On this day, July 28, 1989, the 8th installment of the Friday the 13th franchise was released — Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, directed by Rob Hedden, who would have to highlight this as his directing career-high, and starring Kane Hodder, the horror icon in his second of three outings as the unstoppable Jason Voorhees.
This time we get a romantic couple graduating high school that first fill in the gaps of who and what the Jason Voorhees legend is, and secondly accidentally bring him back to life from his water grave where he was left in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (which on a side note is actually one of the best sequels in the franchise). The remaining members of the high school class are traveling to New York, because graduation, I guess — it is never explained. The boat named the Lazarus gives us a host of potential victims for its stowaway Jason, with teacher Colleen Van Deusen (Barbara Bingham) who pushes the Principal Charles McCulloch to let his niece Rennie (Jensen Daggett) join the class trip after her own personal nightmares with water. As the trip continues, we get to see Jason build on his body count before being unleashed on the streets of Manhattan.
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan uses the typical electric guitar soundtrack of the 80s, which does including a wild-haired rocker named J.J Jarrett (Saffron Henderson, who has gone on to have a successful career in voice-over work, including Death Note, Nana and Kong the Animated Series) who uses the engine room for extra acoustics for her sound, before getting killed by her own guitar.
Being a high school class, we need a star athlete which brings in Julius Gaw (Vincent Craig Dupree, who would go on to star in South Central). He is the student the fellow athletes look up to, only for him to get one of the most iconic moments in the Friday the 13th franchise: the boxing sequences on top of the building which sees him give Jason his best shot, only for Jason’s one punch to take his head clean off.
Tamara Mason (Sharlene Martin) is the manipulative girl in the class, using her looks to get the guys to do things for her, including Wayne Webber (Martin Cummins who was most recently seen in Riverdale), pushing her desperate-to-be-popular best friend Eva (Kelly Hu, who it would be fair to say went on to have the biggest career, with her roles in X-Men 2, The Scorpion King and Cradle 2 the Grave) into breaking the rules, risking her future and using her look to seduce Charles (Peter Mark Richman) to give the grades she wants.
Looking back on Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, we do get taken back to the 1980s in its heyday of the slasher genre. We get the typical extremes of each type of character which almost spells out how they will be getting picked off. This version does hold back on the sex, with only the opening sequence including a sex scene, it being the reason why most people were killed in slasher films (well that is what Randy tells us in Scream). We do have the biggest body count to date in the franchise, which was a trend, to always get more kills per film, with the following film Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday upping the body count again.
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan does have a counterpoint to the campy nature and that is the serious side of the story coming from Rennie and her nightmare experiences with a young Jason. Well, that what it feels like. She has a fear of the water which only ever sees her seeing a deformed young child always trying to grab her. This does feel strange for the franchise, which usually has a leading character that must overcome their own demons to defeat Jason once and for all. Rennie is also involved in a boring love angle with Sean Robertson (Scott Reeves, who would go onto have a career in soaps like The Young and the Restless) who is trying to impress his captain father of the boat.
The true highlight of this film comes from the hour mark onwards. The surviving members of the class make it to New York, only to find themselves on the wrong side of the town, being robbed, though Jason has decided to follow them, and starts fighting criminals who try to rape Rennie, before casually walking the streets of New York, which does include him walking through a subway chasing Rennie and Sean, not bothered about the rest of the people. This leads to a throwaway moment when Jason throws a man through a mirror, that man being Ken Kirzinger who would go onto star as Jason in Freddy vs Jason.
30 years after its release, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan might not be the best entry in the franchise, but it sure as hell is a fun entry, which will see Jason taken out of Camp Crystal Lake for the first time before they completely jumped the shark with Jason X, Jason in space, which is also a bonkers and entertaining sequel, to say the least. You will remember more of the kills in this film and in a year where the big three all had sequels, I would argue this is the best of the three, with Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and Halloween 5 either going too far into the campy side or trying to hold onto any serious nature they once had.