With Scream VI leaving Woodsboro, California behind for the craziness of New York City, it reminds horror fans of another time a popular slasher franchise took their masked villain from his usual hunting grounds and transplanted him in the Big Apple. In 1989, in their eighth outing, Friday the 13th took the hockey-mask-wearing zombie, Jason Voorhees, from his home in Camp Crystal Lake and sent him on a sightseeing adventure of New York City in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.
By the late 1980s, the slasher craze was winding down, and in a desperate attempt to spice things up, the decision was made to do something drastic. Friday the 13th fans were excited by the premise of their favorite killer let loose in New York. Just imagine the possibilities. You could have Jason in the Empire State Building, Jason at the Statue of Liberty, Jason in Central Park. For a franchise that didn’t take itself too seriously, it seemed like anything could happen. The results, however, were seen as a major letdown, as Jason spends most of the film’s runtime on a boat, and the film doesn’t fully live up to its big city potential. While it’s true that they could have done more, what isn’t true is that it was a failure. Jason Takes Manhattan still makes great use of its New York City slaying grounds.
‘Jason Takes Manhattan’ Had to Work Around Budget Restraints
The biggest frustration for many is that it takes Jason Voorhees way too long to actually get to Manhattan. There is no getting around that argument. It does indeed take over an hour before Jason arrives in New York City. That hadn’t been the intent. Producers wanted more of New York City. The original script, written by Rob Hedden (he directed the film as well), actually had Jason rampaging through those big spots of the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, as well as the Brooklyn Bridge and Madison Square Garden. So, why didn’t that happen? It all came down to money. With just a $5 million dollar budget, it restricted just how much of Manhattan Jason could actually take. Hedden had no choice but to find a way to get around this and make the best out of a less than ideal situation. Two hard choices were made, both of which, in the end, helped to make for a better film that still made its premise work. The first difficult decision involved simply taking Jason out of Manhattan for much of the movie. It would instead focus on how he got there. While this wasn’t what everyone wanted, it still got Jason out of the done-to-death confines of Crystal Lake.
In an interview with Bob Thomas of the Associated Press, Hedden said, “The biggest thing we could do with Jason is to get him out of that stupid lake where he’s been hanging out. One (idea) was to get him on a cruise ship. Put him in the bowels of the ship with a little bit of Das Boot and a little bit of Aliens with a claustrophobic feeling, storm at sea and that sort of stuff. The other idea was to do a fish-out-of-water story and take him to a big city… Then we decided, why not do both in one movie.”
The Ship Scenes Before Jason Voorhees Arrives in New York Are Actually Very Effective
No, the first half of Jason Takes Manhattan isn’t on par with a classic like Aliens, but it works for what it is. When a group of high schoolers and their chaperons set sail for a trip to New York City on board a large ship, Jason hitches a ride. The atmosphere is successfully eerie, as this is not a cheery cruise ship, but a dark and creepy one with not many passengers crossing stormy waters. The dark, tight corridors of Aliens, where the monsters can be around any turn, are found here. It’s genuinely creepy not knowing where Jason is or where he’ll strike next. It’s a great slow burn, winding up the tension until we get to the big New York City payoff in the third act. If Jason had arrived in New York in the first act, the premise would have been in danger of falling apart by the end of the film. There’s only so many places you can go and Easter eggs you can cram in before it becomes ineffective and takes away from the true star of the film.
That doesn’t mean that the ship scenes are boring filler. This is where Jason kills most of his victims, taking them out one by one. Worse for them, and better for the audience, the survivors have nowhere to go. They can’t simply flee like at Camp Crystal Lake. They must stay in their nightmare. Our protagonists are literally in a trap.
‘Jason Takes Manhattan’ Does a Stellar Job of Making Vancouver Feel Like New York City
There’s actually a bit of relief to be felt when the ship does arrive in New York and its remaining passengers disembark. Now they have a chance. They can run. They can hide. They can escape. The New York City setting might be more fun, but it’s arguably less scary. This is where director Rob Hedden had to make some more tough calls. With the budget constraints, much of the New York City scenes were actually filmed in Vancouver. This is nothing new. Even now, all these decades later, and with a much higher budget, a lot of Scream VI‘s New York City scenes are actually filmed in Montreal. With Jason Takes Manhattan, Hedden did his best to still make it feel like New York. Outside of establishing shots of genuine New York bridges and skylines, production in Vancouver stuck to spots that had a New York City feel. The apartment buildings, the warehouses, the dark and dirty alleyways, and the filthy sewer system all feel like grimy 1980s New York. This is most successful in the harbor scene, which is Vancouver Harbor, and especially the scene of Jason chasing his victims on a subway. It might look exactly like a New York City subway, but nope, that’s the Vancouver Skytrain.
Jason Takes Manhattan makes up for its lack of New York landmarks by even having Jason in New York at all. This isn’t like Scream VI, where our killer knows his locale because he lives there. Here, like Hedden said, Jason Voorhees really is a fish out of water. All he’s ever known is Camp Crystal Lake. Now he’s suddenly in one of the biggest cities in the world. We get to watch him discover that and even see a few scenes of his confusion which radiate even through the emotionless hockey mask.
Jason Voorhees in Times Square Is One of Horror’s Most Iconic Shots
The film can be forgiven for its shortcomings due to one big moment. In one of the only shots actually filmed in New York, Jason Takes Manhattan give us one big shot that is completely unforgettable. That would be the scene which finds Jason striding down a sidewalk in Times Square at night. It’s a fantastic shot, and one that’s been used in promotional material for the film ever since. That one moment felt so much bigger by not being one in what could have been a quick collection of New York City’s Greatest Hits. It’s what’s missing from a film like Scream VI, which, despite being so much better than Jason Takes Manhattan, misses out on giving us that one iconic New York City moment.
Jason Takes Manhattan is far from a perfect film. It was the worst performer at the box office and is near the bottom of anyone’s Friday the 13th rankings, but it’s not the disaster that it gets dismissed as being. The ship scenes are genuinely claustrophobic and scary. The New York scenes feel like it’s New York even when it’s an entirely different country. It makes for some truly fun chase scenes and one of modern horror’s most iconic shots. Maybe Jason didn’t quite take Manhattan, but he had the time of his life while he was there. Well, you know, up until that point where he was melted into nothing by toxic waste in the sewer at the end. But, hey, no vacation’s perfect.