Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan would mark Paramount's last stab at the wildly successful franchise. Prior to the release of this eighth installment, the comparatively inexpensive Friday the 13th series had tallied over two hundred million dollars in box office receipts domestically over the course of nine years, and that's before taking lucrative video sales and rentals, foreign box office, or television broadcasts into account. Paramount has steadily been releasing the series two at a time since the Fall of 1999, concluding with the batch that hit stores this past Tuesday.
Jason Voorhees, despite being among the nation's most infamous mass-murdering zombies, is shy. Sure, it's endearing, but he's awfully quiet, and various cemetaries and a rampage at nearby Higgens Haven aside, Jason's spent the bulk of the past forty years at Crystal Lake. Following yet another movie that ended with the hockey-masked hacker chained to the bottom of the lake, Jason apparently felt a change of scenery was long overdue. Jason's accidental return this time is the fault of a couple of crazy kids screwing around on a houseboat that for some inexplicable reason is anchored on Crystal Lake. On the off-chance that someone in the audience hadn't seen any of the seven movies in the series, Exposition Boy weaves the tale of Jason Voorhees, who had drowned in the lake decades earlier and returned from his watery grave to exact his revenge on the teenagers who killed his mother. Their anchor snags on a giant power cable, conveniently giving Jason the invigorating electrical pick-me-up he needs to properly thank his rescuers. Our opening sequence slaughter victims were to meet up with the other ten graduates of Crystal Lake High School for a graduation cruise, and ever the romantic type, Jason couldn't pass up the opportunity to take their place.
I know, you're waiting for me to get to the part where Jason takes Manhattan. That's still another paragraph and change off, so bear with me for a short while longer. Before the voyage kicks off, we're introduced to the folks who are going to be terrorized for the next hour and a half. Budding writer Rennie Wickham (Jensen Daggett) is quickly labeled as the movie's central character, so obviously she's not going to die. There's something not quite right with Rennie, who tends to be skittish around the water for reasons that remain unrevealed until the inevitable Big Revelation in the last third of the movie. Her uncle is especially apprehensive about Rennie's presence on-board and, in between inspecting his students' projects (on a cruise? What?), takes every available opportunity to express his displeasure. Ren's joined on the Lazarus by axe-slinging Vixen wannabe J.J. (voice actress Saffron Henderson), coked-up prom queen Tamara (Sharlene Martin), science scholarship recipient Eva (Kelly Hu in her feature film debut), punchdrunk boxer Julius (Vincent Craig Dupree), director-in-the-making Wayne (Martin Cummins), the Captain's son Sean (Scott Reeves), and one or two other people I can't quite remember at the moment. Anyway, so they're on the boat, Jason is on the boat...you can do the math.
Okay, we're an hour in now. So, New York? Not quite yet. The Lazarus, following Jason's systematic murder of most everyone on-board, is twenty thousand leagues under the sea, and the handful of survivors from the bloodbath are blindly rowing a lifeboat in the thick fog. Eventually, Lady Liberty is spotted, and our heroes dock their dingy in the rough side of town. Jason, who apparently has become quite a strong swimmer since his days at summer camp, follows close behind. Not only do the remaining survivors have to deal with Jason, but they're also accosted by some drug-addled ne'er-do-wells who drug up Rennie for a two man par-tay. The final battle takes place in the sewers of New York, where Jason undergoes some wholly unexpected transformations.
For a movie called Jason Takes Manhattan, there's not a whole lot of Manhattan in it. Then again, it was followed up by Jason Goes To Hell, which I haven't seen, but presumably he spends about as much time in the fiery beyond in that installment as he does in the heart of the Big Apple here. At most, maybe 40% of the movie takes place in New York, and aside from a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, any portions that are distinctive to the city are limited to the final fifteen or twenty minutes. The change of scenery, even if it's not quite what's suggested in the title for any significant length of time, is still welcomed. Jason isn't given enough time to take full advantage of the environment, but dropping a familiar character into a vastly different locale makes for some amusing moments and decent kills.
