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The Series Project: Freddy & Jason (Part 5)

The final week of the epic battle between the Friday the 13th movies and the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies. Professor Seibold will declare a winner.

 

Welcome back, dear readers to the fifth and final week in the epic rundown on every single A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th movie in The Series Project. Sadly, this final week will prove to be less a grand finale for our well-loved and well-worn monsters, and more a kind of weak, wounded, final shambling toward the door. Not that these final movies were the worst in the series (well, with one notable exception), but these limp retreads, remakes, and inexplicable continuations are not exactly the bow-outs one would expect from two monsters that are considered by an entire generation to be the premiere horror creatures of the age. As I explained last week, the so-called “final” chapters in both the Nightmare and Friday series (i.e. Freddy’s Dead and Jason Goes to Hell ), while not necessarily the greatest films in either of their series, were at least real events. And while I’m glad that Wes Craven returned for New Nightmare , easily the best of any of these movies, I kind of wish that, beyond that, well enough had been left alone.

Actually, there was one more event in the lives of these monsters, and it was actually something of a doozy. Indeed, this week, I’ll finally be looking at the pop-culture wish-fulfillment fantasy that brought these two monsters together, and, indeed, was the only reason I elected to cover both of these franchises as a single unit. 2003 saw the simply-titled Freddy vs. Jason, the battle royale for the ages.

Before I get to that, though, I’ll be taking a look at the baffling "Jason Goes to Space" movie that no one asked for. Also, to round out the week, I’ll also be taking a pained glance at the two series’ respective remakes, both made by Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes, the company also responsible for the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and perhaps the legitimate scapegoat for this current and terrible trend of hypercharged horror remakes. One of these remakes will prove to be easily one of the worst films in this entire Series Project, and I include Jason Lives and Freddy’s Revenge in that statement.

When we last left Jason Voorhees, you may recall that he was stabbed with a ritual knife, and was dragged into Hell by gigantic stone hands. I would call that definitive proof that he is dead. It’s never explained, then, how he was back in…
 

Jason X

Director: James Isaac

Release Date: 26th April 2001

Body Count: 23, including the simulated deaths of four holographic characters.

Best Kill: Jason holds a woman’s face in liquid nitrogen until it freezes, then smashes it against a tabletop.

Number of Breasts: 6

A moment of silence for director James Isaac, who died earlier this year. He was also the director of Skin Walkers, and a special effects man who worked on eXistenZ.

What. The. Flying. Fork.

First of all, the title is not pronounced “Jason Ten,” but “Jason Ecks.” I suppose “Jason X” would be the shorthand gorehounds would use to describe the film, but this is the first of the Jason films without the word “Friday” in the title. I guess Jason has drifted so far away from his campground boogieman roots, that linking him to an unlucky calendar date is almost gauche. Secondly, the “…In Space” subgenre is not exactly a long and proud one. Especially not for horror franchises, which previously included the bonkers Brian Trenchard-Smith film Leprechaun 4: In Space.

I sense that sending Jason to space was not an earnest and legitimate need to continue the series, but kind of a comedic camp riff on the character. While the Nightmare movies drifted into action/comedy somewhere around part 5, the Friday movies stayed relatively straight until this point. Jason X is a comedy through-and-through. Is it canon? I suppose that’s up for debate. It does include all the usual people typically involved with the series (Kane Hodder is still the machete man, Sean S. Cunningham is still producing, Harry Manfredini is still composing), but it has no narrative connection to any of the previous films. Jason went to Hell, and now he’s just sort of back. Hell has a rotating door, I guess. We need tougher legislation on that. Seeing as the canonical throughline of the Friday films has been weak this entire time (he’s not undead, he is undead, he’s a demon now, etc.), I suppose I can merely accept Jason X as the freestanding entity it is. It’s just odd that it should come now, after the supposed finale.

The premise: In the near future, Camp Crystal Lake, NJ has been transformed into some sort of ominous research facility, run by a gal named Rowan (Lexa Doig from "Andromeda"), where Jason Voorhees has been captured, and is being held prisoner. Rowan explains that Jason, rather than being a demonic creature, is actually a strange biological anomaly that can regenerate cells. This is why he doesn’t die. This is really stupid. But I’ve seen stupider. If Jason can regenerate his cells, how come he’s still mossy and rotten and is missing pieces of his face? Should his lips have grown back at some point? Or is the “cell regeneration” mystery just scientific wording used to explain the demon that makes him immortal? Whatever. Anyway, in a prologue, Jason escapes his shackles, kills David Cronenberg (who I like to think was playing himself), and is tricked into a cryo-stasis pod by Rowan, who is also frozen in the process.

