For the next two days until Friday, April 13th, I’ll be watching and reviewing the movies in the Friday the 13th franchise from the very first through Jason X (I’m up in the air about including Freddy vs Jason).
I’ll be counting kills, observing the bad behavior that gets teenagers
killed at Camp Crystal Lake, chronicling the ways Jason and the other
killers in the series bite it at the end, and awarding my favorite kill
of the movie. Needless to say this is going to be heavy on the
spoilers, so if you’re some kind of movie virgin who hasn’t yet bathed
in the spring of Jason Voorhees et al, be wary.
Special thanks to Litmus Configuration for the amazing image above!
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
19 (one by spear gun, one by just the spear, one imitation of Pete Townsend versus Abbie Hoffman at Woodstock, one hot rock in the gut, one mirror mirror cut, one harpooning, one throat slashed, one boring choking, one accidental shooting, one impalement on the communications array, one electrocution, one axe to the back, one syringe to the back, one piping, one fisticide, one offscreen kill, one hilarious car accident and explosion, one sewage drowning, one wrenching fate)
Best Kill: In the Rumble in the Urban Jungle Jason really knocks his opponent’s block off.
Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll: Boat sex starts things off. A girl plays Guitar Hero without a TV screen. Cocaine is snorted by a member of Weapon X. A blandly blonde slut paints her internal organs on herself in a seduction move that leads to blackmail.
The Comeuppance: Every 13th of the month New York’s sewers are flooded with toxic waste that just happens to turn Jason into a young Asian boy. Are we sure that’s not just General Tso’s sauce?
The Movie: What are the worst movies ever made? Obviously you’d have to immediately narrow that list down to theatrically released movies, since the annals of student and amateur films are almost certainly filled with garbage in quantities that would be impossible for the human brain to process – all of this incredible badness is slithering just under our radar, like same horrible Old One in a Lovecraft story, always just on the other side of the threshold and beyond human comprehension. So we have a list that begins with theatrically released movies, which is still a staggering amount, but much more manageable. I don’t know what films would be on that list but I do know that among their number must be Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.
This final Paramount Friday film is legendary in its badness, and the badness permeates every single level of the production: from script to editing, this is a work of sheer and stunning incompetence. I propose a theory that this is a movie that goes beyond being just bad to being hilariously bad, and then continues on past that spot like an express train whose destination is right back at the start of the bad line, except maybe like ten levels below what you previously had ever defined as bad. This is a movie that makes you look fondly upon syphilis – at least there’s a cure for that.
I’m not even sure where to begin with this one – Jason Takes Manhattan is so terrible that I could do a shot by shot breakdown of the film and not find one redeeming quality (well, Jason does punch a guy’s head off, but that’s about it). The DVD should have a bonus commentary track of Herbert Morrison just saying, ‘Oh the humanity!’ over and over for 90 minutes. From the plot to the characters to the kills to the setting to the music, everything in this movie is bad and I find myself frozen in the face of such overwhelming shit.
Let’s start with the title. This film should have been called Jason Takes The Lido Deck, since the vast majority of the movie is set on a boat. It’s worth noting that this boat sails from Crystal Lake to New York City, and that the man in charge of it is an admiral. The admiral of the Crystal Lake Navy, I guess. When Jason et al get to Manhattan (really Vancouver, except for one sequence shot in Times Square), there’s barely a couple of reels left. On top of that, Manhattan is a useless setting in this film, since Jason doesn’t interact with it – with one utterly fucking stupid exception, he just single-mindedly goes after the victims he was already stalking on the boat. Seeing Jason walk down a subway car and ignore every person on it is so frustrating; what’s the point of having this setting if you’re not going to do anything with it? Jason unleashed on a subway train – a sealed tube filled with people! – should be the slasher set piece to end all slasher set pieces, but the train may as well be rear projected here.
