Though the box office for Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood wasn’t as high as some of the previous installments, it was still in the ballpark enough for Paramount to greenlight an eighth movie. This time around, longtime producer of the franchise Frank Mancuso, Jr., was out. Taking on writing and directing duties was Rob Hedden.
According to Hedden, he was one of the people who pitched for a Jason vs. Freddy Krueger crossover and was also a writer for the Mancuso, Jr.-produced Friday the 13th: The Television Series that ran on syndication at this point. The chance to write and direct the next film was something he couldn’t pass up.
Once again, Paramount gave permission to the writer/director to create a story in any way he wanted so he pitched taking Jason Voorhees out of Crystal Lake and bringing him to New York City. Paramount loved the idea and pre-production begun. However, even before production began, problems arose, mostly regarding budget.
This was, I believe, the second Friday the 13th movie I saw, again it was on Cinemax. My best guess was 1990 or 1991. I remember the teacher (Barbara Bingham) giving the star, Rennie (Jansen Daggett), a pen that she said she believed Stephen King used when he was a student. I also remember the boxer (V.C. Dupree) that Jason (once again, Kane Hodder) decapitates with a single punch to the head. There were other things I remembered faintly, too, that came back upon rewatching this movie.
Jansen Daggett as Rennie is attractive and likeable, though she’s not the best actress. She is also very 1980s. This is fun.
The attempt by Hedden to take the franchise to a new place, both metaphorically and literally, is to be applauded. He didn’t want to do yet another Jason-stalks-kids-in-the-woods movie. Taking Jason to New York is thrilling in many ways. First, just the What The Fuck? Factor of seeing Jason in Times Square is fun. And this is 1989 Times Square, so it’s not yet the full neon, crazed, carnival it is today. It still has a little of the old Times Square danger to it. Seeing Jason in back alleys and the like is also fun.
There’s a billboard in Times Square for 1989’s Batman, starring Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton. That’s fun to see. Now digital effects would have replaced the ad for the Warner Bros. film for a billboard for a Paramount movie, or maybe even something else entirely. Yeah, this has nothing to do with the story, I’m grasping at straws here.
All right, in the last essay I wrote that I wasn’t a fan of Jason’s makeup. Well, this movie’s is even worse. First off, it’s a step backward. Where Jason looked too withered and falling apart in The New Blood, in Jason Takes Manhattan, even though he’s been under water for however long between movies, his shirt has somehow come back together and some of his flesh seems to have regrown. Oh, and it’s changed color, too. And when they take the mask off, it’s the worst makeup of the series. Jason looks like a poorly drawn smiley face. And the mask, which had black fabric covering up the left eyehole through most of the series suddenly has both eyeholes covered, so no eyes remain. I always felt that seeing Jason’s eye(s) somehow made him scarier.
The acting is typically bad. The story has a bunch of teenagers going on a cruise from Crystal Lake to New York City for some school thing in biology class and there’s a hell of a lot more kids than it seems we ever get to know. And the ones we do get to know are the normal stereotypes that we never get the chance to care about. Even Jansen Daggett’s Rennie is little more than the typical quiet girl who will survive this horror movie through her cunning and innocence.
And while I applaud Hedder for attempting to take Friday the 13th in a new direction (how often have I written that or something like that in these essays?) it fails. Part of it isn’t his fault. Some of it was the budget. Some of it was, no doubt, the MPAA.
At $5 million, the budget for this movie was higher than any of the previous installments, but it still wasn’t enough. Apparently, the original script had most of the movie set in New York City, but Hedder was told that it was too expensive to shoot there. And even with shooting some of New York’s settings in Vancouver, time in the city (and on location) kept getting shorter and shorter. In the end, he had two days in actual New York and only the last third of the movie was set there.
The MPAA surely hurt the movie. By this point in the 1980s, Tipper Gore and other watchdog types were actively going after horror movies and heavy metal and anything that could seem too much for children. This is because R-rated adult entertainment is something that children regularly see. Well…maybe…but I digress. This movie is actually pretty tame compared to the previous movies (and those that follow). Most of the deaths happen offscreen. Jason comes into frame, lifts his arm, brings it down, and then we see the body at some point. There are exceptions to this, I already mentioned the fate of the young boxer on a rooftop. Compared to the crazy gore and gratuitous violence of, say A New Beginning, Jason Takes Manhattan is pretty tame. People don’t watch Friday the 13th movies for tame, though. They watch for over-the-top violence and gore.
Even with the constrictions brought on by budget and censorship, Hedder must take most of responsibility in the failure of this movie. From beginning to end, very little fits logically with the story within the franchise or even within the movie itself. Rennie sees the little boy of Jason throughout the movie, and he only slowly grows to look like how he did in the original. The way Jason is brought back to life is also odd. He’s electrified again, which isn’t so odd, by a giant electrical cable that runs under Crystal Lake, which gets frayed by a yacht. How does a yacht fit on this lake? Is it one of the Great Lakes? Or perhaps a great lake in its own right? Anyway, this cable–which is out in the open under the water–is frayed by the yacht’s anchor (which is light enough to be carried by the lake’s current but strong enough to break this huge cable) and the electricity goes up the cable to where Jason is under the broken dock from the last movie. It brings Jason back but not the girl’s father from the previous movie. His body isn’t even there. So not only do Jason’s clothes somehow repair themselves (as does his skin) but the father also disappears magically. At the end, Jason is essentially turned into the little boy, which is also weird and doesn’t make sense. His choices in direction aren’t always the greatest (the POV of the boxer’s severed head is stupid, because the boxer can’t see because he’s dead).
And let’s not forget how Jason suddenly appears in places. There have been jokes as long as these movies have been out how the killer will walk after his victims and always seem to get them. For Jason, the walking after victims really began in the fourth movie. In this movie, though, Jason begins to appear whenever needed. One example is on the cruise ship to New York. Jason is stalking a victim and the victim turns away, runs up some steps, only to be confronted by Jason, who somehow managed to get from the deck to the stairs without passing his victim. Now I can only assume that this was done because of Freddy Krueger. Freddy is known to do this trick throughout his film series, and this makes sense because he’s in a dream. Jason may now be supernatural, but he’s still in the real world and should adhere to at least some of the physics that we all live with. Yikes.
Saturday the 14th
What might have been a fun jaunt to the city with a popular monster is a lame movie. The attempts at humor fail. There’s nothing particularly creepy or scary in the movie. And the one thing that the Friday the 13th movies always did well–gory death scenes–are trimmed to the point of nearly being safe for network TV (of the time, anyway).
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan no doubt caused more eyerolls than anticipation when the trailers first hit theaters. The film did the least business than any of the other movies in the franchise, earning a measly $14.3 million dollars. Its release date didn’t help any. Released on July 28th, 1989, it was smack-dab in the middle of one of the biggest summers the movies had seen. Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2, and Ghostbusters II were all released that summer. Even the better-faring Freddy Krueger movie A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (released in August) failed to do the business its predecessor of the prior year did; $22 million compared to $49 million.
Between the poor audience reception, the fact that it was the eighth movie, and the fact that the horror bubble was beginning to collapse all around, Paramount decided that Jason’s trip to New York would be his last resurrection for awhile.