Fast-forward to AD 2455, when the Earth is now uninhabitable, and humans have moved to an unseen Earth II. Rowan and Jason are thawed out by what appears to be a field trip of futuristic med students. These med students may dress in odd futuristic clothing, but they are, in a very essential way, identical to the teens we’ve seen in all the Friday movies. They are still horny stoners who have sex as often as possible, smoke weed, and still do massively fatuous things. Like thaw out Jason Voorhees.

So yeah, Rowan is thawed, and only has a moment of shock before settling into life on a space ship, scheduled to take the med students back home to a space station named Solaris. It’s not long before Jason sits up, and goes on his usual rampage. He does battle with space marines, kills the kids, and stalks about in his usual way, only in a totally new setting. Jason is so adaptable. He never once seems all that shocked or even moved that he is on a starship. He does seem a little baffled when he does battle with an android named Kay-Em 14 (Lisa Ryder, also from "Andromeda"), as she doesn’t die when stabbed. I could only hear Batman’s voice in my head repeating “So that’s what that feels like.” And just when Kay-Em 14 shoots Jason a hundred times and blows up his head with a rocket (which oughtta do it, right?) the ship’s medical nanites reconstruct him. The film’s final 15 feature a Jason with new eyes, new metallic skin, bigger muscles, and a mask that’s grafted onto his face. The credits call this new Jason “Über-Jason.”

Oh there are plenty of laughs in this thing, and a lot of frankly amusing scenes of campiness. A teen girl dresses a male teacher in négligée, and pinches his nipple with a specialized pair of tongs. There are cute lines of dialogue devoted to the state of the galaxy in 2455 (“You weren’t around for the Microsoft Conflict. We were beating each other with our own severed limbs!”). And there are a few fun kills in addition to the one listed above. I liked the guy who was thrown onto an enormous upright drill bit, causing his dead body to rotate 360° as it sank to the ground. I listed the body count at 23, but that’s doesn’t include the one woman who accidentally killed herself while trying to flee the ship, and the 60 people aboard the space station that blew up when the Jason-killed pilot crashed into it. If you count those unseen people, then Jason X has the highest body count of any of these movies.

There is also one amazing scene wherein Jason is distracted by a holodeck program of Crystal Lake, circa 1980. Two 1980 co-eds talk about how much they love pot and pre-marital sex. He beats one of them to death with the other. It’s the biggest laugh in a pretty goofy movie.

Jason X is way dumb and, like I indicated, an anomalous and free-standing entry in a series that’s already largely unconnected. But I cannot deny how entertaining it is. Sure it sucks. But it’s a good suck, y’know? For me, it’s just bizarre enough.

Okay, my dear readers, the time has come. This discussion has been repeated ad infinitum since 1984. This film was, 19 years in the making. Let us finally to the wish-fulfillment that is…



Freddy vs. Jason

Director: Ronny Yu

Release Date: 15th August, 2003

Body Count: 22; 20 by Jason, 2 by Freddy

Best Kill: Hm… I liked when Jason, while being electrocuted, grabbed a cop and killed him that way.

Number of Breasts: 4

I used to play a game with my friends called “Name That Script.” The rules were simple: Someone in the room would yell out the name of an actor. Everyone in the room would them brainstorm five feature films that actor had appeared in. It was them my job to extrapolate a single elaborate film story that incorporated elements from all five of those movies. When you’re faced with Max Von Sydow, and you’re trying to make a single story that includes both Judge Dredd and The Seventh Seal, your brain will bend over backwards, trying to reconcile them narratively. Many of the plot points I invented for this game were arbitrary sci-fi or fantasy conceits that could magically bring disparate characters together. I won’t say that the plots were good, but I am proud of the mental calisthenics I went through to put, say Batman and Beetlejuice together on the big screen of my mind.

It’s one of those bonkers “Name That Script” plot conceits that brings Freddy and Jason together. I think many fans of both series objected to this screenwriting yoga and, indeed, Freddy vs. Jason has something of a bad reputation amongst many. I do not see this as a bad film by any stretch. Indeed, I see the film as a grand and important pop-culture culmination. Having grown up with these two monsters, it was kind of cathartic to see them fight. Well, even though it was goofy kung-fu fighting, but more on that later. I dunno, I thought it was a pretty good movie full of some cool kills. I for one even appreciate the weird setup, although I openly admit that it’s a very cheap and convoluted plot device to get the killers together.

