Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan’

by Ben Martin

Once in a blood moon, a franchise will come along that redefines a subgenre and takes it to the next level. Such is the case with the Friday the 13th franchise, which essentially created the horror subgenre of slasher flicks as we know them to this day. While it’s unlikely that we’ll get a new installment in the series any time soon, now’s still the perfect time to review this franchise as it celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. To commemorate the occasion, the fine folks over at Scream Factory have released The Friday the 13th Collection on Blu-Ray! As such, I’ll be reviewing not only the movies in this franchise but these new Blu-Ray releases as well. In this entry, Jason finally takes a stab at traveling & takes a cruise in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)!

The Movie

Odds are that if Jason Voorhees can make it back from the dead multiple times, he can make it anywhere, even New York City. Or perhaps not, if the general fan reception of Friday the 13 Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan serves as any indication. It is worth noting that this franchise did not initially have any travel plans for its eighth outing. See, before the release of Friday The 13th, Part VII: The New Blood (1988), that film’s director, John Carl Buechler, was anticipating being able to do a direct sequel to his entry. However, when The New Blood underperformed, Paramount Pictures and executive producer Frank Mancuso Jr. (who went uncredited as such at this point in the series) felt it best to move in a different direction. Thus, Buechler and New Blood lead Lar Park-Lincoln’s shared desire to make a direct follow-up of newer blood has remained un-achieved. Considering Buechler passed away a couple of years ago, I would say the project will remain as such. But, in the age of the lega-sequel, who knows?

Taking a new tact allowed someone with tangential ties to the franchise to truly enter into the Friday fray. After proving successful as a writer on TV shows like the revamped version Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1987-1989) and the original MacGyver (1987-1992), Rob Hedden landed a directing gig on Friday the 13th: The Series (1987–1990). It was on the set of this spinoff anthology series where Hedden caught the attention of Mancuso Jr., who consequently offered him the reins on the movie in review. The young director accepted the opportunity to make his feature film debut as a writer/director on the sole condition that he could take Jason away from Camp Crystal Lake. See, Hedden thought the biggest thing he could do with Jason is to get him out of that stupid lake where he’s been hanging out for the last decade. Mancuso Jr. agreed and then suggested that Jason take a bite out of The Big Apple. Unfortunately, though, it occurred to neither the director nor the producer that shooting a film entirely in New York would require a bigger budget than would ever be allotted to this franchise at the time.

Hedden’s original screenplay was much more ambitious and lived up to its title much more than the finished film. In speaking of his original script, Hedden said, “Everything about New York was going to be completely exploited and milked. There was going to be a tremendous scene on the Brooklyn Bridge. A boxing match in Madison Square Garden. Jason would go through department stores. He’d go through Times Square. He’d go into a Broadway play. He’d even crawl onto the top of the Statue of Liberty and dive off.”

Unfortunately, though, upon reading Hedden’s first draft, the studio ordered him to draft a much more modest re-write. Hence, why we essentially get Jason Takes a Short Cruise to New York instead.

The film picks up a year after the events of the previous entry and finds a yet-again-resurrected Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) with the travel bug. Thus, he stows away on a cruise ship fittingly christened the Lazerus; its journey will be short considering it is only sailing across the river from Crystal Lake, New Jersey to Manhattan. Even still, the high school seniors on board will use every minute they have on the cruise and in the big city to party it up. By that same token, Jason’s going to kill as many of the high schoolers as he can and take in some new sights while doing so!

Alright, before I dive into my thoughts on Jason Takes Manhattan, let me go ahead and get this out of the way: this sequel cannot help but disappoint. After all, the whole film’s draw is the promise that Jason will take a slice out of the Big Apple. So, when he’s only able to step foot in the city during the third act, it does feel like you’ve been sold a false bill of goods. But the fact of the matter is that Hedden didn’t have the money to make that movie anyway. Therefore, I’m going to strictly review the film we got instead of opining about the promised one.

