Franchise Friday - Friday The 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan
Yeah, it’s pretty obvious why the franchise took a bit of a break after this one.
It’s not that the concept of ‘Jason on a boat’ couldn’t work, it totally can…a killer on a boat full of potential victims is a plot that’s been around for a fairly long time, heck, for as long as people have been taking cruises. Still, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan gives us a boat full of people we want to see die (which to be fair, isn’t terribly unusual) a final girl whose trauma couldn’t possibly fit in the franchise timeline and a payoff in New York City that just ends up being…well…silly. We’ll take a look at all of this in a little bit, but first:
The seniors of Crystal Lake High School, now called Lakeview, are getting ready to graduate and, as a reward, are taking a cruise to the Big Apple itself. Unbeknownst to students and staff, they’ve got a stowaway on board: a killer one at that. But two of the staff do know that one student has ties to the fabled hockey-masked killer of Crystal Lake. Will she be able to overcome her fears long enough to save herself, her friends and New York City itself?
Within the first 10 minutes of the film, two cardinal sins are already committed in this movie. Not the ones that usually end up with Jason killing the perpetrators…no, these are committed by the filmmakers themselves. First off is the introduction of an echoing “Jason” in the soundtrack, as if to take the place of Harry Manfredini’s classic ‘ki-ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma-ma’. Thankfully, they don’t commit to this for the entire film…in fact, you only hear it twice. It was as though just moments into the sound mix everyone agreed that this was a horrible idea, they should never speak of it again and returned the Manfredini classic to where it belonged. The second is the reuse of an idea. In Part 6, Jason was revived by a lightning bolt. As we discussed there, it was a wink and a nod to the Universal classic, Frankenstein. In this film, however, there’s a ship’s anchor that drags over an underwater high voltage power cable that does the job. Whether or not writer/director Rob Hedden understood the reference they were going for in the earlier film, this story feels like the only thing they got from the prior resurrection scene was that electricity can bring Jason back. Not exactly the right take away message there guys.
From here, and I gotta admit it feels a little hypocritical writing this, the bulk of the story is plot contrivance after plot contrivance. Yeah, I know, it’s a Friday the 13th, it’s not like we’re looking for a deliberate and methodical character study on why an undead monster wears a hockey mask and favors the machette. But prior films had a flow to them, events followed in a logical succession. Here, everything just seemed forced, like they weren’t even trying anymore. And speaking of not even trying anymore, one can’t help but think after 7 films being slaughtered by the MPAA that the practical and make-up effects crew just conceded defeat as these are some of the tamest and most cliché kills of the series. Look, the careers of such industry legends like Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero and Robert Kurtzman flat out tell us that there are always new ways to kill people. ALWAYS. So while I certainly wouldn’t rule out that slashed budgets may have been a factor, the lack of effort may have simply been fatigue. After all, why spend all this money on awesome effects if the MPAA is just going to make you cut them out anyway?
Now, again, we’re not expecting a gripping character drama here, but there are some serious problems with the current set of ‘spam in a can’ that we’re dealt here. First off, we have the principal officiating over the cruise, Mr. McCulloch. What a colossal dickhead…and he only gets worse throughout the film. Epically so. Now, in a way I get it, we need at least one character that the audience is going to be glad gets killed. But this guy…this fucking guy…oooooh, he WAAAY overstayed his welcome. He needed to die on the boat but this asshat is the goddamn Energizer Bunny of douchebags: he just keeps going and going. Now, aside from being principal, he’s also our final girl’s uncle and guardian. So when the scene comes along where two hoodlums grab her and run off with her with the explicit motive of rape, the fact that this schmuck stops everyone from pursuing them? Sigh…eyeroll…okay Mr. Movie Writer…whatever. Now, speaking of our final girl, Rennie, the thing is, the only way her backstory makes any sense is if she were a time traveler. The story that started the franchise is that Jason drowned in Crystal Lake back in 1957. In the meantime, Rennie, a senior in high school, believes that a near drowning in her youth was due to the little boy Jason tugging at her legs, dragging her further down into the lake. Now, is it just her imagination? One would think, however the film’s imagery would suggest otherwise…that it really was a young Jason…and thus implying a link between the two. This, as they would say in the olden days, is poppycock. This, combined with the fact that this chapter does not start with a rehash of the prior films to pad out the running time (or, in this instance, to remind us of better films) seems to suggest to me that the writer/director didn’t do the homework needed in order to helm an entry in a long-running franchise. And on the note of character confusion, my last point here centers around Ms. Colleen Van Deusen, another teacher chaperoning this cruise. She’s the one who drops Rennie off at the boat before boarding herself. And the gift she gives Rennie, an old pen of Stephen King’s, implies a relationship…although yes, that could still be student/teacher. Where it gets weird is the bickering between her and McCulloch. It’s very ex-y, if you know what I mean. And the relationship between her and Rennie almost feels parental at times. None of this is even remotely explained, so speculation is all we have. To put a crown on that ambiguousness though, we’re given Colleen’s demise: oops, we left her in the exploding police car…which Rennie plowed into a wall for no good goddamn reason. I mean, come on, this is a Friday the 13th movie, if you want someone offed, there’s a huge dude in a hockey mask wielding all sorts of sharp implements that more than willing to help you out with that…but nope. We’re just gonna ram this car into a wall and blow her up real good. Sigh. If you listen closely to the wind dear reader, you likely can still hear the sound of me slapping my forehead.
One last negative…that being the payoff on the title itself: Jason in NYC. It just doesn’t work. At all. And it’s very easy to figure out why: Jason’s a killing machine. If you put him in a city, especially a populous one such as New York, he seems ludicrous. If Jason wants to kill everyone and everything, and he’s in the middle of a huge city with millions of people, I hope he brought multiple machetes because he’s got A LOT of work ahead of him! Even if he limits himself to just those that break ‘the rules’ again, that’s a lot of work, even for an undead killing machine. And while some of the gags, taken out of context, do work…when placed in the context of the film they just…don’t. Ultimately, Jason in the Big Apple makes for a good trailer, but a bad movie. While this segment ends up being the minority of the film, spending less than 40 minutes there, at the point that it does occur, the film is already lost and the scenes that follow are just adding insult to injury.
I’ve ripped on this entry enough, let’s say something positive: Kane Hodder once again delivers as Jason, continuing to make the role his own after his debut in Part 7. He brings what little horror and dread are in this film and, being a physical actor, also brings the comedy for the moments that demand it. Sure, in context they don’t really work, but as I stated above, the fact that they do work out of context is totally a credit to Kane’s performance.
Going through this franchise in its entirety for the first time, and so far really enjoying it, I knew that the good times had to end sometime. Every franchise has its clunky installment…although which installment that is will vary from fan to fan. For me, so far it’s definitely Part 8. There’s just precious little here for a fan to enjoy and as such, sadly, Jason Takes Manhattan deserves its Angry Cat rating.