Jason Takes Manhattan is perhaps the most hated of all Friday the 13th films, particularly amongst the die hard fans. Its promise of Mr. Voorhees marching around the Big Apple, hacking his way through yuppies and tourists, failed to deliver, with the majority of the film’s running time set on a cruise ship, with the remaining half an hour mostly shot on Vancouver instead of New York. Fans have never been keen about filmmakers taking the action out of Crystal Lake and the poor box office returns (then the worst of the series) prompted Paramount to give up the ghost and sell the rights to rivals New Line. Now, whilst considered the last of the ‘classic era’ Fridays, fans are still hostile to this entry and consider it the low point of an uneven franchise. Its ludicrous premise, lack of gore and full-on eighties soundtrack seemed to be catering for a whole new audience and would bring the decade to a close on a rather bum note.
Jim (Todd Shaffer) and Suzi (Tiffany Paulsen) are two young graduates who decide to spend their last night before vacation aboard a small boat on the shores of Crystal Lake. Seemingly on edge, Jim tells his girlfriend the legend of Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder), whose bloody legacy had kept the local citizens living in fear for several decades. Leaving her alone to ponder her thoughts, a figure in a hockey mask suddenly appears and plunges a blade into her stomach. The mask is pulled back to reveal a mischievous Jim, whose retractable knife harmlessly pressed against her skin. Annoyed with him, he walks outside and drops the anchor, which inadvertently disturbs electric cables at the bottom of the lake, waking the dormant corpse of Jason. Climbing onto the boat, he dispatches of the two youngsters and collects the hockey mask, ready to continue his never-ending killing spree.
At the harbour, a graduating class of high school students make their way onto the S.S. Lazarus for a trip to New York, supervised by the creepy McCulloch (Peter Mark Richman) and well-meaning Van Deusen (Barbara Bingham). With Jim and Suzi a no-show, McCulloch is ready to take off when Van Deusen arrives with her favourite student, Rennie (Jensen Daggett). Afraid of water due to a childhood trauma and now left under the care of her uncle, McCulloch, Rennie seems reluctant to board the boat but realises that it is time to face her fears. One classmate who is particularly fond of Rennie is Sean (Scott Reeves), a respectable and loyal friend who is besotted with her. His father, Admiral Robertson (Warren Munson), is the captain of the voyage and hopes that his son will one day follow in his footsteps. As with the earlier Friday the 13ths, there is the ‘prophet of doom,’ in the form of a deck hand (Alex Diakum).
As the boat sets sail, Jason climbs on board and makes his way quietly inside. Amongst the selection of tasty teens are film nerd Wayne (Martin Cummins), wannabe rock star J.J. (Saffron Henderson), champion boxer Julius (V.P. Dupree), spoilt bitch Tamara (Sharlene Martin) and her naïve friend Eva (Kelly Hu). Tamara is perhaps the least sympathetic of the bunch; a cocaine user who seems to have little respect for her friend, using her sex to try to blackmail McCulloch and enticing the vulnerable Wayne before pushing him away when she has what she wants. One-by-one, each of the students are slaughtered in all manner of grizzly ways, whilst suspicion points towards the deck hand, who has been blaming the deaths on Jason. But when he eventually turns up dead, the truth is discovered and the remaining survivors – Rennie, Scott, Julius, Van Deusen and McCullch – escape onto a lifeboat and set adrift into the ocean.
By chance, they finally make their way to New York. But no sooner do they arrive, Rennie is abducted by two junkies (Sam Sarker, Michael Benyaer), leaving the others desperately trying to find her. Jason climbs out of the water and somehow manages to track them down, killing both of the junkies as a drugged up Rennie attempts to escape. Julius tries to stand his ground against Jason, giving one solid punch after another, but Jason removes his head with one strong punch. With only Rennie and Scott alive, they climb into the sewers and try to find a way to hide, but toxic waste is released into the system, drowning Jason and reverting him back to a scared little boy. Climbing back out into the city, Rennie and Scott have finally laid the curse of Crystal Lake to rest for good.
Taking its name from the children’s movie The Muppets Take Manhattan, the seventh Friday the 13th sequel suffered from major budgetary issues, which would result in a severely neutered film. Writer/director Rob Hedden had planned for the majority of the movie to take place in New York, but when Paramount insisted on the film being made for only $5m, Hedden was forced to find a more enclosed environment. The script also proved to be illogical – why is Jason only obsessed with killing the Crystal Lake kids in New York when the city seemed awash with sinners, and why does he become a child once again after drowning in the sewers? But the film does have its plus points. Hu and Martin are incredibly sexy and Hedden succeeds in creating a few memorable kills (most notably Julius’). But by far the film’s greatest asset is Hodder, whose turn in Friday the 13th Part VIII proves to be his most impressive as Jason – an angry, unstoppable killing machine, somewhat reminiscent of the shark from Jaws. Whilst the MPAA cuts resulted in the film being relatively bloodless and Hedden’s script being full of plot holes, Jason Takes Manhattan is still a relatively enjoyable addition to the series and, whilst by no means being amongst the best, was still an improvement on most slashers from the late eighties.