JANUARY 18, 2009
If there was ever any proof that nostalgia can cloud your judgment on a movie, then my defense of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan* is it. It was the first one I had on tape, and thus have probably seen it more than any of the other films. Yet it’s usually considered among the weakest of the series, if not the absolute worst by some (even Kane Hodder is pretty dismissive of it, which is amusing to me as it’s the only one of his four films I don’t want to punch in the cinematic face). Clearly, my childhood experience with the film is powerful enough to overlook its apparent unforgivable flaws.
I think the biggest issue people had, besides the lack of blood (though much bloodier than the 7th film, it’s still pretty “splatter” free), is that 2/3 of the movie takes place on a boat, and not Manhattan cum Vancouver. But that didn’t bother me as a kid, and it doesn’t even really bother me now. I’d be much more pissed if Jason was at Crystal Lake for the entire first hour only to finally head off to the Big Apple. At least the scenario (courtesy of writer/director Rob Hedden) offered us something new, and in turn, lots of new kills.
One thing the film NEVER gets any credit for is its unique kills. There’s one machete and one axe death in the entire movie. Everything else is pretty unique; a guitar, harpoon gun, toxic waste, a needle, a barrel of sewage, a control panel, a wrench, and a straight up “Jason just punches the dude’s fucking head off” scene, not to mention Jason’s most epic move ever – starting a fire that sinks a boat filled with at least 30 other kids. Fuck yeah.
But also, it made the Manhattan stuff feel more like an event when it occurred. They made you EARN that shit. And it’s not like horror film titles are guaranteed to reflect the bulk of the movie. As I mentioned before, the Bride of Frankenstein doesn’t appear until the final 10 minutes of that movie; I don’t see too many people complaining. Nor does anyone complain (as much anyway) about the “lying” titles of the subsequent entries: Jason doesn’t go to Hell until the final scene (spoiler!) and Freddy doesn’t Vs. him until the 3rd act.
At this point I want to reveal that this movie seriously made me afraid of NY until I was about 18. 10 year old me had no idea that it was really Vancouver and they needed be pretty selective when it came to locations, so I really thought that the whole city was just thieving crackheads, sewers, burnt out warehouses, and wall to wall graffiti. I even really thought that the sewers got flooded out with toxic waste every night (which I think would certainly solve NY’s rat problem, no?). So whatever – it may not have had as much NY as folks would like, but it was enough to scare the shit out of me.
I also like how Jason gained something of a personality in this one. Several times in the movie he cocks his head a bit, as if to say “Try it, you dumb kid.” And even though it doesn’t make much sense that he ignores everyone in NY to keep after two kids, I love when he fucks with the street punks, first breaking their awesome dual tape boombox and then lifting his mask to scare them off.
All that said, it IS admittedly weak in a few key areas. The kids are all dull as dirt (worst Final Girl ever for sure), and Jason’s mask is ridiculous – he gets it from a kid who presumably bought it at the store, yet it has the axe mark from 3 on it. Plus it’s way too “designed” for Kane’s head; it looks like a plaster mold more than a store-bought mask. And the plot holes are incredibly large, even for a horror movie. Plus – teleporting Jason. Jason’s travel time has always been a bit questionable when you really start thinking about it, but it’s just blatant here. Especially near the end when he kills Agent For H.A.R.M. – he approaches the guy outside, and then somehow manages to get upstairs before him in order to toss him out the window!
I cannot defend Rob Hedden's commentary though. Not only is it rather dull and filled with "yeah no shit" comments like "This is a real boat", but he also blatantly lies about certain things. There's a rather jarring closeup of a dartboard in the film, and Hedden says that he did that on purpose to mis-direct the audience. But that's bullshit - the darts were originally used to kill Julius' boxing partner, but the scene was MPAA cut and reshot with the guy in the sauna (which he also lies about). Come on man, fess up! And while he admits that there's too much set on the boat, he apparently doesn't feel the need to address the other criticisms of the movie, which is a bit odd considering that it was recorded 15 years later. I've seen commentaries recorded the day that the movie was finished that had more reflection and honesty.
But for my money, it’s a big improvement over New Blood, and it never really gets boring. And it’s the last true “Friday the 13th” movie (after this, New Line took over, leaving the title and most of the entertainment value behind), so it deserves a bit more respect than I think it gets.
What say you?
*Best review I read was simply this: “He also takes forever. D-.”