Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

Quick! Look sensual!
★★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1989
Director: 
Rob Hedden
Starring: 
Jensen Daggett, Scott Reeves, Kane Hodder, Sharlene Martin, Peter Mark Richman
The Setup: 
Jason kills teens on boat trip from Crystal Lake to Manhattan.
Discussion: 

I only recently watched the original Friday the 13th [which barely even features Jason], but still sniffed my nose at the rest of the series, especially toward something like this, which just sounded silly. Then a reader of this site told me how much he enjoyed it and sent me a few screen grabs, and so when I was ready for some silly fun I rented this one.

The movie begins with the now-famous “JasonJasonJason…” sound over the Paramount logo, then we move into Manhattan circa 1988, while this sweet 80s rock tune plays and the voice-over / ostensible DJ addresses the horror audience directly: “You can’t get that adrenaline going without the terror.” We see that the music here is provided by Fred Mollin, and start hoping for some more awesome 80s rock like this [hopes are rewarded]. While this is going on we are seeing a fantasia of an imaginary New York City of the late 80s, all drugs and crime and graffiti.

Cut to Crystal Lake, which is apparently fairly close to the New York area, as they are receiving the same radio station. The station now starts in to a Christian radio kind of monologue about how kids should be careful and avoid temptation, although I think it a bit of a mixed message that a Christian rock station would be playing “The Darker Side of the Night.” On this boat, this teen couple are ready to get it on when the guy tells the girl [and the audience, in case they’re unfamiliar with the Jason legend] the story of how Jason drowned, and still haunts the lake and comes up every now and then to kill any teenagers he sees. Well, wouldn’t you know that Jason is laying on the bottom of the lake just beneath them, where I assume he was dropped at the end of Part Seven. The boat’s anchor drags along a cable handily labeled with the exact amount of voltage coursing through it, and drags this cable over to the slumbering Jason, shooting electricity through his body and waking him up. I was interested in Jason’s choice of attire. I was a little surprised that a movie this late in the series still maintained the idea that Jason is really just the spirit of a little boy, whose body has somehow turned into that of a huge man, but somewhere along the line [and I suspect we never see this part] he decided that his look could really be accentuated by big boots, a union suit, and some black leather gloves. He rises out of the water and reaches for the nearest available goalie mask, which is handily provided. He kills the guy and the girl hides in the most comprehensively illuminated under-deck storage area ever. Jason kills her too.

We then join Rennie, departing for a boat trip with her Aunt or something. It was hard to figure out, but we later learn that Rennie’s parents were killed, and this is like her Aunt, and we’ll soon meet Uncle Charles, and her Aunt and Uncle Charles hate each other, and he doesn’t want her to go on the trip because she can’t swim and has an irrational phobia about Crystal Lake. Now I THOUGHT Uncle Charles was played by Vladek Sheybal, the evil queen of Women in Love and The Apple [!], but no luck, it's someone else. Nevertheless, though his sexuality is never indicated as anything but hetero here, he definitely throws off the sniveling attitude of the evil, imperious queen. But back to the truck. Auntie gives Rennie [whose name it took me ‘til the credits to figure out] a pen that belonged to Stephen King [yeah, right] because Rennie is “the best student I ever had.” So Rennie is a writer? Of horror fiction? I guess, though none of this is ever mentioned again, although you KNOW that pen is going to be used as a weapon at some point.

Now the ship they're on looks to me like a merchant marine vessel or fishing boat or something, but is apparently a small cruise ship complete with disco and dining room. This ship has been chartered for the senior class’s cruise to New York City. Now, during F13 parts 1-7, I wonder if they alluded to the fact that the relatively small-looking Crystal Lake in fact has a waterway [large enough for a small cruise ship to fit through] that opens up to the Hudson River or the open ocean [we’ll come back to this], allowing one to take an uninterrupted journey to NYC. We also discover that this graduating class consists of about 10 students. One of these students is cute teen Sean Robertson, who is the son of the captain. The captain insists that Sean give the orders to take the ship out of dock, and he tries, but apparently forgets something, and the captain makes like he’s all appalled and indignant, and Sean feels bad and runs away. Oh dear, delicate parent-child relations.