Jason Takes Manhattan gets a lot of hate, and while I can understand that, I feel folks are a little too harsh on this one. If nothing else, it gets two significant elements of this franchise right. Unlike the last couple of installments, the teenage victims in this entry are characters who have personalities or are at least solid genre archetypes. They are also played by actors giving serviceable and sometimes fun performances. Furthermore, this cast seems to be invested in making this flick and is having fun doing it. Although, that’s not overly surprising considering that just prior to production, most of the cast got together and had a marathon of all the previous Friday the 13th movies (1-7). By the end of the all-nighter, they all went to the set of Jason Takes Manhattan determined to make it the best Friday yet.

In turn, all the silly kills in this movie are made better because I dug these cruising seniors. At the same time, there’s no doubt the majority of the murder scenes are ridiculous fun as opposed to being brutally violent. Perhaps that’s why they are not as gory as I would like? Even so, Hodder performs these acts of over-the-top simulated violence as you would expect and is excellent in doing so.

Although, I am admittedly not too keen on Jason’s look in this film. Hedden tried to present his interpretation of the character as a supernatural entity instead of a zombie. Despite the writer/director’s best efforts, however, I did not see Jason as much different than usual. Well, aside from him being covered in slime and algae, which I found distracting. Furthermore, I’m baffled by how the hell Jason isn’t leaving a snail trail everywhere he goes.

But no matter his appearance, how does Jason fair in New York? Like most folks, I find the brief portion of the film that was actually shot in Manhattan, as opposed to Vancouver, to be a lot of fun even with the aforementioned budgetary constraints. Heck, the shot with the camera circling Jason in Time Square is the most significant chunk of NYC iconography we’re treated to here (I mean, even the subway scene was shot on a soundstage). This brings me to the two reasons I believe this installment doesn’t work and why Jason fails to live up to this flick’s title.

I’ll give Rob Hedden all the credit in the world for attempting to make the most of the restraints the studio placed upon him. However, the writer/director’s best efforts ultimately fail thanks to this movie’s dreadful pacing. With a runtime of 100 minutes, Jason Takes Manhattan remains the longest entry in the franchise to date and, unfortunately, you can feel it at times. As I mentioned earlier, I find this movie’s cast of victims quite watchable, and I enjoyed seeing Jason pick them off as the short cruise progresses. The problem is, though, that I think I started to suffer from a cinematic version of cabin fever and was ready to get off that darn ship! Therefore, by the time we reach New York, I was eager for the movie to start wrapping it up.

In conjunction with that molasses-like pacing, what ultimately makes Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan a Franchise Implosion is Rob Hedden’s take on the series. While watching the movie, you can feel Hedden working a little too hard to make this movie his own. Or, at the very least, I felt like he would rather be making a Nightmare on Elm Street sequel as opposed to this Friday the 13th installment. Hedden admits that he was going after an Elm Street vibe with the hallucination sequences in Part VIII on his commentary track included on the Blu-ray. Furthermore, both the alternate and final endings we get for this film are bad and feel like they belong to that other franchise. I don’t know about you, but I want to feel like I’m watching a Friday movie by some who at least knows they’re making one. Not a writer/director making a Friday movie while they would prefer to be hanging with Freddy at 1428 Elm.

Ultimately, I feel like Hedden would have been a better choice for the eventual Freddy vs. Jason (2003). Ironically enough, you can spot that future spin-off’s Jason, Ken Kirzinger, in the diner scene here as he goes toe-to-toe with Hodder, whom he towers over in comparison. It’s worth noting that Kirzinger donned the hockey mask for the scene where Jason gets hit by the car as the producers felt that stunt was too risky for Hodder. Beyond that cameo, for better or worse, Jason Takes Manhattan impacted this franchise’s future deeply. This movie sets Jason on a traveling path to Hell, space, and Springwood, Ohio. Furthermore, the franchise as a whole ended up traveling from one studio to another. After proving to be the least-profitable entry in the series, grossing only $14.3 million on a $5 million production budget, Paramount finally sold the series off to “The House That Freddy Built” — New Line Cinema!

