The Eighties Fever: ‘Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan’ (1989)

What happens when you review thirty year old films from the perspective of someone who gets classified as a millennial, but wouldn’t really consider himself one? With both popular and obscure films on the list, it’s a mixture of new insights into old films, all while celebrating what might just be the greatest decade ever. This is The Eighties Fever.

Viewing: First Time

Jason Takes Manhattan ends my Friday the 13th review series on a high note. Yes, you read that correctly, a high note. Jason Takes Manhattan is easily the best out of the eight films released in the eighties. “Karlston, you’re crazy” is what you are all probably thinking right now. Well, buckle up feckeroos, because let me explain why Jason Takes Manhattan does everything a Friday the 13th film should.

First, this film starts out already a mile ahead of any Friday the 13th sequel that came before it by forgoing the horrible flashback recaps. Instead, we get this amazing opening narration from a radio DJ:

It’s like this… we live in claustrophobia, the land of steel and concrete. Trapped by dark waters. There is no escape. Nor do we want it. We’ve come to thrive on it and each other. You can’t get the adrenaline pumping without the terror, good people. I love this town.

This narration plays over top of a montage of New York scenes orchestrated by this dramatic ballad (at least that’s what I’m calling it). These three things, and the simple title card, let the audience know that this was going to be a different Friday the 13th film. That we were not just about to watch the same killer kill the same cookie cutter teenagers around the same camp. No, we were going to get a different setting and a different mood.

In fact, when Jason Takes Manhattan does take the time to recap the previous events they actually make it beneficial to the story. You have a couple horny graduating students on a boat getting hot-and-heavy (momentary shout-out to the return of boobs in these films). The male student is a bit disturbed at being so close to the camp where all the murders happened. His lover is unaware of what he is talking about, so he takes a moment to explain who Jason is, what he has been doing, yada yada yada. I wrote down in my notes that this was the best recapping any of these films have attempted. It wasn’t just a clip show tacked on at the beginning of the movie. Instead, we have a character explaining it in a way that works into the story. It also showed that these characters were going to know the story of Jason Voorhees and that they were not going to be oblivious to all the murders that hadn’t taken place like the last few films had attempted.

Now despite the title of the film, Jason really only takes Manhattan in the last half an hour of the film. Instead, the majority of the film takes place on a cruise ship. In 2018, we might call that “clickbait” (or more appropriately watchbait), but Jason does end up taking Manhattan, so, eh, I’ll let it slide. As for the change of setting from Camp Crystal Lake to the cruise ship, I’ll let Scott Meslow of GQ take it from here:

Here’s the secret about Jason Takes Manhattan: Despite the false advertising of the title, it’s actually a pretty good Friday the 13th movie. A cruise ship might not be as exciting a setting as Manhattan—but it’s still a lot more interesting than yet another string of gruesome murders at a summer camp, and the inherent claustrophobia of the boat only grows as the corpses keep showing up on the deck. And when the few survivors finally make it to Manhattan, with Jason hot on their heels, the movie has an appropriately wicked sense of humor about New York City, as jaded diner patrons and subway passengers shrug off Jason as just another weirdo walking the streets.

It’s a fun film, so sue me. Everyone is stuck on the cruise ship with nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Jason has them trapped. It beats the previous outings where they could just run away from Crystal Lake.

I made a promise to fellow site writer Vincent Kane that I would watch Kane Hodder‘s acting style for Jason Voorhees. Surprisingly, when you actually pay attention to the way Jason moves you start to notice a thing or two. Jason is constantly weighing his options. You see him watching how things play out. He’s picking up character alliances and who hates who, etc. He’s always learning and trying to get one step ahead of his direct threats. That doesn’t stop him from having insanely loud breathing, but this film’s decision to just have two black endless holes where eyes should be under the mask was a stroke of genius.

Alright, by now you’re probably down in the comments typing something like “MUTINY! How can he like this garbage?”, so I’m going to list all the things I enjoyed about this movie. (1) Referencing horror writer Stephen King who was at his height in the 1980s. (2) The cruise ship is called Lazarus; cute. (3) Hot rock through the chest in the steam room. (4) The hot girl being the biology project and trying to seduce her Principal. (5) Jason breaking the mirror so he can have a glass shard to stab biology project girl with. (6) Jason looking through a porthole as lightning flashes behind him. (7) Jason kills the potential New York rapists; shows he does pick who he kills and will take down the scum first. (8) I like the relationship between Rennie (Jensen Daggett) and Sean (Scott Reeves); I was rooting for their happiness. (9) Jason’s fascination with New York and New York’s casual attitude towards Jason. (10) Movie ends with some killer ’80s music.

I do have some grievances with the film which mostly revolve around Rennie’s PTSD flashbacks to a young Jason trying to drown her (the timeline doesn’t exactly sync up), but other than that Jason Takes Manhattan is the best Friday the 13th film I have watched yet. It is certainly the best of the eighties and nothing will change that. The first four Friday the 13th films told one complete continuous story and together they act as a remarkable work of fiction. The next three films all tried to kickstart a new potential narrative, but none really took hold. Tommy Jarvis and Tina Shepard certainly had the potential to be recurring protagonists against Jason Voorhees, but, in the end, Friday the 13th only needs the supernatural killer to keep audiences coming back. Jason Takes Manhattan is the best film to make use of taking Jason and tossing him into a new situation. You can make Friday the 13th films without Crystal Lake, but you can’t make them without Jason Voorhees. He is the murderous heart of this franchise.

Grade: 8.9/10