Then the cruise fun begins. Some of the kids [many of whom we will never see again, I think] enjoy a dancin’ party downstairs in the disco, while upstairs video geek Wayne is taking footage of rocker chick J.J. For some reason, video cameras have become an ABSOLUTE MUST in cheapo modern horror movies, but I was surprised to see that the trend began as far back as 1989. I think then it was because of the irresistible idea of seeing a murder through a video camera, but now I think it’s to sell gadgets and inspire aspirations toward fully-gadgetized lifestyle. Anyway, Wayne is taking footage of J.J. miming playing guitar to a tape of pre-recorded music—not even a whole song, by the way, and she doesn’t even lip-synch—that she plans to use as some sort of promo tape to advance her musical career. The movie does not explore how a tape of some chick miming guitar to random rock music will get anyone any kind of job, but no matter. J.J. is a total hoot, by the way, with her hair that looks so much like the lead Muppet from The Dark Crystal. I have found, by the way, that a good insult to toss off in casual conversation is to say that someone looks like something out of The Dark Crystal. The movie seems relatively obscure, but everyone of a certain age always snickers, and know exactly what you mean. I give you that one for free. But anyway, J.J. is a hoot. Too bad she gets killed so soon.

So Rennie, who sports some amazingly fluffy late 80s hair, sees a vision of a young, drowning Jason in her room. Apparently Toby, the dog she brought along, saw it too, and he bolts. We then cut to the AMAZING Tamara, who is this blonde bad-girl slut, as she and this Asian chick are gonna SNORT SOME COKE! They’re macking on this African-American boxer who Tamara describes as “the only senior I’d even consider doing it with,” before uttering what takes the cake for best line of the entire film: “Gorgeous guy at 10 o’clock. Look sensual!” They both then attempt to look sensual, which means preening and slowly adjusting one’s hair. Rennie happens upon them while looking for Toby the dog, then soon after Uncle Charles comes by, and they assume that “that narc bitch” Rennie told him, so a few minutes later Tamara comes up and SHOVES Rennie overboard! Then she’s all like “Oh, sorry. It was an accident.” You just HAVE to love that kind of out-and-out, Tonya Harding-style vengeful bitchery. While in the water and just after, Rennie has some fairly severe hallucinations of Jason, young boy and current. But let’s get back to Tamara. Uncle Charles [and WHO is he supposed to be, exactly?] wants to see her homework, so she explicitly [and quite clumsily] plans to seduce him, which he refuses, but Wayne has caught it on tape, and they plan to blackmail the guy. But then Tamara is killed, which is a bummer, as she was fucking awesome. No J.J., no Tamara… why should I keep watching this?

So then Sean goes to the bridge and sees that his Dad is dead, and calls everyone to the bridge to let them know there’s a killer aboard. Oh, by the way, did I mention that there’s a massive storm? Yeah. I guess I just figured you knew that every time someone gets on a ship in a horror movie, there’s going to be a storm. So idiot girl Rennie goes downstairs and drops the anchor… which is a pretty fuckin’ dumb idea in the middle of a storm, no? Then she just stands there for like a minute with her hand on the lever.

Meanwhile, the wishy-washy Asian friend of Tamara gets attacked by Jason and runs into the deserted disco. There she is apparently mesmerized by the flashing lights, as she just stands turning in the middle of the dance floor for like three minutes. I was also interested that the music is going full-blast with no one there. They have no DJ? This is just a tape or something? Jason strangles her. I was surprised that he periodically executes such straightforward deaths… no spear guns or machetes or anything. Later he just throws a guy overboard. He’s a no-frills killer when he has to be, I guess.

SPOILERS, I GUESS > > >
So video geek Wayne takes his giant 1989-sized video camera with him in order to hunt Jason. Then Sean is called upon to pilot the ship, which Uncle Charlie thinks he should easily be able to do because “he’s the son of a captain, for Chrissakes!” The we note that the boxer guy is quite calm for a guy who just almost got his toes chopped off with an axe. Then Rennie is attacked in her cabin and jams the pen she got earlier into Jason’s eye [we knew it would happen]. I wonder what Stephen King would think to know that the pen he once wrote with ended up in Jason Voorhees’ eye. You will notice a large piece of glass sticking out right toward Rennie’s throat, and if the IMDb is to be believed, the actress was really terrified because the guy playing Jason couldn’t see her, and was truly pulling her toward this sharp piece of glass. Then the ship gets hit by lightning. Now you know, when you consider the chances of getting hit by lightning, what are the chances of getting hit while you’ve got a supernatural killer aboard? Pretty slim, I’d wager. Everyone escapes in a lifeboat, while the ship explodes for some reason or other. In a few minutes they find themselves in New York Harbor, by the Statue of Liberty. Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the New York area, this means that at a certain point the ship and/or boat must have entered the open Atlantic, then entered significantly far into New York Harbor. Or they alternately came down the Hudson [much more likely], but sailed right past Manhattan without noticing, until they passed it and turned around to face it while near the Statue of Liberty. By this time Uncle Charles is just being a snippy little bitch who is unhappy with everything and has a snarky little comment for anything anyone else does.

