I’m exaggerating, of course. But not by much. An explanation of Johnny LaRue’s Crane Shot’s first guest post…
One of the film buffs I follow on Twitter is Brandon L. Summers (@84summers), and I took notice of a recent tweet in which he ranked 1988’s FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN as his favorite FRIDAY THE 13TH movie. I was surprised in that I don’t even know anyone who thinks JASON TAKES MANHATTAN is good, much less ranks it as the series’ best. Curious to learn what Brandon sees in the film that I certainly don’t, I asked him to write a defense of it, and when he asked if I would post it here, I certainly couldn’t say no.
What follows is Brandon’s spirited piece on the film. It has been slightly edited to fit into the blog’s format, but it is otherwise completely Brandon’s. If you would like to read my “side” of the story, my 2007 review of JASON TAKES MANHATTAN is here.
The Only Person in the World Who Likes JASON TAKES MANHATTAN: A Review of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII
By Brandon L. Summers
JASON TAKES MANHATTAN is my favorite of the FRIDAY THE 13TH series. If I had to rank them, it would be Part VIII at number one, hands down.
Not only is it a more brutal horror film than the seven preceding it, Part VIII feels more like a fantasy, which is to my speed. After Jason returned as a zombie in JASON LIVES: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI, the film dabbled more in supernatural elements. He was obviously dead and didn't just stalk his victims, he improbably appeared! His opponent in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD was a cute, scared psychic. In Part VIII, he shares a bond with cute haunted writer Rennie (Jensen Daggett), who sees visions of warped Boy Jason.
Of all his incarnations, I prefer squishy zombie Jason with the ribs showing, covered in algae, in tatters and with pale-white skin, dripping as he killed indiscriminately. (I like hulking Jason from FREDDY VS. JASON, too.) Because they have to get Jason on this cruise (a modest river ship, not the Carnivale or whatever) to eventually get him to New York, they show him climbing the ship's chain, but it announces a more aggressive Jason than seen before. And because he's obviously dead, he takes some serious damage later. A pen in the eye with a gush of blood, falling onto the third rail, chemicals in the face—it shows they're dealing with a true monster, not some mere man, but an unstoppable thing, which to me is more compelling in a horror-fantasy film.
The brave new setting is a benefit. The other seven are very formula. The teens are killed one by one while remaining oblivious, and in the end are discovered by the last girl who is then pursued, right? (In Part VI, older Tommy tried to warn people, but it didn't help change the structure.) And being on a ship filled with graduating teens, this film is way less blatant about bringing in fodder. No corporate paintball, no bystanders who just happen to be in the area. Everyone is onboard already, so it’s less intrusive, and you don't have to suspend your disbelief. It makes more sense and thus is more satisfying.
On a ship, it becomes evident far earlier that there are killings happening. And trapped, it becomes a fight for survival. That's not been done before! The teens, more than ever, work to find the unseen killer. Jason even shows new initiative as he works to sabotage the ship when he can. Plus, they bring back the classic trope of the hick prophet ("He's come back, and you're all gonna die!") who doubles as a red herring for the teens and two adults.
All of the teens here are really very pleasant, too. The teens in THE NEW BLOOD were especially boring, more like stereotypes. Usually in these films, they're escaping to party and have sex. Here, they're on a school trip and all like each other. There's one bitchy girl, Tamara (Sharlene Martin), sure, but she's not over-the-top at all. There's Rennie and her dog Toby, captain's son Sean (soap opera actor Scott Reeves), punk rocker J.J. (Saffron Henderson, who played Geena Davis in THE FLY II), video maker Wayne (Martin Cummings), and absolute sweetheart Eva (Kelly Hu). None of them are interested in sex or drugs (Tamara does cocaine, which is new, but there's not the usual beer and marijuana), and they're not even great friends. They only mutually care about surviving. This is unique among slasher films in general.
Because Jason is so ruthless and these teens are truly innocent, just fighting not to be killed, I cared more about their fates than I did with most of these films.
The film also dares to elicit pathos for Jason. In FRIDAY THE 13TH 2–4, he was angry his mother was killed. And in 6–7, he's angry he is killed. In this one, though, he is tragic. In Rennie's visions, you hear Boy Jason pleading from beyond, "Mommy, don't let me drown!" And when Rennie is captured and drugged by a gang (of the most Canadian Hispanics you'll ever see), he becomes a comic-book-style anti-hero, which appeals to me greatly. She fears the monster, but sees the little boy within. And when he dies by toxic waste flush, his tormented spirit is finally freed.
JASON TAKES MANHATTAN looks great. These films were getting slicker, more expensive. This one cost $5 million over the $2.8 million of Part VII. Jason looks awesome amid neon lights and pavement and glass. Enough forest and cabins and barns! Maybe something like Jason belongs in the woods, but appearing in a place more familiar to us makes him more inhuman, emphasizes that he's a monster. It's so unrealistic in its depiction of New York (especially in the clean, PC 21st century), with its toxic waste and cruddy docks and alleys, it adds to the feeling of fantasy. It's like ROBOCOP.
Jason gets some humorous bits, too. He's constantly looking around in confusion, on the ship or in city, but no less daunted and angrier for it. And the bits with the billboard and Jason spooking some teens by showing his face all amused me. Jason gets to have fun for once!
But if I've learned anything from horror fans, it's that the only thing that matters is "good kills." Not story nor acting nor production. And this one has good kills. A boy gets a hot stone in the belly, a girl is bludgeoned with electric guitar, an extremely cute girl is strangled to death in a disco. Jason goes wild, too! We see him drag a cop to his death, and shove the wicked principal into a vat of sludge. And the principal is also given some pathos. He's wrong and a jerk, but while he is unapologetic, he does see that he's hurt his niece, so when he pleads for his life, there's a little more than just another person getting stabbed. The film is also particularly bleak with the gang and Rennie being drugged and nearly raped.
One of the top moments of the series is when boxer Julius dares to fight him. No one has ever fought Jason! And he does well. You think he might even make it! But he tires, and this kill has impact because it is a real defeat. And then his head gets knocked off, which is funny.
I enjoy this film, but most of the criticisms toward it are legitimate. Not great acting; more about getting Jason to New York than being in New York, which is obviously Canada, except for some great Times Square exteriors; fun moments but no memorable dialogue; Rennie's visions probably don't make sense; no score by Harry Manfredini. The song at the end is good, but not as good as "He's Back! (The Man Behind the Mask)."
It is not cheap, though. And the title? If we are to judge films by their titles, then surely SORCERER is the worst film ever made!
And really, the worst of the series? In the next one, Jason becomes a hairless weasel that jumps into other bodies! Isn't that more outrageous than his just being on a ship? And JASON X is a sci-fi comedy, not a horror movie, and he gets "upgraded." Even if horror-monster-in-space is a great trope, isn't it more offensive that this is closer to LEXX or FARSCAPE than FRIDAY THE 13TH? Really, are you telling me the remake by Marcus Nispel and Michael Bay is better for being set in the woods, just killing teens (and with an elaborate series of tunnels)?
This film should be appreciated. It is the last true film of a series that was constantly innovative while always delivering. You got kills and thrills, but no two FRIDAY THE 13TH movies are exactly the same, whether it’s goofy 3D or little Corey Feldman or psychic teen. JASON TAKES MANHATTAN is a legitimate FRIDAY THE 13TH effort, and the last real Jason movie in 24 years. So don't hate, celebrate!