Two graduating high school students are aboard a houseboat on Crystal Lake. Jim tells his girlfriend Suzy the legend of Jason Voorhees, before playing a prank on her with a hockey mask and a prop knife. The boat's anchor damages some underwater cables, which shocks Jason's corpse and revives him. He sneaks on board and kills Jim with a harpoon gun before impaling Suzy, who tries to hide from him, with a barb.
The next morning, the SS Lazarus is ready to set sail for New York City with a graduating senior class from Lakeview High School, chaperoned by biology teacher Dr. Charles McCulloch and English teacher Colleen Van Deusen. Van Deusen brings McCulloch's niece Rennie along for the trip despite her aquaphobia, much to his chagrin. Jason sneaks on board and kills rock star-wannabe J.J. with her guitar before hiding in the bowels of the ship. That night, after a boxing match, a young boxer who lost to champion Julius Gaw is killed when Jason slams a hot sauna rock into his abdomen while Rennie, searching for her pet Border Collie Toby, discovers prom queen Tamara and Eva doing drugs. McCulloch nearly catches them moments later and Tamara pushes Rennie overboard, suspecting she told on them. She then uses video student Wayne to record McCulloch in a compromising situation with her but rejects Wayne's advances afterward. Tamara is killed by Jason with a shard of broken mirror when she goes to take a shower.
Rennie begins seeing visions of a young Jason throughout the ship, but the others ignore the deckhand's warnings that Jason is aboard. Jason kills Captain Robertson and his first mate. Rennie's boyfriend and Captain Robertson's son, Sean, discovers them and tells the others before calling for an emergency stop. Eva finds Tamara's body and flees, but when she goes into the disco room, she is followed by Jason and violently strangled to death. The students agree to search for Jason while McCulloch decides that the deckhand is responsible; however, the deckhand is found with a fire axe in his back. Miles, one of the students, is tossed to his death by Jason and Julius is knocked overboard. Elsewhere in the hold of the ship, Wayne comes upon J.J.'s body and is thrown into an electrical box by Jason; his corpse catches fire and begins a chain of events that causes the ship to sink. With the other students dead, McCulloch, Van Deusen, Rennie, and Sean escape aboard a life raft and discover Toby and Julius are alive as well.
They row to New York where Jason stalks them through the streets. Rennie is kidnapped by a pair of junkies and the group splits up to find help. Julius tries to fight Jason with his boxing skills, but becomes exhausted after Jason does not go down; he is then decapitated by a single punch from Jason. Rennie escapes from Jason when he kills the punks that kidnapped her. She runs into Sean and they reunite with the teachers and the police before Jason kills the officer who is helping them. Rennie crashes a police car after a vision of Jason distracts her. Van Deusen is incinerated in the car when it explodes, and it is revealed that McCulloch is responsible for Rennie's fear of water, having pushed her into the lake as a child. They leave him behind and Jason kills him by drowning him in a barrel of waste. Jason chases Rennie and Sean into the subway where Sean incapacitates him by knocking him onto the electrical third rail. He is revived again and chases them through Times Square where they try to escape through a diner. They flee into the sewers and encounter a sewer worker. He warns them that the sewers will be flooded with toxic waste at midnight before Jason appears and kills him. Sean gets injured in the process and Rennie draws Jason off, wounding him with a splash of acidic waste that forces him to take off his mask, horrifying Rennie. She and Sean climb the ladder as Jason staggers to get them, but just as he is about to kill them, the sewers flood and engulf him. Rennie sees a final vision of a child-form of Jason as the waste recedes.
The two of them then escape to the street, where they are reunited with Toby, who had run away earlier, and walk off into the city.Jensen Daggett as Rennie Wickham
Amber Pawlick as young Rennie Wickham
Scott Reeves as Sean Robertson
Barbara Bingham as Colleen Van Deusen
Peter Mark Richman as Charles McCulloch
V. C. Dupree as Julius Gaw
Kelly Hu as Eva Watanabe
Sharlene Martin as Tamara Mason
Gordon Currie as Miles Wolfe
Kane Hodder as Jason Voorhees
Timothy Burr Mirkovich as Young Jason
Saffron Henderson as J.J. Jarrett
Martin Cummins as Wayne Webber
Alex Diakun as Deck hand
Warren Munson as Admiral Robertson
Todd Caldecott as Jim Miller
Tiffany Paulsen as Suzie Donaldson
Ace as Toby
To conceal the fact that it was a Friday the 13th film, the initial working script circulated under the title "Ashes to Ashes." The film was shot at seven locations in the United States, though the primary filming locations were in British Columbia, Canada, primarily Vancouver. The alleyway scenes were shot in Los Angeles. After filming wrapped in Los Angeles, the rest of the film was shot on locations in New York City, including Times Square. According to director Rob Hedden, the cost of production in New York City was not feasible given the film's budget, which is why large portions of it were shot elsewhere.
The film's musical score was composed by Fred Mollin, who worked with longtime Friday the 13th series composer Harry Manfredini on the previous installment. On September 27, 2005, BSX records released a limited edition CD of Fred Mollin's Friday the 13th Part VII and VIII scores.
The song "The Darkest Side of the Night" performed by Metropolis plays over the opening and ending credits to the film. Rob Hedden specifically wanted them to write a song reminiscent of Robert Plant. The songs "Broken Dream" and "J.J's Blues" which J.J. Jarrett jams along to on her electric guitar were written by Mollin and Stan Meissner and feature Terri Crawford on vocals. The 2 songs remain popular among fans and when a fan inquired to Meissner about whether they can be released he responded that no complete versions of the songs were ever recorded as they were never intended for release outside the film.
In promotion for the film, Paramount Pictures began an advertising campaign featuring Jason slashing through the "I Love New York" logo, which was featured on the original movie poster. Though the poster was distributed, it was later replaced after the New York City Tourism Committee filed a complaint with Paramount Pictures. The replacement poster featured an image of Jason looming over the New York City skyline.
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan was released July 28, 1989 in the United States. The film entered the box office at number 5 for the weekend with earnings of $6.2 million. The film faced strong competition at the time of its release from such high-profile genre fare as A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. Ultimately, it would go on to gross a total of $14.3 million at the U.S. box office, ranking at number 70 on the list of the year's Top 100 earners.
On his commentary track for the film in the box set, director Rob Hedden acknowledges the faults and agrees that more of the film should have been set in Manhattan, citing budgetary and schedule problems.
Entertainment Weekly labeled it the eighth-worst sequel ever made. Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 8% based on 24 reviews; the rating average is 3/10. Film critic Leonard Maltin, however, gave the film a more positive review, awarding the film 2 out of 4 stars and calling it the best in the series. Maltin complimented the film's imaginative direction but criticized the film's running time as being too long.