So Freddy, as stated in a few of the previous films, can only be killed if he is forgotten about entirely. In Freddy vs. Jason, the adults of Springwood have conspired to keep all talk of Freddy suppressed. If the kids never know about Freddy, he won’t kill them, right? Freddy (Robert Englund for the final time), in Hell with Jason (as implied at the end of Jason Goes to Hell), invades Jason’s dreams disguised as Mrs. Voorhees, imploring him to go to Springwood and start killing there. This is in the hopes that the Springwood locals will think that Freddy is responsible for the murders. If the rumors start to fly again, Freddy can gain strength, and start killing people in dreams again. Jason is played by Ken Kirzinger.

Crystal Lake is in New Jersey. Springwood is in Ohio. Did Jason hitch a ride, or did he hike for a month? Maybe he can burrow like Bugs Bunny.

Early in the film, we see Jason’s desiccated corpse laying under a tree. Who is to say how it got there. Freddy, though, somehow resurrected the undying Frankenstein zombie. I would start to ponder where this film takes place in the context of their respective series, but I think everyone kind of innately sensed going in that Freddy vs. Jason is not canonical in any way. This film is a riff on the material. A way to merely photograph our fantasy. A way to put to bed all of the questions about who would win in a fight. In the dream world, Freddy would clearly win. In the waking world, Jason would kick Freddy’s ass. We get to see examples of both in this film.

And it’s ass-kicking, yarfs, and wish-fulfillment that Freddy vs. Jason is all about. It’s hardly a horror film, despite the enormous body count and violence. This is a comic book movie. It was the previous generation’s The Avengers, but with 20 years of cinematic clout behind it. I think many fans were upset at how little of the previous films actually played into this one. We have no recurring characters from the previous films. None of the events of the previous film weigh on this one. It stands alone, taking only what we know about the killers themselves, and kind of tweaking it for purposes of cramming them together.

There is more story, of course, and we’re given a lead character in the form of Lori, played by the utterly gorgeous Monica Keena from “Dawson’s Creek.” I mentioned that there were only 4 bare breasts in this film, but Keena’s figure is so distracting in itself, it may as well as count toward more, even though she remains tastefully dressed throughout. What’s more, she’s a pretty good actress, who bears all the onerous expositional weight in this film. She’s the one who is given a love interest, and the one who will ultimately come up with a plan to flee. Lori isn’t as memorable as Nancy from the first Nightmare, but she’s a step above anyone from any of the Friday films (Crispin Glover notwithstanding).

So to the final fight. The surviving teens in the film manage to inject Jason with tranquilizers, forcing him into the dream world to face-off against Freddy. See what I mean about dumb plot conceits? Freddy figures out that Jason fears water, but is frustrated that Jason doesn’t die. Lori eventually falls asleep, and drags Freddy into the waking world (as happened in parts one and six of the Nightmare movies), where Jason awakens, and the two wail on each other in the waking world, right on the shores of Crystal Lake. The fight is… well, it’s awesome and it’s dumb at the same time. Awesome because we are indeed finally seeing these two unkillable pop-culture icons slashing at each other with unabashed impunity, but dumb because, well, it looks like a kung-fu fight. Freddy does things like elbow Jason in the head, and shoot tanks of compressed air at him by breaking the seals. This is very much in contrast to the bizarre cockroach nightmares we normally associate him with. Jason is, well, just Jason, and merely swings his machete. Eventually the monsters kill each other simultaneously with their own weapons. Freddy stabs Jason with his machete, and Jason stabs Freddy with his own glove on the end of his own severed arm.

I guess that means in the great kaiju mega-battle of titans, we fight to a draw. That’s egalitarian, if non-committal.

Freddy vs. Jason is big dumb fun. Why do so many fans object? I think it was the lack of ultra-heavy mythic heft. Since the film stands on its own, it doesn’t really bring to bear every single element from both the Friday and the Nightmare series in a way it could have. I think fans wanted something bigger and grander for their money. They wanted not just Freddy to fight Jason, but other characters from all the series to come together in a monster mash of epic proportions. I think they wanted something that amounted to more than a goofy high-octane fistfight. I think they wanted big magic to get involved. Freddy vs. Jason is not epic.

It’s just entertaining. I will say this: This is probably the best we were ever going to get.

There was a rumor that a film called Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash was going to be made, and indeed a script was written, featuring the two monsters, and the flip hero from the Evil Dead movies. Bruce Campbell, however, who plays Ash, would have nothing to do with it, and it proved to be a pipe dream. You can, however, read Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash in a comic book. I haven’t read it.

And that was to be it for the series. Until Michael Bay came along and ruined us all.



Friday the 13th

Director: Marcus Nispel

Release Date: 13th February 2009

Body Count: 15

Best Kill: A guy is killed and spiked onto the back of a tow truck. The driver, not noticing, drives off with the body crucified behind him.