The characters are more colorful this time around than the bland, one-dimensional fodder present in most of the series, and, at least of the Fridays I've seen, this is probably the best-looking assortment of nubile female victims. That's not to suggest that the characters are fleshed out to any great extent, but they're interesting enough that the movie doesn't grind to a screeching halt whenever Jason isn't hacking someone to bits, a frequent problem in poorly paced slasher flicks. Jason's body count is higher in Part VIII than in any of the entries up to this point, bested only by its follow-up, Jason Goes To Hell, and even then only if the nameless extras who drowned on the ship are disregarded.
The New Blood shifted its focus towards gory kills that were eventually eviscerated by the MPAA, leaving little of interest. The edits aren't quite as painfully obvious in Jason Takes Manhattan, though there are a couple of notable exceptions like the quick cut after the Cap'n has his throat slit. Among the highlights of the gleeful mayhem are a death by Flying V, Jason's demonstration of the danger of sharing needles, a defeated athlete getting his rocks off in a sauna, and a fatal boxing match on a roof in New York City.
I've seen Jason Takes Manhattan several times since its theatrical release in the Summer of '89, but I'm still not sure what's going on with Rennie. She obviously shares some sort of connection with Jason, but the flashback provided late in the movie still doesn't explain why she's plagued with visions of Superdeformed-Kiddie-Jason that accompany and sometimes even precede appearance by the Real McCoy. Jason's make-up is several notches below that of the previous installment, and his transformation at the end is befuddling and an all-around bad idea.
Though mine isn't a widely held opinion, I like Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan more than I should probably admit. It moves at a brisk pace, and the sheer number of kills staves off any dull stretches. The movie has a similar sense of humor to Jason X in a lot of ways, though whether or not that's a good or bad thing depends entirely on your perspective. Its release on DVD looks great and sounds decent enough, but devoted fans of the series are likely to be disappointed by the unavailability of an unrated cut of the film and a total lack of any extra features.
Video: Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan is presented in anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Despite coming just a hair over fourteen months after The New Blood, the quality of this presentation makes Jason Takes Manhattan look like it's several years more recent than its precessor. The palette is quite a bit more lively, from the numerous colored lights to J.J.'s neon purple Flying V. Detail is equally impressive, particularly in close-ups where it seems as if every individual pore on the actors' faces is clearly visible. I'm hard-pressed to find anything negative to say. A thin veil of grain is often lurking in the background, though I only found its presence to be moderately distracting during a couple of early shots on the lifeboat. Speckling is significantly reduced from The New Blood, and it wasn't much of an issue there to begin with. I did notice some shimmering in areas of fine detail, such as the lines of Sean's shirt, but that's hardly a big deal either. Very nicely done.
Audio: Why Part VII was given the six-channnel treatment and this entry wasn't, I have no idea. This isn't a bad stereo surround mix by any means, though. The rears aren't constantly buzzing with activity, but they made their presence known to a much greater extent than The New Blood. The low-end tends to be on the weak side. Some moments, such as Jason's electrifying resurrection and the explosion in the power room carry a decent, if somewhat flat, kick in the lower frequencies. Still, some other portions where I'd expect more resonance, particularly a car crash late in the film, sound almost anemic by comparison. Dialogue is clear and discernable for the duration, and I didn't spot any background noise or harshness worth noting. A French dub, an English stereo mix, and English subtitles have also been provided.
Supplements: Just like its predecessor, Friday the 13th Part VIII doesn't have a single supplement to speak of whatsoever, not even something as readily available as a theatrical trailer. Given the popularity of the series and its exceedingly large fanbase, I wouldn't think it would take much time or effort to dig up something. Oh well. They can't all be special editions.
Conclusion: Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan isn't looked upon fondly by too terribly many fans, but I have to admit that it's long been a guilty pleasure of mine and ranks ridiculously high for me in this long-running series. The lack of an unrated cut is a predictable disappointment, and the dearth of supplemental material is practically a given. This disc is widely available in the $17-20 range, but I'm not confident that there's twenty bucks worth of DVD here. I still recommend Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, but I'd save it for a rental or wait until the price drops a few bucks.