So they finally make it to Manhattan, landing on a remote pier, which the bitchy queen does not fail to comment on. You will notice that Jason makes landfall approximately five seconds after they do. Now, New York was such a violent, nasty city in 1989 that our characters are mugged within three minutes of making land. Then these two muggers take Rennie off to gang-rape her, which they’re going to accomplish after injecting her with drugs. I thought this was WAYYY too nasty an idea to dump inside a relatively silly teen horror movie, and the scene of the thugs preparing to rape Rennie goes on MUCH longer than… well, not that it should, because it shouldn’t be in there in the first place.

The first thing Jason sees on hitting Manhattan is a giant billboard advertising the kind of hockey masks that he is wearing. Personally, I was unaware that in 1989, goalie masks very such a mass-appeal item that they merited a giant waterfront billboard in Manhattan. He soon confronts the boxer on a rooftop, who decides that he’s going to unleash his fighting skills on Jason. In a fairly clever twist, Jason just lets him keep punching and punching until he wears himself out, then he lays a left on him that shears his head clear off. We DO in fact get some severed-head-cam footage as the boxer’s skull goes flying.

Now, look at this pic below. This is that expression that has to appear in every teen movie, where the kid is seething inside that the adults don’t take him seriously, but he’s too proud to do anything but fix them with an icy stare.

Speaking of old New York Stereotypes that never die, how about the Irish cop with accent still firmly in place? In 1989? Then our director goes all Antonioni for 10 seconds as we suddenly get a series of freeze-frames and extremely dramatic shock sounds at a crucial moment. You will notice [below] that Rennie’s hair is at its biggest and most defiant [hair CAN be defiant] during the climax. She has a vision in a puddle of flaming oil [you’ll have to see it] of herself as a little girl with Uncle Charles back on Crystal Lake. Her uncle says it’s time she got over her fear of the water and learned to swim—so he shoves her in! I TOLD you he’s an evil queen! She is almost pulled under by little boy Jason, but escapes. This is apparently a recovered memory, coming to the surface just as Jason comes to the surface to wreak havoc—IF this film really had a subtext. Anyway, soon Uncle Charles is dunked in one of the MANY open barrels of toxic waste, complete with floating dead rat, that are just sitting around on New York streets. I live in Manhattan and I can tell you, on crowded days those open barrels of toxic waste really do get in your way.

Then Jason chases Rennie and Sean through the subway, and they throw him onto the third rail where he is electrified. Rennie sees nothing unwise about lightly poking at his body to make sure he’s dead, even though 1) he is Jason Voorhees, and 2) he is still connected to 50,000 volts of electricity. They go upstairs and into a diner, but Jason chases them even there [and please, PLEASE note the presence of a leatherman at the diner], so they escape through an open manhole in an alley. They are underground once again, when they come upon someone who informs them of what every New Yorker already knows: that at midnight sharp, tunnels beneath the city are flooded with toxic waste. Six-foot deep toxic waste. We’ve just got so much toxic waste here. So Jason gets flooded with toxic waste, and his mask comes off and we see his face [kind of a mistake, as it looks absolutely stupid], then once more, Jason is laid to rest.

At the very end, Rennie and Sean are swept away by the splendor of Times Square, and as you look around you’re like: WHAT is there to see there except giant ads? Is that really IT? Do people just go there to see big, bright, state-of-the-art outdoor signage? It’s also a little amazing to see how completely the area has been transformed in just 17 years. Wow.
< < < SPOILERS END

I was surprised that Jason is quite explicitly a supernatural figure in this movie. My impression just based on what bits I had heard about this series was that this is supposed to be the real, grown-up Jason Voorhees, who just happens to be indestructible because the movies demand it. Here he is still a little boy, but he manifests in a grown-up version that does supernatural things like appear in places he couldn’t possibly have moved to. I think this movie [and probably all of them] could have been made a LOT stronger and given some solid subtext by going the Pumpkinhead route and casting Jason as an evil force that is unleashed by some event relating to the story. So in this movie, rather than some random teens that have nothing to do with the rest of the movie electrify Jason, I would have had Rennie somehow do it, and make it that [not literally, but in the subtext] he represents her bubbling rage as the repressed memory makes it to the surface, and once it is resolved he can be somehow be put to rest again. But not here.

I am told by my friends who have seen every installment that this is one of the better ones. I believe it—it was a total hoot! Aside from the run-of-the-mill slasher fun, you also have a great, RICH layer of late 80s cheese-fun, sluts and evil queens fun, lame cruise ship fun, repressed memory fun, hallucination fun, and stereotype-of-NYC-as-total-den-of-depravity fun [see also: End of Days]. And just all the crazy looks of some of the characters [J.J. 4Ever!] and some of the lines and stuff make it a complete blast. Now I want to see every single Friday the 13th movie, which I can’t say for A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Should you watch it: 

Yes! It was totally fun!