For those who pay attention to such things, this past Monday was the 25th anniversary of the U.S. release of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (7/28/1989). Now, you might suddenly be asking yourself, “Is that really an anniversary we should remember? Or honor?” Probably not. Jason Takes Manhattan, after all, is a very, very not good horror film which fundamentally fails to even follow through on the implicit promise of its title. Jason doesn’t so much take Manhattan as he really spends most of his time conquering an oddly crew-less Love Boat before briefly marching through a very Vancouver-like New York.
To me, though, there’s something oddly endearing about the behind the scenes stories of the film, the unique headaches to a low-budget, slap-dash affair that just happened to be distributed by one of the major studios (Paramount Pictures). There are lessons aspiring filmmakers can learn from the tale of first-time director as well as Jason Takes Manhattan‘s screenwriter Rob Hedden mapping out a hugely ambitious film which was slowly widdled down by the realities of the budget. He wanted to get Jason to New York by the start of the second act, and have him fight in Madison Square Garden and climb the Statue of Liberty, among other insane ideas. Instead, his film doesn’t even get to New York until the 64 minute mark of a 100 minute running time, and they only got something like two weeks to film in areas like Times Square, stuck having to make Vancouver pass for New York the rest of the time.
Clearly, Hollywood has gotten better at making Canada pass for America since practically all current genre TV shows (Arrow, Flash, Supernatural, Haven, etc.) film up north.
However, my favorite story about the production of Jason Takes Manhattan has nothing to do with New York. It all begins with that stupid freakin’ boat.
If you ever pay close attention to Jason Takes Manhattan (and, really, why would you?) you’ll notice that in all of the film’s establishing shots featuring the boat we only ever see the front half, the back half, and the deck, never the whole thing. That’s because literally 3 days before the start of filming the genuinely ginormous boat they had booked canceled due to scheduling reasons. As director Rob Hedden told author Peter Bracke in Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th, “We had to find another boat at the last minute, and it ended up being half the size. I basically lived on this new boat for the weekend before filming and walked it and planned all my shots […] Then we used a different ship for the interiors, including the disco, the kitchen, and some sets were built on a stage.”
There were three total boats boats used in Jason Takes Manhattan, one in the water, one attached to a dry dock, and another for certain interiors. However, the ones they normally talk about are the Prince George and The Lazarus.
According to the film’s producer, Randolph Cheveldave (who, in the game of life, seems to have hit a home-run in the name department), the primary boat they used was called the Prince George. It was actually owned by a British Columbia entrepreneur named Nelson Skalbania, who, if Wikipedia is to be trusted, once owned the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers and was the first to sign Wayne Gretzky to a contract to play hockey professionally. By the time Jason Takes Manhattan came around in the late ’80s, Skalbania had acquired the Prince George but never really used it meaning it had been sitting idle for years, tied up to a local wharf. Its engines didn’t even work. However, it looked good enough that they could at least use it for exteriors and engine room scenes. Skalbania offered to let them use it for the mere fee of $1. That’s probably when they should have figured out it was too good to be true. As Cheveldave told Peter Bracke:
“What we didn’t know was that he owed this enormous debt for wharfing fees. I mean this is a 400-foot ship that had been tied up in the same spot for over two years. So when we started talking with the people who owned the wharfs they were falling all over themselves helping us. Until they discovered that the fee for the use of the ship was a dollar, and then they stopped. So suddenly, our access to that ship was limited to the most bizarre hours. It put us on a night schedule right from the very beginning, which created real problems in terms of shooting.”
This seems an appropriate moment to point out that the only reason Skalbania didn’t remain an owner of the Edmonton Oilers for very long (just a couple of years) was a need to sell it to cover debts, and that in 1998 he was convicted of illegally using an investor’s money to cover debts in his real estate firm. Moving on.
I’m just going to let Cheveldave cover this one:
“When we came to use it, it had been recently won in a poker game in Washington, and the new owner didn’t know what the heck to do with it. Getting it into Canada was a huge headache, because there were all these Canadian boats that were available, so the only way to use it legally was to import a load of potatoes with the ship. Here we are supposed to be shooting a movie, and now we’re a potato delivery service!”
Just to ask the obvious question: what ever became of those potatoes?
Jason Takes Manhattan ultimately cost $5 million to make, grossed $14 million in the U.S., a low-enough return on investment that it ended Paramount’s involvement with the franchise until the 2009 reboot. Rob Hedden didn’t get to direct his next feature-length until 2007, working in TV and screenwriting in the interim.