This boat happens to be hosting the graduation cruise for Lakeview High, which seems to have about twelve students in it (it’s actually really hard to get a read on this. During the boarding of the boat we see dozens of people getting on, but once the ship has sailed it seems that the only faces we see are the main dozen characters. If there were more passengers, Jason’s kill count jumps up to like 40 or 50 for this film, since the boat sinks and only five people and a dog are seen getting away. At least one Friday the 13th fan site thinks that an explosion on the boat kills the rest of the graduating class). These kids are the least interesting victims that Jason has had to face yet, and some of them seem like they’ve just been plucked whole from previous entries or other slasher movies. The Survivor Girl this time is just as boring and as ripped off – she’s a girl with a traumatic background who has inexplicable visions of Jason. These visions really never pay off, one of the symptoms of just how shoddy this script is. Our Survivor Girl is, I guess, a writer – her teacher gives her ‘the pen Stephen King used in high school’ as a graduation gift (this sounds like perhaps the biggest fucking eBay scam of all time) – and also the ward of the school principal, played by Peter Mark Richman, one of those actors who appeared on all the great bad 70s and 80s TV shows (Knight Rider, Love Boat, Dallas, Galactica 1980, etc) , and who was the villain in The Naked Gun 2 ½. Not only can no one in this film act, most of them don’t even seem to be trying, so in comparison Richman’s Fantasy Island level emoting (he played four different characters on four different episodes!) reads as some kind of hyper-Shakespearian thespianizing. It’s almost a hoot, but it doesn’t do much to leaven your spirits as you watch the movie – anything unintentionally funny in this movie comes across like a pratfall on the way to the showers in Dachau.
Jason has been revived by a stray power cable, and he climbs on board the cruise ship. Why? Because the movie wouldn’t happen if he didn’t. On the ship he slowly works his way through the kids and the crew, including a guy who runs around saying the voyage is doomed. He makes Crazy Ralph from the first film seem like a Eugene O’Neill character. At some point between drowning again at the end of VII and this movie Jason developed the ability to teleport – there is seriously no other explanation for some of the moves he makes, unless you just chalk it up to a completely talentless director cheating to create cheap jump scares – and he spends most of the boat ride popping around from deck to deck, boringly killing kids. There’s a decent kill here or there (a kid in a sauna has a steaming hot rock jammed through his stomach), but mostly no one is trying; Jason just strangles Kelly Hu, although the setting is a disco floor, so some people find something to like about it. These are the kinds of people who, when reduced to eating stone soup say that it’s full of minerals.
Eventually the boat sinks (long after the movie has done so), and the survivors get on a life raft and go to New York City. Here the film enters a whole new sort of hyper-shittiness. I don’t even mind the cartoonish view of Manhattan the film has: when I was growing up my parents split up and my dad lived in the Chicago suburbs while my mom, my brother and I lived in New York City. When I would visit Chicago, the other local kids would be a little bit afraid of me because I was from New York – surely I had to be tough and maybe even crazy to live in that urban hellhole. The idiotic depiction of New York as some sort of post-apocalyptic criminal wasteland in stupid, stupid films like Jason Takes Manhattan surely helped me build some out of town cred (that I didn’t deserve. I survived in the post-apocalyptic criminal wasteland by alternately being funny or bugging the fuck out of a situation if it looked like it would get hairy). The problem with the New York stuff is, as I said before, how lamely it’s used. In the one Times Square scene, Jason knocks over the boombox of a bunch of ‘gang kids’. They threaten him and his response is not to hack them limb from limb but to lift his mask and scare them off. What’s next – a sternly worded warning? (I would like to take this opportunity to mention that the filmmakers seem utterly unfamiliar with this character, as they have replaced the ‘ki ki ki ha ha ha’ sound with ‘Jason Jason Jason’. Awful)
I know that the budget on this was low (anyone watching three frames of this bargain basement crap would know that), but why bother setting your movie in Manhattan if you can’t afford it? There’s a couple of alleys, a rooftop and a sewer featured in this film, and they could have been any city on Earth. It’s obvious that Jason Takes Manhattan began its life with a marketing team (the trailer, which includes zero footage from the film, is actually really great, and with its succession of New York types being menaced by Jason – a commuter, yuppies, a bum – is a capsule view of what this film should have at least tried to accomplish. Fuck, if Maniac Cop could shoot in New York, so could this shit), but someone at some point should have realized that the conceit was beyond them and just stuck with Jason on a goddamned boat.
Of course, if that was the case I would have missed some of the truly illogical and inane elements of the Manhattan scenes. Survivor Girl and her boyfriend run into a diner to ask for help: ‘A psychopathic maniac is trying to kill us!’ ‘Welcome to New York,’ is the reply she gets, which is a joke I still make with friends. I would miss Jason drowning someone in a barrel of toxic waste that happens to just be around – open! – in a filthy alley. And I would miss the single most insane Jason kill in the whole series – but more on that in a second.
