Article by: Robert Sommerfield
Drowned in a lake. Axe to the head. Electrocuted by lightning. Grudge match with Carrie. What do you do once you’ve already done everything you can think of to your franchise slasher anti-hero? Well, you take him out of the woods, and into the city, of course! You take him to … Vancouver?!
Following the varying degrees of success the Friday the 13th franchise brought to Paramount Pictures over the course of seven films, the producers needed a spark to reinvigorate the quickly stalling series. They turned to a young director named Rob Heddon, who had had some success directing a few episodes for their in-title only spin-off television series, Friday the 13th: The Series. Rob’s idea was one of the few things they hadn’t tried yet: “Can I take Jason out of Crystal Lake?” he asked. “Can we take him and put him in a big city?
“Well if he’s going to a city, it’s gotta be New York!” exclaimed longtime producer Frank Mancuso, Jr. And with that, they set their sights on getting Jason to continue his body count in the Big Apple.
Heddon worked quickly on his script idea, throwing out all stops and using any excuse he could think of to throw as many iconic New York City landmarks, images, and experiences as he could into the film: “Everything about New York was going to be completely exploited and milked. There was going to be a boxing match in Madison Square Garden. Jason would go through department stores. He’d go through Times Square. He’d go into a Broadway Play. He’d even crawl onto the top of the Statue of Liberty and dive off.” Unfortunately, the realities of the movie business and budgeting a film slashed Heddon’s screenplay to shreds and almost none of these ideas would make it into the final draft.
Originally budgeted at a respectable $10 million, the producers quickly back peddled and said, “We’re only going to give you $4 million to make this movie. You can’t do all this. You’re going to get one week in New York, if you’re lucky, and the rest is going to be shot in the cheapest place we can find.” The cheapest place they could find turned out to be Vancouver, British Columbia.
With the change of location came the realities that Rob’s original vision would no longer be a practical option. The biggest set pieces were out: no more Madison Square Garden, no more Brooklyn Bridge, and certainly no more Statue of Liberty. The film was combined with some ideas from an unproduced ‘Jason on a cruise ship’ screenplay, quickly watering down the original vision: “Pretty soon it was half New York, half on the boat. Then it was the last third in New York. It just kept getting whittled down and whittled down.”
Despite the limitations and budget problems, Heddon still gleefully took up the project with the intent of making the most he could with what he had. On February 8, 1989, the cast and crew officially began production on Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. With Vancouver, British Columbia officially chosen to film, the crew next set their sights on casting the perfect young and hungry actors to portray the sliced and diced teenage graduating class of Crystal Lake High School.
For the cast, producers chose a mixture of Canadian and American talent to fill the interesting, stereotypical roles, which included Kelly Hu as “Eva”, the shy and naive valedictorian, Sharlene Martin as “Tamara”, the sexy blonde bitchy bad girl, Martin Cummins as “Wayne”, the video nerd, V.C. Dupree as “Julius”, the jock boxer,and Peter Mark Richman as “Charles McCullough”, the overly critical and a bit villainous teacher.
Jensen Daggett was cast in the film’s “final girl” role of “Renny” with Scott Reeves playing her on screen boyfriend, “Sean.” (The part’s original actor was let go due to lack of on screen chemistry with Jensen.) The part of the film’s titled anti-star, Jason Voorhees, seemed like a no-brainer: Kane Hodder was brought back to reprise the role he had made his own, becoming the first actor to ever don the infamous hockey mask more than once (he would wear it another two times in 1993’s Jason Goes to Hell and again in 2001’s Jason X).
With casting completed, the crew finally headed up to Canada to begin principle photography and, despite a few complications (the original ship that was suppose to be used for shooting was lost due to a scheduling mix-up, and the replacement ship ended up being half the size), the filming went smoothly, despite the long eight-week schedule. The cast got along well and became almost like a family, spending most of their off time together exploring the local shops, bars, and locales.
Editing the film began immediately after filming concluded and lasted a staggering seven months! With the first cut clocking in at over two hours long, the filmmakers had to take a hard look at what they had and wanted to be able to deliver a film closer to 100 minutes. Believe it or not, the final cut and sound mix weren’t even locked in until the very last moment. “They literally had to come in and take me off of it. Then 36 to 48 hours later, it was in theaters. Literally, I finished it two days before it was released, and they had to make 1,100 some odd prints.” Rob fondly remembers.
Paramount brilliantly hired a New York ad agency to sell the film to the masses and what they came up with was pure genius: a teaser trailer that contained no actual footage from the movie but began with a long tracking shot of the city and behind a man with romantic music in the background. The camera pushes in towards the man as he turns around and, much to the audience’s surprise, its … well… Jason! (Surprise!) Next, Paramount released the infamous “I Love NY” teaser poster with Jason slashing through the poster with a bloody machete. The poster angered the New York City Council who claimed Paramount failed to get permission to use the trademarked “I Love NY” logo. Eventually Paramount would be forced to withdraw the poster and replace it.
So how did they do? The film opened on 1,683 screens in the United States and ended up taking in a disappointing $14.3 million on a final budget of $5 million. It was the lowest grossing Friday the 13th film up to that point but also the most expensive (by comparison, the other entries in the series were made for around $3 million.) Audiences quickly jumped on the film’s faults, with many referring to the film as “Jason Takes the Love Boat”.
A few weeks after release, the final nail in the coffin came when New Line Cinema released their rival film: A Nightmare on Elm St 5: The Dream Child. Even Freddy saw a severe box office decline, opening to $8.1 million and finishing it’s run with $22.2 million, after destroying ticket sales for $50 million with it’s previous entry. Both films ultimately proved to be profitable but the writing was on the wall: audiences had grown tired and bored with the “slasher film” craze.
Paramount decided to end its franchise after the disappointing return of Part 8 and ultimately sold the character of Jason Voorhees to New Line Cinema. In a last ditch effort to revive both the Jason and Freddy series, the studio decided to bring the killers together in a final, balls to the wall battle — settling many schoolyard debates — but this project would take a lot longer to happen than anyone guessed: Freddy Vs. Jason was finally released on August 15, 2003, a full fourteen years after Jason stalked the streets of New York (Vancouver)!
Looking back on Jason Takes Manhattan, after close to thirty years (!), one can only smile after watching it. Is it a good film? Oh, definitely not. It’s filled with plot holes (how does one get a boat to drift from an enclosed lake to the Atlantic Ocean exactly?), absurd ideas (toxic waste in the NYC sewers?), and simply messes with the classic Friday the 13th lore far too much. But despite the film’s many, many, (MANY) faults, it also has character and is just a fun ride. There’s something special about the final film in Paramount’s original series and, believe it or not, it bookends the series decently. The film is wise to its own shtick. Nobody goes to a part 8 of anything, let alone one entitled, “Jason Takes Manhattan”, looking for an Oscar contender. Its more self-aware than just about any film that came out during the 80’s and gets points for attempting to step outside the box, or… forest, rather.
I recently caught a revival screening of Jason Takes Manhattan at the Alamo Drafthouse (AKA, “the coolest movie theater in the world“) in Austin, Texas (AKA, “the coolest city in the country“), and dragged a few friends with me (one of whom had never seen a single Friday the 13th movie before – crazy!). Afterwards, I asked him what he thought of the movie. “That was actually a lot of fun,” he told me enthusiastically. — I couldn’t have summed it up any better myself.