The Blu-ray

Once again, Jason Takes Manhattan proves to be one of the red-headed stepchildren in this franchise. Unlike many of the other discs in this Shout/Scream Factory box-set, this one did not receive a new picture transfer. Instead, the Blu-ray disc sports the same 2K transfer used for the movie’s initial release on the format a few years ago. That said, the transfer still looks excellent as the cinematography of Bryan Englund (Generation X) definitely pops. Alas, as I alluded to above, this entry does look a lot like Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) as opposed to a Friday the 13th flick. Despite the picture transfer being recycled, it’s worth noting that this entry’s audio track has been fully-remastered for this release.

Extras

(*NEW EXTRAS INDICATED BY *)

  • New York Has A New Problem: The Making OfFriday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan — This  18-minute making-of featurette showcases interviews with writer/director Rob Hedden, cast members Kane Hodder, VC Dupree, Jensen Daggett, Scott Reeves, Peter Mark Richman, Tim Mircovich, Tiffany Paulson, Sharlene Martin, editor Steve Mircovich, and composer Fred Molin. As with most of the making-ofs in this set, this one hits the highlights but does not go as in-depth as I’d’ve liked.

  • Slashed Scenes — 11 minutes of uncut kill scenes taken from the original 35mm dailies are featured here. Due to the source material of these scenes, many are raw dailies. All the kill scenes in this footage are fun and would’ve been even better to have seen in this finished feature. I must note that many of these slashed scenes are not new kills, but merely extensions of moments from the finished film. I found the simply extended scenes unnecessary and would have just preferred to see the kills. A preference with which I feel many of my fellow fans would agree. Lastly, the alternate version of the ending is shown in this footage. While it was fun to see, it is apparent that it got cut as it just does not work.

  • Gag Reel — Man, oh, man, it’s nice to see a gag reel again! A common special feature of yesteryear, gag reels are sadly rarely included on discs these days. Here, we get 4 minutes of outtakes from production, all of which are a pleasure to watch!

  • Theatrical Trailer

  • *TV Spots*

  • Posters And Behind — The-Scenes Gallery

  • Still Gallery

  • Commentary by Director & Writer Rob Hedden — As far as director commentaries go, this one is informative but dry. However, in listening to Hedden, he reveals his approach to Jason Takes Manhattan, which was unique within this franchise, and treats his Friday as if it was going to be the final one. Interestingly, Hedden mentions how he wanted to channel the Nightmare on Elm Street movies during Rennie’s hallucinations. I was glad to hear the director note such an inspiration and confirm my suspicions.

  • Commentary with Actors Scott Reeves, Jensen Daggett, And Kane Hodder — By far, this cast commentary is the most fun and informative! Despite being recorded for the initial Deluxe Edition DVD and Blu-Ray releases, this track is still well worth a listen. From the sounds of it, Reeves and Daggett shared the room while they recorded. Meanwhile, Hodder called into the recording session from the set of Adam Green’s Frozen (2010).

 

The Friday the 13th Collection is currently available on Blu-ray!

 

In the next installment of  Franchise Expansion (or Implosion), Jason Voorhees meets his (premature) end in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)!

 

The Franchise’s Body Count Thus Far-

 

Friday the 13th (1980):

https://www.comicon.com/2020/10/24/franchise-expansion-or-implosion-friday-the-13th-1980/

 

Friday the 13th: Part II (1981):

https://www.comicon.com/2020/11/07/franchise-expansion-or-implosion-friday-the-13th-part-2/

 

Friday The 13th: Part III in 3-D (1982):

https://www.comicon.com/2020/11/21/franchise-expansion-or-implosion-friday-the-13th-part-iii/

 

Friday The 13th, Part IV: The Final Chapter (1984):

https://www.comicon.com/2020/12/05/franchise-expansion-or-implosion-friday-the-13th-part-iv-the-final-chapter/

 

Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning (1985):

https://www.comicon.com/2020/12/19/franchise-expansion-or-implosion-friday-the-13th-part-v-a-new-beginning/

 

Friday The 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives (1986):

https://www.comicon.com/2021/01/09/franchise-expansion-or-implosion-friday-the-13th-part-vi-jason-lives/

 

Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988):

https://www.comicon.com/2021/01/30/franchise-expansion-or-implosion-friday-the-13-part-vii-the-new-blood/

 

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