Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
Score: 2 out of 5
And this is where the Friday the 13th series died. Sure, there were a couple more films after this, but Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan marks the moment when Paramount, after several years' worth of diminishing returns, decided that they'd make more money just selling the series rights to New Line instead of making new movies; while the film was still profitable, the writing was on the wall. Between this and the similar failures of A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers that same year, the entire slasher genre, already in decline for a few years by then, went on life support and all but vanished from mainstream horror for seven years. Here, the series' best days are long behind it, the kills are plentiful but mostly weak with only a handful of standouts, and thanks to budgetary restrictions, it ultimately does next to nothing with its "Jason in New York" gimmick, spending most of the film as a painfully generic Friday film set on... a cruise ship. Having come to the end of the original Paramount era of the franchise, I can say that only about half the films, give or take, are really essential, and that this film in particular has replaced A New Beginning as my least favorite in the series. Only a few great moments salvage it from being awful, and they're not enough to make it good.
There's really no plot except that Jason Voorhees is reawakened by getting shocked by an underwater power line, causing him to clamber aboard a cruise ship carrying members of a high school graduating class from Crystal Lake to New York City. (How the ship is supposed to reach open water from, y'know, a lake is never explained, but just go with it.) One of the girls on board, Rennie, has a crippling fear of water stemming from when she almost drowned as a child, which turns out to have happened in Crystal Lake when Jason grabbed her leg; that's about the only character development that anybody gets, as most of the rest are just bodies for Jason to cut through with one-dimensional personalities (the rich bitch, the jocks, the nerds). The Eight Deadly Words ("I don't care what happens to these people") were in full effect here. The film seemed like it was about to pick up once it finally reached New York around the one-hour mark, but the problems never went away. Rennie gets mugged and almost raped by a pair of two-bit crooks who inject heroin into her veins, but outside of a scene immediately after that shows her woozy, this never comes up again. Outside of the handful of scenes they shot on location in New York, the setting never felt authentic. This was mostly shot in Vancouver, and it shows, especially in the subway scene where it looks like they just covered a local subway car in graffiti and passed it off as a New York Subway train, or when the "New Yorker" characters opened their mouths and spoke in obvious Canadian accents. It culminates in an ending that is downright bizarre in the worst way, one that even writer/director Rob Hedden admitted was a bad idea, with the deleted scenes showing that it was originally even worse.
And the film didn't even provide much in the way of worthwhile gore for the kills to make up for it. While the body count is high, everything once more felt heavily sanitized. Only two kills were worth writing home about, the scene where a guy gets thrown and impaled on a ship antenna and the one where Jason punches a dude's head off and sends it flying into a dumpster. Some of the cinematography could be pretty neat, like when the punk chick J.J. is playing her guitar in the ship's engine room or when Eva is alone on the ship's dance floor looking for Jason, but overall, this was a very flat, drab, and boring movie, on both a visual level and in terms of characters and story. Putting it side-by-side with the more visually inventive Nightmare on Elm Street films that served as Friday's contemporaries and overall rival, the difference is stark. The long-standing issue of Paramount refusing to spend much money on these films came home to roost here in a big way, shorting out many of the big ideas that were originally planned for this.
So what worked here? Well, like I said, it had some cool scenes, and most of them came down to the return of Kane Hodder as Jason. Hodder was excellent at using his size and physicality to leave a threatening presence as he stalks his victims before cutting them down to size, and the film sends him through some hellish stunts, including getting hit by a car, throwing a man, holding a woman up in the air as he chokes her to death, and the rooftop boxing match scene. It's honestly a damn shame that, much like Lisa Wilcox in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, Hodder never got a better Friday film to showcase his talents in, because he was easily the best thing about all four of the movies where he played Jason. Furthermore, while the New York setting was criminally underused, we did get one hilarious scene where Jason wanders through Times Square and scares off a bunch of punks harassing him by taking off his mask. It was in little moments like that where some real spark entered the film, making me wonder what this might've looked like if Paramount hadn't cut the budget in half and forced the filmmakers to heavily trim down the parts set in New York versus the cruise ship.
The Bottom Line
While it may have its moments, it's honestly no surprise how this movie killed the series for some time. Dull, plodding, and lacking all around, Jason Takes Manhattan marks a franchise and a genre at large that were both well past their prime and had been going downhill for years, the sort of slasher movie that, seven years later, Scream took out behind the woodshed and beat raw.