Or, The One Everyone Hates. And I mean really, really, really hates. That’d be Part V for me, but I understand why everyone pretends that false start of A New Beginning never happened. And I understand the hatred of this…thing.
Seriously, this is Friday the 13th Lite, a cringing, half-hearted attempt to shift the series toward (of all things) respectability. It ended up disappointing everyone from casual movie watchers to the stuffed suits at the top of Paramount’s food chain by exceeding even the most cynical critic’s lowest expectations. Bucking a trend for the series, turned out to be derivative and dull. How did this happen? How did one of the most iconic horror franchises in history sink so low?
Well, by this point in our time line, a little first-run syndicated TV show that also happened to be called Friday the 13th had been broadcasting an image of this the series into living rooms across North America for over two years. Originally called The 13th Hour, any chance of that died once Friday the 13th Parts 2-VII’s producer, Frank Mancuso, Jr., got his grubby little hands on it.
I never watched that show in its first run myself, since its had nothing at all to do with the films that bore its name. Thematically, the few episodes I caught on the old Sci-Fi Channel felt more like they belonged to Night Gallery or the crappier seasons of The Twilight Zone. So of course the series first season became the second highest rated show among 18 to 49 year-olds, just behind Star Trek: the Next Generation.
I think that had a lot to do with why the last movie felt so different from previous Fridays. Parts 2-V concerned themselves with pleasing the core fan base, and learning what that base wanted: all-American gaillo pictures. Part VI was the product of a madman with his own vision of the series, wrapping up a trilogy begun in Part IV. Part VII, the first Friday made in the series shadow, attempted something neigh-on revolutionary by (for once) giving Jason a Leading Lady who can hold her own, both as a foil for Jason and as a character in her own right…even if – in the end – she was only defined by her superpowers. The casual viewer might be tempted to think Part VIII jumps the shark by moving things to Manhattan. But we know this entire series is nothing but a long exercise in shark-jumping. What makes this shark any worse than all the others? A voodoo curse? Who wouldn’t want to broaden the appeal of this zombie franchise? And what better way to do that then by jumping the last two sharks in the series personal Sea World? So Part VIII (a) tones down the gore and (b) removes us from our familiar setting, the Demon-haunted woods of
Forrest Green Crystal Lake.
Shockingly, these changes only wound up alienating the series mindbogglingly large number of actual fans. Going back to the beginning, Part VIII rips-off Part 2 by having a male character monologue Jason Voorhees’ origin story to someone else…who, despite being a teenager in Crystal Fucking Lake, is totally ignorant of series mythology. Paul told this story a lot better since he told it to the whole cast around a campfire, and really, that’s all these movies are – multi-million dollar campfire stories that we’ve all heard dozens of times before.
This time Our Narrator is Jim (Todd Caldecott) and our narratee is Suzi (Tiffany Paulsen). They’re cruising down the Lake in someone‘s parent’s yacht as a New York City radio station wishes the graduating seniors of Crystal Lake High (including Jim and Suzi) mazal tov. Their upcoming Senior Class Trip will consist of a pleasure cruise down to NYC, and the smooth-voiced DJ makes sure to warn the incoming hicks about all the spooky shit goes on in the Big Apple. Piissh. Yeah, right.
Before dumping the exposition on all the new audience members sure to’ve been drawn in by the successful TV series, Jim drops anchor. The anchor snags on an unprotected trunk line that’s apparently been lying at the bottom of the Lake this whole time, dragging it into a sunken dock…the latest resting place of Jason Voorhees. So, after ripping-off Part 2, Part VIII skips right ahead to ripping-off Part VI. Which itself just ripped-off Frankenstein. God, we’re not even to the first kill yet and already I feel like I’m trapped in that chamber of mirrors. Where the hell is Yor when in I need him and his Man-ness? (Breeding the Master Race of the Future, I know…just thought I’d give into hope and ask.)
Except everything is played straight, attempting to please the core audience right before the film disappointments them. No matter how long its been (Wikipedia says this takes place the year after Part VII, but that’s obvious bullcrap if everyone’s forgotten Jason already), being at the bottom of the lake sure seems to have affected Jason’s aim. He comes across Suzi and Jim having the Obligatory Pre-Death Hump and takes up the speargun conveniently waiting for him in the yacht’s cabin. (Where do these weapons keep coming from, anyway?) I thought – and everyone who endured this film with me figured – Jason would go for another Human Shish Kebab, further ripping-off (okay, call it “referencing”) Part 2. Instead, Jason misses, allowing Suzi to run away, and settles for stabbing Jim through the stomach with the speargun (a “reference” to Halloween 4‘s “I got a shotgun” scene – intentionally or otherwise). Then he stalks Suzi who – instead of fleeing the boat – decided curl up into a cargo hold and cringe. She continues cringing after Jason finds her, as he takes his long, sweet time stabbing her with that spear.
