Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)—The Near-Death of a Franchise
The Friday the 13th franchise is one the most iconic horror franchises of recent times, with its killer, Jason being one of the most famous slashers. Despite not facing much critical success, the franchise has generally done well financially. However, after Part 7 was a box office disappointment, the writers decided to take the series outside of its main setting. So with two scripts, one with Jason on a boat and one with Jason in New York, the studio decided to combine these two scripts into one because shooting in Manhattan was expensive. The result was Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason takes Manhattan, the biggest financial failure of the series.
Jason Voorhees is back, this time because of an underwater powerline. He climbs onto a cruise ship which is sailing to New York City with a graduating class from a local high school. Aside from two teachers chaperoning, the trip includes Rennie, the niece of the biology teacher with aquaphobia, Sean, the son of the captain, Julius, a boxer, and many other young teens. As the bodies begin to fall, the passengers must face Jason as he terrorizes the ship and soon, Manhattan itself.
As one could gather from the plot summary and the intro, the film spends very little time in New York, because none of the films are given an actual budget. While the idea of Jason in a big city has potential along with him being on a claustrophobic boat, the film barely does any justice to these ideas. The sections in New York don’t do enough with the setting and while having the film’s best moments, they are cluttered among weak character drama and weird choices like implying New York has a toxic waste problem (apparently New York sewers flood every night with toxic waste. It’s just common knowledge you know). Meanwhile, the boat lacks the claustrophobic feeling that it needs to work, along with any feeling of fear. As a result, the boat barely feels different from a dilapidated summer camp.
In terms of characters, we have a weak entry here. Our final girl Rennie is nothing special and her connection with Jason, from the hallucinations to her aquaphobia being caused partly by Jason doesn’t add enough to make her interesting in any way, especially after the last film’s hero was a literal psychic. Meanwhile, the male lead has some characterization with his dad but has nothing else. The two most memorable characters in the film are the biology teacher McCulloch who’s the resident abusive jerk of the film, and Julius who has the most memorable death of the film where he goes down fighting Jason like the boxer he is. Funnily enough, the rest of the cast seem even more stupid than usual, with most of them lacking a flight response to danger and just scream as Jason slowly kills them.
Jason has underwent many variations in his portrayal and in this film, we have Kane Hodder, the most popular actor who has ever played Jason returning. Hodder does a good job playing the killer and gets the physicality of Jason down perfectly, as well as having some good gags when he is in New York. However, Jason infamously has an issue exclusive to this film in particular and that is his ability to seemingly teleport. At many points in the film, Jason moves in an impossible manner given his usual speed. This stretches believability even if Jason just suddenly burst into a sprint for a few seconds offscreen and kills tension by being so comically nonsensical.
The big challenge with writing this review is that there is only so much one can say about Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan, since the film was made without any artistic goals in mind other than to make another slasher film. And in that respect, they did what they set out to do. However, it doesn’t have much value even with the low standards it had. Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan is just a bad entry into the franchise and lacks any horror or edge the previous films had. Its cast isn’t memorable or enjoyable, the setting change does nothing to spice things up and everything the film has is just done better in another entry. Even some of the other worst entries, like Jason goes to Hell or Jason X have at least one of these elements in their favor. This one is only good for a laugh but even then, there are better laughs out there.