment more of a headache, Jason's "resurrection" is lame and uncreative. After the first scene it feels like there has been no heart put into this production.

The movie gets good once it reaches the mean streets of New York. The film's climax features the final two survivors running from Jason through back alleys, subways, diners, and finally into the maze-like sewer system. The sewer chase is the best and most creative part of the entire movie, and the only scene that features any remote suspense. Overall the New York scenes are pretty cool. It's just a shame more of the movie couldn't have taken place here.

Jason Takes Manhattan does have its positives, and there is a reason why it has obtained a cult following over the years. You see, Jason Takes Manhattan is not nearly as bad as some of the stuff to follow, and at the end of the day its a pretty fun slasher flick. It also features one of the best songs to ever grace a slasher film: Metropolis' "The Darkest Side of the Night". The song is pure-80s gold and sets the tone for a cool atmosphere. Like A New Beginning, this movie has seedy settings that fit in well with the franchise's tone. This seediness would eventually become lost by the 2000's.

Even though it's not a very scary flick, Jason Takes Manhattan has some very dark moments and deals with subject matter that the previous films avoided. For starters, cocaine and heroin are both drugs used. Sure, most Friday films have a pot-smoking hippie, but only A New Beginning featured cocaine and heroin was never featured before. There is also an attempted rape, which is definitely a first for the series. On top of that, there are some real nasty death scenes with lots of gore and brutality. And did all those kids left behind on the cruise ship die?

It's easy to rip Jason Takes Manhattan apart because it really is a poorly made movie with a lot of inconsistencies and a plethora of plot holes. But it also is the last "true" Friday the 13th movie, as the films following lost the gritty 80's fun. They were either too serious or too self-aware, but the Friday films of the 1990's and 2000's just were never the same. This movie also marks a good ending to the original series, as Jason has been brought out of Crystal Lake and is presumably less powerful because of it. And then, to bring his character full circle, he drowns and reverts back to child form. Jason Takes Manhattan is nonsense from start to finish, but it's also an incredibly fun adventure, and a great piece of 80's nostalgia.

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