Here’s where we get our second sign that This is Gonna Hurt. Our first came when Suzi flashed us in the first five minutes. But as Jason stabs Jim, we realize the film is cheating us out of our lingering blood-and-gore shots, cutting away from stuff that would’ve been the stand-out scenes of previous Slasher films. In place of gore, we get reaction shots of Jim and Jason, as Our Killer pulls the gun from Jim’s stomach, trailing…what are supposed to be intestines but so laughably aren’t. Look more like surgical tubing covered in strawberry jam. This movie supposedly cost five million dollars to make…and for that we get bland rip-offs, a Jason who can’t shoot straight and surgical tubing intestines? Fuck you, Friday the 13th Part VIII. Fuck you very much.
Still, it’s not like writer/director Rob Heddon didn’t know what was expected of him. The opening murder scene serves up plenty of fan service to please the impatient. Jason even gets his mask back, complete with pre-existing axe wound, preserving its iconic profile…even as its presence opens up the same, cavernous plot hole as the presence of bone-white Shatner masks in Haddonfield, Illinois. What kind of American community is this, allowing its children to dress up like quasi-legendary murderers? You know all they’ll just use the excuse to pull asinine “pranks” on each other. And all that ever does is draw the attention of said murderers, who’ll obviously covet those masks…especially if their last one got snapped in half by a teenage girl’s mind bullets.
The films follows up these cheap, contrived first kills by lavishing character development on the Obvious Final Girl, Rennie (Jensen Daggett) . And, since this is a late-period Friday film, her “character developement” amounts to a couple of informed attributes: she’s a “talented” writer with a dog and a relationship to her English teacher, Miss Van Deusen (Barbara Bingham) that would raise more than a few eyebrows these days, when we assume all teachers are perverts. So close, in fact, that Miss Van Deusen went all out for Rennie’s graduation present:
“It’s supposedly the pen Stephen King used in high school.”
Right. And I’ve got a bridge I’d can sell you for, like, real cheap…
“You’re the best student I’ve ever had.”
I’d need a quantum computer to even begin calculating the number of times I’ve heard that line in a piece of (traditional) pornography. And since we’re in the land of Murder Porn, I have to put all that aside. It’s too early to get distracted. We might miss all this character development, which will no doubt prove essential. (Har-dee-fuckin-har.)
Wonder of wonders, Jim and Suzi’s disappearance doesn’t put the kabosh on their Senior Class Trip, oh no, no, no. Takes more than a missing couple to raise the eyebrows Charles McCulloch (Peter Mark Richman) who is, he assures us, In Charge of this class cruise. He’s also a stickler for time tables, as we see when he chides Miss Van Deusen: “We’re running five minutes behind schedule already!” He reminds me of an embryonic Gotham City supervillain, just waiting for some industrial accident to supply that little push the Joker talked about. Given his time-table obsession, I summarily labeled him the Clock King.
Obviously, the Clock King’s wound tighter than a boa constrictor around a small child, and the fact that Rennie’s decided to join the class trip only exacerbates his ill mood. McCulloch is Rennie’s uncle and legal guardian, as he helpfully exposits (though he never tells us what relationship he has to the Senior Class – is he the principal? We never know. Nor do we know where Rennie’s parents are), and he’s concerned Rennie’s latent hydrophobia might make the trip..difficult. He doesn’t even seem to notice Rennie’s bringing her dog along on this class trip, and who the hell does that? I’d certainly remark upon it.
His initial concern for Rennie’s “safety” is so stiff and gruff and smarmy we immediately know he’s got selfish reasons for not wanting Rennie on this boat. And since this is a later-day Friday the 13th film, you can bet McCulloch’s reasons are stupid, mean-spirited, and nonsensical.
