*** ½ Out of 5
Tagline- New York has a new problem
Release Date- July 28th, 1989
Running Time- 100-Minutes
Writer/Director- Rob Hedden
Starring- Jensen Daggett, Scott Reeves, V.C. Dupree, Sharlene Martin, Barbara Bingham with Kane Hodder and Peter Mark Richman as Charles McCulloch
Released in 1989 Jason Takes Manhattan was the 8th installment of the Friday the 13th franchise and even though I hold the original in very high regard and enjoy the sequels for what they are let’s face it these movies never really had much of a plot with the exception being the original, which had a light plot at that. Jason Takes Manhattan follows suit with the sequels and has a very weak plot if you can even call what the movie has a plot. This movie was a sitting duck for critics and audiences since the title alone offers enough jokes and by this time the slasher flick was mostly dead and Jason Takes Manhattan was the lowest grossing installment of the series and also in 1989 Halloween 5 and A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 also suffered their lowest box office totals. The slasher film in my opinion peaked in 1981 with some of the very best of the sub-genre and while the rest of the 80s produced some excellent slasher flicks as a whole no year was as strong as 1981, so here in 1989 the slasher flick was on its last legs.
While Jason Takes Manhattan will never be confused with Psycho and if not for being part of the Friday the 13th franchise, Jason Takes Manhattan would be long forgotten, but under the surface there is actually a fairly decent movie to be found. None of the Friday the 13th movies were favorites with the critics, but believe it or not this movie actually got some decent reviews (not many). There is a lot to dislike about Jason Takes Manhattan; despite the high body count there is very little gore and while the Friday the 13th movies always had some continuity issues this one really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in connection with the previous parts.
This time around Jason gets on board a cruise ship heading to New York for the graduating class of Crystal Lake and begins to murder the students and the few who survive and make it to New York, Jason continues to hunt them down and kill them; and that folks is about all the plot we really get besides a backstory, which I’ll touch upon later. I think it was an interesting idea to get Jason out of the Crystal Lake setting. The previous 7 movies were either set there or around the lake. The title is misleading since Jason never really takes Manhattan. The more proper title would be Jason Takes a Cruise Ship. Only a few scenes in the final act are in New York and most of the New York scenes were actually shot in Vancouver, Canada. It’s more like Jason Takes a Cruise Ship than Vancouver and finally New York, but only very briefly.
Written and directed by Rob Hedden this marked his directorial feature film debut as prior to this he directed 2-episodes of Friday the 13th: The Series with the episode 13 O’clock being a fan favorite of the series. Some people have complained about the writing and directing in this movie, but in fairness it’s the 8th part and by this time you cannot really stray too much and let’s face it the odds of landing a known horror filmmaker or up and coming is very slim. This isn’t meant to insult Rob Hedden, but he’s really the best you can do at this point of the series. When all is said and done Rob Hedden doesn’t do such a bad job.
The script by Hedden attempts to inject some new life into the series, but it’s pretty much the same thing as past movies only with a different setting. The first half of the movie focuses more on the characters with a little bit of action thrown in and Hedden attempts to give the characters more depth than we are used to seeing in these kind of movies, but the only problem was the characters were too clichéd and were also very similar to the characters in the previous installment, however I felt they turned out better here than in The New Blood. We have the nice girl, her love interest, the jock, the nerd, the snobby bitch and the jerk. I like the fact Hedden wanted to make more than faceless victims and in some aspects he is able to do just that, but the characters while decently developed with some depth also are a bit too clichéd to fully work. However of the entire Friday the 13th series this does feature some of the stronger characters. The lead character Rennie (Daggett) does have a backstory involving Jason and while this may not fully make sense it was a nice touch and gives a stronger dynamic to her relationships with other characters.
As director Rob Hedden delivers a fairly well-paced movie, but it lacks any legit suspense or tension and at times the movie takes itself too seriously. Suddenly Jason has the ability to teleport and I have to assume this was meant to play up to how the killer in these movies always happens to right behind you no matter how slow they’re moving, but if that was the intention it wasn’t handled well-enough to get that point across. The first half of the movie as I stated is more about developing the characters and I found these scenes to be stronger than the 2nd half when the action kicks in. Once the 2nd half starts like I said there was more action, but since it lacks suspense and tension it doesn’t fully work and the biggest problem is the movie takes itself too serious for the most part, when Rob Hedden might have been better off playing things out a little more light in tone.
When Jason actually gets to Manhattan its fairly entertaining stuff and made funnier how nobody in New York seems to notice Jason walking around or when he’s aboard the train chasing after the characters and while I assume Hedden was having fun with the reputation of NY, but the problem is it doesn’t come out clearly and it seems like it’s meant to be serious and not a big deal this rotted guy in a hockey mask is just walking around. Overall Rob Hedden delivers an overall better made movie than people give it credit for and while the movie lacks any suspense and tension, which also has to do with it being the 8th part and all surprises are long gone, but Hedden handles the production well and delivers an entertaining movie that takes itself a little too serious at times and is a little overly long at 100-minutes, but quite honestly I think Jason Takes Manhattan is a decent film and makes for a fun viewing. Going into the movie I assume most people would expect hack filmmaking 101 and Rob Hedden delivers anything, but that.
The performances weren’t bad at all and while the Friday the 13th movies may not be known for their acting I also think at times they get more heat than deserved. Jensen Daggett as Rennie makes for a likeable heroine if not a little on the bland side; this was Daggett’s feature debut and she would go onto other and bigger roles and like I said she gives a strong performance, but a little on the boring side at times. Scott Reeves as the love interest Sean is also pretty good and I love Sharlene Martin as the sexy bad girl Tamara, she may have been a total bitch, but it was kind of hot and too bad she didn’t have a bigger role and look for Kelly Hu in a brief role as Tamara’s friend. That’s what I love about these older horror flicks is seeing who got their starts in these kinds of movies.
Veteran actor Peter Mark Richman does excellent as the un-likeable Charles McCulloch; his character is a lot of fun and I remember seeing this in theaters and his death was cheered by the audience so he did his job well. Tamara the sexy bad girl was my favorite character. Sure she was a little clichéd, but all her scenes were quite fun, too bad there weren’t many of them. Kane Hodder is still giving it his all and brings a lot of life to the Jason Voorhees character.
Overall Jason Takes Manhattan turns out a lot better than it should have. This is by no means a classic of the genre and as I stated if not part of the Friday the 13th movies would probably be long forgotten, but personally I have to admit I really enjoyed this one. Writer/director Rob Hedden delivers better than average characters with some depth despite the clichés and the performances were mostly strong and this movie is just simply a fun ride if you don’t take things too seriously.
Who says the Friday the 13th movies cannot be educational? I learned 2 valuable lessons from this movie. First up never take swimming lessons from Charles McCulloch and never try and fight Jason in a boxing match!