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Fango Flashback: “FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN”

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Listen, I know it’s “cool” to hate on FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN. I get it. The “Manhattan” angle is gimmicky, or you have a problem with its logic, or you might be one of those horror fans who hate any FRIDAY THE 13TH sequel after PART IV. But if you think that justifies calling it a bad film, or if you’re even actively hating on JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, you are all sorts of wrong.

I’ve gone on record saying that JASON TAKES MANHATTAN was my first FRIDAY THE 13TH film, albeit the cut-down TV version missing moments of swearing, nudity and gore. And at that time, I thought it was goofy as well; the laugh I let out during the rooftop boxing scene was hearty to say the least. But upon my recent purchase of FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION on Blu-ray, I decided it had been time to revisit JASON TAKES MANHATTAN to see if it was still more silly than sinister.

But lo and behold, when I was watching FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, I found myself lapping up the movie from start to finish. I’ll be the first to admit the movie has some ungodly lameness to it: it’s severely dated, it features the obligatory regurgitation of the ‘Jason’ legend and even blatantly rips off the ‘Crazy Ralph’ character from the original FRIDAY THE 13TH. But what I also saw was one of the most effective, fun and horror-friendly outings for Jason Voorhees in the series, which also features some excellent technical skill on display as well and even some frankly gutsy narrative choices.

For instance, take the visual style of JASON TAKES MANHATTAN. It’s not like the FRIDAY films have ever prided themselves on their realism, but JASON TAKES MANHATTAN ramps up the pulp and color to the breaking point. With powerful, vibrant colors filling the background space, the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise has never gotten closer to a giallo entry than JASON TAKES MANHATTAN. Furthermore, when Jason finally does make his way to New York City, it’s not the New York of MANIAC or TAXI DRIVER; it’s the New York of STREET TRASH, a hyperdirty hell-hole littered with abandoned buildings and toxic waste. It’s a culture clash of Dario Argento, Wes Craven and Lloyd Kaufman in one movie, and it doesn’t owe you a goddamn apology or explanation.

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I know horror fans love to complain about the problems with the films script, or that the film only reaches New York in the last act, or even some of the effects work for that matter. But if you’re looking for logic in a franchise where the last installments included a fucking telekinetic teenager, a man’s heart being punched out and an undead killer who keeps wearing a hockey mask, I don’t know what exactly you’d expect. And why not save The Big Apple for the grand finale? If Jason just went walking around New York killing people for 90 minutes (or over the course of an entire day, according to this time frame), the gimmick would have absolutely been overplaying and exhausting.

While the script for JASON TAKES MANHATTAN has some corny moments (which FRIDAY THE 13TH movie doesn’t?), writer/director Rob Hedden does inject the film with some truly unconventional narrative choices. The death of Colleen Van Deusen in the film is a shocking departure from most FRIDAY THE 13TH films, as the matriarchal character is killed in a firey auto accident caused by our lead instead of at the hands of a somewhat spectral Jason Voorhees. Furthermore, Jason Voorhees gets his first (and maybe only) heroic moment of the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise, murdering two street thugs trying to drug and rape our female lead in a back alley. And the film also features some of the most fun and gruesome deaths in the franchise history: a man being internally cooked with hot coals, the nightclub strangling and even a character being smashed by her own guitar.

I also found this iteration of Jason, despite his logical hypocrisies, to be one of my favorites of the series. It’s so obvious that Kane Hodder is having an unbelievable amount of fun behind the mask, especially when he reaches New York, that it’s incredibly infectious. And as opposed to some of the other early Jason’s, where the character was often stumbling onto his victims or popping out of a window, this Jason fully embraces the supernatural powers at his disposal. From the incredibly lucid dream-sequences of the drowning boy Jason to Voorhees’ apparent teleportation methods, JASON TAKES MANHATTAN doesn’t offer a lumbering childlike monster but rather a supernatural force manifested in physical flesh. In fact, with the little bit of dark humor mixed into the character, JASON TAKES MANHATTAN might be the closest to having a “Freddy-esque” Jason Voorhees in the entire series.

For those who still don’t like the tone or the ending of JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, that’s totally fine; it’s your loss. But for those who are willing to give it another shot, I guarantee you’ll be surprised about how much fun you’ll have. From the colorful visuals to the brutal death scenes, JASON TAKES MANHATTAN is practically tailor made for horror fans. And considering just how terrible A NEW BEGINNING and JASON GOES TO HELL can be, I’d take a great FRIDAY THE 13TH movie wrapped around a geographical gimmick over a boring, uninspired chapter any day.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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