But that’s enough setting up our Final Girl for now. Time to meet the senior class of Crystal Lake High. Don’t worry: there’s only about seven of them. Sean (Scott Reeves) is our Manly Spice, son of the Admiral in charge, and has a very chaste thing for Rennie, ensuring his survival. Girl Spice J.J. (Saffron Henderson) is into Rock, and so (of course) must be the first to die. Jason even kills her with her own guitar, making sure to swing the axe just far enough out of frame that we won’t notice how wide his arc is once the fake-blood hits the camera lens. This would be some some shocking, horrific special effects work…for someone who’d fallen asleep in 1962. For 1989, it’s tame, cheap, and unsatisfying. In 1983, that ax would’ve lodged in J.J.’s face and she would’ve staggered around like a zombie for at least ten seconds, waving the guitar neck at the camera.
Back upstairs, Rennie starts having psychic flashes in a pale echo of the series previous Final Girl, Tina Shepherd. To be fair, Tina was a psychokinetic value pack, with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal Final Girls thanks to the providence of script contrivance. Rennie’s your basic single malt psychic, so her brief vision of a young boy drowning outside her porthole could easily be a hallucination.
Except for the fact that her dog, Tobey, reacts to the vision of Jason, and runs off into the bowls of the ship. So was all that “real”? Was the dog reacting to it or to the fact Jason’s standing right outside, peeping in on Rennie? In a good film, this kind of ambiguity would be purposeful. Here, it’s just distracting. The only reason Tobey runs away is so Rennie can get out of her room, forcing Jason to find someone else to kill. (Again, they cut from the money shot too soon. What the hell?)
Time to meet the new Bitchy Spice, Tamara (Sharlene Martin) and her padawan learner, Eva (Kelly Hu…who’d go on to the thankless job of playing Lady Deathstrike in X2). Rennie finds them snorting blow below decks. Refusing to join in, she leaves…and the Clock King arrives soon after. Thinking she’s ratted them out, Tamara “accidentally” pushes Rennie over the side, taking bitchiness to a whole new level. I mean, there are accidents and then there’s “attempted murder.” Sometimes the line blurs, I know…but now isn’t one of those times. Christ, your English teacher was standing right there! She saw you!
Thankfully, it’s Manly Spice to the rescue with Sean diving in after Rennie…who, of course, can’t swim (not that she’d need to: the boat’s not even moving). McCulloch reappears to lead Rennie off to the bathroom, where, unbeknownst to her, Pennywise, the Dancing Clown lies in waiting. No, not really – the film just lifts that bit from IT where all the sinks bleed before another spectral vision of Jason’s boyish self tries to strangle Rennie for no reason. Sure, it was begging her for help two scenes ago, and it’ll be calling her “Mommy” by the end of the film…but for now, the Final Girl must die! And even though spectral child Jason is suddenly real enough to choke a bitch down, everything’s calm and normal in the next scene.
Speaking of completely normal occurrences, Bitchy Spice attempts to seduce Principal I’mInChargeHere so Token Nerd Spice Wayne (and his video camera) can capture some nice blackmail footage. His use ended, Bitch Spice kicks Wayne out so Jason can murder her without any witnesses…though I think Eva’s the only one not applauding the news of Tamera’s death…and even that’s questionable. So, of course, Eva’ll be the next “student” on the menu, once the adults are out of the way. Her death scene is such a grotesque insult to audience intelligence, and a blatant example of teleportation spamming, that I’ll just call it the Laziest Death in the Franchise and not waste any more of our time.
Incidentally, we see Jason poking his head out of someone elses’ cabin here, meaning – I think – that he was off killing some extras while Tamara, Wayne and Principal Rooney were futzing around. Therefore, not only does this Friday have the second highest body count in the series, it can also boast the highest offscreen body count in Slasher movie history…at least since Michael Meyers slaughtered the entire Haddonfield Police Department (there’s Halloween 4 again, haunting this movie by virtue of being better).
But all is not lost, gorehounds: Admiral Sean’s Dad dies on-screen. Unfortunately, his slashed-throat effect is so cheap I take back every nasty thing I ever said about previous entry’s special effects. Everyone gathers on the bridge in the wake of this…only to split up again, like the idiots they are. Jason didn’t even bother to spirit away the bodies, so don’t expect any artful tableau’s of death here – the man really is slipping in his old age.
So the movie goes on like this for awhile. A lot of characters we don’t care about stumble around a dimly lit ship until Jason kills them. I know: boring, right? And a second generation Alien rip-off. The mind wanders. You begin to wonder, “Weren’t we promised some ‘taking’ of Manhattan at some point?” Eventually, you begin to notice all the little things piling up into a Mt. Everest of Annoyance. Like Jason’s breathing…something I didn’t care about last time because that Jason was 90% post-consumer product. This Jason outfit – like the rest of the film – looks cheap. You can even see Kane Hodder’s bright pink pinkie poking out of his left glove. After stellar Jason make-up jobs in the last two films, this is really the last straw for Takes Manhattan…a movie which doesn’t even get to the Big Apple until over an hour in.
