While it was not as financially successful as a few of the previous entries, Jason Lives marked a high point for the series. It was well-made, fun, funny, and scary all rolled up into one package. The next sequel, The New Blood, is a bit more of a mixed bag. It’s got great mood and atmosphere, a great final girl in telekinetic teen Tina Shepard, but almost all of the other characters are bland and largely uninteresting. It’s saved by a bunch of great kills (even if they were edited to hell by the MPAA) and a nearly pitch-perfect version of Jason. If anything, Jason was the true star of The New Blood and the one element that really made that movie work. Most of that is thanks to Kane Hodder. He breathed new life into the character.
So it was a nice change of pace to see him be the first actor to return to play the character when it came time to make Part VIII. While The New Blood had expanded on the Friday the 13th concept by essentially introducing super powers, there was an apparent need to go even bigger with the next sequel. The producers wanted a change of pace—or in this case, a change of place.
Jason Takes Manhattan would be the first movie to take Jason out of the Crystal Lake area and put him in a new setting, which would become a tradition for most of the sequels that followed it. It’s a ridiculous concept in and of itself, but it’s a concept that could work. In an urban environment, Jason could be hiding anywhere. Nobody’s going to pay attention to teens screaming for help. He could crash just about any major city landmark.
Of course, we didn’t get any of these things, because Jason Takes Manhattan is the most deceptive sequel in a major horror franchise. As most fans know by this point, the movie is actually focused on the cruise ship that’s carrying teens from the Crystal Lake High School graduating class to the big city. This is where the majority of the film and most of the carnage is set.
I’m not even saying this isn’t an interesting concept. In fact, I think a lot of people would have found it an easier film to swallow if it had just been marketed as Jason on a cruise ship. Because there is potential there. Jason on board a ship is ultimately a very claustrophobic environment. It’s not like the woods where you could theoretically keep running and hope to find a road or a passing car. There’s no escape here.
But to put Jason on a ship and make it a genuinely scary, tense movie requires a certain kind of tone. It needs to be a little darker, a little more serious. Putting Jason on a rampage through Manhattan, on the other hand, requires a different kind of tone. It needs to be lighter, more comedic, similar to what had previously worked for Jason Lives.
Here’s where Jason Takes Manhattan ultimately stumbles: it gives us that more comedic tone befitting Manhattan, while giving us the cruise ship for all but twenty minutes of the movie.
Of course, what ultimately kept this from being the true city-wide rampage that everyone was expecting was simply a matter of budget. There was no way they could have afforded major city landmarks and big set pieces for the eighth entry in the Friday the 13th series. We were never going to actually see him fall from the Empire State Building.
Instead, Jason Takes Manhattan had a single day of filming in New York for a sequence set in Times Square. To be fair, though, it’s not like there aren’t any good moments when the movie finally hits Manhattan. There’s a strong subway chase, there’s a great bit with Jason crashing through a diner, and there’s the now iconic rooftop boxing match between Jason and Julius.
There are absolutely great moments. There are terrific kills. That’s why even if it is toward the bottom of the series, Jason Takes Manhattan still gets a bit of a bum rap. It may not be anywhere near the quality of Final Chapter or Jason Lives. It might not even embrace the consistent cheesiness of Jason X. But it’s far from unwatchable, in spite of all that.
Jason himself is in top form, even if the story doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. I think Kane brought everything to the table that he had brought in The New Blood. I think the perpetually wet, slimy, swamp monster look for Jason is actually a great concept. Ultimately, Jason Takes Manhattan is frustrating in the same way that Nightmare on Elm Street 5 is frustrating.
If it had only had a clear focus on what it wanted to be, a lot of its major problems could have been solved. Instead, it’s a continuity destroying ghost story that doesn’t try too hard to sell the audience on the location we’re stuck with for the bulk of the running time. Even though we eventually get to Manhattan, it is not at all what it promised to be. Instead of the touted “Terror in Times Square” we have a single shot of Jason standing in Times Square. It’s cool, sure, but it’s not quite cool enough. Which, for me, basically sums up the whole film.