Number of Breasts: 11

Oh horror remakes. How sad that there are so many of you. How tragic that a generation has grown up with you. How frustrating that we have to mention you every time we talk about the originals. How misguided you are.

So, yeah, Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes struck gold in 2003 with a high-profile remake of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 gore classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This film was such a success that Platinum Dunes, and other production companies, began buying up the remake rights to all the 1970s and 1980s slasher classics that I grew up with. As such, the world is now plagued with alternate versions of classic horror movies, all with the violence ratcheted up to torture-porn levels of discomfort. The instinct when remaking a slasher movie was to fall back on words like “brutal” and “gritty.” I wish they had tried for “scary” or “good” instead.

Although, to be perfectly fair to Friday the 13th Part R, as I shall refer to it, it is actually a decent entry in the Friday series. I think its main success lies in not trying to retell the Jason origin story over again. In a way, this film could easily have been called Friday the 13th Part 2 ½. It does nothing to erase the old myth and start anew. Since the Jason myth is so basic anyway, it would be dull to try. As such, Friday R retells the climax of the first Friday in a prologue, and kind of redoes some of the events of the second Friday in an extended opening sequence. It includes Jason’s iconic hockey mask as first seen in Friday the 13th Part 3 3-D, but doesn’t go so far as to re-enact any of the events from that film. R = 2 ½.

The story is this: Who cares? A bunch of sexy teens go camping, and Jason (Derek Mears) appears in the woods at night to murder them one by one. There is a subplot about a broody hunk (Jared Padalecki) searching for his long-lost sister (Amanda Righetti), but it’s unimportant. There are some amusing personalities here, although any good humor the film has is unfortunately offset by the cold brutality of its violence. Extreme violence can be fun. Friday R skirts the line. To its credit, the film does include one of the single sexiest sex scenes in any of the films, as it contains open and copious nudity by two young and attractive people. They say dumb things during sex, but they sure look like they’re enjoying themselves. It’s borderline porn. But in a good way.

[EDIT] It was recently brought to my attention that the character in this film named Trent, as played by Travis Van Winkle, was a character that was actually carried over from Michael Bay's own 2007 Transformers freature film. This means, much to my dismay, that Jason Voorhees and Optimus Prime live in cinematic continuity with one another. I suppose, through this one character, I could have expanded this Series Project to include the three Transformers films to date, but I'm not going to do that. Because I don't want to. 

The most notable thing about Friday R is the portrait it paints of Jason at home. We see Jason just sort of hanging around his shed, building traps and sharpening his machete. I never thought of Jason as a resourceful camper, but I guess he would be, living at a summer camp the way he does. The problem with making Jason a methodical hunter who has a shed, keeps his tools well-maintained, and indeed collects trophies, is that it alters who Jason is. Jason is no longer a mindless killer lake zombie. Now he’s Leatherface. Think about it. Aside from a few cosmetic differences, this new view of Jason makes him identical to the killer in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He’s a big guy who wears a mask, kills for fun, and makes trophies out of human bodies. Their sheds even look the same. If Leatherface and Jason ever met, would they fight or compare notes?

For a remake, Friday R is fine. I hate that the filmmakers wanted to “reboot” the franchise (indeed, if there is ever another film, it would likely be called, frustratingly, Friday the 13th Part 2), and I think they should have just called this one Part 12 for good measure. But the filmmakers – I suspect unwittingly – gave us something we could get behind.

While I don’t want a sequel to the remake, it feels wrong to leave Jason here. 12 films feature the character. There is an aesthetic imperative that still needs to be fulfilled. My friends, we need 13.

And, as the remake train wreck kept a-rolling, we were granted a pretty rotten film. We were given…



A Nightmare on Elm Street

Director: Samuel Bayer

Release Date: 30th April 2010

Body Count: 4

Best Kill: None, really

Number of Breasts: 36. Just kidding. Zero.

Sigh. And this is the way this Series Project will end. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

So this is exactly what I refer to when I talk about how remakes get it wrong. This is a film that ups the violence and blood, and manages, through over-stylization, to drain the conceits of the original of any of their flair or personality. This is a bland, dull, bad movie that doesn’t even make the Freddy character interesting.