I can’t even enjoy Jason as an antagonist, since he seems beset by the kind of post-regeneration craziness that occasionally plagues Time Lords. He’s embraced Offscreen Teleportation in ways that would make Fred Krueger proud…but this just drains all the tension out of the stalk scenes. Stalk scenes with no pay-off, since this movie’s so devoid of money shots I feel like I’m watching a porno comedy from the early-70s on basic cable in the mid-90s. You know a horror movie’s got nothing going for it when the version you buy off the shelf already looks Edited for Television.
Jason manages to wreak the boat by throwing Wayne the Nerd into a control panel. It’s still technically the 80s, so of course the thing explodes, as if the deckhand who runs around aping Crazy Ralph from Part I and 2 (Alex Diakun, who’d go onto become an X-Files veteran) were using it to store his extra nitro. Rennie, her Manly Spice, her Doomed Mother Figure, her Evil Uncle , and Token Black Dude Julius (Vincent Craig Dupree) are the only ones who make it to the lifeboat. Oh, and Rennie’s dog, who Offscreen Teleports back into existence just in time. Who knows? Maybe the dog’s also a Slasher Movie protagonist. Maybe he’s one of the templates Lance Henriksen’s going to use to engineer the superdog Max, otherwise known as Man’s Best Friend.
So Our Heroes manage to row their way into upper New York Harbor without noticing, since a thick fog’s blowing in thick tonight. (And Stevie Wayne’s on vacation. Thank you! I’ll be here all night!) Our Heroes in a Manhattan that’s already reduced to a post-apocalyptic wasteland made entirely out of alleyways, deserted warehouses and shooting galleries, and are immediately mugged. This is a New York where open barrels of toxic waste stand on every street corner. Where the sewers flood with toxic waste every night at midnight! Where police cars burst into flames if you ram them into a wall, and a hockey-masked psudo-zombie can pass unnoticed as he relentlessly hunts down his home town tourists.
As an educator, McCulloch already makes Principal Ed Roony look like Principal Skinner. As an impotent Friday the 13th “villain” he makes Dr. Crews look like a fine, upstanding man of Science(!) and Sheriff Garris look like a paragon of Truth, Justice and the Small Town Way. As a father figure…well, he’d be right at home in a Stephen King story. So its not surprise we learn he once threw Rennie into Crystal Lake, figuring it would be the most traumatizing way to teach his niece how to swim. Spectral Boyish Jason attempted to pull Rennie under way back then, and this is the only justification we’re given for why Grown-up Zombie Jason’s suddenly acting like a Terminator, ignoring hordes of meat bags (most of whom have probably had sex in their lives) in favor of the Authorial Cypher and her one-dimensional Love Interest.
We know Executive Meddling kept the gore out and ensured the movie would be confined to a boat for two-thirds of its running time, leaving only half an hour for Jason to “take” Manhattan. Fact is, it’s expensive to shoot in New York, and costs can increase very quickly when the tourist board hates the very idea of associating your film with Their Fair City. It’s no wonder the story makes no sense…but I can’t help but wonder if it made any real sense in the first place. There’s no reason for Jason to leave Crystal Lake, never mind the this “lake” apparently runs all the way to the sea. Locating Jason in that rural milieu is the only unique thing this series had left in its Magic Murder Bag. Stripped of that, it’s no wonder everyone disowns this looser. There’s nothing here. It’s as empty as a Nazgul chieftain’s armor.
I’m not even going to try to fit this into series continuity or analyze the implications of Part VIII‘s asinine ending. Screw this movie. Screw this whole franchise. I know exactly why Paramount sold it off to New Line. And I know why New Line sat on it for four more years. This is the point where Friday the 13th ran into a brick wall, causing all the nitrate film stock stored in its trunk to explode on impact.
Still, at least Jason actually appears in the flesh. That’s more than Part V can say for itself. So, by the skin of its teeth, Jason Takes Manhattan escapes being the new low water mark for its series. Just wait until we get around to the real horrors awaiting us in (dramatic pause) the 1990s. (Dun-dun-DUN!) For a time, Jason Takes Manhattan remained a poor headstone for this iconic Slasher franchises. It still is today, despite the three “sequels” and two reboots riding in this film’s train. A monument to false advertising and not making one lick of sense. As if that‘s ever stopped a movie franchise.