Jason Takes Manhattan is not just a bad film, it’s one that does violence to the whole Friday the 13th series. Survivor Girl’s flashes of Jason drowning as a child in no way resemble the footage from Part 1 that has been used again and again in the series – for one thing, Jason has a thick head of black hair. For another, I think he’s Japanese. But this film isn’t content just fucking up the continuity with the other films – no, that’s standard Friday the 13th activity, and Jason Takes Manhattan is no standard Friday the 13th – the film actually has completely fucked up Jason continuity in itself. Survivor Girl has all these visions of Jason-san drowning throughout the movie. Later she has a psychiatric breakthrough in the form of a repressed memory – she’s afraid of the water because Peter Mark Richman tried to teach her to swim in an unorthodox way. He brought her to the center of Crystal Lake and told her that a boy named Jason Voorhees drowned and that his body was still in the water… and that he would drown anyone who went in there. Then he pushed her into the lake. I’m not sure which issue of Parenting taught him that technique. Anyway, once in the water, Young Survivor Girl is indeed grappled by Jason – except this time he’s bald and all mongoloid looking! I’m just going to ignore how dumb the idea of a kid at the bottom of a lake growing up is (and I don’t even mean logically – Jason’s a zombie at this point and we all accept it. But our disbelief will only be suspended too much. This movie attempts to expel our disbelief), but why can’t this film at least get consistent with how Young Jason looks?
Which brings us right around to Jason’s death. Killing the bad guy should be the highlight of one of these films – we’re all rooting for him, but we also want to see him get his just desserts. I honestly don’t think you should even start a slasher movie until you’ve figured out a good, unique death for your killer. Friday the 13th Part VIII certainly has the unique part down pat. At the end of the movie Jason chases Survivor Girl into New York’s sewers where she learns that on the 13th of every month the tunnels are flooded with toxic waste.
The filmmakers are now tying our disbelief to a rocket and trying to light the fuse. What the fuck kind of nonsense is this? Even people who buy the rest of the film’s portrayal of New York City have got to sit up and wonder how they’re expected to accept this nonsense. Watching the film again I began to wonder how anyone looked at the script and thought that this was a decent idea. Why not establish that meteors strike Central Park on the 13th of every month? Or that the Sanitation Department’s Disintigrator Trucks hit the street on the 13th of every month? How do you decide which totally nonsensical and absurd and so pulled from your ass that it’s still brownish plot device to use?
However the filmmakers came to this brain-damaged conclusion, they went ahead and made it even worse. The final moments of the movie see Survivor Girl and her boyfriend climbing a ladder to avoid the wave of toxic sludge headed towards them. Meanwhile, Jason, who is just below them, looks at the wave and does two equally incredible things: he says, in a little boy’s voice: “Mommy, don’t let me drown again!” and then starts vomiting water. I don’t even understand what the vomiting is supposed to signify – I heard that Jodorowsky saw this and thought it was, and I quote, ‘totally fucking weird.’ But it gets better: when the wave of toxic waste hits Jason (who, it should be said, has the appearance of a felt muppet once his mask has been removed), he promptly starts de-aging back to the Japanese kid with the thick head of hair. I am no expert on hazardous waste, but I will stake my entire reputation as a writer on this claim: Toxic waste will not de-age you. Ever. No matter what. If you believe that it will, or if you wrote this movie, I strongly urge you to go play in some toxic waste at your earliest possible convenience.
The movie pretty much comes to an end at that point, and you are left sort of dazed, as if someone has been delivering punches to your temples for the last 89 minutes. Watching Jason Takes Manhattan again has, I am convinced, done some damage to my brain – this morning I had a very hard time with the New York Times crossword puzzle, which is unheard of on a Wednesday. This film has left me diminished, emotionally and mentally crippled.
And in my weakened state I must tackle the first New Line Friday the 13th, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday.
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan scores:
Half a Retard Jason out of four.
Next: When asked what first comes to mind when he hears the words Jason Voorhees, bounty hunter Creighton Duke says: "A litle girl in a pink dress sticking a hot dog through a donut."