The conceit is the same: Freddy Krueger (now Jackie Earle Haley, pretty good) was murdered by the Springwood parents a few years back, and he has now returned, still wearing his finger knives, to stalk his killers’ children in their dreams. When he kills you in your dream, you die in the waking world as well. In this new version, though, Freddy wasn’t so much a child murderer as he was a child molester. Hence, children he molested are still alive today. There is still a Nancy, this time played by the truly awful Rooney Mara, acting as if she really was half-asleep. I hate the acting across the board in this film. Everyone is somnambulistic and tortured. They’re all pale. They deliver all their lines in a deadpan fashion. They mumble! No one has any passion or character. As such, it feels like nothing happens in the movie. Since we know this story already, the plot doesn’t even matter. A Nightmare on Elm Street R is one of the more useless remakes in a long line of useless remakes. If you’re angry at the trend the same way I am, you may use this film as your "Exhibit A."

There is one narrative twist in the film: For a short while, it looks like Freddy Krueger was actually innocent of molesting children, and who may have been burned to death unfairly. He was killed because the 6-year-old he was looking after may have made up the story. Harsh. Real harsh.

Sadly, this new conceit doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, and I was bugged by it. If Freddy was innocent of molesting children, wouldn’t it make more sense if he, now imbued with his dream invasion abilities, went after the very parents who killed him? If he’s not a molester, what beef has he with the kids? ‘Cause they told on him for something he didn’t do? No, he should be stalking the parents. It is, however, eventually revealed that he was a child molester all along, and everything we thought to be true really was. Call it an anti-twist. But then it still doesn’t make sense. If he was a molester, and he loved the kids the way he says he did, he still wouldn’t want to frighten and kill them. If you turn Freddy into a child molester, then you also have to turn him into a dream rapist, and not a dream killer. And I’m guessing you couldn’t make an R-rated film with that notion in place. A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Rapist is not opening soon.

There’s another dumb conceit in this film. It’s explained that if you go too long without sleep (say three days), your body begins shutting down for a few seconds at a time in what the film calls micro-naps. Since any of the characters can fall asleep for a moment at any time (even when they’re walking, eating, swimming, etc.) it means that Freddy can appear at any time. That may sound scary on a certain level, but all it really means is that this universe no longer has rules. If Freddy can just sort of show up whenever, It defeats his role as a creature who can only show up in dreams.

Another big mistake: This film supposedly takes place in Springwood, but characters are seen conversing in Powell’s Books, a rather well-known chain of bookshops in Portland and Beaverton, OR. It’s not exactly the Eiffel Tower, but I know that’s not Springwood.

A guy cuts his throat in a coffee shop. Freddy’s face is partly CGI. Clancy Brown is in the film. And it’s pretty hard to sit through.



Series Overview:

So let’s take a look at the 11 Friday films, the 8 Nightmare films, and the one combo film, and do our own little Freddy v. Jason, shall we?

The Nightmare series is the clear winner here. In addition to having a much more interesting monster, the films are, as a whole, much more interesting to look at. Freddy is a scary demon hellbent on revenge, and seems capable of being anything to anyone. This lends to a certain amount of chaos, but it’s way more interesting to see someone being turned into a cockroach than it is to see someone get their head merely slammed against a shower stall.

What’s more, the Nightmare series was helmed by an interesting auteur almost every time. Look at this roster: Wes Craven, Chuck Russell, Renny Harlin, Stephen Hopkins, and Rachel Talalay. Each of these directors went on to do notable or semi-notable films (some of dubious quality, sure, but notable nonetheless). The A Nightmare on Elm Street films, then, were kind of an excuse to stretch the creative muscles and come up with some new and interesting visuals in an ever-growing dreamworld spookhouse.

(Which is another reason why the remake is so offensive)

But let us not forget the importance that the Friday the 13th films play in terms of their pop culture influence. Jason is not as interesting a monster, sure, seeing as he’s just a mute bully in a hockey mask, and the films he’s in are less tonally comparable then the Nightmare counterparts. The Friday the 13th films are largely an excuse to gather young attractive people in one place, get some of the naked perhaps, and then kill them off. It’s straightforward and efficient.

And there’s a definite charm to that efficiency. Slasher films are not, after all, noted for their originality or purity of vision. The films aren’t "art." They’re exploitation. And, seeing as the Friday the 13th series, through the virtue of its sheer overpowering volume, managed to codify the way we think about slasher movies, it should be given credit for giving us the real definition of what a movie killer ought to be. Sure Michael Meyers came first, but Jason made more sequels, killed more people, and, in an important way, taught us what a slasher is. And that’s certainly not nothing.

So what’s more notable? What’s superior? A string of creative imagery and interesting ideas? Or the ever-important baseline reading? I’ll say it this way: In terms of filmmaking, the A Nightmare on Elm Street films are superior. In terms of cultural presence, Friday the 13th has always been rumbling underneath.  

Who wins? They both win. Which is egalitarian, if non-committal.

 

Come back next week for a special one-week bonus Halloween edition of The Series Project