The Lie of Jason Takes Manhattan’s Marketing Still Hurts Friday the 13th Fans

Thirty-five years ago, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan promised New York City slaughter. That's not what they gave us and we're still not over it.

Friday the 13th Part VIII Jason Takes Manhattan poster
Photo: Paramount Pictures

“New York has a new problem,” declared the tagline for Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, complete with a picture of Jason’s hockey mask behind the city’s iconic skyline. To some modern readers, that tagline might seem silly. Sure, New York has its problems, but the arrival of a near-invincible, teleporting killer is orders of magnitude worse than anything currently happening in the Big Apple. Why would producers lump Jason Voorhees in with those other issues?

But when the movie released back in 1989, New York City existed in the popular imagination as a cesspool of violence, corruption, and danger. It was a nigh apocalyptic hellscape and promised to be a true challenge for the world’s most proficient killer of horny teens.

Sadly, it turns out that New York didn’t need to worry about Jason at all. Outside of a killer crane shot in Times Square, most of Jason Takes Manhattan took place on a boat. When Mama Voorhees’ baby boy finally landed in a big city, it was Vancouver, a far cry from the legendary scary place promised by advertising. And that still hurts today, 35 years later.

Jason Takes a Chance

In 1984 Paramount Pictures wanted the story of Jason to end. What began as an obvious ripoff of John Carpenter‘s Halloween (with a Carrie knockoff added to the final scene) had become a very profitable, but very embarrassing franchise for the vaunted studio. So the curtain was coming down. Yet things went sideways when the studio released Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, the strongest entry in the franchise thus far and one of the best slashers ever made. It sold like hot cakes, and while that film ended with Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) killing Jason seemingly for good, the positive response from the film’s target audience (teenagers with disposable income) drove Paramount to let the franchise continue.

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The studio followed The Final Chapter with an unending series of experiments, uncertain that they could replicate the perfection of the fourth entry. Part VI takes a hilarious, self-deprecating approach, anticipating the arrival of the truly metatextual Scream franchise a decade later; Part V, meanwhile, unsuccessfully recreates the whodunnit approach of the first movie; and Part VII pits Jason against an off-brand Carrie White, neither of which resonated with viewers.

Part VIII promised to change up the franchise in the most audacious way yet. Jason would leave his usual stomping grounds of Camp Crystal Lake in New Jersey to encounter a whole range of victims in New York. It wouldn’t be the first urban slasher movie ever made—not when Maniac, New York Ripper, and even Maniac Cop beat Jason to the punch. But the Friday the 13th franchise was never about innovation. It was about the shameless embrace of lucre.

Unfotunately, it was that very money-first attitude that cut down Jason Takes Manhattan like a teen sliced in half at the moment of climax.

Jason Takes a Boat

In the excellent documentary Crystal Lake Memories, Friday the 13th producer Frank Mancuso Jr. sums up the problems with Jason Take Manhattan in a single line. “He certainly had ambitions that we didn’t have the budget to allow for,” Mancuso said of writer/director Rob Hedden.

While making his first movie, Hedden had big plans for Jason in Manhattan; plans that would take full advantage of the New York City setting.

“Everything about New York was going to be completely exploited and milked,” he declared in the same Crystal Lake Memories doc. From an opening on the Brooklyn Bridge to a swan dive off the Statue of Liberty, Jason Takes Manhattan would truly turn the city into a killing ground.

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Hedden held to those ambitions, even as budget realities set in. After learning that the studio wouldn’t pay for an entire film set in New York, Hedden changed to script to follow Jason wreaking havoc on a cruise ship heading to the city. With each successive rejection, however, the ship became more and more of the film, and the city receded further into the distance.

What was planned as a boxing match in the Garden becomes a rooftop fight between Jason and a young Golden Gloves champ (V.C. Dupree) that lasts just a few minutes. The many encounters between the killer and New York citizens gets diminished to a gag in which Jason scares a bunch of punks in Times Square by lifting off his mask… with his back to the camera.

That isn’t to say that Jason Takes Manhattan doesn’t have compelling ideas. Hedden focuses on Rennie (Jensen Daggett), a final girl who fears the water after her cruel uncle (Peter Mark Richman) tried to teach her to swim by tossing her straight into the water. Throughout the film, Rennie sees visions of the drowned Jason, setting up a concept in which she can put an end to the now-zombified killer by bringing peace to his younger self. Finally, Part VIII brings back Kane Hodder as Jason, a fan-favorite thanks to his giant frame and ability to breathe heavily.

Whatever the value of these concepts, they don’t make this a movie about Jason in New York. It’s a Jason movie where he happens to burst onto the Big Apple for the final few minutes. In other words, it invites inevitable disappointment.

Jason Takes a Break

When Jason finally arrives in the city, he gets confused by the sight of a billboard for a local hockey team. Staring up at the goalie mask for the off-brand New York Rangers, Jason—who grabbed a Detroit Red Wings mask in Part III—pauses and prepares for carnage.

This generic team logo captured in a dull, uninspired shot captures the full disappointment of the series. Sure, other franchises since have put the slasher movie in New York, most recently the solid Scream VI. But Jason is a true icon, one greater even than Ghostface. The chance to see the real Jason strut his stuff in the real New York can never be replaced by any pretender.

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After Jason Takes Manhattan, Paramount gave up on the franchise and sold it to New Line Cinema, home of Nightmare on Elm Street. The New Line movies had many big (and not all successful) ideas for Jason, including sending him to space and giving him a water phobia to fight Freddy. But they never actually sent him to New York.

Now with Bryan Fuller’s A24-produced Crystal Lake show on hiatus, and the status of the franchise still caught up in copyright litigation, forever pausing the Friday the 13th series at 12 entries, it looks like Jason will never get back to the City That Never Sleeps. And even if he someday does make it there, it won’t be the rat-filled hellscape that we all wanted to see him bask in all those years ago.